The dialectic of dissimulation



In the permanent duplicity of our political organization, the great constant was the concealment of the true holders of sovereign power.

In exquisite work,[I] Alfredo Bosi focused on the intrinsically contradictory character of the colonizing process in Brazil. I am inspired by this methodological vision, to emphasize here another opposition between appearance and reality, forming a dialectical unit: the fundamentally concealed character of our dominant social groups, with deep repercussions in social life.

To illustrate this purpose and, at the same time, pay homage to one of the best commentators on Brazilian literature, I use in this text quotations from works by some of our greatest literati, notably Machado de Assis.

The breakdown of personality

I begin by remembering the young character in the tale The mirror, by Machado de Assis.[ii] As the narrator assured his astonished listeners, each of us has two souls. One of them is exterior, which we show to others, and by which we judge ourselves, from the outside in. Another, interior, rarely exposed to external gazes, with which we judge the world and ourselves, from the inside out. A simple outfit – in this case, the uniform of a National Guard lieutenant – was able to create a dual personality for the young character in the short story.

The uniform represented a kind of external soul, thanks to which he no longer saw himself absolutely alone and isolated from the rest of the world, on a farm from which the owner, his aunt, had been absent for several days, and all the slaves had fled in the night following the owner's absence. When he saw himself not in uniform in the mirror, his image appeared “vague, smoky, diffuse, a shadow of a shadow”. However, all he had to do was put on the uniform and look at himself again in the mirror to see himself clearly, “not a line missing, not a contour different”; he had become himself again, for he had rediscovered his outer soul.

In the course of our entire history, until today, with tiny variations, this unfolding of personalities has persisted within our wealthy groups. In the domestic environment or in the private sphere, people live with the flaws and qualities of their inner soul, hidden from external eyes. In the public sphere, the character is transformed, he is another, almost totally different.

One of the reasons for this dual personality, which borders on schizophrenia, is undoubtedly the fact that the colonial complex remained with us, even after independence. As stated by Sérgio Buarque de Holanda,[iii] the attempt to implant European culture in an environment that was largely foreign to it made our ruling classes live as exiles in their own land. His mentality or worldview, component of the “external soul” in the nomenclature of Machado’s tale, was, until practically the middle of the last century, nothing more than an apocryphal copy of that prevailing in European lands, and which had little to do with reality. socially Brazilian.

Undoubtedly, since the end of the Second World War, with the weakening of the economic and cultural influence of the European powers in the concert of nations, the mentality of our dominant groups has broadened its horizons, although always remaining linked to the so-called civilized countries. But the unfolding of the personality remained unchanged, as the “inner soul” remained practically the same, according to the old adage: “those who can command, those who have sense obey”.

In short, the character of our so-called “elites” has always been bovarist, as Tristão de Athayde rightly pointed out.[iv] Like Flaubert's tragic character, they try to escape the clumsy and backward environment in which they live, and which embarrasses them, in order to sublimate in the imagination, for the country as a whole and each person in particular, an identity and ideal conditions of life that pretend to possess, but which are in fact completely foreign to them.

Capitalist civilization contributed a lot to the consolidation of this dual character, which arrived here along with the first discoverers and explorers of the territory. Indeed, permanent dissimulation, with the systematic opposition between appearance and reality, constitutes an inseparable element of the capitalist spirit. It is traditionally manifested by the long experience of mercantile advertising, as well as by the dissimulation of power.

In the first case, the method of action is the same employed by Satan in the biblical myth of the first and fatal disobedience of human beings to the Creator's commandments, as reported in Chapter 3 of Genesis. The merchant acts like the serpent, “the shrewdest of all the beasts of the field.” In offering his goods or services, he does not argue on the basis of reason, but rather addresses the feelings or hidden passions of the prospective buyer.

Likewise in the political sphere, capitalist leaders always seek to remain in a hidden or disguised position, as subjects of state power, when, in fact, they live and prosper closely linked to the great state agents, forming an oligarchic duo. For, as the French historian Fernand Braudel, who taught at the University of São Paulo right after its foundation, rightly warned, “capitalism only triumphs when it identifies with the State, when it is the State”.[v] And in a short time, thanks to this hidden association, social life is completely transformed by the ethics of the incessant pursuit of material interest.

In a famous sonnet, reproduced by Professor Bosi in chapter 3 of his Dialectics of Colonization, Gregório de Matos reported on this radical transformation that took place in Bahia in the XNUMXth century, when Salvador became the main commercial port in Brazil: “Triste Bahia! O how dissimilar / Thou art and I am from our former state! / Poor I see you, you committed to me, / Rich I saw you already, you abundant. The merchant machine has changed you, which in your wide bar has entered, I have been changing and it has changed / So much business and so much dealer. / You gave so much excellent sugar / For the useless drugs, that abelhuda / Simple accepted from the sagacious Brichote. / Oh, if only to God that suddenly / One day you would dawn so serious / May your cloak be made of cotton!”

