Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Equality at the Starting Point -
What an Injustice
Folha de S. Paulo, December 11, 1968 (*)
I hear people repeating at every moment that justice demands all persons should have the same opportunities when beginning their life, education, or career. According to this view, education should be equal for all, and the curricula in the different professions should also be equal. This, then, would result in the more worthy persons inevitably standing out from the others. Thus, merit would find its encouragement and recompense, and justice would finally reign over the earth.
At times, in today's world where many a piece of foolishness seeks to put on a "Christian" disguise, this way of viewing things presents itself in certain "Christian" colors. Thus, it is argued that at the end of each man's life, God will reward each according to his merits without considering his station in life at birth. From the standpoint of Divine Justice and everlasting consequences, the value of the place where each person made his start is negated. And it becomes praiseworthy, right, and Christian for men to try to organize their terrestrial existence according to these norms of celestial justice, placing the advantages of earthly life equally in the reach of all so that they will be attained by those who are more capable.
Before analyzing this principle in itself, it is good to note some of the ways it is being applied in one place and another.
There are businessmen who consider the inheritance of their businesses to be a questionable privilege. Accordingly, they do not want their sons to become the owners of their businesses merely by the right of inheritance. Instead these sons will be employees like all the others, starting out at the bottom with the most humble duties and responsibilities. They will only rise to the position of running the businesses if they are the most capable ones.
In fact, it is not rare to find affluent persons who feel a certain uneasiness of conscience about transmitting their goods to their sons: won't they be benefiting from a questionable or unjust privilege if they are allowed to acquire goods that did not come from their own work or personal merit?
Another example may be noted — this time in the field of education. Some families of good social position and advanced education consider it an imperative of social justice to establish uniform standards in the primary and secondary schools. In order to achieve this, they would close or reform all educational institutions of different levels in existence today.
In this way, the doctrine according to which all starting points must be compelled to become equal is gaining ground. If this doctrine is implemented fully, it will result in consequences that will stifle initiative, destroy achievement, and overthrow the whole regime of private property.
Before continuing, it is important to emphasize the picturesque contradictions into which the defenders of these theses habitually fall. Since they are deifiers of merit as the only criterion of justice, they tend to feel that if students are given equal conditions, merit will invariably assert itself. Accordingly, they generally favor schools of progressive or modern education that are contrary to rewards and punishments, on the pretext that both of these create complexes. In this way, the idea of merit and its inescapable corollary, guilt, are eliminated from the education of the future citizens of a civilization based on merit.
Ironically, these very deifiers of merit usually show themselves to be favorable to the idea that all tombs should be equal. Thus, at the end of a terrestrial existence organized only according to the criterion of individual merit and at the very moment of entry into a happy or unhappy eternal life according to the principle of merit or guilt, any special recognition of merit must be excluded. Equal tombs are established for the outstandingly wise man and for the common man, for the innocent victim and the infamous murderer, for he who has spread schisms and heresies and for the hero who has lived and died defending the Faith.
How can it be possible at one and the same time to praise merit so much and also to deny it?
What a contradiction! But the contradiction of these adepts of equality (and for everyone at the starting point) is even more shocking when they at the same time declare themselves to be enthusiastic defenders of the institution of the family. Considered from a thousand different aspects, the latter is the most resounding negation of equality at the starting point. Let us see why.
There is a natural, mysterious, and sacred fact that is intimately tied to the family. It is biological inheritance. Obviously, some families are more gifted than others in this respect; this frequently depends on factors that have nothing to do with medical care or highly hygienic rearing. And, moreover, biological inheritance brings with it important consequences in the psychological order. There are families that, during the course of many generations, have transmitted artistic gifts, a gift for speaking, a talent for medicine, an aptitude for business, etc. This transmission by the family of the same characteristics down through the generations destroys the principle of equality at the starting point.
Furthermore, the family is not merely a transmitter of biological or psychological gifts. It is an educational institution, and, in the natural order of things, the first of all pedagogical and formative institutions.
For this reason, the person who has been educated by parents highly gifted in art, culture, good manners, and morality, always has a better starting point. The only way that the impress of parental influence can be eliminated is by suppressing the family and by educating all children in state schools according to the practice of the Communist regime. From this, we see that there is a more important hereditary inequality than that of patrimony, that is to say, there is one that results directly and necessarily from the very existence of the family.
And what about the inheritance of the patrimony itself? If a father really has the heart of a father, he will necessarily love his own son more than others, his son who is flesh of his flesh and blood of his blood. Moved by this love, he will work according to the Christian law and spare no effort, sacrifice, or vigilance to accumulate a patrimony that will protect his son from the many disasters life can bring. Having this desire and zeal, the father will produce much more than he would if he did not have children. And, then, at the end of a lifetime of work, he will die happy because he knows he is leaving his children in favorable circumstances. Let us suppose that at the moment of his death, the state were to come and in the name of the law, confiscate his inheritance in order to impose the principle of equality at the starting point. Would not this imposition trample underfoot one of the most sacred values of the family, a value without which the family is not the family and life is not life? That value is paternal love — yes, the paternal love that protects and assists the child.
Far beyond the very idea of merit, it protects and assists him, simply and sublimely because of the simple fact that he is his child.
And that real crime against paternal love, which is the suppression of inheritance, can it be committed in the name of Religion and Justice?
(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author’s revision. –Ed. American TFP.