Roderick Barman, “The Enigma of Liberalism in Imperial Brazil, 1822-1889.”

Our lecture series, which has to date featured Professors Greg Grandin, Klaus Gallo and David Rock, continued on 10 February 2012 with “The Enigma of Liberalism in Imperial Brazil, 1822-1889″ by Roderick Barman, Emeritus Professor of the University of British Columbia. The endurance of monarchy as a political system made Brazil quite unique among the newly independent nations of Latin America in the 19th century, but Barman’s lecture demonstrated that liberalism had a major impact on Brazil during this period and that, in the wider global context, this co-existence of liberalism and monarchy was not so unusual.

Barman began by outlining three essential components of liberalism–the constitution, the nation-state, and the citizen–thus making an important contribution to our ongoing discussions about how we should categorise and define “liberalism” in this research project. Central to this part of Barman’s presentation was the identification not only of the appeal of constitutions, nation-states, and citizens (and thus what made liberalism appealing to various interest groups), but also of the limitations and weaknesses that these fundamental elements of liberalism brought to its adopters.

It was in the tension between the appealing aspects and the limitations of liberalism that Barman located liberalism’s potential synergy with monarchy as a means of reform without jeopardising political order and social stability, not only in Brazil but also in various European states, such as Norway, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. The transfer of the Portuguese court to Rio de Janeiro after Napolean’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula was the key factor that led to the development and spread of liberal ideas and goals in Brazil, which were in turn very important in the establishment of an independent Brazil in 1822 and in the design of the 1824 constitution. A liberal-driven experiment in confederate government followed the abdication of Brazil’s first constitutional monarch, Pedro I, in 1831 and, although this experiment largely failed, liberalism remained an important referrent during the reign of Pedro II, who styled himself as a “Citizen King”.

Pedro II’s reign saw the emergence of two broad political parties – Conservative and Liberal – in the 1840s, and he successfully managed political rivalries to lead a stable political order. This was also made possible by the shared support for slavery that the Conservative and Liberal political factions had, and by a period of economic growth in the mid 19th century. In concluding his lecture, Barman identified factors explaining the decline of the constitutional monarchy: a rise in nationalist sentiment not dependent on the person of the monarch; an expansion of state bureaucracy in response to economic development; uncertainty regarding a successor to Pedro II; the abolition movement; and the development of new political philosophies, such as Spencerian Social Darwinism and Positivism, that appealed to the political classes of Brazil.

In a lively questions and discussion period, various members of the audience called on Barman to dwell on the parallels and divergences between Brazil and other parts of the Americas in the 1800s, which further connected his lecture to our ongoing discussions about the comparative impact of liberalism in the Americas. In particular, Alejandra Irigoin raised the issue of the military resources available in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil’s then capital), that other Latin American states lacked in the same period, perhaps aiding the relative stability of the centralist state. Guy Thomson also remarked on the differences between the political systems that liberalism helped to foster in Mexico and Spain, as compared to Brazil: while Barman’s lecture pointed to the position of Brazil’s emperor as the “fourth power”, Thomson outlined how in Mexico and Spain, the municipality–a more local authority–became a “fourth power” of sorts. Tony McCulloch pointed to a further area of intriguing comparison: between Brazil and Canada in their experiences of liberalism and monarchical government. Barman, having lived in Canada for many years, agreed that there were interesting parallels between the two regions, in particular with respect to how, in both countries, patriotism was tied to a synergy of loyalties to a locality or region and to the monarch.

Watch a recording of the lecture and discussion here

Download the text of Barman’s presentation here.

This entry was posted in Events, Lecture Series, Publications, Videos and Podcasts by Deborah Toner. Bookmark the permalink.

About Deborah Toner

Deborah worked at the Institute for the Study of the Americas as a postdoctoral research fellow in Latin American history from 2011-12, on the project ‘Liberalism in the Americas’, which is creating a digital library of resources for the study of liberalism in Peru and Argentina in the long nineteenth century. Now a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Leicester, Deborah continues to work with ISA in overseeing the Liberalism in the Americas project as it comes to fruition. She completed her PhD on alcohol and nation-building in nineteenth-century Mexico at the University of Warwick, where she also completed her MA and BA in history.

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