Vulgarity, Egalitarianism and Marvelous

by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Saint of the Day, April 19, 1966

“A Roman and Apostolic Catholic, the author of this text submits himself with filial devotion to the traditional teaching of Holy Church. However, if by an oversight anything is found in it at variance with that teaching, he immediately and categorically rejects it.”

 The words “Revolution” and “Counter-Revolution” are employed here in the sense given to them by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in his book Revolution and Counter-Revolution, the first edition of which was published in the monthly Catolicismo, Nº 100, April 1959.


In order to combat egalitarianism, we need to conceive a profound horror of vulgarity because vulgarity plays an even more central role than envy in the genesis of the egalitarian sentiment. An egalitarian person has a hateful attitude toward the marvelous. On the contrary, an anti-egalitarian person, even when poor, is characterized by an attitude of admiration toward sublime, grand and elevated things. Therefore, one of the greatest obstacles to be overcome by anti-egalitarian people is to battle their mediocre tendency to shut themselves up in the standards to which they were born.

I have been asked how to make progress when it comes to anti-egalitarianism. I have the impression that the main thing we need in order to make progress in this matter is to acquire a better understanding of what anti-egalitarianism is by grasping the moral evil found in egalitarianism.

This is not about anti-egalitarianism as a philosophical or metaphysical position but about the moral evil that exists in egalitarianism. In this sense, the concept is well established in the TFP, so we have the horror for egalitarianism that we should. How can we properly understand the moral evil of egalitarianism?

Take a person who is vulgar in the proper sense of the word. Not one that employs colloquial expressions that I like to think you would avoid, though they are part of current vocabulary. One may have a tendency to use them without thinking.

However, imagine a person who sees one of you dressed in a white shirt and tie and says, “I’m angry!” Why? “Because I would like for you to be wearing that white shirt but without a tie. Why don’t you wear this white shirt without a tie?” Now if you do that, he will still look angrily and say, “Why don’t you take that jacket off?”  If the person has no jacket on, he will say, “Why don’t you leave the shirt un-tucked rather than tucked inside your pants?”

If the shirt is un-tucked, he says, “Why don’t you wear blue jeans?” Note that this is not a person who has less and becomes jealous because the other has more. It is a person whose mindset is such that the more something is vulgar, the more he feels connatural with it and the more something is elevated, the more out-of-sync he feels with it because he likes common things.

Every egalitarian formula or attitude has common roots, which are vulgarity and the strange joy of turning against all that is orderly.

So an egalitarian person likes another who talks while hitting the other’s belly with the back of his hand, spitting on the ground, calling him “my buddy,” putting his hand on his shoulder, telling a clamorous lie and giving a ridiculous laugh. The other sees it and says, “How nice!” And when he sees a fine and distinguished young man, he says, “How pedantic! I hate him!”

Note that the issue here is not envy but a question of vulgarity. A fine or excellent thing irritates an egalitarian person. On the contrary, a vulgar thing arouses a type of sympathy because the person feels akin with the ordinary. If a person like that became rich, he would not buy luxurious things. He would waste the money on a multitude of common things and keep his worn-out jeans because he likes low level pants as a symbol of the world, life and the universal banal order of things as he sees them.

In terms of ice cream, he would love Kibon. Kibon is the most base, common ice cream available in Brazil. If someone were to serve him a fine ice cream he would become peeved and say, “Why offer me that, I like Kibon because it tastes like soap and if I could find an ice cream that tasted like mud, that would be even better because you have to really be a boor and ordinary.”

If someone were to say: “Look, I have an uncle who wants to give you a magnificently furnished bedroom with a splendid carpet, admirable curtains and refined furniture.”  In a few hours he will have turned it into a pigsty. He would hang something from a curtain, spit on the ground, throw cigarette butts on the floor, break the bed springs when flopping on the bed and spill water everywhere. He tortures all things that are beautiful and orderly out of antipathy and allergy for things that are in order.

As he looks at the ways society was in the past and observes those forms of politeness practiced years ago: “with the expression of my highest regard, I remain, sir etc….” He remarks: “What a bunch of blah, blah, blah. Wouldn’t it be much better just to say a simple ‘bye’ rather than all this nonsense?”

Take a magnificently, golden and bejeweled chariot pulled by two sets of white horses with crystal wheels like the gala carriage of the Queen of Norway, with a magnificent upholstery and panes of crystal. When he looks at it, he is tempted to grab a rock and hurl it at the carriage. He thinks this is the correct and consistent attitude in face of superiority and excellence because that carriage is the kind of thing we need to break. This is the mentality of many tourists who visit the statues of Aleijadinho and break a finger off, write their name on them and make a mess of the place. Why? Because everything that is orderly must be broken and all that is elevated must be soiled.

The egalitarian person has such a sordid soul that he loves evil for the sake evil, dirtiness for the sake of dirtiness and crookedness for the sake of crookedness to the point of preferring Barabbas to Our Lord. This mentality is worthy of hatred because it professes a love of evil for the sake of evil. It is a love of dirtiness for the sake of dirtiness and crookedness for the sake of crookedness…. Barabbas.

Barabbas must have had a horrendous face, a crazed look with long dirty and disheveled hair. He must have screamed with a timber of voice that tortured ones ears. Imagine a brute like this next to Our Lord Jesus Christ, majestic, most handsome and sublime even suffering misfortune. Anyone who were to face the Our God and Lord Jesus Christ and Barabbas and say, “that handsome man Barabbas, is the one I pick” is depraved and shows a soul as a filthy as one who sees the devil and prefers him to God.

