Brazil, country of the future

Image: Marcio Costa


Tracing Nazism from Stefan Zweig's autobiography and its resonances in Brazil today

Stefan Zweig, one of the most important writers (biographer, essayist, novelist, librettist, playwright, screenwriter) of the first half of the 29th century, was a privileged observer and one of the many victims of the terrible events of the period: two world wars, a pandemic, crisis economy of XNUMX, rise of nazi-fascism, exiles, among so many unfortunate events. The exquisite description of what he witnessed, through a direct experience of those horrors, constitutes a collection of knowledge, and alerts, which lend themselves to confer, by analogies and approximations, intelligibility and relevance on the ongoing regressive and disruptive processes, including and regrettably in our country.

Brazil, country of the future

Better known, or just known by many as the author of the expression “Brazil, country of the future”, the title of his 1941 book, than for the set of his remarkable literary work, or for the fact that he went into exile in Brazil, where tragically he ended his life, together with his wife Lotte, in 1942, when he lived for 5 months in Petrópolis[I]. Incidentally, the aforementioned expression is so widespread, it penetrated so deeply into the collective consciousness of generations, lending itself to varied interpretations, from the original meaning that the author lent it, as a promise of a radiant future for the country until, in subsequent decades, it prevailed a skeptical, somewhat hopelessly cynical or ironic understanding of an unpromising future that never actually arrives. It never succeeds in overcoming its archaic structures, its ancestral flaws, its social wounds, its repeated status as the vanguard of backwardness. In Millôr's reverse synthesis, the country still has a huge past ahead of it.

His writing about Brazil generated intense controversy, received strong criticism for portraying the country in a somewhat boastful way, a circumstance aggravated by the validity of the Estado Novo, which seemed to some to receive from the author, with this work, a tacit endorsement. In the presence of censorship, as often happens in authoritarian situations, there is a kind of overlapping and fusion between the notions of country, state, regime and government in the perception of many, which implies that speaking well or badly about one of these instances eventually reverberates in others.

However, Zweig's enthusiasm for Brazil predates the Estado Novo, as he had passed through the country in 1936, on a 12-day stay between Rio, São Paulo and Santos, on his way to Buenos Aires, where he was going, as an honored guest, to participate in the Congress of the International PEN Club. In fact, he was enchanted with both countries, more so with Brazil it is true, either because of the cordial reception of his interlocutors, because of the amenities of meetings with intellectuals and writers, or because of what he could see of these countries of the “new world”, especially for the contrast of the peace that prevailed in them at that moment, with the roll of war drums that could be heard in their Europe.

On the other hand, it is unreasonable to imagine that such a sophisticated author, of such international projection, with a vast and recognized work needed to fawn over a dictator on duty in a peripheral country, writing an occasional pamphlet, in the name of who knows what, compromising its reputation. It is more reasonable to assume that, regardless of the merits or defects contained in the book, this has only to do with his legitimate enthusiasm for Brazil, with the impact that it had caused him, either due to its own characteristics, or in opposition to his old Europe, in a particularly sad moment, the rise of the Nazis and the outbreak of war.

Coming from New York on his way to South America, this trip will also allow the writer to broaden his vision of and of the world, its dynamics, its history, its future. He realizes, and here he outlines a critique of the Eurocentrism so hardened by the inhabitants of the old world, that they should “no longer thinking only in dimensions of Europe, but also in the rest of the world – no longer burying oneself in a dying past, but participating in its rebirth”. Brazil appeared to him as one of the loci privileged, where “(…) man was not separated from man by absurd theories of blood and origin, there one could still … live in peace, there was room for the future in immeasurable abundance…”.

It is a fact that in his book about Brazil this fascination sometimes seems to slip into simplism, into a slight apprehension of the historical roots and social contradictions prevailing here, but in the preface the author does not fail to make reservations, pointing out shortcomings in research and need for greater experience to produce a more pertinent portrait of what he saw and understood about the country. He writes, “It is not possible for me to expend definitive conclusions, predictions and prophecies about the economic, financial and political future of Brazil”, among other repairs and caveats.

