"Different lines of Brazilian
conservative thought in its
Summarizer’s Note: On Thursday, April 30, 2015 in its headquarters at Praça da Sé, 108, 1º st floor, Cedem, the University of São Paulo’s Center for Documentation and Memory organized a panel to debate the “Contradictions of the contemporary right: different lines of Brazilian conservative thought in its recent history.”
According to the announcement,
"The rise of social conflicts that emerged during the latest Brazilian election period arouses the interest and at the same time makes it timely to have a discussion about the various lines that gradually shaped Brazilian conservative thought throughout the twentieth century.
Looking back at the past decades this debate is intended to reflect on how these ways of looking at the world came about and how many of these concepts continue to inform a whole section of society that fights in defense of the established order and even seeks reverse the social advances achieved within that order.
For this purpose, the invited researchers will address three areas with important differences among themselves but which helped form the same culture medium now present in Brazilian society:
> Conservatism of a Catholic matrix, represented in Brazil by the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP)
> And the juridical framework for the maintenance of law and order forged by the former minister of justice, Alfredo Buzaid.”
Antonio Rago Filho - Professor and Doctor at the History Department of Sao Paulo’ Pontifical Catholic University (PUC-SP) and of the Center for Social Sciences of Fundação Santo André. Coordinator of PUC-SP’s Study Nucleus on Work, Ideology and Power (NETIPO).
Luis Felipe Loureiro Foresti - Master in Social History by PUC-SP and Researcher of its Study Nucleus on Work, Ideology and Power (NETIPO).
Rodolfo Costa Machado - Master in Social History, Law graduate from PUC-SP and Researcher of that university’s Study Nucleus on Work, Ideology and Power (NETIPO).
Moderator: Sonia Maria Troitiño Rodrigues - Professor, Doctor of UNESP-Marilia/SP Department of Information Sciences. Ex-Director of the Permanent Archival Center of the Public Archives of the State of São Paulo experienced in the area of archeology. She is Coordinator of CEDEM/UNESP.
THE EVENT - With places limited to 60 people, the auditorium was packed with all kinds of “left-wing activists,” as Prof. Rago called them in his welcoming words. They were community leaders, professors, university students of both sexes etc.
During the whole session, a photo (above) of a 1964 demonstration was projected on the wall behind the debaters. It read:
BRAZIL WILL NEVER BE A NEW CUBA
The debaters likened it to the demonstrations of March 15 and April 12, 2015 at Paulista Avenue, where people carried banners with similar sayings.
Below is a transcription of the sound track, which a participant recorded on the occasion.
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Moderator: ... “Several reactions have been happening over the last few months, more than twelve months so to speak, and it becomes necessary to discuss this issue because the present reactions, this moment of upheaval was not simply born today. It has older roots. Prof. Antonio Rago Filho, Luis Felipe Foresti and Rodolfo Machado will clarify for us a bit the origins and differences of these various versants of Brazilian conservative thought throughout the twentieth century. One of the main goals of this panel is precisely to reflect on how these residues were generated and remained throughout the history of the twentieth century and today have produced that which we are seeing and living. Every speaker of this panel will present a different versant of this [conservative] thought. Prof. Rago will begin this debate by presenting the regressive role played by the integralist movement. Luis Foresti will speak about conservatism of a Catholic matrix represented in Brazil especially by the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, the well-known TFP, and Rodolfo will close by discussing a bit on the juridical framework for the maintenance of order, forged especially by the former Minister of Justice, Alfredo Buzaid ”. [He goes on to introduce the speakers.]
Luis Felipe Foresti: When I did this research seeking to understand these conservative forms of thinking and action, he made my work somewhat easier. I will speak here about another Plínio. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, a leader and Catholic thinker quite important in Brazil and not only in Brazil. He is a guy who became very well known internationally, you see, he’s the founder of TFP. The Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, better known as TFP.
And the first neat thing is to bring up Plínio Corrêa at this panel and to bring up TFP itself. The perception... the TFP ended up becoming a kind of name brand, a kind of griffe as label for certain types of conservatism. I don’t know if you all [remember] an old song from the eighties, a samba about the TFP which I will obviously not venture to sing here but it is about that TFP association of all kinds of conservatism. Including integralist conservatism. The music kids about Plinio Corrêa doing Anauê [the integralist salute]. But Plínio was never an integralist. Much on the contrary. He condemns integralism. I don’t absolve him from anything. [But] he condemned integralism, fascism and nazism right from the get go.
