Sérgio Buarque de Holanda: the Improvised Revolution



Sergio Buarque de Holanda was an ideological expression of the urban middle classes in political life from the 1920s onwards. But he pushed the limits of his class's worldview towards social democracy

Sérgio Buarque de Holanda had as a recurring reason for his intellectual concerns the relationship, at the same time conflicting and accommodating, between tradition and modernization[I]. He resorted to a variety of theoretical currents (Weber, Ranke's German Historical School and the School of Annales) and made use mainly of Hegelian dialectics within a “historicist prism”, according to his assistant at the University of São Paulo (USP) Maria Odila Days. Thus, with those instruments of analysis, he unveiled the “undecided meanders”, the contradictory configurations encountered by the colonizers “until they managed to overcome the imported forms”[ii]. According to his approach, “History has never given us an example of a social movement that did not contain the germs of its denial – a denial that is necessarily made within the same scope”[iii].



Sérgio Buarque de Holanda was born in São Paulo in 1902 and died in Rio de Janeiro in 1982. He was a student at the Ginásio São Bento of the historian Afonso d'Escragnolle Taunay (1876-1958), who helped him publish his first newspaper article. In 1946 Holanda took over the direction of Museu Paulista, which he would occupy until 1956, succeeding his former professor. In 1958, he assumed the chair of “History of Brazilian Civilization” at the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters at USP, which had also been initially occupied by Taunay. Holanda also succeeded Taunay at the Academia Paulista de Letras[iv]. This relationship becomes more hidden as Taunay was rejected by the USP memory as a traditional historian while Holanda was monumentalized.

The book that became a classic was Brazil roots (1936). However, an attempt to reconstitute the historical framework of that work requires care that is often overlooked. The triad that would represent the paradigm shift in the 1930s (Gilberto Freyre, Sergio Buarque de Holanda and Caio Prado Júnior) obviously did not obtain immediate recognition. In the case of the latter, his most important book is from 1942 and only over the following decades was seen as a classic. Moreover, Antonio Candido played an essential role in the invention of that intellectual tradition.

In the case of Holanda, more than the redefinitions imposed by the Revolution of 1930, the book that the majority came to know was disseminated from its second, highly modified edition of 1948. In this, the author also records in an appendix the response to a naive criticism by Cassiano Ricardo on the concept of cordiality. Certainly, it was a very convenient polemic for Holland.

The second edition is “the book” with which the Brazilian intelligentsia dialogued. In a historicist conception we could say that it was the one that concretely existed. The alterations between the first and the other have significance for the author's biography.

In the second edition of 1948, Holland enlarged the book by 1/3[v]. When it was reissued, Brazil was experiencing a liberal republic, as Edgard Carone called it, although not democratic. Getúlio Vargas had been removed, but hovered over the political game. The Estado Novo itself had perfected the state machine, although it was far from the bureaucratic and impersonal ideal desired by Holanda.[vi].



Historism (or historicism) introduces the “constant change in the picture of the world”[vii] and conceives that “every cultural, social or political phenomenon is historical and cannot be understood except through and in its historicity. There are fundamental differences between natural facts and historical facts and, consequently, between the sciences that study them. Not only is the research object immersed in the flow of history, but also the subject, the researcher himself, his perspective, his method, his point of view”[viii].

Its antipode, positivism, considers that value judgments, ethical, political or religious preconceptions can be removed in order to analyze social facts, denying that those assumptions are part of its object.

The objective of impartiality is a condition of the research, but historicism proposed an anti-positivist solution to the problem of the social conditioning of knowledge. Initially, it was a conservative reaction to the universalist propositions of the Enlightenment and positivism itself, whose touchstone is the total identification between natural sciences and spiritual sciences, that is, the pretense of a neutral knowledge of both social historical and natural objectivity. .

At the end of the XNUMXth century, according to Michel Lowy, historicism changes from conservative to relativist, criticizing institutions.

For historians, history must turn to the characteristics of a given time and find its justification in them. The story is the loci of chance and, therefore, of freedom, contrary to the idea of ​​human nature or an ahistorical Reason. As Sérgio Buarque de Holanda says, it is a “deliberate renunciation of a demand for meaning (and purpose) for history. Such renunciation is linked, in turn, to the desire to observe and show the past with impartiality, oblivious to love or grudges”[ix]. History is a science of the unique, attentive only to singularities and differences, but blind to similarities, repetitions and connections, separating itself from philosophy that deals with abstractions and generalizations.

It is common to identify empiricist historiography with positivism, due to the cult of scientificity and the elimination of the historian's subjectivity, but strictly speaking this historiography was a reaction to positivist proposals to discover general laws and arbitrary moral standards for history[X].

Maria Odila Dias stated that Holanda positioned himself as a “participant observer of the values ​​of other times. Each era had its own center of gravity”, and it is up to the historian to discern “the great units of meaning in the tangle of past events”. For her, Holanda “as always flees from generalities and pursues the global through a descriptive method of small facts, which are linked in chains and end up recomposing general frameworks”[xi]. He sought to nuance concepts[xii], incorporating the language of each era into the style and understanding the meaning that general ideas had for singular actors in specific contexts. Thus, “historical knowledge consisted of the intersection between the problems of the present, which involved the historian, and his participant observation of the values ​​of the past. A certain communion was established between the subject (historian) and the object of historical knowledge (the process of becoming)[xiii]".

