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The theoretical and practical basis of Bolsonaro's new party

By Otávio Dias de Souza Ferreira*

On August 14, 2019, deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of the President of the Republic, announced on a social network that the city of São Paulo would host, in about two months, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), according to him, the “biggest conservative event in the world".

Fulfilling its promise, the event was held at a hotel in the capital of São Paulo on October 11 and 12, 2019, with a significant audience and simultaneous transmission over the world wide web. In spite of so many pejorative references to enemies and predecessor governments and their terrible legacy, the prevailing atmosphere was one of optimism and euphoria, with the prospect of Brazil's future under conservative guidelines.

By the universe of the themes treated and the contents of the speeches, on the one hand, we identify a propositional role of the event, aiming to foment conservatism in Brazil based on the experience and contributions of American conservatism. On the other hand, we note a political role in seeking to strengthen certain actors to the detriment of others. More evidently, the CPAC stands against the entire political spectrum of the left, the progressives and the “leftism” of the exponents and “orphans of Maré Rosa”. More subtly, the CPAC introduces itself as a resource of a certain conservative group in the internal dispute in the field of the right, aiming at political leadership.

Against the Pink Tide

Until now little known in Brazil, the CPAC was created in 1974, in the midst of the Watergate scandal involving then-president Richard Nixon, and soon became an important milestone for the American conservative movement, committed to the ambitious project of coming to power, overcoming the condition of an intellectual movement already consolidated since the mid-1970s. Since the opening of that first event, starring none other than Ronald Reagan, precisely the one who in 1980 would fulfill the mission of the Conservative Movement to reach the Presidency, CPAC has been gaining more notoriety.

CPAC meetings have been organized each year in the United States by American Conservative Union (American Conservative Union) and has already yielded other editions abroad besides this one in Brazil: in Australia, Japan and Korea.

In a speech at the opening of the event, the host Eduardo Bolsonaro defined the meeting thus: “This event here is not the Foro de São Paulo inverted. This event does not serve as a way for us to devise a strategy for gaining power. This event here is to say who we are, what it means to be conservative, how to position yourself as a conservative in debates such as abortion, gender ideology. (…) The CPAC is not the Forum of São Paulo because here our seat is not for power. Our thirst is to know who we are, to know how to organize ourselves. If we happen to elect someone, that's a consequence. But it will never be our main objective. (…) Because there is no point in putting the first candidate, the number one in the electoral polls, if he is not going to be in favor of the family, if he is not going to know how to defend the right to self-defence, you know, to arms, or the other agendas that are so dear to us, such as the reduction of the State and so on.

In the same opening session of the event, the representative of American Conservative Union, Matt Schlapp, said that Eduardo's proposal that seduced him involved the founding of a conservative movement in Brazil, both in government and in culture and society.

There was little propaganda spread at the event regarding the supposedly extraordinary results achieved in the most diverse areas of public policies throughout this first year of Jair Bolsonaro’s administration. Funded by the Índigo Foundation (Institute of Innovation and Governance), linked to the PSL, CPAC Brasil 2019 brought together influencers and political leaders from Brazil and the United States. Not by chance, “politicians outside the government spectrum” are excluded.

Deploying the effort to align actors on the American continent with US conservatism that took place at the Conservative Summit of the Americas, in December 2018, the initial milestone, CPAC incorporates the concern with the consolidation of a conservative intellectual and political movement in Brazil, in pretense of promoting conservatism in the field of militancy education, culture and political institutionality.

A significant portion of the aspirations for integration corresponds to a reaction against the recent trend in the continent of Maré Rosa, especially against the orientation that denied the dictates of the Washington Consensus and that tried to resist the US hegemony in the continent.


The broad spectrum of enemies

There were countless enemies highlighted by the speakers and debaters: “climatism”, “enlightenment” [in Ernesto Araújo]; “globalism” [in Flávio Morgensen]; “Marxism”, “socialism”, “communism” and “leftism” [in various lectures, notably Mike Lee's, Matt Schlapp's, and in Brasil Paralelo's videos]; the Frankfurt School [in Ana Campagnolo]; the Public Policy Councils and the 3rd National Human Rights Program [in Damares Alves and in Taiguara Fernandez]; The Folha de S. Paul, Globo, The New York Times, El País, The Guardian [on the table about Fake News and in the interview with Eduardo Bolsonoro]; Venezuela and Cuba [in Matt and Mercedes Schlapp, especially]; the São Paulo Forum [at Oxyx Lorenzoni]; the UN and NGOs linked to George Soros [in Dom Bertrand]; and people like Dom Claúdio Hummes [in Dom Bertrand and Bernardo Kuster], Antonio Gramsci [in Eduardo Bolsonaro, Onyx Lorenzoni, Ana Campagnolo and at the table in honor of Olavo de Carvalho] and György Lukács [in video from Brasil Paralelo], Karl Marx , Engels and Lenin [in Ana Campagnolo], Jean Willys [in Damares Alves], Voltaire, Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou [in Ernesto Araújo] and Marilena Chaui [in Abraham Weintraub].

