The political theory of Brazilian thought

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Political theory and Brazilian political thought did not include (and do not include) much of what defined political science

Political theory as one of the specific areas of human knowledge had its beginnings in the ancient Greek world. Leo Strauss, one of the main, if not the main, political philosophers of the XNUMXth century, and who was one of the founders of that as a subfield or subarea of ​​study within political science departments in the United States, stated in The City and Man that it was Aristotle in classical Athens (508-322 BC) who founded political science.

Despite the terminological variations between philosophy, science, thought and theory – a dispute in the order of epistemes about the legitimate privilege in the comprehensive and analytical assertion in the investigation of politics – the fact is that the concern with this activity of individuals living constitutively together, as a collectivity in the end, it goes back to distant Attica. Since then, political theory has faced the most diverse vicissitudes. It is not convenient for us to list them here. It is only fair to say that in the 1950s-1960s Peter Laslett in the series Philosophy, Politics and Society condemned the passing of political theory.

But as Perry Anderson commented in Renovations [New Left Review, no. 2, 2000] any Darwinian argument dealing with the history of ideas will incur in misperceptions when drawing, either voluntarily or involuntarily and whether consciously or unconsciously, a parallel between species (animals) that become extinct and the remarkable vitality of the systems of thought forged by humanity in general. Brazilian political theory and political thought have been showing their firm and imaginative willingness to reflect on the problems that pervade human societies – even going through brief moments of uncertainty since their inception. In Brazil, it could not fail to be different: especially in a country that has particularities that permeate all aspects of social life, including academic and research activities in the humanities and social sciences.

Just like North American theory, but with significant peculiar characteristics, political theory originated, at least in the circumstances of intense professionalization of Brazilian social sciences, in the domain of the discipline of political science. And in this way, it faced similar issues to its American counterpart. However, unlike that, over the years it would start to have Brazilian political thought as an ally in institutional disputes as a field of study. In effect, political theory and Brazilian political thought (TPPPB), together today make up one of the formative areas of the discipline of political science in the broader scope of the course of social sciences.

While the discipline that shelters it, epistemologically, cognitively and ontologically, was raised by key figures among us, such as Fábio Wanderley Reis, Olavo Brasil Lima, Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos, Bolívar Lamounier and had a better delineated and uniform identity[1]; Brazilian political theory and political thought, in turn, built on the work of countless researchers, who, given their variety and scope, are difficult to name.

Furthermore, the subject itself of political theory and Brazilian political thought is multifaceted and dispersed in terms of styles of approach. In any case, there was no doubt that there was a first and perhaps second generation that carried out the task of building the aforementioned areas.[2] (Listing protagonists in the construction of areas of the human sciences is always inelegant, inconvenient and unrestrictedly unfair, and there is always, in some way, the fact of arbitrariness, which is why I establish such generic indications and without precise naming).

It is not a question of conforming a generalist parallel with political theory in the United States. When they arrived in America, Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin and Hannah Arendt were not received with the deference with which they are read today by professionals of contemporary political theory and political philosophy. The hermeneutic, historical, erudite and stylized assertion in the study of politics would have to compete with the consolidation and institutional authority of political science; for the sake of truth science of government – ​​an eminently American creation.

Furthermore, it was a time when Americans, precisely their political elite, were apprehensive about the end of World War II, the position of the United States in the world and the “democracy” seen as the most suitable regime for Western societies. . Self-reflection of the organizational dynamics of institutions, actors and the descriptive understanding of their articulation acquired combative priority in political science. The imposing work of David Easton is an emblem of those days.

In Brazil there were similarities with the case in the United States, at least when it comes to formal development perspectives (it was not without reason and fortuitously that João Feres Jr. warned in the early 2000s about the risk of copying when he wrote Learning from the mistakes of others [Journal of Sociology and Politics, No. 15, 2000]); such similarities are balanced with specific differences. The main one is that Brazilian political science, as Bolívar Lamounier thought,[3] one of its initiators, should and was forged as a research instrument and analytical support in the construction of our post-dictatorship democracy.

