"President Cardoso Reflects on Brazil and Sociology"
Published in Footnotes, the newsletter of the American Sociological Association, November, 1995, p. 1.
This is the original typescript and does not reflect any changes made by Footnotes' editors.

Click here for a Finnish translation of this article by Elsa Jansson.
Click here for a Russian translation by Esther Crowder
Click here for a Norwegian translation by Eternity Rose
Click here for a Ukrainian Translation by Laura Fields. 

                                         by Ted Goertzel

                                  Rutgers University at Camden

        During a three week trip to Brazil this August, I
interviewed sociologist President Fernando Henrique Cardoso
briefly in his office in Bras!lia, and attended a press
conference which he gave on August 22, 1995.  This essay reports
on what I learned, from Cardoso and other people, about his
accomplishments as a sociologist in power.
        After ten months in office, Cardoso was still riding a wave
of popularity based on his remarkably successful economic
policies.  The Plano Real, which Cardoso implemented in his role
as Minister of Finance during the last year of the preceding
administration, has ended Brazil's hyper-inflation.  This
inflation, which had been as high as 40% or 50% per month, has
now reached almost zero.  This has placed the country on a sound
foundation for economic growth, while significantly increasing
the real incomes of the poor.  For the first time, a person who
earns only the minimum wage can actually afford to buy the market
basket of basic commodities used as an index by Brazil's
        President Cardoso told me that his training as a social
scientist helped him to achieve a broad, objective understanding
of Brazil's complex social problems.  He was quick to point out
that he had a broad background in the social sciences, including
political science, anthropology and economics, in addition to
sociology.  His administration is a laboratory for
interdisciplinary social science, not for sociology as a separate
        As a young professor, Cardoso was part of a now famous Marx
Study Group, which carefully analyzed all three volumes of Das
Kapital, paragraph by paragraph, over a period of several years.
The participants were selected from different academic
backgrounds, including philosophy as well as the social sciences,
and each interpreted Marx from the perspective of the latest
theories and research in his or her discipline.  They also read
Keynes, Rosa Luxembourg and others.  Today, the alumni of this
group hold many leading roles in Brazilian intellectual and
political life.
        President Cardoso did not think that his social science
skills alone were responsible for his becoming President.  Very
important was what he called a "strong personality," with the
ability to make firm decisions and to project a vision of the
future to the population.  Also critical was the ability to
motivate people and coordinate teamwork among staff members.
        Cardoso used these skills decisively as Finance Minister in
the Itamar Franco administration, which preceded his own.  When
his economic advisors told him it would be impossible to end
inflation before the end of the Franco administration, Cardoso
insisted that it could be done and had to be done.  Drawing on
his training in economics, he helped the economists work out the
Plano Real which took advantage of Brazil's existing indexing
mechanisms, and a number of economic reforms, to convert prices
to a stable, hard currency.
        This success assured Cardoso's victory in the 1994
Presidential election over the more charismatic Labor Party
candidate, Luis Ignacio da Silva (Lula).  Many Brazilians thought
Lula lacked the preparation needed for the Presidency.  His
proposals seemed vague when compared with Cardoso's plan which
was already working.  Despite his social democratic politics, and
his education in Marxism, Cardoso had the strong support of the
nation's business groups.  He had the support of many political
leaders who had been associated with the military regimes which
he had opposed in the past, and many leftists perceive him as
having the socialist convictions of his youth.
        Cardoso is quick to point out that he was never a Marxist in
an ideological sense.  He believes that his fundamental political
values have not changed since his days as a young professor,
although he has naturally been influenced by changes in the world
situation.  Cardoso's sociological work always focused on the
empirical realities of specific historical conjunctures such as
nations, regions or cities, not on abstract or universal
principles.  In his writings, he draws on classical sociological
theory to explain the structural contradictions and dynamics of
these evolving systems.  He was never interested, for example, in
"theories of dependency" in the abstract, but in studies of
dependency and development in specific countries at specific
points in time.  Despite the demands of the Presidency, he
continues to write sociological essays and to speak at academic
conferences, and engages in lively debates with his intellectual
critics in the pages of Brazil's Sunday newspapers.  In these
debates, Cardoso defines himself as a social democrat, although
he recently coined the term "neosocial" to describe his policies
in response to the accusations of "neoliberalism".
         Brazilians use the term "liberal" in its European rather
than its American sense.  In fact, however, the "neoliberal"
catchword does not describe Cardoso's policies very well.  While
he has privatized some industries, and is eagerly courting
foreign investment, he has also increased spending on many social
programs.  With their emphasis on rationalizing government and
improving services, he and his anthropologist wife Ruth are more
reminiscent of Bill and Hillary Clinton (without Bill's image of
indecisiveness) than any other American President and first lady.

