Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Taking Stock (with Discomfort) of the Military Dictatorship Fifty Years after the 1964 Coup: A Bibliographical Essay *

Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Taking Stock (with Discomfort) of the Military Dictatorship Fifty Years after the 1964 Coup: A Bibliographical Essay *

Article excerpt

The 1964 coup was a milestone in the country's history, particularly for political science. The political regime changed and launched persecutory and discretionary initiatives. Academia and the Left questioned their own wisdom, unable as they were to forecast - or even perhaps to understand - what was going on.

In Brazil but also at advanced research centres in Europe and the United States, political scientists pored over this and similar events, thus inaugurating a vast array of pioneering studies about democracies in crisis, authoritarianism, new authoritarianism, the military, development, capitalism and politics in developing countries etc. Studies coordinated by Juan Linz, Alfred Stepan, Philippe Schmitter, Guillermo O'Donnell and others lent new airs to political science as a discipline capable of creating innovative analyses and constructing models, even if a posteriori, to understand the fragile stability of Latin American and South European democracies. Equally, the exhaustion of these dictatorial experiments gave rise to studies on the crisis of dictatorships and processes of democratic transition, consolidation or stabilization. The delicate question of how democracies are born, die and are reborn occupied plenty of academic minds in the political science field during the 1970s and 1980s. These decades were especially rich for studies in comparative politics.

With the rebirth of democracy in Brazil, political science prioritized the study of political institutions, including themes like political parties, the Legislative, elections, the federative pact, public policies, inequalities and others.

On the 50th anniversary of the 1964 coup, several universities, research institutions and public bodies held seminars all over the country always with surprisingly large audiences. The question particularly mobilized youth, perhaps more disquieted since the mass demonstrations of 2013. Turnout was high at the activities organized to this end, with audiovisual versions, films and documentaries. The date was exhaustively remembered also in the mainstream press, with the publication of articles by top writers and intellectuals from various fields1. Without being simplistically optimistic, one might say that there was interest from several sectors in touching on a subject normally restricted to a minute circle of intellectuals who do not exactly tend to be reader-friendly.

The fact that this 50th anniversary coincided with the last year of the work of the National Truth Commission motivated the publication of breaking news stories with new findings about the period brought to light not just by the NTC but also by investigative journalists2.

In general, these pieces innovated in many regards. They publicized the names and biographies of torturers, the locations of clandestine prisons and torture chambers, and the actions of anti-dictatorship lawyers and (not few) military personnel3. They also dared to question more explicitly than before the democratic credentials of much of the Left that fought the dictatorship, drawing attention to the fact that authoritarianism and scant zeal for the legal rules of the political game were features common to left- and right-wing groups.

These are not new themes when one looks at the period, but the dimension and emphasis given to them were altered in the midst of the ideological debate resulting from the creation and work of the NTC.

From the point of view of academic production in the strict sense and of memoir-type publications by politicians and journalists, a few dozen books and numerous articles came to light to reminisce and at times to reinterpret the meaning of the coup and the contents of the military governments (1964-85). The focus here is on some of these books published in 20144. Historians were the academics that devoted themselves most to the subject. Few political scientists and sociologists took on the task of reviewing the impact of this event for the Brazilian political system or for the social sciences. …

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