Furthermore, Brazilian political science would have to deal, as a peculiar modality of explaining the country, on the one hand with the cultured essayism[4] and the idea of ​​training in the 1930s (Gilberto Freyre, Caio Prado Jr. and Sérgio Buarque de Holanda), and on the other with the prestige of São Paulo sociology – and the iconic Florestan Fernandes. Both, Ideia de Formation and Escola Sociológica Paulista in the 1980s and 1990s, already had prestige as modes of study, understanding and criticism of Brazilian society in its multiple spheres. Even so, political science would consolidate itself as one of the most relevant disciplines in our social and human sciences; and with an important presence in the debates on the institutional design of post-1988 Brazilian democracy.

Well, building a democratic regime and institutionalizing it would demand hypothetical knowledge of the possibilities of success and failure. So that political science, epistemologically, would present the mental equipment for that – with implications for itself as such and that unfolded for the area of ​​political theory-Brazilian political thought. Commendable rigor; sophistication in explanatory language; consideration of politics as a sovereign fact; scientific treatment of state institutions; attentive and objective look at political parties; and detail in the explanation of the collected data: all these are qualities that no one who claims to be adept at knowledge excellence can refuse. However, the counterparts of these attributes are: excessive scientism; mathematization of knowledge; extrapolation of empiricism to every form of political game; method as an end in itself; coldness in dealing with values; obsession with productivism-by the-productivism; and sometimes an analytical realism that legitimizes the political system and power.

Indeed; political theory and Brazilian political thought did not include (and do not include) much of what defined political science; its difficulties as a research area within the same would be demonstrated, therefore, over the years. (It is evident that this is the historical, archaeological and reading perception of those who write these lines, which means to state that those who experienced the process directly at its beginning may not have had the same structure of feelings: if so, it remains to be seen. date-venia.)

The professionalization of our social sciences would come to be expressed, among other and innumerable ways, in disciplinary and area meetings. In the specific case of political science at the ANPOCS-Meeting of the National Association for Research in Social Sciences and at the ABCP-Brazilian Association of Political Science, respectively held annually and biannually. And, as it could not be otherwise, such encounters echo the relational dynamics of disciplines and their areas, subareas and fields of research, as well as the asymmetrical correlation of intradepartmental institutional dispositions. This is not a foolish and meaningless rivalry – it is a question of finding out that within political science departments political theory and Brazilian political thought in relation to the study of political institutions (with its empirical-statistical approach, guided by a positivist and methodological understanding of politics), international relations and public policy today, was (and perhaps still is…) in a disproportionately disadvantaged position.

The subtle but no less problematic accusations and nicknames that – political theory is not productive, that to teach Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau or Marx it is not necessary to be an expert, that normative values ​​do not matter for those who want to describe political processes statistically, that the The past tells us nothing for understanding real politics today, that science is not done in political theory, that national essayism – the classics of Gilberto Freyre, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda and Caio Prado Jr. and others – are mere speculators about what the country was like, with no use for practical research, and do not help in understanding real politics, and say nothing about the institutional-party game, they are explanations of that.

The subjective and objective consequences of this process are varied and it is not appropriate to list them here. One of them was the increasingly reduced space over the years at ANPOCS meetings for political theory to present its reflections, studies, texts, essays and research projects of its constituents. Even so, Brazilian political theory and political and social thought demonstrated vigor even in adverse circumstances. Research agendas have diversified; the subjects of study became multiple; the methodological contributions (Cambridge School, History of Concepts, French School of Politics, Marxism) present greater density; the focus on politics acquired plurality (normative theory, historical approaches to political theory, Brazilian thought, critical theory and more recently post-colonialism and post-structuralism) and the attraction of new and new political theorists and political theorists and those who think Brazilian political thought increased.

We thus arrive, in a sense, at a “new” phase. And the immanent demand for an “autonomous” space for debate, reflection on the field itself, interaction between researchers, articulation between institutions and departments, and critical self-understanding of the very meaning of doing political theory and Brazilian political thought became burning. (In Marxist language it was a world that was rising over our backs as we were making and building it.)

The experience of meetings of political theory and Brazilian political thought

The construction of the Meetings of Political Theory and Brazilian Political Thought would not be possible without the threads of continuity that connect the generation presented above, with their effort, persistence, democratic virtue, public spirit, academic rigor and training attention with their male and female students, with the most recent generation of researchers in the field of political theory and Brazilian political thought. They were the ones who consented (encouraged and extended their hands) for the start of the Meetings in 2018…. That this year will be in its fifth edition – to take place in July at IESP-UERJ.

