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  • Securing Sex: Morality and Repression in the Making of Cold War Brazil by Benjamin Cowan
  • Paula Halperin
Benjamin Cowan, Securing Sex: Morality and Repression in the Making of Cold War Brazil. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2016. Pp. 324. $85.00 cloth; $32.95 paper. doi:10.1017/tam.2017.171

Benjamin Cowan has contributed a very valuable piece of scholarship about the conservative ideas that fueled the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964–1985). An important contribution to the cultural and intellectual history of the period, the book fills an important gap in the field, examining far-right Cold War ideologues and the manifold ways their ideas molded policy during authoritarian times in Brazil. The author's fine skills as a historian allow him to analyze how these staunchly conservative individuals, institutions, and publications equated the palpable manifestations of 1960s and 1970s modernization (growing mass media, upward participation of women in the labor market, transformation of traditional gender roles) to moral decline and subversion. [End Page 436]

Cowan's sharp and attentive analysis provides a closer and far more accurate portrayal of these micro and macro concerns. Under his hand, these rightist individuals and forums are not a monolithic entity. Instead, they reflect a heterogeneous group that draws on competing beliefs from the 1920s to the 1950s including eugenics theory, conservative Catholicism, and Integralismo. Cowan reveals that these diverse notions led them to develop a complex configuration of ideas that, contrary to their aforementioned predecessors, was inspired not by the motto of order and progress, but by motives of security and development. In this, they echoed the concerns of transnational Cold War anxiety, that is, Communism, sexual degeneracy, armed struggle, and drug consumption.

The documentation Cowan assesses is broadly impressive, even astounding, and includes interviews, military journals, surveillance and censorship reports, and police records. Cowan uses this well-rounded and meticulously pursued archive to cover important ground that takes us beyond established narratives in the historiography of the period. Contrary to the belief that ultraconservative Catholicism deeply influenced Getúlio Vargas's Estado Novo (1937–1945), the book shows that ultra-reactionary ideas did not hold sway in that period, nor did their associated anti-modernist discourse not have space in the administration. The anti-modern thinking of that era that attacked modernization head on (for example, proposing eugenic solutions to the moral crisis) bore a marginal role. Vargas's populism and its agents emphasized instead a statist masculinization and a republican motherhood on behalf of productive citizenship.

The 1960s witnessed a unique cultural transformation that established closed links among politics, sexuality, and youth and mass culture. The rapid expansion of the culture industry led to a surging public representation of sexuality, sex, and dynamically shifting gender roles. Such visibility, especially in television and photojournalism, was perceived as sheer subversion, fueling the anti-modern anxieties of these Cold War warriors. Cowan elucidates a national conversation that reveals these topics to be interconnected and essential to the construction of the deeply anticommunist ideology of the period.

Among the pro-authoritarian research and activist forums were the National Defense League; the Institute for Social Research and Study; the Brazilian Institute for Democratic Action, Tradition, Family, and Property; and Moral Rearmament. These groups focused on moral values to forge an alliance with the anticommunist right. Collectively, this focus led to an anticommunist moralism that became increasingly popular within the state's repressive apparatus. Several of these groups would be intimately connected to the military coup that ousted the democratic government in 1964.

Organized into seven chapters, Cowan's study displays that these ideas went far beyond an ideological agenda, making their way into policy through the formation of a moral technocracy with a real influence in the doctrines circulating in the influential Higher War College (ESG), the Division of Censorship of Public Entertainment (DCDP), and [End Page 437] the political police (DOPS). As Cowan demonstrates, the allegations of "degeneracy" disparaged by previous generations of hygienists and eugenicists now became conflated with sexual and gender deviancy and communism. The study excels in these moments of context and structure where the author provides a valuable backdrop that is both critical and well prepared...


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