Why am I saying this? [Because] it is very important for us to manage to understand this. To understand the real configuration of each of these conservatisms that we are presenting here today so that we are able to understand how they mobilize certain social sectors. In other words, what role this worldview will play. I sustain that Plínio had an articulate and consistent worldview, and I sustain it because reality shows it to be so. It enables me to affirm this. That he was and still is capable of mobilizing in its totality, the action of certain social groups when certain vectors of this thought are present in the action of these contemporary conservatisms. It is no coincidence that we chose this picture for this debate. This picture is from the demonstrations of the Sixties.
It had been the last time the right came so strongly out in the streets before now. And this is a banner we have now seen in the new demonstrations. To make this short I will tell you a bit about Plinio’s thought. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira is a Catholic thinker who began his action in the 30’s. With a quite regressive vision in a different sense than the one we employ for integralism, that is, a vision of a return to the past, which in the beginning he worked in sync with Alceu de Amoroso Lima, one of those thinkers of the Dom Vital Center, a strong Catholic conservative group which he later broke away from, partly due to a change in the Church’s position, partly to a change of position of the other thinkers. Tristão de Athayde is a guy who is...a fascinating figure who underwent several mutations along his route. And he becomes one of the main Catholic leaders in Brazil and later adopts a very liberal stance. Plinio begins very much aligned with him but remains a conservative guy to the end.
And what is Plinio’s conservatism made of? He defends a return to the past. A return to the past in the following terms: He has an idea of the Middle Ages that would normally be...today, compared to those historians of the 20th century who identified the Middle Ages as the age of darkness. Only that, for Plinio, what many saw as the age of darkness was actually paradise on earth. Why paradise on earth? [Because] it is the moment he saw as having the greatest concordance between the divine element and the earthly element. In other words, it is the moment in world history that he indicates as having the greatest concordance between what would be ... a divine predisposition of how this world was formed. Hierarchical. Naturally divided among social groups which have this function on an earthly plane, which came from the spiritual plane, in this case, from God, a fully hierarchical world where you have the dominators and the dominated. Lords and servants. And he saw that this earthly order in the Middle Ages as the one closest to perfection and it began to break down with what he calls the Pseudo-Reformation. For in fact it is the Protestant Reformation. He has a worldview that sees three great ruptures in a process that he calls The Revolution. The first, the Protestant Reformation which he calls Pseudo-Reformation would be egalitarianism on the theological plane, that is, the idea that it is possible for man, for any man, to interpret God’s designs.
He associates the second moment of this Revolution with the French Revolution. Which is this egalitarianism descending to the legislative, juridical level. That is, the idea that all man can be equal before the law, something he obviously disagrees with. And the third moment of this one process he calls Revolution takes place in 1917, which for him is the Russian Revolution, where this egalitarianism is said to have descended to the social level. So that would be the idea that men are equal. He obviously finds this, and I’m not exaggerating, hell on earth. He finds this a complete corruption of the divine order. In this sense, Plinio carries out a whole struggle that begins with his militancy in the early thirties all the way to the founding of TFP and the publication of his key book, which is this one here, called Revolution and Counter-Revolution in 1959, which is the founding manifesto of the TFP.
The TFP founding in the 60’s, the whole militancy of this organization, today after his death has been transformed into something else but remains alive. And it is out there working through various groups to defend this return to the past. And taking up again what Rago spoke about, our interest here is to understand how this return to the past, how these ideas mobilize certain sectors. When Plinio defends a return to the past he is talking about the medieval structure; the Middle Ages will always be his ceiling, his goal. [But] as you delve deeper into Plinian texts you perceive that this return to the past is not exactly a return to the medieval past. Under the aegis of a return to this medieval past [there is] a defense of present-day society, of the present status quo. How? [By keeping] a society in which you have a dominant group and a dominated group.
The catch? When he speaks about the decline of bourgeois philosophy he has a phrase I like very much: in the early times of the consolidation of capitalism, those first liberal philosophers who were radical, who advocated a radical social transformation in a period when capitalism was still not consolidated, the liberal philosophers of the time of the decline of bourgeois philosophy no longer have social support to exist, so he uses this expression about them: they will be the border guards of liberalism. In other words, their thought will no longer be imposed for otherwise it will end, overthrowing that order, so it is a thought which turns what the early liberal philosophers did upside down, he [Plinio] changes the emphasis of the work of those early liberal philosophers and turns it into a thought about maintaining order. And that is exactly what Plinio does.
On the argumentation about a return to the medieval past, it always fulfills the social function of maintaining that order of exploitation of man by man. Maintaining that order in which you have dominators and dominated. Plinio reads this through a... and up to here it is well to mark his difference with integralism or nazi-fascism. Because since the early 30’s, Plinio was critical of – and this is even funny because in the 70’s one of his great opponents was Dom Helder Câmara. And he misses no opportunity to attack Dom Helder because in the 30’s Dom Helder participated and even more was right in the middle of integralists. But Plinio, never! Why did Plinio never join those conservatisms? Because what always scared him was the plebeian component of both Nazism and Integralism. The ‘masses’ component.