The seriousness and consistency of his writings is also attested in a passage from his autobiography, which seems more like an indication of his method: “All prolixity, all indulgence, all that is vaguely laudatory (sic), undefined, unclear, everything that superfluously delays in a novel, a biography, an intellectual debate, irritates me. Only a book in which each page maintains the rhythm and enraptures the reader until the last page gives me complete delight. (...). Necessarily [this attitude] I had to transfer myself from reading other people's works to writing my own, educating myself to special care”.

Criticism of the book ended up attenuating the fact of the wide dissemination of the country it promoted, as it was translated into almost 10 languages ​​simultaneously. And, for the author, saddened by the negative critical reception, one more element to deepen his depression. Although it cannot be estimated how much this affected him, it is plausible to assume that it contributed to his suicide six months later.

The relative lack of knowledge of Zweig's work among us has been mitigated, especially by the commitment of Alberto Dines, who coordinated the publishing of almost a dozen of the author's titles at Zahar, and by his dedication as founder and president of Casa Stefan Zweig, inaugurated in 2012 in Petrópolis, with the purpose of honoring and preserving the memory of the Austrian writer. According to Dines, writing in 2014, there was a “(…) Revival, real global 'zweigmania' (…)”, which he considered less as a rehabilitation than as a worldly cult, as if reducing the author to a character from his own novels, than considering him in some of his essential attributes.

Anyone who knows anything about his trajectory knows that what he lacked the least were attributes, notable, and tribulations, dramatic. Both are well documented and commented on in various publications and, particularly on their adversities, afflictions and torments, in their autobiography, object of some considerations below.

Zweig and Marai

Let me first make a small parallel, due to some intriguing similarities between the Austrian Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) and the Hungarian Sándor Márai (1900-1989). Both writers of copious work, subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which they saw disappear in 1918 as a result of defeat in the First War.

In the interwar period, Zweig had already become a highly successful writer throughout Europe, one of the most widely read and translated into several languages, including Russian, whose complete edition of his works had a preface by Máximo Górki. Since 1930 Zweig had some works published in Brazil and readers until the following decade; submerged for some time, being relaunched from the 1980s onwards.

Sándor Márai, two decades younger, wrote mainly in his own language, which made it more difficult to spread, being only “rediscovered” in the West, with editions in English and French in the 1990s; his first work released in Brazil, The Embers, is a 1999 edition of Companhia das Letras (a precious recommendation given to me by Fábio Konder Comparato, in 2004). Of a dozen titles published by Cia. das Letras it is worth highlighting the surprising Verdict in Canudos, a remarkable description of the episode, by an author who had never been to Brazil, but who was fascinated by reading the “Sertões” in English version '' (...) he appropriated the essentials in order to make a cut on the deep meaning of the community of Canudos”, as observed by Milton Hatoum, in the cover fold of the 2001 edition. Or as Márai himself says, “One day I started to write about what I believed had been left 'outside' from Euclides da Cunha's book – it had been left out, but 'it could also have been like that'”.

Two of the most important authors of the first half of the XNUMXth century; experienced two wars, exiled, half forgotten, rescued and finally slaughtered by perennial anguish, took their own lives. Given these trajectories, it is somewhat surprising that an author like Zweig, so closely related to his peers in that period, did not have contact with Márai; this is what can be inferred from his autobiography, in which there is no mention of the Hungarian.

But let's get back to Stefan Zweig. The circumstance of having read some of his works in recent years, appreciated his refined style, the astuteness of his research, the perspicacity of his observations and the depth with which he captures and draws the psychological profile of the characters, on the one hand, and on the other the rediscovery of his work, were more than enough stimuli to learn something about the author from himself.