This dialectic of dissimulation, in which appearance and reality merge to give birth to a contradictory unity, produced the systematic duplication of our legal orders. In effect, behind the official law – in general of a level equivalent to that of the most advanced countries, but whose validity is more apparent than effective – another law is in force, in every respect in line with the interests of the dominant oligarchy. When called upon to judge forensic disputes involving members of the oligarchy, the bodies of the Judiciary Power generally opt for the application of this last order, disguised as official law, thanks to the refined resources of exegetical technique.

This is what happened in our history with slavery and political institutions, as you can see.

The two faces of slavery

For a long time, historians and sociologists considered that there was a clear contrast between the enslavement of Africans in the United States and in Brazil. Whereas there the slaves were treated cruelly, here the captives would have received benign, if not downright protective, treatment.

In my opinion, at the origin of this supposed contradiction in attitudes we find a radical difference in mentalities between the two peoples. Americans, in addition to not hiding their convictions and frankly saying what they think, do not tend to hide their acts of cruelty. And this is what led to the longest and bloodiest civil war of the XNUMXth century. We, on the contrary, insist on proclaiming our lack of prejudice towards blacks and the poor, and we systematically cover up the brutalities practiced against them; which led us to abolish slavery without major conflicts.

In this regard, we embody Fernando Pessoa's pretending poet to perfection. We pretended so completely that we finally convinced ourselves of our “recognisedly compassionate and humanitarian nature”, as Perdigão Malheiro, author of a legal treatise on Brazilian slavery in the XNUMXth century, put it.[vi] And that's how we've always presented ourselves to foreign eyes. At the Paris International Exhibition of 1867, for example, our government officially reported that “the slaves are treated humanely and are generally well housed and fed… Their work is now moderate… at dusk and at night they rest, practice religion or various amusements”.[vii]

The reality, however, contrasted brutally – it is worth saying so – with this fallacious presentation of the facts. The Constitution of 1824 declared “flogging, torture, branding with a hot iron and all other cruel punishments to be abolished” (art. 179, XIX).

In 1830, however, the Criminal Code was enacted, which provided for the application of the galley penalty, which, according to the provisions of its art. 44, "will subject the defendants to walk with calceta on the foot and iron chain, together or separately, and to be employed in public works of the province, where the crime was committed, at the disposal of the Government". It goes without saying that this type of penalty, considered non-cruel by the 1830 legislator, actually only applied to slaves.

Among the various instruments of torture systematically applied to slaves, one of the most common was the tinplate mask. In the short story “Father against mother”,[viii] Machado de Assis describes it this way: “The mask made slaves lose their addiction to drunkenness, by covering their mouths. It had only three holes, two for viewing, one for breathing, and it was closed behind the head with a padlock. With the addiction to drink, they lost the temptation to steal, because it was usually from the lord's penny that they took to quench their thirst, and that left two sins extinct, and the right sobriety and honesty. Such a mask was grotesque, but the social and human order is not always achieved without the grotesque, and sometimes the cruel”.

Another instrument of torture widely applied to captives was the iron around the neck. In that same short story, Machado de Assis explains that such an instrument aimed to punish and unveil in the eyes of all runaway slaves. “Imagine,” he says, “a thick collar, with a thick stem as well, on the right or left, up to the top of the head and locked at the back with a key. It was heavy, of course, but it was less punishment than a sign. A slave who ran away like that, wherever he went, he showed himself to be a recidivist, and soon he was caught”.

It was, moreover, not surprising that slaves often ran away, and that “catching runaway slaves was a trade of the times. It would not be noble”, adds Machado de Assis, “but because it is an instrument of the force with which the law and property are maintained, it brought this other implicit nobility of claiming actions. No one got involved in such a trade out of boredom or study; Poverty, the need for help, the inability to do other work, chance, and sometimes the pleasure of serving too, even if in another way, gave the impetus to the man who felt quite tough to put order in the disorder”.

And there was more. Despite the express constitutional prohibition, the captives were, until the eve of abolition, more precisely until the Law of October 16, 1886, branded with a red-hot iron, and regularly subject to the penalty of flogging. The same Criminal Code, in its art. 60, fixed a maximum of 50 (fifty) lashes per day for slaves. But the legal provision was never respected. It was common for the poor devil to suffer up to two hundred lashes in a single day. The aforementioned law was only voted in the Chamber of Deputies because, shortly before, two of four slaves sentenced to 300 lashes by a jury court in Paraíba do Sul died.

All this, not to mention the crippling punishments, like every broken tooth, severed finger or pierced breast.

A law of 1835 established that, after a summary judicial process, slaves who killed or seriously injured their master, his wife, their descendants or ascendants would be punished with death; or the administrator, overseer and their women. But the law had limited application. Rural landlords considered it a pure waste of time to resort to a judicial process, even if expeditious, when, in their capacity as legitimate owners, they could do what they wanted with what belonged to them. The slave was one thing; not a person.

