Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
6. The Genesis of the Contemporary State
a. The decline of regions — the march toward the hypertrophy of royal power
As stated in the previous section, at the outset of modern times the feudal system entered a process of political decadence. Royal power gradually consolidated, reaching a state of hypertrophy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The contemporary state began to appear, based ever less on the rural aristocracy and the autonomous and creative impulse of regions, and ever more on bureaucratic organs, through which the action of the State extended to the whole nation.
Concurrently, the means of communication gradually improved and were secured from the endemic banditry of previous centuries. This favored multiple exchange between the regions of the country. The expansion of commerce and the rise of new industries standardized consumption. Regionalism waned as the increasingly larger cities began to shift the nerve centers from micro-regions to macro-regions and then to national metropolises.
More than ever, the capital of each country became the great pole of attraction of its centripetal energies and the source of the irradiation of the Crown’s power. Pari passu, the court drew more and more of the nobility, until then predominantly rural. The nobility flocked around the king, who determined the direction of everything done in the country.
b. Royal absolutism became state absolutism under the democratic regime
This gradual yet relentless centripetal process had continuity in the successively more absorbing types of state born in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The republican and bourgeois state of the nineteenth century, despite its liberal democratic aspects, was more centralizing than the monarchical state of the previous phase. In it, an undeniable process of democratization138 opened all the doors of power to the non-noble classes, but gradually excluded the noble classes from this same power—a rather debatable way of practicing equality. Liberty, in turn, became more and more restricted as a growing mass of laws began to weigh on the citizen.
c. Centripetal pyramidization — super-pyramidization — two examples: large banks and the mass media
For a global idea of the decline of liberty throughout the nineteenth century, we must take into account the tendency to pyramidization that manifested itself in the field of private enterprise. A gradual intertwining of companies formed increasingly larger blocs, which tended to absorb any autonomous unit reluctant to join its respective pyramid. Obviously, at the peak of these pyramids were (and still are) super-fortunes controlling the progressively smaller fortunes. As a result, owners of small and medium-sized businesses lost much of their freedom of action in face of the competition and pressures of macro-capitalism.
By the very nature of things, this group of pyramids was in turn capped by even more powerful institutions; for example, the banking system and the mass media.
This process accelerated in our century due to the new inventions and the continual progress of science and technology.
Besides diminishing the freedom of small business owners, this concentration of the private capital in the hands of a few holders of large fortunes can have another consequence, affecting the position of macro-capitalism vis-à-vis the State.
A strange inversion of values began to occur in the liberal-democratic bourgeois world—ever more democratic and leveling from one point of view, and ever less liberal from another. Consider large banks and the mass media. These institutions are usually privately owned, yet, incidentally, often wield in our days more power than the nobility in the nineteenth century, or even before the French Revolution. More importantly, they frequently have more power over the State than the State has over them. Large banks and the mass media have more means to influence the filling of elective offices in most modern democracies than the State has to influence the selection of top executive officers for these institutions. This is so notorious that the State at times feels handicapped if it does not assume the role of a large banking or media enterprise. It therefore invades the private sphere—itself an invader of the State’s sphere.
Is this convergence? No. It is a road to chaos.
From the point of view of freedom of action and progress, this confrontation between the State and macro-capitalism brings no economic or political advantage to the average citizen.
Consider an election-day scenario. People are lined up at the voting booths. Standing in line like any other citizen is a magnate of the “antithetical nobility”139 of the twentieth century. He enters the booth and casts his ballot, aware that it is worth as much or as little as the vote of the most obscure citizen.
The next day, he comments on the electoral results at his club as if he had influenced them no more than any other voter. However, which of his listeners who knows that he owns a large newspaper chain, which can sway the vote of today’s amorphous and disoriented masses, will entertain such an illusion?
d. State capitalism: continuation of the centripetal and authoritarian trend— the tomb of all that came before
What changes did state capitalism bring to the countries where it was implemented? It heightened ad infinitum the preceding centripetal trend. It turned the State into a Leviathan, whose omnipotence dwarfed the powers of the kings and nobles of earlier eras. In its craving to centralize, state collectivism absorbed absolutely everything. It thereby buried in the same abyss, in the same nothingness, as in a tomb, kings, nobles, and, not much later, the “antithetical aristocrats,” who had by then reached the height of their historical march.
All this happened through the influence—at times direct, at times remote—of the ideology of 1789.140
e. One tomb—two trilogies
Were these the only victims of this collectivist gangrene?
No. The successively inferior levels of the bourgeoisie were also victimized. The Leviathan’s collectivist absorption did not spare a single individual, nor a single individual right. In the unfortunate countries it tyrannized, collectivism violated even the most elementary rights of man, those that stem not from any state law, but from the natural order of things, expressed with divine wisdom and simplicity in the Ten Commandments.
This sinister panorama of collectivism was made evident to the whole human race with the fall of the Iron Curtain. Even the right to life had been absorbed by the collectivist state, which thereby denied man what the contemporary ecological trends strive to guarantee to the most fragile bird and to the smallest and most repugnant worm. In this way, the workers, the lowest servants of the State, became the most recent occupants of this tomb.
Were the tombstone to bear a general epitaph for these victims of yesteryear, yesterday, and today, it might well read:
These are the three great principles that collectivism denied. Their denial provoked the intrepid and combative reaction of the largest group of anticommunist organizations of Catholic inspiration in the modern world.
According to certain popular legends, over the tombs of the victims of blatant injustice flutter multitudes of confused and tormented evil spirits. We could imagine, therefore, another trilogy, hovering over this agitated, feverish, and noisy swirl:
f. What remains of the nobility today? The answer of Pius XII
At this point it is fitting to ask what remains of the nobility, now that revolutionary totalitarianism has destroyed the autonomies and the growing egalitarianism of our age has abolished the special offices and related privileges that made the nobility, in the Middle Ages and still in the Ancien Régime, a defined social and political body.
Pius XII categorically answers: “A page of history has been turned; a chapter has ended. A period has been placed, indicating the end of a social and economic past.”141
From this class, to which nothing palpable remains, the Pontiff still expects the exercise of a high function for the common good. He describes this function with precision and evident satisfaction in his various allocutions, including those of 1952 and 1958, the year of his death. His thought clearly lives on in the allocutions of John XXIII and Paul VI to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility and to the Pontifical Noble Guard.
To fully understand this delicate, subtle, and important matter, we must first consider the historical panorama explained herein, analyzing the events from a specific angle.
(138) The word democratization is used here in the revolutionary sense of democracy, which, as we have seen, is not the only sense it can be given. See Chapter III, 3.
(139) The expression denotes the class of persons whose circumstances could approximate them to the nobility, but whose egalitarian prejudices lead them to repudiate this possibility. See section 8 f of this chapter for a fuller explanation.
(140) Cf. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, Chaper 3 part 5,c.
(141) RPN 1952, p. 457.