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The view from Brazil is that peace is also the health of the state

The most recent of my Last Friday of the Month meetings was actually not on the last Friday of March because that was Good Friday, and my speaker Bruno Nardi and I decided to hold it a week earlier, on the 23rd. Bruno Nardi is a Brazilian libertarian and he spoke, unsurprisingly, about Brazilian libertarianism. The Brazilian state having become more than usually obtrusive and kleptocratic in recent years, libertarianism in Brazil is doing rather well just now. (I very much fear that libertarianism in Britain may soon be about to do rather well also, but that is another story.)

Before telling us about the contemporary libertarian scene in Brazil, Bruno prefaced that story with some Brazilian history, which I am rather ashamed to admit was almost entirely new to me. On the other hand, his basic point was that Brazilian history is rather undramatic, so maybe I needn’t be so ashamed after all.

Brazil started out as a Portuguese colony, but did you know that, in or around 1814, it became an independent Kingdom? Perhaps you did, but I didn’t. I did know that around that time, various armies were crashing about in Spain and Portugal, because the Duke of Wellington and his army were busy pushing Napoleon’s army back over the Pyrenees. But as to what happened in Brazil as a result of its Mother Country being invaded, well, I had never given it a thought. If Hitler had managed to invade Britain in 1940, you can well imagine Churchill and our Royals and a boat full of government functionaries hopping across to Canada, and setting up a new and “independent” kingdom of Canada. In Brazil, this is what actually happened. (Googling has made me more confused about the exact date of all this, but it definitely happened around then.)

In general, however, the history of Brazil is notable for its paucity of dramatic history dates. After 1814-ish, the next history date that Bruno focussed on was some time around 1880 or 1890, when there was this big Constitutional change, the nature of which I now forget, and which in any case, said Bruno, had little effect on regular life for most Brazilians. Then something else political happened in 1930. And then the next date to be discussed was 1964! I thought: hang about. Weren’t the times between 1930 and 1964 rather dramatic for the world? Well, yes, these were dramatic times, for the world. But for Brazil, not so much. Brazil pretty much sat out World War 2, just as it had pretty much sat out World War 1.

A little light googling has told me that Brazil has been involved in warfare, a bit, as Bruno did mention, especially during the nineteenth century against neighbouring states, notably Paraguay. There were a number of internal rebellions, all defeated. And Brazil did get involved in the world wars, fighting against Germany in both, a bit. So there definitely is such a thing as Brazilian military history. But Brazilian involvement in war was indeed nearly nothing compared to what the European nations were doing to one another and to the rest of the world during those same times, or compared to such events as the American Civil War.

War, we libertarians are fond of telling each other, is the health of the state. Peruse the most recent posting here by our own WW1 historian, Patrick Crozier, to see how we often think about such things. So, what about that increasingly obtrusive and kleptocratic Brazilian state that has been putting itself about lately, stirring up misery and libertarianism? There have been no big wars to make the Brazilian state as healthy as it now is, and especially not recently. What of that?

The story Bruno Nardi told made me think of the book that explains how peace is also the health of the state, namely Mancur Olson’s public choice theory classic, The Rise and Decline of Nations. It is years since I read this, but the story that this book tells is of the slow accumulation and coagulation of politics, at the expense of mere business, as the institutions of a hitherto thriving nation gang up together to form “distributional coalitions” (that phrase I do definitely recall). The point being that if you get involved in a war, and especially if you lose a war, the way Germany and Japan lost WW2, that tends to break up such coalitions.

The last thing on the mind of a German trade unionist or businessman, in 1946, was lobbying the government for regulatory advantages or for subsidies for his particular little slice of the German economy. Such people at that time were more concerned to obtain certificates saying that they weren’t Nazis, a task made trickier by the fact that most of them were Nazis. Olson’s way of thinking makes the post-war (West) German and then Japanese economic miracles, and the relative sluggishness of the British economy at that time, a lot more understandable. Winning a war, as Olson points out, is not nearly so disruptive of those distributional coalitions, in fact it strengthens them, as Crozier’s earlier posting illustrates.

You’ll get a bit more of the flavour of Olson’s thinking if you read this SQotD from 2012.

I met up with Bruno Nardi again last week at a Libertarian Home meeting, where I spoke to him along the lines sketched out in the previous paragraphs, mentioning the title of Olson’s book, and I ended up by asking: Does that ring any bells with you, as a way of talking about Brazil and its history? Yes, he said, that’s what it was like. Gradually the political crooks got their various acts together and made their various deals and accommodations, and it got worse and worse and the state that they negotiated between them got bigger and bigger.

