Under the Command of a Corpse – Part 3

Olavo de Carvalho explains why Liberation Theology is alive and well in Latin America.


Read Part II here.

Whoever reads the writings by Gutierrez, Boff, and Betto will easily find out their multiple inconsistencies and contradictions. Those flaws reveal that their thought is not the result of serious theoretical effort, but of an intention to keep the theologians from Rome busy with complex refutations, while the network of activists spread its tentacles all over Latin America, reaching, above all, poor communities that were completely deprived of any interest or ability to follow those lofty debates.

Brazilian cowboys have a name for that trick: they call it “piranha’s bullock.”  When they need to cross a river infested with piranhas, they first drive a bullock into the river a few feet downstream so as to keep those carnivore fish busy with devouring it while they take the rest of the herd across the river in safety.

The theology of Gutierrez, Boff, and Betto is so futile and empty from an intellectual point of view, whereas their political activism is so intense, well thought out, and efficient, that we can only explain the trio’s more pretentious writings as a bullock sent to be devoured by the Vatican piranhas.

A brief examination of a typical sample of the style of one of those authors will suffice to make it obvious that there is no serious and honest intellectual effort in the liberation theology, but only gibberish that is more apt to deceive an uneducated or semi-educated audience than persuade well-trained theologians.

Is the style the man himself? Yes, but that can be good or bad. It can be good when analysis reveals, behind syntax and figures of speech, a living insight into aspects of human experience which are obscure and hardly speakable. Through analysis they thus come to light out of the nebulosity where they lay and become docile objects for meditation and action, being transfigured from factors of slavery into instruments of freedom. It can be bad when there is nothing to be found underneath the verbal fabric except a perverse intention to build a “second reality” out of mere words, transporting the reader from the real world into a puppet show where everything and everybody move under the command of the author, who is raised to the heights of a little demiurge, a creator of “another possible world.”

In order to demonstrate that, I will ask the reader to have the kindness to go through an exposition by Mr. Leonardo Boff, a man who is a counsellor of rulers and of a Pope (according to some) as well as, and above all, an eminent spokesman of a “liberation theology” where neither theology nor liberation can be found,

Poverty is not confined to its main and dramatic aspect, the material one, but it unfolds into political poverty through exclusion from social participation, cultural poverty through marginalization of the production processes of symbolic goods . . . .

Pauperization generates massification of human beings. The people cease to exist as a coordinated group of communities that develop their conscience, preserve and deepen their identity, and work for a collective plan. They become a conglomerate of stray individuals deprived of their roots, an army of inexpensive and manipulable labor, according to the plan for unlimited and inhuman amassing of wealth.

That situation brings about a highly authoritarian political template . . . A minimum of cohesion can be achieved only through authoritarian forms of government, which stifle the threatening cries which come from poverty.

The excerpt is from the book And the Church Became People[i]. All that is described above really happened. Those are facts, and they are historically well-documented facts, which would leave us no other choice but to say a definitive “Amen” to Mr Boff, unless, of course, we had the horrible idea of raising the following question: Where and when did that happen?

The second paragraph tells us about something that happened in Europe in the first decades of the nineteenth century: multitudes of peasants were reduced to misery through the deprivation of their few possessions, thus having to leave their land and go to the city to make up “a conglomerate of stray individuals deprived of their roots,” a reserve of inexpensive labor to be used to fuel the prosperity of the new capitalists.  Karl Marx, in pages that have become classic, describes the formation of the urban proletariat out of the wreckage of the old peasantry at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

However, that phenomenon happened where the things that Boff describes in his next paragraph—“political poverty through exclusion from social participation, cultural poverty through marginalization of the production processes of symbolic goods”— not only never happened, but could never have happened. On the contrary, the migration of peasants to urban areas coincided with the advent of general elections, which not only invited but forced the participation of the masses in a kind of politics that was completely unknown to them when they lived on the countryside, isolated from the big urban centers. It also coincided with the creation of mandatory schooling, which removed the children of the proletarians from their local cultures and integrated them into the great urban culture of reason, science, and technology, which was essentially the same culture of the upper classes, those wicked capitalists. One can certainly bewail the dissolution of the old local cultures, but that was caused not by the exclusion, but rather by the inclusion of the masses into the urban political and cultural life.

The “exclusion from social participation” and the “marginalization from the processes of symbolic goods” did happen, but hundreds of thousands of miles away from Europe, in African, Asian, and Latin American countries, which would be later called “the Third World” precisely because no Industrial Revolution ever took place in them, neither therefore the integration of the masses into politics or urban culture. Mr Boff creates the fictitious unity of a hideous straw man out of selections he made from heterogeneous and incompatible historical processes, which occurred in places far away from one another. But Mr Boff’s historical Frankenstein has at least one thing substantially real about it: the hatred that he would like his readers to feel towards it in their souls.

But the monster’s physiognomy would not be complete without a third feature, which Mr. Boff fetches in another place,

That situation brings about a highly authoritarian political template . . . .  A minimum of cohesion can be achieved only through authoritarian forms of government, which stifle the threatening cries coming from poverty.

It is true that authoritarian governments emerged to control the famished masses, but they neither appeared in the Europe of the Industrial Revolution, nor in the United States of that same period, where democratic institutions triumphed along with nascent capitalism. Rather, and on the contrary, they came on the historical scene in countries that either were underdeveloped, or impoverished by war, in those nations that envied the prosperity of industrialized countries, but did not have a creative and puissant capitalist class, and then decided to become industrialized in a hurry and under coercion by means of the state bureaucracy, from above, so to speak, through massive government investment and planned economy. That was the formula adopted by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and, obviously, by all those socialist nations that are so dear to Mr Boff’s heart. For the same reasons and to a lesser extent, the formula was adopted in Brazil by both President Vargas during his dictatorship (1930-45) and the military government, from 1964 to 1985.

In short, if it were possible to put together all the evils that happened in the most distant countries, in the most different times, and in the most heterogeneous regimes, we would then have the ideal monster towards which Mr Boff would like to direct the hatred of his audience. Mr Boff trusts that his readers will not notice his artificial superimposition of historical events and that, impressed by the total sum of evils, will believe they are really caught up in the claws of a monster and draw the logical conclusion they need to be liberated by Mr Boff.

This is what the Boffian “liberation theology” is all about, and nothing else. His superimposition technique is, rigorously speaking, both Mr Boff’s only dialectical and stylistic procedure and the quintessential summary of his, let’s say, thought. We can find that technique in practically every page he has written, and it is pointless to look for something different.

A few lines below the paragraphs quoted above we can find another example, in the passage in which he makes use of the figure of St. Francis of Assisi as the prototype of the revolutionary man who Mr. Boff himself intends to be. My readers, so kind and generous, will do me another favor and read this other brief paragraph,

Such attitude [St. Francis’ rejection of the goods of this world] corresponds to that of the revolutionary man and not that of reformers and agents of the current system. Reformers reproduce the system, only introducing ways of rectifying the abuses by means of reforms. . . . What [Francis] did represents a radical criticism against the dominant forces of the day . . . He did not simply made an option for the poor, but for the poorest among the poor, the lepers, whom he called, lovingly, ‘my brothers in Christ.’

Here Francis appears as a revolutionary who, instead of being a servant of the system, seeks to destroy and replace it for something completely different. I will not even discuss the historical untruth of those words, which is all too obvious. St. Francis never turned against the hierarchical system of the Church, but, on the contrary, he turned his mendicant order into the most docile and efficient instrument of Papal authority. If we employ Mr Boff’s own terms, St. Francis rigorously corresponds to the definition of “reformer,” and not to that of “revolutionary.”  But that is not the point. What is truly amazing is that, according to Mr Boff, there is a clear case of protest against social hierarchy going on when Francis approaches not only the poor, but “the poorest among the poor,” that is, the lepers. But since when does leprosy choose its victims according to their social class?  Were not the king of Jerusalem, Baldwin IV, and the king of Germany, Henry VII, son of the great emperor Frederick II and Constance of Aragon, lepers either?  Would Francis refuse to kiss a leper from a wealthy family? By artificially superimposing the idea of morbid deformity onto that of economic inferiority, Mr Boff turns the least anti-social of all gestures of Christian charity into a symbol of revolutionary hatred, and the reader, stunned by the composite image, does not even realize he has been fooled once again, and ends up buying as pure Catholic theology the old Marxist distinction between reform and revolution. Once his magic trick is dismantled through analysis, Mr Boff’s “liberation theology” reveals itself as nothing more than a technique for making people stupid.