The search for a space for reflection that would contemplate the circumstances described above and respond to institutional obstacles, led to several newcomers to the teaching and research careers in post-doctoral programs starting the Meetings of Political Theory and Political Thought Brazilian. It can be said that this is in the process of institutional consolidation. And what marks this new phase is the critical and serious plurality – truly. (Of course, there is still a way to go.)

Thus, there are researchers with rigorous work in the critical theory of society, the Frankfurt School for some (Rurion S. Melo-USP, Ingrid Cyfer-Unifesp, Ana Cláudia Lopes-UFBA, Ricardo Fabrino-UFMG, Raphael Neves-UNIFESP, Renato Fancisquini-UFBA are the “new” and “new” exponents transiting through authors such as Habermas, Seyla Benhabib, Judith Butler, Axel Honneth and themes such as communication, social networks, democratic transition and human rights); there are those who dedicate themselves to excavating the past with sophisticatedly elaborate research methods (the studies by Felipe Freller-UFSCAR/EHSS on Benjamin Constant and Guizot, the erudite care of Roberta S. Nicolete-UERJ – former students of Professor Eunice Ostrensky from the political science department at USP – by focusing on Tocqueville and Olympe de Gouges and women's writing in revolutionary France, Luís Falcão-UFF's attacks on Harrington and Machiavelli, concerns with autonomy and demophilia in a historical-conceptual perspective by Thais Aguiar-UFRJ); the concern with a normative theory gains strength in the understanding of inequality in the scholars of John Rawls and his A theory of justice (highlighted here are former advisees of Álvaro de Vita: San Romanelli, Marcos Paulo L. da Silveira, Júlio Barroso and Renato Francisquini – who mobilize Rawlsian moral philosophy and others to think about gender, health, media and freedom of expression); in Brazilian political thought, a vigor and range of themes, authors, documents, groups and intellectuals are inexhaustible (Paulo Henrique Cassimiro, Leonardo Belinelli, Diego Ambrosini, José Artigas, Pedro Lima Rego and Jorge Chaloub have works ranging from dialectical criticism from Roberto Schwarz, passing through fascism and conservative and progressive Catholicisms, coronelismo, Nestor Duarte, conservatism and the right today, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, populism, until the formation of Brazilian law in the XNUMXth century).

At the last Meeting, in 2021, a dialogue was opened with decolonial/post-colonial (post-structuralist) political theory, here we can highlight the participation of Layla Carvalho from Unilab who has been dedicating herself to investigating the relationship between law, health and reproductive justice from a feminist and racial perspective and Muryatan Barbosa from UFABC who is dedicated to the intellectual history of Africa, pan-Africanism, and who in 2021 simply won the Jabuti Prize in the social sciences category (both are black people). In the field of Marxism specifically, although the area of ​​political theory (the case is different in Brazilian political and social thought given the weight of important names from our essayist tradition) has certain distances, Gramscians have been contributing to this topic, in this case the professor of political science UFRJ, Daniela Mussi, has relevant investigations.

And there are many others who constitute (and constituted throughout the history of the area) Brazilian political theory and political thought in recent years that could be cited and remembered[5]. Furthermore – the Meetings… mark a “new” institutional and intellectual phase in the area; of greater reputation, achievement of respectability, academic prestige, disciplinary self-understanding (the problems, epistemological virtues, comprehensive limits of politics itself, research methods, themes and research agendas), self-esteem and recognition in the field of social sciences.

From 2010 to 2022: what changed for political theory and Brazilian political thought

And what about political challenges as such? Have there been changes in the last decade in such a way that Brazilian political theory and political thought can envision other general registers of interpretation of Brazilian politics and politics? When Cicero Araújo and San Romanelli wrote the now classic article on political theory among us, “Political Theory in Brazil Today”, for the volume political science - Horizons of Social Sciences in Brazil (general coordinator Carlos Benedito Martins/area coordinator Renato Lessa, ed. ANPOCS/Discurso Editorial/Barcarolla) In 2010, the world was going through a relative interregnum. It was 2010 – and we were trying to understand the political consequences of the crisis of the capitalist system that exploded in 2008 in the United States and spread across Europe, reaching the Arab Springs.

At that precise moment, the days of “renewed political liberalism”, which gained expression in the work of John Rawls, and of the second generation of Critical Theory of society, “synthesized in the work of Jürgen Habermas”, established the varied axes constituting political theory between us. The effort to understand, perfect and advance democracy organized in general lines the substantive, epistemological and cognitive arrangements of political theory from the two events (Rawls and Habermas). There was a certain thoughtful universalism in “Political Theory in Brazil Today”. But the coordinates of world history have been profoundly altered; here the 2008 crisis showed its best delineated traits.