In Brazil, the idea of libertarianism has usually been felt as foreign. But it’s an idea that Brazilians are now definitely getting told about.

You can read Bruno Nardi’s recent postings at Libertarian Home by going here. I particularly like the one entitled Take the hypothetical seriously. What if? What if, although Bruno didn’t ask this in that piece, Brazil was governed differently, in a more freedom-friendly way to the way it has been governed for the last few decades? And what if the same applied everywhere else?

14 comments to The view from Brazil is that peace is also the health of the state

  • Mr Ed

    I am going with the Sage of Kettering on a tour of Portugal in the summer, I shall post some of Brazil’s back story here, Rio de Janeiro was Portugal’s capital for a while.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Is anybody interested in the people who were at:

    The Passing of the Third Floor Back:


  • It’s worth noting that Brazil was strongly influenced by the ideas of Auguste Comte, the founder of positivism (not to be confused with logical positivism, which was later and more purely epistemological in focus). Its national motto, “order and progress,” was taken from Comte. And Comte has to be considered a malign influence, not only as the founder of altruism (and what he meant by altruism was explicitly a total denial of self-interest; he once denounced Jesus as a bad influence for saying “love your neighbor as yourself” because no good person would love themself), but for his three stages of human thought. The early, theological stage was one of religious doctrine; the middle, metaphysical stage was one that went in for abstract ideas like natural rights; the final, positive stage rejected all that and did rational social engineering guided by scientific thinkers like Comte. Comte’s writings contain detailed plans for the societies of the future, right down to which districts the world wide government shouild be divided into. (He might have been more healthily employed writing science fiction, of which in a sense he was an ancestor.)

    Of course, we could debate how seriously to take the ideological influence of abstract beliefs. But as libertarians, surely we believe that there can be such an influence! And Comte’s part in invalidating any appeal to abstract principles about human rights can’t have been a favorable influence on Brazilian thought.

  • terence patrick hewett

    It is Tom Leherer’s 90th birthday: still good:

    Wernher von Braun:


    The Sociology Song:


    We’ll all go together when we go:


  • Sam Duncan

    “Brazil started out as a Portuguese colony, but did you know that, in or around 1814, it became an independent Kingdom?”

    It was never really an independent Kingdom. It was elevated from colony to Kingdom as part of “the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves” between 1815 and 1825 (de jure; 1821 or so de facto), an arrangement rather like Great Britain and Ireland between 1801 and the mid-20th Century. Upon independence, it declared itself an Empire. For, yes, very complicated reasons.

  • Zerren Yeoville

    “There have been no big wars to make the Brazilian state as healthy as it now is, and especially not recently.”

    Given that, one wonders what has prompted them to buy ‘HMS Ocean’ from the UK’s Royal Navy. Are they expecting to get more involved in wars, or is it just the statist principle that squandering taxpayers money on boondoggles better serves ‘the health of the state’ than returning the money to pockets of those who earned it?

  • Brazil pretty much sat out World War 2

    As Brain notes, Brazil did in fact join WWII before it ended and sent a token force (to the Italian front IIRC) which contributed its mite but was rather more important in Brazil’s post-war politics IIRC (having been involved gave a candidate something to talk about). The phenomenon of the Japanese colony in Brazil being very loyal to Japan in WWII, despite being well-treated by the Brazilian government, whereas the Japanese in the US and Canada were loyal to their host countries, despite being interned, also repays historical study.

    Did the historical summary omit the Royal Navy’s undeclared war on Brazil at the start of the 1850s? Foreign office diplomacy having failed to persuade the Brazilians to abolish the slave trade, the Royal Navy began disrespecting Brazilian flags and Brazilian territorial waters, raiding into Brazilian harbours, etc. Brazil, unable to mount an effective defence, was obliged to abolish the trade formally, so making the RN’s enforcement activities legal. The Brazilians were also the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery itself – again, under heavy pressure from us.

  • Mr Ed

    Given that, one wonders what has prompted them to buy ‘HMS Ocean’ from the UK’s Royal Navy.

    Argies, in a word. But rather the historical regional rivalry and naval arms races ([money-] pissing contests) of Brazil, Chile and Argentina, the latter two being in the more intense wing of it, starting in Dreadnought days and trundling on for decades with the inertia of government.