Among the enemy politicians, Lula was undoubtedly the most remembered, along with his party linked to an image of “widespread corruption” [in Filipe Martins]. Fernando Henrique Cardoso also received some mentions. His name was associated with the beginning of the project on the left. Onyx Lorenzoni presented Lula and Fernando Henrique hand in hand, stating that these two figures “are the same thing”.

Most attacks on opponents were very aggressive. The fiery speech by the Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights, Damares Alves, for example, called for the confrontation of the “bloodthirsty and violators of rights”, belonging to the left that governed the country. She added that "we can't underestimate the dog, we can't underestimate the bad". Detached from the average of the speakers, by adopting a softer and more moderate tone, which claimed dialogue with everyone, including the left, Ana Paula Henkel's speech on conservative female activism, especially in sport, deserves to be remembered.

Although it was a conservative event, the thought of the Italian Marxist Antônio Gramsci received considerable attention, especially with regard to the appropriation of his idea of ​​“hegemony” from the cultural terrain, which reached the field of the Brazilian right through the hands of Olavo de Carvalho. Under this guidance, two of the videos by the production company Brasil Paralelo, broadcast live on the screen located on the stage of the event, accused the Left of having orchestrated a strategy of hegemony, based on the occupation of educational, cultural and media institutions.

One of the videos proposed a rereading of the history of redemocratization and the 1988 Constituent Assembly, and the other, the history of the 1968 political movements. Bernardo Kuster positioned himself in his lecture at CPAC Brasil 2019: “It is not just because Bolsonaro came to power that everything is resolved. As has been said, we don't have a conservative university, we don't have a conservative high culture, we don't have a conservative media”.

The main intellectual reference

Would the reader believe if I told him that the champion thinker of references was Olavo de Carvalho? Well, it was. and that's not fake news. An entire table was formed by four of his distinguished students [Filipe Martins, Rafael Nogueira, Flávio Morgensen and Taiguara Fernandez] in his honor. Bolsonaro's two ministers of state who opened and closed the CPAC work on Saturday, Ernesto Araújo (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and Abraham Weintraub (Education), respectively, join the team of former students and disciples of the philosopher. The organizer of the event himself, Eduardo Bolsonaro, declared at the opening of the CPAC that “our dear Olavo” would be, “for him, the greatest leader of the conservatives in Brazil”.

The list of notorious admirers who were featured at CPAC also includes Bernardo Kuster and the journalist Alan dos Santos. The latter was not included in the official program, but commanded the Interactive Room of the event, in an auditorium where he interviewed several speakers and participants of the Conference. Nothing is more symbolic for an event that deals with the conservative integration between Brazil and the United States than the consecration of a Brazilian intellectual who lives in Virginia and drinks directly from the source of American conservative thought.

In addition to the identification of enemies, the treatment given to them and the centrality of war in the field of culture, it is necessary to highlight the most propositional contents. The defense of free enterprise, the free market and values ​​of “libertarianism” appeared at various times, always in opposition to the ills of the state bureaucracy and the inefficient State, intrinsically the enemy of freedoms. References to the economic orientation shared by Milton Friedman and Paulo Guedes were recurrent. At this point, the lines of Christine Wilson, James Roberts and Weintraub stand out.

Another recurring issue was the defense of patriotism and territorial sovereignty, especially in the Amazon, in the resistance against communism [in Mike Lee] against the “climatism” and “globalism” of contemporary “leftism” [in Ernesto Araújo and Dom Bertrand].

The defense of the family and conservative Christian values ​​[in Damares Alves, Dom Bertrand and Bernardo Kuster] was supported in opposition to the guidelines of Liberation Theology, which, according to Dom Bertrand, “which also has nothing to do with liberation, because this liberation leads to the tyranny of the left, the red left, communist".

The right of self-defense through the freedom to use weapons was the subject of a specific session [by Benê Barbosa], but was also praised by other speakers [such as Eduardo Bolsonaro].

