Paulo Freire – the practice of freedom



Preface to the recently published book by Venício A. de Lima

Politics as a practice of freedom

Humanist thoughts have a real horror of the vice of departmentalization of knowledge and a certain analytical culture that understands the totality from the functional juxtaposition of specialized knowledge about the different spheres of social life. In the traditions of classical, Renaissance and modern political philosophy, the principle of totality elaborates the relations of mutual interpenetration with particularities, the singular and the universal.

There is no greater mistake than classifying Paulo Freire's thought in the field of education, promoting a rupture or placing his relationship with the culture of humanism as a mere foundation of inspiration. But this is how he has almost invariably been identified as an “education thinker”.

The exponential, subversive and enabling merit of a new understanding of Paulo Freire's thought in this book by Venício Lima, a summary and summary of five decades of research and reflection, is that of identifying Paulo Freire as a thinker of politics that is expressed in education and in culture. It is a coherent step, which goes beyond an entire research trajectory: his doctoral thesis, edited in 1981, followed the path of interdisciplinarity and sought to think about Paulo Freire's work from the field of public communication.

This departmentalization of the reception of the works of authors who were precisely in search of a historical vision of the totality, its alpha and omega, is certainly not a limit just to think about Paulo Freire: Celso Furtado, “economist”; Antonio Candido, “literary critic”; Florestan Fernandes, “sociologist”; Caio Prado Jr., “historian”; Milton Santos, “geographer”. A classic case: Mary Woolstonecraft, the great thinker, founder of modern feminism and author of the classic A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, from 1792, was, at her time, received as a thinker of education…

What is gained by thinking of Paulo Freire's work as a creation within a modern political tradition, that of civic humanism, is nothing less than the possibility of understanding it well. This tradition, from Rousseau to Thomas Jefferson, from Mary Woolstonecraft to Gramsci, in its various modern matrices, has always thought of education in terms of active politics in the city, as the foundation of citizenship, as an elixir of freedom, which wants to be public, communicative, intersubjective, expression of autonomous subjects who change the world.

Perhaps the singular and universal contribution of Paulo Freire to this tradition of thinking about education from the policy of freedom is that, inserted in a peripheral context of oppression, radicalizing it as a praxis of overcoming a historically oppressed subject.

We found it already in Émile, by Rousseau, the critique of education that Freire calls “banking” (knowledge deposit), training as awareness of the autonomy of the subject who had prepared to become a citizen. But Émile is not exactly a subject in a state of oppression: in Paulo Freire, more than an exercise in training in freedom, education is a practice of liberation. The conflict between oppressor and oppressed is at the center of Paulo Freire's thought, at the very center of the personality of the oppressed, and is connected to the historical structures of domination. If you can't read Émile PULL the social contract, for a stronger reason it still cannot be read Pedagogy of the Oppressed without Paulo Freire's politics of liberation.

For this reason, this work is viscerally a praxis of freedom. The paulofreirean revolution, the radicalism of its thought that made it today a central object of execration of the most regressive culture in Brazilian history, from the one that legitimized the genocide of Indians or the slavery of blacks, is to be a true epicenter of the culture of emancipation of Brazilians and Latin Americans.

In this exact sense, this book by Venício Lima is, at the same time, a document of reparation and a motion of hope. Because what can refound Brazilian democracy is this radical political feeling of freedom that permeates Paulo Freire's work.


A classic and contemporary polemic

We owe to the works of great erudite historians of classical, renaissance and modern political thought the rereading of the genesis of Modernity, previously referred to in an anti-pluralist way, on the verge of sectarianism, only to liberalism. The documentation of a Machiavellian moment in the revolutions of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the long journey of civic humanism in the fertilization of cultures of emancipation against colonial rule, patriarchy, slavery and racism, led to the unavoidable identification of an earlier concept of freedom to the very birth of liberalism. This concept of freedom, linked to the idea of ​​equality, formulated from the notions of citizen autonomy and popular sovereignty, is at the origin of declarations of a universalizing sense of human rights in Modernity.