        The strongest opposition to Cardoso is from government
employees who fear losing their protected positions, and from
some labor leaders who have been able to win privileges for their
members through their connections to the bureaucratic structures
established by previous Brazilian regimes.  The greatest
beneficiaries of Cardoso's policies have not been the wealthy,
but the unorganized and miserably paid workers at the bottom of
Brazil's steep income pyramid, because these workers were least
able to protect themselves from inflation.  The losers have been
middle income workers on fixed salaries, who have had to pay more
for services.
        When Cardoso first went into politics, his intellectual
brilliance awed many of his colleagues.  In his maiden speech to
the Federal Senate in 1983, he quoted Max Weber on the need to
attempt the impossible if one is to achieve the possible.  His
Senate speeches were often at the same high intellectual level as
his academic writings.  President Itamar Franco appointed him
Foreign Minister because of his international prestige as an
intellectual, his political reputation, and the fact that he
spoke English, French, Spanish and German.  Most of Brazil's
Presidents, including Franco, spoke only Portuguese.
        Cardoso accepted the Finance Minister portfolio, against the
advice of many of his friends, after a series of Ministers had
failed to end inflation.  Many people thought it was a hopeless
assignment which would destroy a brilliant career.  Cardoso
thought it was his responsibility to serve where the President
needed him, and had the self-confidence to believe he could
succeed despite the obstacles.
        In his interview with me, Cardoso observed that sociology
today has become part of everyday knowledge.  Journalists, taxi
drivers and other citizens in Brazil readily discuss sociological
concepts such as the role of authority and economic concepts such
as the role of the central bank in setting interest rates.  A
great many social scientists in Brazil have become involved in
policy research, and there is a close tie between the government
bureaucracies and the research institutes.  A number of prominent
sociologists have important posts in his administration.
        A critical responsibility of sociologists, Cardoso believes,
is to debunk the myths propagated by the media.  He is
particularly critical of the catch phrase "neoliberalism" which
is being used to stigmatize his administration.   He insists that
this term has nothing to do with his policies, or with Brazil's
realities.  He observed that some sociologists are too isolated
from the realities of the decision-making process.  Instead of
debunking the mythologies of the press, they repeat them.  He
thought that many Brazilian leftists, including some
sociologists, repeat empty slogans rather than formulating
alternative social policies.  For this reason, the Brazilian
opposition is not fulfilling its proper function of formulating
policy alternatives.
        It is easy to attribute Cardoso's success to his
intellectual brilliance and personal strength, but as a
sociologist he modestly observes that Brazilian society had
evolved to the point where it was ready for the kind of
leadership he had to offer.  Brazilians were fed up with
hyperinflation, and ready to take the measures needed to end it,
including setting up a Social Emergency Fund to keep the
government running without printing money.  Brazilians were also
fed up with corruption in government, and President Collor de
Mello was the first in Brazilian history to be forced from office
by a legal impeachment process.  Many credit Cardoso's honest and
effective administration with restoring Brazil's self-esteem, but
he insists that the nation deserves the credit for restoring its
own sense of dignity.
        Although intellectuals in general are held in high regard in
Brazil, the discipline of sociology does not seem to have
benefitted as much as might be hoped from having a sociologist as
President.  Friends advised me to introduce myself as a political
scientist (relying on my affiliation with a Public Administration
department) instead of as a sociologist, in seeking appointments
with Brazilian intellectuals and political leaders.  Although
many sociologists are involved in practical policy matters, in
and outside of the Cardoso administration, the discipline's image
is still tinged with ideological and rhetorical perspectives
which seem dated in contemporary Brazilian society.

Ted Goertzel, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University,
Camden NJ, is beginning work on a biography of Fernando Henrique
Cardoso.  He did his dissertation research in Brazil, speaks
Portuguese, and has friends who know Cardoso well.  His recent
books include Turncoats and True Believers and, with Ben
Goertzel, Linus Pauling:  A Life in Science and Politics.!