Although it was constantly kept modest, it is undeniable that the unofficial law of slavery never ceased to be applied. A good example, in this respect, was the permanence of the slave trade for many years, in a situation of blatant illegality.

A charter of January 26, 1818, issued by the Portuguese king while still in Brazil, in compliance with a treaty signed with England, determined the prohibition of the infamous trade under penalty of forfeiture of the slaves, who “will immediately be freed”. Once the country became independent, a new convention was signed with England, in 1826, by which trafficking carried out after three years of the exchange of ratifications would be equated with piracy. During the Regency, under pressure from the English, this prohibition was reiterated by the law of November 7, 1831.

But all this official legal apparatus remained a dead letter, as it had been edited solely “for the English to see”. As the great black lawyer Luiz Gama recalled, himself sold into slavery by his father when he was only 10 years old, “the shipments were unloaded publicly, at selected points on the coast of Brazil, in front of the fortresses, in full view of the police, without modesty or mystery. ; it was the Africans, without any embarrassment, taken along the roads, sold in the villages, on the farms, and baptized as slaves by the reverends, by the scrupulous parish priests!...[ix]

Effectively, in public opinion, the slave trade had nothing ignoble in itself. It was not ethical to treat human beings as commodities, but to religiously fail to pay merchant debts.

Machado de Assis illustrated this fact with the character Cotrim, in the Posthumous Memories of Brás Cubas[X]. As stated in the novel, “he possessed a fiercely honorable character (…). As he was very curt in manners, he had enemies, who went so far as to accuse him of being a barbarian. The only fact alleged in this regard was that of frequently sending slaves to the dungeon, from which they came down dripping with blood; but, apart from the fact that he only sent the perverse and the fugitives, it happens that, having smuggled in slaves for a long time, he had become somewhat accustomed to the somewhat harsher treatment that this type of business required, and it cannot honestly be attributed to the nature of originality of a man which is the pure effect of social relations”.

Faced with this tragic picture, it was not surprising that the slaves themselves also developed the habit of a dual attitude towards their masters.

This is what happened, for example, with the practice of capoeira,[xi] an invention of fugitive and persecuted slaves. At first, it was a kind of body fight. Not having enough weapons to defend themselves, it was necessary for the captive blacks to develop a way to face the enemy weapons, only with their own body. They then had the idea of ​​following the example of the animals, with butts, kicks, jumps and lunges.

The denomination of this form of corporal fight came from the bush where the fugitive slaves entrenched themselves and trained this form of resistance. In fact, capoeira was, initially, a form of defense for the quilombolas in rural areas. In spaces controlled by the master, however, the slaves had to hide this corporal combat characteristic of capoeira, presenting it as a form of dance, simple entertainment in short. Hence the appearance of the berimbau, actually used to warn of the approach of masters, overseers or captains of the bush.

With the abolition of slavery, the capoeiras were used as members of the Black Guard, founded by José do Patrocínio to defend Princess Isabel and practice disturbances and violence in republican demonstrations. Hence the fact that the Penal Code of 1890 typified, in its article 402, capoeira as a special crime.[xii]

The permanent duplicity of our political organization

Undoubtedly, structural dualism is characteristic of the political phenomenon. There is always a dialectical relationship between ideas and concrete action, between customs and state law, between critical thinking and institutions of power. In this essentially bipolar reality, neither side can subsist without the other.

There are cases, however, in which this real confrontation is distorted, because alongside political reality a political theater is built, where thinking is declamatory and agents strip themselves of their lived personality to transform themselves into dramatic characters. that is, the person returns to being the theatrical mask of origins.

This is what has always happened among us, since we adopted the system of political representation. Here again, Machado de Assis was able to perfectly characterize the dissimulation of reality by appearances. In the short story “The Medallion Theory”[xiii], on the occasion of his son's coming of age, the father decides to give him advice on an independent life. The main orientation given is the job to be exercised by the son; namely, the medallion. Essentially, clarified the father, it consists of not having your own ideas about any subject. And he concluded: “You, my son, if I am not mistaken, seem to have the perfect mental ineptitude, suitable for the use of this noble office”.

Then, the following dialogue occurs: “– And it seems to you that this whole job is just a spare part for the deficits of life? / – Certainly; no other activity is excluded. – No politics? / – Nor politics. The whole point is not to break capital rules and obligations. You can belong to any party, liberal or conservative, republican or ultramontane, with the sole clause of not attaching any special idea to these words, and recognizing them only for their usefulness. shibboleth biblical".

In the context of this dissimulation typical of our entire political life, the great constant was the concealment of the true holders of sovereign power. As already mentioned above, since the Discovery, this power has belonged, without interruption, to an oligarchic duo, formed by private economic potentates, allied to the great state agents.

In other words, the bourgeoisie is not in charge of these lands alone, as Marxists maintain, nor is it exclusively the bureaucratic establishment, as Raymundo Faoro intended,[xiv] in line with the Weberian interpretation. Sovereignty has always belonged to both these groups, permanently united, in line with the longest-standing capitalist tradition.

