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The Feudal Inheritance of Brazilian Elections, CST Launch, and the Real Kalergi Plan
A South American model of elite engagement that works, a Pan-European one that never took off, and the launch of a new institution for the West to understand China
The American Governance Foundation, which publishes Palladium, and Palladium Correspondent Tanner Greer are launching a new initiative: the Center for Strategic Translation. Its purpose is to provide Western decision makers a resource for understanding China through high-quality, contextualized translations of Communist Party documents, intellectual essays, and other relevant texts:
To understand the value of textual analysis for understanding modern China, we must start with a basic reality of Chinese politics: commanding the Communist Party of China is hard. Central authorities must work their will through a sprawling bureaucratic labyrinth. Some 96 million people claim party membership—more than the populations of California, Texas, and Florida combined. Inducing this colossal mass of committees, groups, divisions, and departments to pull in the same direction is the most difficult task facing any General Secretary. One might call the Communist Party of China the world’s largest coordination problem. The central leadership cannot solve this problem without a measure of openness.
Open coordination comes by way of slogan. Central authorities lead the party by condensing their plans, goals, and assessments into slogans designed to ceaselessly cycle through official speeches, party directives, guiding regulations, and daily propaganda. Through this omnipresent whir of words, the leadership instills a shared conceptual vocabulary that individual party cadres can then adapt to their particular circumstances. A tremendous amount can be learned by studying these slogans and the documents that they appear in. Unlike interviews and field surveys, there is little worry that Western analysts will be cut off from these documents. Because they are central to the workings of the party-state, the party apparatus promotes them with feverish intensity.
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Brazil’s Feudal Inheritance Explains Elections Today
Palladium correspondent Avetis Muradyan has come out with a new piece on the recent Brazilian elections. The left-wing Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won against the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro by a razor’s edge, but not before widespread allegations of illegal electoral practices by both sides and worries about intervention by the Brazilian military.
While the army presided over a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985 and has some nostalgics among the older population, it is actually the more distant past that cast a long shadow over the election. The voting patterns of Brazil’s Northeast and Southeast are shaped by the very different political economies they inherited from the colonial and early post-colonial period:
This brings us to the crux of the divide. One useful way to categorize these developments is to say that Northeastern Brazil is a feudal fragment: its history, culture, and economic development are marked by its initial founding. Meanwhile, Southeastern Brazil is a bourgeois fragment, with its historical trajectory determined by the introduction of liberal institutions at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The American political theorist Louis Hartz analyzed these divergent developments across colonial societies in his work The Founding of New Societies. He postulated the idea that the ideological frame of colonial societies remained locked from the exact moment of their founding. This stood in contrast to European societies, where changing class power structures caused updates in the ruling ideology. He thus categorized three major ideological frames: feudal, whig (bourgeois), and radical. Examples of feudal colonial fragments include French Canada and most of Latin America, while examples of whig fragments include the U.S. and Dutch South Africa. Applying this to Brazil, we see that these different regions of Brazil in fact attribute their social structures and political elites to very different founding moments in the country’s history. Thus, the nature of politics in these regions differs as well.
The Northeast was more likely to vote for Lula’s Worker’s Party, whereas the Bolsonarists are concentrated in the Southeast. It is is in the Northeast where
feudal influence makes the line separating the public and private very thin indeed. The rule of the “personable” through familial and personal relationships is ubiquitous, suffocating any attempt at creating a genuinely public sphere. Thus, the endemic corruption of the PT—as demonstrated in the Lava Jato trials—is a feature of good socialization and conformity to the social expectations of the Northeast. Cordiality is the basis of political life and is why PT has a lasting appeal in the region. The PT’s clientelism, including vote-buying, is a kind of patrimonial socialism. Lula’s own lasting charisma and image as a fatherly figure to the Brazilian left is a manifestation of this phenomenon of the patrimonial public figure.
