Some Monday Links

Pop Culture Has Become an Oligopoly (Experimental History)

Linked to a relevant piece here some months ago. Still cannot decide if arguments like these are up to some serious insight, or they’re just glorified presentations of common sense (or both, or neither). Enjoyable, worth a look, nonetheless.

Devouring the Heart of Portugal (Damn Interesting)

The leak:

A Return to Fundamentals (City Journal)

What the Leaked Abortion Opinion Gets Wrong About Unenumerated Rights (Reason)

Monarchical Brazil was not a conservative paradise

Seems to me that there is a strong tendency between contemporary Brazilian conservatives to consider the Brazilian Empire (1822-1889) a golden age in Brazilian history. Many Brazilian conservatives are now defending the monarchy as an ideal form of government for Brazil.

As someone said, “the more we change, the more we remain the same.” Brazil became independent from Portugal in 1822. The independence was officially proclaimed by Dom Pedro I, son of Dom João VI, the king of Portugal. I think that maybe Brazilians are so acquainted with this fact that they don’t realize how crazy it is: the prince of Portugal declared the independence of Brazil! That didn’t happen because Dom Pedro fought with his father. By all accounts, father and son enjoyed the best relationship possible. Dom Pedro declared Brazil’s independence because if he didn’t, someone else would.

Dom Pedro’s independence was just one among many others. Tiradentes tried to proclaim the independence of [at least part of] Brazil in 1789, basically 30 years before Dom Pedro! And this is just one example! Tiradentes independence was not successful because it was averted by Portugal. Dom Pedro’s independence was successful because he was Portugal (ok, he wasn’t Portugal, but he was part of it)!

The fact that Brazil’s independence was proclaimed by a Portuguese monarch gives a very special meaning to what means to be conservative in Brazil. Today, in the US, one may call himself a conservative because he defends the ideas of Thomas Jefferson. But in his day Thomas Jefferson was a radical! A rebel who revolted against the British monarchy. Dom Pedro was not exactly a rebel. He wanted, to a great degree, to maintain things just the way they were. Certainly, many of his supporters were afraid of a more radical independence movement. To say the least, Brazil’s independence was a compromise between radicals and conservatives.

Brazilian monarchy avoided many reforms, inspired by classical liberalism, that were happening in other places. To give just one example (in my personal view, the most glaring), Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery (in 1888). I don’t blame Dom Pedro I for this. I also don’t blame his son, Dom Pedro II, who ended up being emperor for the majority of the monarchical period (1840-1889). But the fact is that the monarchy maintained many of the privileges inherited from Portugal, and avoided reforms that Anglo-American conservatives would support.

Brazilian conservatives have to be careful with the use of this word. To be a conservative in Brazil is not necessarily the same as being a conservative in England or the US.

Party politics and foreign policy in Brazil’s early history

Early Brazilian foreign policy was criticized for being too Europe-centered. Brazil declared its independence from Portugal in 1822 in a process unique in the Americas: Dom Pedro I, the country’s first head of state and government, was the son of Dom João VI, king of Portugal. This gave Brazil a sense of continuity with the former metropolis – unique in the Americas. Although Dom Pedro I renounced his rights in the Portuguese succession line to become Brazil’s first Emperor, early Brazilian foreign policy was very much a continuation of late Portuguese policy.

Early in the 19th century Portugal became involved in the Napoleonic Wars on the English side. Portugal and England enjoyed then an already long friendship. When Napoleon invaded the Iberian Peninsula, Dom João, then Prince Regent, decided to move the Portuguese imperial capital to Rio de Janeiro, instead of fighting a war he believed he could not win. This move consolidated the Anglo-Portuguese alliance of that time, as Dom João’s policy was backed up by England.

In South America, Dom João first decision was to finish the colonial exclusivism Portugal enjoyed with its colony, opening Brazil’s ports to friendly nations. With most of Europe at war and occupied by French armies, England was basically the only friend Brazil and Portugal had at the time. But his policies meant that Brazil had a move towards liberalism unknown until that moment. The country’s trade with the outside world rose as English products entered the Brazilian market.