Machado de Assis referred to and passant to this constant dual structure of power in our society, thus characterizing the character of the short story “A Chave”[xv]: “it is seen that he is wealthy or holds some high office in the administration”.

It is therefore not surprising if, from the beginning, according to the privatist mentality of capitalism, the oligarchic duo began to use public money as its own assets, generating the lasting endemic state corruption; corruption that, for centuries, enjoyed total impunity, in contrast to the harsh repression of the slightest dishonesty practiced by members of the poor layer of our population. It is, in fact, what Machado himself illustrated in the short story called “Suje-se gordo!”[xvi]

The main characteristic of our binary oligarchic sovereignty consists in the fact that the praised principle of the rule of law never took root in our political customs; that is, the Constitution and the law never overcame the will and self-interest of dominant groups.

This was illustrated by Manuel Antônio de Almeida, in a famous passage from Memories of a Militia Sergeant (chapter 46). Wanting to free her young godson from the punishment that Major Vidigal had imposed on him, the protective godmother went looking for him, and he, wanting to cut short the conversation, immediately said: “– I already know everything, I already know everything”. “- Not yet, sir major, observed the comadre, he still doesn't know the best and is that what he practiced on that occasion was almost not in his hands. He knows well that a son is in his father's house.” – But a son when he's a soldier, retorted the major with all disciplinary gravity… – That doesn't stop him from being a son, said Dona Maria. – I know, but the law? – Well, the law… what is the law, if you want it?… The major smiled with candid modesty”.

This is the reason why we have done nothing more, in the political field, than to experience an uninterrupted series of “regrettable misunderstandings”, in the famous expression of Sérgio Buarque de Holanda.[xvii] He referred specifically to democracy, but the qualifier also fits like a glove to the liberalism, republic, and constitutionalism practiced here.

A facade of liberalism

As José Maria dos Santos clarified,[xviii] “In postcolonial America, where the fiction of divine investiture came too late to be credible, despotism could never dispense with the trappings of liberty. The main and constant effort of publicists in this part of the world has consisted almost exclusively in demonstrating, between two violences, how much absolute personal power is in line with and identifies with the most perfect democracy, provided that, transmitted to certain periods, it cannot found into hereditary rights”.

in rehearsal Is there a Brazilian Political Thought?,[xx] Raymundo Faoro exposed the fallacy of our liberalism during the Empire. In fact, not only then, but also at several other later times, the liberal ideology has been for us, as Sérgio Buarque de Holanda rightly warned, “a useless and costly superfetation”.[xx] It was in the name of defending freedoms that the Estado Novo was instituted in 1937 and the business-military regime thirty years later.

As we began our independent political life, liberalism represented progress and modernity. It could not, therefore, fail to seduce the bovarist character of our elites. Right at the beginning of the Speech from the Throne of 1823, addressed to the members of the constituent assembly, our first emperor urged them to give the country “a just and liberal constitution”.[xxx] The addressees of the imperial discourse, instead of taking such adjectives in a purely symbolic sense, according to the conventional pattern, sought instead to give them a practical scope: the limitation of the power of rulers, through the recognition and guarantee of civil and political freedoms. The monarch did not take long to awaken them from this childish daydream and put their feet on the ground: the constituent assembly was dissolved militarily and the country received from the hands of the emperor, in his own words, a constitution “doubly more liberal”,[xxiii] put into effect without debate or approval by the representatives of the people.

In the Empire, the vast majority of politicians who militated in the liberal party were unable to explain how the ideology of liberalism could, even minimally, harmonize with slavery. Almost all of them were linked, directly or indirectly, to the interests of the latifundia; but at the same time they supported the theses, called natural law, that men are not to be confused with things susceptible to alienation, and that freedom is the prerogative of every human being and never a concession by rulers.

In addition, while defending individual freedoms as a matter of principle, they accepted without major constraints the regular exercise of personal power by the emperor. Joaquim Nabuco himself, undisputed leader of the abolitionists, in the heat of a parliamentary debate ended up admitting his effective disbelief in the principle of government by laws and not by men, to solve national problems.

In a speech pronounced in the Parliament of the Empire,[xxiii] the great tribune recognized that the emperor had the duty to exercise his sovereignty, of divine origin, without ceremony in relation to the constitutional Legislative Power: “I never denounced our government for being personal, because with our customs the government between us has of being always for a long time still personal, the whole question consisting in knowing whether the central person will be the monarch who appoints the minister or the minister who makes the Chamber… What I have always done is to accuse the personal government of not being a national personal government , that is, of not making use of his power, creation of Providence that gave him the throne, for the benefit of our people without representation, without voice, without even aspiration”.

It was, in short, on the part of a four-backed liberal, to accept in practice the inveterate regime of autocracy, well expressed in the formula coined by the Viscount of Itaboraí, and which faithfully reflected the political reality: “the king reigns, governs and manages”.

