Paulo Arantes, 80 years old



Considerations on the intellectual and political trajectory of the uspian philosopher

“I do my deed, my strange deed, my work, my strange work, which will ring the ears of anyone who hears about it” (Abiezer Coppe in The world upside down, by Christopher Hill).

“Ideas that cannot shake the world cannot shake it” (Perry Anderson, “Ideas and Political Action in Historical Change”).

Belonging to a group of individuals in extinction, in fact, perhaps, they have already been extinct for a long time, the public intellectuals (those who enunciate the critique-intervention with partiality; who “speak” for the lower ones in the existential definition of Jean-Paul Sartre), Paulo Eduardo Arantes turns 80 in 2022.

In the vicissitudes that cross the world of literate culture in Brazil, whether in the academic-university sphere, or in the public-political debate, with the little free space for critical discussion (apart from some niches of resistance), with the technical and productivist transformations of the career teacher and researcher, with the daily pressures to position themselves in the shadow of the intimacy of power, with the scarcity of political party organizations that are sufficiently radical and unsubmissive (that want an insurrectionary transformation), and with the oscillations of the publishing market – which possibilities for men and women letters, the philosophers in the sense of the XNUMXth century, maintain coherence along the way?

Those who claim none – will not be unfair to those dedicated to the humanities profession. That's how they would be if they said that Paulo Eduardo Arantes was part of those who surrendered to the success and immediate consensus of the current political, social and cultural order. Is that the man of the left who participated in more than 40 lives in the last period – understanding, it is true that given the unexpected circumstances of the fortune of the pandemic moment, the historical function of time of social networks and how the right, its ideologues, intellectuals, philosophers and writers were far ahead of “criticism” not -authentic sometimes anchored, sadly in the Lattes –, and who in these still dares to quote Lenin and promote reflections inciting the turnaround (a term that sometimes mobilizes) is the same one who wrote the Resentment of Dialectics: dialectics and intellectual experience in Hegel (old studies on the ABC of German misery).[1].

Set of essays and interventions made in the 1970s, gathered and published in 1996, their destination is an ode to dialectics as a form of political action by public-critical intellectuals. That's why Bento Prado Jr., his teacher, says that Paulo Eduardo Arantes' dialectic always has “its target” (p.15). Thus, it is a text-program-intervention whose constitutive core is the impulse for men of letters (the authentic ones to seek the entrails of the insurgent people – Paulo Eduardo Arantes is a peculiar type of Leninist, Bento Prado Jr. will say ( See p. 14)) put themselves on guard against forms of convention and normalization of existence. Therefore, Bento Prado states that Resentment of the Dialectic “relies abundantly on so-called conservative literature, or on critics of revolutions and all forms of homo ideologicalus, from Tocqueville to A. Cochin” (p. 12). (Who would have thought, other than Paul's Hegelian-Marxist-Schwarzian negative pen, that we would “face them” in the second decade of the XNUMXst century…).

However, the discursive movements of the author of Hegel and the order of time and the The new time of the world were never simple and/or self-evident. It's just that the intellectuals, in possession of the dialectic, are paradoxes in frenetic activity. Paulo Arantes thus inherits the uncontained spirit and temperament of the Voltaires, the Rousseaus, the Diderots. Always with a keen eye on social reality, in fact he is the caustic enunciator of the most current and acute dynamics of the meanings of class struggle, Paulo Arantes is the diabolical writings against order. In this he is one of the main gatekeepers on the periphery of Sartre's legacy system.

But there is no happy conscience in being loquacious for the lower – and defiant of the snobbish castes (Marcel Proust); of the pact between “conservatism and snobbery” (p. 196) of the out-of-place bourgeoisie (noble) of the periphery. At times in its trajectory – which is expressed in permanent germ in the Resentment of the Dialectic… – our dialectician faces the “emptiness […] tearing apart” (p. 35). That is to say – it can be, and in certain situations it is, thrown into the seductive webs of absorbed contemplation: including oneself. In response to contexts in which insurrections are at an ebb, there is the “self-praise” of hommes de letter to the “exploits of the spirit itself” (p. 35).

