Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Importance of Tradition Today
Folha de S. Paulo, 20th March 1969
While walking downtown I happened to bump into an acquaintance who challenged me by way of a greeting: “In your latest article you proved quite well that tradition is an indispensable survival of the past in the present. But is tradition important enough for you to have placed it before property and family in the TFP trilogy?” The question amazed me. But looking at him I realized that it would occur to many people. So I will answer it today.
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Yes, tradition does constitute a high value of the spirit. In principle, it merits, from certain standpoints of course, to precede family and property. In our concrete circumstances, furthermore, tradition has such an important role that, as I see it, only one word could precede it. It is the word “religion.” Indeed, tradition defends today the very premises of civilization, and above all, Christian civilization, the most perfect civilization.
West Point Academy
Today Some traditions like our military traditions still live — But they are attacked.
Let me explain. Consider the decades following the Second World War. Innumerable changes in people’s way of thinking, feeling, living and acting occurred during this period. When analyzing these changes in a overall picture, it cannot be denied that with a few exceptions they are leading toward a situation violently opposed to all our spiritual and cultural traditions we have received. These traditions are still alive, but they are constantly being attacked by radical modifications. Obviously, they will finally perish if no one stands up for them. But the end of these traditions would amount, as I see it, to the greatest catastrophe in History.
Below are a few examples showing how sophistic distortions of some very precious concepts are corroding some our best traditions:
“Goodness” — According to the modern sophism, a good person never makes others suffer. Now since effort causes suffering, only he who does not ask others for effort is good. Christian civilization modeled the peoples of the West in accordance with the principle that effort is the essential condition for the dignity, decorum, good order and productivity of life. If good is to abolish effort in all fields, doesn’t this implicitly deprive life of the values which make it worth living? Doesn’t this deformed “goodness,” become the worst malefaction?
Teaching children to make efforts to observe manners and love tradition.
“Love of children” — According to this saccharine and flabby goodness, “love of children” amounts to sparing them every effort. People try to achieve this by thousands of techniques of instructing and forming children to lead lives without any sacrifice. Obstinate attachment to this idea has gone as far as condemning punishments in school because they make the guilty suffer and eliminating awards because they may cause complexes in the lazy. According to Christian tradition and plain common sense one of the essential goals of education is to form people for the struggle of life by making them acquire habits of effort and sacrifice. What is this “love of children” but a cruel miseducation?
“Simplicity,” “unpretentiousness” — One who prefers things that require neither much taste nor much effort is supposedly “simple.” Someone who feels good being vulgar is supposedly “unpretentious.” “Simplicity” and “unpretentiousness” progressively invade the manners of youths and adults. The rules of urbanity and good manners, the way of organizing one’s home, receiving people, dressing, speaking, are becoming increasingly “simple” and “unpretentious.” Decorum, brilliance, quality, class and prestige are values of the spirit less and less accepted. However, since these values contain much of what is most precious in our legacy from tradition, life is becoming dingy; noble impulses are withering; horizons are shrinking, and vulgarity is invading everything. The most refined selfishness is triumphing on the pretext of “simplicity” and “unpretentiousness.” Yes, refined selfishness: the only refinement left to us.
“Spontaneity,” “naturalness,” “sincerity” — These attitudes supposedly lead one to avoid yet another form of effort: thinking, willing, and restraining oneself. They would lead one to give free rein to sensation, fantasy, extravagance, in a word, everything. Thus, the excitement of television is stamping out books with their invitation to reflection. Ideas are becoming poorer and people’s vocabulary suffers with them. In some circles, conversation is reduced to telling a few elementary facts with a few basic words. Entertainment is senseless jumping and yelling. There is laughter, much laughter; but without much reason to laugh. Any restraint in sexual matters is obviously rejected even more than other restraint. Some people’s “sexual morality” amounts to legitimizing all kinds of disorders in order to avoid “complexes.” For them, modesty is the great enemy of morality; libertinism is the way to normality.
“Open-mindedness” — An “open-minded” person must accept everything. Bishops or governors, teachers or parents who do not endorse all the above absurdities are narrow-minded despots who want to maintain the yoke of taboos that have become untenable.
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Someone may say: Aren’t you talking about the behavior of a few oddballs? Most people don’t think this way. Isn’t it true that most people are desolated and shocked at these excesses? I agree they may be desolate and shocked. However, I hasten to add, they are also crushed and submissive.
All the advances of these attitudes over the past decade follow the same pattern: a) A minority comes out with a “crazy” folly; b) the majority shudders and protests; c) the minority persists; d) the majority gradually becomes accustomed, adapts itself, and submits; e) meanwhile, the minority prepares a new scandal; f) and this scandal will be equally successful.
Thus the majority gradually enters this new world fascinated, fortified, hypnotized, like a bird in the maw of a snake.
So much reduction of refinement will make it disappear; so much shortening of clothing will make it vanish; so much silence about the fundamental values of culture and of the spirit will lead them to desert the earth. So much fostering and unleashing of disorders will lead them to invade and submerge everything.
Is there any other way to prevent this than by fighting for our tradition, the bearer of all authentically Christian, or even simply human values that this hurricane is destroying?
(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author’s revision. American TFP.