Political theory – from classics to contemporaneity

Michelangelo Pistoletto, The Telephone, 1972


Commentary on the recently released collection, organized by Rubens Pinto Lyra

Bringing together articles by renowned Brazilian intellectuals, the book-collection, Political Theory – from classics to contemporaneity, organized by Rubens Pinto Lyra, is certainly an important historical and critical record of theoretical-political thought for all readers and scholars, current and future, dedicated to the subject. At the same time, “it is an original panel, in dialogue with our time, being didactic in its composition and in the presentation of ideas”, according to the author-organizer himself.

The collection studies and analyzes in depth the founding statements of the theses and conceptions of some of the main thinkers of political theory, from the classics – such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu and Tocqueville – to the Marxists – Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Kautsky and Gramsci –, reaching contemporary politics – Bobbio, Foucault, Habermas and Boaventura dos Santos. For this reason, it already occupies a prominent place in the specialized literature as an essential work for understanding both the origins of the modern State and the threats that have troubled the democratic world today.

As well underlined by Ricardo Musse, the collection addresses the vital problems of modern society: how to reconcile freedom and equality, democracy and social rights, State and market. The plurality of theoretical and historical solutions to the contradictions outlined here is an indispensable prerequisite to guide individual formation and the construction of the utopia of an effectively democratic civilization.

In tune with the best contemporary thinking, the aim of the book is also – based on the analysis of the classics of political science – to understand historical thinking, marked by neoliberal hegemony, the power of large corporations and the predominance of financial capital within the scope of capitalism. globalized. This is certainly an important book for political science, and especially for political theory, either because of the intellectual quality of Professor Rubens Pinto Lyra, or because of the company of renowned authors. It is time to reflect on the impasses of contemporaneity and the immense challenges it offers us.

As Ricardo Musse recalls, the organizer and co-author of this collective work, Rubens Pinto Lyra, occupies a unique position in Brazilian intellectual life. A university professor, he has written uninterruptedly, over the last forty years, in multiple areas of knowledge – always viewed as the specialist's competence –, transcending the academic division of knowledge. He always seeks knowledge of the 'totality', says Musse, “aware that the requirement for non-compartmental understanding stems from the very systemic organization of the capitalist mode of production – which cannot be apprehended without the texture of the interweaving characteristic of interdisciplinary materialism”.

Rubens Pinto Lyra is a doctor and post-doctor in public law and political science and Professor Emeritus at UFPB. He has published thirty books in the fields of political science, law, public management and international relations. According to Marcos Costa Lima, Rubens Pinto Lyra is “one of the political scientists who has contributed the most to political theory in Brazil. Rubens has a long career in his area of ​​expertise and now publishes this collection”.

By his side, on this journey into theoretical-political thought, are distinguished names in political science, law, philosophy and Brazilian sociology: associate professor at the Federal University of Ceará, Alba Maria Pinho de Carvalho; the judge of the Court of Justice of the State of São Paulo and President of the São Paulo Academy of Law, Alfredo Attié; sociologist and retired professor at UFPB, Ariosvaldo da Silva Diniz; sociologist and retired professor of Political Science at USP, Célia Galvão Quirino; the lawyer and associate professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Gabriel Eduardo Vitullo; the sociologist and professor at UFRN of the Graduate Program in Social Sciences, José Antonio Spinelli; the sociologist and organizer of the book “Estado e Sociedade”(1999) by the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Vileni Garcia.

With 405 pages, the collection is prefaced by the lawyer, Doctor Honoris Causa of the Federal University of Pelotas, former minister of the Lula governments and former governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Tarso Genro, president of the Board of the Instituto Novos Paradigmas. Author, among other books, of possible utopia (Porto Alegre: Ed. Artes e Ofícios, 1995), and Law, Constitution and Democratic Transition in Brazil (Brasília: Francis, 2010). The work is presented by professor at the Department of Sociology at USP, Ricardo Musse, and by associate professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco, Marcos Costa Lima (first flap and back cover, respectively).

The book is divided into three robust parts, thematically and temporally distributed, bringing together eight renowned Brazilian intellectuals in a total of fourteen texts dedicated to political theory.

In the first part, “Os Clássicos”, Rubens Pinto Lyra, organizer and co-author, discusses “Maquiavelli: political realism, dialectic of social conflicts and popular participation”, transiting between the virtue, ethics, politics, reasons of State, principality and republic, social control, democracy, religion, among other themes of Machiavelli's thought.