When Dom João returned to Europe, Brazilian elites were unwilling to give up the freedom conquered in the previous years; in that case, something not that different from what happened in Spanish America. With Dom Pedro I as Prince Regent in Brazil, the independence movement grew strong until complete secession in 1822.

With that in mind, it’s possible to understand how early Brazilian foreign policy was mostly a continuation of Dom João’s policy: Dom Pedro I’s first task was to get recognition of Brazil’s independence from Portugal. That happened with English support. The United States was the first country to recognize Brazil’s independence, but this was welcomed coldly in Rio de Janeiro.

In response to English help, Dom Pedro I kept and improved the trade benefits England already enjoyed with Brazil. He also occupied Uruguay, a region disputed between Spain and Portugal, leading to a war with Argentina and, despite renouncing his rights to the Portuguese throne, kept close relations with his family in Portugal.

Dom Pedro I’s foreign policy was a reason for growing opposition. He could not win a war against Argentina and his connection to Portugal was a constant reason for accusations of recolonization plans. Topping that was the perception of Brazilian elites that the trade agreements with England were bad for Brazil. For these and other reasons, Dom Pedro I resigned in 1831 and returned to Portugal, leaving the Brazilian throne to his son, Dom Pedro II.

Dom Pedro II was only five years old when he ascended to the throne, and so despite being the head of state, he could not govern the country. The 1830’s were a period of regencies when few important decisions were made in Brazil’s foreign policy. But in another topic, that was a crucial decade in Brazilian history: the political tendencies present in Dom Pedro I’s reign became more formal political parties in the late 1830’s: the Conservative Party, that defended progress inside of order, and the Liberal Party, that defended more radical changes.

Dom Pedro II’s adulthood was anticipated in 1840, and besides a short period of Liberal rule, the conservatives dominated Brazilian politics for most of the 1840’s to the 1870’s. In domestic politics, conservatives wanted to centralize politics and bureaucracy in Rio de Janeiro and leave little autonomy to the provinces. They claimed to be afraid of the extremes of mob rule, despotism, and oligarchy, and therefore defended progress inside of order. This meant conserving much of the Portuguese heritage. It was up to the state to build the nation and to lead a modernization process. Ironically, many important conservative leaders were former adversaries to Dom Pedro I and accused him of despotism. However, once in power, they said the country needed to be saved from excesses of liberty.

The conservatives talked about the 1830’s as a period of dangerous upheaval in Brazil. Indeed, the country faced several regional revolts that could have fragmented the Empire. Anyway, the conservative answer was to secure the integrity through a stronger government. In their understanding, Brazil was simply not ready for a certain level of liberty.

Pesos, medidas e as instituições

Douglas Allen, em seu ótimo, The Institutional Revolution, defende a tese de que uma revolução institucional teria precedido a famosa revolução industrial. Texto importante, é que, para mim, já é candidato a livro-texto básico de qualquer bom curso de História Econômica.

Como sempre, senti falta de alguma coisa mais, digamos, tropical, no livro. Bom, mas como é que vou cobrar isto de um livro que não se propõe a contar a história das instituições em Portugal? Não posso. Isto é mais uma deixa para os pesquisadores brasileiros. Dica de amigo, quem sabe, para alguém que deseje fazer uma dissertação de mestrado sobre o tema.

Mas eu sou uma pessoa perigosamente curiosa. Fiquei intrigado com a questão dos pesos e medidas. No argumento do autor, a questão dos pesos e medidas, ou melhor, a questão da padronização de pesos e medidas, está diretamente relacionada com a mensuração de produtos, o que gera uma importante alteração nos custos de se trocar mercadorias (ou seja, nos custos de transação). Afinal, nada mais óbvio do que achar mais interessante comprar um quilo de abacate sem levar para casa meio quilo do mesmo.

No caso do Brasil colonial, então, pensei, deveria ser como em Portugal. Para checar isto, consultei este documento. Vejamos alguns trechos:

No que se refere às unidades de medidas adotadas ao longo do período colonial, o quadro não difere, como é natural, daquele oferecido por Portugal. A vara, a canada e o almude constituíam as medidas de uso mais comum, ainda que seu valor pudesse variar de região para região. Os produtos importados traziam consigo suas próprias medidas e, quanto mais geograficamente restrita uma atividade econômica, mais específico era o sistema de medidas utilizado. (…)

Vale dizer: nada muito diferente do restante da Europa.