This sample is enough to show that seriously discussing the theoretical content of liberation theology has only served the purpose of diverting the attention of the Roman Curia and conservative theologians away from the true nature of the liberation movement, which thrived and grew stronger as a political power in the exact measure as its intellectual pretensions were dismantled.

Intellectually and theologically, liberation theology has been dead for three decades. But it was never meant to be an intellectual and theological movement. It was and still is a political movement adorned with artificial theological pretexts of unmatched frivolity, which were driven into the waters of Rome as a “piranha’s bullock.” The herd crossed the river, took over the whole territory, and there are no land-dwelling piranhas that can pose a threat to it.

Granted, liberation theology is dead, but its corpse, raised to the top of the chain of command, rests all its weight upon an entire subcontinent, oppressing it, choking it, and blocking all of its movements. Today, Latin America is governed by a cadaver.


Translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota.


[i] Boff, Leonardo, op. cit,  p. 167.

Olavo de Carvalho is the President of The Inter-American Institute and Distinguished Senior Fellow in Philosophy, Political Science, and the Humanities. The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

Under the Command of a Corpse – Part 2

Olavo de Carvalho explains why Liberation Theology is alive and well in Latin America.


Read Part I here.

If the child and even its name came ready-made from the KGB, that does not mean that its adoptive parents, Gutierrez, Boff, and Betto have no merit whatsoever in spreading it throughout the world. On the contrary, they played a crucial part in the victories won by liberation theology and in the mystery of its survival.

The three of them, but mainly the two Brazilians, have always acted on two different levels at once. On the one hand, they produced artificial theological arguments for the consumption of the clergy, the intellectuals, and the Roman Curia. On the other hand, they spread sermons and popular speeches and intensely devoted themselves to the creation of a network of activists which would become well-known as “basic ecclesial communities”[i] and would make up the seed of the Workers’ Party, which has been governing Brazil since 2002.

In his book And the Church Became People (E a Igreja se Fez Povo)[ii], Boff confesses that the whole thing was a “bold plan,” hatched according to the strategy of the slow and subtle “war of position” advocated by the founder of the Italian Communist Party, Antonio Gramsci. The strategy consisted in gradually infiltrating all the decisive positions in seminaries and lay universities, in religious orders, in the Catholic media, and in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, without making much noise, until the time was ripe for the great revolution to come into view.

John Paul I, soon after the 1978 conclave that elected him pope, had a meeting with twenty Latin American cardinals, and he became astonished at the fact that most of them overtly supported liberation theology. On that occasion, they informed him that there were more than 100 thousand “basic ecclesial communities” spreading out revolutionary propaganda in Latin America. Until then John Paul I had known liberation theology as a theoretical speculation only. He was far from thinking that it could have been transformed into a political force of such dimensions.

In 1984, when Cardinal Ratzinger began to dismantle liberation theology’s theoretical arguments, four years had already passed since those “basic ecclesial communities” were transfigured into a mass political party, the Brazilian Workers’ Party, whose members and activists definitively do not know anything about any theological speculation, but can swear that Jesus Christ was a socialist because that is what the party leaders tell them to believe.

In other words, liberation theology’s feigned theological argumentation had already done its job of being food for debate and undermining the Church’s authority, and was functionally replaced by overt preaching of socialism, where the apparently scholarly effort to bring Christianity and Marxism together yielded the right of way to the peddling of cheap clichés and slogans in which the mass of activists neither looked for nor could find any rational argumentation, but only those symbols that expressed and reinforced their sense of belonging to a group and their fighting spirit.

The success of this second enterprise was proportional to the failure of the trio in the field of theology. In the United States or in Europe, an opinion-maker who aspires to be a political leader may not survive his own discredit, but in Latin America, and especially in Brazil, the mass of activists is leagues away from any intellectual concern and will continue to find their leader credible as long as he is backed up by his party and has enough political support.

And in the case of Boff and Betto, they received nothing less than formidable support. When the guerrillas which the Latin American Organization for Solidarity (OLAS, founded in 1966 by Fidel Castro) had spread throughout the subcontinent failed miserably, left-wing activists took refuge in non-military leftist organizations, which were putting into practice Antonio Gramsci’s ideas about “cultural revolution” and “war of position.” Gramsci’s strategy made use of massive infiltration of communist agents in all institutions of civil society, especially in the educational system and the media, to spread punctual, isolated, non-labelled, communist proposals so as to produce, little by little, an overall effect which could not be identified as communist propaganda, but through which the Party, or similar organization, could end up mentally controlling society with “the omnipresent and invisible power of a divine commandment, of a categorical imperative” (sic).[iii]

No other instrument could better serve that purpose than the “basic ecclesial communities,” where communist proposals could be sold with the Christianity label. In Brazil, the overwhelming growth of those organizations resulted, in 1980, in the foundation of the Workers’ Party, which initially presented itself as an innocent pro-labor union movement of the Christian left, and which only gradually revealed its strong ties with the Cuban government and various guerilla and drug-trafficking organizations.  The greatest leader of the Party, President Luís Inácio “Lula”da Silva, has always acknowledged Boff and Betto as the masterminds of both his organization and of himself.

Born in the bosom of the Latin American communism by means of the “basic ecclesial communities,” the Party would not take long to return the favor by establishing, in 1990, an organization under the anodyne denomination of Foro de São Paulo (São Paulo Forum) whose purpose was to unify the many leftists currents in Latin America and become the strategic headquarters for the communist movement in the subcontinent.

According to Frei Betto’s own testimony, the decision of founding the São Paulo Forum was made in a meeting between Lula, Fidel Castro, and Frei Betto himself, in Havana. For seventeen years the São Paulo Forum had grown in secret, having a membership of nearly 200 organizations, and mixing together legally established political parties, kidnapping groups as the Chilean MIR, and drug-trafficking gangs as the FARC— which denied having anything to do with drug trafficking, but traded, every year, 200 tons of Colombian cocaine for weapons that Brazilian drug-dealer Fernandinho Beira-Mar smuggled from Lebanon.

When Lula was elected president of Brazil in 2002, the São Paulo Forum had already become the largest and most powerful political organization that had ever been at work in the whole Latin American territory. Its very existence, however, was totally unknown to the Brazilian people and cynically denied when a researcher would blow the whistle about it.

The general concealment of the São Paulo Forum, an operation to which the entire Brazilian mainstream media contributed for seventeen years with exemplary obstinacy, is one of the most curious and depressing episodes of the history of the press in the world. From that episode one can have an idea of the power that the pool of left-wing parties associated with the Workers’ Party exerts over the entire class of opinion-makers in Brazil. But the curtain of obsequious silence extended far beyond Brazilian national borders: in 2001 during a panel discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., two “experts in Latin America,” Kenneth Maxwell and Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, openly denied the existence of the São Paulo Forum.

For many years, based upon extensive documentation gathered by Brazilian attorney José Carlos Graça Wagner, I denounced the São Paulo Forum’s activities. But I was the only columnist of a major Brazilian newspaper to do it, and all kinds of pressure and threats were made against me to prevent me from doing so. I even published online all the minutes of the Forum’s general assemblies since its foundation, but even in face of such irrefutable proofs the slavish self-censorship of the Brazilian journalistic class did not yield even an inch in its obstinacy in denying the facts.

