Plinio Corręa de Oliveira

 

 

"Elitism"

 

 

 

 

 

Folha de S. Paulo, December 28, 1977

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In more than one progressivist-inspired publication I have run into the adjective, “elitist,” employed, needless to say, in a strongly pejorative sense. Indeed, from the psychological standpoint, progressivism is an amalgamation of all kinds of mediocrity, triviality and even vulgarity. As a consequence, it is viscerally averse to any form of selection and any kind of elite.

On employing that adjective — so questionable from the linguistic standpoint – the more typical progressivists insinuate that every participant in an elite is by definition an egoistic, unproductive and mediocre snob all puffed up with vanity and capable only of joining other “elitists” in cahoots to form parasitic cliques to suck the fruits of their neighbors’ labor.

In light of this concept (what light!) the “elitists” supposedly gather in small minorities which, in turn, victimize the public at large.

Who could deny the existence of “elites” which correspond precisely to the progressivist concept? Who could claim they do not deserve the rejection of every sensible man? But are these "elites" really elites?

They have abandoned their true mentality, forsaken their mission, and have been invaded with gangrene and putrefaction.

Can anyone, to give an example of what a star is, present an opaque celestial body that gives off no light? That would be like asking whether one could show a cadaver in putrefaction to give an idea of what a man is.

Yet, that is what progressivists do with elites. Starting from their pejorative concept of “elite,” progressivists operate a sleight-of-hand whereby they end up presenting all elites as “elitist.” In so doing, they label all select minorities as genuine bloodsuckers of the great majority of authentic hard workers.

They thus put together, in the eyes of the public, an overall picture ideally provocative to spark class struggle. That is precisely what communist propaganda needs: on the one hand, an immense majority of workers and, on the other, several minorities which (maliciously identified with the vain, lazy, mediocre and feckless “elitists” mentioned above) stand out for any legitimate reason: cultural level, talent, education, selflessness in serving the country or in doing charity work etc.

The outcome of the clash between these minorities and the masses that the Communists seek to stir up can only be the swallowing of the “elitist” mouse by the Communist cat…

Needless to say, the “anti-elitist” panorama that progressivists present to foster Communist propaganda is false in nearly all its aspects. But two of them are so fake that their falseness stands out at first sight. The first is that every elite is necessarily “elitist” in the pejorative sense of the word. We have already seen how arbitrary and unjust that statement is. The other is to claim that there are no elites in the public at large and especially among workers.

It is a gross error to imagine that elites are made up only of minorities extrinsic to the crowd, which by definition is a huge flock of mediocre persons some of whom may even be disadvantaged from the intellectual, cultural or moral standpoint. Thus, a country would be necessarily divided into two categories separated by an abyss: the exemplary and the failures — supermen and submen.

Here it seems indispensable to recall a truth that not all historians and sociologists emphasize as they should.

It is generally admitted that every people has the government it deserves. The corollary is that every people also has the elites (in the authentic sense, not the pejorative one) it deserves. The emergence of elites, their perfect characterization and the full radiation of their beneficial action largely depend on maintaining their connection with the population as a whole. No elites remain intact and lively without often being enriched with values from the general population.

For an elite to assume entirely the physiognomy that it should have it needs to properly interpret the communicative consensus of the crowds. And people’s receptivity is indispensable for the elites to influence society.

There is more. When the relationship between elite and people is correct, inspiration for the elites comes very often from the people. To give only one example from a thousand, it is enough to recall the many musical masterpieces by brilliant composers inspired by the simplest popular songs.

The role of the population in the formation of a country’s soul, and thus of its culture, great men, and action in history, is so important that even in functions normally seen as a privilege and role of aristocracies – of blood and others – the people fulfill a particularly grand mission.

Indeed, in a certain sense, popular classes are conservative par excellence, more so than the upper classes. Thus, in Europe, for example, the old garbs, dances, chants and ways of being - in short, typical regional manners – were maintained much more by the ‘little people’ (in the countryside) than by the leading classes in large cities. 