Dilthey posed the classic problem of historism: how can knowledge of society be at the same time historically limited, circumscribed to the values ​​of an epoch, and objective? Knowledge of history cannot be an objective reproduction because it is a subjective activity that poses questions to the object.[xiv]. For Weber, previous and unilateral points of view would be inevitable and would guide the choice of object, the concepts used and the questions, but the answers should be free of values[xv]. Science may have unverifiable assumptions, but its results can be evaluated by anyone regardless of beliefs or values.[xvi].

According to Löwy, the natural sciences reached a greater axiological consensus, the product of centuries of debates. This does not mean that they do not have some techniques in common with the social sciences, nor that they are free from social conditioning. But that covers your guidance and not the knowledge itself. The sciences of the spirit deal with conflicting objects because they are inserted in a reality torn apart by class interests, yet the search for objectivity must be its scope[xvii].

The Marxists' response was one of engaged and at the same time objective knowledge. Marxism offered a dialectical solution to the problem of scientific objectivity, neither positivist nor relativist. Partial scientific knowledge cannot be reduced to class interest, which is why Marxism criticizes and preserves it; historical materialism is the only theory that places the partial truths of the sciences in a general framework. This totalizing reading is what guarantees the objective possibility of accessing the truth[xviii]. The bourgeoisie needs ideology to stay in power, the proletariat needs the truth to oppose it. And the truth is all around[xx].

Holanda, while respecting Lukács's Marxism, maintained a dialogue with Hegelian dialectics, the School of Annales, the German Historical School, among others. This eclecticism was not just a product of his erudition, but the prerogative of a self-taught intellectuality, without specific academic training and which continued at the university, to the extent that professors needed to assimilate and debate with students different new theories in our intellectual environment, without time to settle them. He was part of a generation of professors who were still creating the University of São Paulo. Although he was a much more significant author than his colleagues who had previously worked in the History and Geography section of USP, he had also been “recruited” from among local scholars who already had previous published work and training in law schools.


The Professional Historian

Monsoons was Holland's first significant specialized work, work that dealt with river transport by canoes and the forced recruitment of rowers. He linked the choice of crew to the economic production system that had created “an immense floating population, without a clear social position, living parasitically outside regulatory and remunerative activities”. He cites in support that "a recent and lucid analysis of this situation can be found in Mr. Caio Prado Jr.[xx].

In the book Paths and Borders Sérgio Buarque de Holanda uses the remains of the material culture to recover the occupation and transformation by Europeans of the “Paulista” region and its interior, and concomitantly demonstrate how it differs from the colonization of the areas of the northeastern coast – which is based on the already conventional scheme of latifundia, monoculture and labor African slave.

The author's reasons for seeking material culture as a basis for research are not arbitrary: “The greater accentuation of aspects of material life is not based, here, on the author's particular preferences for these aspects, but on his conviction that in them the colonist and his immediate descendant proved to be much more accessible to divergent manifestations of the European tradition than, for example, with regard to institutions and, above all, to social and family life in which they sought to retain, as much as possible, their ancestral legacy.[xxx]".

Through material evidence, such as paths, objects, food and medication, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda seeks what is specific and different from Portuguese colonization in the interior of São Paulo, presenting the results of the confrontation of these two cultures, that of the colonizer and that of the gentile, and their changes over time. Such a confrontation would not be the simple overlapping of the habits of one and the other, nor the imposition of more advanced techniques on the ruder ones, but a slow process of transformations resulting from the more immediate needs and ambitions of the first sertanistas who traveled through the region. It would be the “situation of instability or immaturity, which leaves room for greater intercourse between the adventitious and the native population”[xxiii].

Sérgio Buarque de Holanda refers to the existence of three moments in the history of the interior of São Paulo and surroundings: that of the first sertanistas or pioneers; that of the tropeiros; and, finally, that of the farmers.

Those men who ventured into unusual regions for the European certainly needed mobility, previously imposed by friendly than by the differences between the colonizers, who would be the same in all regions of Brazil. And the environment, in the case of São Paulo, would not allow the type of sedentarization that occurred in the first years in the sugar northeast. The need to seize enslaved people in the interior (indians, or "black people from the land"), would force the pioneer settlers to mobility, to travel ways and establish new borders.

The sedentarization of the people of São Paulo would only become possible when the environment, and the type of culture that could then be introduced, allowed it through the cultivation of coffee. Then comes the third moment, that of the farmers.

The reconstruction of the first sertanistas and the society that was built there brings all the depth and complexity of Sérgio Buarque de Holanda's thought, where a slow process of confrontation between semi-nomadic cultures, but totally adequate to the environment and another one of greater degree of technical development, but possessing an entire apparatus that is inadequate for the region. How, then, to extract riches from the earth, the indisputable objective of colonization, if in the primeval conditions technical resources were useless, be it weapons, eating habits, horses, or even shoes? Only when the colonizers themselves seem to have been able to install a more solid society in the São Paulo region, with well-structured agriculture and cattle raising, did the tropeiro appear, and only later did the farmer.

The centrality of São Paulo inscribed in Brazil roots is resumed. In that first book, he stated that the flags gave Brazil its geographic silhouette, challenged dangers, challenged laws, maintained little contact with Portugal, promoted miscegenation, the use of the general language and the first gesture of autonomy, that of Amador Bueno: “On the plateau In Piratininga, a new moment in our national history is truly born. There, for the first time, the diffuse inertia of the colonial population takes on its own form and finds an articulated voice. The expansion of pioneers paulistas (...) could dispense with the stimulus of the metropolis and it was often done against the will and against the immediate interests of the latter”[xxiii]. They are defined as “audacious hunters of Indians”.