    2 UK Colossus-class carriers (late WW2) ended up in Argentina and Brasil respectively in the late 20th Century, the Argies’ one being named Veintecinco de Mayo and being involved in the Falklands War.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    From the standpoint of History as war, Australian history can look dull. That is why some historians try to glamourize the Eureka Rebellion.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    Given that, one wonders what has prompted them to buy ‘HMS Ocean’ from the UK’s Royal Navy.

    I wonder if it might be because of fond memories of Britain’s part in their struggle for independence?
    Well, Admiral Thomas Cochrane at least.

    Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, Marquess of Maranhão, GCB, ODM, OSC[1] (14 December 1775 – 31 October 1860), styled Lord Cochrane between 1778 and 1831,[2][3] was a British naval flag officer of the Royal Navy, mercenary and radical politician. He was a daring and successful captain of the Napoleonic Wars, leading Napoleon to nickname him Le Loup des Mers (‘The Sea Wolf’). He was successful in virtually all his naval actions. … He helped organise and lead the rebel navies of Chile and Brazil during their respective successful wars of independence through the 1820s. While in charge of the Chilean Navy, Cochrane also contributed to Peruvian Independence through the Freedom Expedition of Perú. .. His life and exploits inspired the naval fiction of 19th- and 20th-century novelists, particularly the figures of C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower and Patrick O’Brian’s protagonist Jack Aubrey.

    Cochrane took command of the Imperial Brazilian Navy on 21 March 1823 and its flagship Pedro I. He blockaded the Portuguese in Bahia, confronted them at the Battle of 4 May, and forced them to evacuate the province in a vast convoy of ships which Cochrane’s men attacked as they crossed the Atlantic. Cochrane sailed to Maranhão (then spelled Maranham) on his own initiative and bluffed the garrison into surrender by claiming that a vast (and mythical) Brazilian fleet and army were over the horizon. He sent subordinate Captain John Pascoe Grenfell to Belém do Pará to use the same bluff and extract a Portuguese surrender. As a result of Cochrane’s efforts, Brazil became totally de facto independent and free of any Portuguese troops. On Cochrane’s return to Rio de Janeiro in 1824, Emperor Pedro I rewarded the officer by granting him the non-hereditary title of Marquess of Maranhão (Marquês do Maranhão) in the Empire of Brazil. He was also awarded an accompanying coat of arms.


  • Paul Marks

    I do not understand the problems Brian is having – the internet is not perfect, but one can look up the history of Brazil (on Wikipedia or whatever) without much difficulty.

    I will not bother to look it up.

    The Empire of Brazil was actually a rather honest government (a rare thing in Latin America and elsewhere) – but it did have slavery till a late date (a disgrace), but it did get rid of slavery without a Civil War (a thing to avoid).

    The last Emperor of Brazil was a rather depressed and fatalistic man and did not really resist the military coup that created the Republic of Brazil at the end of the 1880s.

    In the early 1920s the first income tax and government welfare schemes started in Brazil. In the 1930s there was a statist dictator (as there was in most of Latin America).

    In 1964 there was a military coup against a leftist government – the military were all over the place politically (no clear set of ideas). The restored democracy in Brazil has been undermined by former President Lula and his wild spending Workers Party.

    Lula remains a popular figure – even though his corruption has been exposed. The popularity of Lula is a bad sign for the future of Brazil – we shall have to see how the Brazilian election goes.

    Those who look up the history of Brazil will correct any errors I have made from memory.

    By the way – I believe that Brazil has some non leftist television stations, I wish we were allowed to have non leftist television stations in this country.

  • Paul Marks

    Winning a war strengthens statism? It did not in the United States – after both the Frist and the Second World Wars there was a big reaction against statism. The United States of 1948 was (in some ways) rather less statist than the United States of 1938.

    Germany did not benefit by losing the First World War – the Weimar Republic was more (not less) statist than Imperial Germany (and Imperial Germany was bad enough).

    Economic reform in Germany and Japan on and after 1948 depended a few key individuals – Ludwig Erhard in the case of Germany. I forget the name of the plan in the case of Japan – I will look it up.

  • Paul Marks

    The Liberal (free market) Prime Minister of Japan was Yoshida – and the American banker who ended the policy of printing lots of money and imposing regulations to try and stop the price rises this caused, was Joseph Dodge.

  • RRS

    Normative Libertarianism is framed by the impacts of the functions of governments on Liberty and thus to limit those impacts by limiting those functions.