the difficult republic



Author introduction to newly released book

Civilian ways of life. This is the original formulation of the guiding motto of the set of articles that will be read in this book. These are two themes that intertwine. First, the way in which life presents itself to people in their ideas, their ways of living together and their relationship with the world. What people, and what form of life, are involved?

This is the second point. These are not people generally considered. They are citizens and citizens, holders of nothing less than citizenship – or what, although distorted by circumstances, characterizes them as citizens. And here comes the decisive point. The modern citizenship that concerns us here has a double foundation.

The first alludes to the set of motives, behaviors and values ​​that form the environment in which people move. Then, it is not just any environment, only one that can be called civilized. At stake is nothing less than civilization, in one of its fundamental aspects, politics. And, still, not politics in a generic way, but as a way of organizing collective life in the register of power, in its institutional dimension taken in the most comprehensive form in a specific register, as a republic.

The most immediate development of this concerns the relationship between democracy and democracy as a form of institutional organization and also as a standard of conduct. The realization of all this is fraught with severe demands, of a historical nature in the longer term and of a conjunctural nature at each moment.

The demands and difficulties of civilized and republican life in a context such as Brazil form the core of the articles collected here, written at different times. This applies from the first and most comprehensive of them, on civilization, citizenship and barbarism, to the most specific one on fascism in its possible Brazilian version, passing through the treatment of the theme of development from an unusual angle, that of the civilizing process, and by a mixture of more theoretical reflection and very concrete references when talking precisely about the theme that identifies the book, the “difficult republic”. The latter constitutes something like a first draft of a more detailed study, to be resumed.

The texts on two Brazilian interpreters of our society and our history, the socialist Florestan Fernandes and the liberal Raymundo Faoro, also display, albeit in a more nuanced way, the same great intellectual concern. More remote in relation to the theme, but in reality also relevant in a very broad and ambitious perspective, appear the two final articles, both marked by attention to a basic problem such as temporality, the mode of presence of time.

This occurs both in his specific treatment in the dialogue with the Portuguese sociologist Hermínio Martins (frustrated, therefore, by temporal irony: he died at the exact moment when his essay was finishing) and in the only case in which I ventured to face, scarcely daring to go in addition to a tiny fraction of the questions he poses, the gigantic figure of Marx. Parodying an old confessional phrase taken up by Marx on one occasion (in his critique of Gotha's program of social democracy in his time), "I said and saved my soul", dixit et salvavi animam meam.

A long trajectory in a minefield full of problems of all kinds, as important as they are fascinating. It would be good if, when reading any of these texts, the reader felt the same shiver as I did when writing it.

*Gabriel Cohn is professor emeritus at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Weber, Frankfurt. Theory and social thought (Quicksilver).


Gabriel Cohn. the difficult republic. Rio de Janeiro, Azougue, 2023 (

The launch in São Paulo will take place on Monday, April 17th, at 19 pm, at Bar Balcão (Rua Dr. Melo Alves, 150).

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