Thus, with the exhaustion of liberal-representative democracies, the weakening of the theoretical discourse anchored in the virtues of civil society, the hopelessness with decisive importance of political parties as agents, the disenchantment with the predicates of participation-deliberation as (additional) control of the game electoral and distrust of policies based on consensus, consent, public reason – political theory (and Brazilian political thought), but, above all, the former would be impacted. (That is to say – the materials of interpretation of political theory had, and have, changed profoundly and drastically.)

It is not possible within the scope of this punctual and contingent intervention to detail the political, social, cultural and ideas transformations since the Leman Brothers: Morgan Stanley: JP Morgan Chase, Golden Sachs and the Merrill Lynch announced the crisis of the prevailing world economic order. However, part of the implications of this scenario erupted with the Arab Spring, the revolts in Greece, the Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the outraged at Spain and the June 2013 Journeys in Brazil. The response to these “uprisings” (molecular as claimed by Rodrigo Nunes and Vladimir Safatle[6]) were two: the first configured what Susan Watkins[7] (New Left Review) named new social democracies; and the second, the tragic rise of the intransigent right across the world. Trump and Erdogan, Duterte and Boris Johnson, Orban and Jair Bolsonaro, Marie Le Pen and Macri, Mateo Salvini and Sebastian Pinera accompanied by the elites and financial groups that support and sustain them – the two historical-political records started to give the coordinates of the policy at the end of the first decade and beginning of the second of the XNUMXth century.[8]

Thus, the first movements of content “changes”, so to speak, in the area of ​​political theory among us emerged. buried themes; concepts considered irrelevant; “outdated” authors; already unusual ideas were revisited and brought to the debate and research agendas. But, above all, new ideas, authors undermined by “conventions” and consecrated models and plural epistemological arrangements would come to political theory and Brazilian political thought.

Three key examples of this are: in the authors' study plan, the discovery or rediscovery of the writers and revolutionaries Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges (by Eunice Ostrensky, professor of modern political theory at the political science department at USP, and Roberta Nicolete of the department from the social sciences at UERJ) and which reflects the demands of the present time in thinking about the female (group) in political theory; With regard to the epistemological-disciplinary level, so to speak, we begin the debate with post-colonial, decolonial and post-structuralist political theory, here Luciana Ballestrin's article, “Latin America and the Decolonial Giro”, published in Brazilian Journal of Political Science it is indicative of certain changes (and at the next meeting, the fifth, to take place between the 6,7th, 8th and 1930th of July at the IESP-UERJ, we will have a specific working group on post-colonialism, decoloniality and post-structuralism); and within the scope of Brazilian political thought combined with research based on themes, studies on national fascism expressed in Catholic thought in the 2008s and research on the concept of dependency theory vis-à-vis the Escola Sociológica Paulista, respectively by Paulo Cassimiro (political science-UERJ) and Leonardo Belinelli (political science-USP/CEDEC). In this context, it is important to pay attention to the advances in the line of studies on race and politics – to the point of constituting a new thematic area for meetings of the ABCP-Associação Brasileira de Ciência Política. It is the very political and social reality of the world after 2013 and of Brazil after June XNUMX with the rise of the intransigent right, which had its apex in the election of the government of Jair Bolsonaro-Paulo Guedes-Hamilton Mourão and his project of devastation of the country ( aiming to adjust Brazilian society, or what is left of it, in the capital accumulation regime of neoliberalism today), which has repercussions in the area – is something unequivocal for a modality of studying human things as sensitive and critical as political theory is.[9] and Brazilian thought.[10] It is our vocation, as Sheldon Wolin once said,[11] being affected, contrary to what many say, by the materiality of individuals' existence and by the most intense moments of political, social and cultural contingency.

