- Written by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
“I don’t like the motto of your society,” quipped Dona Cesarina* (see footnote), an acquaintance I had not seen in many years, as I met her by chance near the Conde Prates Building. Dona Cesarina is still a young grandmother who is always on the leading edge of all modernity.
However, despite Dona Cesarina’s permanent effort to keep “up-to-date,” she still has something homey, peaceable and even conservative about her which is no doubt left over from other eras in which she lived. This image, incidentally, she deems inadequate to her public persona, and thus carefully tries to hide it.
I took advantage of this likable “weak” side of my lively interlocutor to ask her, “Why don’t you like our motto? Does even the word ‘family’ displease you?”
Caught off-guard, Dona Cesarina replied, “Well, I wouldn’t go that far. Let’s say that, in a pinch, ‘family’ is all right. It is even beautiful that you put it on your motto, but I can’t swallow ‘tradition.’ That’s for other times. And as far as ‘property’ is concerned, I find it antipathetic. Why didn’t you use ‘work’ or ‘freedom’ instead?”
“It is a good thing that you accept the family,” I said. “It is already a point we have in common. How right we are to admire this word! It calls to mind a couple who marries with God’s blessing in order to love and help each other and perpetuate themselves in their offspring; the joys and sorrows they share, the home ambience which is gradually formed and characterized by mutual understanding and the mark of their vicissitudes; the children, whose easily molded souls imbibe the values of that home and gradually adopt them as precious ideals for life; the family, which over generations, produces numerous branches who's bonds of affection, souvenirs of the past and hopes for the future maintain strongly united; the older family members, who slowly march joyfully toward eternity and leaving behind on this earth, a work willed and blessed by God and destined to His service. How beautiful all of this is!”
Dona Cesarina, who usually does not like to hear out her interlocutors, usually presents herself as a practical person, impermeable to sentiment. However, this time she listened to me attentively. I had evidently struck a sensible ‘chord.’ On her countenance, suddenly more tranquil, one could see some surprise: Her look appeared to say “How can this inveterate feisty TFP polemicist think and say such nice things?”
I continued, “Imagine, Dona Cesarina, a city, a country in which all families were like that. Wouldn’t that place be inviting and life enchanting? Wouldn’t it have a certain logic, stability and security very different from the absurdities and surprises that assault us daily without rhyme or reason?”
As I spoke, a young lady approached Dona Cesarina. She was a carbon-copy of her and held a good-sized package in her hand. The young lady hurriedly greeted me. Obviously, my interlocutor had been there waiting for her granddaughter. I took a few steps back, though ready to continue the conversation if Dona Cesarina so wished. From a distance, I saw they were not dealing with an easy subject. At first their faces expressed a lively clash but soon enough, Dona Cesarina caved in... then the girl left quickly and triumphantly and Dona Cesarina walked toward me with the heavy package in hand.
In the guise of an explanation, all she said was, “These young girls… it’s a disgrace, we no longer understand one another.”
She clearly did not want to make any comments on her outburst. I pretended I did not hear and continued, “No doubt, ma’am, wouldn’t it be good if things were like I said?”
In Dona Cesarina’s mind, the episode with her recalcitrant granddaughter was replaced with the picture I had just drawn. She smiled, and almost forgetting her bias against the TFP, agreed.
“You see,” I said to the young grandmother, “tradition is what I’ve just described to you. It is family life itself, in the richness of the home where not only biological but moral values are transmitted in continuity over generations. In this way, a new generation does not arm itself to claim new rights and engage in struggles against its elders, but rather is prepared for mutual understanding. Continuity ensures peace and understanding between today and tomorrow and today can look tomorrow in the eye without fear of being crushed.”
Dona Cesarina was thinking about something. Could it be about her granddaughter? She was agreeing with me when, all of a sudden, a movement of antipathy burst from the depth of her soul. Wary and vivacious she answered, “I don’t buy it. Tradition is a privilege. Only the rich and mighty keep tradition.”
“So you are against the mighty and the rich? What have they done to you?”
“I just don’t like them,” she insisted. “Just think of those lords in England, for instance.”
“All right, Dona Cesarina. I see nothing terrible about those lords. However, know that tradition is not a privilege of lords. Don’t you find popular tradition still alive a little bit everywhere in Europe? Isn’t it still kept by many peasants in Portugal’s Serra da Estrela and in Tyrol, Brittany and Sicily? Don’t you find, in Brazil, remnants of tradition in the most varied walks of life, from 400-year-old traditional colonial families (Dona Cesarina grimaces) to the most modest family in the remote countryside? Don’t many immigrant families keep enchanting traditions from their native countries?”
The tantrums of Dona Cesarina are tenacious. She strikes right back: “Don’t you ever think about the plight of the multitudes without tradition? Can’t you see that if the family always bore the fruit of tradition, they would also be traditional? Why doesn’t family life generate tradition among them?”
“You feel sorry for them on that count Dona Cesarina and you’re right, but by deploring their condition, you recognize that tradition would be an asset for them. So, without realizing it, you also esteem tradition!”
“It goes to show,” Dona Cesarina replied, “that if the urban masses do not have tradition, then is it not true that tradition is a sign of bigwigs and important people?”
“Not so fast, Dona Cesarina, not so fast. Is it only the crowds, in big cities, that have no tradition? From what part of society come the most extravagant fashions, the most far out, ultramodern manners and so forth? Isn’t it from some extremely rich sectors ... often from lords and the like?”
Dona Cesarina wavered. By way of a final round, she shot back at me, “But then, where does the lack of tradition come from?”
“It occurs when family life is defective. For example, it comes when you forget or reject all tradition. I know traditionally anti-traditional families in which, from grandfather to grandson, all speak against tradition. Most often those families all fight with one another because they don’t get along.”
Dona Cesarina thought of her granddaughter. She sighed, “In this case, if tradition is for everyone, then I will accept your tradition. As for property, though, I will not accept it. Replace the word with freedom or work. I would belong to TFF or TFW. Never to TFP.”
“Well,” I said, “this matter is for some other day if we meet again in a few years…”
Dona Cesarina smiled. We parted. And she disappeared in the crowd. I followed her with my gaze. From the back, she was agile, lively and determined; she almost gave the impression of being young.
How she looks like her granddaughter! It is the force of anti-traditionalist tradition, I thought...
* In Portuguese, the term “dona” is used as a respectful (and traditional) title used in front of the first name for a married woman. [back]
The preceding article was originally published in the Folha de S.Paulo, on September 11, 1968. It has been translated and adapted for publication without the author’s revision. –Ed.