The media blockade reached its peak of intensity when, in 2005, Mr Lula, already President of Brazil, made a detailed confession about the existence and the activities of the São Paulo Forum. His speech was published on the Presidency of the Republic’s official website, but even so, the mainstream media in full force insisted on pretending that they did not know anything about it.

Finally, in 2007, the Workers’ Party itself, feeling that the cloak of protective secrecy was no longer necessary, came to trumpet the feats of the São Paulo Forum to the four corners of the earth, as they had always been obvious, banal, and well-known. Only then the newspapers allowed themselves to speak about it.

Why could the secret be revealed at that point? Because, in Brazil, all the ideological opposition had already been eliminated, and what remained as “politics” was only electoral vying for offices and denunciation of corruption scandals coming from within the left itself; whereas, on a subcontinental scale, twelve countries were already ruled by parties that belonged to the São Paulo Forum. The “basic ecclesial communities” had risen to power. At that point who would be concerned with theological debates or ethereal objections made twenty years earlier by a cardinal who took the literal sense of the writings of liberation theologians in a serious manner, but barely scratched the political surface of the problem?

The Workers’ Party, throughout its twelve years in power, managed to expel all the conservative opposition from the political scene while it shared the political arena with some of its more radical allies and a soft center-left opposition, governing the country by means of bribery, murder of inconvenient people, and systematic appropriation of funds of state companies to finance the growth of the Party. The rise of kleptocracy culminated in the Petrobrás case, where the siphoning of funds from state companies reached the level of billions of dollars, becoming, according to the international media, the largest case of business corruption of all times. This succession of scandals brought about some discomfort within the left itself and also constant complaining in the media, which led the Workers’ Party’s intelligentsia to rally in full force to defend their party.  Mr Betto and Mr Boff have been busy with this kind of activity for more than a decade, and theology, in their business, is only an occasional supplier of figures of speech which they design to adorn the Party’s propaganda. Liberation theology, at last, embraced its true calling


To be continued.

Translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota.


[i] The mass of activists, as distinguished from their leadership, is called, in communist technical language, “base.” Not by coincidence liberation theology uses that word to name its “basic ecclesial communities.” The flock had to become “base” so that the shepherds could become political commissars.

[ii] Boff, Leonardo. E a Igreja se Fez Povo. Eclesiogênese: A Igreja que Nasce do Povo (São Paulo: Círculo do Livro, 1988.),  especially chapters XII and XIII.

[iii] Olavo de Carvalho, A Nova Era e a Revolução Cultural: Fritjof Capra & Antonio Gramsci, 4th ed. (Campinas: Vide Editorial, 2014).


Olavo de Carvalho is the President of The Inter-American Institute and Distinguished Senior Fellow in Philosophy, Political Science, and the Humanities. The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

Under the Command of a Corpse – Part 1

Olavo de Carvalho explains why Liberation Theology is alive and well in Latin America.


Why are still there people who subscribe to liberation theology? Apparently no reasonable person should do that. From a theological standpoint the doctrine that Peruvian Gustavo Gutierrez and Brazilians Leonardo Boff and Frei Betto have spread throughout the world was already demolished by then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger[i] in 1984, two years after being condemned by Pope John Paul II[ii]. In 1994 theologian Edward Lynch stated that liberation theology had already been reduced to a mere intellectual curiosity[iii]. In 1996 the Spanish historian Ricardo de la Cierva, whom nobody would deem to be uneducated on these matters, considered it to be dead and buried[iv].

And yet the fact is that, more than a decade and a half after its death, liberation theology is practically official doctrine in twelve countries in Latin America. What happened? That is the question that I propose to examine in this essay.

In order to answer it properly we need to examine the problem from three different angles:

(1) Is liberation theology a Catholic theology influenced by Marxist ideas, or is it only a communist ruse camouflaged with Catholic language?

(2) What is the relation between liberation theology as theoretical discourse and as an activist political organization?

(3) Once those two questions are answered, then we will be able to grasp liberation theology as a precise phenomenon and describe the particular forma mentis of their theoreticians by means of a stylistic analysis of their writings.

The first question is given remarkably uniform answers by both Professor Lynch and Cardinal Ratzinger, as well as by innumerable other Catholic authors (for example, Hubert Lepargneur’s  Liberation Theology: An Assessment[v], and Sobral Pinto’s Liberation Theology: Marxist Materialism in Spiritualist Theology[vi]): based on the premise that liberation theology presents itself as a Catholic theology, they proceed to examine it in that light, praising its possible humanitarian and justice-making intentions, but concluding that liberation theology is, in essence, incompatible with the Church’s traditional doctrine and is therefore heretical in the strict sense of the word. They also add to that assessment a denunciation of some of its internal contradictions and a criticism of its social agenda founded upon utterly discredited Marxist economics.

From this they move on to decreeing its death, asserting that (the following words are Professor Lynch’s),

Twenty-five years later, however, liberation theology has been reduced to an intellectual curiosity. While still attractive to many North American and European scholars, it has failed in what the liberationists always said was their main mission, the complete renovation of Latin American Catholicism. [vii]

All ideological revolutionary discourse can be understood according to at least three levels of meaning, all of which first need to be distinguished through analysis and then hierarchically rearranged when one of them reveals itself to be the most decisive factor in concrete political situations, subordinating the others.

The first level is a descriptive one: the ideological revolutionary discourse presents a diagnosis or explanation of reality, or an interpretation of a previous theory. On this level, the revolutionary discourse can be judged by its veracity, correspondence, or faithfulness to facts, to the current state of available knowledge, or to the doctrine it is interpreting. When the discourse presents a defined proposal for action, it can be judged by the viability or convenience of the action to be taken.

The second level is that of ideological self-definition, where the theoretician or doctrinarian expresses the symbols in which the revolutionary group recognizes itself and by which it can distinguish insiders and outsiders, friends and foes. On this level the ideological revolutionary discourse can be judged by its psychological efficacy or correspondence with its audience’s expectations and longings.

The third level is that of strategic disinformation, providing false clues designed to throw its enemies off course and ward off any attempt that can be made to block the revolutionary proposal for action, or neutralize any other effects the discourse aims to produce.

On its first level, the revolutionary discourse ideally addresses an impartial audience, whose support it intends to win over by means of persuasion. On the second level, it addresses its actual or potential supporters, with the aim of reinforcing their loyalty to the group and obtaining from them their maximum possible collaboration. On the third, it addresses its enemy, the target of the operation.

Practically all the criticisms that Catholic intellectuals leveled at liberation theology have been confined to the examination of its first level of meaning.  From an intellectual standpoint, they completely discredited it, demonstrated its heretical character, and pointed out those old flaws that make any proposal for a socialist remodeling of society destructive and inviable.

If the masterminds behind liberation theology were Catholics sincerely devoted to “renewing Latin American Catholicism,” even if through the use of means contaminated with Marxist ideology, those devastating criticisms would have been enough to completely deactivate their theology. Once those critical analyses left the field of intellectual debate to become the Church’s official teaching, with the 1984 study by Cardinal Ratzinger, liberation theology could be regarded, from a theoretical point of view, as extinct and intellectually overcome.

Now read this testimony given by General Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest-ranking KGB official who has ever defected to the West, and you will begin to understand why the intellectual and theological discredit of the liberation theology was not enough to put an end to it. In 1959, as the head of the Romanian intelligence station in West Germany, General Pacepa heard from Nikita Khrushchev himself the following words, “We’ll use Cuba as springboard to launch a KGB-devised religion into Latin America.”[viii]

And his testimony goes on like this,

Khrushchev called the new KGB-invented religion Liberation Theology. His penchant for “liberation” was inherited by the KGB, which later created the Palestine Liberation Organization, the National Liberation Army of Columbia (FARC), and the National Liberation Army of Bolivia. Romania was a Latin country, and Khrushchev wanted our “Latin view” about his new religious “liberation” war. He also wanted us to send a few priests who were cooptees or deep cover officers to Latin America, to see how “we” could make his new Liberation Theology palatable to that part of the world. Khrushchev got our best effort.