Paulo Arantes himself admits; “as can be seen, the painstaking attention required by the Concept is the circumspect fruit of an ascesis whose most significant stage extends the renunciation of the intellectual moment so that the thinker can be born in his speculative function [...] the death of the intellectual is a condition of theory” (p. 35). Here there is a contemporary expedient that surrounds the spirit of specialization with a steel cap; it is an era in which the rebelliousness of the word, the incandescent mind of social criticism, the madness of reason raging against oppression-exploitation, the explosive fusion of thought at the root (Marx) and the people are at the gates of the heavenly end. Serenity has been asked for a long time, technical (non)reasoning via statistical data has been demanded, pragmatic-applied knowledge has been called for in public policies, letters have been asked to be aphasically responsible and mathematized.

In effect, crossing this world, or rather, facing this world – as Paulo Arantes does – requires articulation between the very passion (for subordinates) to meddle in politics with profane fiber and the commitment to the existing forms of the “intellectual”. -sophist” (p. 47): whose experience is dictated by “the […] [devilish] nature of negative dialectics” (p. 47). It is also about Resentment of the Dialectic…, the program-book, from being the unresigned because revolutionaryly imaginative shield against the “civilization […] of the market and the social division of labor” (p. 48).

This is a decisive point in the 80 years of Paulo Arantes, expressing his public commitment (declared at times) as a men of letters with zeal for the causes of those who fight the battles of survival. at rehearsal Who thinks abstractly? the figure, always well liked by the arrangements of salons, of Edmund Burke appears. This Irishman, who began his “public life” by writing about the sublime sensibilities, the aesthetics – which would later influence Kant’s (artistic) faculty of judgment – ​​was aware of the dangers to civilization of all discourses, actions and practices at times. which the imposition of the social division of labor is challenged. It is because the word and thought become a political contingency and being the impulse of feelings of seditious contestation against institutions, customs and traditional cultures would throw down the scaffolding of millenary European societies.

That's why Edmund Burke didn't conform to the philosophers, it was irremediably necessary for him that – shoemakers were shoemakers, tailors were tailors, artisans were artisans and politicians occupied politics and philosophers take the place of public responsibility. In fact, Burke's defense of the social division of labor is linked to the modes of hierarchical structure “established” by nature. By citing-commenting Edmund Burke (but also “Constant and Taine” (p. 64)), Paulo Arantes wants to enunciate the radical seditious deviation, that is, to make or turn the immanent-negative into plebeian and the plebeian into immanent-negative: it is the dialectic as a device of subversion.

Paulo Arantes says: “This slightly amateurish feat of seeing the world upside down, turning it inside out and surrendering to the cerebral attempt (versuch is the term used by Hegel) to remake it from ground zero, are so many other signs, recorded by conservative sensitivity; […] [the] speculative would say Burke […] [because he feared]”, concludes our dialectician, “[the] political initiative of the literate, […] [the intellectual transformed into] revolutionary citizen” (pp. 64 and 65 ).

But in Paulo Arantes there is no (cynical) naivety. For that would be beyond the self-understanding of the literate; it is the very cause of the underprivileged that could be compromised if the understanding of warning – social and cultural – is not reached, which it turns out to be “in salons, […] in cafes and literary associations” (p. 91), sometimes excessively refined and even snobbish (Proust), where “the intellectual Republic” is fed (p. 91). What is the meaning of this admonition in the argument of the Resentment of the Dialectic…? Here our philosopher of subalterns is ambiguous. (Which may, eventually, have brought him certain distrust, over his 80-year journey, towards those from below.) Thus, if free thought (critical, even radical – passionately insurrectionary) “meets aristocracy” ( p. 91), this means the dissociation of economic issues. Was it the potential loss of Jacobin-Leninist insight by the materiality of things?

Paul cites the formulation of his reasoning in the phrase, “the man of letters rubs shoulders with the aristocrat [...]” (p. 91), as he perceives and sees, “his opinion emancipating itself from economic dependence” (p. 91). There is a risk, then, and many were those who followed this path, above all, in the thoughtless transfiguration of the intellectual into homo academicus (Bourdieu), what Sartre caustically called “technicians of practical knowledge”, of enforcing “the social hierarchy” (p. 91) entangled by certain anti-material and anti-economic dispositions that the intellectual lives – these dispositions, sometimes being registered in historical events, as demonstrated by Paulo Arantes.

the author of The new time of the world is evasive on this point: it is that in its interpretative scheme the free temperament of the literati acquires the “ethos of contradictory debate” (p. 91). Why, how and when we don't know. Do we care? In this specific passage, Paulo Arantes' ambiguities are seductive, he will say – “[…] an endless contradiction; intelligence thus finds itself caught in an incessant movement, where the alternation of contradictory motives announces the intellectual progress of the negative dialectic” (p. 92). It is as if our critic were intervening in the debates of the time trying to establish his position of man of letters on the adverse soil of easy conciliations.

