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Revista de Sociologia e Política

On-line version ISSN 1678-9873


LYNCH, Christian Edward Cyril. Brazilian democracy at its first crossroads: the cases of Rui Barbosa and Joaquim Nabuco. Rev. Sociol. Polit. [online]. 2008, vol.16, suppl., pp.113-125. ISSN 1678-9873.

The advent of liberal-democratic discourse in Brazil occurred at the moment in which oligarchic forces brought together elements able to contest the Crown´s preeminence over imperial political structures. However, the crown's position on the abolition of slavery generated a short circuit in the way in which, until this moment, liberalism and democracy had been articulated. In this regard, the contrast between Rui Barbosa and Joaquim Nabuco´s positions is exemplary. Through a normative universalist position, Rui Barbosa followed liberal doctrine, running the risk of handing power over to the oligarchies, whereas Nabuco, through sociological analysis, advocated the Crown´s "illustrated despotism" which he believed would be capable of breaking up oligarchic power and implementing necessary social reforms. Our article, through direct recourse to primary sources of documentation, analyzes this debate. Its purposes are not primarily to produce a detailed discussion of the differences between the two politicians through consideration of their individual personalities but to illustrate a broader issue that deals with the trajectory of building democracy in Brazil. Comparison of the discourse of both politicians illustrates the dilemma of placing priority on political or social reform within a context in which the two seem to be clearly mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the debate enables us to understand the impasses that emerge in the trajectory of democracy in Brazil, squeezed between oligarchic liberalism and an authoritarian broadening of public space.

Keywords : democracy; liberalism; modernization; Rui Barbosa; Joaquim Nabuco; political reforms; social reforms.

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