Brazil: stick that is born crooked

Image_Paulinho Fluxuz


Those who attribute the deformation of ethical and moral values ​​in our society to modernity and/or the advent of capitalism are mistaken.

It is known that the origin of the name “Brasil” derives from our native plant called Pau-Brasil, which was the first plant species to suffer devastation in these parts, as it was used as an input in the manufacture of dye for the manufacture of fabrics in Europe , especially those destined for haute couture. Pau-Brasil is a medium to large tree with a straight trunk. However, unfortunately, Brazilian society has never had the same characteristic as the trunk of that tree, considered a national symbol, alongside the Ipê Amarelo. In fact, anyone who attributes the deformation of ethical and moral values ​​in our society to modernity and/or the advent of capitalism is mistaken. Furthermore, those who think that “our democracy”, in the terms in which it was shaped since the proclamation of the Republic, will one day lift us towards the top of alterity, of the common good, or at least towards a peaceful coexistence are more mistaken. less uneven.

Indeed, COMPARATO (2017) shows that in all our historical phases, whether colonial, imperial or republican – I would add another phase, inserted in the republican phase, which would be “redemocratization” -, the predominance of oligarchic power has always been a consumed fact. They only differed, in time and space, the models adopted by our elites to keep the population subjugated. “Brazilian-style democracy”, as COMPARATO(1), referring to the prison episode of Sobral Pinto in 1968, reveals that, despite the attempt to bring to our country a form of government more palatable to international tastes, it was nothing more than an ideological disguise; first to emancipate itself from the imperial yoke, then to contain the constant agitations that took place in the early years of the Republic.

In short, Brazilian democracy was a myth from the beginning. If the democratic political regime instituted by the Greeks (especially from Cleisthenes, between 508 - 507 BC) can be perfectly contested as a form of government that effectively contemplated all the people, given that only a minority of the population could participate in the assemblies, the so-called Ecclesiastes, in our specific case this “popular participation” was even more reduced most of the time. And it couldn’t have been any different, because, if the proclamation of the republic was born of a “regrettable misunderstanding”, as Sérgio Buarque de Holanda has already pointed out,(2),the Brazilian “federative democracy” ignored this regrettable mistake. As Raul Pompeia, a well-known republican politician of the time, wrote:

“Idealists should be disillusioned: the people of Rio de Janeiro do not exist (…) They will say that the people of Rio de Janeiro created abolitionist and republican agitation (…) The people did none of that. A group of bold men, quite active it is certain to look like the crowd, made up the abolitionist movement and the republican movement in Rio de Janeiro. Around these devoted champions the curious gathered; and that was it.” (3)

The rest is history. The trajectory of the so-called Brazilian democracy, which should have been minimally installed with the proclamation of the republic, is linear in relation to one point: the lack of popular participation. If before the Federal Constitution of 1988 there was still the absurdity of voting only for literate people, even with the definitive introduction of universal suffrage in our parts, after its enactment the disgrace of the prohibition of illiterates from voting remained (art. 14, paragraph 4th . of CF 1988). That is, the Brazilian citizen who did not even have the opportunity to learn to read and write, due to various structural problems in our country, is not such a citizen, because he can only offer his vote, mass of manoeuvre, never seek for himself the prerogative to participate effectively in political life. As if literacy were a suitability card. We have seen exactly the opposite.

It is very likely that Lula's election and re-election for the period 2003-2010, a candidate of popular origin, a "factory floor" or "root" worker, to use a fashionable term, was a point outside the curve. in our paradigm of oligarchic democracy. In the end, it was not by chance that his replacement was overthrown under the accusation of tax pedaling in public accounts, something that all governments do, municipal, state and federal, for better or for worse. O no sense of our current political moment with the Bolsonaro government makes perfect sense if we question the history of the country along the lines of what has already been written so far.

In fact, just to illustrate the issue of “double standards”, so common in our politics, it suffices to take as an example the recent article by former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso for the Jornal El País Brazil(4). There it is recommended, ipsis litteris, may President Bolsonaro calm down, restrain himself, think before speaking or writing. Now, everyone knows that the current president was elected precisely because of what he propagated and continues to propagate on social networks, as well as because of “fake news”. Asking him to restrain himself is like asking a chocoholic to restrain himself at a birthday party filled with cakes and chocolate treats. Just to use a “sweet” example.

For much less, the PT governments were attacked by FHC himself, a participant in several moments of the coup plot since before 2016. He never raised the voice of the alleged “prince” (of evil?) of sociology, as he likes to be called, to denounce , from the top of his egocentrism, the catastrophe that was approaching with the election of a militia group. Instead, he produced this article in which he calls the current moment, with a distorted look, “the confused times”. Not really, Mr. FHC. We live in “indecent times”. This is exactly what you are trying to downplay, in relation to the current leader of the nation, because he is not to blame for the pandemic. In truth, he may not be to blame for the start of the pandemic, but his hands are bloodied by the thousands of deaths he also “minimized”. Just as you free yourself from any guilt for the fiscal crises that broke the country in your administration, at least twice. Thousands of lives were claimed by hunger and helplessness. Hence the summary of our rocambolesque history.

In this tone, it is with perplexity that one can read in the aforementioned text two phrases that are authentic pearls. Says FHC, on pg. 4 of the text, that: “Perhaps for this reason the 'common men' in power end up being unusual, singular in their inability to define a course”. Later, at the end of the text, on p. 5, solemnly concludes: “Better, however, is to amend (recommending Bolsonaro) and say sensible things, which reach the heart and make sense in the minds of reasonable people”. Let's break it down: the first highlighted sentence is pure prejudice, namely, “common men” (the ordinary population) are incapable of governing. Nothing more oligarchic than that. The people must always submit to the privileged of the “court”. The second sentence raises two questions: who are these “reasonable” people who should listen to sensible things? Should the people always be submissive to those in power? It is certainly not the majority of the population that FHC is referring to.