No surprise, therefore, in the fact that the two parties of the Empire - the conservatives, said saquaremas, and the liberals, nicknamed lights – divergent in style, but not in political practice, tended ineluctably to converge in the center, thus fulfilling the great national vocation: to conciliate oligarchic groups. Holanda Cavalcanti characterized this reality with the famous saying: “nothing else equals a saquarema than one Luzia in the power".

Joaquim Nabuco, still there, knew how to draw the lesson from the facts and announce the future. In the speech he delivered in the Chamber on July 24, 1885 on the bill that freed slaves in their sixties, he observed that a deputy for Alagoas had denounced the formation of a “party of the centers, willing to accept at the same time the advanced element of the conservative party and the backward elements of the liberal, pushing the best, the great part of this party evidently towards the republic, and the backward part of the conservative party… I think also towards the republic (Laughter)”.[xxv]

a privatist republic

It is known that the proclamation of the Republic was nothing more than a mistake. “The people watched that bestialized, astonished, surprised, without knowing what it meant”, reads the letter, so often quoted, from Aristides Lobo to a friend. “Many sincerely believed they were seeing a stop. It was a phenomenon worth seeing.” And he immediately added, as if to somehow justify his disappointed republicanism: “Enthusiasm came later, it came really slowly, breaking the entanglement of spirits”. All this did not prevent the proclamation of the republic by the members of the provisional government from starting with the invocation of the people; which led the US diplomatic representative in Rio de Janeiro, although frankly favorable to the new regime, to deplore, in a dispatch addressed to the Secretary of State, in Washington, on December 17, 1889, the little attention that was paid to the will popular.[xxiv]

Needless to say, none of the intellectual leaders of the movement, all of whom were positivists, had in mind to fight against the age-old custom, already denounced by Friar Vicente do Salvador in the early XNUMXth century, by virtue of which “not a man on this earth is a republic, nor cares and takes care of the common good, but each one of the particular good”.[xxv]

In reality, the abandonment by the oligarchy of the monarchical regime resulted directly from the abolition of slavery. This is why, in that historical period, the republic was massively rejected by the black population, as it was felt by the latter as revenge against Princess Isabel, known as The Redeemer, as noted above.[xxviii]

In his posthumous work Crooked lines,[xxviii] Graciliano Ramos thus characterized our so-called Old Republic: “The Constitution of the republic has a hole. It is possible that there are many, but I am not very demanding and am satisfied with mentioning only one. We have, according to the experts, three powers – the executive, who is the owner of the house, the legislative and the judiciary, domestic, errand boys, salaried people for the boss to make a figure and lay down in front of visitors. There still remains a fourth power, something vague, imponderable, but which is tacitly considered the summary of the other three. That's where the car comes in. There is in Brazil an official with indeterminate but unlimited attributions. That is the gap in the constitution, a gap to be filled when it is revised, by introducing the interesting figure of the political leader, who is the only real force. The rest is bullshit”.

And in fact, as Alberto Torres pioneered,[xxix] on November 15, 1889 we institutionalized the state coronelismo. Despite what the Constitution of 1891 determined (for the North American to see, it is quite the case to say), the President of the Republic became the delegate of the governors (originally called presidents) of the States in the head of the federal government; and the governors, in turn, began to derive their political power from the support received from local chiefs, all or almost all masters of rope and cleaver in their respective latifundia.

In fact, throughout the Old Republic, the dominant local chiefs were from São Paulo and Minas Gerais, thus establishing the custom – obviously not founded on the letter of the Constitution – of alternating a Paulista and a Mineiro as Head of State. By breaking this customary rule at the end of his term, appointing Júlio Prestes from São Paulo to succeed him in the presidency, replacing Antônio Carlos Ribeiro de Andrada from Minas Gerais, Washington Luís precipitated the Revolution of 1930.

As can be seen, from the outset, under the torn republican veil, the federative reality emerged, assuring local autonomy to state potentates. That was, in fact, what came to count first of all, when, after the end of the Paraguayan War, the growing prosperity of the coffee culture in the southeastern region of the country impelled the rural oligarchies to get rid of the central power and claim greater autonomy of action in their territories, both in the economic and political domains. It is to be remembered that the signatories of the 1870 Republican Manifesto ended their proclamation, in the rustling style of the time, "resolutely flying the flag of the federative republican party".

Indeed, at the end of the Empire, the most astute republican leaders realized that what was essential in defending the interests of rural lords was not exactly the republic, but the federation. In 1881, when speaking in the Chamber of Deputies, Prudente de Morais, future President of the Republic, preferred, instead of defending the introduction of the republican regime, to propose the federalization of the Empire, according to the German model of the time. An adequate distribution of powers to the provinces, he argued, would exclude the danger, which he sensed imminent, of a majority of deputies, elected by provinces already cleared of slaves, imposing the abolition of slavery throughout the country.[xxx]

Due to inertia, we continue to maintain, in our Constitutions, the official name of the country as the Federative Republic. In the early days, the adjective had more meaning than the noun. But the political path taken here was the opposite of that taken by the North Americans, inventors of the system. There, the federation, according to the exact etymological meaning, was the narrowing of the union of independent States, previously linked by a loose confederative pact. Hence the name Federal Union, given to the unit where national political action takes place. Foederatio, in Latin, means alliance or union. Among us, on the contrary, the federation was the repudiation of the centralizing tendency, prevailing in the Empire. We created autonomous political units, instead of the gathering of states that consented to reduce their margin of independence, as happened in North America.