With this history, lightly and imprecisely reconstructed, of the past, the present and the horizon that is opening up, what are the challenges for Brazilian political theory and political thought? I suggest some topically. Strictly speaking: (1) it is necessary to think strategically about the ways of financing the area (which, despite the advances described just now, still crosses foggy points of intradepartmental location) at a time of budget constraints by the Brazilian State, particularly for education and for the research in the humanities; (2) the effective and “consistent” consolidation of the Meetings, here the steps to be taken are shorter, as we are already in the 5th Meeting in view of all the difficulties of the pandemic period; (3) the combination of epistemic and group pluralization-diversification, it is true that the area of ​​political theory and Brazilian political thought, unlike other areas of political science, in the last period has been and is being very sensitive in this aspect and responding institutionally to the spirit of time [zeitgeist], more advances, however, can be made with the entry into public universities of new and new – not so new – characters, there remains the question of how to break the wall of fusion between the harrowing search for subjective self-understanding, scientific investigation and the tendency to drive political and social intervention; (4) the themes and objects of research and investigation have to be guided by balance, weighting and reasonableness, we cannot, on the one hand, understand the area as exclusively the erudite reading of the canons, as well as normativism and criticism (critical theory) naive, on the other hand, the expansion of objects with a more “applied” political theory, which focuses on problems, which orients the gaze towards the empirical, which is (practical) models for public policies should not bury our intellectual disposition, predestination in the Weberian sense; (5) the relationship with other disciplines of the human sciences (anthropology and political philosophy, literary criticism and sociology, social theory and psychoanalysis, economics and history, law and plastic arts) both from the point of view of the theoretical debate itself and from the point of view of view of programmatic-institutional ties; (6) in the political context of crisis in Brazilian society, what is the role of political theorists and political theorists and those who think about Brazilian political thought? In other words, what is our intellectual and public status? Do we have to be pressed for it or not?

For my part, I believe that Brazilian political theory and political thought can, in Wendy Brown's terms, ask unasked questions and provoke the political and social imagination.) And finally; 7) our relationship with the other areas that make up the discipline of political science always has drawbacks, we have to improve it. Here's to the coming years, challenges and meetings...

*Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science at USP.


[1] Important and decisive names were involved in the construction of Brazilian political science: Francisco Weffort, Maria do Carmo Campello, Argelina Figueiredo, Lucia Avelar, Maria Hermínia Tavares de Almeida, Maria Teresa Sadek, José Álvaro Moises, Charles Pessanha, Gláucio Soares.

[2] In this respect and with due care, four names are important: Marcelo Jasmin, Cícero Araujo, Álvaro de Vita and Gildo Marçal Brandão (with the thematic project Lineages of Brazilian political thought within Cedec). And in a more distant moment it is possible to remember the names of Celia Galvão Quirino and Oliveiros Ferreira and respectively their studies on Tocqueville and Gramsci.

[3] See Bolívar Lamounier – Redemocratization and Study of Political Institutions in Brazil. Sergio Miceli (Org.) Themes and Problems of Research in Social Sciences. Sao Paulo/Rio de Janeiro. Sumaré/Fapesp/Ford Foundation

[4] Bolívar Lamounier and Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos would suggest that the essayism tradition of the 1920s and 1930s were important for the conformation of the discipline of political science among us.

[5] In this respect, it is important to point out that, in terms of institutional and location, the radiating center of the “new” phase of Brazilian political theory and political thought is the IESP-UERJ in Rio de Janeiro; followed by the department of social sciences at UNIFESP, the department of political science at USP, both in São Paulo, in addition to the department of political science at UFRJ, also in Rio de Janeiro.

[6] See Rodrigo Nunes – Ten years later, the coronavirus Occupy Wall Street continues in explosive mutation, Folha de São Paulo/Illustrious, 17/09/2021 and Vladimir Safatle – The dynamics of the popular uprising, the earth is round [].

[7] See Susan Watkins – Nuevas Oppositions, New Left Review, no. 98, 2016.

[8] There is a vast literature on this. It would be exhausting to present it here. I refer only the interested reader to the works of Susan Watkins and Wolfgang Streeck in the pages of New Left Review.

[9] In the specific case of political theory we inherit the tradition that goes back to the days of Aristotle of Nicomachean ethics and theorizing about practical reason within the scope of the contingent.

[10] Brazilian political and social thought in this regard echoes the historical and political discomfort of what Antonio Candido called the radical middle class, which had its beginnings with the position of Joaquim Nabuco and the abolitionist struggle. About Brazilian political thought specifically, the interested reader can read here at earth is round the article by Bernardo Ricupero – Current Challenges of Brazilian Political Thought [].

[11] See Sheldon Wolin – Political Theory as a Vocation. The American Political Science Review, v. 63, no. 4, 1969.

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