In the opposite line of what FHC wrote, VIANNA(5) emphasizes, in his most recent article, the fear regarding the directions imposed by that government, when he writes that: “This 'Bolsonarist republic' is the total loss of the national experience, replaced by the fanatic and the irrational. There is a notorious difficulty of this government in dealing with politics and institutional relations”. In fact, and despite the text exhaling an optimistic smell, Vianna knows what he is talking about and warns of the totally absent national element. For him, the (democratic) tradition will soon claim its rights.

However, if FHC's text was riddled with encrypted messages for the elite of that country, as in the old days when he was Brazil's president, Vianna's text is overly attached to an imagined order, that is, representative democracy. The aggravating factor is thinking about this representative democracy in national terms. Not that she doesn't exist. Every imagined order, every myth, has the human being as its main foundation. It goes without saying that the human species has been intertwined with its myths since it sought meaning for its existence, the first being that of the “fall from paradise”. However, to embrace representative democracy as the great savior of the homeland, especially our homeland, is to forget the lessons of Comparato. This highlights that:

“The republic desired by our positivist intellectuals, and which ended up being accepted by the large rural landowners who owned slaves, was simply a non-monarchical political regime, obviously maintaining the privatist spirit, which has always prevailed among our oligarchs”. (6)

Hence the question: what has changed? Are we really that different, and better, to place the hopes of our future in the divine representative democracy? Or do we continue to cling to a universal myth, which in these parts has not even been present until today? Because showing up on polling day and choosing candidates that we won't remember the next day, and that alone, doesn't seem to me enough for such affection. We always sin for the virtuosity of the cordial man from Holland(7), That say:

“In the 'cordial man', life in society is, in a certain way, a true liberation from the dread he feels in living with himself, in leaning on himself in all the circumstances of existence. His way of expanding towards others reduces the individual, more and more, to the social, peripheral portion, which in Brazilians – as a good American – tends to be what matters most. Rather, it is a living in others”.

The famous "scholar” Charles Tilly (American sociologist, political scientist and historian) wrote an important book to establish some standards about democracy(8). Despite the questionable points, he is credited with establishing some concrete parameters for defining what can be labeled a democratic political regime. Thus, the core of his thought is that democracy (or de-democratization, as he specifies) is a continuous process between causes and effects adopted by countries. Let me explain further by quoting him:

“From this perspective, a regime is democratic to the extent that political relations between the State and its citizens engender broad, egalitarian, protected and mutually binding consultations”. (9)

Taking Tilly's model as a reference, could it be that, in some period of our history, we had all these variables together? Although broad, egalitarian, protected and mutually binding consultations may vary in scale, as a methodological rigor to determine the degree of democracy existing in each country, it is a fact that we have never had the four variables at a high level since the proclamation of the republic.

Therefore, if we are fair enough, we can see through Tilly's method the complete lack of democracy within our borders. Or am I exaggerating? Let's see: isn't it true that illiterates were only able to vote after the 1988 Constitution? Now, a large part of the Brazilian people is still illiterate. And isn't it true that equality between the social strata of this country has always been mere rhetoric? Are we protected against arbitrary action by the State today? Imagine in the past… And finally, the State guarantees citizens their basic constitutional duties without their needing to bribe, persuade, threaten (perhaps in the media?) or use influence of third parties to achieve some benefit that should be done by him, regardless of any of these indicated resources?

It is useless to lament what has happened in this country over these five centuries of existence. If there's one thing history teaches, it's that it's always moving forward. Even if we insist on forgetting the lessons it bequeathed us and we go backwards in various political, social and economic aspects, as in the current “bolsonarista” moment. Today's greatest horror is realizing how little we have learned in three decades of liberation after the last military dictatorship. But, as we said at the beginning, we never had a straight social “trunk”, like one of our symbol trees. In that sense, it is emblematic, figuratively speaking, that we have almost extinguished it. Less than two years of government elected by “fakenews”, however, in practice, administered by the military, or close sympathizers, we have no more Pau-Brasil to cut. We're going to need to finish off what's left of the Yellow Ipês now. Or other trees that are symbols of our regions, especially in the Amazon. Then we will be able to institute a new symbol tree called “Bonito”(10), originating from the Brazilian cerrado, Mato Grasso do Sul, with its crooked trunks like our caste of billionaires. The Brazilian elite thanks you. It will be better represented.

* André Márcio Neves Soares is a doctoral student in Social Policies and Citizenship at the Catholic University of Salvador (UCSAL).



COMPARATO, Fabio Konder. The Brazilian Oligarchy – Historical View. São Paulo. Contracurrent Publisher. 2017;

  • Same, pg. 150;
  • Ibid, pg. 22;
  • Ibid, pg. 161;

4 -;

5 -;

6 – COMPARATO, Fábio Konder. The Brazilian Oligarchy – Historical View. São Paulo. Contracurrent Publisher. 2017, pg. 147;

7 – NETHERLANDS, Sérgio Buarque de. Roots of Brazil. 26th. ed., Sao Paulo. Company of Letters. 1995, p. 147;

8 – TILLY, Charles. DEMOCRACY. Petropolis, RJ. Publisher Voices. 2013.

9 – Idem, pg. 28;

10 -


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