The problem with conservatives in Latin America

Shortly after the declaration of independence of the USA, in 1776, several independence movements in Iberian America followed. Basically between the 1800s and the 1820s almost all of Latin America broke its colonial ties with Spain and Portugal, giving rise to the national states we know today, from Mexico to Chile. This disruption of colonial ties, however, was only the beginning of the process of formation of Latin American national states. The borders would still undergo many transformations, and especially there would be a long and tortuous task of forming national governments in each country.

In general there was much influence from the USA and the French Revolution in the formation of Latin American national states. The constitutions that emerged on the continent were generally liberal in their essence, using a theoretical background similar to that which gave rise to the American constitution. However, in the case of Latin America, this liberalism proved to be only a veneer covering the surface. Below it Latin America was a region marked by oligarchy, paternalism, and authoritarianism.

Using Brazil as an example, one can observe how much the French Revolution was a strong influence on Latin America. In the Brazilian case, this influence was due to the fear that there would be a radicalization of liberalism that guided the process of independence, leading to a Jacobinism such as that which marked the period of Terror in France. The fear that a Brazilian Robespierre would emerge at some point forced Brazil’s founders to cooperate in such a manner that the formation of the Brazilian state was more conservative and less liberal.

One problem with Latin American conservatism lies in what it retains in trying to avoid liberal radicalization. There is a conservative Anglo-Saxon tradition identified primarily with Edmund Burke. As in Latin America, Burke was critical of the radicalization of the French Revolution (with the advantage that Burke predicted radicalization before it actually occurred). However, Burke had an already liberal country to conserve. In his case, conservatism was a liberal conservatism. In the case of Latin Americans, preserving meant maintaining mercantilism and absolutism, or at least avoiding a more rapid advance of liberalism.

Another problem with Latin American conservatism is to confuse Rousseau with true liberalism. The ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau were behind the most radical period of the French Revolution. Burke criticized the kind of thinking that guided the revolution because of its abstract nature, disconnected from the traditions. But this was not really Rousseau’s problem. His problem is that his ideas do not make the slightest sense. John Locke also possessed an abstract but perfectly sensible political thought. Rousseau does not represent liberalism. His thinking is a proto-socialism that we would do well to avoid. But the true liberalism of John Locke and the American Founding Fathers still needs to be implemented in Latin America.

In short, the problem of conservatism in Latin America lies in what we have to conserve. My opinion is that we still need to move forward a lot before having liberal societies that are worth thinking about being preserved. Meanwhile, it is better to avoid the idea of a Latin American conservatism.

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Carta de Voltaire dirigida a Rousseau, em resposta a ele

Um excelente texto mostrando o contraste entre dois conceitos de liberdade. Voltaire representa a liberdade do liberalismo clássico: o indivíduo deve ser livre de constrangimentos externos, ser livre para buscar sua concepção individual de felicidade. Rousseau representa outra concepção de liberdade: o indivíduo só será livre se acatar um conceito de felicidade que os demais irão lhe impor. Rousseau está por trás de basicamente todas a ditaduras estabelecidas desde então, principalmente as de esquerda, formadas por pessoas de bem que sabem o que é bom para os outros, que falam que o capitalismo só cria problemas e que deveríamos fazer um governo mais “democrático”. Em outras palavras, pessoas chatas, agressivas, que não respeitam as decisões alheias e sentem uma incontrolável vontade de ensinar para os outros o que é bom.

30 de Agosto de 1755

Recebi, senhor, vosso novo livro contra o gênero humano, e vos agradeço por isso. Vós agradareis aos homens, sobre quem fala vossas verdades, e não os emendará. Ninguém poderia pintar um quadro com cores mais fortes dos horrores da sociedade humana, para os quais nossa ignorância e debilidade tem tanta esperança de consolo. Ninguém jamais empregou tanta vivacidade em nos tornar novamente animais: pode-se querer andar com quatro patas, quando lemos vossa obra. Entretanto, como já faz mais de sessenta anos que perdi este costume, percebo, infelizmente, que é impossível recomeçar, e deixo essa maneira natural àqueles que são mais dignos que vós e eu. Já não posso mais embarcar para encontrar os selvagens do Canadá, em primeiro lugar, porque as doenças de que sofro me prendem ao redor do maior médico da Europa, e não encontraria a mesma assistência junto aos Missouris. Em segundo, porque a guerra está sendo travada lá naquele país, e o exemplo de nossas nações tornou os selvagens quase tão perigosos quanto nós. Devo me limitar a ser um selvagem pacífico, na solidão que escolhi, perto de vossa pátria, onde vós devíeis estar.

