Brazil’s Statesman at Large


Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil

Fernando Henrique Cardoso , the lively, worldly-wise ex-president of Brazil — “a genuine philosopher-king” in the estimate of Foreign Affairs magazine –invites you to a thought exercise. Suppose the world is in a “post-Napoleonic” moment, in need of a new “world order” (or “A World Restored,” as the young historian Henry Kissinger put it in his first book, in 1957).

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Fernando Henrique Cardoso (23 minutes, 10 mb mp3)

The “Waterloo” that precipitates the crisis of our order, in Cardoso’s outline, is not only the United States’ debacle in Iraq but includes also the fall of the Berlin Wall, “plus globalization, plus the transformational technologies, plus the emergence of China as one of the big powers.” The Napoleon that has collapsed in our time is not only George W. Bush but the very idea of a uni-polar hyperpower, the utter frustration of the regime-change fantasy of democracy imposed around the world by American missiles and bombers. “Who could envision,” Cardoso asks, “that the outcome of the end of bi-polarity would not be the Pax Americana but, rather, the end of the possibility for any Global Empire?”

Cardoso is speaking conversationally here about “a new global pact” to bring the problems of the world into some constructive alignment with the realities of power in a wised-up context where “it is no longer possible to have one hegemon, or to impose a new hierarchical order.” His thinking surely resonates with the impatient ambition of Parag Khanna‘s “Second World,” most especially of Brazil, fifth-most populous nation in the world and woefully underrepresented at the table of power.

We have to remold the basic institutions [the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF] in the direction of more democracy, extented participation, more powerful institutions to deal with poverty…

Look at the G-8. China is not there. Brazil is not there. India is not there. South Africa is not there. The Arabic world is not there. What kind of association is that? What do the G-8 represent? They have not enough strength even to give rules or set directions for the world, because they are not representative of anything…

Look at the aspect of military power… The US is a superpower, but America has no more capacity to deal with another problem, if it exists in the world. Not maybe because of a lack of crazy ideas inside the White House. But even if the White House has the crazy idea, it would be another disaster because America has no more capacity to open up a new front. There is no one country capable of taking care of the world. In that sense it is necessary to have a new deal…

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in conversation with Chris Lydon for Open Source at the Watson Institute, Brown University, April 2008

Fernando Henrique Cardoso is among the preeminent social scientists of modern Brazil. His classic Dependency and Development in Latin America, written with Enzo Faletto, was published in 1969. Exiled through much of the 60s and 70s by the military dictatorship in Brazile, Cardoso returned to an “accidental” political career in the 1980s. He is credited as finance minister with the lancing of the hyperinflation crisis of the early 90s. His two terms as the elected president of Brazil, from 1995 to 2002, marked the stabilization of Brazil’s popular democracy. I found his autobiography, The Accidental President of Brazil: A Memoir, a beguiling introduction to an immeasuraby valuable and wise fellow at Brown’s Watson Institute.

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  • Louie G

    I agree: a unified, non-hypocritical western front, in terms of the acceptance of social justice in the developing world, is critical. If core values are not put into clear focus and leave realms of discourse for reality in the west first, why would other nations sacrifice? Especially when considering the self-centered motives of developing countries as to date. But, if values are in practice, and an alternative route around them into realms of global power are blocked, these nations will be forced to enter into a ‘common ground’ with western nations. The problem I foresee is a central aspect of western economies is in exploitation of developing countries, and for these countries to be challenged, western countries will need to re-route this dependence onto globally responsible economies…I think. The big question is: how can this be done? I think the answer lies in sustainable local economies that take responsibility for their livelihood away from transnational cooperations and place it on themselves.

    I also agree that the cold-war mentality (America VS ‘the enemy’) is no longer applicable. I think that when Bush set out his ‘axis of evil’ he was trying to restore the notion of America being the only superpower. And for the next president to thoroughly fix the problems before America, they will need to undue the effects of this thinking. This will be difficult, because many Americans love this idea, and will not vote for a candidate who does not uphold it.

  • ideaguy

    Chris – off-topic, this reminded me of your mayoral campaign. From the Times regarding Mailer and Buckley: “Both men poured these ideas into print — and might have left it at that. But by running for office — with all the attendant rigors — they elevated the tone of campaign rhetoric even as they immersed themselves in the gritty truths of electoral politics.”