It is clear that this institutional artificiality, opposed to our entire historical tradition, since the Iberian origins,[xxxii] did not fail to provoke, throughout the XNUMXth century, repeated spasms of return to political centralism. Nor should it be forgotten that our presidential form of government, as in all other Latin American nations, even in times considered to be of political normality, represents an incitement to the concentration of powers in the person of the head of state. Constitutionally, the President of the Federative Republic of Brazil has always had much more exclusive powers than the President of the United States.

For this very reason, from 1930 onwards, with the rise of industrial capitalism and, at the end of the century, of financial capitalism, which required much greater centralization of powers at the head of the State, the government of the Union decisively supplanted the governments of the other federal units.

How, then, to defend the supremacy of the public good, that is, the common good of the people, above all private interests, as required by the republican character of the regime?

The best defense is self-defense. Now, the main interested party, that is, the people, is unable to defend itself, because it is considered, according to the dominant mentality and the most inveterate political practice, as absolutely incapable of exercising its rights by itself. Today, it is already recognized everywhere that the only true safeguard of the republican regime is democracy. But for it to exist, it is necessary to consecrate – in reality and not simply in terms of symbolic fiction – the sovereignty of the people.

A democracy without people

Undeniably, the collective mentality and traditional customs of our people have always been the opposite of democratic life.

The fundamental assumption of functioning of the democratic system, as Aristotle pointed out, is the existence of a minimum of social equality among the people.[xxxi] Among us, however, the long centuries of legal slavery made, in the eyes of all, the people – today customarily called “povão” – appear as that “vile nameless vulgar” that Camões spoke of. Being incapable of any useful initiative, he must, for that very reason, be put at the service of the supposedly competent and enlightened layer of the population, the one that we usually designate, with obvious abuse of language, by the name of “elite”.

Let's remember some episodes.

The protagonists of the movement that led to the abdication of Pedro I, on April 7, 1831, declared that they were reconciling liberalism with democracy. But, shortly afterwards, the Liberal leaders took a step back and put things back in their proper places. The abjuration of Teófilo Ottoni was, in this particular, paradigmatic. Justifying himself by his liberal-democratic pretensions of the past, he clarified that he had never aimed for “anything but peaceful democracy, middle-class democracy, democracy with clean ties, democracy that with the same disgust repels the despotism of mobs or tyranny of one”.[xxxii]

Returning to the same semantic ambiguity, the Republican Manifesto of 1870 used the word democracy, or cognate expressions, such as democratic solidarity, democratic freedom, democratic principles ou democratic guarantees. One of your threads is titled the democratic truth. But, symptomatically, not a word is said about the emancipation of slaves. It is known, moreover, that the leaders of the republican party opposed the Lei do Ventre Livre, and only accepted the abolition of slavery in 1887, when it was already an almost accomplished fact.

However, once the Republic was established, our leaders considered, by the same act, democracy definitively implemented. “Between us, in a frank democracy regime and complete absence of social classes…”, Rodrigues Alves, then President of the State of São Paulo, could say in a message to the Legislative Congress in the quadrennium 1912-1916.[xxxv]

Since then, and until the present moment, the democratic emulation has consisted in making the sovereign people, with the homages of style, not the protagonist of the political game, as the theory demands and the Constitution determines, but a simple extra, when not a mere viewer. He is periodically summoned to vote in elections. But those elected behave, not as delegates of the people, but as representatives in their own cause. They are the new “owners of power”, in the words of Raymundo Faoro.

Lately, it has even been claimed that, in its original purity, the democratic regime presupposes the perennial division of the people into two distinct and practically incommunicable segments: the active citizens, who are those who have the innate vocation to occupy political positions in the State – that is, the usual oligarchic groups – and passive citizens, who belong to the lower class of the governed.

However, a hermeneutical difficulty arises here. How to interpret the fundamental principle, enshrined in art. 1, sole paragraph of the current Constitution, that “all power emanates from the people, who exercise it through elected representatives or directly”?

The 1988 Constitution lists, in its art. 14, the instruments of this direct democracy, by declaring that, in addition to electoral suffrage, plebiscites, referendums and popular initiatives are manifestations of popular sovereignty. But the same Constitution sought to empty the meaning of this provision, by establishing in art. 49, item XV of the Charter that “it is the exclusive competence of the National Congress to authorize a plebiscite and call a referendum”. That is, we instituted the paradox of the represented submitting to the representative's discretionary will. “And what about the popular legislative initiative, for which the Constitution requires the signature of at least one percent of the national electorate, distributed over at least five states, with not less than three-tenths of a percent of the voters in each of them” (art. 61, § 2), an antidote was immediately discovered: the requirement for recognition, by employees of the Chamber of Deputies (in this case, always in a reduced number), of the signatures of all subscribers. As a result, to date, no bill solely of popular initiative has been approved by the National Congress.

