Allegations of hypocrisy have been pervasive this year. Republican and Democrats accused each other of it in matters relating to violating democrats voting criteria. They also billed one another with scaremongering about totalitarianism while pursuing their own authoritarian political objectives. Alternatively, some of the more prominent proponents of extreme measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus — such as Nancy Pelosi and Chris Cuomo — have been caught violating their own recommendations. As Oscar Wilde might remind us, “My dear fellow, you forget that we are in the native land of the hypocrite.”
That “native land, ” I would indicate, is planet earth, at least as long as we are all subject to the consequences of the original sin of our first parents. Though labeling our political, ideological, or religious enemies as phonies may score us rhetorical details, the unfortunate truth of the matter is that we are all guilty of hypocrisy of one species or another. The Count of Abranhos, a novel by Portuguese realist author Jose Maria Eca de Queiros and recently translated by Robert M. Fedorchek, offers such an magnified, absurdist depiction of hypocrisy that its laughter enables us to reflect on our own( hopefully) less extreme smug tendencies.
The Count of Abranhos is the story of Alipio Severo Abranhos, a nineteenth-century Portuguese nobleman, as told by his sycophantic secretary, Zagalo. The tally, Zagalo tells us, was not of princely birth. “But it is wholly inaccurate, ” and a “perfidious insinuation, ” to allege as some have, that he was the son of a butcher. Nor were any of his family members bakers. Such “petty, unimportant examinations into the privacy of a statesman’s home, ” proclaims the Count, are “singularly odious.” Rather, writes the secretary, carefully territory no intention to tarnish the reminiscence of the Count’s family, his late father was a tanner. One imagines a horrified choke from some well-bred readers.
Shame of his humble familial lineages haunts Alipio. “The biggest mistake of my life was being born of such a parent! ” he tells Zagalo. When the Count marries into fund and becomes a politician, he refuses his father’s request to finance a adapt shop in Lisbon for suspicion of the disdain such a business might elicit. Alipio is then “forced” to make the further pace of preventing his father from mortifying him at social dinners or soirees. When his father is naturally piqued by Alipio’s wars, the Count attempts to bribe him from further irritate him. The fund is refused, and Alipio doesn’t learn of his father’s death until after the burial.
The deprivation of filial reverence is stunning, though is it all that different from familial relations in 2020? A mother-of-four in Georgia told the Washington Post in October that her mothers were prohibited from seeing their grandchildren if they voted for Trump. Others swore they would only have children if their own parents voted for Biden. Of course, there are plenty of non-political samples: that countless elderly in nursing homes are rarely visited by their families; that we see euthanasia options for those whose quality of life we deem to be too low. Even those interested to obey the fourth commandment often end up ignoring elderly parents.
Alipio evinces a same hypocrisy when it comes to moral issues. In public, the Count presents himself as the personification of “wise sobriety, ” drinking simply the customary glass of orgeat, a non-alcoholic almond-flavored drink popular in Portugal. Yet at home he drinks liberally from a bottle of gin under his bunked — “a poignant precedent of personal respect and submission to propriety! ” declares Zagalo.
The Count exhibits the same discretion when it comes to sex dalliances, waiting until nightfall to go to the “most secluded alleys” to indulge in the “inescapable demands” of human nature. As a young student, Alipio impregnates a servant girl. Unemployed and with a babe to backing, the beautiful young girl turns to prostitution. When she asks financial help of him, Alipio indignantly refuses on the grounds that if he cured her, she might have yet more children who are capable of in turn become societal dead weight. “So much did that strong-minded, uncompromising soul abhor listless acceptance and vain holines, ” narrates Zagalo, without the least hint of irony.
Ours is a culture of prodigious sex license and libertinism. There is historically unparalleled accessibility to pornography, even in its more extreme assembles. Apps and websites facilitate not only non-committal sexual communications but even cheating on one’s spouse. Television programming and movies promote ever more peculiar and dehumanizing forms of sexuality. Even if we have not sired an illegitimate child whom we are unwilling to support, the things that we allow ourselves to watch( or even go sought for) hint we may not be as different from the Count as we would like to think. As our Lord testifies: “But I told me to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already dedicated adultery with her in his heart”( Matthew 5:28 ).
Then there is Alipio’s political hypocrisy. The Count, Zagalo tells us, is frequently incensed by the poor begging for alms “under the pretext of having hungry children or deformed limbs.” He thus proposes an “ingenious” political answer: the poor would be isolated and monitored so that they would only be awarded bread when they possess “valid vouchers of morality.” These “indigents” would lose any right to leave these prison poor-houses unless they can prove they have gained employment. “We cannot give the worker bread on Earth, but by obligating him to cultivate the faith, we prepare banquets of Light and Bliss for him in Heaven! ” Alipio asserts.
Certainly poverty is a complex problem , not be dealt with by simply increasing government expenditures or exerting an infantry of government bureaucratic professionals. Yet neither is privation such an insoluble, inexorable Gordian knot that nothing we do can alleviate any of its deleterious effects. Thus it is worrying that as religious participation continues its obsessing decline in America, religiously-affiliated relief organizations that curb many aspects of poverty are also waning. Volunteerism is also suffering a startling deteriorate. We fool ourselves if we believe our capacity( or, more appropriately, scarcity thereof) in this is unimportant. Indeed, Jesus seems far more concerned with the welfare of the poor than he does with the wealthy.
Jose Maria Eca de Queiros in The Count of Abranhos presents a most unflattering characterization of self-righteous Portuguese nineteenth-century nobility. It is both humorous and distressing that Alipio expends his many forms of hypocrisy as weapons, and that he seems absolutely oblivious to the fact that he is himself a sanctimonious scoundrel. Indeed, granted our world is so often incapable of circumspection and thinking, the Count’s lack of self-awareness should be especially arresting. If we cannot understand why, it is all the more damning.
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