While the motivation to review his autobiography was due, in addition to the fascination with his writing and his trajectory, to his narrative about periods of social crisis, warlike outbreaks, tensions and conflicts in society, whose structural matrices, typification of actors, its means of action and dramatic consequences, whether in the fate of peoples, in the degradation of institutions or in the ruin of nations, suggest sinister similarities with our time and, particularly with regard to fascist choreography, with our own country in its Bolsonarist moment.

Humanist, cosmopolitan, pacifist

In Stefan Zweig's life and work are inextricably intertwined with situations as extreme, as dramatic as two wars, exile in several countries, banishment of himself and his books; a scholar who had as friends and interlocutors a plethora of the most expressive figures in the field of arts, literature and music, especially[ii].

Humanist, pacifist, Europeanist, Zweig believed in the power of ideas, in artistic creation, notably literature, in cultural refinement as privileged means of understanding between peoples, of reconciliation between nations[iii], at a time when intolerance, xenophobia and extreme nationalism were on the verge of projecting themselves into the center of power of some nations, leading them, and with them all others, to the hecatomb of world wars.

This moral orientation based on aesthetics did not lead him to greater political engagement, although he lived and suffered directly and dramatically from the impacts of the exacerbation of conflicts that occurred. This posture, avoiding all activism that denounced the barbarism that was spreading, being already a leading figure in the world of letters and whose voice could amplify that of so many others in the resistance to warmongering and Nazism, was demanded from time to time.

Even avoiding taking sides directly or making unequivocal statements against barbarism (which particularly upset his friend of decades Romain Rolland), he did not fail to describe it in all its squalor, truculence and aberrations. While still in Austria and on his wanderings around Europe on the eve of the outbreak of World War II, he nevertheless endeavored to exorcise these threats with the delicacy of a sophisticated literati, believing that the moral value of a refined and humanist culture would be enough , or at least it could contain the scariest aspects of what was to come. Inconsistent credulity and illusory expectations as it was, distressingly and desperately, realizing.

His humanist-pacifist attitude, articulated around an almost sacred nature of art and literature, which in the face of such a reality we could perhaps designate as “morality of first aid”, proved, therefore, to be insufficient. He responded to these demands and the reality to which they referred, with growing anguish, hopelessness and depression that would eventually lead him to end his own life.

In any case, although his pacifism was not expressed by a properly political action, he endeavored to promote it within the scope of his activity. In some works, particularly in his autobiography, he is very emphatic in describing the bellicose contexts that were taking shape, pointing out the diplomatic vacillations, the incoherence and inertia of the rulers, the cruelty and cynicism of the ammunition manufacturers, the inattention or perplexity of the common people. He also describes, from what he notes with growing uneasiness, the first skirmishes of the Nazi gangs, at their birth in Munich, how they acted with ease in the face of the disbelieving condescension of so many who did not identify an immediate danger, or even a risk to democracy. , or even more a deadly threat to civilization itself.

It is based on what he reports on the context of the emergence of the Nazis, on how they were defining the contours of their nature, their origin, composing their identity as a personality, group, leadership and movement, and on the other hand, on how they were seen, with indifference, with a sympathy that is almost supportive of some, or with fears and fears almost without resistance on the part of others, is that we get to know and understand the phenomenon that would soon annihilate democracy, destroy reason, mock civilizing values, unleash war .

Nazism and Bolsonarism[iv]: contexts and approaches

A basic precaution/reservation when undertaking a comparison of different times, cultural contexts, different political regimes, scale of events, is a procedure of elementary prudence. But taking these precautions, it is possible to establish similarities of processes, typical behaviors of relevant actors, impacts on personal destinies or on societies and countries.

In this sense, I propose a kind of script to account for the context of emergence, practices and processes that shaped and configured fascism, namely its German version, Nazism, as they appear in this book of Zweig's memoirs. By means of indications and indicators characterizing the phenomenon, quotes from the author are linked, leaving it up to the readers to make possible approximations with the events, facts, actions and happenings that are increasingly coloring the sociopolitical landscape of our country's contemporaneity, since the first half of the 2010s, with particular and brutal incidence since the electoral process that led Bolsonaro to the federal government.