Concordo convosco que a literatura e as ciências causaram ocasionalmente muitos danos. Os inimigos de Tasso fizeram de sua vida uma longa série de infortúnios. Os de Galileu fizeram-no gemer dentro da prisão, aos setenta anos de idade, por haver entendido como a Terra se movimenta; e o que é ainda mais desonroso, obrigaram-no a desdizer-se. Desde que vossos amigos começaram a publicar o Dicionário Enciclopédico, os rivais os desafiam com o tratamento de deístas, ateus e mesmo de jansenistas.

Se porventura eu puder me incluir entre aqueles cujos trabalhos não trouxeram mais do que a perseguição como única recompensa, poderei mostrar-vos o tipo de gente perseguidora que me prejudica desde que produzi minha tragédia Édipo; uma biblioteca de calúnias ridículas impressas contra mim. Um ex-padre jesuíta, que salvei da desgraça total, me pagou o serviço que lhe prestei com um libelo difamatório; um homem, ainda mais culpado, imprimiu minha própria obra sobre o século de Luís XIV com notas nas quais a mais crassa ignorância vomitou as mais baixas imposturas; um outro, que vendeu a um editor, usando meu nome, alguns capítulos de uma pretensa História Universal; o editor, ávido o suficiente para imprimir esse amontoado de erros crassos, datas erradas, fatos e nomes mutilados; e, finalmente, os homens covardes e vis o suficiente para me responsabilizar pela publicação desta rapsódia. Eu mostrar-vos-ei a sociedade contaminada por este tipo de homens – desconhecido em toda a antiguidade – que, não podendo abraçar uma profissão honesta, seja de trabalho manual ou de serviço, e desafortunadamente sabendo ler e escrever, se tornam agentes literários, vivem de nossas obras, roubam os manuscritos, alteram-nos, vendem-nos. Eu poderia lamentar-me porque fragmentos de uma zombaria, feitos há pelo menos trinta anos, sobre o mesmo sujeito que Chapelain foi burro o bastante para tratar seriamente, circulam hoje pelo mundo, graças à traição e avareza desses infelizes, que misturaram suas grosserias às minhas pilhérias, e preencheram as lacunas com uma estupidez equiparada somente à sua malícia e que, ao cabo de 30 anos, vendem por toda parte um manuscrito que é apenas deles, e digno tão somente deles.

Eu poderia acrescentar, em último lugar, que roubaram uma parte do material que eu juntei nos arquivos públicos para usar na História da Guerra de 1741, quando era historiador da França; que venderam a uma livraria de Paris esse fruto de meu trabalho; que nessa época invejaram minhas posses, como se eu estivesse morto e pudessem colocá-las à venda. Eu poderia mostrar a ingratidão, a impostura e o roubo me perseguindo por quarenta anos, do pé dos Alpes ao pé do meu túmulo. Mas o que eu concluiria de todos esses tormentos? Que não tenho o direito de reclamar; que o Papa, Descartes, Bayle, Camões e centenas de outros sofreram injustiças iguais, ou ainda maiores; que este destino é o de quase todos daqueles que foram inteiramente seduzidos pelo amor às letras.

Admita, senhor, que estas coisas são pequenas desgraças particulares de que a sociedade pouco se apercebe. Que importa para a humanidade que alguns zangões roubem o mel de poucas abelhas? Os homens das letras fazem grande estardalhaço de todas estas pequenas querelas, enquanto o resto do mundo ou os ignora ou disso gargalha.