Launching a new religion was a historic event, and the KGB had thoroughly prepared for it. At that very moment, the KGB was building a new international religious organization in Prague called the Christian Peace Conference (CPC), whose task would be to spread Liberation Theology within Latin America. . . .

In 1968, the KGB-created CPC was able to maneuver a group of leftist South American bishops into holding a Conference of Latin American Bishops at Medellin, Colombia. The Conference’s official task was to ameliorate poverty. Its undeclared goal was to recognize a new religious movement encouraging the poor to rebel against the “institutionalized violence of poverty,” and to recommend it to the World Council of Churches for official approval. The Medellin Conference did both. It also swallowed the KGB-born name “Liberation Theology.”

That is, in its essentials, the idea of liberation theology came ready-made from Moscow three years before Peruvian Jesuit Gustavo Gutierrez, with his book Teología de la Liberación[ix], presented himself as its original creator, something which probably happened with the approval by its true creators, who were not interested at all in a public acknowledgment of paternity. The legal guardians of the child, Leonardo Boff and Frei Betto (Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo) would come onto the scene even later, not before 1977. Until today popular information sources, as for example Wikipedia, repeat like trained parrots that Fr. Gutierrez was indeed the father of liberation theology and that Mr Boff and Mr Betto were his most outstanding continuators.


Read Part II here.

Translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota.



[i]  Cardinal Ratzinger, Joseph. Liberation Theology. Christendom-awake.org,  http://www.christendomawake.org/ pages/ratzinger/liberationtheol.htm, (accessed February 2, 2015).

[ii]  Quentin L. Quade, ed., The Pope and Revolution: John Paul II Confronts Liberation Theology (Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1982).

[iii]  Lynch, Edward A., “The retreat of Liberation Theology,” EWTN.com, https://www.ewtn.com/ library/ISSUES/LIBERATE.TXT (accessed February 2, 2015)

[iv] Cierva, Ricardo de la. La Hoz y la Cruz. Auge y Caída del Marxismo y la Teología de la Liberación (Toledo: Fénix, 1996).

[v] Lepargneur, Hubert. Teologia da Libertação. Uma Avaliação (São Paulo: Convívio, 1979). The Brazilian translation of the work was used.

[vi] Pinto, Sobral. Teologia da Libertação. O Materialismo Marxista na Teologia Espiritualista (Rio: Lidador, 1984). The Portuguese original was used.

[vii] Lynch, loc. cit.

[viii] Pacepa, Ion Mihai,“Kremlin’s religious Crusade,” Frontpage Magazine, June 30, 2009, http://archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=35388 (accessed February 2, 2015).

[ix] Gutierrez, Gustavo. Teología de la Liberación(Lima: Centro de Estudios y Publicaciones, 1971).


Olavo de Carvalho is the President of The Inter-American Institute and Distinguished Senior Fellow in Philosophy, Political Science, and the Humanities. The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

A Brief History of Male Chauvinism

Olavo de Carvalho takes on the anti-male prejudice that offends the intellect and twists history.


Women have always been exploited by men. That is a truth that nobody doubts. From the solemn lecture halls in Oxford to popular TV shows, from Collège de France to pop music groups, the world reaffirms that certainty, maybe the most unquestionable truth that has ever crossed the human mind—that is, if it ever actually crossed it, for it might have come straight out of wombs into academic books.

Not desiring to go against such an august unanimity, I here intend to list a few facts that may reinforce, in the hearts of believers of all existing and yet-to-be-invented sexes, their hatred against heterosexual adult males, those execrable creatures that no one who was unlucky enough to be born as a male wants to be when he grows up.

Our narrative begins at the dawn of time, at some imprecise moment between the Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnons. It was in those dark ages that the exploitation of women started. Living in caves, the human communities were constantly ravaged by the attacks of wild beasts. Males, taking advantage of their prerogatives as members of the ruling class, hurried to secure for themselves the safest and most comfortable of places of the social order: they remained inside the caves—what rascals!—preparing food for their babies, while the poor females, armed only with clubs, went outside to fight lions and bears.

When the hunting and gathering economy was replaced by agriculture and cattle-raising, men took advantage of women again, always assigning them the hardest jobs, such as moving rocks and blocks of stone, taming wild horses, and cutting furrows on the ground with a plough, while they, those lazy pants, stayed home painting pottery and weaving. That is revolting.

When the great empires of antiquity dissolved, yielding their places to a bedlam of warring fiefdoms, feudal lords quickly formed their private armies, exclusively made up of women, while men took refuge in castles and remained there enjoying the good life, delighting in the reading of the poems that warrior women wrote, in between battles, to praise their manly charms.

When someone had the extravagant idea of spreading Christianity throughout the world, which required sending missionaries to all corners of the Earth, where they ran the risk of being impaled by heathens, stabbed by highway robbers, or butchered by an audience bored with their preaching, the heavy burden of that mission was laid upon women, while men Machiavellianly stayed home and made novenas before their family altars.

The poor women were victims of the same kind of exploitation on the occasion of the Crusades, where, clad in heavy armors, they crossed deserts to be run through by the swords of the moors (female moors, of course, since the partisans of Mohammed were no less sexists than we). And what about the great voyages of discovery!? Seeking gold and diamonds to adorn idle males, brave female seafarers crossed the seven seas and fought against ferocious indigenous male warriors whose only advances towards them were, alas, of a military nature.

Finally, when the modern state instituted military conscription for the first time in history, government armies were made up of women, and beheading at the guillotine was the punishment for those who insisted on resisting or dodging the draft. All of that, of course, so that men could stay home reading The Princesse de Clèves.

In short, for millennia women have been dying in the battle field, moving blocks of stone, erecting buildings, fighting wild beasts, crossing deserts, seas, and jungle, making all sorts of sacrifice for us, idle males, to whom no challenge remains other than that of getting their hands dirty in soiled diapers.

In exchange for the sacrifice of their lives, women, our heroic defenders, have not demanded from us anything except the right to raise their voices at home, make a few cigarette burn marks on tablecloths, and, occasionally, leave a pair of socks in the TV room for us to pick up.


Translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota.

Olavo de Carvalho is the President of The Inter-American Institute and Distinguished Senior Fellow in Philosophy, Political Science, and the Humanities.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

Puerile Sexologists – Part 1

Only mature people can grasp the whole of the complex and multilevel experience of desire, sex, and love. In Brazil, however, most opinion-makers are not up to that task.

“Ripeness is all.”  Shakespeare

In almost everything that I read and hear about sex, desire, and love, there reigns the grossest and most puerile lack of distinction between the most divers experiences associated with those words, which are often taken as synonyms.

On its most immediate and physiological level, desire is a purely internal phenomenon, produced by hormonal chemistry and having no defined object, being able, for that very reason, to be then projected onto any object, real or imaginary. It is a sheer physiological urge, a “desire for orgasm” that emerges without the need for an external exciting stimulus and can be satisfied through simple mechanical friction of male or female genitals.

Quite different is the desire aroused by the direct or indirect sight of an object, that is, a desirable body. Invariably, in that case, the rousing factor is some secondary sexual feature to which the desiring subject is particularly attracted: breasts, buttocks, legs, eyes, and so on. This is the level that technically corresponds to the scholastic notion of concupiscentia. The sexually suggestive remarks young men who loiter about the streets make about women who walk by are an encyclopedia of verbal expressions that manifest this kind of desire.

On a third level, desire is not aroused by any prominent physical feature, but by an overall, undefined, and non-located impression of beauty and charm, almost like a magic aura surrounding the desired object.