Two moments, two countries, two regimes and other differences do not invalidate or attenuate the perception that in the long term historical plan, we are facing movements that circumscribe the destiny of peoples with the stamp of tragedy. In the center of Nazi Europe, with a fully configured situation that unfolds in total war; here, at a time when there are still attempts, gradual advances, experiments and rehearsals that are somewhat disorganized, but still worrying about their possible disintegrating effects and dire consequences, whether at the level of the political regime, or in terms of political, cultural action and many others that embrace life in society.

There is, therefore, here among us and elsewhere, something like an update of these processes of authoritarianism, respecting the aforementioned caveats regarding context, scale and political regimes.

As we know, fascism predates Nazism, although as a political phenomenon, especially after World War II, we tend to associate them to designate right-wing, totalitarian ideas, movements, parties, leaders or political regimes. If we were to date its emergence, at least as explicitly stated, as noted by Robert Paxton, the movement began on Sunday morning, March 23, 1919, at a rally called by followers of Benito Mussolini in Milan, “to declare war against socialism”. ”.

Since then, it has been corroding democracies and causing chaos and destruction in different latitudes and reappearing here and there, in advanced and backward countries, intertwined with causes or as collateral damage of the successive crises of capitalism, until we reach the present day with the notorious figures of the buffoon -mor, Trump, and his caricatured and crude, but no less harmful follower, Bolsonaro, among others brought by the rising global tide of the extreme right.

It is true that these deplorable figures belong to this sinister authoritarian tradition, but this does not exempt us from the elaboration of a more accurate analysis to unveil them in their peculiarities, updating, nuanced and specifying eventual analogies with the matrix of the phenomenon. This is a far-reaching task that cannot be undertaken here.

Within the scope of these considerations, I can only, from Zweig's text, make an overview of the atmosphere, contexts and traits that shaped the original Nazism, and how we can explore formal similarities, but also real equivalences and socio-historical resonances with and about our worrying situation in recent years.

Nazism/fascism – characterizing elements

Scholars are prodigal in listing characteristics of Nazi-fascism, but there are consensual traits, such as the ones that follow, collected directly and textually from Zweig's book. For each identifying item that I list, with any short descriptions, the corresponding citations follow:

1 – Incredulity and disregard for the emergence of the phenomenon

Most, including politicians, journalists and intellectuals in countries where Nazi-fascism became a harsh reality, hesitated to recognize its signs, resisted giving it importance or political power, trusting in the expressiveness of its culture and traditions, in the solidity of institutions, in the capacity of responsible rulers of the nation, whose population thought their freedom and rights guaranteed in the Constitution were guaranteed.

It is an inescapable law of history that it forbids contemporaries to immediately identify the great movements that determine their epoch.

[Faced with Hitler's resurgence, a few years after the failed putsch of 1923, in the midst of an ascending wave of dissatisfaction],

(…) we still didn't realize the danger. The few among the writers who actually took the trouble to read Hitler's book mocked the pompous style of his prose rather than being occupied with his program.

Instead of warning, the great democratic newspapers reassured their readers every day by saying that that movement, which really only with great effort financed its enormous agitation with resources from heavy industry and bold debts, would inevitably collapse tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. .

(...) I must confess that, in 1933 and still in 1934, we in Germany and Austria did not believe a hundredth or a thousandth of it was possible what a few weeks later would break out.

On the eve of Austria being invaded by Hitler, Zweig, already self-exiled in London, visits his mother in Vienna for the last time. When he mentions to his friends his concern at such an imminence, they make fun of him.

But everyone I spoke to in Vienna was genuinely unconcerned. They invited each other to meetings in tuxedos or tailcoats (without imagining that they would soon be wearing the uniforms of concentration camp prisoners)...

2 – Class relations and disqualified politicians. The social ascension of the masses is perceived as a threat. The resentful petty bourgeoisie.