Assim, a primeira menção expressa à atividade metrológica, em documentos coloniais, refere-se precisamente à fiscalização do funcionamento de mercados locais. Como em Portugal, o funcionário colonial mais diretamente envolvido com a fiscalização de pesos e medidas era o almotacé, mencionado pelas Ordenações Manuelinas e Filipinas e previsto pela organização do município de São Vicente, em 1532. Em número de dois, eleitos mensalmente pela Câmara Municipal, os almotacés tinham como atribuição básica manter o bom funcionamento dos mercados e do abastecimento de gêneros, além de fiscalizar obras e manter a limpeza da cidade. Como parte de suas responsabilidades, deveriam verificar mensalmente, com o escrivão da almotaçaria, os pesos e as medidas. Tal disposição estimulava, dada a dispersão e a diversidade dos municípios, a multiplicação dos padrões de medidas.

Veja só a importância do ofício. Alguém imaginaria que carregar uma régua ou uma fita métrica, hoje em dia, seria uma profissão digna de tanta importância? Bem, numa época em que o governo descobre que medir ajuda a maximizar sua receita, nada mais natural, não? Até eleição para o cargo havia.

No caso dos gêneros estancados ou submetidos a controles mais rígidos, a Coroa cuidava da melhor organização das atividades metrológicas. O estabelecimento do monopólio do tabaco, por exemplo, levou à criação, em 1702, do Juiz da Balança do Tabaco, nas alfândegas de Salvador e Recife. No caso das minas, o regimento do Intendente do Ouro, de 26 de setembro de 1735, mencionava expressamente sua obrigação de manter as balanças e marcos da Intendência aferidos, pesando o ouro corretamente, sem prejuízo das partes nem da Fazenda Real, atribuição expressamente mantida no regimento de 1751.

Como se percebe, a questão institucional é indissociável da questão econômica. Veja aí o depoimento do próprio autor: tem monopólio? Quem é o “dono” do monopólio? A Coroa. Reza o dito popular – e a teoria econômica – que “o olho do dono engorda o cavalo” – e não é diferente neste caso.

Pois bem, falta-nos – alô, colegas de História Econômica! – um estudo mais detalhado do papel dos almotacés (ou me falta mais pesquisa e leitura, vai saber…), não falta? Vou procurar meu exemplar de Fiscais e Meirinhos para rejuvenescer, digamos assim, meu interesse pelo tema.

Novamente, percebemos que a História Econômica não precisa nos dar sono.

Fascism Explained

Below is a fairly long essay. You may want to read it in installments.

[Update: There is also a Part 2 posted on this blog.]

The aim of fascism as a political movement is to substitute for individual self-confidence based on skills and achievements uncritical trust in a leader or in an organization. Fascism as a form of government has no objective. Invariably, it ends either in misery or in a catastrophe.

The word “fascist” has been so overused – entirely by Left-leaning people – that is has become an empty insult. I am guessing that most Americans alive today only know the term as a nasty epithet, perhaps with vague references to Italy’s Mussolini. This is too bad because fascism is a real socio-political phenomenon that took over a fair number of developed societies in the middle-part of the twentieth century. Fascism is also alive, under other names, in and out of power, in the semi-advanced but chronically stagnant societies of Latin America. I think that the fascist temptation is always, forever present in the background of modern societies, including democratic societies. (There are more discussions of contemporary fascism further down in this essay.)

I am addressing this brief description of fascism to my younger contemporaries, in the US and elsewhere, because fascism has become relevant to the current American situation. I am not trying to shout an alarm call as I would with a fast spreading forest fire, for example, just helping inform the curious and intelligent but justifiably ignorant as I always try to do on this blog.

Much has been written about two aspects of the best known fascist movements and regimes. First, there have been many books about the most visible leaders of the most visible fascisms, especially about Hitler and Mussolini. These works have focused on the personalities, the families and the psychological antecedents of those leaders and, to a lesser extent, on the leaders’ inner psychology while they were in power. Second, there have been a number of notable studies of the immediate followers that is, on the large numbers of ordinary people who joined explicitly fascist organizations, such as the infamous SS in Germany. There is current resurgence of interest in the long-lived Spanish brand of fascism, under Francisco Franco. (Franco achieved his dictatorship after a bloody civil war. Yet he governed Spain peacefully for more than thirty years.)

