Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Nobility and Elites
in the Post-industrial Society
Tradition, Family, Property – Quarterly Magazine – Summer 1994, Toronto, No. 8, pages 14-16 (*)
Did the nomenklatura in the ex-USSR form an elite? Is it reasonable to speak about nobility in a country like the USA? See the answers below.
Does it make sense to speak about nobility and elites 200 years after the French revolution, which abolished nobility in France and decapitated Louis XVI, challenging all the royalty in Europe?
Incisive questions such as this were posed to Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in a recent interview he granted to Le Nouvel Aperçu, published by the TFP in Paris. Professor Corrêa de Oliveira, whose masterpiece, Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII, is circulating in both the Old and New Worlds with great success, did not hesitate in the face of such questions.
Le Nouvel Aperçu asked the renowned Brazilian professor whether he still believes that today’s post-industrial society has anything to expect from the nobility.
Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: “Without a doubt. History tells us that aristocracies are formed under conditions that last much longer than this. Two hundred years! What is this for the European nobility, which includes some families so ancient that their origin is ‘lost in the night of time,” as a well-known expression puts it?
“The noble state is not made to have the simple duration of an individual’s life, contrary to what happens with individuals and families in democratic societies, where, to begin with, a famous man disappears even before dying. The noble condition is made to be as abiding as a family. And the family, hereditary by definition, is made to last for centuries and centuries without deterioration; on the contrary, it increases in worth over time.
“This could be challenged on the grounds that your question did not refer specifically to the duration of time, but to the wear and tear inherent to the historical events of the two last centuries, which began with the French Revolution. And we could ask ourselves if the nobility, with these two centuries of revolution all directed against it, has not suffered such erosion that it cannot render any service to the country.
“The history of several European countries, even republican countries, provides many examples of the contrary: outstanding persons who have rendered important services in the most diverse branches of national public activity.”
Le Nouvel Apercu: “It is understandable that the descendants of European nobles of former times still have a role to play, but how valid is your ‘preferential option for the nobles’ in countries like the United States, which never knew nobility and where the supreme point of reference seems to be money?”
Professor Corrêa de Oliveira: “Even if riches permit attainment of a certain social status, the most recent sociological studies show that they are not enough to make one a member of America’s high society.
“This concept of high society based exclusively on riches is part of a liberal myth, generalized in the popular mind since the last century by such authors as the French noble Alexis de Tocqueville in his book Democracy in America. This myth has been totally refuted by recent studies. Sociologists show that a society not less hierarchical than that of Europe has been formed. Nobiliary titles do not exist, but, as in Europe, family tradition plays a predominant role in obtaining high social status.” (This can be seen when examining the many ancient families existing in the United States. Lacking titles of nobility, the most ancient families of various cities and states are designated by expressions that give value to tradition and continuity, One finds the Proper San Franciscans, the Genteel Charlestonians, the First Families of Virginia, the California Dons (a reference to the families descending from ancient Spanish aristocracy), the Knickerbockers and the Metropolitan 400 of New York, the Boston Brahmins, the Proper Philadelphians, and so on.
Many of these families still possess their ancestral manors. In 1981 the Preservation League of New York listed 37 great Hudson Valley estates among the most noteworthy properties in the United States. Twenty-two of these remain in the hands of the original families.
In Canada, this same phenomenon can easily be seen. The foundation of the United Empire Loyalists, the founders of Upper Canada and New Brunswick, was created by the Crown to give homage to those who fled the thirteen colonies because of their loyalty to the British Crown. Besides these, one can find the Associations of Ontario’s and Nova Scotia’s old families, as well as traditional families who hold coats of arms recognized by the Heraldic Society of Canada. Besides these traditional families, one can even list the many Orders of Nobility and Orders of Knighthood recognized by the Crown whose members can be found in the Dominion of Canada - Ed.)
Winston Churchill: such a man of refinement could not be born from an amorphous and classless mass
Le Nouvel Aperçu: “Does not the crisis in our society stem precisely from having given too much importance to the elites? Does the solution not lie in restoring the value of the ‘average man’?”
Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: “Due attention to the rights of the human mass that is called the ‘average man’ is certainly part of the mission of the State and society. Indeed, it stands in the first place among their obligations.
“However, your question reflects a strictly egalitarian position, which so exalts the rights of the people -- in the delightful language of the Middle Ages they were called ‘the little people of God,’ but today are called ‘the masses’ -- as to leave no place for any other class.