Fascist leaders are husks of the political lower clergy, whom the cultivated bourgeois only allow into their living rooms while they need them to crush the socialists, tend to be lower middle class scum, mentally unstable and with criminal records. His biggest motivation and goal is to eliminate the left.

Heavy industry was relieved of its fear of the Bolsheviks and saw in Hitler the man in power it had secretly financed; and at the same time the entire impoverished petty bourgeoisie, to whom he had promised (…) the “breaking of interest bondage”, breathed a sigh of relief and enthusiasm.

A skillful and populist leader, (…) he appropriated this discontent and this concern. (...), dragged with it the entire petty bourgeoisie and the dissatisfied middle class, whose envy of the wealthy was much less than the fear of falling from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat. It was exactly the same fearful layer that Adolf Hitler later gathered around himself.

3 – The poison of hatred and the will to annihilation

“Hatred between one country and another, between one people and another, between one table and another did not yet assail us every day from the headlines of the newspapers, it still did not separate people from people (...); that notion of the herd, of the mere mass, was not yet so disgustingly powerful in public life (…); tolerance was still praised as an ethical strength and not, as it is today, scorned as a weakness”.

4 – Vulgarization and brutalization of politics

It was a new power that wanted to dominate (…), a power that loved and needed violence and for whom all the ideals we followed and lived by – peace, humanity, conciliation – were old-fashioned weaknesses.

5 – Identification of enemies. Scapegoat as a unifying cause

Masses are mobilized in a patriotic frenzy to eliminate threats or perceived as such: ethnic, racial, communist, Marxist, socialist, etc. minorities.

After some advances and positions conquered by the Nazis:

(...) brutality no longer needed moral disguises; no longer served as hypocritical pretexts such as the political extermination of “Marxists (…)”.

  1. Naturalization of monstrosities and barbarisms. Much of the population accepts “things as they are”. "Method"

(...) in all his unscrupulous technique of deception, he avoided revealing all the radicalism of his objectives before accustoming the world. (…) His method: one dose at a time and after each dose a break. Always just one pill and then wait a little to check if it wasn't too strong, if the conscience of the world tolerated that dose.

7 – Perplexity in the face of setbacks

 (…) how little they knew that life can be excess and tension, a continuous surprise and being out of all parameters; How little, in their touching liberalism and optimism, did they imagine that each day that dawns before the window could destroy our lives.

8 – Lies, as a means of manipulating and mobilizing the masses. In its blunt pragmatism, truth is what serves its purpose to feed acolytes and incite the mass of its supporters.

(…) since Hitler made lying natural and anti-humanism a law (…).

The people were being deceived all the time by saying that Hitler only wanted to attract Germans from the bordering territories of Germany, who would then be satisfied and, in gratitude, extirpate Bolshevism; this bait worked wonderfully.

In several parts of the book, there are many mentions that characterize Nazi-Fascists, composing a panel of horrors, whose outlines or outlines we recognize here and now in our own reality:

– practice an anti-political policy, emphasizing the unity of the nation over class distinctions; ingrained prejudices about ideological debate; and race over reason;

– an appeal to patriotism, the meaning of which is best captured by Samuel Johnson's “canonical tirade” as the last refuge of scoundrels;

– military supremacy, including in civilian positions, points to a military dictatorship;

– sexism, machismo, homophobia;

– religion and government intertwined in a manipulative rhetoric;

– interests of large economic groups safeguarded and promoted; rights and interests of the world of work annulled, restricted or degraded;

– contempt, intimidation and persecution of the intellectual and arts world, hostility to science and the university;

– obsession with crime and punishment, with abusive repressive legislation, affront to freedoms and civil rights;

– clientelism and rampant corruption;

– instead of ideas, he prefers myths; they don't think, or if they do, it's less with the brain than with the blood or the liver;

– see themselves as crusaders against an old decayed order, who want to regenerate it, or as creators of a new, purer order;

– scramble the distribution of ideological currents, intending to make left and right positions indistinct in the political spectrum;

– launch a cultural war against democracy and human rights;

– when the liberal agenda finds it difficult to be implemented, resorting to fascism appears as the wildcard, the wildcard, but in the sequence the card getting just the wild, the savagery;

– contains a genocidal project.

