Lacanian Press Agency
Paris, Tuesday 23 October 2001

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The President of the Brazilian Republic replies to the Lacanian Press Agency
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Paris, 23 October (ALP) - Following Alexandre Adler's editorial in Le Monde, dated 11 September 2001 and Eric Laurent's article in Bulletin No. 3 of the Lacanian Press Agency, Dr Jorge Forbes, the Sao Paolo ALP correspondent, addressed the two following questions to M. Fernando Henrique, the President of the Brazilian Republic. He also sent M. Adler's editorial to the President. The President replied by mail on 15 October 2001.

Sao Paolo, 27 September (ALP) - Questions put by the Lacanian Press Agency to M. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the President of the Brazilian Republic.

1. In France there is currently a controversy over the meaning of Brazilian Comtism. Some say that positivism has been conveyed to Brazil by the army, and that they have only picked up the rays of a star already dead in Europe. Others maintain that the borrowings from Auguste Comte by the Brazilian positivists and jurists are due rather to an original swing of the liberal empire towards American Presidentialism, than to a servile imitation of Europe. They signal moreover that the "coroneis" of the era draw more from the notables than from the army. What is the President's opinion on this subject?

2. What is the import today in Brazil of the reference to Auguste Comte? Antiquated historical memory or permanent influence?

Brasilia, 23 October (ALP) - Interview of the President of the Brazilian Republic with the Lacanian Press Agency.

One of the interesting aspects of your question are the terms in which you formulate it. In effect, you refer to a controversy over the influence of Comtian positivism on Brazil, and you specify that the debate opposes those who explain it as the influence of "rays of a star already dead in Europe" and those who understand it as "an original swing of the liberal Empire towards American Presidentialism."

Leaving aside deciding between these two hypotheses, my response is: neither one nor the other. Both have their share of problems. The first suggests, albeit subtly, a somewhat mechanistic intellectual mimeticism on the part of Brazil and the non-European world in general. This alternative presupposes, although this is certainly only implicit, the existence of a radiating centre the image of the Sun, evidently - and of zones of more and more dense shadow, where the rays which arrive no longer even reheat the universe of ideas. The second alternative comprises a diagnosis, again unformulated, that also points towards a relative local incapacity to give birth to intellectual movements endowed with a history that would be their own.

If I separate these two alternatives, it is to challenge the presupposition that knows that there is, in the circulation of ideas through the world, a process of the impoverishing copy. I believe the contrary - and I recall having written an article bearing precisely this title - that there exists what I call "the originality of the copy." Certainly, the positivism of Comte has a French matrix, just as Hegelianism belongs to a long tradition of German thought careful to resolve the difficulties inherited from Kantianism. These observations, close to a truism, nonetheless do not signify that the influence of Hegel, in France for example, must be understood as a passive assimilation. But what goes for one country, particularly in this case, founds a rule that must be general.

I therefore do not believe that one can speak of a simple copy, but of an original copy. In the case of Comtian Positivism in Brazil, this is very clear. The most conservative aspects and tendency to uniformisation that marked the European positivism of the XIX century have undergone clear and profound modifications in interacting with an essentially distinct socio-political and economic environment. Thomist metaphysics and clerical power, cradles of the critique of Comte, did not have sufficient weight in Brazil for this critique to have such an effect. On the other hand, it is interesting to observe how this ideology that posits a law of progression of humanity towards its positive state, transmutes itself in Brazil into a reading essentially turned towards the material progress of the nation. The concept of development, which Comte inherited from Saint-Simon, rooted itself in Brazil under the form of the defence of progress. Naturally, the accent put on order comprises in itself a conservative, even authoritarian, potential, that leaves its traces in our history.

Whatever the case, I think that it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the influence of positivism in Brazil towards the middle of the XIX century came to found itself in a sweeping social movement, fed by the crisis of the monarchical regime, the acceleration of the crisis of slave production, and the ascension of a commercial bourgeoisie. In this precise historical frame, positivism came to associate itself with the republican ideals that demanded a new Brazil. It is evidently a paradox, not without interest, that that one has had recourse to a conceptual armature of conservative construction to take the defence of progressivist changes; but the explication of this paradox can invoke neither an unoriginal copy of ideas already old in their place of birth, nor a phototropism that would pass by orienting itself with the North-American experience. In fact, the explication is local, and above all illuminates the contradictions of our process of development.

Finally, I would like to add a last observation on the subject of a point in our recent history. It is true that the association between order and progress finished by giving way in Brazil to a debate at the heart of which are opposed that which I do not hesitate to call an "authoritarian national-developmentalism" and an "open national-developmentalism." This was one of the elements that caused the drama of 1964. The new fact in Brazil today, and this I am sure of, is very simply that the ideological option that was victorious in 1964 is no longer possible. I am not speaking merely from a political point of view (of this point of view, I have the most absolute certitude of the solidity of our democracy), but I refer also to the terms of the conceptual debate. We have much advanced, and today every project of national development can only be on the basis of givens that I consider axiomatic. There are three: the conviction that free and plural debate is indispensable; the struggle to overcome the heritage of many years of development without social equality; and the concern to defend the idea that our country has between its hands the possibility of resolving certain of its gravest problems of social justice. The Brazilian reality is today significantly better than that which we received in 1990. There is certainly much to do, but we advance moved by the conviction that order is not synonymous with a society where a single voice would be heard, and that polyphony produces the only form of development for which it is imperative to struggle.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso

Translated by Justin Clemens (Melbourne-Australia)

Editor: Susana Tillet (Melbourne-Australia)

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