For a constitutional democracy to become a reality in practice, not just in theory, authoritarian solutions need, as a matter of ethical principle, be clearly rejected by political actors. If not, the entire edifice of constitutional democracy may eventually collapse under the overwhelming weight of political intolerance and undemocratic radicalism.
Regrettably, one would not be mistaken in characterising many intellectuals in Brazil as having little or no respect for the liberal-democratic traditions and legal institutions of the most developed countries in the developed world. Rather, populism, collectivism, and rejection of economic freedom are values inherent in the formation of the Brazilian intellectual elite.
With some exceptions, Brazilian universities are often archaic repositories of old-fashioned Marxist conceptions of law and society. Such conceptions deny that any constitutional order might be regarded as ‘just’ unless it furthers radical socialism. Thus, any legal system that does not advance socialism is automatically discarded as a ‘fraud’ employed by the ‘evil’ capitalists to supposedly oppress the poor.
The rationale for this, as legal philosopher Laurent Cohen-Tanugi asserts, is that radical leftists are inclined to consider the rule of law a “conservative mystification to perpetuate the liberal-capitalist system, at the dear price of every [radical] social transformation”.
This being the case, one can more easily understand why so many Brazilian intellectuals are left-wing radicals who view the principles of liberal democracy quite negatively, and steadfastly refuse to abandon old socialist idols such as dictator Fidel Castro, in spite of strong evidence concerning the absence of basic human rights in Cuba. As a result, they have been working incessantly to discredit every political system not strictly based on principles of Marxism.
Unfortunately, in Latin American countries such as Brazil, Carlos Alberto Montaner comments, “what many intellectuals announce in newspapers, books and magazines, and television is repeated in the majority of Latin America universities…
“This message explains the close relationship between the lessons young scholars receive in the university and their link with subversive groups such as Sendero Luminoso in Peru, Tupamaros in Uruguay, Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionária in Venezuela, the M-19 in Colombia, of Sub-Comandante Marco’s picturesquely hooded Zapatistas in Mexico. The weapons these young men carried with them into the jungle, mountains, and city streets were loaded in the lecture rooms of the universities”.
In fact, a serious problem facing liberal democracy in Brazil is precisely that the political writings of V.I. Lenin are quite popular amongst intellectuals. Such academics appreciate Lenin’s political ideas in spite of the fact that oppression in the former Soviet Union occurred not just as result of the excesses of Stalinism but rather as an integral part of the ‘foundations of lawlessness’ that he established.
It was Lenin, not Stalin, who openly advocated that the state must base all its power “directly upon force and unrestricted by any laws”. And Lenin also declared: “The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is ruled, won, and maintained by the use of violence by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, rule that is unrestricted by any laws”.
An academic deeply influenced by Lenin’s writings is political-science professor Emir Sader, currently the head of the Laboratory of Public Policies at the prestigious State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ).
He is the author of well-known books such as Os Sete Pecados do Capital (The Seven Sins of Capital), Cartas à Che Guevara (Letters to Che Guevara) and Estado e Política em Marx (State and Politics in Marx). Professor Sader, who identifies himself as a ‘socialist militant’, is indeed so much so that a leader of Colombia’s FARC describes him as a major contact in the country for the communist-drug guerrillas.
Besides these books, Emir Sader has also written articles maintaining that Latin American dictators of fascist leaning, particularly Brazil’s Getúlio Vargas and Argentina’s Juan Domingo Perón, were rather ‘democratic leaders’. This quite renowned professor, a respected scholar who is often invited to appear at leading programs on national television, and is regularly posting articles in Brazil’s leading newspapers, declared this in a March 17, 2002 article in the daily Jornal do Brasil:
“Vargas, Perón, Arbenz, Goulart, Allende, amongst several others, were all of them leaders who fell from power just because of their democratic virtues, not vices. Their desire was to create a more democratic society based on the sovereign will of the popular masses. As such, they ended up clashing with the local oligarchies and political elites, not to mention the destabilising influence of the U.S. government and the terrorist actions of the great media.”
As can be seen, Sader’s paradigm for a “democratic leader” follows the classical model of tyrannical government mentioned by Greek philosophers more than two thousand years ago. In opposition to ‘oligarchies’ he then goes to support top-down changes that are imposed by populist leaders whom the ancient Greek called ‘tyrants’.