To my knowledge, it’s difficult to find much about the more passive supporters of fascist movements, the great bulk of them. This is an important question because the foremost fascist party in history, the Nazi Party, came to power through largely constitutional means. Many ordinary Germans who were probably nice people supported it. It’s difficult to think about it because of so many movies but initially, supporters of fascism are sweet-faced and pure-hearted. It seems to me many Hitler and Mussolini supporters were hoodwinked, in part because they were too lazy to think of the consequences of their choices.

To make a long story short, the Nazis won the largest number a vote in a regular election, assumed government power and proceeded to eliminate democratic rule. Nazism was brought to power by the naivety of some and by the passivity of others. Mussolini’s Fascist Party seized power with considerable popular support. The short-lived but devastating French version of fascism, was formulated and led by a general and war hero to whom the democratically elected representatives of the Republic handed power willingly.

The less known, less flamboyant, but much longer-lasting Portuguese brand of fascism was invented by a mild-mannered Professor of Economics. Although he was installed after a military coup, Salazar was for practical purposes, little opposed by Portuguese civil society for most of his rule. He led Portugal to the lowest economic rank in Europe, pretty much to Third World status. Similarly, fascist movements came to power mostly peacefully in Hungary and in Romania in the late thirties and early forties. After WWII, General Perón of Argentina implemented a successful fascist program with the assent of the broad mass of Argentineans. He was able to pull it off twice. He left the country in a shamble from which it has not recovered, thirty years later.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a conventional fascist state installed originally by a broad mass movement. It has limited political representation. Economically, it conforms faithfully to the historical fascist experience of initial success followed by a continuous descent into poverty. This, in spite of massive oil revenues. Its apparatus of repression includes draconian laws, summary arrests, trials without protection for the accused, capital punishment for a broad range of non-homicidal offenses, and prison murders. It looks completely familiar though the repression is done in the name of religion.

So, let me correct a common mistake: Fascism is not a political ideology imposed by force from above. It’s a mass movement. It requires both mute consent from some and a high degree of enthusiasm from others.

All fascist regimes ended in blood and disaster or in whimpering economic disgrace because they showed themselves unable to provide more than the bare necessities of life. Given the dramatic ending of the more dramatic fascist regimes, again, such as Hitler’s and Mussolini, we tend to ignore this prosaic truth: Fascism is a recipe for prolonged poverty, at best. That’s when it does not end in total economic ruination as in Germany. The end of Spanish and of Portuguese fascism were negotiated affairs conducted under Army pressures. Spain’s and Portugal’s economies began taking off immediately after the transfers of power to democratically elected government that lacked any economic experience.

Fascist economic programs never work.

In power, fascist parties invariably attempt to concentrate the levers of the national economy in a few government hands. They do so either by nationalizing outright the means of production, or by forcing employers and employees into the same state-controlled organizations. Often, they cynically call these organizations “labor unions,” or “trade unions.” This mode of organizations is technically called “corporatism.” The word does not imply that corporations have power but the reverse: The government or its agents make the main decisions for corporations. Of course, corporatism is the complete negation of capitalism which requires all-around competition. That includes the competition of owners and controllers of capital with workers. All-around competition is inherently messy. It’s the converse of a well-trained army marching in lock-step, for example. Fascists hate disorderliness. They are fussy.

Technical note: Nationalization, the government take-over of a company owned by stockholders almost never requires a majority of the shares of ownership. Under current laws, in the US, the control of 15% of the shares is usually sufficient. Frequently, it takes much less than 15% ownership for a government to dictate a corporation’s policies. That’s because the stock is usually widely dispersed, with the largest stockholders owning a very small % of the total.

Fascists concentrate economic control in the name of orderliness.

Fascist governments and fascist movements detest capitalism.

A fascist movement always preaches national unity. Fascists begin by deploring unpleasant partisanship. In the name of national unity, fascist parties seek to weaken open discussion. They use words such as “bi-partisan,” and “overcoming our differences,” repeatedly and until they appear to describe what is obviously desirable. The American practice of democratic governance, by contrast, is based explicitly on confrontations followed by negotiations, one issue at a time, between often-changing coalitions.

