Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Important Role of Elites
at the Service of Society
Speech of May 6, 1968 (*)
My friends, at this lecture organized by the Argentine Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, I have a word to say to you as President of the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property on the topic covered by this audiovisual presentation.
History has a lesson of paramount importance for all those who reflect on the future of Latin America. That lesson is that countries which have an elite conscious of its responsibility are countries that rise in the firmament of history and brilliantly accomplish their mission. On the contrary, however, nations whose elites are unaware of their responsibility and mission are nations that inevitably fail and plunge into the great catastrophes of history.
This can be seen in different peoples, in the ascension and decline of different nations on earth. For us, therefore, at this time when there’s so much talk about social issues, there is a social question to be posited, which appears to be one of utmost importance.
Are our countries’ elites conscious of their responsibility? Are they conscious of their mission? This is too vast a subject for me to delve into in these quick words. There is a principle, however, which is as it were a precondition for the elites to be conscious of their mission; and I would like to explain it here.
The principle is this: the reason every elite has privileges and advantages, is not to provide its members with a pleasant and smooth life but to be entirely at the service of society. And the service of society supposes that the elite be disposed to make the sacrifices necessary to accomplish its mission. Attaining that end certainly involves disposing, to some degree, of temporal assets to help those in need. But temporal help is not all that is asked of the elites. I would dare add it is not even the main thing.
The main responsibility or mission of an elite man– whatever his type of elite may be – is to give himself to the common good. This donation of self to the common good consists in having a clear concept of what the elite must do. What must it do?
The elite must invite its members to mold their lives according to a principle by French poet Paul Claudel. Claudel said that youth was not made for pleasure but for heroism. The same should be said, with all the more reason, of the elite. Fortune and social prestige were not given the members of an elite mainly for their enjoyment; they were given to make them heroes, to help them acquire the necessary elevation of soul to be totally self-denied in their lives. That abnegation is made up mainly of the following elements:
The member of an elite must be a person conscious that morality is an indispensable characteristic of a true elite; and that if the elite loses its sense of morality, it renounces its mission of being a brake on all forms of immorality. If it renounces its responsibility to be the social class that sets a tone in society, a moralizing and Christian tone rather than a de-Christianizing and paganizing one, it ceases to be a true elite.
Therefore, contemporary elites in South America must have as a fundamental obligation to react against paganizing fashions that invite to nudity, corruption and the dissolution of customs; and also against fashions not directly contrary to customs but whose extravagance and manners lead to a lack of seriousness, conviction and dignity that downgrades man’s importance as king of all Creation and thus represents a revolution in the plans of God.
Moreover, the elite should be the social class responsible for fighting the instigators of disorders and riots. The elite must be, par excellence, the class that must combat the greatest plague of our times, communism. And each member of the elite has the responsibility of being a soldier in the fight, an earnest and open combat not only against communism but also against its myriad disguised and insidious forms that prepare public opinion to accept a communist revolution.
In other words, a member of the elite cannot spend all his time exclusively in private activities, having fun or working to increase his wealth. He must employ a large portion of his time, attention and dedication to those great social problems and carry out a methodical and orderly, voluntary and conscious action to counter those factors of destruction.
And by this I mean – insisting a bit on what the audiovisual presentation says in this regard – the struggle that elites must carry out to lend prestige to the fundamental principles of Christian civilization. Let me recall here one of these principles which is being increasingly forgotten and should thus be the object of special insistence: the principle of private property.
Private property cannot be seen only as a benefit of the owner. The existence of the principle of private property is also a good for those who unfortunately have no property, as being an owner is a natural condition of man. Since man owns himself, he also owns his work; because he owns his work, he also owns the fruits of his labor; because he owns the fruits of his labor, he also owns the savings he can put aside from the fruits of his work. And because he is the owner of these assets, he is able to create for himself living conditions that facilitate the enhancement of his whole personality.
When some people’s personalities are thus enhanced, that unleashes by osmosis a motion elevating the entire social body. It is an affirmation of man’s autonomy, of his ownership of self, and thus of the dignity that behooves him as a rational being with the necessary intelligence to choose his own paths in life, the job that suits him best, and the way in which he will provide for his own needs.
Property is a fruit of all this; and just as it happens when an effect contradicts its cause, so also when private property is persecuted, mutilated or eliminated a profound damage is inflicted on man’s sense of autonomy and dignity as a rational being endowed with an immortal soul and particularly as a baptized Christian.
For this reason it seems to me that while we should all be very concerned to make sure the social function of property is exercised, we cannot afford to abolish property on the pretext of fulfilling its social function. A function cannot deplete an organ: that would be monstrous. Thus, at this time when there is so much talk about the social function of property, often worthily, but often also with suspect exaggeration, the elite needs to study private property to make of it a great justification.
This is why I want to invite everyone listening to me, particularly those belonging to the Argentine elite, to concentrate their attention on the works of this well-deserving society, the Argentine Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.
Three great values fought in so many ways… tradition, which binds today’s Argentina to the Argentina of yesterday; yesterday’s Argentina to glorious Spain with its illustrious past and the whole past of Christendom, founded by Charlemagne, the cradle of Western Christendom. On the other hand, the family, which is the basic cell of society, threatened at every moment with complete destruction by the dissolution of customs, divorce and a thousand other factors. And finally, private property, which I have just told you about.
This Society deserves the attention and full support of all those who hear me, and particularly the young, whom I invite to sign up as many other young Argentines have already done, along with young Chileans, Uruguayans and others. I invite young Argentines to join the Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, as you all can be sure you are adding your activities to a trove of works, studies and actions that help fulfill the most urgent need of the Christian and Latin peoples of South America.
To that, my friends, I very cordially invite, and salute you.
Nobility.org Editorial Comment:
In this 1968 speech, Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira states his case for genuine elites.
He affirms that those members of the leading classes who refuse to dedicate themselves to the common good, lead moral lives and fulfill their other responsibilities to society, surrender the seal of authenticity to their elite status. Yes, they continue to be elites, but not good ones, and their lack of fulfillment of their duties as elites leads to the ruin and demise of their nation.
He speaks of South American elites but the principles he gives and the duties he describes apply to elites worldwide.