In the second text, “Hobbes: security as the supreme value of the State”, Rubens Pinto Lyra's critical analysis highlights relevant elements of the Hobbesian theses, such as the state of nature and the nature of the State, legitimation of power, contractualism and sovereignty. In “Locke: the State as a guarantor of property and individual freedoms”, Lyra deals with property rights, the market, social justice and the public sphere, economic liberalism, natural rights, state power and resistance to oppression, bringing Locke's theses to the origin of neoliberalism to the present times.

Finally, Rubens Pinto Lyra rescues the centrality of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's thought in “Rousseau: the State as an instrument of freedom and equality”, which deals with the state of nature, state of harmony and happiness, general will x particular wills , nature and purpose of the State and the society of the contract.

Next, Alfredo Attié deals with the analysis of the theses of Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède, in “Montesquieu: politics of passion or the legacy of the baron”, addressing the meanings of passions, the primacy of politics and history, subtlety and restraint of powers, States and regimes, Legislate? To rule? To judge?

In “Tocqueville: on freedom and equality”, Célia Galvão Quirino rescues from the thought of Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel, Viscount of Tocqueville, issues such as democracy, the dangerous deviations of equality, action and political institutions, and ends with “A liberal manifesto.

In the second part, “Marx and the Marxisms”, Rubens Pinto Lyra returns with “Marx to Gramsci: state coercion and 'hegemonic consensus'”, where he analyzes the economic and social evolution of capitalism and political repercussions, hegemony and the “Expanded State” and the historic block in Gramsci's Marxism, seeking references to address counter-hegemony strategies in Brazil.

Rubens Pinto Lyra rescues a controversy that profoundly marked the Marxist thought of the XNUMXth century in “Kautsky: the Marxist critique of Bolshevism (echoes in the XNUMXst century)”. Unafraid to deepen the controversy between Lenin and Kautsky and to rethink socialism, Lyra walks the path of Kautsky's legacy from Lenin's anathema to the "renegade" Kautsky, the method in Marx and the updating of Kautsky's Marxian theses, the confrontation from theses on socialism and democracy, disagreements on the “party form” and on the conquest of power, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the transition to socialism, to Kautsty's critique of Soviet communism and the theses of Kautsky and Marx on the character of socialism and transition and the democratic question.

In the text “Gramsci and other authors: counter-hegemony in flexible capitalism”, José Antonio Spinelli compares capitalism in contemporary times based on the theses of prominent Marxist thinkers when analyzing “flexible” capitalism and liberalism, toyotism and work in the new capitalism “flexible”, the insertion of Brazil in the new trends, the Workers' Party, the counter-hegemonic strategy in the face of financial globalization and the war of position. Gabriel Eduardo Já Vitullo uses “Rosa Luxemburgo and the democratic question” to address this theme, mass action, revolution, socialism and the organizational forms of socialist democracy.

In the third and last part of “Contemporary Theorists”, Rubens Pinto Lyra makes his final contribution with the text “Bobbio: his conceptions on participatory democracy and the Brazilian experience”, in which he discusses democracy, participation, the political-legal nature of institutions of Brazilian participatory public management, inspiring theoretical currents of the Brazilian participatory experience, participatory instruments in Brazilian public management and Bobbio's conceptions about participation.

Ariosvaldo da Silva Diniz analyzes, in “Michel Foucault and the dispersion of power”, the philosopher's main theses within the field of political theory, passing through the concreteness of power, the archaeological project, the modern subject, up to the question of governability.

Vileni Garcia is responsible for analyzing Harbemasian thought in “Jürgen Habermas: a deliberative conception of democracy”, where he reflects on the author's basic concepts, such as the liberal and republican model, the articulation between the concepts of public sphere and civil society, the rescue of the emancipatory potential of reason, instrumental rationality and communicative rationality, and deliberation as the core of the democratic process.

Finally, closing the set of texts in this collection, Alba Maria Pinho de Carvalho, in “Boaventura de Sousa Santos: The reinvention of emancipation in contemporary times”, explores the theses of one of the most active intellectuals of our time. Alba Maria traces a careful analysis of the author based on the topics Circuits of time and space: his “place of enunciation”. The thought of Boaventura de Sousa Santos: outlining basic axes to circumscribe analytical logic. The social experience in its breadth and diversity: the demand for another rationality; and the radicalization of democracy on the horizon of socialism in the XNUMXst century.

After a brief overview of this broad collection, it is possible to recognize that one of its greatest virtues, in addition to the valuable historical study of theoretical-political thought, from the Renaissance to the present day, is undoubtedly the comparison of many of the theses analyzed with the current reality, the urgency of issues that still challenge the present time, such as democracy, freedom, equality, State, society, market, social contract and justice.