De todos os desgostos afetando a vida humana, esses são os menos graves. Os espinhos ligados à literatura, ou um pouco menos de reputação, são flores quando comparados aos outros males que a todo momento inundam a terra. Admita que Cícero, Varrão, Lucrécio ou Virgílio não tiveram a menor culpa nas proscrições. Mário era um ignorante, Sila, um bárbaro, Antônio, um crápula, o imbecil Lépido leu um pouco de Platão e Sófocles; enquanto Otávio César, covardemente apelidado de Augusto, esse tirano sem coragem, agiu apenas como um assassino detestável no momento em que privou a sociedade dos homens de letras.

Admita que Petrarca e Boccaccio não fizeram nascer os problemas da Itália; que as brincadeiras de Marot não produziram São Bartolomeu, e que a tragédia de Cid não produziu a guerra da Fronde. Os grandes crimes são cometidos apenas pelos grandes ignorantes. O que faz e fará sempre deste mundo um vale de lágrimas é a avidez e o indomável orgulho dos homens, desde Thamas-Kouli-Kan, que não sabia nem ler, até um oficial de alfândega, que não sabe nem contar. As letras alimentam, endireitam e consolam a alma; elas vos servem, senhor, durante o tempo que escreveis contra elas. Vós sois como Aquiles, que se encolerizava contra a glória, e como o padre Malebranche, que, com sua imaginação brilhante, escrevia contra a imaginação.

Se alguém tem o direito de queixar-se da literatura, sou eu, porque em todos os momentos e em todos os lugares ela serviu à minha perseguição; mas deve-se amá-la, não obstante o mau uso que dela fazem; como deve-se amar a sociedade na qual tantos homens maldosos corrompem os suscetíveis; como deve-se amar a sua pátria, mesmo que ela nos trate com alguma injustiça; como se deve amar o Ser Supremo, apesar das superstições e do fanatismo que desonram tão freqüentemente o seu culto.

M. Chappuis disse-me que vossa saúde anda muito mal, deveis restabelecê-la na terra natal, aproveitando junto à sua liberdade, beber comigo o leite de nossas vacas, e passear em seus campos.

Muito filosoficamente e com a mais alta estima, etc

Final thoughts on Rio Olympics

Rio Olympics are over, and it seems to me, they are leaving a great impression. Despite all the problems the city and the country faced in recent years, not to mention the fact that Brazil is still a developing country, all ends well for Summer Olympics 2016.

One final comment I would like to make about the events once again relates to Brazilian athletes: Brazil scored an unprecedented 19 in the medal table (7 golds, 6 silvers and 6 bronzes), establishing a new record for itself. Among Brazilian medalists were people like Martine Grael, who won gold in Sailing, 49er FX Women. Martine is the daughter of twice Olympic gold medalist in sailing Torben Grael. Her brother Marco and uncle Lars also sailed in the Olympics. We also had people like Isaquias Queiroz dos Santos, who won Silver in Canoe Sprint, Men’s Canoe Single 1000m, Bronze in Canoe Sprint, Men’s Canoe Single 200m, and again Silver in Canoe Sprint, Men’s Canoe Double 1000m, becoming the first Brazilian athlete to ever win three medals in a single edition of the Olympic Games.

Isaquias was born in a very poor region of Brazil, and has been through great adversity before becoming an Olympic medalist: as a child he poured boiling water on himself and spent a month in hospital recovering; at the age of 5 he was kidnapped and offered up for adoption before being rescued by his mother; at the age of 10 he fell out of a tree and lost a kidney. In his teenage years he severed the top third off his left ring finger. He started training in a social project supported by Brazilian Federal government.

I am pretty sure that this picture happens with athletes and medalists from other countries: on one hand we have medalists like Martine, coming from a well-to-do environment and with a family of athletes who introduced her to the sport. On the other hand we have medalists like Isaquias, who had to face great hardships but was helped by social programs to become an Olympic athlete. Considering that, should the government create more programs to develop more people like Isaquias? Should the government prevent the privileges of people like Martine? Questions like these may sound preposterous to many, but they actually reflect much of the political discussion we have today: should the government help kids from poor families with education, healthcare and other things in order to create a head start? Should the government overtax the rich (and their heritage) in order to create more equality? In other words, what we have here is a discussion of equality versus freedom. In order to talk about that we have to understand what is equality and what is freedom.