In Brazil, the classic black lady from Bahia, the bahiana, with her tasty dishes and folklore, in many ways resembles the Brazil of old more closely than many descendants of empire captains, baron counselors or colonels of the empire’s national guard.

If the elites decay, it is hard for them not to drag the people with them. For their part, if the people decay, it seems impossible to me they will not drag the elites.

It is timely to distinguish here between just any people and a great people, or between a people on the rise, at its apogee, and a people in stagnation or decadence. It would not distort the meaning of the word to affirm that a people on the rise or at its zenith actually constitutes, as a whole, in the universal ensemble of peoples, an enormous elite within which there rise, almost by distillation, smaller and more quintessential elites. This is because general grandeur is born from the harmonious conjugation between the elite-people (or elite-majority) and the elite-minority.

Last week I wrote for this paper about Winston Churchill and his wife. England would perhaps not have won the war without the leadership of that great man whose feminine version was his illustrious wife. But on the other hand, if the United Kingdom did not have a true legion of elite figures placed from top to bottom in its political, social, economic and military hierarchy, in the various commands of the armed effort as well as in civil resistance, it would have lost the war. And, after all, what good that whole constellation of high, medium and small elites would have done if the English were not a great people? In other words, a people with a necessarily high number of average and even under average men, but few mediocre ones? Many were heroes in the battlefield. But many others were “mini-heroes” in civilian life ready to sacrifice themselves in the rearguard by keeping their neighbors in high spirits both in the somber moments when they could hear from their bomb shelters the Luftwaffe destroying their cities, or in the melancholy hours when they saw their household budgets mercilessly corroded by war rationing.

If instead of all those elites and heroes with so many different statures and profiles Britain had had, from Buckingham palace down to the bottom of her coal mines, not great nor average but mediocre men, not heroic but pusillanimous men, today she would be no more than an historic souvenir.

In the final analysis, the elite-people antithesis that progressivists seek to inculcate by painting reality as if there was an abyss and a black and gaping break between them is a sham. That break exists only when the people and the elites are more or less moribund and become disjointed, with small artificial elite islets on one side and large anonymous masses on the other.

These considerations are becoming too lengthy. Let me close them by quoting a brilliant text by Pius XII on people and masses:

“The State does not contain in itself and does not mechanically bring together in a given territory a shapeless mass of individuals. It is, and should in practice be, the organic and organizing unity of a real people.

“A people, and a shapeless multitude (or, as it is called, "the masses") are two distinct concepts. The people lives and moves by its own life energy; the masses are inert of themselves and can only be moved from outside. A people lives by the fullness of life in the men that compose it, each of whom - at his proper place and in his own way - is a person conscious of his own responsibility and of his own views. The masses, on the contrary, wait for the impulse from outside, an easy plaything in the hands of anyone who exploits their instincts and impressions; ready to follow in turn, today this flag, tomorrow another. From the exuberant life of a true people, an abundant rich life is diffused in the State and all its organs, instilling into them with a vigor that is always renewing itself, the consciousness of their own responsibility, the true instinct for the common good.

“The elementary power of the masses, deftly managed and employed, the State also can utilize: in the ambitious hands of one or of several who have been artificially brought together for selfish aims, the State itself, with the support of the masses, reduced to the minimum status of a mere machine, can impose its whims on the better part of the real people: the common interest remains seriously, and for a long time, injured by this process, and the injury is very often hard to heal”  (Radio message of Christmas 1944, in Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di Sua Santitŕ Pio XII, vol. VI, pp. 238-239).

Let the reader attentively consider what the late lamented Pontiff says about a true people. He will see that, from top to bottom, a people is nothing but a healthy and magnificent intermeshing of elites, the upper levels shining in gold and silver and the more modest in beautiful and noble bronze.

That destroys the disagreeable elite-people antithesis implied in the distressing “elitist” adjective of the progressivist vocabulary.


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