When it comes to power, the fascist party abolishes competing political parties. It may do so by absorbing them or by persecuting them and murdering their members. The same fascist government often practices both forms of elimination. Thus, the powerful German Communist Party pre-1933, ended up partly in Nazi concentration camps, partly in the Nazi SS guard.

Fascist politics require the elimination of competing voices.

Fascist movements are often headed by providential leader, one who presents himself a a savior from a grave crisis, real or imagined ( real or imagined, and sometimes made up). The best known fascist leaders such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Perón, have also been charismatic. This is not absolutely necessary, providential is enough. Salazar of Portugal, a rotund, short man, was as lacking in charisma as anyone. Franco was downright sinister, even to many of his followers. Yet, personal charisma certainly helps a fascist leader achieve power. It helps his credulous followers suspend their sense of criticality.

Fascists profit by the unchecked veneration of leadership and they cultivate it.

Fascist movement are usually not content to suppress dissent. They demand the sincere submission of individual wills to the benefit of a greater collective good. That’s because only inner submissions guarantees a long, unchallenged rule in spite of increasingly bad living conditions. The fascist movement imposes this demand first on movement followers and then, on all citizens.

Fascism places the collective (real or not) much ahead of the individual.

The muzzling of the press, serves both to eliminate the voicing of dissent and to achieve the submission of individual wills. A society with no press though is not the most desirable goal of a fascist government. Fascism seeks to whip up mass enthusiasm. So, the best situation is one where the press speaks in a unified voice in support of the fascist party, or of its leader. What is true of the press narrowly defined, is true of other mass media as well. Thus, Hitler, actively encouraged the development of a German cinema entirely to its devotion. So did the French fascist regime between 1940 and 1942 (with active German Nazi help, by the way.) Enthusiasm helps ordinary people bear burdens and it helps them suppress their pangs of conscience when they witness immoral actions.

Fascism requires the uncritical enthusiasm of many to achieve power, and more so to keep it because of the progressive impoverishment it causes, and also to gain toleration for its bad actions.

In some important historical cases, there is not much muzzling to be done because much the bulk of the mainstream media is already supporting the providential leader, before he comes to power. That was the case in Germany in and, to a lesser extent in Italy. Mussolini himself was a journalist, presumably with ability to manipulate the press rather than suppress it. Having the movie industry endorsing unconditionally a fascist leader would prove invaluable in a contemporary society because of the superior ability of movies to engage the whole person’s emotions along with his intellect. Also, it’s likely today that many more people watch movies than read newspapers. This is especially true of the young.

The intelligentsia, the educated class, or a large fraction of it, invariably plays a role in the ascent or legitimation of fascist ideas. Martin Heidegger, then and later, an important German scholar philosopher, became an active Nazi directly upon Hitler’s accession to power. In the case I know second best, that of France, foremost novelists, such as Drieu la Rochelle, and Louis Ferdinand Céline, were early and ardent supporters of fascism. Marcel Déat, a noted philosophy professor with the best academic credentials turned politician, was one of the most effective collaborators in the Nazi occupation of France. (It’s also true that many more French intellectuals supported the totalitarianism of the Left, instead. So?)

Fascism gains intellectual respectability from the endorsement of conventional luminaries.

Given their insistence on national unity, fascist movements must appear respectable to the political center, the main abode of respectability. The great American sociologist Martin Seymour Lipset famously called fascism, “the extremism of the (political) Center.” Hence, fascists cannot afford to suppress opposition openly by illegal means. Once they are in power, they change the laws so that anything they wish, including the mass murder of the mentally ill and later, the attempted destruction of all Gypsies and all Jews within their reach, is made legal. Before they reach power however, they must appear civilized to avoid unnecessarily alarming ordinary middle-class citizens. In order to pursue both ends, fascist movement employ goons, organized extremists toughs whose actions they are able to condemn when expedient.