But the facilities here are represented by artifices of a conservative and liberal culture full of sorceries, since now it is claimed, as we have already observed above, the intransigent refusal of the brute facts of the existence of those from below – who does not remember the famous pages of the about the revolution of Hannah Arendt condemning the passion for the social, for poverty and misery of the French revolutionaries in a late echo of Burke, already mobilized by her in another record in the The origins of totalitarianism – sometimes it is said of “the [abstract] misdeeds of intelligence” (p. 93).

Who hasn't heard, and Paulo Arantes must have had countless times, the notion of naive “political voluntarism” (p. 93) that accompanies (dialectical) intellectuals – a nickname to which the ruling class and its palatial scribes always appeal. In fact, what they fear is the transfiguration of the temperament of the men of letters, Paulo Arantes among them, in the form of political action-organization; that the “language of speculation: the empire of abstract universality” (p. 93) be dialectically converted into revolutionary terror (Cf. p. 93). (Same Jacobinism; Same Marxism; Same Leninism).

However, Resentment of the Dialectic…, the program-text of Paulo Arantes's entire life, is not only permeated with Rousseauisms – with French radical culture. For dialectics, when things are understood, also has German and later Brazilian nationality. In the book Paulo Arantes turns to the experience of the Germans. His intervention in this debate is like the antechamber of the political action on the national ground that he will provoke and be a character along his path.

Let's see. The reference test here is the superfluous men. So that now, “from the French cycle to the German cycle of European intelligence” (p. 109), that is to say, it is transposed from the modalities of cultured agitation to those of erudition turned into a system. However, Paulo Arantes' reflection runs through certain tensions – stylistic, it is true – when dealing with intellectual culture in Germany. Ironic figuration appears; Thomas Mann, in the interpretation of Paulo Arantes, is its enunciator: it is he who gives form to the inconvenience in German society of the presence of the literate. Thomas Mann not only “reacted with the themes of the conservative critique of Jacobinism that we have just mentioned in Tocqueville and Cochin” (p. 110) but, more intransigently, “disqualifies the intellectual function defined in Enlightenment paintings” (p. 110).

It so happens that if public intellectuals have a tonality, it is the local Germanic (Russian and Brazilian) tonality. Thomas Mann, following Goethe (Cf. pp. 110 and 111), and perhaps even Hegel, was the uncomfortable self-perception, the reverse of the reverse on Germanic soil, that the “intellectual origins of Dialectics, […] Dialectics in its guise modern [uncontrollable and overwhelming], was above all a German intellectual thing, that is, an intellectual marked by the historical circumstance of 'backwardness'” (p. 112). Yes: it is that the socio-historical unrealization that shapes backwardness – in modernity – shapes its double negation. (Paulo Arantes is seeing himself in the second moment…).

In the German appeal about the possibilities of presenting oneself to the western world as modern, what emerges are different moments from the French ones; in the homeland of Goethe and Mann the Enlightenment it becomes a State, or rather, and following Paul, into a concept of State (speculative that demobilizes (Cf. p. 117), and into transcendentality. That is – “the insurmountable [state-]state obstacle in Germany was an invitation to exaltation moral and cultural on the part of the literate and non-conformist bourgeois” (p. 116), but averse to political action. When interpreting German society Resentment of the Dialectic… it wants to provoke a trauma in thought, a reasoning impact. Because what is being addressed by Paulo Arantes (from the 1970s to our 2022...) is the distressing problem (especially for those from below) of national unhappiness that is expressed in the experience of culture German literate – and later Brazilian, with its peculiarity of a slave society (Florestan Fernandes), our constitutive matter, still our formation: to the displeasure of well-thinking people.