The next level is when we fall in love with someone or lose our heart to someone. It is the level characterized by that coup de foudre that turns our object of desire into an obsessive and irreplaceable presence in our mind. This emotion is filled with ambiguities. It brings with itself anxiety, fear of rejection, and triggers a number of psychological defense mechanisms against potential frustration.

Once those ambiguities are overcome, the initial loving attachment may crystallize into a conjugal dream, which is the longing to have our beloved one with us forever. On this level, desire takes on characteristics of a moral value, destined to manifest itself in the common acceptance of sacrifices for the sake of mutual benefit, of raising a family, of taking social responsibilities, and so on and so forth. The greater or lesser resistance of a couple against difficulties can lead to results ranging from the raising of a stable family to a whole variety of conjugal disasters.

However, true and genuine love, in the fullest sense of the word, can only emerge at the summit of the conjugal experience, with all of its ambiguities. True love is the firm, constant, and irrevocable impulse to sacrifice everything for the good of our beloved, to forgive always and unconditionally our beloved’s faults and sins, to protect the person we love from all evil and sadness, even at the risk of our own life, and to maintain that person on our side as our most valuable possession, not only during this earthly existence, but for all eternity.

Each one of those levels encompasses and transcends the previous one, and only those who go to the next stage are able to understand what was at stake in the previous stage.

It is obvious that only the person who has gone through all the stages is qualified to reach an objective and comprehensive view of human being’s sexual experience, which other people can only see in a partial and subjective— and not rarely solipsistic— way, determined by their fixation at a stage that refuses to go away.

Unfortunately, that is the case of the majority of the media or academic opinion-makers in Brazil, who kindly offer to shape other people’s sexual lives according to the measure of their own existential underdevelopment.

Many are not satisfied with that and turn their own atrophied conscience into a criterion of morality, based upon which they judge and condemn what they cannot understand. Those are the people I call “puerile sexologists:” those atrophied souls that want to tailor other people’s sexual lives to conform to the mold of their own immaturity.

Olavo de Carvalho is the President of The Inter-American Institute and Distinguished Senior Fellow in Philosophy, Political Science, and the Humanities.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute. This article was translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota. Originally published in Diário do Comércio on June 23, 2015.

Communism, Brazil & Philosophy: an Interview with Olavo de Carvalho

Olavo de Carvalho, President of the Inter-American Institute was interviewed by the editors of the Polish website Wydawnictwo Podziemme on Communism, Philosophy, and Brazil.

Wydawnictwo Podziemme: We would like to start with asking about the development of your political stance.  It appears that as a very young man you flirted with communism (forgive this odd English spelling but we refuse to bestow the honour of capital letters on names as odious as bolshevik, soviet or communist).  Then, disillusioned with politics, you immersed yourself in study of Philosophy and Art; and then again, in the early Nineties you turned to political subjects and thus found yourself threatened by lefties, which resulted in your leaving Brazil.  Could you elaborate on circumstances and reasons for these changes?

Olavo: Even though my experience as a leftist militant was quite brief, the story of my change of position has extended over many decades. At the beginning, what made me withdraw myself from among the communists was not any objection of a political, ideological, or even philosophical order. It was a simple moral reaction against the mean and ugly behavior that I saw disseminated among them as a general rule. Those people seemed to arrogate to themselves the right to commit all villainies, provided that they were not committed against the Communist Party. When I imagined Brazil being governed by those individuals, I realized that my country would be far worse off than it was under the military dictatorship. As far as it was possible to infer a collective political conduct from the individual behavior of leaders and activists, I realized that Brazil under the communists would be up to its neck in ignominy and all sorts of crime committed under “nice” pretexts. Forty years later, all this turned out to be widely confirmed: the Lula administration got to be the most corrupt ever seen in Brazilian history at a time when Brazil was bleeding with 50 thousand murders per year without federal authorities paying any attention to that issue: they are busy sucking up tax-money and siphoning off federal funds for their personal and party interests. As I was saying, at that point in my life, I withdrew myself from among the communists because their conduct made me feel shame for them, but I did not attempt to develop any theoretical explanation either for what they were doing or for what I was feeling. I simply turned my attention to subject-matters that seemed to me to be healthier and more promising, especially Greek philosophy, high literature, and the study of religions.

Many decades later, my old companions of militancy had managed to take over the whole cultural establishment and to conquer political power. The outcome of this had been the thorough destruction of high culture, the reduction of universities to centers for communist propaganda, and the country’s descent to levels of moral degradation which would have seemed unthinkable before. Since among writers and journalists nobody seemed to even take notice of this alarming state of affairs, I began to take notes on the intellectual and moral decay of the country and to read them to my pupils in the courses that I taught and at conferences that I spoke at several institutions. When I put together all these notes in a book published as The Collective Imbecile, the whole thing had a bomb-like effect: for the first time, reputations that had been so far taken as sacrosanct were treated in my book with all the sarcastic contempt that they really deserved. The reactions that followed the publication of my book widely confirmed what I had been saying of the whole situation. I had some oral and written debates with outraged critics, who came out of the discussions even more discredited than they already were. When my book Aristotle in a New Perspective was published, some academic intellectuals decided to make a show of knowledge which they really never had and to make themselves look good by having a public discussion with me about a philosopher whose work they were completely ignorant about. They did pretty bad in the debate, and thanks to this succès de scandale, I ended up being hired as a columnist by a number of major Brazilian newspapers and magazines that  were then looking for a right-wing voice, simply because they wanted to somewhat camouflage the leftist monopoly over their pages. I was not properly a right-winger but, in trying to clarify my points-of-view, I ended up drawing a kind of conservative political philosophy from my general philosophical opinions.

Wydawnictwo Podziemme: You stated in one of your interviews that the communist movement had never been, and never really wanted to be, monolithic.  It is hard to disagree with this view; after all, Lenin spoke about different countries finding their own individual way to revolution.  But let’s focus on the dynamic relationship between our perceptions and the reality of communist operations.  For instance, it could be argued that during the momentous events of 1989-1991, the reverse was true.  Individual com-parties, although acting independently, appeared to act in unison in a highly coordinated manner.  At the same time, communism raised its ugly head in Latin America; whilst in Europe communists resurfaced as “democratic left”.  Does this not imply an almost monolithic unity of purpose?

Olavo: The communist movement has never had much of an ideological unity, at least in the West. The movement’s chief characteristic was precisely that of being able to organize people and groups of the most diverse orientations into well-coordinated strategic actions—the movement has managed to manipulate even the social-democratic left, which is avowedly anti-communist. This is partly explained by the strength of the historical continuity of the Communist Party, the only organization capable of pressing into its service all minor and more fragmented movements. However, this is also explained by a factor that I designate as the formal unity of the revolutionary movement since the eighteenth or even the seventeenth century. Behind all variety of currents that compose it, the world revolutionary movement is unified by a kind of shared logic, a set of formal principles that internally shape the revolutionary speech in all of its versions. In innumerable articles and lectures, I believe I have sufficiently explained this formal unity and the strength of the more or less unconscious automatism through which it imposes itself upon generation after generation of revolutionaries, even when they disagree with one another. I believe I have also made evident that this set of rules makes the revolutionary mentality, as a whole, into a phenomenon of intellectual pathology which is very similar to that which the French psychiatrist Paul Sérieux described in his 1910 book Les Folies Raisonnantes (The Reasoning Madnesses).

Wydawnictwo Podziemme:You often mention the name of Antonio Gramsci, undoubtedly, one of the most important communist theoreticians, who perhaps deserves the name of father of contemporary Bolshevism.  It might be difficult to make a direct link between Gramsci and the perestroika planners (apparently, Raisa Gorbacheva was a keen student of his writing, although it could be an apocryphal tale designed to boost her standing amongst the faithful).  Nevertheless, it seems that his ideals are present in the minds of European commissars as well as amongst American politicians.  Is it not the case though, that Gramsci’s thoughts found the most fertile ground in Latin America?