It can also be said that Paths and Borders e Paradise's vision would complement each other, since the first would bring the “material support” or material culture, while the second would try to reconstitute mentalities. But there is no linear correspondence between the production of material culture and ideology, as both constitute an amalgam, in such a way that the relationship is not one of cause and effect, but rather one of complementarity, in which both one and the other can assume primacy. , knowing that this preponderance is always provisional, it alternates in the course of time and can never be a perennial causal principle.

Paradise's vision intends, through the conception of Éden, to approach the spiritual motives of the Iberian enterprise, particularly Portuguese, in the discovery and occupation of the New World. The author seeks in chroniclers and navigators, in correspondence and tales of a long medieval tradition, in epics and reminiscences of antiquity, the sources that can allow the historian to approach the worldview of this time of conquest of the New World and artistic “Renaissance”. and intellectual.

Entering the HHistory of Mentalities[xxv], Sergio Buarque de Holanda does not neglect the political, social and even economic support of the colonizing company:

"This does not intend to be a 'total' history: even if it makes the emphasis fall on ideas or myths, it does not exclude, however, a consideration, at least implicit, of its complement or 'material' support, of what, in short, in the language Marxist, one might call the infrastructure. But even among Marxist theorists, the primary and simplifying treatment of the relations between base and superstructure, which consists of presenting them in the form of a unilateral influence, thus eliminating any possibilities of reciprocal action, has long been denounced. Alongside the interaction of the material base and the ideological structure, and as a result of it, there is no lack of someone who points to the circumstance that, as ideas are the result of the modes of production that occur in a given society, they can well move to other areas where they do not exist. perfectly identical conditions pre-exist, then it will happen to them to anticipate, and stimulate, the processes of social change. Now, just as these ideas move in space, it must happen that they also travel in time, and perhaps faster than the supports, starting to react to different conditions that they come across along the way."[xxiv].

Sergio Buarque de Holanda seems to anticipate, or at least is aware of, the changes that Marxist theorists such as the Polish man Adam Schaff, and all those who, in the Western Marxist production as a whole, such as Lukacs and those who were inspired by Gramsci, promoted.

However, he is not concerned with making a theoretical reasoning as an introduction to his work; he is not after a priori established definitions, but rather to understand in the very flow of history the dialectic of conflicts that weave it. And where would this dialectic be embedded? For Maria Odila Dias it would be in the narrative style itself[xxv].

Paradise's vision it is a book whose formal expression announces much of what the author's claim is made explicit in terms of content. With a language that meanders through the almost baroque meanders of complex sentence constructions, much of what is tension and contradiction is announced in the writing itself.

History, flux and reflux, is the non-linear becoming in which affirmations are denied, later to be reaffirmed in ever-provisional syntheses. It is this expression full of contradictions, contained in a sinuous elaboration, that leads the author to capture the two factors that guide his book, change and continuity, or rather: how change takes shelter in continuity.

This dichotomy, made up of affirmations and denials, comings and goings, advances and retreats, ebbs and flows, is what makes up the texture of historical processuality, in which the absence of major ruptures does not hide the change in behavior, deliberate or spontaneous attitudes, etc.:

“The notion that there would be a radical fracture between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and it is, in short, Burchkhardt's basic notion, tends to be overcome in a large part of modern historiography by the image of uninterrupted continuity. But precisely the theory of continuity reinforces the importance of those moments that would be called twilight, moments, in this case, in which the thesis of the inexhaustible, almost orgiastic productivity of man and nature is still, or already is, suffering from hesitations and hesitations . It is in these moments located in the childhood, as well as in the agony, of an era of optimism, that we will come across expressions that are indecisive between that of the creature's dejection and that of his exaltation. (…)”[xxviii].

The attempt he proposed was to rebuild the mentality of those who embarked on dangerous transoceanic navigations, facing concrete and imaginary torments. Those who landed in American lands brought with them the cultural codes that would serve to interpret a hitherto unknown reality. Hence arise the distinctions between those who, coming from the Anglo-Saxon world, come across lands to the north of America and those who, Iberian in origin, will be moved by the natural exuberance of a land of exceptional ferocity.

The author's central concern is with Spaniards and Portuguese, and with the latter more than the former. And it is in comparing the description of the new lands with the linguistic instruments transplanted from Europe that Sérgio Buarque de Holanda first finds the traces of a more concrete, pessimistic attitude, prey to the force of convention, with regard to the Portuguese. They were the first to disenchant the world[xxviii].

Since the letter from Caminha, in which the scribe of the Cabraline fleet pauses in a temperate way in describing the new land, it is moderate curiosity, subject to doubts and distrustful inquiries, it is utilitarian prose, which emphasizes the fertility of the land or the chances to find the precious stones that will move the Lusitanian spirit. Hence the disproportion between the insistent activity of Portuguese navigators and their modest contribution to fantastic geography.

The fabulous, in the highly sought-after Indies, sometimes made the linguistic code itself incapable of reconstructing the images seen, as Brunetto Latino would aptly note, as no living man could “Recitare le figure / Delle bestie e gli uccelli / Tanto son laidi e felli” (“to represent the figures / of beasts and birds / are both ugly and bad”).

This fantasy was not alien to greed. The earthly greed for riches and honors was allied with the subtleties of the goods of the spirit. These things combined in such a way that the search for mineral riches was guided by archetypal motifs, brought from Europe. In the case of the Portuguese, it can be said that the inordinate verbiage of the Castilians had a psychological influence on colonization practice in Brazil. The conquest of the Inca Empire and the unveiling of the treasures of the South American mountain ranges under Spanish authority, suggested to the King of Portugal a more defined and immediate policy in the colonization of Brazil.