It follows, then, that our dialectician reads Thomas Mann's “conservative” concerns upside down; the incompleteness of the German political-state soil – “the absence of parliamentary life (in the English [and even the French] way)” (p. 132), the institutional path – transforms the literate, not into the dialectic of “practical” action, into the lover of radicalism, not seduced by the irruption of the crowd (George Rudé) that bothered Burke-Tocqueville-Cochin so much, but in “literati Frenchified” (p. 133) out of place, romantic. I mean; faced with a society of absolute non-realization, that of the State, that of revolution, intellectuals almost always spent “extreme speculation isolated from action” (p. 133). But the fear that extreme speculation, thinking abstractly, took things by the root – was realized in the explosive fusion with the people in arms as in France – was present as a demon that had to be exorcised (Cf. p. 133), by violently sometimes. (In effect, Paul is the synthesis on the periphery of the man of letters to literati.)

It is, then, the dialectic thought until the end. From the “organized (without organization) contradiction that brushes itself against political otherness as historical existence. In the words of our scholar: “it is worth insisting, [that] Dialectics, if I am not mistaken, is confused with the radicalism of this thinking-to-the-end” (p. 136). Let's take a closer look at Paul in the mirror. However, the mirror is now that of praxis: the abrupt conversion of the negative into a peculiar variety of political action. The temperament is still the same, that of the “illustrated intellectuals [with their] […] spirit of mission” (p. 139); in Germany they are self-converted into romantics as we said, and it is from this social position that they forge “the elements of an ideology” (p. 139) another – so as to no longer be the unhappy nation.

Hegel here is the topic of the contradictory passage to the young Marx and from him to Lenin's essays on the Prussian way (was it fortuitous that Paul dedicated his doctorate to the philosopher of negation-of-negation?), because now spirits are not more the unfortunate expression of the unfortunate national. Thus, even though corroborating Goethe (who is corroborated in the 142th century by Thomas Mann) who felt and lamented the German misfortune (Cf. p. 143), Hegel will be the first to seek, as a lifelong goal, to reverse the “ Absolute spirit” (p. 144). Paulo Arantes is lapidary in the passage that interprets this original Hegelian position and his own – “as if to remember, in Phenomenology, after making the course of the world flow into the French Revolution and into the new social order sanctioned by it, Hegel completed the chapter on Absolute Liberty and Terror” (p. XNUMX).

Now, the passage of dialectics as political action has its first end (or its first beginning...) in Paulo's Lenin. Styling here to return to Marx in the sequel; Leninist typology invoked by our philosopher-intellectual, the Prussian way theorized by the Bolshevik revolutionary was a warning for Russian scholars not to become the new Germans in the “periphery” of the periphery (Cf. pp. 150 and 151). Because the “Prussian path to capitalism (p 151) is what launches the Germans into the concept of the State. (However, Lenin and his were of Jacobin disposition on a social soil seething insurrections.) Thus, Marx is the determinate-contingent passage (paradoxes of intellectual life) to Lenin – and to Paulo Arantes: who would still be taught by another dialectician, this Marxist-Machadian writing about our class impudence.

Part of the author's enterprise The capital was to break with the “[intellectualism] […] German [that] substituted itself […] for the revolutionary citizen” (p. 144). Here is what Paulo Arantes envisioned – and still envisions – for Brazil (and for himself); to the extent that “from intellectual meditation” (p. 144) of dismay at the national opprobrium Marx acted by pushing such articulation so that from the “disadvantages of backwardness” (p. 1444) the revolution erupted. From the singular formation (pauloarantiano concept-program) of the country (Germany-Russia-Brazil) it could happen that social transformation was: unexpectedly within reach” (p. 144). Without losing the sense of the uncontained intellectual Paulo Arantes states that this metamorphosed historical experience and critical training led Marx to overestimate limited situations, as is the case of the rebellion of the “weavers of Silesia” (p. 145).