Fascist movement commonly employ goon associates to wreck democratic elections by putting unbearable pressure on electoral organs designed for a civil transfer of power. In a normal democracy, it usually takes a small percentage of the votes cast to win an election. Thus, pressure tactics are often successful. Fascist movement sometimes sacrifice their goon wing once they are in power. Hence, Hitler liquidated his strong-arm SA guard in 1934. that is, after he had gained the chancellorship (more or less the presidency), when they had outlived their usefulness as a tool of street terror. Hitler may have had only a hundred or so SA leaders assassinated. The bulk of the SA rank and file learned to stay down. Many were incorporated into the other and rival strong-arm branch of the Nazi movement, the SS.

Fascists use extra-legal methods to gain political power, in addition to legal methods.

Fascist regimes are never conservative. They are revolutionary or radical reformists with an agenda of social justice. These words mean always and everywhere, “equalization.” There is some confusion in history books on this issue for several reasons. First, the head of Spanish fascism, General Franco had a Catholic agenda that looks culturally conservative on the surface. In fact, Franco tried to restore his own archaic version of Catholicism in a country where religious practice had gone down to near-zero levels among the men. Thus, Franco was not trying to conserve anything but to go back to a largely illusory, invented past.

An other source of confusion in that in several European countries and most dramatically, in Germany, big business circles eventually did lend their support to fascists governments. Two reasons for this. First big business leaders were then afraid of a Communism which had not yet demonstrated its incompetence as a solution to anything except the good life. (More below on the relationship between fascism and Communism.) Second, the owners and/or managers of large business enterprises are often natural collectivists. They tend to abhor real, unfettered competition and to prize workplace discipline. Fascist regimes protected them from the one and provided the other to perfection.

I believe that liberal scholars in the West have deliberately fostered the confusion, the idea that conservatism and fascism are two positions on the same axis. I don’t have the space to develop the basis of my belief here. Yet it’s a critical belief I developed during thirty years around liberal and left-wing scholars. Fascists and big business leaders love neatness above all. They detest the give-and-take and the tumultuous competition of the market.

It goes without saying that once they are well established, fascist governments attract the usual conscience-less opportunists, in addition to several breeds of fanatics and sadists. We know roughly what kind of personalities are attracted by the potential to exercise unchecked power. More interesting is the question of what kinds of people tend to become passive followers of fascist movements before they assume power or, in the early stages of their being in power. The question is important again because fascism is not imposed from above. Rather, it comes to be the government through the acquiescence of masses of people no-one would call, “fascist.”

It seems to me that at the basis of this acquiescence lies a combination of dispositional attributes. The first such attribute is probably a tendency to become alarmed, to live in the expectation of frequent or impending disasters. Such inclination will cause some people to throw up their arms from impotence and to search for a radical solution. This makes sense: If the real situation is extraordinarily threatening, the hope that the usual, ordinary solutions will work may vanish. This attitude historically led to an abandonment of institutionally valid politics, such a majority vote, or respect for legality in general, and for individual liberties in particular. Second, since fascism is an impatient recourse to authoritarian solutions, it’s often a psychological return to childhood.  (Almost all children are impatient. ) Under a perceived serious threat, some people will pull harder while others will revert to the days when, in their own personal experience, Mom or Dad made things right. Third, backers of fascism tend to be naive. This is difficult to comprehend because their naivety is often accompanied, in every other respect, by normal intelligence. The naivety I refer to operates as if a corner of their brain shut itself off from regular, adult reality checks. I suspect the part of the brain that becomes activated then is the same that makes us love fairy tales, and fiction in general.  Fourth, and neither least nor last, followers of fascism are almost always burning with a sense of justice. Their requirement for justice is impatient (see above) and of the simplistic, kindergarten variety: Jimmy got two apples; I have to have two apples also, and Charlie must have  two; otherwise, it’s not fair!

In summary: Fascism abhors the idea of the individual will of ordinary citizens. In this, it is the complete moral opposite of classical conservatism which recognizes only the individual. Fascism’s main achievement everywhere and in every epoch, is to make ordinary people poor, dependent and afraid. Fascism is not imposed by force. It wins through the support of the uncritically enthusiastic

This is just and introduction. It’s easy to find good material to read on fascism. Or, you might just decide finally to read the great short book you pretended to have read in high school but never did: George Orwell’s “1984.”

Next: The relationship between historical fascism and communism. (Hint: Same damn thing!)