Since his first book in the 40’s on Catholic Action Plinio sustained that the masses have no condition to make history. They are unable to act in the world. So much so that Plinio’s first great public intervention – not the first, but the one that breaks the international barriers… is not a debate with Alceu but one which gains Vatican approval, Pius XII’s approval, the book he wrote on Catholic Action in 1943 in which he disputes Alceu Amororo Lima’s position, very much supported on Jacques Maritain’s philosophy, that the laity should be more integrated into the command of the Church. Whereas Plinio understands that only an elite group can be inserted into the command of the Church. Not only of the Church but of Catholic Action. [Or] in the command of any association. This [position sustained in this, his] first great debate, defending an elite by nature, an elite of the well-born as being those who circulate life around the world will be kept to the end of his life.
The last book Plinio wrote is called Nobility; in fact it is called Nobility and Analogous Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII. It is a huge book. But for you to have an idea, it was the time in which John Paul II had adopted the motto of the Latin American bishops, the preferential option for the poor, and Plinio launches his own option which is the preferential option for the nobles. This is an anti-papal joke but it shows well how he sees this division of the world. For us to understand the trajectory of this conservatism in the 60’s it is important to note... I am only giving some general lines, I know we’ll have a debate later, otherwise there will be no time for me to say all I wanted... but something else I would like to call attention to is Plinio’s distancing from the Catholic Church itself. Because if in the beginning of his militancy in the 30’s you can say that he was fully in tune with the dictates of the Vatican except for one or the other punctual adjustment, after John XXIII and notably after Council Vatican II a rupture begins to take place. A rupture which, in the way the TFP sees it, produces very interesting things.
For him, the Church is the authorized interpreter of the will… and the Pope is the interpreter of the will of God on earth. That worked very well until Pius XII. Pius XII approves one of Plinio’s books. He calls him a specialist on the topic. This is the book on Catholic Action which I spoke about. He says the book deserves to be read by everyone. There is no great conflict with John XXIII. [But] there is an enormous rupture with Council Vatican II. Plinio has conflicts with Paul VI to the point that in 1974 he went so far as to publish a declaration of resistance to the Pope. Since for the TFP it was impossible to break with the Church, he makes a declaration based on and citing a biblical episode in which Paul resisted Peter; which would be more or less what he was doing. As if he were the only authorized interpreter. He would never break with the Church. It was as if Paul VI had broken with the Church. Of course he could not textually affirm this about the Pope. So, because of the Pope’s errors he places the Pope as a less authorized interpreter than himself. There is no time to talk about Plinio’s whole debate with Paul VI; we can come back to it during the debates because I wanted to bring up the enduring remnants of this Plinian thought today.
As I said, Plinio is a leader who began his action in the 30’s. He founds the TFP, an activist group very present in the 60’s, very present at the Family March with God [for Freedom], very present in the 70’s and 80’s, in the 80’s this group begins to dwindle a bit... [and] you wind up having two factors since what some authors call the fall of real communism… I find this a very bad term, but use it just for clarity, since the fall of communism in the Soviet bloc all the way up to Brazil’s re-democratization, the TFP... had that eminently political, eminently anticommunist talk – Brazil will not be a new Cuba. It loses some strength in the 80’s. In the 90’s, Plinio dies. That ends up by causing division in the organization. And it is scary to see how this [anticommunist] talk is being taken up again nowadays! I began to study Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira and have contact with this subject around 2010. And I forgot to say that Plinio was a syndicated writer for Folha de Sao Paulo for almost 30 years. He was the longest writer for Folha de Sao Paulo to this day, I believe.
I had the impression that there are remnants of Plinio’s thought disseminated today, but no one claims to defend his thought as a whole. And over the last few years we have seen a scary resumption of his thought, even in its totality, in several segments [of society]. There is an institute called the Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute which is led by Adolpho Lindenberg, a cousin of his and a construction company owner, who disseminates his thought. Perhaps this is today the largest group that directly spreads Plinio’s thought.
Now you can [also] take, for example, religious watchdog groups that make a lot of noise. I don’t know if you have run into that Father Paulo Ricardo. Father Paulo Ricardo [laughter] is a man religious who regularly visits the Legislative Assembly here in São Paulo, a guy who seeks to dictate a conservative agenda; he is a Plinio in cassock. He is... part of the division... now emerging in the Church with Francis’ ascension. He is a Plinio in cassock!
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