There are many senses in which Isaquias and Martine will never be equals: they were born in different places, to different families. They had different life stories. There is a sense in which no two individuals are equal: each one of us is in each one way unique. And that makes us all special in each one way. Of course, when talking about equality most people are thinking about equality of outcome. But they forget (or ignore) that in order to have this kind of equality you need to ignore all the differences between individuals – the very same thing that makes us all unique and special – or to use government force to take from one and give to another. So, unless you are willing to ignore all the differences that make us all unique or to use force against non aggressors, you have to accept at least some income inequality as part of life. The classical liberal answer to that is that we need to be equal before the law: a great part of the liberal project in previous centuries was basically to abolish privileges (private laws) and to make all equally responsible before government. That is an equality we can all have. And we should.

The second point is freedom. Freedom from what? Or to do what? There are at least two kinds of freedom discussed in the context of the liberal revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries. One is related to John Locke and the Founding Fathers, the other to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The discussion about this phrase can go really long, but I want to emphasize simply that in Jefferson’s view you have the freedom to pursue your own understanding of happiness. I may completely disagree with what you are choosing for your life, but at the same time I am not to force you in any way to change your choices. I am not to force upon you my brand of happiness, not matter how much I am sure I have the correct one.

Rousseau’s version of freedom is very different: as he famously stated, “whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole of society, which means nothing more or less than that he will be forced to be free.” In other words, if you are a minority (and especially if you are an individual, the smallest minority possible) people can force upon you their brand of happiness. That is one reason why Rousseau is called “the philosopher of vanity”: he refuses to accept that people see life in a different way from his own. Rousseau’s vision of freedom is connected to his troubled relation with Christianity – where indeed you need to have a relationship with God through Jesus to become free. But the catch is that in Christianity God never forces you. Rousseau’s god is very different, and as such, Rousseaunism is just a Christian heresy.

To conclude, in order to create more income equality you have to destroy the classical liberal version of freedom – or to change to another version that inevitably leads to totalitarianism. As Milton Friedman said, “A society that puts equality — in the sense of equality of outcome — ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.” I just hope we can have more people like Isaquias and Martine, who achieve great goals, sometimes with the help of friends and family, sometimes in completely unpredictable ways.

Homicide and the State

I am one of the hundreds of thousands, possibly of millions of conservatives with strong libertarian leanings. Incidentally, I am not just talking, I showed it in several things I wrote and published. (Please, ask me.) There are several things however that prevent me from stating unambiguously that I am a libertarian, and much less, a Libertarian.

Of the two main philosophical obstacles the first is the mainstream libertarians’ barely concealed pacifism. I deal with this issue in several postings in factsmatter.wordpress.com that include the name “Paul” in their title (I also have objections to Ron Paul, the politician, another topic treated in some of the same postings.) My second problem is that it seems to me that serious libertarians have not dealt adequately with the central issue of the state as peacemaker.

Let me say before I proceed that it may well be the case that I am simply exposing my ignorance, that the subject has been examined by many good minds and that I have simply not come across their efforts. There might even be forums where the issue is discussed frequently and about which I am ignorant because of my bad habit of spending a lot of time watching French television series. And by the way, I propose (forcefully) the following rule: No one must give anyone a reading assignment if he/she has not even done the assignment. Don’t tell me to read what you have not read thoroughly yourself!

Now back to the state as peacemaker. Continue reading

Plato, Rousseau and All That Jazz

Rousseau maintains this ideological preference consistently throughout his economic thought. We have seen that he was distressed that the possibility and actuality of shifting occupational roles would lead to inauthenticity. Change and social mobility were so psychologically destructive in his view, that he came to praise the caste system of ancient Egypt because it forced sons to follow their fathers’ occupations.

From Bill Evers in the Journal of Libertarian Studies. The title is “Specialization and the Division of Labor in the Social Thought of Plato and Rousseau.” (h/t Walter Block)

On a side note (and completely unrelated as well), this is possibly the best hip-hop album of all-time. Enjoy!