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  • In Praise of the Art of Politics
  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso (bio)

It is particularly meaningful for me to return to Stanford University, where I have served as a lecturer and visiting professor, to deliver the Robert Wesson Lecture and to announce the establishment of the Joaquim Nabuco Chair in Brazilian Studies. It is the first chair in Brazilian Studies at any U.S. university, an initiative that has been made possible thanks to a generous endowment by the Safra Group, a private Brazilian corporation, as well as through the collaboration of the Center for Latin American Studies and the Institute of International Studies at this university.

The chair’s name honors Joaquim Nabuco (1849–1910), the great politician and diplomat who fought for the abolition of slavery, a goal that Brazil achieved in 1888. Nabuco’s worth as a true statesman is attested by the clarity, originality, and modernity of his ideas, as well as by the commitment to justice and values that informed his actions. Nabuco’s writings continue to be essential for anyone who wants to understand the genesis of contemporary Brazil. He shows us that the covenant which must exist between intellectuals and truth should be paralleled by one between politicians and reality. Nabuco’s example is my lodestar: he taught me never to dissociate problems from their analysis, nor careful reflection from the desire to solve such problems. [End Page 7]

Nabuco concerned himself with the great movements of history, the dramas of humanity and civilization, the common good. He had a keen understanding of the social effects and consequences of political actions. In the case of abolition, for instance, he saw that simply freeing slaves would not be enough; slavery had become too deeply rooted and had colored too much of Brazilian life. The abolitionist movement was “capable of destroying a social state built on privilege and injustice, but incapable of designing the future edifice on other foundations.” The triumph of abolition, said Nabuco, was not followed by “complementary social measures for the benefit of those freed, nor by a strong movement from within to refashion public awareness.”

If we were to apply Nabuco’s analysis to the situation in Brazil today, we would see that like the abolition of slavery, the restoration of democracy is only a first step—necessary to be sure, but in and of itself insufficient if we are to correct the serious social inequities in our country. There has been undeniable progress; Brazil now enjoys democratic political institutions. Still, the reconstruction of the political system remains incomplete. We are just beginning to see the first glimmerings of the true “refashioning” of public awareness advocated by Nabuco, and even more importantly, of the revitalization of the public sphere as a possible locus for the rational discussion of interests. Thus we face a double task: one political and another, intertwined with the first, which is of a more sociological sort and which has to do with the modernization of society.

We must not only reshape the structure of the state and the relationship between state and society; we must also transform the pattern of income distribution in order to meet the fundamental goal of increasing the fairness of Brazilian society. These prodigious challenges are not going to be met overnight. Still, we have no excuse for forgoing measures that are both possible and necessary here and now. The importance of politics in meeting such challenges forms the theme of my remarks today.

Representation and Its Paradoxes

The need to inject new life into representative democracy has become manifest in every country that has adopted this political system. It must contend with growing lack of interest in politics, low voter turnout, and even more seriously, hostility toward professional politicians that has reached the point where “opposing mainstream politicians” has become a winning electoral strategy.

Paradoxically, it is the very success of democracy as an idea and a principle of near-universal legitimacy that has drawn this fire, not only from democracy’s critics but even from its defenders. In Brazil, such criticism is being heard at a time when the country is undergoing a [End Page 8] series of rapid transformations that pose...

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