At the same pace, without any fear of confronting the dominant narrative of the market and its associates, Rubens Pinto Lyra, by recovering Kautsky's thought, replaces the discussion on the relevance of the socialist idea and its necessary updating as a counter-hegemonic democratic movement to the resurgence of the unholy alliance between capitalism, in its ultra-neoliberal phase, and neo-fascist conservatism.

The set of analyses, always refined, sheds even more light on understanding the authoritarian nature of the ongoing process in many countries, the extinction of public functions of the State and democratic freedoms, the expansion of the hegemony of the global financial market, and the combination of religious obscurantism fundamentalist with a strong regression of social, or even civilizing rights – very particularly perceived in Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro.

It also investigates the issues involving the recent erosion of the old Social State, originating from the pacts of the first half of the last century, and the breach of fundamental guarantees, originating from the social contract, and materialized in the modern constitutions that clash with the original contractualist ideals, including the social contract in Thomas Hobbes, who defended it as “the only way to avoid barbarism, where everyone fights everyone else in a state of constant fear” (HOBBES, 2003). At the same time, they dialogue, in an unsettling way, with Gramsci's conclusion, which he identified in Italian fascism, not a deviation from the purposes of capitalism, but the renewal of strategies of accumulation and hegemony of the bourgeois project (GRAMSCI, 1999).

The meeting of the different theses of political theory with the current world political context, and hence, for the Brazilian reality, demonstrates the size of the challenge that, in a way, was self-imposed by some of the co-authors of the collection reviewed here, revealed from its preface:

“Freedom, democracy and market are the moving categories that flow from the normative fabrics of public law and inform the key questions that the book invites us to listen to. (…) To bring up the elaborations of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Tocqueville (the great classics) and challenge the most current thinking of Marx, Lenin, Rosa, Kautsky and Gramsci, to reach Bobbio, Foucault, Habermas and Boaventura, – pursuing the terms of freedom and democracy “under the eyes of the market”– is a major intellectual task”. (Tarsus in law)

And that follows, with the sharp criticism of the organizer himself, Rubens Pinto Lyra, already in the first text on Machiavelli: “In the middle of the 61st century, we are witnessing, with all force, the return of obscurantist conceptions, in Brazil and in several other countries, who have left their mark on government programs and public policies when they gain power. In Brazil, this setback can be better understood by comparing Machiavelli's thought with the religious obscurantism currently on the rise” (p.XNUMX).

A path shared by other co-authors, such as José Antonio Spinelli: “Despite the pretensions of the “single thought” and the massive adhesion of the media, in all terrains (from aesthetic criticism to economic and political analysis), to neoliberal and post -modern, it is possible to glimpse counter-hegemonic possibilities perceptible in certain social movements: anti-globalization, ecological, feminist, anti-racist, among others, even in the persistent labor movement, which insists on not dying despite predictions to the contrary, and in socialist movements that point to an uncertain and fragile future, almost utopian, but full of that essential human value that goes by the name of hope”. (p.273-274)

Evidently Political Theory: from classics to contemporaneity it is not, nor does it intend to be, a work that encompasses the immense list of intellectuals, of various hues who have dedicated themselves to theoretical-political thinking throughout history. However, for everything presented, as highlighted by Ricardo Musse, “it is relevant didactic material and subsidy for courses in social sciences, law, philosophy, education, history, and an essayistic exposition capable of interest any reader, regardless of their schooling. , who wish to inform themselves about the fundamental questions of modern political life”.

Finally, regarding the fears of the future, let us take the optimistic words of Norberto Bobbio, for whom democracy is in permanent movement – ​​in the historical dynamics of civilizing shocks and major social clashes –, between containment and expansion: “I prefer to speak of transformation, and not of crisis, because 'crisis' makes us think of an imminent collapse. Democracy does not enjoy excellent health in the world, as it never enjoyed in the past, but it is not on the brink of the tomb” (BOBBIO, 1986, p. 09).

*Marcelo Daneris he is a postdoctoral fellow in Public Policy at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). is currently visiting scholar at New York University.



Rubens Pinto Lyra (org.). Political theory: from classics to contemporaneity. João Pessoa, CCTA Publisher, 2022. 406 pages.



BOBBIO, Norberto. The future of democracy; a defense of the rules of the game. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1986.

GRAMSCI, Antonio. Prison Notebooks – Vol. I. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1999.

HOBBES, Thomas. Leviathan — Or matter, form, and power of an ecclesiastical and civil republic. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2003.

ROUSSEAU, Jean-Jacques. the social contract. Porto Alegre: L&PM, 2008


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