Olavo: You are right. Latin America was the only place where Antonio Gramsci’s strategy had been put into effect in a comprehensive and systematic manner for several decades until the expected results were achieved. In Brazil, for example, as early as the 1980’s, i.e. during the military dictatorship itself, the communists had already achieved complete cultural hegemony, a phenomenon to which the military did not pay much attention because they were exclusively obsessed with the “violent left.” When the military dictatorship came to an end, practically the whole country was already pro-communist without noticing it. That is to say, at that time, a group of communist and similar parties that gravitated around the Workers’ Party had already dominated the people’s imagination and the established cultural values in such a way that it would be no exaggeration to say that the strategic command of the revolution had already accomplished the Gramscian ideal of transforming itself into “an omnipresent and invisible authority of a categorical imperative, of a divine commandment.” When in the 2002 presidential election there was nothing but a simple contest for offices between four equally leftist candidates, and nobody in the media seemed to find anything odd about such phenomenon, this showed to what extent the hegemonic domination of people’s consciousness had rendered the public opinion docile to the leftist strategy.

Wydawnictwo Podziemme: From afar, Brazil looks like a model achievement of “demo-bolshevism”, the version of bolshevism, which conquers and holds on to power through the use of democratic institutions (Gramscian “march through institutions” springs to mind again).  Strengthened by the stagecraft of democracy, this new bolshevism appears far more dangerous than the classic totalitarian version.  Thanks to some extraordinary spinning and brilliant propaganda techniques, the modern embodiment of bolshevism is hard to recognize even for seasoned political observers.  The world media described the Brazilian election as a runoff between the neoliberals (Dilma Rousseff) and the right wing (José Serra) when to our eyes these two look like dye-in-the-wool red party apparatchiks.  How do you see the current situation in Brazil?

Olavo: Substantive democracy requires much more than the mere existence of parties and free elections. Above all, it requires free circulation of information, which is impossible under Gramscian conditions of cultural hegemony. Just for you to be able to assess the difference between one thing and the other, suffice it to notice that in 2000, when I was hired to write for O Globo newspaper, one of the most prestigious of Brazil, my presence on the pages of that publication was regarded as something of an oddity because I was the only right-wing voice among hundreds of left-wing columnists. When I say “the only,” I am not speaking figuratively: “the only” has a merely arithmetic meaning in this sentence. “The only” really means “the single one”. And not only were my opinions in sharp contrast to those of all the other columnists, but, likewise, they were in contrast to the general tenor of the news, which emphasized facts that were most convenient to the left, and completely concealed everything that was of no interest to the leftist parties. For example, during 16 years, not only O Globo, but the whole of the Brazilian mainstream media, concealed from the public the existence of the São Paulo Forum, the strategic command of the Latin American communist revolution and the largest political organization that has ever existed in the continent. I, of course, spoke about it in my columns, but since no factual confirmation ever appeared on the news pages, it was easy for interested leftist leaders to deny even the mere existence of the Forum, which thus could grow up in silence until it managed to take over twelve countries. Then, sure of itself, the Forum publicly admitted its own existence, confirming everything that I had been saying about it, but doing so in such a tardy manner that it was no longer possible to attempt any reaction against the growing of that monster. The expression that you employ, “demo-bolshevism,” is perfect, for the prevailing communist forces managed to dominate the flux of information so efficiently that they even permitted themselves the luxury of having free elections, since voters were completely ignorant about the real political situation and, for this same reason, became perfectly harmless.

Wydawnictwo Podziemme: In your Weapons of Freedom essay, you discuss two interesting and somehow correlated phenomena.  On the one hand, we constantly have to deal with old-fashioned, often inadequate concepts such as “national state”, “international relations”, “free trade”, “democracy”, “imperialism” or “class struggle”; on the other, we come across scientific methods of control and manipulation of human beings.  However, whilst the remnants of the free world struggle with outdated notions, they fall victim to the latest methods of social sciences; at the same time, the representatives of the new totalitarianism are very astute in dealing with both areas.  They tend to use both the obsolete concepts and most recent psychological discoveries with aplomb – to their own ends.  Is it possible that the traditionalist world of simple human dignity and decency is doomed when confronted by the bolshevik plague?

Olavo: If supporters of democracy and human dignity do not get urgently updated on opinion control and social engineering methods that are being used by totalitarian movements, the whole mankind will be at risk of falling under the dominion of a fierce and broad-grinned tyranny that will easily be taken as democracy. Both the social sciences and psychology have placed in the hands of the most cynical and ambitious men all the instruments they need to impose totalitarian power without the masses having the slightest inkling of what is really going on. Among the most important books for understanding this phenomenon are Pascal Bernardin’s Machiavel Pédagogue (Machiavel The Educator), Alexander Zinoviev’s The Reality of Communism, and Lee Penn’s False Dawn. There are many other equally good books, but the reading of these three is more than enough for you to grasp the range and the efficacy of the instruments to which I refer.

Wydawnictwo Podziemme: One of the commentators under your interview published on The New American site wrote in March this year: “Thank you Olavo for your clear vision and for state it outside our country (Brasil). I have a question though: how to build a new right from scratch? It will need not only knowledge but also an incredible strategic effort… […] I mean, I’m a father and a honest hard working citizen that want to do something at least to give my children some hope for the future. What would be a play for ordinary people like me on this matter?” Let us expand your compatriot’s question: what is to be done?

Olavo: Though many millennia-old, Sun Tzu’s formula is still valid: know your enemy better than he knows himself. Attack him at his blind spots. Bewilder him, intimidate him, and put him to flight. It is important to remember that I am not talking about fighting a battle of ideas, of doctrines, but about fighting a battle against concrete groups and individuals, a battle for power. And power, in the first place, does not mean holding elective offices. It means having dominion over people’s imagination and feelings. By discussing ideas with agents of totalitarianism, we do nothing but give them a dignity that they do not really have, and even if we defeat them in the realm of argumentation, we end up reinforcing the power they enjoy. What we need to do is to render visible all their inner ugliness, their intrinsically criminal mentality. As long as revolutionary mentality is accepted as one respectable opinion among others, we will make crime a normal, acceptable, and even prestigious behavior.


Olavo de Carvalho is the President of The Inter-American Institute and Distinguished Senior Fellow in Philosophy, Political Science, and the Humanities.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute. The original answers for the interview were translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota in November 2010.

Eurasianism and Genocide

The new Russian Ideology, the Eurasian Empire, such as it is conceived by Dugin and his chief disciple, the Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a synthesis of the defunct USSR and the Tzarist Empire.

It is not very hard to understand that an ideology designed to reconstruct one of the bloodiest empires of all times will end up revealing its murderous and cruel nature sooner or later.

Students of the Moscow State University have demanded the firing of Prof. Aleksandr Dugin, who, using his authority as a university professor, advocated the systematic killing of Ukranians—a people who, according to him, do not belong to the human species.

“Kill, kill, kill,” he said. “There is nothing else to be argued about. I say this as a professor.”

(His precise and full statement can be found on the following video at 17m50s http://rufabula.com/news/ 2014/06/15/dugin , and the petition by the Moscow University Students can be found here: http://euromaidanpr.com/2014/06/15/moscow-students-demand-to-fire-dugin-from-the-moscow-state-university-for-sparking-hatred-towards-ukrainians).

The Eurasian Empire such as it is conceived by Dugin and his chief disciple, the Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a synthesis of the defunct USSR and the Tzarist Empire. As the theory that is the foundation for that political project is a fusion of Marxism-Leninism, Russian Messianism, Nazism, and esotericism, and as it is hard to find a reader in the West who knows all of those schools of thought, each person who likes the theory ends up seeing in it only that part that is more sympathetic to him and buys the rest of it blindly.

