masters of slavery

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By ALEXANDRE ARAGÃO DE ALBUQUERQUE*

In Brazil, the benefits of the State were distributed to many of the ruling class, in the same way that D. João VI acted in his time to maintain the privileges of the Court. And so our anti-civilizing process continues, legitimized by the popular vote of believers and non-believers alike.

The formation of the Brazilian State had in the unity of the Portuguese language, the official Catholic Christian religion and the slave-owning political-economic system, in force throughout the national territory, the central tripod for its realization, from colonial times to the imperial phase of 1822 until 1889, when the swords of the marshals of the army with the support of the barons of the landowning class seized power and imposed the republican regime.

For four centuries we have developed an “anti-civilizing” process – authorized by our laws, customs and norms of conduct – of plundering African humans from their native nations to treat them as a moving thing in our productive system. Language and Religion, formulated by our spirit and at the same time reformulating it, legitimizing the horror of Slavery. It is not by chance that the Brazilian ruling class was the last to give in to international pressure to enact the legal end of slavery, but without worrying about the consequences to which future generations, heirs of this anti-civilizing process, would be subjected. In addition to being legal, slavery was a socially accepted Brazilian behavior.

This rationalization of slave feelings and attitudes was the basis of our public sphere. For example, in civilized societies it is not foreseen that a grandson beats a grandfather; but in Brazil it was socially accepted for a teenager to publicly torture, sometimes consecutively, an elderly black slave who was old enough to be his grandfather. According to ordinary laws, when an individual committed a certain crime, his punishment was imprisonment. But the enslaved man was not allowed this punishment, because it would mean rest from the hard work in the field and damage to the landowners. In these cases, the enslaved person was exemplarily tortured in the public square to terrify others. And as soon as he recovered from the torture, he went back to work in the fields to produce wealth for the economic system.

As the official religion, Catholic marriage had the legal value of constituting the marriage bond with all the legal consequences of that bond. However, in the case of enslaved people, it had no value. The plantation owner was legally allowed to dispose of the life of a certain Christian couple of enslaved people as he wished, as well as of their descendants, being able to sell the spouses and their children separately to other owners. And when a landowner went to make loan transactions with Banco do Brasil, he was legally allowed and accepted by the Bank to receive a certain number of slaves as fiduciary guarantee. Therefore, slavery was not a private relationship, but a public system, a form of slavery: individuals and society feeding and feeding back this form of human exploitation in a systemic way.

Norbert Elias was a scholar of the civilizing process. In his studies, he uses the notion of “habitus” according to which individuals unconsciously and imperceptibly incorporate, throughout a socialization process, the rules, norms, customs, that is, the “habitus” engendered by a society that allows coexistence in a certain social configuration. For Elias, the emergence (sociogenesis) of the absolutist State, in the European context, occupies a decisive position in the course of the civilizing process, since the civilization of conduct cannot be properly understood without a study of the process of transformation of the State. According to the author, the transition from feuds to a society with centralized power in the hands of the king, personification of the State itself, implied profound transformations in the personality structure of public agents and individuals from different social strata, as well as in their emotional posture, since the new relations of the absolutist State began to dictate rigid standards of conduct.

This data can be verified in Brazil from 1808 onwards, when the Portuguese Court moved here fleeing the Napoleonic invasion. Those who arrive here, including the regent and the royal family, arrive in very deteriorated material conditions. But, even with precarious economic conditions, the court made an effort to maintain, at all costs, the aristocratic lifestyle, precisely to avoid any kind of “social disqualification”. If the high expenses for maintaining life in and at court were not enough, D. João VI generously granted honors and privileges to the nobles who accompanied him to Brazil as a thank you and reward for their loyalty. It should also be remembered that every nobleman had some remuneration from the Royal House, also to prevent the Portuguese aristocracy that settled here from experiencing any kind of social relegation. And where did these resources come from to maintain the high luxury of the Court? From the force of slave labor exploited by the mercantile and agrarian elite of Rio de Janeiro. In exchange, this economic elite received titles of nobility, thus configuring the sociogenesis of the new Brazilian nobility, without aristocratic lineage or tradition, formed by men of rough treatment, with an archaic, pre-modern mentality. Those who, when approached, say: “Do you know who you are talking to?”, or who demand that they salute in front of them.

This brief journey into our origins aims to provoke us to think at a troubled moment in our history, where men of great importance – military and civilian – assumed political power by popular vote in the quest to point the path of our history in a new direction. Brazilian State, moving away from the participatory democratic way as regulated in our sovereign Citizen Constitution. Bolsonaro's philosophical assumptions were abundantly presented in his demonstrations as a federal deputy (for almost 30 years), fiercely radicalized during the 2018 election campaign. , unscrupulous, submissive to the USA, of diffuse religiosity, with evident inability to elaborate and conduct a civilizing project for the nation.

From the mockery of Aécio Neves (PSDB-MG), in 2014, questioning the result of the presidential election, the coup orchestration that resulted in the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, which flowed into the institutional manipulation that elected Bolsonaro. Since taking office, the only tactical action he has taken as president is to invest in chaos with a view to a dictatorial coup. Dilma was removed from power without committing a crime; against Bolsonaro, on the contrary, there are a bunch of public acts that openly denounce him. But nothing happens because most likely the benefits of the State were distributed to many of the ruling class, in the same way that D. João VI acted in his time to maintain the privileges of the Court. And so our anti-civilizing process continues, legitimized by the popular vote of believers and non-believers alike.

*Alexandre Aragão de Albuquerque Master in Public Policy and Society from the State University of Ceará (UECE).

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