It was the naivety that intellectuals so often comment on the existential urge (Sartre) for action – to convert thought into praxis. In a way, and in his own way, Paulo Arantes is a “naive” (who in the impetus of rationalizing himself to balance, even compensate for that, is sometimes seen as pessimistic, defeatist, crass errors evidently for those who do not understand the esoteric argument of organized skepticism, I will return to this later) of the dialectic as a political attitude. – It is that intellectuals in the self-disturbation of becoming practical, men (and women) who aspire to be more than merely the (secular) voice of the prince's (Quentin Skinner) lessons, sometimes do not remember Kojève's admonitions; that the intellectual is not only restricted, existentially, most of the time to recognition by his word printed by others, but to be a citizen of the action itself, would depend, this is the subtext assumption of the founder of the Hegelian philosophy of desire in France ( Judith Butler) in dialogue with Leo Strauss at of tyranny, of the man of action (of the men of action in our case, the crowd in history) who wants success, objective successes (Cf. Strauss-Kojève, 2016, [1950], pp. 205, 206 and 207[2]).

Let us return to the circumscription of our theme. Paulo says: “in this sense, for a good number of German intellectuals, the dialectic could appear as effectively redemptive. From the mandarins to the young Marx, something certainly changes in the response of the cultured man to the frustrations of the inhospitable environment in its colossal inertia […]” (pp. 152 and 153). Indeed; the delay of the revolution could be the volcanic impulse of the revolution itself in another notation. In Russia, that's what happened. The new Jacobins of the East, with Lenin in the happy representation of the speculative-abstract-practical literate (who does not remember the Leninist mottos: without revolutionary speculative theory-thought there is no revolutionary action or concrete analysis for a concrete situation) redeemed the Germans. Paulo Arantes is still waiting for his (redemption) in his 80s.

Hence the well-thought-out construction in the Resentment of the Dialectic… of organized skepticism. This is one of the many moments erected by Paulo Arantes in the effort to organize the inconstancy and volubility of the critical-abstract intellect (Cf. p. 226). What Hannah Arendt never understood in men of letters, as well as his predecessors Burke, Tocqueville and Cochin; (“following the severe judgment of Hannah Arendt, decidedly hostile to the speculative exploits of the German intelligentsia […] and [her] reproach had historical ballast […] [and] her aversion to the extreme [leads] to attribute it to the German romantics the invention of the general frivolity of modern thought” (pp. 226 and 227)).

However, to deny the “irresponsibility […] of the intellectuals” (p. 226) for Paulo is to extirpate the condition as such of transmuting the dialectic, in its theoretical and subversive movement, into political action. The open restlessness, the frivolity available to the (insurgent) public, throws the scholars and Paulo among them, in the arena of disputes of time. There are costs and losses; even among what were supposed to be his. Our radical “frivolous”, which draws from pen and word, from letters and practical-eloquent (because) sweeping rhetoric) faces the conditions in itself of “lightness of character” (p. 229): say, that reduced to nothing for a long time in the era of centrist conformisms, insolent compromises, papers institutional occasion, public management policies.

What happens in Paulo Arantes is a caustic and uncompromising – indomitable and even rude – critique of the world as it presents itself to those from below (Perry Anderson). So it is in the articulation between the irreducible and “labile” impetus (p. 229) of the letters of contradiction with the system of dialectics – this same one permeated by the infinite breath of insurrection – that Paulo makes emerge from the Resentment of the Dialectic… organized skepticism. (To readers of this philosopher who walked among writers and literary critics who still don't understand his essays Nihilismusstreit, Anachronisms in the Intellectual History of Denial e Little Comedy of Nihilism 1983.) well, only those who do not envisage effective and material emancipation - and many no longer remember Hegel's epigraph in thesis 4 of the About the concept of history by Walter Benjamin, “fight first for food and clothing, and then the kingdom of God will come by itself” (Cf. Walter Benjamin, 2010, p. 223[3]) – are not enchanted by the “old skepis” (p. 247) and modern.

There is a history of the intelligentsia underlying the skepis, let's see what Paul tells us; “in the zigzag itinerary of the was a spiritual, centuries-old frond, several intellectual families intersected: humanists, Perronians, libertines, esprits forts, epicureans, atheists, materialists, free thinkers, etc. An intellectual history of the Negations [...]” (p. 248).

No process of radical transformation, of political and social upheaval has been achieved without the skeptical device bewitching the collective, popular minds, and those who imbricate their concepts, their abstractions, their speculatives in and by them are intertwined. What would become of Lenin and the soviets in 1917 believing in the uncontested divinity of those who said the revolution was impossible at that moment, and what about Camille Desmoulins and Jean-Paul Marat when they read the absolute certainties of Reflections on the French Revolution by Burke, already published in 1790 with the conviction of the failure[4] spreading across counterrevolutionary Europe.

