Olavo de Carvalho
President of the Institute, Distinguished Senior Fellow in Philosophy, Political Science, and the Humanities
Olavo de Carvalho, b. 1947, is a Brazilian philosopher and writer who is currently living in the United States after having taught political philosophy at the Catholic University of Paraná, Brazil, from 2001 to 2005. The author of a dozen books on philosophical and political matters, he is a respected weekly columnist with a wide following in his native Brazil and an increasingly popular public speaker in this country. He has spoken at the Hudson Institute, the Atlas Foundation, and the America’s Future Foundation, and has been honored by critics as one of the most original and daring Brazilian thinkers.
The keynote of his work is the defense of man’s innermost consciousness against the tyranny of collective authority—especially when such tyranny is based upon a “scientific” ideology. To Olavo de Carvalho the objectivity of knowledge and individual consciousness are joined together by an undissolvable link, of which one loses sight when the criteria for validation of knowledge are reduced to an impersonal and uniform set of formulae designed to be used by the academic class. Believing that the most solid shelter for individual consciousness against alienation and reification can be found in widely varying degrees in the ancient spiritual traditions—Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (even notwithstanding in some cases fundamental problems and contradictions)—Olavo de Carvalho attempts to give a new interpretation to those traditions’ symbols and rites, making them the matrixes of a new philosophical and scientific strategy for the resolution of the problems of modern culture. An example of this strategy is his essay Os Gêneros Literários: Seus Fundamentos Metafísicos (Literary Genres: Their Metaphysical Foundations), in which he makes use of the ancient symbolism of verbal tenses in the canonical languages of the world religions (Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit, and Greek) to lay anew the foundations for the distinction between literary genres. Another example is his reinterpretation of Aristotle’s logical works, Aristóteles em Nova Perspectiva (Aristotle in a New Perspective). This essay is a breakthrough in Aristotelian studies not only because it shows that poetics, rhetoric, dialectics, and logic share common principles, but also because it restores the possibility for a single and unified science of human discourse, capable of providing answers to many topical issues in interdisciplinarity. Along the same lines is his essay Símbolos e Mitos no Filme “O Silêncio dos Inocentes” (Symbols and Myths in “Silence of the Lambs”), in which he applies the criteria of the ancient symbolic hermeneutics to so modern a discipline such as movie criticism, and to which a professor at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro School of Cinema, José Carlos Monteiro, refers in the preface he wrote for it as “a fascinating analysis and—I dare say—definitive”. In 1995 Olavo de Carvalho published what is so far his culminating work, O Jardim das Aflições (The Garden of Afflictions). In this book, some primordial symbols—like the Leviathan, the Behemoth, and the Cross, from the Bible, and khien and khwan, from the Chinese tradition—function as a structural mould for a philosophy of history, which, ever widening in concentric circles the farther it departs from a seemingly narrow starting point, ends up embracing the whole horizon of Western culture. Because of the subtlety of its construction, The Garden of Afflictions is also a work of art.
Olavo de Carvalho is also widely regarded in Latin America as a great polemicist. With striking eloquence and fearsome sense of humor, he exposes false academic prestige and the fallacies of the prevailing intellectual speech. His book O Imbecil Coletivo: Atualidades Inculturais Brasileiras (The Collective Imbecile: Brazilian “Uncultural” Current Events), for example, caused a good deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth among the chattering classes, but also earned for him a multitude of loyal readers: the book’s first edition sold out within three weeks, the second within four days. More recently, Olavo de Carvalho has been exercising his admirable polemical verve as an online talk radio host with huge success. With a weekly audience of about 100,000, his True Outspeak show has been constantly placed among the BlogTalkRadio’s top ten most popular shows, and has already topped the charts at the website at least once.