Those who miss Stalinism see in the Eurasianist theory a promise for the rebirth of the USSR. Conservatives applaud its soi disant religious repressive moralism. Old admirers of Mussolini and the Führer appreciate its frankly antidemocratic conception of the state, as well as its racist contempt for the peoples destined to imperial subjection. Esotericists, followers of René Guénon and Julius Evola, deem that Eurasianism is the living embodiment of a superior “meta-politics,” incomprehensible to the common herd, and more or less similar to that which is described by novel writer (and esotericist as well) Raymond Abellio in his La Fosse de Babel. Muslims end up adhering to the Eurasian project on account of its undisguised and hateful anti-Western stance, entertaining the hope that they will be able to use it later as a spring board for the Universal Caliphate (which, on the other hand, Eurasianists believe they will be able to use it to accomplish their own purposes).

It would not be wrong to understand Eurasianism as a rationalized systematization of the international mental chaos. In this sense, its essential unity cannot be sought at the ideological level, but in the total strategy that coordinates into a project for global power a whole variety of heterogeneous—and, in theory, conflicting— ideological discourses.

That defining feature, however, is not original and unique. Contrary to what people usually think, all revolutionary movements, with no exception, have grown in the fertile ground of the confusion of tongues. Eurasianism only stands out from the others because it has been keenly aware of that factor from the beginning and it has therefore been making an ingenious use of the revolutionary confusion.

Whatever the case may be, the use of genocidal violence as an instrument of territorial occupation is so deeply rooted in its strategic principles that, with no resource to violent action, the entire project would not make the least sense.

However, such obviousness does not prevent each dazzled admirer of Eurasianism from seeing in it only that which he wants to see in it, closing his eyes to its unpleasant aspects. If millions of idiots did the same thing with Marxism for a century and a half, refusing to see the genocidal plan it carried within itself from the beginning—and ex post facto explaining away its crimes and ravings as mere unfortunate accidents—, why would they not give a chance to the newest and most fascinating revolutionary stupefying drug on the market?

Olavo de Carvalho is the President of The Inter-American Institute and Distinguished Senior Fellow in Philosophy, Political Science, and the Humanities.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute. This article was translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota.

The Condition of Brazilian Higher Education

I am aware that the presence of educators and speakers of various nationalities at this conference would suggest to me the convenience of speaking about universal and borderless themes. However, the situation of education in Brazil has become so dire that it barely can be understood by foreign observers. A sense of urgency, then, impels me to breach etiquette and address Brazilians more directly than others here present.

Since we are all gathered in this place to meditate on the ends and means of education in a serious manner, I would like to start my speech by making a vow: may God forbid and keep my speech from going beyond what I can personally do. The easiest and cheapest thing in the world for an educator to do is to propose grandiose and even universally comprehensive goals and purposes, which he will never bring about and whose results he will never be held accountable for. Ninety percent of those who are praised as pioneers, reformers, and revolutionaries of politics, education, or thought are prophets of the imponderable, that scum of mankind who have always had the prudence to withdraw from this low world before their beautiful proposals have been transformed into the depressing and often bloody realities that they foretell.

The first thing that should be required of any educator is that he knows precisely whom he intends to educate, for how long he needs to educate his students, and what are the evaluation criteria with which he will gauge the success or failure of his venture. Virtually none of those who are today lauded as great educators pass this test. Neither Paulo Freire, nor Jean Piaget, nor Vygostky, nor Emilia Ferreiro. The disastrous results of socio-constructivism are already so old and so widely known as the very idea that generated them, and yet the prestige of this school does not seem to have been shaken in the least, precisely because the public has become used to the contemporary idea that what one should expect from an educator is not that he educates people, but rather that he helps them “change the world.”

People’s mindset has been so imbued with the cult of universal change that nowadays there is virtually no person who does not follow, unconsciously at least, the maxim of that greatest prince of elegant stupidity who was Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “A new untruth is better than an old truth.”

The greatest of all educators, Socrates, never made plans for global education nor ever thought about pre-formatting the minds of future generations, but he merely confined himself to educating those who were within his reach, that is, a single generation, a small circle of students, out of which emerged two other great philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, whose teaching still continues to educate us today.

So, God forbid that I should create any educational project which I cannot personally carry out and whose results I cannot myself evaluate during the course of my life.

Accordingly, any education project that I might dare to subscribe should be a provisional response to a given situation and not a model to be imitated per omnia seculae saeculorum. The immediate problem that my personal educational project attempted to tackle is the complete debacle of university education in Brazil. Of course, there is not a single country in the world in which people do not talk about a similar debacle, but we must be careful not to be misled by the use of the same word to qualify different situations. For the word “debacle” just describes a generic quality and does not convey an idea of the extent of the problem, and it is in the quantitative aspect of the collapse of its higher education that Brazil goes beyond the imagination of those who complain of the poor state of university education in their own countries. Maybe you can have a better idea of Brazil’s state of things in education when you know the fact that my native country, having more university professors per capita than any other nation, and now having virtually no children out of school, produces students who usually rank last in international education tests. Not coincidentally, Brazil is also a country in which all public discussion about education always revolves around funding and investments, without educational contents and techniques ever becoming a discussion point—consequently, one must infer that, to the Brazilian national imagination, money must have some educational power in itself, transcending human agency. Even more characteristic of the Brazilian mind of today is the fact that our former president, Mr. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has become an object of general admiration not because he has risen from a poor background thanks to a cultural improvement he achieved through his own effort, but precisely because he managed to climb up the social ladder with no cultural improvement at all. People even compared him to Abraham Lincoln, but the contrast could not be greater between the poor axeman who developed intellectually to become one of the best writers of the English language and the man who distinguished himself rather by his physical transfiguration of a bearded and tattered poor man into an elegant figure with polished nails and dressed in sumptuous Armani suits than for any remarkable progress he made to overcome his original illiteracy. Brazil’s history is laden with poor people who acquired an education through their own effort and rose, by their own intellectual merits, far above their original station in life. I would even say that they preponderate numerically over the notable men of the upper class. The public prestige of Mr. Luiz Inácio is, in this sense, a most significant sociological phenomenon because it indicates a radical change in the judging criterion employed to evaluate the social rise of the humble. Previously, the value of an education acquired by one’s own merits prevailed over the hierarchy of social positions, but the success of Mr. Lula shows that this judgment has been reversed: being in high places is valued in itself, much more than any effort of self-education.

I mention this phenomenon because, more than any other, it denotes the mental state of affairs in contemporary Brazil. The worship of high places, coupled with the most arrogant contempt for knowledge, has become the general rule. In Brazil, a person is no longer required to have made discoveries, created works, and generated great ideas to be acknowledged as an intellectual and an educator of the masses. Rather, what is required of him is that he has occupied civil service positions, held the offices in the public administration, been a member of government commissions; in short, what counts is not who he is in terms of the substance of his creative and thinking person, but in terms of his place in the state bureaucracy.

I began documenting this state of things in my 1995 book The Collective Imbecile: Brazilian Uncultural News. But since then the situation has worsened so formidably that it can no longer be described in a comic and satiric key as it was in that book. Public stupidity has grown to the point where it has become fearful. It has established itself as a form of power which can impose upon a whole generation of students the most complete ineptitude as an essential regulatory obligation.

Because of this state of things, in 2005 I created an online Philosophy Seminar, which today has about three thousand students from all over Brazil and also some other countries. Based on the final projects I have received so far I am sure that these students, whom I asked to refrain from any public activity until they are properly prepared for it, are already an intellectual elite incomparably superior to that which has come out of Brazilian universities and occupied the most important positions in the media, education, and the publishing industry.

Never have I thought about educating other people than those who fell within my reach through the Philosophy Seminar . Nor do I have suggestions about the teaching of subjects which are outside my field of expertise. My students are being educated in the fields of literature, philosophy, and social sciences, precisely those which have been most affected after four decades of absolute rule of the semi-illiterate mandarinate.

