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Proportion between the City and the Man

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

The problem of whether to fuse the original nucleus of families that made up a city or a State with the plebeians from different places who later came to live there found a solution in some of the cities of the German Roman Empire, in the free-cities of Flanders and in the city of Venice.


Cities where the original families assimilated outsiders:
above, Bruges in Flanders, and below, Venice

Doge Palace
Those first families founded the cities, and then directed the commerce of the city. They were the descendents of the farmers in the area who had moved to the city. When outsiders from different provinces or countries also came to live in the city, they were accepted because their presence helped commerce grow and increased the clientele, but they were kept outside the inner circle of power. This is the origin of aristocratic republics such as Venice. They were aristocracies born from commerce.

Venice was directed by an aristocracy whose families were registered in the Libra d'Oro, the Golden Book, the official list of the 1,000 Venetian families that constituted the nobility, who governed the city. Venice did not have a king, but a doge, who was the chief magistrate elected for life by the city-state's original families.

These families had a long history of political fights in which they often solicited the support of the plebeians. In this way, the plebeians played a decisive role regarding who would govern the city. I think that the plebeian should have an influence through natural and organic means – such as their universities and guilds. But when their influence is not organic, like this artificial meddling in the political game, it opens a door not only for the plebeian to exert an undue interference, but also for the enemies of Christendom to do the same. Normally the Revolution infiltrates a Catholic society through the doors of artificial plebeian influences.

Harmony between the city and the countryside

How could this problem be avoided?

One solution would be for those original families to live inside the cities but maintain frequent contact with their farms outside the city boundaries. Those with sufficient means could have a house in the city and one in the countryside, living in one or another as dictated by the particular needs of the seasons. At the time of planting or harvesting, or of selling their cattle for example, the family would stay at the farm, but they would maintain a pied-à-terre in the city in order to play a decisive role in what happens there.


Tannay in Burgundy: proportion between countryside and city life
The ideal is that the city would never become so large that the inhabitants would have the sense of being completely removed from the countryside. Its size should allow the city to maintain continuity with the countryside, so that anyone in the city has ready access to the fields. Some of the pastoral tranquility, of the normal, steady and sedentary way of country living, should penetrate the life of the city.

The city has to be proportional to man. We do not see this in today’s cities. A man feels himself dissolved in the anonymity of the modern city. If a city surpasses certain limits, man cannot have what he needs. The difficulty is not to prove that the modern city is oppressive; it is to find its correct limits.

I believe that the limit should be sought based upon the instinct of sociability. Man has a natural tendency to enter into relations with things and persons he knows. He wants to be known in the place where he lives, just as he wants to know who and what exists where he lives. He wants to have relations – closer or more distant, according to his convenience – with everything that surrounds him. When this principle is violated, he starts to feel like a stranger in the place where he lives and to experience a kind of malaise. That a man should make natural relations with the persons and things around him constitutes part of the principle of sociability. This is a partial definition of the limits of the instinct of sociability.

Piazza Grande, Cortona

Man's need to know and be known is met naturally in the Piazza Grande of Cortona
A man feels the need to know the vicinities around the city so that he can see the city in perspective, to evaluate the ensemble that constitutes the place where he lives. When a city has human proportions, the individual learns about his city, and then wants to know what is beyond it, in its environs and the annexing fields. His need to know all this comes from the need for unity that man has with the created universe. It is a remnant of his first mission to be the king of creation. Since he is established in a certain place, he needs to know it well. For him to have this knowledge of and relation with the city is vital to his full development.

The tendency to have ranches and farms in the environs of cities answers this need to know the whole city up to its boundaries and have relations with it. It is also a way to balance the urban life with the country life, and not to lose the perspective of either.

Some people who have a more acute instinct of sociability need to know not only the surroundings of the city, but also the larger region into which the city is placed. Through such persons, the regional life influences urban affairs.

I think that the city impregnated with country life in these different ways makes a harmonic place where a man can live well. Life in the countryside should be influenced by the city, which represents harmony as well. The city offers the countryside the contribution of civilization, while the country gives the city the contribution of proportion and equilibrium.

In the type of modern great city that we have today, there is no relation with the countryside. It is impossible for harmony to exist in the urban life.

An organic way for plebeians to enter the upper classes

If we apply this principle to the role of families in cities, we see that those original families should maintain a continuous relation with their country farms and estates. Certainly they should also encourage the organic growth of their families and strong relations among their members so that each family maintains its history, characteristics, personality, influence, etc.

St Mark's Square

It is through their dedication to the Church that plebeians reveal their best qualities. Above, a religious ceremony in St. Mark's Square
But, at the same time, it is necessary that they welcome those who come from other places. These strangers should be admitted into their milieu insofar as they give proof of extraordinary capacity or dedication to the common good. These qualities often are revealed when a person shows a great love for the Catholic Church. By demonstrating love for the Church and interest in the well-being of the true Religion, he necessarily is interested in the well-being of morals, and therefore, the common good of all of society.

It was common in the past that through the preaching of the Church, dedicated and noble souls with a great spirit of sacrifice would appear among the plebeians. Such souls should have an open door to enter the nobility. In this way plebeians would naturally ascend to the upper classes. This is how the original families should receive the best of the plebeians with the highest morals. This is also a way to renew the blood of those first families without changing their main characteristics.

In turn, those large families, when touched by the word of Christ, by the teaching of the Catholic Church, by the grace that Our Lord Jesus Christ won for us on the height of the Cross, would give birth to a noble house, a dynasty. This dynasty or dynasties will be for an extensive region or for a country what the large families are for the city.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted October 29, 2007

Tradition in Action

Dr. Plinio Correa de Oliveira
Prof. Plinio
Organic Society was a theme dear to the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. He addressed this topic on countless occasions during his life - at times in lectures for the formation of his disciples, at times in meetings with friends who gathered to study the social aspects and history of Christendom, at times just in passing.

Atila S. Guimarães selected excerpts of these lectures and conversations from the trancripts of tapes and his own personal notes. He translated and adapted them into articles for the TIA website. In these texts fidelity to the original ideas and words is kept as much as possible.

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