One of the evils of Brazil is the substitution of thought for translation. Thought comes ready-made from outside; what needs to be done is translated and applied to Brazil. That’s how it was with communism, it’s like that with liberalism and – to my surprise – even with conservatism. The case of conservatism is a surprise because there is no classic work that intends to launch conservative prescriptions to the world. Communism offers a recipe for cake. Liberalism since the 19th century has suffered many distortions; but, considering that liberalism is the liberalism of Locke and the Glorious Revolution, we can say that it is possible to extract a prescription from it, namely: that power should never be concentrated in a single authority. Based on this, one can defend capitalism as a separation between political power and economic power (as did the liberal Hayek in the 20th century). Based on this, democracy can be defended, insofar as it delegates the power of choice to hundreds of citizens. On this basis, one can attack 21st century democracy on the grounds that it concentrates too much power on the judiciary and regulatory agencies. Liberalism has an abstract principle that can be applied in many contexts. We can say that such a solution is objectively liberal or illiberal, without implying a value judgment.
What about conservatism?
Burke, reactionary and revolutionary
The book that is usually considered the inaugural work of conservatism is ‘Reflections on the French Revolution’, by the Irishman Edmund Burke. It seems to me a good landmark, since it is a reaction to the great political landmark of Modernity; chronologically, it’s impossible to be a reaction to something that hasn’t happened yet. Thus, even though Saint Thomas is an author appreciated by conservatives, I don’t know if it makes sense to place Saint Thomas as a conservative, as that would imply the strange notion that there was conservatism in the Middle Ages.
Also in the text from Burke I think we can recognize the conservative principle: respect for tradition. The French Revolution was the forerunner of the most dangerous vices of the 20th century, since totalitarianism always starts from the idea that the current order is arbitrary and can be replaced by another taken from the brains of a demiurge. Tradition is considered spurious and must be replaced by force.
The principle of conservatism cannot be applied without attention to the context, and is inseparable from a value judgment. No conservative claims that order should be maintained unchanged. Burke himself criticizes the French Revolution not for being a change, but for being a change done the wrong way, that is, in complete disregard of tradition. Thus, every time a conservative chooses to conserve, it will always be based on a value judgment: from a culture that is not perfect, he is choosing to enhance such and such characteristics that he considers good. Hardly a conservative will find a culture or institution so perfect that it should be frozen forever.
To go back to Burke, he was “reactionary” in relation to the French Revolution, but “revolutionary” in relation to the colonies English in America. He had supported the colonists’ decision to get rid of the Crown, which was becoming increasingly oppressive. The creation of the USA was very experimental and utopian. Even so, it is possible to defend it within a conservative framework, claiming that it was made to preserve the freedom that the Crown took away. On the other hand, it would also be possible to be against US independence within a conservative framework, claiming that the unity of the Empire should be preserved. It is up to the conservative to decide, case by case, what is important.
Burke considered that, in the American case, freedom should be preserved. Does it follow that freedom must always be preserved? So let’s go: should a conservative be in favor of greater freedom in love relationships, approving, for example, the legalization and social acceptance of polyamorous unions? It is not possible to defend such a thing under a conservative key, because it is completely experimental. Nor do I think it makes sense to defend it from a liberal point of view, but that is another story.
Another thing that makes it difficult to abstract and objective application of conservatism is cultural variation. If cultures differ, the framework of things to be conserved differs. The English-speaking world has a liberal tradition – much more liberal and much less conservative than the Portuguese-speaking world. Thus, imposing a centralizing dictatorship would be especially contrary to the conservative in these countries. However, if it were a matter of imposing liberalism on Russia, that would also be violating conservative ideals, given the fact that Russia has no affinity with the liberal tradition. It is at least as reasonable (or rather unreasonable) for a Russian conservative to support communism as it is to support liberalism. Communism brought a lot of disorder to Russia, especially in the countryside. But in terms of political design, tsarism is not so different from Stalinism. And when the format of liberal democracy was imposed on Russia, it only stabilized with President Putin, who is far from being unpopular in his own country.
The Protestant Reformation is the most averse thing to the conservatism there is. However, as many Protestant churches proved stable after the upheavals, and as many families have held the faith for generations, nothing would be more contrary to conservatism than to close these churches by force on the grounds that they have spurious origins. In any case, even in the English-speaking, mostly Protestant world, there is a link between Catholicism and conservatism. Burke himself may have been raised and baptized a Catholic thanks to his mother, against his father’s wishes; the greatest British Conservative of the 20th century is a Catholic convert (Chesterton). In the US, the big objections to progressivism were not made under a liberal key; instead, they came from the Catholic “backwardness”, to which some Protestant sects only later joined.