These images of the “incalculable treasures” that the Castilians found in Peru, encouraged the Portuguese to abandon their usual and suspicious moderation to launch themselves into the interior of the Brazilian lands in search of “another Peru”. There where the silhouette of the continent thinned out, to use the author's geographical description, towards the captaincy of São Vicente and Vila de São Paulo, and from there to the meridian, it became easier to undertake the search for gold hidden in the center from South America.

The presence of motivations alien to the concrete reality of colonial Brazil in the search for paradise lost reached the borders of irony, when a Dom Francisco de Souza, who had lived in the Spanish court and was used to facing colonial activity according to the dazzling image that the New Spain, New Granada and Peru, sought royal authorization and provisions to introduce Andean llamas to São Paulo in 1609, transfiguring the mountains of Paranapiacaba into a replica of the Andes[xxix].

Here we observe how the historical dialectic is installed in the narrative. Appearances contradict each other and fantasy, influenced by the Spaniards, disappears again in the Portuguese who, although they were not entirely insensitive to it, prefer the immediate and the everyday to the fantastic miracle.[xxx]. Where are the roots of this Portuguese historical peculiarity?

The Revolution of 1383-85 inaugurated a new dynasty (House of Avis) which promoted the centralization of the kingdom and paved the way for overseas expansion commanded by the crown. The precocity of Portuguese absolutism puts it ahead of its time. But Sérgio Buarque de Holanda himself demonstrates that the new men in power did not leave their ancestral virtues behind, adapting to the standards of the nobility. Modern forms cover up the archaic and conservative background and the monarchical absolutism that rationalizes the State is a simple facade of a mindset linked to the past[xxxii]. The Portuguese role in overseas expansion did not come from a pioneering and modern spirit but “from an archaic, albeit efficient, limitation to its expansion”[xxxi].

Unlike the majority of Castilians, it is the purely descriptive vein and the accumulation of “juxtaposed minutiae”, in line with the tradition of medieval chroniclers, that will guide the Portuguese gaze. His colonizing work is eminently traditionalist, hence its dispersed, fragmented character, one of factorization, and not of an articulated Empire, like that of Spain.

For the author, the transformations in the superstructure correspond, in their genesis, to the mode of production, but their dynamics depend on spatial factors and History.

In his last breathtaking work (From Empire to Republic, 1972), Sérgio Buarque de Holanda moved from mentalities to political history. He dismantled the empire's idea of ​​political stability. He demonstrated how the Charter granted by Pedro I was inspired by the French Restoration Constitution of 1814.

By assuming a written and an unwritten constitution, the author laid bare the distortion of the idea of ​​moderating power. For Benjamin Constant, moderating power is neutral and ministers are accountable to the nation. In Brazil the King reigns and governs, confusing the executive powers and the moderator.

For Holanda, the emperor's personal power is the need for an elite divided by rival factions. They focus on personal aspects of the monarch, but in connection with the situation and the political system that depended on him. He criticized the relationship made by some between the end of the monarchy and the rise of the middle classes, since there was no bourgeoisie to sustain democracy. It had to rely on the mass of the population, although he failed to remember that in nineteenth-century European liberal regimes there was no universal suffrage either.

Holland before the Republic. In the book about the empire, he recorded the hegemony of men from Bahia in the successive cabinets and anticipated the hegemony of São Paulo in the republican period[xxxii]. He dealt with two significant themes for the year of publication of his book: the military question and the positivism attributed to the republicans (and Spencerianism from São Paulo). But he abandoned the direction of the collection General history of Brazilian civilization, just as he had already resigned from the chair at USP.



Within the scope of the middle classes that adhered to democratic socialism (Sérgio Buarque de Holanda harbored sympathies for the Democratic Left) and to the ideals originating from the National Democratic Union (UDN), it is difficult to accept the defense of an authentic liberalism, much less with social and democratic tinctures. . Evidently, “progress” must be inscribed within the class limits of an author like Sérgio Buarque de Holanda.

With a non-revolutionary spirit, he criticized the reforms postponed by the Empire, although they derived from the very nature of the regime, according to his conception. He presented himself as a defender of a revolution that was already delimited in the course of things. Averse to preconceived schemes, he criticized communist and integralist solutions. He even seemed to regret the move from an anarchist-minded communism to Stalinism, although he doesn't use the term.

For him the “national character” “softened” any ethical or political principle and the radical currents of right or left would not be immune to this. The tortures of the Estado Novo and the Military Dictatorship contradicted the author, as there was no “easy move” when it came to applying an anti-revolutionary policy by the Brazilian State. This was also structured rationally to give legal security to imperialist businesses in Brazil.

On the other hand, his defense of the impersonality of the State in 1936, when it was being structured in its modern form in Brazil; and democracy, when it did not have any movement in its favor rooted in society, constituted daring. We cannot project the limits of democracy perceived decades later into the gaps of a work from the first half of the XNUMXth century.

Personalism, cordiality and aristocratic traits were already, for the author, on the verge of disappearing in 1948 (date of the second edition of Brazil roots). This is an important aspect because it would make no sense to speak of cordiality in Brazil today. One could accuse the author of having elaborated a myth that took hold of the masses, but it would be an idealist perspective that gives the intellectuals of the past the predominance in the formation of the current political culture almost a century later. This culture goes beyond the concepts produced by academics and is defined by shared values, preferences, habits, organizations, feelings and ideas that also arise in society itself and are anchored in production relations.