“Now, the existence of elites is a factor that of itself satisfies many legitimate and basic necessities of the people. Notice that I say ‘people’ and not ‘mass’. If the concepts of ‘people’ and of ‘mass’ as Pope Pius XII clearly explained them are bome in mind, the role of the elites is understood spontaneously and effortlessly.
“The complementary and interdependent relationship of the elites and the other social classes and a rich and flexible notion of the common good negates many presuppositions in your question and provides a valid answer to them.”
Marie Antoinette with her children: showing the perennial splendor of nobility abiding within the family
Le Nouvel Aperçu: “After the fall of the Berlin Wall we have seen the disappearance of the old communist regime and, shortly thereafter, the return of communists in many places through elections. Do you think that the old aparatchiks form an elite in those countries today? From your book’s viewpoint, what is the solution to the chaos there if only one alternative exists between the mass molded by seventy years of communism and the old nomenklatura?”
Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: “From that perspective, there is no solution. Chaos is really the sad epilogue of the various evolutions through which the communist world has passed. Where will this chaos end? This is a very different question. History presents many cases of chaotic situations that ended with the liquidation of the components of the chaos, giving way to the subsequent formation of different situations, some of them brilliant. But most of these present cases are soft, expressionless, and melancholic These are people ‘sitting at the edge of death’ in a certain sense of the expression.
“This is what happened to ancient Egypt, to Greece dominated by Rome, to India before the great navigations of the West, and also to most of the populations of the Far East and Asia.
“A brilliant example of the opposite is the emergence from the chaos that had enveloped the territory of the old Western Roman Empire in consequence of the almost simultaneous invasions of the barbarians and the Arabs. The result was truly chaotic. However, not everything was chaos. While the Roman Imperial authorities abandoned their posts and fled shamefully before the approaching barbarians, the ecclesiastical authorities remained in their places. They began, very often at the risk of their lives, to impart a moral formation of the first order to those populations of barbarians, who often bore traces of notable innocence and uprightness.
“The Church supported everything positive in the primitive morality of the barbarians, but combated the censurable aspects, the factors of chaos, From this amalgam, enlivened by the renewing strength of the Gospel, the Middle Ages were born, which, in turn, gave rise to Western Christian civilization.
“Obviously, there is an error in supposing that chaos alone generated all that is positive in the centuries following the Middle Ages. Actually, the barbarian masses encountered in the former Roman territory an incomparable factor of organization and orientation, of cultural and social structuring. This was the leaven of the Gospel, capable of vivifying any population. It was the moral valour of the clergy that generated the Middle Ages.
“We may add that this factor is virtually unknown in today’s Soviet world, The Greek schismatic church, also called ‘Orthodox,’ cannot be seen purely and simply as an acceptable continuation of the Catholic Church, of which it is in many respects an opponent. It is notorious that during the period of communist control, the clergy of this church, dominated by the ‘orthodox’ ‘tsaro-papist’ doctrines that had subjected the ecclesiastical organization to the direction of the tsars, believed they were obliged to obey the successive communist Lenins, just as they had previously obeyed the successive tsars. Thus, rather than being factors of regeneration and of fighting against communism, they allied themselves with the regime in order not to perish. This being so, the Greek schismatic church cannot be considered a sufficient factor for the regeneration of the ex-Soviet peoples.
“In contrast, the Middle Ages was born from the disposition of each priest to die if need be p rather than yield any terrain to barbarism.
“On the other hand, the penetration of the Catholic Church into the Soviet bloc territories is very limited by a number of circumstances, of which the West has only a vague idea Finally, an appreciable number of Catholics who penetrate the ex-Soviet world are almost always influenced by the modem progressivist doctrines coming from a West where the crisis, of progressivist origin, within the Catholic Church produces the disturbances we know and deplore. Clergy of this inclination seem incapable of a restructuring action.
“Whence, then, can we expect a solution? Whence those elements of good intentions and, especially, blessed by God? They, and only they, with Rome’s support, will be able to raise the remnants of the communist 'colossus’ that lie on the ground. But do those elements exist in the ex-Soviet world? I believe they do, but in such a small number that we need a magnifying glass to find them. We need to pray for them and to help them as much as possible.”
* Nobleza y élites tradicionales análogas en las alocuciones de Pío XII al Patriciado y a la Nobleza romana (para la lectura on line)
* Nobiltà ed élites tradizionali analoghe nelle allocuzioni di Pio XII al Patriziato ed alla Nobiltà (per la lettura on line)
* Noblesse et élites traditionnelles analogues dans les allocutions de Pie XII au Patriciat et à la noblesse romaine (pour la lecture en ligne)