Olavo de Carvalho and the extreme right

Image: Tim Gouw


Thoughts on the Philosophy of the Virginia Philosopher

I am not a reader of Olavo de Carvalho. The death of someone with a certain degree of influence in the political and cultural life of the country, however, forces me to reflect on the meaning and importance of such a controversial figure in contemporary Brazil. For this reason – and taking advantage of the wave of criticism and tributes for his relatively recent death – I present a brief reflection on the presumptuous character of “Olavism” based on a text he called Aristotle in New Perspective, originally published in 1996.

First of all, however, it is necessary to make it clear that, if on the one hand, a character as caricatured as Olavo tends more to repel than to attract the sympathy of the intelligentsia national; on the other hand, the simple fact that the writer does not have a university education is not, in itself, a reason to denigrate his bibliographic production.

That's why I'm not one of those who refuse to call Olavo a “philosopher” just because he didn't attend a university course in philosophy. There are (and this is another discussion) chronic problems in philosophy training in Brazilian academies, problems that often inhibit those who study and develop research in philosophy within universities from being called “philosophers”. Now, if not even the deans of universities allow themselves the “luxury” of being called philosophers, what to say about a rude and arrogant figure who dropped out of elementary school like Olavo de Carvalho?

Aware of these issues and very smart, whenever it suited Olavo he attacked the “philosophers” of the academy. I once saw him say that the philosophy course at USP, in over eighty years of existence, had never produced a philosopher!

In summary, I do not believe that philosophy should submit to the procedures of academic bureaucracy, otherwise its horizon of action (which is the widest of all and also the widest possible!) remains limited to the semantics of academics. Any structural and discursive limit does not match the good old philosophy, this millenary art built most of the time by individuals who were not subject to the current demands for university education.

There can be philosophy outside the walls of academia and Olavo can be called a philosopher without much fuss. Now, if his thinking holds up, if his “philosophy” is sophisticated and articulate enough, that's another five hundred! To those who are bothered to see the old astrologer being called a philosopher, it is good to remember that Olavo was not the first and will not be the last charlatan to be qualified as a philosopher. The title itself is the minus. There are figures like Inri Cristo to prove it. He can be called Christ, but if he works miracles… that's another story.

However, the reflection I proposed is not about the thousand and one controversies that Olavo waged daily, especially on social networks, but about the empathy with which he regularly presented himself for public debate.

The work Aristotle in New Perspective, which is perhaps the only one (as I said, I am not a reader of Olavo and I do not know his bibliography in depth), or one of the few works of his authorship with a certain academic bias, Olavo comes closest to doing what is does in university philosophy courses: a commentary on one or a few works by classical authors.

But, in order to leave no doubt that it is effectively a text by the old Olavo, in addition to the pedantry of the title, already in the first chapter there is an “olavada”: “there is embedded in the works of Aristotle a fundamental idea, which escaped the perception of almost all of its readers and commentators, from antiquity to the present day”.

This phrase is very characteristic of Olavo's smug personality. Now, Aristotle is one of the most read and studied authors of all time. His writings originate in ancient Greece and since then have been read, studied and debated by Hellenistic philosophers; by the Romans; by the medieval; by the moderns and by all the “general jelly” of contemporary philosophy, already widely disseminated by the “four corners” of the earth (which is round!).

It is impressive that with such a monumental volume of studies, scholars and people who have been poring over Aristotle for decades… only the “great master” Olavo de Carvalho perceived the “core idea embedded in Aristotle's works”.

It should be noted that this pretentious stance by Olavo is symptomatic of the right in Brazil, especially the portion of the right influenced by him. In addition to spreading lies on a large scale, the Brazilian extreme right tends to give a veneer of “Copernican revolution” to the most insignificant “discoveries” they make, in general, thanks to social networks and groups of whatsapp.

One of these days, a repentant Bolsonarist friend (I still have one Bolsonarist friend left, albeit a repentant one, like most of them!) sent me a meme with a photo of Lula and the following words: “when you are a good person and you vote for a politician believing he is honest and after a few years you discover that he is a crook and a charlatan, you immediately change your opinion about him . Now, if you still continue to defend this politician… you are worse than him!”

That is, a phrase as banal, as full of clichés and stereotypes as “a good person”; “honest politician”; “thug politician”, etc., is shared as if announcing great news. It's like someone sent a meme saying, “when you obey the law, you are not a criminal. But if you disobey it, you become an offender.”

Without straying too far from the subject of this article, I mention this because I am bothered by the habit of the right and common sense (which for me are the same thing) of announcing banalities with a veneer of great revelations. It was like this, for example, when Samy Dana, the economist and commentator for Jovem Pan, went to social media to explain that the new R$ 200,00 note launched by the government could replace two hundred or even four fifty to make payments (ironic clapping!).

In the case of Olavo's text, the posture is similar. Olavo has every right and freedom both to comment on Aristotelian writings and also to, based on Aristotelian assumptions and grammar, compose a new set of ideas, a new tool for the interpretation of Western culture, etc. But the former astrologer does neither. His text on Aristotle is, at best, an ordinary proposal for cataloging Aristotle's works, although its title announces it as the great find of the millennium.

In the end, the “new perspective” of Aristotle's work is nothing more than a suggestion of how to organize Aristotle's books on a library shelf for those who eventually disagree with the classification already made by Andronico de Rhodes more than two centuries ago.

I wonder if old Olavo wasn't already in the mania for grandeur of that crowd that disturbs Brazil and that goes from the so-called “zapp uncles”, always discovering something extraordinary that is either a lie or is nothing so extraordinary after all; even the President of the Republic himself, who is one of the chosen few to know the cure for Covid; the danger of vaccines; the secrets of the BNDES, among many other hallucinations.

*Flavio Gabriel Capinzaiki Ottonicar it's dPhD candidate in Philosophy at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar).


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