Another recurring issue was “denialism” in relation to various aspects of our history: from the denial of the genocide of the Indians and the history of racism in our society [in Dom Bertrand], to the denial of the 1964 military coup and the very existence of the military dictatorship [in Eduardo Bolsonaro and in a video from Brasil Paralelo] . Democracy was defended, based, above all, on the contemporary emphasis on electoral representation and on the conservative “silent majority” who were alien to power during Maré Rosa.

The view of human rights centered on the defense of life was advocated by Minister Damares Alves, according to natural law and the Christian creed, to the detriment of the liberal view of controlling the arbitrariness of State authorities.


Brazilian tradition

Unlike older efforts by think tanks neoliberals and libertarians to build an integrated network in Brazil and Latin America within the framework of Atlas Network and other alliance initiatives, the Brazilian conservative movement is more fragmented and historically suffers from institutionality and network organization.

Brazil does have a conservative tradition in civil society and politics, with intellectual references in political thought from at least Oliveira Viana, Gilberto Freyre, Alberto Torres, José de Alencar and Visconde de Uruguai, with organizations in civil society and with conservative influencers and leaders. In its form of action as an intellectual and political movement, it has developed, however, in a fragmented way and with little capillarity in society.

After the broad alliance of various social sectors and the entire right-wing bloc in society against Maré Rosa and the PT governments, we had, after the overthrow of Dilma Rousseff in 2016, a growing split and differentiation in the political spectrum of the right in search of occupation of spaces of power. Jair Bolsonaro's victory in the 2018 elections led a determined right-wing group to the Presidency of the Republic, but did not end these disputes.

At the end of a whole speech advocating a natural link between economic liberalism and what he understands as a “conservative attitude”, in opposition to the “totalitarianism” typical of “leftism” and “globalism”, when Minister Ernesto Araújo claimed the consolidation of “ Liberal-Conservative Alliance”, he explained the attempt to resume that alliance, but under the leadership of the conservatives. Although he denied that conservatism was constituted properly as an ideology, the initial part of the speech approached the reading of conservatism made by Karl Mannheim, when he frontally attacks the cult of reason of the Enlightenment, which would incorporate “the maximum of the arrogance of the human being” and it would have kept generations and generations away from the path of “truth”.

Near the end of this first Conference in Brazil, Eduardo Bolsonaro and Matt Schlapp took the stage, to effusive applause from the audience, to publicly sign a commitment term to guarantee the holding of future editions of the Conference in Brazil. While the Conservative Summit of the Americas, scheduled for the end of the year in northeastern Brazil, focuses on conservative integration on the continent, CPAC Brazil will continue as a bilateral effort, more focused on affecting the Brazilian reality under the inspiration of American institutional construction.

Combining reactive and propositional postures, both initiatives essentially aim to “fine tune discourses” [according to the words of Eduardo Bolsonaro in an interview with Allan dos Santos] of conservatives in Brazil and on the American continent.

*Otavio Dias de Souza Ferreira, PhD in Political Science from USP, is a member of the faculty of Maestria Estado, Gobierno y Politicas Públicas at FLACSO Brasil

Originally published on the website US Political Observatory (OPEU)


All lectures and even interviews in the Interactive Room of CPAC Brasil 2019 are available for free access on YouTube.

Reading suggestions

Burgos, R. Against 'socialism', the Right gathers in search of an identity. Understanding Bolsonaro. 13 Oct. 2019.

Ferreira, GN; Botelho, A. Review of Conservative Thought. São Paulo, Hucitec/Fapesp, 2010.

Lievesley, G., & Ludlam, S. “Introduction: reaction and revolt”. In: F. Dominguez, G. Lievesley, & S. Ludlam. Right-Wing Politics in the New Latin America: reaction and revolt. London, New York, Zed Books, 2011.

Mannheim, K. Ideology and Utopia. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1968.

Poggio, CG Analysis: 'Right Conference Doesn't Have Robust Roots'. In: The state of Sao Paulo, 11 Oct. 2019.

Ramírez, H. Neoliberals of the Southern Cone and their alliances. In: E. Bohoslavsky, RP Motta, & S. Boisard. Thinking about rights in Latin America. Sao Paulo: Alameda, 2019.

Rocha, C. Networked rights: right-wing think tanks in Latin America. In: SV Cruz; A. Kaysel; G. Codas (orgs). Right, turn!: the return of the right and the Brazilian political cycle. São Paulo, Perseu Abramo Foundation, 2015.

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