This is because skepticism systematically wants to insist that doubt, the “affinity” (p. 253) with thinking concretely through negation and via negation about everything, results in something new – immediately new (Cf. pp. 252 and 253 ). Negativity, absolute immanent refusal (Cf. p. 263): these are the intellectuals, and Paulo among them on the periphery of the system, “in the name of action” (p. 263) and in political action. Styling the argument and its dialectical position with a view to “practice” (political, social, cultural) Paulo Arantes shines in the figure of Sartre; The skepis Hegelian (why not Marxist?) is a kind of magic staff in the construction and creation of other possible – and necessary (for those below) worlds. It was not by chance that Sartre drew a parallel between the organized skepticism of the demonized scholars, the gesture of the workers and the artistic effect of surrealist production.

Our philosopher, then, follows the Frenchman: “the worker destroys to build […] the surrealist reverses the process, building to destroy [and the] hommes de lettres] critical negativity […] [causes this] verbal destitution [ and the word that clashes with conventions] finally become the order of the day and become concrete” (p. 265). There are those who see pessimism in this – but Resentment of the Dialectic…, the program-intervention, the text-practical testament, and its author do not surrender to the serene search for a policy of enclosures that well-positioned and well-intentioned figures of the contemporary left assume and sponsor (Perry Anderson). Organized skepticism; negativity; spirit of contradiction; soul tearing; language of the non-immanent; aversion to the (false) understanding of imposed commitments are modalities of political action based on the rebellious dialectic, on the dialectic that wants to make itself (and is…) subjectivity and the voice of those from below.

It is necessary, however, to end this text abruptly. For it sometimes happens that we mimic our influences, those men and women to whom we stand on their shoulders to look at the world, both the unhappy world of class struggle (in Brazil eminently waged by black men and women as the one who writes these modest lines) and the world beautiful of so many things, and my influences are varied and multiple, past and present (Frantz Fanon and Perry Anderson, Marcel Proust and Walter Benjamin, Jones Manoel and Flávia Rios, Florestan Fernandes and Beatriz Nascimento, Leo Strauss and Giorgio Agamben, Luiz Augusto Campos and Vladimir Safatle) – and in this case the risk of a certain prolixity, not as prose as Paulo’s (they are conversations for the rebellion), is immense.

That being said; It is no accident that the final rehearsals of Resentment of the Dialectic… be shifted to the combination of Russian-Italian Gramsci and national-popular. In them, Paulo is crystal clear – which little has been over his 80 years, bringing problems of interpretation of his work and public interventions –; “what evidently stands out most in this unusual project is the gravitation [in] the world around the intellectual function [...] [which] despite” (p. 310) the speculative, fickle, free spirit of contradiction, extends “a hand fraternally […] to the people” (p. 310) and the “dissatisfaction” with the world as it should not be, “is not a prerogative of the intelligentsia [it is] shared by the small people of the subordinate classes” (p. 32).

Paulo Arantes is not a Bolshevik (he occasionally quotes his messages citing the Russian experience): but living in a country of subversive potential, always held back by the cynicism and violence of white dominant and racist elites, he, Paulo, lacked the Bolsheviks.[5]

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


[1] All quoted and indirectly referenced passages follow this volume.

[2] See Leo Strauss. On Tyranny: Followed by Correspondence with Alexandre Kojève. São Paulo. It's Achievements, 2016.

[3] Cf. Walter Benjamin – On the Concept of History. In: Selected Works: Magic and Technique, Art and Politics. São Paulo, Brasiliense, 2010.

[4] Cf. Edmund Burke- Reflections on the French Revolution, Various Editions.

[5] Once things are understood, I concentrated this text on Paulo Arantes and his 80 years in the Resentment of the Dialectic… which I understand to be his main and perhaps greatest work and which reveals his positions as I sought to expose them; it is evident that there are, even if moderate, arbitrary passages in the argument. But it is the risk of those who write this type of text. For it goes without saying that the work and thought of Paulo Arantes are more nuanced, with positive and negative nuances to be observed by others, above all by those dedicated to thinking about the left and its intellectuals, as well as those who research the area of ​​Brazilian social and political thought.

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