Plinio Corręa de Oliveira
Tradition, Family and Property
Folha de S. Paulo, 18th December 1968 (*)
Once upon a time, there was a young man torn by a critical conflict of affections. He loved his charming spouse with all his soul. Yet at the same time, he had profound affection and respect for his mother.
However, relations between mother in-law and daughter in-law were tense. The enchanting but evil young woman, out of jealousy, conceived an unfounded hatred for the aged and venerable matron.
At a certain moment, the young woman literally put her husband against the wall: either he kill his mother and bring her heart to the wife, or she would abandon him. After a thousand torments, the young man succumbed. He killed her who had given him his life. He tore her heart from her breast, wrapped it in a cloth and headed back to his house. Along the way, he tripped. Suddenly, he heard a voice, full of concern and affection, coming from his mother’s heart asking him, “Did you hurt yourself, my son?”
With this allegory, the author, whom I am told is Emile Faguet, wished to emphasize the most sublime and touching aspects of maternal love: complete selflessness, entirely disinterested concern, and unlimited capacity to forgive. A mother loves her son when he is good. She does not, however, love him only because he is good. She loves him even when he is bad. She loves him simply because he is her son, flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood. She loves him generously even when he does not return her love. She loves him in the crib, when he is still unable to merit the love that is lavished on him. Whether he rises to the splendors of happiness or glory, or falls into the abysses of misfortune or even of crime, she loves him as long as she lives. He is her son and that is all that needs to be said.
This love, profoundly in accordance with the dictates of reason, is also present in parents. In its instinctive aspect, it is akin to the love for their offspring that Providence instilled, found even in animals.
To fathom the sublimity of this instinct, it is enough to say that the Son of God Himself compared His most tender, pure, sovereign, august, sacral and self sacrificing love for man (the greatest that ever existed on earth) to animal instinct.
Shortly before suffering and dying, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, saying: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often would I have gathered together thy children as the hen doth gather her chicks under her wings, but thou wouldst not!” (Matt. 23:37)
Without this love, there is neither fatherhood nor motherhood worthy of the name. Therefore, he who denies this love in its sublime gratuity denies the family. This love is what leads parents to love their children more than others in accordance with the Law of God and to earnestly desire for them better breeding, better education, more stable life and true ascent in the scale of all values, including their social standing.
For this end, parents work, struggle, and save. Their instinct, reason, and the dictates of the Faith itself lead them to this. It is natural for them to desire to accumulate an inheritance so they can pass it on to their children. To deny the legitimacy of this desire is to affirm that a father is like a stranger to his own child. It is to disintegrate the family.
Inheritance is the rendezvous of family and property. It is not only of family and property but of tradition, as well. Indeed, the most precious of the forms of inheritance is not money. In fact, it is a common observation that heredity sets certain facial and psychological features that constitute a link between the generations in a family line be it noble or plebeian. Thus, in a certain way, the ancestors survive and continue in their descendants.
A family, conscious of its own peculiarities, must distill, in the course of generations, its own style of manners and domestic life, as well as a style of public action in which the original wealth of its characteristics may develop so that they can reach their most legitimate and authentic expression. This aim, achieved in the course of decades and centuries, is tradition. A family either develops its own tradition as a school of being, acting, progressing and serving one’s country and Christendom, or it runs the risk of not infrequently generating maladjusted individuals who do not know who they are and who cannot stably and logically fit into any social group. What good does it do to receive a rich material inheritance from one’s parents if one does not receive from them, at least in a seminal state, as in the case of a new family tradition, a moral and cultural patrimony? By tradition, of course, we mean not a stagnant past but rather the life that a seed receives from the fruit containing it. We mean a capacity to germinate in its turn and produce something new that is not opposed to the old but rather the harmonious development and enrichment of it. From this standpoint, tradition melds harmoniously with family and property in the formation of the family heritage and continuity.
This is a principle of common sense. That is why we see cases where even the most democratic countries welcome tradition. There is something hereditary about gratitude. It leads us to do for the descendants of our benefactors, even after they have passed away, what they would ask us to do. The State, just as the individual, is subject to this law.
It would be a flagrant contradiction for a country to keep a pen, the glasses, or even the slippers of a great benefactor in a museum as a sign of gratitude, but relegate his descendants to indifference and abandonment. Are not his descendants much more than his slippers?
Hence comes the consideration that good sense gives to the descendants of great men, even though they may be ordinary citizens. That is why, for example, all the descendants of Lafayette, the French military officer who fought for U.S. independence, enjoy the honors of American citizenship, regardless of their country of birth. This same principle also gave rise to one of the most beautiful historic moments of the Spanish Civil War. The Communists had captured the Duke of Veraguas, the last descendant of Christopher Columbus, and were going to kill him. All the republics of the Americas united to ask clemency for him. They could not look on indifferently at the extinction of the lineage of the heroic discoverer.
These are the logical consequences of the existence of the family and its reflections in tradition and in property.
Are they unjust and hateful privileges? No. As long as the principle that heredity does not justify crime nor prevent the rise of new values, it is simply a matter of justice — and of the best kind.
(*) Excerpts and text adapted by the American TFP Website.