Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Important Mission
of the Nobility and Analogous Elites in Our Days
Tradition, Family and Property, July-August 1993, York (PA), pages 5-6
Recently Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira was interviewed by "Catolicismo". In the course of the interview on his latest work, Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites, the author provides penetrating insights into the critical mission of the elites, which we are privileged to present to our readers. The interview appeared in the July 1993 issue of the prestigious Brazilian monthly.
Catolicismo - Why did you select the nobility as the subject of your latest book?
PCO - It seems to me that public opinion towards the nobility is much less marked by the errors of the French Revolution today than it was even a short while ago.
As time goes by, we can see that the errors of the Revolution of 1789 are getting old and a bit outdated. This is not to say that they are no longer extensive, but they are less widespread than they were in the past, and are growing less and less so.
Accordingly, it is interesting to address this topic at the very time this historic transition is taking place, since the nobility was at the center of the thoughts, agitations, and virtually all the crimes of the French Revolution.
Catolicismo - What role do you attribute to the nobility today?
PCO - It is not really a matter of attributing a role to the nobility, but rather of acknowledging their role objectively in the panorama of contemporary life. The nobility still exists, its titles are being used, and its members are often the object of special consideration. And, along the line of what I said earlier, in many places the prestige of the nobility is on the rise.
What is the role of the nobility in our day? It is no longer the role that it played in the past, that of participating in some manner in governing the State, whether by governing lands wherein this social class exercised feudal power, or by having a leading role in affairs of capital importance to society and the State.
In the past, in every nation those accorded positions of importance were appointed from the nobility, an eminently military class. Nearly all military officers were nobles. The most elevated civil offices, such as diplomat and magistrate, were widely exercised by nobles. These facts characterize the nobility as a very powerful class.
It happens that public opinion —which had yet to be rendered a mass by the media, and by the many global effects wrought by the industrial revolution—retained, to a large extent, an appreciation of the respectability inherent to each of the duties carried out by the nobility, and accordingly bestowed on them a high regard.
With the French Revolution, this changed drastically. The false revolutionary doctrine that the supreme rule of justice in human relationships is absolute equality between all was accepted as gospel by many. Whereby the egalitarian pressure of the Revolution produced immediate, often violent effects upon State and society, while simultaneously inducing gradual effects, primarily via propaganda in lieu of violence.
In numerous States, political egalitarianism led to bloody coups, with the republic usurping the monarchy, and abolishing the duties of the nobility in the body politic.
In other States, egalitarianism advanced by slowly eroding the political powers of monarchs and aristocrats, reducing them to the rank of merely symbolic figures, as is the case of the King of Sweden or the British House of Lords in our day.
Catolicismo - And what of the social field?
PCO - The nobility's downfall in the political world naturally brought about a corresponding decline in the social order, as the exercise of power is itself a source of social prestige.
The significant changes in society, however, arose from scientific and economic factors. The rapid progress of the sciences, which began towards the end of the 18th century and persists, to a degree, today, prepared the ground for new technologies, applicable to any domain of human life. Consequently, the technology for agricultural, livestock and industrial production, together with the advent of new means of communication and transport, etc., deeply influenced social customs—not only customs, but the very structure of society. For some may deem the invention of a new means of production or the discovery of a scientific cure for a disease to be historic events of greater importance than a military victory.
Hence, the invention of the airplane or the telephone had greater importance in the history of the United States and the world, than many celebrated battles of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Add to this, the exercise of often highly profitable, if highly risky, professions, such as those strictly financial in character, and you have a picture of the paradigmatic shift that took place from a land, especially rural, based economy, to an urban, financial, industrial, and commercial economy. One can see that the professions that once bestowed wealth and prestige have declined to a lower level, to the advantage of the new professions amassed on the top.
Accordingly, the nobility, despite it's priceless abundance of principles, traditions, lifestyles, and ways of being, has lost a good part of it's influence, a loss cruelly felt by other social strata, subjected to life under the inelegant, at times cartoon-like influx of the nouveau riche.
Pius XII calls upon the nobility to use all the means yet at its disposal to counteract this baneful influence. The Pontiff expects the nobility to act on his call from a noble sense of duty to preserve and elevate religion, morality, and culture—for it's own good, and for the good of all social classes, from the most modest worker to the richest tycoon.
Catolicismo - Is America a continent where truly traditional elites were formed?
PCO - Beyond a doubt. Till our days they exist in many countries in the Americas, from the poetic snows of Canada, which is still a monarchy, to the southernmost nations of the Continent.
Catolicismo - Was the long preparation of this book necessitated by the extensive research it required?
PCO - The preparation was actually not that long. I began in 1989, and completed the first version in December 1991. The work was resumed in February of 1992, and the book was recently published in Portugal.
Catolicismo - Will it be published in other foreign countries as well?
PCO - An Italian edition has just been published by the Editora Marzorati, of Milan, as well as the Spanish Edition by Editora Fernando III, el Santo, of Madrid. Editions are presently in process in France, and in the United States.