Cordiality is also good politics. The PT’s ability to build a wide coalition with a variety of churches, community centers, labor organizations, social movements, and intellectual currents stems from this very fact. Its ability to navigate the juridicismo of Brasilia’s ruling class and deftly nudge it to one side is the result of this deeply Brazilian instinct. Bolsonaro’s classical liberalism and the reduction of clientelism by scaling back the state runs counter to the social expectations of the Northeast.
Because cordiality is a more pronounced feature of feudal societies, patrimonial socialism informs the PT’s model of state-driven development for the Northeast. There have been a number of successes of this model in recent years, which even led to it being adopted by the centrist politicians who dethroned the PT in their own strongholds.
One notable example is the Salvador subway, launched by the state-owned CCR Metrô Bahia in 2014. It completely revitalized the city. It has 370,000 passengers a day. The bike lanes which run alongside the tracks are also heavily used. This was a project by the state government of Bahia, which has been under PT control since 2003.
Another example is the revitalization project for Salvador’s historical center, championed by former prefect Antônio Carlos Magalhães Neto, an “homem cordial” par excellence. The project cleaned up and secured a large coastal section of the city and restored a number of old decrepit buildings. Neto is from one of the most powerful political dynasties in Brazil and his influence runs so deep in Bahia that governance is basically a family affair. The cleanup of Salvador was a matter of maintenance and improvement of the familial patrimony.
The regional splits that characterized Brazil’s developmental history have a large impact on the political cultures that characterize today’s contested present. As Lula enters power, so does the political culture of the Northeast.
The Real Kalergi Plan
Miquel Vila has written a biographical article covering the life of Richard Nikolaus Eijiro, Count of Coudenhove-Kalergi. Half Austrian and half Japanese by birth, Kalergi was a cosmopolitan thinker who envisioned a pan-European great power ruled by a spiritual aristocracy to compete against Russia and the United States. While he is known as the “grandfather” of the EU, he had wished to be the “father” of a much more robust European geopolitical bloc.
Though he was an active advocate and well-connected, the political climate of the interwar period worked against him:
Ultimately, this instinct against populism and mass mobilization may have been the Pan-European movement’s barrier to greater political power. Pan-Europa’s propaganda mostly targeted Europe’s intellectual and political elites. In the beginning, this helped Kalergi’s voice reach the most prestigious circles of continental Europe. Kalergi was never the populist type, like Mussolini. But in the midst of a social crisis, it was his populist opponents that were able to pressure establishment leaders into opening the institutions of power to them. Many elites might have been intellectually sympathetic to the idea of a united Europe, but saw a better candidate to protect their position in mass parties with street power than Kalergi’s toothless Pan-European Union. Pan-Europa also suffered from a second weakness: the institutions targeted by nationalist and socialist movements were those of existing states, whereas the political project of a united Europe required institutions that had not yet been built.
This mix of disadvantages proved fatal for the European movement. With the rise of communist agitation and rising violence as rival movements brawled in the streets, European elites weren’t willing to take their chances.
The Europe we see today rides in the passenger seat of U.S. foreign policy. But wherever the theme of European sovereignty can be found in postwar European politics—especially Charles de Gaulle—Kalergi’s influence is closely felt.
Here’s what’s been on the front page lately:
Why We Need the Center for Strategic Translation by Tanner Greer. The American Governance Foundation is launching a new institution to help American decision makers understand China.
What Everyone Got Wrong on the Brazilian Elections by Avetis Muradyan. Brazil’s 2022 election pitted the pro-Lula Northeast against the Bolsonarist South. The conflict between regions goes back centuries. Brazil’s political future depends on resolving it.
The Mirage of European Sovereignty by Miquel Vila. Count Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi dreamed of a united Europe led by a new spiritual aristocracy. Known today as the EU’s grandfather, his dream is largely forgotten.
I Don’t Want to Be an Internet Person by Ginevra Davis. I went to a rave hosted by the Milady NFT project and met its enigmatic creator. I came away from it fearing the human cost of our internet-obsessed culture.
Institutional Reforms Built the British Empire by Davis Kedrosky. At the dawn of the early modern period, elite-driven transformations in law and political economy primed Britain to become one of the most powerful, industrialized empires ever known.
That’s all for now.