In fact, the same guiding idea has prevailed throughout our history as an independent country, with variations due to the evolution of the global political paradigm: to attribute to the Constitution a role that legitimizes the political power that already exists and is actually organized.

This is why we have always managed to hide, in practice, the fundamental distinction between constituent power and constituted powers, which Sieyès formulated for the first time in his famous pamphlet of February 1789 (Qu'est-ce que le Tiers état?):[xxxiv]  “In any of its parts, the constitution is not the work of the constituted power, but of the constituent power. No kind of delegated power can change the conditions of its delegation.”

And who should assume, under these conditions, the role of constituent power? Here, Sieyès' response was very skilful, and he gave rise, in a way, to all the rhetorical devices used later on around the world.

In the triadic organization of medieval society, people it was the inferior estate, opposed to the two others, endowed with privileges: the clergy and the nobility. In the traditional explanation given by Adalberus, Frankish bishop of Laon, in a document from the beginning of the eleventh century,[xxxiv] each of these groups had a social role to play: the clergy prayed, the nobles fought, and the people worked (orators, bellators, laboratores).

On the eve of the French Revolution, however, the composition of the Third state it was very imprecise. In the entry of Encyclopedia dedicated to people, Louis Jaucourt begins by acknowledging that it is a “collective name that is difficult to define, because different ideas are had about it in different places, at different times, depending on the nature of governments”.

He then observes that the word formerly designated the “general state of the nation” (l'état général de la nation), opposed to the status of great personages and nobles. But that, at the time I was writing, the term people it only included workers and farmers. As can be seen, the new class of bourgeois, those who do not carry out subordinate work, did not officially belong to any of the three estates of the Kingdom of France.

It is clear, therefore, that the idea, strongly affirmed by Sieyès in the first chapter of his work, that “the Tiers it is a complete nation” represented a mere extension of the traditional formula, recalled by Jaucourt, that the people were “the general estate of the nation”; that is, the overwhelming majority of the population, against the clerical and aristocratic minority. Now, this elegantly allowed the bourgeoisie to assume a definite place in the new political regime created by the Revolution.

When Mirabeau, at the June 15th session of the Assemblée Générale des Etats du Royaume, proposed that, after the defection of nobles and clerics, it should be renamed Assembly of Representatives of the French People, two astute jurists, legitimate representatives of the bourgeoisie, immediately asked: in what sense would the word be used there people: no of populus as in Rome, i.e., the meeting of the patriciate and the plebs, or in the depressing sense of commoners?[xxxviii] It was at this very moment that the revolutionary movement began to consecrate the bourgeoisie as the ruling class.

In Latin America, and in Brazil in particular, it was not necessary to resort to this semantic artifice. The sovereignty of the people was proclaimed in all our Constitutions, but the designation of this modern sovereign began to exercise the same historical function that represented, in colonial times, the invocation of the figure of the king. “His Majesty's ordinances are obeyed, but not fulfilled”, said the local Ibero-American leaders without irony.

In short, we never had authentic Constitutions, because the true Constituent Power was never called to the proscenium of the political theater. He always remained on the sidelines, as a spectator between skeptic and intrigue, like that cart driver in Pedro Américo's painting of Grito do Ipiranga. The Constitution tends to be, for the most part, mere props to the political organization of the country; necessary, no doubt, for reasons of propriety, but with a function more ornamental than effective in the control of power.

By way of conclusion

Our long tradition of dualistic social behavior, in which appearance disguises reality, could not fail to influence the poorest sections of the population; obviously, not as a disguised mechanism of domination, as happens within the oligarchy, but as a form of reverie to escape the oppressive reality.

This was illustrated by Carolina Maria de Jesus, in a certain section of Storage Room: “I got out of bed at 3 am because when we lose sleep we start thinking about the miseries around us. [sic, in the original text] I left my bed to write. As I write, I think that I live in a golden castle that gleams in the sunlight. That the windows are silver and the lights are bright. That my view circulates in the garden and I contemplate the flowers of all qualities. […] It is necessary to create this fantasy environment, to forget that I am in the favela. I made coffee and went to fetch water. I looked at the sky, the star Dalva was already in the sky. How horrible it is to step in the mud. The hours I am happy are when I am residing in imaginary castles”.

* Fabio Konder Comparato Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Law of the University of São Paulo, Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Coimbra.


[I] Dialectics of Colonization, originally published in 1992, 4th edition in 2008 (Companhia das Letras).

[ii] In Separate Papers.

[iii] Brazil roots, 70th anniversary edition, Companhia das Letras, p. 19.

[iv] See Politics and Letters, in Vicente Licínio Cardoso, On the Margins of the History of the Republic, volume II, Editora Universidade de Brasília, p. 48.