Now then, this sordidness of soul is found in egalitarianism. To understand egalitarianism without delving into deeper theological considerations or rising to a loftier theological position, suffice it to say that egalitarianism is a bad state of soul as such.  An anti-egalitarian soul takes a position whereby he seeks the most sublime in all things in order to know, accept and love it rather than possess it.

For example, it would be normal for an anti-egalitarian person upon hearing about the crystal wheels of the Queen of Norway’s carriage, to think: “What a pity I am unable to see it.” He would not consider riding in the carriage but to admire it. A person somewhat imbued with egalitarianism would consider a sublime thing from a mechanical and practical standpoint.

Even when poor, an anti-egalitarian person is characterized by an attitude of admiration in relation to things sublime, grand and elevated. The apex of egalitarianism is to say, “Well, that wheel didn’t have to be that precious. It could well have been an everyday ordinary wheel. Why has this pretentious woman procured these crystal wheels?” This is the tail of egalitarianism rattling.

It is characteristic of an anti-egalitarian mentality to wish to see and desire and always love what is more sublime and elevated and therefore to set it apart from what is what is less sublime and elevated.

An anti-egalitarian and hierarchical mind seeks the highest things but does not despise or hate simple things. And if a person without the egalitarian spirit is poor, he lives in poverty in a dignified way without despising his poverty. What he despises is not that which is poor but that which is vulgar.

The house of the Holy Family in Nazareth was very poor, but it was not vulgar. Everything was well arranged; everything was orderly, clean and elevated even within poverty. An anti-egalitarian person does not despise this. He even considers dignified poverty a good thing. What he hates and despises is an ambience blatantly messed up out of love for dirtiness and vulgarity. This is precisely what he hates.

So here is a first point: to seek to examine ourselves and to continuously cultivate this state of mind, which elevates our spirit to the heights of God’s love. Here is the first feature of an anti-egalitarian mentality. Here we arrive to the great obstacle to be overcome by anti-egalitarian persons, which is their mediocre tendency to shut themselves up in the standards to which they were born.

There is a second thing contained within the first which is a stumbling block that cause many anti-egalitarian people to fail: everyone is accustomed to consider that “the social class in which I was born is one in which man lives well. So for me, it would be a luxury and nonsensical to want more than I have. For what purpose? I am used to this standard of living and if someone else desires more he is a fool. Because my habits, which I acquired in my boyhood are the standard of human life.”

The funny thing is that we find this in all walks of life. For example, I know a very rich lady who is a bit ill mannered. When you talk to her about French custom made clothing she says: “What nonsense! Look, there are so many cute dresses at the TJ Max on Main Street! Why do we need French couture!?” Because she was educated at the TJ Max level in spite of her money. She  thinks that is good enough. Her low standard is the world’s low standard.

This same lady once said: “Food from Europe? Bah, European food is nothing! When I go to my farm and eat those chickens with that Brazilian abundance; that is what food is all about!  Nowhere in the world do they eat like they do in Brazil.” This is idiotic. She was raised eating chicken and rejoicing with chicken so she thinks there is nothing more than chicken; chicken is the apex of her vision of things.

Other ladies might have the same psychology but are used to eating chicken only once a month. They would say: “Why all this to do about chicken? All you need is a good strong stew with lots of carrots, a thick sauce, potatoes, rice, cauliflower and butter for a good dish. No need for chicken, fine sauce or caviar. A hearty stew is what’s tasty.” From this position, cuisine plummets all the way down to bread and bananas. It arrives to the point that “This business of eating meat is silly. When you are tired, just grab a big loaf of bread, put a large banana inside and eat healthy and it it’s done.”

Irritation with standards of living superior to our own comes from self-love. As a result, all of us tend to criticize standards of living superior to ours as being superfluous. A typical criticism would be; “I live entirely well with what suffices to me, so why does so-and-so want more than he needs? He is mega! Does he think he is more than I am?” Or, even worse: “What a fool! He has been misled by empty propaganda and was persuaded that pâté is good, whereas onion paste is better.”

And so the egalitarian opinion circulates. If we say that pâté is something refined, he replies: “Refined nothing! You’ve been reading too much French literature! Bean soup is the real thing; besides, it’s healthier for you! If you stuff yourself with a whopping plate of good rice and beans you won’t need to eat dinner later. Here you come with your refined pâté on toast! This is something effeminate and stupid!”

I cannot forget an episode that happened when I was a lad. I went to a farm somewhere here in the interior of São Paulo that had an abundance of red topsoil. The farmhouse had only two sinks, one in the bathroom and the other in the dining room. If we were in a hurry we had to wash our face in the dining room where people were eating or drinking coffee.

So I washed my hands and face and inadvertently dropped the towel on the floor full of red dust. “Dreaded, I have to send for another towel,” I said. Upon hearing this, three or four lads my age let out a laugh: “Send for another towel because of this dust? You will be covered in it out there; you might as well wipe your face with it.” As I protested, they figured this spat would become an incident so they quipped: “Well, since you had a very fine education you are unable to bear the things we endure.” This was their concept of a very fine education.

So, not smearing your face with dirt is most fine and superfluous. This is a way of seeing things comes from this egalitarian spirit: “What is good enough for me is good enough for absolutely everyone and everything, and that stupid Queen of Norway is pretentious and proud for wishing to ride a carriage with crystal wheels. My mother rides on Goodyear tires on her car and that is good enough for everybody.”

So a second thing to understand is that there are requirements of refinement and good taste that we might not understand, but not understanding does not make us fools. We become sagacious when we perceive the difference. We must take an attitude of humility and understanding toward that which we were incapable of understanding.

I think we still have some progress to make in this line.