Any approximation of these fascist traits with the Brazilian situation of recent years is explicitly suggested here.

keep hope

Not even in their darkest nights have they dreamed of how dangerous man can become, nor of how much strength he has to overcome dangers and overcome trials.

The realization that we are in this proto-fascist or para-fascist predicament, or when we walk into fascism, should alert us to its possible increments and, in this case, to a militant resistance, if our commitment is to democracy, rights and civilization.

As Zweig reminds us, commenting on Chamberlain's attempts to negotiate with Hitler to avoid war; I didn't go to Munich to fight for peace, but to ask for it. Your attempts to Appeasement and “try and try again” failed dismally. His upbeat message from a few days before “Peace for our time”, was extinguished in the following days by the triumph of the new conscious and cynical amorality of the Nazis.

In our case, we have no alternative but the one contained, as an epigraph, in Zweig's autobiography, taken from Shakespeare, Cymbaline: “It is urgent to face time as it seeks us”.

This quotation could be complemented with another one, by the same author, if we were more determined to confront the former captain and the plethora of mishaps already enough to deprive him of a power that ethically and legally defiles on a daily basis: “Sofoul a sky clear snot with out a storm” [“A sky so gloomy can only be made clear by a storm” (Shakespeare, Life and Death of King John).

*Remy J. Fontana, sociologist, is a retired professor at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).



Stefan Zweig, Autobiography: The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European. Rio: Zahar, 2014.

  1. Dines, Stefan Zweig in the land of the future – the biography of a book. River: 2009.
  2. Dines, Death in Paradise – The Tragedy of Stefan Zweig.Rio: 1981.

Stefan Zweig, Brazil, country of the future. Rio: Editora Guanabara, 1941.

Sylvio Back Nicholas Oneill, – Lost, the last days of Stefan Zweig in Brazil. Bilingual Tour. Rio: Imago, 2007.

Sylvio Backfilm Lost Zweig.

Publishers of Zweig in Brazil since the 1930s, Ed. Guanabara, Delta (complete works), Nova Fronteira, Zahar.



[I]He lived in Brazil for 15 months, from August 21, 1940 until he committed suicide on February 23, 1942.

[ii] Among friends, interlocutors and relations with some closeness, we can mention: Theodor Herzl, Paul Valéry, Rodin, Romain Rolland, Thomas Mann, James Joyce, S. Freud, Richard Strauss, A. Toscanini, Ravel, Bartók, M.Górki, Lunatcharski, Salvador Dalí, Bernard Shaw, HGWells, Rainer Maria Rilke, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler, B. Croce, Pirandello, Anatole France, Walther Rathenau, Conde Keyserling, A. Gide.

[iii] It is not fortuitous his observation that “Art usually reaches its apex when it becomes a vital issue for an entire people”.

[iv] Just for convenience of expression we can name “Bolsonarism” as a political current; it is still far from acquiring enough density to do so, even less to receive the stamp of a concept of political analysis. Under current conditions, however, it is no longer a diffuse expression of sectors of society, as it has already produced significant electoral results and reached positions of power. While the movement's head has little programmatic consistency, creative political energy or vibrant rhetoric, its obtuse political vulgarity and obscenity find troubling resonance. If, despite these shortcomings and inconsistencies, such a figure and what it represents continues to advance its regressive agenda, we will indeed have serious problems ahead. What is exposed in these comments of mine, based on Zweig, is, on the one hand, a bet of effective and successful resistance in the face of such possibilities, and on the other hand, as evidenced in the text, a clear warning that the worst is lurking. , relying on the inattention of some and the passivity of others, to cover the political process with horrors and aberrations, the outlines of which are already clearly defined in front of us.

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