This is because, as the retired Brazilian ambassador J.O. de Meira Penna properly explains, “Brazil’s Getúlio Vargas and Argentina’s Juan Perón were typical tyrants in this classical sense… [as] both men subverted legitimately organized, liberal-constitutional schemes of ideological plurality”.
And yet, it is quite curious to see an academic so heavily promoted by the Brazilian media, suddenly turn on this and deem its journalists ‘terrorists’ if they dare disagree with his high estimation of ‘democrats’ such as Vargas, a ‘democrat’ whose Estado Novo regime arrested, tortured, and sent his political opponents into exile. Indeed, Vargas ‘appreciated’ democracy so much that a 1941 letter sent to Nazi Germany by its ambassador to Brazil commented:
“President Vargas requested me to call him unofficially today… The President began our conversation by stating that he very much regretted the deterioration in economic relations with [Nazi] Germany… The President then emphasised his intention to maintain neutrality towards [Nazi] Germany and, also, his personal sympathy for our authoritarian [Nazi] state, referring at the same time to the speech delivered by him recently. He openly expressed his aversion of England and the democratic system as a whole”.
However, this is the politician that people like Sader point to as the paradigm of “democratic leadership” for their country. And, not just that, but they also maintain that the current ruler of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, is also another ‘democratic leader’ to be imitated.
In Sader’s opinion, this colonel went to respect all legal-democratic proceedings so as to achieve enough power “to change the constitution… and have all his laws approved by the parliament”. Thus, he and other prominent Brazilian intellectuals, including Bishop Tomas Balduíno, João Pedro Stédile, Leonardo Boff, Chico Buarque, and Oscar Niemeyer, signed, in August 2004, a political manifesto in support of the Venezuelan president.
Whereas such ‘intellectuals’ hold colonel Chavez in the highest esteem, as a sincere democrat and law-abiding ruler, Human Rights Watch accuses his government of widespread human rights violations, including the killing of political adversaries, police torture, the restriction of free speech and the independent press, and undue politicization of the judiciary. Under Chavez, Venezuela has sheltered groups with ties to Islamic terrorism and allowed weapons from its official stockpiles to reach Colombian drug guerrillas.
Therefore, what such intellectuals consider a ‘democratic’ leader one does far better to classify as a typical caudillo. And yet, because of their strong belief in top-to-bottom ‘progressive changes’, they would suggest that even a notorious dictator like Fidel Castro is also a ‘progressive’ leader, even though the Cuban government consistently restricts basic human rights, such as freedom of expression, and maintains harsh prison conditions.
In fact, Professor Sader has explicitly argued that Castro is the head of a ‘progressive government’, which, somehow, “universalised the rights of its people to education, information, and culture”. Of course, he has not been able to explain how these rights could be enjoyed in a country where the state criminalizes any thought that is not in accord with government ideas.
Although the rights to education, information, and culture cannot be truly exercised unless the citizen is reasonably free to meet with others, and without governmental control, Articles 53 and 54 of the Cuban Constitution deny their normal exercise by stating that any person can, for any reason, be arbitrarily arrested if the government thinks he or she poses any form of ‘danger’ to its ‘national security’, even if no crime has ever been committed by this citizen.
As a result, what people in Cuba have acquired is not truly the right to education but rather indoctrination masquerading as education, aimed at ensuring a more subservient population; because basic rights to free speech and writing are sine qua non for the normal exercise of rights to education, information and culture.
This being the case, it is hard to develop a normal democratic reality in a kind of political environment where so many people ignore (or despise) basic principles of democracy and the rule of law. It is paramount to develop a more comprehensive understanding with these important principles, which can only prosper in Brazil if the prevailing mentality of its ruling political and intellectual elites is substantially changed.
Augusto Zimmermann is a Brazilian Law Professor and the author of the well-known books Teoria Geral do Federalismo Democrático (General Theory of Democratic Federalism – Second Edition, 2005) and Curso de Direito Constitucional (Course on Constitutional Law, Fourth Edition – 2005). His e-mail is: email@example.com.