This true revolution in the conscience of the past that formed us is, for that very reason, an essential key to understanding the democratic impasses of contemporary times. Modernity ceases to be seen only as a historically progressive unfolding of the history of liberalism and becomes, itself, a place, since always, of conflict between those who want to dominate and those who do not want to be dominated. The culture of freedom is born out of this conflict at the center of politics.

This new awareness of the past updates the presence of Paulo Freire's work in Brazilian political culture. It is not by chance that he is the only classic Brazilian author, in the sense that he formed an irradiation and an inheritance of moving ideas, which brings freedom and the overcoming of his other, oppression, in the title of his core works. In four senses, his conception of freedom is akin to this concept of freedom that formed the democratic revolutions of modernity.

Firstly, its identification with the sense of autonomy, which links it to the notion of structural equality: anyone who is subjected to a situation of slavery, servitude or structural dependence on another cannot be free.

Secondly, the intersubjective, public and dialogical meaning of the construction of freedom. It does not pre-exist the political community, it cannot be naturalized, it depends on public life.

Thirdly, it claims the active subject, non-conformist and non-conformist, but creative and willing to transform the world as a creator.

Finally, it can only exist in a civic culture, which institutes the love of freedom shared between citizens, fraternity. It demands, therefore, a cultural revolution of the values ​​that previously legitimized oppression.

The way in which Paulo Freire ties himself to this tradition is through democratic socialism. Hence his dialogue with Marx and with the humanist authors of Marxism.


A work from 1968

This political perspective of Paulo Freire's work allows us to better situate it in its context of creation: it is crossed by the libertarian imagination of 1968. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, identified as a sort of high point from which to scrutinize all of Freire's work, is a book entirely written in fire and freedom. It burns in the hands of the reader. Written from Chile, it seems to come out of the barricades of 1968.

The second chapter of this book is very happy, in this sense, in bringing to light Frantz Fanon's modes of presence in Freire's work. The 1968 conjuncture linked the fight for freedom in the central capitalist countries, against the bureaucratic regimes of Eastern Europe and anti-colonial struggles.

Paulo Freire writes about freedom in the midst of underdevelopment, where colonization and its permanencies exercise its dehumanizing power over the oppressed. Fanon's motion, which claims the legitimacy of the use of violence against the colonizer and his necropowers, is received by Freire's culture of emancipation as a counter-violence, as a reaction to an original and structural violence.

If 1968 marked the dramatic and happy reunion of the left in the 1950th century with the foundation of freedom, after decades of Stalinism's dominance, Paulo Freire's book is the great document in the intellectual history of Brazilians of the reunion of a thinker with a free Marx, outside of dogmas and thought from the point of view of emancipation. The entire book is permeated by references and dialogues with the humanist traditions of reading Marx, drawing inspiration from, but going far beyond, the reflections of Brazilian Christians initiated in the late XNUMXs by the Jesuit and eminent philosopher Henrique de Lima Vaz.

In the center of the book, as if it were an anchor, the third aphorism of the so-called “Theses on Feuerbach”, by Marx, which Freire quotes in footnote 15: “The materialist doctrine on changing circumstances and education forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that the educator himself must be educated. It has, therefore, to divide society into its parts – the first of which is placed above society. The coincidence between changing circumstances and human activity or self-modification can only be apprehended and rationally understood as a revolutionary practice” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed).

This thesis, to be better understood, must be thought of as a critique of the dilemma of the Enlightenment culture – educate men to change circumstances or change circumstances to educate man? – and to authoritarian or substitutionist socialist theses. The summary is written in bold letters in Pedagogy of the Oppressed: “No one frees anyone, no one frees himself alone: ​​men free themselves in communion.” The coincidence between the act of change and the change of the subject makes all the fortune of Freire's work.

Paulo Freire, in an almost lost document that Venício Lima, who received it from the manuscript author, publishes in this edition, affirms the pedagogy of the revolution, the pedagogical function of the transformation party, itself transformed in the process of liberation. His work is, in this sense, a great founding motion for a democratic socialism in a period of profound impasse between the vanguards and the history of the dominant historical matrix of Marxism in Brazil, which had tragically divided socialism and freedom.