[v] The dynamics of capitalism, Éditions Flammarion, 2008, p. 68.

[vi] doctor Agostinho Marques Perdigão Malheiro, Slavery in Brazil – Historical-Legal-Social Essay, Rio de Janeiro, Typographia Nacional, 1866, t. II, pp. 61 and 114.

[vii] Quoted by Celia Maria Marinho de Azevedo, Abolitionism: United States and Brazil, a comparative history (XNUMXth century), ANNABLUME publisher, São Paulo, 2003, p. 63.

[viii] In Old House relics.

[ix] Quoted by Sud Menucci, The Precursor of Abolitionism in Brazil (Luiz Gama), Companhia Editora Nacional, Brasiliana collection, vol. 119, p. 171.

[X] Chapter 123

[xi] See the excellent entry on this subject. capoeira, Dictionary of Black Slavery in Brazil, by Clóvis Moura, Publisher of the University of São Paulo.

[xii] “Doing agility and body skills exercises in the streets and public squares, known as capoeiragem. The person charged will be punished with two to six months in prison. It is considered an aggravating circumstance for capoeira to belong to a band or gang. Chiefs and heads will be imposed a double penalty. In case of recidivism, capoeira will be subject to the maximum penalty of article 400 (retention of the offender, for one to three years, to penal colonies that are founded on maritime islands, or on the borders of the national territory, which may, for this purpose, be (sic) used in military prisons). If he is a foreigner, he will be deported after serving his sentence. If, in these capoeira exercises, he perpetrates homicide, commits any bodily injury, outrages public and private power, disturbs order, tranquility and public safety or is found with weapons, he will cumulatively incur the penalties imposed for such crimes”.

[xiii] included in Separate Papers.

[xiv] Cf. Os Donos do Poder – Formation of Brazilian political patronage, 3rd revised edition, Editora Globo, 2001.

[xv] In Other Stories.

[xvi] inserted in Old House relics.

[xvii] Brazil roots, 5th edition, Livraria José Olympio Editora, Rio de Janeiro, p. 119.

[xviii] The General Policy of Brazil, J. Magalhães, São Paulo, 1930, p. 6.

[xx] In The Unfinished Republic, 2007, Editora Globo, pp. 25 and ff.

[xx] Op.cit., p. 142.

[xxx] Fallas do Throno, from the year 1823 to the year 1889, Rio de Janeiro, National Press, 1889, p. 3.

[xxiii] See General History of Brazilian Civilization, II – O Brasil Monárquico, t. 1, The Process of Emancipation, European Book Diffusion, São Paulo, 1965, p. 186.

[xxiii] Abolitionism, São Paulo, Progresso Editorial, 1949. P. 158.

[xxv] Joaquim Nabuco, Parliamentary speeches, Rio de Janeiro, 1950, p. 356.

[xxiv] apud Sergio Buarque from Holland, General History of Brazilian Civilization, II – O Brasil Monárquico, t. 5 From Empire to Republic, European Book Diffusion, São Paulo, 1972, p. 347.

[xxv] History of Brazil 1500-1627, fifth commemorative edition of the author's 4th centenary, 1965, Edições Melhoramentos, p. 59.

[xxviii] See José Murilo de Carvalho, Os Bestializados – Rio de Janeiro and the Republic that was not, Companhia das Letras, 3rd ed., 1999, pgs. 29/31.

[xxviii] 4th edition, Livraria Martins Editora, p. 15.

[xxix] The National Organization, 3rd ed., Companhia Editora Nacional, pp. 214 and ss. The 1st edition is from 1914.

[xxx] See Robert Conrad, The last years of slavery in Brazil, 2nd ed., Rio de Janeiro, Civilização Brasileira, p. 267.

[xxxii] Em The Owners of Power, chapter 1, Raymundo Faoro emphasizes the centralizing tradition, in the person of the king, of Portuguese political life. Sergio Buarque de Holanda, in Paradise's vision (2nd ed., Companhia Editora Nacional and Editora da Universidade de São Paulo, 1969, pp. 314 ff.), contrasts the political centralization of the colonizing process in Brazil with the relative individualism of Spanish colonization in America.

[xxxi] Politics, 1295 b, 35 and s.

[xxxii] In Paulo Bonavides and Roberto Amaral, Political Texts in the History of Brazil, vol. 2, Federal Senate, 1996, pp. 204/205.

[xxxv] in Gallery of the Presidents of São Paulo – Republican Period 1889–1920, organized by Eugenio Egas, São Paulo, Official Publication of the State of São Paulo, 1927, p. 424.

[xxxiv] Chapter V.

[xxxiv] Carmen ad Rodbertum, non-autograph manuscript, including several retouches, registered under No. 14192 at the National Library of France.

[xxxviii] Cf., on this episode, J. Michelet, History of the French Revolution, ed. Gallimard (Bibliothèque de la Pleiade), vol. I, pp. 101 and ss.

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