The negation of liberalism is for Holanda unconscious in Latin American caudillismo, but it is a “body of doctrine” in European fascism. His anti-personalist stance was maintained and was reflected, for example, in the judgment of Solano López as insane and prone to megalomania and fantasy[xxxv]. In Brazil roots he does not take into account that precisely fascism led to a paroxysm of personalization (see Hitler, Mussolini and several other dictators of the Old World), clientelism, the breakdown of bureaucratic routines and dysfunctions in the state apparatus[xxxiv].

The cult of personality, the lukewarmness of forms of association are not biological for him. Nor the absence of morals based on work. Miscegenation is not important, but the Iberian heritage, "that's why he refers so little to Indians and blacks" according to João Reis[xxxiv]. However, for Holanda, the Lusitanian heritage itself brings the black presence that already existed in Portugal. Portuguese is presented as devoid of racial pride, has “extraordinary social plasticity” and the presence of black people in the domestic space acted as “dissolving any idea of ​​separation of castes or races” and there would be a “population tendency to abandon of all social, economic, and political barriers between white and colored, free and slave.”[xxxviii].

Both Holanda and Prado Junior, when analyzing “races”, fall back on Gilberto Freyre's conception. Only the confusion of mercantile slavery with the residual maintenance of domestic slavery could lead to projecting paternalist ties to the set of slave-owning production relations.

Sergio Buarque de Holanda established ideal types that “in their pure state” do not “have a real existence outside the world of ideas”, in his words. The ideal type is a mental construct obtained through the selection of characteristics that ideally compose a theoretical instrument that makes a cut of reality and understands it. As we cannot capture the infinite diversity of history, we resort to an instrument endowed with heuristic value, that is, a provisional working hypothesis that guides the empirical research. The facts are never reduced to the model because the latter only serves as a parameter for observation, as a guideline for investigation. Its own formulation, however, is already a result of observation and selection of facts and not a construction. ex nihilo[xxxviii].

Capitalist mentality and paternalism, business and friendship were opposing pairs used to explain social behavior marked by personal relationships in the public and business spheres. Holanda's criticism was aimed not only at the State, but at the market as well. In his opinion, the Iberian mentality suffered from “an inability, which would be said to be congenital, to conceive any form of impersonal and mechanical ordering prevailing over bonds of an organic and communal nature, such as those based on kinship, neighborhood and community”. friendship"[xxxix].

It can be deduced that in Brazil, the predominance of a mechanical solidarity based on the rational, impersonal and complex division of labor did not operate, at the same pace as in other countries, over organic solidarity, based on pre-capitalist traditions and values. This Durkheimian sociological conclusion is supported by historical observations. However, we could ask ourselves how an organic solidarity would survive in a business economy specialized in agro-export and directed to obtaining profit? Wouldn't it make more sense to talk about the lack of social cohesion or anomie and wonder how a national state and rational economic calculation still emerged among us?

The historical observation of Holanda takes place in ideal pairs that interpenetrate and dilute each other. For him, for example, the conquest and colonization took place at a time that favored the adventurer and not the worker and this was not a Portuguese singularity:

“The truth is, the typical Englishman is not industrious, nor does he possess to an extreme degree the sense of economy characteristic of his nearest continental neighbours. Tends, on the contrary, to indolence and prodigality, and values ​​the good life above all else”.

Sometimes it seems to give more weight to “local conditions”, to the climate, to the techniques already adapted to the environment that made Germans in Espírito Santo imitate the Portuguese. But he also claims that the native is devoid of “certain notions of order, constancy and exactness that in the European form as a second nature”[xl].

In his description of the Empire's reforms, the enslaved are absent, if anything they belong in the background. En passant register your awareness[xi]. Even so, Holanda attributed to abolition the role of removing the “traditional brakes against the advent of a new state of affairs”[xliii]. Finally, as much as the tensions and accommodations that he identified as psychological determinants of the Brazilian people, his book Brazil roots it is an ambiguous essay of uncertainties and adventures through times and spaces without an ordering principle resistant to the dissolving forces of history, capable of expressing the content in its own argumentative form, which also allowed it to exempt itself on many occasions from theoretical rigor.



For Dante Moreira Leite, it is evident that Holanda “is talking about the upper class” when he talks about the cordial man; cordiality is “a form of relationship between equals (…) and not between superiors and subordinates”:

“The opposite impression (…) is not cordiality, but paternalism: as the distance between the social classes is very great, the superior class has an attitude of condescension towards the inferior, as long as the latter does not threaten its dominion. Nor is it difficult to conclude that this same distance masked racial prejudice in Brazil: blacks, placed in a situation that does not threaten whites, are treated cordially. However, when blacks threatened this position, they were treated with cruelty: it is enough to remember the story of the bandeirante who displayed the ears of dead blacks in Palmares”[xiii].

One could imagine that cordiality spread throughout society, but most people do not have the economic opportunity to establish businesses or promote the interests of family and friends. Dante Moreira Leite does not take into account that cordiality itself is not kindness, but letting oneself be carried away by affective, expansive, personal, impolite and not necessarily sincere expressions, as Antonio Candido reminds in his presentation to the fifth edition of Brazil roots (1969). Violence can be instilled in cordiality, but Leite is right when he says that violence between equals is occasional.

For Holanda, the rise of the city is the triumph of the general over the particular. Urban development would tend to dissolve personal relationships typical of rural areas, but there is no absolute dichotomy between the two poles. Richard Morse defended the thesis that the triumph of the abstract and the general only occurs if the domestic and familiar order is not denied, but also conserved or, in the author’s language, “enriched in both domestic and general terms”[xiv].

We must follow the method chosen by Holanda and find the opposite of what he called cordiality in her: we will find a constant and meticulous, cold and rational enterprise that characterizes the submission processes of the dominated classes over centuries, exemplified by Palmares, Canudos and so many other cases.