Paulo Freire and Brazilian political thought

The relationship between education and democracy is certainly one of the richest themes and constituents of the traditions of Brazilian thought that sought a way to break the training impasses. This relationship was at the center of Rui Barbosa's liberal thought – formulating a capable progressivism of progressive inclusion of the poor and blacks in the political order –; the democratic republican thought of Manoel Bomfim – the universalization of education as a way of constituting popular sovereignty and, later, the need for a revolution to produce the desired reform of education –; of developmentalist thoughts – which conceived education as the foundation of the country's sovereign and autonomous progress –; of Darcy Ribeiro's anthropological and civilizing utopias – public education as the very expression of our uniqueness as a multiethnic civilization.

Paulo Freire dissolves the impasse between reform and revolution through education as a practice of freedom, that is, by differentiating “systematic education” after the revolution from the “educational work” that precedes it. By exalting the pedagogical meaning of politics that wants to be liberating, by proposing a dialectic between master and student, between vanguard and people, what Paulo Freire is doing is laying the foundations of a democratic socialist thought and perspective. He is, therefore, founding or refounding this tradition in Brazilian political thought, embodying it, opening a path for its formation.

“There is no true word that is not praxis”, says Paulo Freire. Breaking the hard crust of the culture of silence, forming the public right of voice, building with those who could never speak and be heard the full expression and possibility of forming power, popular sovereignty is a radical democracy, the work of a lifetime speaks to us by Venicio Lima.


Venicio and Freire

There is certainly a fundamental difference between worshiping, worshiping, an author and cultivating an author, appropriating his achievements and developing them critically. It is in this order, that of a critical dialogue, that Venício's five-decade relationship with Freire's work lies and that this book condenses and updates.

The concept that summarizes all of Venício's work, an unavoidable reference for those who intend to study the historical dilemmas of the formation of a democratic public opinion in Brazil, and that dialogues with the very center of Freire's theories, is the culture of silence. For the oppressed begin to overcome their condition to the extent that they are able to speak about themselves in their own language – “there is no true word that is not praxis” –, to write their own biographies in a narrative of meaning, humanizing themselves through dialogue with their world and the world of others. Oppression is a theft of speech, a silencing of voice, “a constituent structure of mutism”. Venício’s work is a critique of the permanence of this “mutism constituent structure” in post-constituent Brazilian democracy of 1988.

His research on this concept necessarily led him to the path of its historicization, the origins of colonial society, the formation of the national State, from the Empire to the Republic, the various regimes of the republic, from dictatorship to the process of redemocratization: the long continuity of the institutional structures of silencing indigenous peoples, blacks, workers, women, peasants in the midst of their efforts, always repressed, to make their free voices emerge.

It is possible and necessary, therefore, to write the history of the formation of Brazil from the point of view of the culture of silencing, in its colonial, modern and contemporary forms. This is the inscribed meaning of the classicization of Venício's own work. For no other classic of the formation of Brazil brought to the center of the narrative the right of Brazilians, their inalienable right, as citizens, to speak about democracy and pluralism through their own voice.

“Talking, for example, about democracy and silencing the people is a farce”, says Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The phrase is typically, in the authorial sense, by Venício Lima, in the sense of being expressive of his critical work on the separation between the right to vote and the right to speak in Brazilian liberal democracy.

The culture of silence is the pair of opposition to education and politics as dialogicity that Freire proposes, as a good humanist, who does not separate isonomy from isegoria. Venício's work, by giving a conceptual status and historical documentation to the culture of silence, illuminates Freire's work with its own light.

*Juarez Guimaraes is a professor of political science at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Democracy and Marxism: Criticism of Liberal Reason (Shaman).



Venicio A. de Lima. Paulo Freire: the practice of freedom, beyond literacy. Belo Horizonte, Autêntica, 2021, 158 pages.


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