Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
AMBIENCES, CUSTOMS, CIVILIZATIONS
The Windstorm of Egalitarianism
Leads to Materialism
"Catolicismo" N. 71 - November 1956 (*)
The Marquis of Spínola, commander of the valiant troops of Philip II, receives the keys of the city of Breda, in the Netherlands, from the hands of Justin of Nassau, who surrenders after intrepid resistance. This is a famous painting by Velasquez.
The general of the Catholic King is arrayed in imposing armor, which is given a note of amenity with a lace collar and enhanced by the grand sash proper to the supreme commander. The marshal's staff is in his left hand. Justin of Nassau presents himself in rich apparel, also with lace collar and cuffs.
The scene takes place in the countryside in a strictly martial ambience. Our photograph presents only the centermost part of the painting which depicts armed troops on both sides. Notwithstanding, the encounter has a note of distinction and affability that evokes images of a greeting in a salon. Defeated, Justin of Nassau presents himself hat in hand and, bowing slightly, surrenders the keys. Respecting the valor of the defeat ed, Spínola has also uncovered his head and, behind him, the nobles of his entourage follow suit. Leaning slightly forward, the victorious leader checks the bow of the Flemish gentleman with his arm, his countenance imbued with sympathy and consideration. One senses that he is congratulating his adversary for his brilliant resistance, thus chivalrously assuaging the S bitterness that surrendering entails for the conquered.
The discreet but eloquent details of this admirable painting express an entire doctrine of courtesy and a tradition of nobility of soul. Elevation of soul, derived from the Faith, and courtesy, born of charity, make inestimable spiritual values shine forth in an act that, like any surrender, is inevitably harsh and humiliating.
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Our second picture shows a corresponding scene from the Second World War: The courageous American defenders of Corregidor in the Philippines surrender to the Japanese.
According to the pragmatic and leveling style of our days, protocol has been suppressed on both sides. Nothing here displays reciprocal esteem and confidence. The victors demand that the vanquished keep their hands raised, suspecting that they may resort to some treachery. The vanquished, also suspicious, obey, thus hoping to make clear that any attack on them would be nothing less than assassination. On both sides of this tragic encounter everything is reduced to the minimum required by the spirit of pragmatism. Not a single cultural or moral value brightens the heavy and vulgar mood that follows the immortal heroism of the American resistance. The courtesy, the chivalry, the elevated concepts of bygone days are no longer manifested in the act of surrender. Scenes like this occur not only between Americans and Japanese, but among other peoples as well.
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In his magnificent allocution to the Roman Patriciate and Nobility in 1946 (cfr. "Catolicismo", n. 64, april 1956), Pope Pius XII said that there must be institutions of an aristocratic nature in a true democracy. This is likewise true for the customs of a country.
Society, from 1789 until now and at an alarming rate, has become ever more leveled, heading for complete equality. At the same time, customs have become more vulgar. Now, if we arrive at complete equality we will also arrive at complete vulgarity. And, since complete vulgarity is the reduction of things to their lowest expression and since matter is the lowest expression of things, then it is toward complete materialism that the windstorm of egalitarianism is leading us.