Cultural and geographic aspects gave the particular form that vertical colonial violence took among us; but it was less a product of Iberian personalism, family dynamics or rural isolation and much more economic demand in a vast land with a scarce workforce and ample possibilities for spatial displacement. As much as in modern Eastern Europe[xlv], it was necessary to imprison the worker to the earth. Organized examples such as quilombos, small properties owned by squatters, improvised stills or vagrancy were unbearable for slave owners.

Equally, the carelessness with the land, devastated and abandoned, does not derive from the Portuguese spirit of adventure, but from the type of exploitative colonization established here. And if we go deeper into the issue, the aggression to the environment is linked to the very dynamics of capital reproduction, verified first of all in Europe where the landscape was completely transformed. The depletion of the soil in the Vale do Paraíba required calculation, routine, impersonality and the subordination of all actions to an accounting criterion, or rather, the feasibility of capital accumulation in the periphery.

Em The capital Marx displays numerous examples of waste, adulteration of commodities and inhuman depletion of labor power and nature. Capitalism is irrational from the macroeconomic point of view, which does not prevent microeconomic rationality in investment decisions. Sérgio Buarque de Holanda considers irrational behavior that is perfectly suited to the capitalist mode of production. Thus, he ceases to be consistent with his historicism and submits the values ​​and economic practices of the past to judgment.

“For the modern employer”, says our author, “the employee becomes a simple number: the human relationship has disappeared. Large-scale production, the organization of large masses of work” gave the entrepreneur a feeling of irresponsibility “for the lives of manual workers”[xlv]. We could ask ourselves if this statement would not be perfectly suited to a colonial company and the sugar plantation owners and their foremen in the face of their enslaved workers.

At the same time, Holanda does not intend a revolutionary engagement, as it would sacrifice the possible objectivity of historical knowledge. This does not mean that his demand for liquidating the personalistic, “cordial” and corrupt traits of the ruling class elites in the public sphere was not a democratic advance in the Liberal Republic of the 1950s. Sérgio Buarque de Holanda himself needs to be understood according to the values ​​of that moment and not according to the XNUMXst century.

The evidently prominent role that Holanda assigns to São Paulo in his historical studies would be incomprehensible without taking into account the self-image of the São Paulo elite at the time, as well as the accelerated industrial boom after the Estado Novo.

In the introduction he wrote in 1941 to the Memoirs of a Colonist by Thomas Davatz, Holanda describes a “new race of rural lords” whose “agricultural domain ceases to be a barony and becomes a center of industrial exploitation”. The “race” of western São Paulo (from 1840) does not have the characteristic traits of the northeastern plantation owner or even the farmer of the Paraíba Valley. Without a long agricultural tradition behind her, she sees “in the present what the present demands and repels”, in a phrase inspired by history. His undisguised praise continues: that “race” is composed of “men of initiative and practical spirit, capable of finding new solutions to new problems”. The use of the term “race” should not go unnoticed. Holanda did not attribute a biological meaning to it, but it is undeniable that the word carried with it the scientific prestige of the time. The author leans much more towards the role of phytogeography and the way of life. For him, the coffee tree is a “democratic plant”, whose culture has an “absorbing and exclusive nature”[xlv].

Holanda transposed the passage from the Introduction to Davatz to the second edition of Brazil roots. The exclusive plantation of coffee would break the autarchic character of the mill and would require the search for food and other goods in urban centers. The railroads also break rural isolation and the farmer can be an absentee who sees the property only as a business and lives in the city. Although he was referring to the western Paulistas, the author provides an example from the province of Rio de Janeiro: the lack of arms due to the end of the slave trade increased the productivity of each slave who, in 1884, treated 7.000 coffee trees, when before he had taken care of 4.500 trees.[xlviii]:

"The spirit of adventure, which admits and almost demands aggressiveness or even fraud, gradually moves towards a more disciplinary action. (...) The love of pecuniary succeeds to the taste of prey. Here, as in the monsoons of Cuiabá, an ambition less impatient than that of the bandeirante teaches measuring, calculating opportunities, counting on damages and losses. In an undertaking that is often random, a certain amount of foresight is necessary, an eminently bourgeois and popular virtue. All of this will directly affect a society still subject to patriarchal habits of life and intimately averse to merchandising, as much as to the mechanical arts. Is there not here, in parenthesis, one of the possible explanations for the fact that precisely São Paulo adapted, before other Brazilian regions, to certain patterns of modern capitalism?"[xlix].

Holanda was cautious when writing the expression “one of the possible explanations”. He would have to combine it with other later factors listed in other texts, such as geography, the coffee culture, the international demand for the product, the fertility of the purple land, slavery, the colonial regime, the financing of immigration, exploitation of labor force from other regions, etc. But why would the São Paulo predisposition to the spirit of capitalism not be verified in the “rational” and systematic undertaking of sugar production in other areas? Even so, the author addresses a real problem from his present: São Paulo exhibited unparalleled economic growth at the time when Holanda wrote his works.



“Improvised Democracy” is the title of a chapter in the book From Empire to Republic. Since his first books, he has sought in the dialectic between tradition and change the possible evolution of Brazilian society. Based on European theories, he sought to continuously deepen his research and even adapt the form of writing to the Brazilian reality. Already in Brazil roots the chapter in which the ideal type of the cordial man is presented is based almost entirely on European theorists or travelers, unlike the last chapter on “our revolution”. There is a movement in search of the concrete, of the local as an expression of the universal. Positivism, liberalism, integralism and communism do not seem to the author more than adaptations that do not stick to the Latin American social ground, being “forms of evasion of our reality”[l].