However, from this limited experience I can draw some conclusions which may be useful to other people who have the intention of becoming educators.

The first is that the contempt for knowledge in Brazil has always been coupled with the worship of outward signs which stand for knowledge and which, seemingly with some advantage, replace it: degrees, diplomas, titles, honors, media space, good connections in high circles, and so on and so forth. The phenomenon has been so widely documented and satirized in our best fiction literature (Lima Barreto and Graciliano, for example) that I see no need to insist on it.

But the worst is that a circle of mutual reinforcement between those two complementary vices was formed a long time ago, and this circle seems impossible to break .

It works like this: since our business and political elite is not exactly well educated, the well-meaning souls who emerge from it having the laudable purpose of remedying the national evils are by themselves unable to distinguish—through a direct examination of works and ideas—between who is competent and who is an eminent airhead among the available intellectuals. As a result, they will have to judge them by outward signs—those darn titles and positions—and they will end up giving heed to those who have nothing important to tell them nor useful to suggest. Unculture generates unculture with the fertility of a couple of rabbits.

This becomes even worse when a deceiving prestige comes from abroad, landing in Brazil with all the pomp and ceremony suited to “the most modern thing of all.” In the Vargas administration, a beautiful project of popular education ended up taking as model the ideas of John Dewey, then very celebrated by the American media as a great innovator. Today it is known that Dewey was, in fact, the destroyer of the American education, which until then was the best in the world. From 1960s onwards—during the military dictatorship in Brazil—, social constructivism became fashionable, being adorned with names such as Jean Piaget, Emilia Ferrero, Vygotsky, and many others. For half a century the application of this nonsensical theory has brutalized the minds of our children with admirable constancy, at the same time that the triumphal expansion of the number of schools and the increasingly centralized control of national education has spread the democratization of ineptitude to the farthest corners and the poorest people of the country.

And why do these things happen? Because Brazil’s uneducated elite goes along with the media and the volatile prestige of the cultural celebrities of the day instead of examining and testing their ideas. And by doing so our elite only heaps up errors and disasters with an obscene persistence.

Whoever notices this phenomenon cannot but conclude that Brazil’s chief educational problem is precisely the opposite of what people usually say it is. That is to say, our problem is not that we have educated the elite and left the people behind, but rather that we have tried to provide education to all the people before we have a qualified elite to educate them, or even to seriously examine the problem of popular education.

Anyone who has been a teacher at least for a day immediately realizes that the educational process has a radiating structure: first you educate ten people, who in turn will go on and educate a hundred people, who in turn will educate a thousand people, who in turn will educate one million, and so on and so forth. To reverse this order is like wanting children to generate their parents. The rulers of this country have promised education to millions of people before they have been able to gather together ten serious educators to discuss how they are going to do this. Why not educate the first ten people? And to those who may object that this is right-wing elitism, I recommend they read Lenin and ask themselves why he organized the Communist party’s elite first and then the mass. Lenin knew that the tail does not wag the dog.

How to break the vicious circle of an uneducated elite guided by amateurs as inept as itself ?

In my view, there is only one way: we have to raise, outside the official educational system, far from the mainstream media, far from long-established prestige, a new, sincere, and well-prepared class of intellectuals, who, moreover, must be aggressive enough to, in due course, behead airheads, expel sacred cows, and start dealing with problems in a serious manner.

A second conclusion is that a government can only define “programs,” “methods,” budgets, that is, the more external and insubstantial aspects of education. None of these abstract universals has the ability to go into the classroom and guide the souls and minds of students towards their better development. The teacher’s personality is all. You can ask any student of any grade about it. Some teachers make deep impressions on students and have an almost hormonal influence on their intellectual and human growth, others are justly forgotten after a few years, and still others become traumatic obstacles to any conceivable progress.

The problem here is somewhat the same as everywhere else: the problem of human quality. Governments are so helpless about it that sometimes the worst regimes in the world raise, by the power of suffering, the best personalities; and as soon as conditions improve, the souls settle down and deteriorate.

The raising of better individuals can only come from society itself, from spontaneous cultural initiative. Religious organizations, neighborhood associations and clubs, labor unions, community centers can do a lot about it, provided that they are not committed to any political agenda aimed at standardizing minds to use them as pawns. In Brazil, to find a civic association which is free of this commitment has become increasingly difficult.

Finally, there remains the problem of home education. In Brazil, the permanent state of social and economic insecurity leads parents, in their desire to seek an immediate guarantee of livelihood for their children, to deliberately turn their kids into mediocre human beings, inducing them to get an education only to be able to pass civil service exams, instead of promoting the development of their intelligence to reach more ambitious goals in the long term. A good intention deformed by fear is no longer a good intention and becomes a deforming prosthesis. I have observed this phenomenon in virtually all Brazilian families I have met.

A little bit of educational experience shows that the desire for premature social adaptation can cripple a mind and severely limit the very prospects for social ascension. People do not come with their vocations stamped on their foreheads, nor with a manual where they can find out in advance their most promising talents. But what is absolutely certain is that one can only be successful in those things which reflect one’s deepest innate talents. A teenager who dreams of trying his hand at sports, fine arts, or any profession which seems exotic to his family—like a career in the merchant marine, in polar expeditions, or animal caretaking—can easily be induced to failure if his parents impose upon him choices which seem more “realistic” in a limited and mediocre mental atmosphere. I dare say that this is one of the most widespread causes of human failure in Brazil.

If you think your child is a moron who cannot survive in a field of free choice and without the crutches of a depressing government job, it would have been better if you had not generated him, or if you had given him to be raised by a more optimistic family.

Besides, what help can the Brazilian government offer in such matters if it is itself predominantly staffed with inept people for whom the epithet “mediocre” would even be a compliment?

To the present Brazilian government, as to most of its Latin American counterparts, the new generations are but instruments for the implementation of nominally saving policies which despise the present generation in the name of an elusive and unattainable future. I say “unattainable” not only because they are unrealizable in practice, but because their conception is already infected with the promise of endless deferral. Every revolutionary politics, which aims to reshape the world in its image and likeness, begins by denying all higher values in order to be able to establish its own values, which implies that a revolutionary politics cannot accept any judge superior to itself. This is why only the “permanent revolution” exists, that is, the pursuit of goals which have neither a definition nor a deadline to be achieved, so that the revolutionary work might never be judged but might always keep pushing itself further into the future so that it might perpetuate its condition of sole judge of all things.

The third and final conclusion relates to the difference between education and instruction. To instruct a student is simply to pass on to him a set of procedures, habits, techniques, and even mental tics that the teacher has received ready-made. The Department of Education should be called the Department of Instruction, because every educational activity whose model comes from above and is uniformly imposed to an entire population is only instruction. Education, as the etymology of the word implies, has something to do with opening the eyes of the student so that he might see the larger world around him, and he might see it with his own individual and intransferable eyes, without anybody imprisoning him in a preexisting framework. Clearly, if instruction can be a social activity performed by a collectivity of technicians, education, in the sense that I understand it, must be a deep connection between the soul of the teacher and the soul of the student, a relationship that imitates on a smaller and limited scale the relationship between father and son. Thus, it is clear that the teacher has to convey to the student, rather than this or that particular piece of knowledge, a certain inspiration, a power, an enthusiasm, and a love for the search for the truth. And it is also clear that no one can give what he himself does not have. True education is a laborious and late result of the effort of self-education, which takes place in the soul of the educator and precedes education.

These considerations, however, are so far above the current state of affairs in Brazilian education that I do not see any way to put them into action except in small groups, without any illusion of interfering in the present state of things, but preparing, perhaps, a better future.

Olavo de Carvalho is the President of The Inter-American Institute and Distinguished Senior Fellow in Philosophy, Political Science, and the Humanities.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute. This lecture was delivered at the Leadership Institute, in Arlington, VA, on July 23, 2013. The original text for the lecture was translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota.