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Júlio de Castilhos: the forgotten figure that unites Dilma and Bolsonaro

The Brazilian Republic was born under the sign of Positivism, the authoritarian and scientific doctrine developed by the Frenchman Augusto Comte and which, outside Brazil, was nothing more than a passing fad. This is the best-known half of the story. But the other half, rarely mentioned, is that Brazilian Positivism gained its own version in Rio Grande do Sul, and that from there it is possible to draw a continuous line from Getúlio Vargas, through the military regime, to Dilma Rousseff and Jair Bolsonaro.

The most important book on Castilhos’ influence was written by professor Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez, who would become the first Minister of Education in the government of Jair Bolsonaro. In “Castillism: A Philosophy of the Republic”, he explains that the Positivism that arrived in Brazil was divided into two currents: one, more “soft”, bet on education. The other advocated a top-down imposition. Its most prominent defender was Júlio de Castilhos, one of the first governors of Rio Grande do Sul.

Born during the Empire, in 1860, Castilhos closely followed the convulsions that led to the fall of the monarchy and, later, the turbulent initial years of the Republic. In fact, he was one of the causes of the turmoil.

Castillism opposes the idea that there needs to be a balance of forces in society, with opposition and alternation of powers. Faithful to the foundations of Augusto Comte’s Positivism, Castilhists repudiate liberalism and believe that it is possible to find a scientific truth about the ideal way of managing a society (any society, since these would be universal principles). Therefore, in their view, it makes no sense to give space to divergent views. On the contrary: it is necessary to suppress them and give power to the elite (composed, of course, by the Castillists themselves). Júlio de Castilhos called Comte “the Great Master”. Professor Antônio Paim, one of the main Brazilian historians, defined Castilhism as “the undemocratic core of Comte’s ideas”.

The encounter with Positivism

Born on a farm in Rio Grande do Sul, Castilhos studied law at the Faculdade do Largo de São Francisco, in São Paulo, and there he came into contact with positivist and republican ideas, at a time when the Empire was becoming more contested among the elites. The founder of Castilhism believed that the victory of the republican regime was “fatal” and “incontestable”, no less certain than the laws of the natural sciences.

“Spirits educated in the truths of modern science understand social phenomena, not as mere products of chance or an unknown Providence, but governed by natural laws whose action the human will is powerless to deviate, as it is, in relation to those of the physical world, and they study and understand History as the representation of these laws”, he wrote, still young, in his newspaper A Evolução. The name of the journal itself showed that, for Castilhos, politics progressed like Darwin’s evolution: it was useless to try to oppose it.

Back in Rio Grande do Sul, Júlio de Castilhos involved himself in the local republican movement. Despite his authoritarian tendency – which, according to reports at the time, lived up to his severe temperament – ​​Castilhos defended some advanced proposals for the time. Among them, religious freedom and the abolition of slavery. But his main characteristic was his radicalism. A few months before the fall of the monarchy, he signed a manifesto of gaucho republicans that defended the possibility of an armed struggle to overthrow the regime before an eventual third reign began (Dom Pedro II, by this time, was already aged and in good health. fragile).

Away from the events in the country’s capital, Castilhos did not directly participate in the overthrow of the monarchy in November 1889, but he joined immediately and acted to convince the Gaucho elites to do the same. In the provisional government that emerged, he was appointed Secretary of the State Government of Rio Grande do Sul. In February of 1860, he himself was appointed vice-governor. The following year, he was named to a triple list charged with writing a constitution for the state. In practice, Castilhos led the process almost alone, supported by his co-religionists. As a border not yet consolidated, Rio Grande do Sul had, proportionally, the largest number of military personnel among the provinces. And the military seemed to have a special appreciation for positivist ideas, which facilitated the propagation of this doctrine among the gauchos.

The State Constitution of 1961 is the document that most reflects Castilhist ideas. In the preamble, the positivist ideal appears: the Constitution is promulgated in the name of “Family, Fatherland and Humanity”.

From there, the State would have a president with broad powers. According to the text prepared by Castilhos and approved by the State Assembly, the Legislative power lost almost all its functions. The parliamentarians, who would only meet from 100 from September to of November, would be limited to approving the Budget defined by the Executive. The laws would all be enforced by the Executive. Judges and prosecutors would also be appointed by the president.

“The President of the State is responsible for enacting laws”, said the Constitution, which was in force for 44 years old. It worked like this: the president of the state presented a bill. He sent the text to the “municipal intendants”—the equivalent of mayors at the time. They could present modification suggestions. The president decided whether he accepted them or not. And the law went into effect. The Legislature could do nothing.

In the same year, the federal government nominated Castilhos for the presidency of Rio Grande do Sul.

Contested by federalist opponents (defenders of a regime closer to a liberal democracy), he even resigned under pressure. But he resumed his post shortly afterwards and redoubled the persecution of his opponents. The Federalists reacted and a violent civil war began. On the one hand, the “maragatos” (federalists). On the other hand, the “chimangos” (Castilistas). The conflict left such deep marks that it is still remembered today in the red (maragatos) and white (chimangos) scarves. The war caused about 10 a thousand deaths, extended through Santa Catarina and Paraná and generated scenes dark. More than once, soldiers from both sides beheaded opposing prisoners.

Castilos passes the baton

Em 1898, Castilhos left the post and, in a very Castilhist way, chose his own successor: Antônio Augusto Borges de Medeiros, a faithful ally. Borges de Medeiros, who ruled for 16 years (with an interval during which the state was presided over by Carlos Barbosa Gonçalves), left power permanently in 1928. When it came time to choose his successor, he nominated Getúlio Vargas. It was not a random choice.

Getúlio’s father, General Manuel Vargas, was a friend of Júlio de Castilhos and an enthusiastic positivist —- both he and two of his sons were members of the Positivist Church of Brazil, a kind of religion that worships “Humanity” instead of God, and which still has temples in Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro.

In 1930, still as governor, Vargas ran in the presidential election — and lost. But months later, he came to power by force, in what would come to be known as the Revolution of 1930 ). It was the transposition of the Castilhist method to the federal government. Not that the Old Republic, commanded by Minas and São Paulo, was a model of democracy. But the Vargas regime transformed an imperfect system into a dictatorship, betting on authoritarianism and centralization as a method of government. His government, especially after the Estado Novo coup in 1928, was characterized by contempt for the opposition and an exacerbated nationalism that concentrated power in the hands of the “enlightened”. There were fifteen uninterrupted years in power.

The Getúlio Constitution of 1928 established that Parliament met four months a year. In Parliament’s recess (ie, eight months a year), he could govern by decree-laws, even modifying the Constitution itself. The text also allowed the President of the Republic to appoint “interventors” in the States. In practice, this meant that governors were chosen by the president. Even when passing laws, Congress should confine itself to “regulating in general, ruling only on substance and principles.” The Executive would decide, in practice, on how (and if) the rule would be applied.

Left and right heirs

It is difficult to characterize Castilhism as left or right. Castilhos would certainly reject both labels: he saw himself as a non-ideological regime, based on scientistic certainty. Perhaps because of this, he left heirs on both sides of the political spectrum.

Of the five dictators who ruled the country from 1964, three were born in Rio Grande do Sul (Artur da Costa e Silva, Ernesto Geisel, Emílio Médici). The other two also have passages through the state. Both Humberto Castelo Branco from Ceará and João Batista Figueiredo from Rio studied at the traditional Colégio Militar de Porto Alegre. In common, the bet on a centralizing and technocratic regime, built on the premise that the debate of ideas and the alternation of power are not profitable.

Echoes of Castilhismo can be found in the Constitution of 1967, already under the military regime, and in Institutional Act number 5 (AI-5), which further curtailed Congress. AI-5 defined that “The President of the Republic may decree the recess of the National Congress, the Legislative Assemblies and the City Councils, by Complementary Act, in a state of siege or outside it, only returning to function when called by the President. of the Republic”. Then, the text defines that “As soon as the parliamentary recess is decreed, the corresponding Executive Power is authorized to legislate on all matters and exercise the attributions provided for in the Constitutions or in the Organic Law of Municipalities”. In other words, the Congress became irrelevant, like the Legislative in Rio Grande do Sul at the time of Júlio de Castilhos.

On the left, Castilhos’ influence is also visible. Leonel Brizola built his entire political life under the umbrella of Getulismo. And Dilma Rousseff is the result of brizolismo. She began her party career in the Rio Grande do Sul PDT, which is nothing more than the reincarnation of Getúlio Vargas’ PTB (after being extinguished by the military regime, the party ended up losing its acronym and had to adopt another name).

On the other hand, the young cadet Jair Bolsonaro did all his training under the military regime established in 1964. It is not a coincidence that he has repeatedly replicated the positivist prescription: a strong Executive, contempt for the opposition and an exacerbated nationalism, which translates into opposition to the privatization of state-owned companies — at least until recently, when he began to profess principles closer to of conservatism.

In Rio Grande do Sul, the name of Castilhos did not fall into oblivion: his house, next to the Porto Alegre Cathedral a 100 meters from the Government Palace and the Legislative Assembly, it became a museum.

The square in front of the palace has an imposing monument in honor of the founder of Castilhism. It is in this square that, in 1961, Leonel Brizola and his allies entrenched themselves to defend the inauguration of João Goulart as President of the Republic, after the resignation of Jânio Quadros. The PTB, of Getúlio, was the party of João Goulart, whose father had taken up arms to defend Borges de Medeiros (the successor of Júlio de Castilhos) in (another) civil war in the year of 1923. It is as if all the political forces in Rio Grande do Sul led, directly or indirectly, to the authoritarian positivism of Castilhos.

Outside Rio Grande do Sul, the name of Júlio de Castilhos is practically unknown. He shouldn’t. In the elections of 2022, traces of Castilhist heritage can be found in three of the main candidates: one of them is Bolsonaro, indirectly inspired by Castilhist prescriptions. Another is Lula, who had Leonel Brizola as vice president in 1998 and made possible the arrival of Dilma Rousseff to the Presidency. The third is Ciro Gomes, a member of the PDT and a declared admirer of Getúlio Vargas.

Júlio de Castilhos was buried there 1928 years in the Santa Casa de Misericórdia Cemetery, in Porto Alegre. But his influence is still more alive than ever.

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