The propaganda neocon
from the USA
Let’s go back to the cold cow. In the post-Cold War period, the so-called neoconservative right (or neocon1917) in the USA invented that, if communism was a left-wing thing, democracy was a right-wing thing. And since the left had lost, the world had no option but to become a democracy – even if it was at the base of the bullet, as in the case of the Middle East. Francis Fukuyama had decreed that the End of History is a globalized world with democracies and free markets; all that was left was to hurry up by throwing bombs at the heads of the others. Mutatis mutandis, that’s what the communists did: they took a prophecy and decided to rush it.
In the USA, this attitude is ambidextrous. (Trump was an exception, with his non-intervention policy abroad that earned him the Democrats’ accusation of being a Russophile.) Today it’s in the spotlight thanks to Democrats’ efforts to “surveil” this hyper-regulated thing they understand. for democracy, including in the Brazilian election. They abandoned Afghanistan, whose “democracy” had quotas for women in parliament, and started to defend the “democracy” of a country considered corrupt and far-right until yesterday, thanks to its army, which includes a revolutionary neo-Nazi militia. I am referring to Zelensky’s Ukraine, where the Azov Battalion flag, neo-Nazi, can be seen side by side with the Gay Pride flag. import whatever bullshit the American right calls conservative. (Some brainless right-wingers even spoke of “Ukrainizing” Brazil, like Sara Winter.) The most recent example of this was a text I was sent to translate in this Gazeta, by Dennis Prager. Pure propaganda.
The text entitled “Why the most important value of conservatism is freedom” is too bad to remain without denial .
Prager states that “Every genocide of the twentieth century, the century of genocides, was committed by big government. Without big government, 100 millions of people would not and could not have been murdered, and a billion would not and could not have been enslaved. (There was one exception: the Hutu genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda, which was tribal in nature. Tribal culture, like the left, emphasizes the group over the individual.) , was committed by governments. This implies a global knowledge of the 20th century that hardly a mortal has. I know that Sendero Luminoso, in its attempt to bring about a communist revolution in Peru, was genocidal. He didn’t have the State, but he managed to create an immense amount of corpses. Drug cartels can turn out to be genocidal too, if their activities are well investigated.
In any case, it is an insult to Dennis Prager to omit the notorious Belgian Congo. Unlike other European crowns, King Leopold of Belgium made the “Congo Free State” his private property and did not establish a state there. Instead, he let privately owned companies with English capital run free to collect as much rubber as possible. Result: there was no salary, all work was forced. And since the companies wanted to spend as little bullets as possible, they asked their mercenaries to take a hand for each spent bullet, proving that they used it to kill someone. Result: the hands of living people were cut off to settle accounts with the boss.
British capital companies also arrived in the Amazon and negotiated with Peru and Bolivia to lease territories without law and exploit Indians in the same way. In Peru, it worked and the result was the Putumayo Genocide. In Bolivia, the agreement did not go ahead because Acre was sold to Brazil. The area was already full of northeastern rubber tappers and gaucho revolutionaries.
These facts are known thanks to the work of Roger Casement, an Irish Catholic nationalist who was hanged by England, a country whose businessmen were involved in this spurious way to get rubber. Casement has been immortalized in literature by Joseph Conrad in In the Heart of Darkness and by Vargas Llosa in The Celt’s Dream.
This omission is an insult. At the turn of the 19th century to the 20th, private companies committed genocide. State genocides would come later — and among them it is good not to forget the atomic bombs dropped by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Another falsehood is that the US sees its freedom of expression threatened for the first time. This is false. As I have already shown in a review of the excellent book Liberal Fascism, by Jonah Goldberg, the US was a pioneer in totalitarian strategies of propaganda and denunciation. Under the laws of 1917 and 1918, a US citizen could be reported and jailed for criticizing the government within his or her own home. According to Prager, censorship is a leftist thing. But who did that was a government that defended democracy that was warring against the Kaiser.
Another preposterous statement is that there is only individual freedom. This is something for those who have never had their country occupied, or who think that countries are not important – hence they see nothing wrong with throwing bombs at others to establish a paradise for free individuals. No, Mr Prager. The freedom of Brazil is a precondition for the freedom of Brazilians. For me, they can take away the Oracle clouds, as well as this mountain of capital NGOs that offend and slander my country.