The author gives positivity to another form of improvisation, different from the macunaimic chance produced by colonization. It is true that the Brazilian reality would be irreducible to schemes and “whimsical choices”. ““Our revolution” corresponds to the specific needs of the national historical soil, it accommodates itself more to “underlying forms” than to the external configuration of society. It is the contour of an inaccessible reality that changes slowly in everyday life, in the reconfigurations of the economy and geography, in the transition from rural to urban, in contrast to cordial values ​​and personalist foundations that must be liquidated.

One does not see a subject of this revolution, which represents the “slow dissolution (…) of archaic survivals”[li]. But there is still a set of ideals found in the very negation of colonial society. This denial exists in itself and is not the result of a great self-conscious liberation movement. Nor is it entirely unconscious. There are awareness here and there. The dissolution of the old order is already in process. The ideal types that Holanda evokes to understand Brazilian society limit his interpretation, but do not hide the changes and do not constitute an eternal description of an unchanging Brazilian reality. There are no eternal prisons. The changes in the infrastructure he notices are faster than those in the superstructure; ideas remain, even with their material support in dissolution, such as the dialectical approach of Paradise's vision demonstrated.

This detached and disengaged description refers more to the pessimism of reason and less to the optimism of the will. His historicism takes on a detachment from formulas, projects and an organized collective will. This could at best be a sum of individual actions and wills, but we do not know by what criterion to explain what keeps them together and what gives them meaning.[liiii]. For the author, the spirit is only a normative force if it “serves the social life” already given. We can conclude that the revolution is imprecise, without a delineated program, although it is objectively rooted in the history of Brazil.



The fact that many of his conclusions correspond to common sense about what Brazilians are does not mean that they are entirely false. They contain true characteristics, however ideologically formulated. The ideology that guides his first book and that permeates his historiographical production, did not (as we saw) cease to have a progressive nature in its time and did not invalidate his research. One would have to be out of this world to claim that all the intellectual constructions of the past are unimportant because they are tied to the values ​​of a narrower class, era, religion or social group.

In the case of Holanda, the demand for impersonality, predictability, rationality, honesty and impersonality corresponded to the lieutenant ideology of the middle classes that emerged in the 1920s. An ideology that would only find a better translation in adherence to the working class (in the case of Prestes). Holland remained on the left, but his revolution was contained and strained in a full reformism, socially committed and democratic. In a certain sense, something that could be revolutionary in Brazil, if it pointed to a historical subject and a program, as Caio Prado Junior and Florestan Fernandes did, each in his own way.

It goes without saying that it was not part of his interest, temperament or political practice to formulate any program. But it cannot be said, on the other hand, that his work did not aim to interfere in the public debate on the country's destiny.

Despite this, “our revolution” is not his. It is partly a figure of speech, an irony that reinforces its ambiguity. The imprecise revolution of Sérgio Buarque de Holanda started from the observation of our historical conditions, but ironically it could not plant its roots in Brazil, since the transformation had to take place by approximation of a European standard.

Without addressing a social base, the historical facts he mobilized were part of an extravagant and lacking organic ideology. Holanda was an ideological expression of the entry of the urban middle classes into political life from the 1920s onwards. mindset middle-class, he pushed the boundaries of his class's worldview toward social democracy.

Edgard Carone, who despite the generational proximity was a student of Holland, emphasized as a feature of the middle classes the absence of permanent political organization. It is very difficult to characterize middle-class action for this. His worldview, recorded in the political literature of the 1930s, is against improvisation, indiscipline and democracy; may or may not be liberal, it requires the leadership of the people by intellectuals, order, anti-communism, civilism[iii], secret ballot and return to the original republican and constitutional ideal. We perceive in these themes a continuum in which Holanda certainly positioned himself on the left.

40 years after the launch of his book, he defended “a vertical revolution, which really implied the participation of the popular layers. Never a surface revolution (…)”[book]. A statement that indicated his membership in the future Workers' Party?

Still, there was no organized perspective and the “popular” was an abstraction. He could not go beyond a superficial revolution, although he proposed a profound transformation. As the ideology is not a lie, his proposal was not insincere, but inhabited the heavenly realm of the words of this world and not the practices of the earth. He could not integrate any concrete social force, as a social revolution would destroy the very historical ground on which he stood.

For him, in a country where adventure takes precedence over routine, bonds of affection over public virtues, community ties over all forms of impersonal ordering, the revolution could only be improvised. On the other hand, this finding would also carry a positivity: the revolution between us would have to be our own, based on an irregular and tortuous historical soil in which improvisation and adventure could interrupt the normal flow of things and generate its own negation.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor at the Department of History at USPAuthor, among other books, of History of the PT (Studio).



[I]This article was originally published at https://gmarx.fflch.usp.br/boletim-ano2-40.

[ii]Dias, Maria Odila LS (org). Sergio Buarque from Holland. Introduction. S. Paulo: Attica, 1985.

[iii]Holanda, SB Raízes do Brasil, 16 ed. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1983, p. 134. The passage is quoted by Antonio Candido and Maria Odila Dias.

[iv]Folha de São Paulo, 28/7/2017.

[v]Eugênio, JK A Spontaneous Rhythm: Organicism in Roots of Brazil and Paths and Frontiers, by Sérgio Buarque de Holanda. Niterói: UFF, 2010. For an analysis of “professionalization” as a historian in the 1950s, see: Nicodemo, T. “The plans of historicity in the interpretation of Brazil by Sérgio Buarque de Holanda”, História e Historiografia, Ouro Preto, n. April 14, 2014.

[vi]There is a dispute over the author's various theoretical affiliations and the political repercussions of his work, but they are much later and I will not deal with them here. It should be noted that the work vaguely anticipates the cautious historicism that guided his later books.

[vii]Schaff, A. History and Truth, 4th ed, São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1987, p. 189.

[viii] Löwy, Michel. The adventures of Karl Marx against Baron Munchhausen. São Paulo: Busca Vida, 1987, p.64.

[ix]The social sciences analyzed structures and resorted to History as something prior to a static framework. Braudel historicized the concept of structure “in such a way that time ceases to be external to the realities studied and finally merges with the structure itself”. Holanda, SB “The current and the non-current in Leopold Von Ranke”, in Holanda, SB (Org). Ranke, São Paulo, Attica, p. 107 and 109.

[X]Cf. Moore, Gerson. History of a History: directions of North American historiography in the XNUMXth century. S. Paulo: Edusp, 1995, pp. 16-7.

[xi]Dias, MOLS cit, p. 42.

[xii]    ID Ibid., p. 23

[xiii]ID ibid., p. 21.

[xiv] Löwy, cit., p. 72.

[xv] Lowy, pp. 35 -7.

[xvi]Weber, M. Science and Politics: Two Vocations. São Paulo: Cultrix, p. 42.

[xvii] Löwy, cit., p. 204.

[xviii]Löwy, cited, p. 207-9.

[xx]I resort to an example: a tax policy can be elaborated according to technical criteria (size and contributory capacity of the population, need for State collection in a given period, etc.), but whether it will be progressive does not depend only on the partial truth inscribed in its formulation method. , but access to a more general truth, which recognizes social conflicts, income inequality, etc. A knowledge that rises to the totality observes a broader, more complex and objective reality and at the same time is linked to the interests of the working classes, objectively interested in this truth that is hidden by that specialized fragmentation. It should be noted that the design of that tax action corresponds to partial objective criteria, but by not being integrated into a global vision, it hides its partiality.

[xx]Netherlands, SB Monsoons. Rio de Janeiro: House of the Brazilian Student, 1945, p.113.

[xxx]Netherlands, SB Paths and Borders, P. 12. Holland, Sérgio Buarque. Paths and Borders. São Paulo: Cia das Letras, 1995, p.12.

[xxiii]ID ibid, p.9.

[xxiii]Holland, Roots of Brazil, p. 68.

[xxv]Holland, SB Vision of Paradise. Edenic motifs in the discovery and colonization of Brazil. São Paulo: brasiliense, 1996, p. XVI.

[xxiv]ID Ibid., p. XVIII.

[xxv]Dias, Maria Odila LS (org). Sergio Buarque from Holland. Introduction. S. Paulo: tica, 1985, p.18.

[xxviii]Holanda, SB Vision of Paradise, cit, p. 188.

[xxviii]Ramirez, Paulo N. Dialectics of cordiality. PUC, master's thesis, São Paulo, 2007

[xxix]Holanda, SB Vision of Paradise, cit, p. 98.

[xxx]ID ibid., p.104.

[xxxii]ID Ibid., p. 134.

[xxxi]Guimarães, EHL The current and the non-current in Sérgio Buarque de Holanda. Recife: Ufpe, 2012.

[xxxii] Holland, SB From Empire to Republic. São Paulo: Bertrand Brasil, 2005, p. 317 and 325.

[xxxv]ID Ibid., pp. 51-6.

[xxxiv]Neumann, F. Behemoth. Mexico: FCE, 2005.

[xxxiv]Reis, JC The identities of Brazil. Rio de Janeiro: FGV, 2002, p. 122.

[xxxviii]Holanda, SB Raízes do Brasil, 16 ed. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1983, p.24.

[xxxviii]   Schütz, JA and Silva Júnior, EE “The Weberian ideal type: presence and representation in works by Zygmunt Bauman”, Espaço Acadêmico Magazine, n. 210, November 2018; Cohn, G. Criticism and resignation: foundations of Max Weber's sociology. São Paulo: TA Queiroz, 1979.

[xxxix]Holanda, SB “Economic Mentality and Personalism”, Economic Digest, n. 28, São Paulo, March 1947.

[xl]Holland, S. Raízes do Brasil, pp. 14 and 17.

[xi]Holanda, SB Do Império à República, p. 332.

[xliii]Cf. Costa, VMF "Democratic strands in Gilberto Freyre and Sérgio Buarque”. Lua Nova (26), São Paulo, August 1992.

[xiii]Leite, Dante M. The Brazilian National Character. 4 ed. São Paulo: Pioneira, 1983, p. 324.

[xiv]Morse, R. Historical formation of São Paulo. São Paulo: Difel, 1970, p. 151.

[xlv]Anderson, P. Lineages of the Absolutist State. 2 ed. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1989, p. 208.

[xlv]Holland, Roots, p. 102.

[xlv]Holland, SB Introduction, in Davatz, T. Memoirs of a Colonist. São Paulo: Martins, 1941, pp. 13-17.

[xlviii]Holanda, SB Raízes do Brasil, cit, p. 129.

[xlix]Holanda, Caminhos, cit, p. 132-3.

[l]Netherlands, SB Brazil roots, cit., p. 119.

[li]ID ibid.

[liiii]Certainly one would not expect the author to solve the problem of relationships between individuals and structure. See Anderson, P. Theory, politics and history: a debate with EP Thompson. Campinas: Unicamp, 2018, p.62.

[iii]Carone, Edgard. From Left to Right. Belo Horizonte: Book Workshop, 1991.

[book]See January 28, 1976.

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