It is common in Brazil to say, “Text with no context is pretext.” The wordplay conveys a valuable truth: Out of context reasoning can be easily used as pretext for an agenda. To comprehend reality outside of context can serve interests very different from those originally intended.
This should be a wakeup call for the rising Brazilian libertarian movement. The examination of political and social phenomena should never be pulled out of context.
Unfortunately, I have witnessed many instances of “de-contextualized libertarianism,” the application of libertarian principles to a given political issue without due regard to the circumstances. The analysis is scarily vitiated.
An example is the re-integration of Oi’s property, about which I have written. Some libertarians complimented the swift decision by the Justice. This can be seen as, technically, a correct application of the principle that property rights should be upheld. But what is missing? Context.
Thousands of people were deprived their homes by World Cup developments and natives and riverside inhabitants are being expropriated for the building of the Belo Monte dam. The same efficiency displayed by the state to reinstate Oi’s property is what allows its violence against the poor. Oi’s property reinstating, in context, reveals a state that combines the protection of the rich and powerful’s property with systematic aggression against the poor with an impetus to control their access to land.
A second example is the tendency, among some, to criticize Bolsa-Família (a welfare program for the very poor) and its recipients. We should listen to Kevin Carson: Our anger should not be directed towards welfare recipients, because the true parasites are higher up on the social pyramid.
Think about it: The state, by means of countless interventions and laws in the past and present has deprived the poor in Brazil of many opportunities and granted even more privileges (subtly or openly) to the well-connected. Do you really think that the few hundred reais from Bolsa-Família come even close to outbalancing what was taken from the poor in opportunity? They may receive welfare, but they are clearly hurt by the government. It is much better to criticize BNDES (a bank that primarily lends money to the rich on very favorable terms) and the insistence of the government on creating Brazilian transnational corporations.
One last example: Sao Paulo separatism. There exists a historical movement of secession in the Sao Paulo state. Libertarians defend secession, but the one the movement calls for is not libertarian, since they would not recognize the right of its constituent parts to secede as well.
Moreover, some people who argue that Sao Paulo should secede claim that it “supports the rest of the country” by having their taxes seized and spread among the other states in the country. It is impossible to associate libertarianism with that in any way. The Brazilian Amazon and the Northeast have always been hurt by the protectionism in favor of Sao Paulo, poorer people that have always bought more expensive goods to prop up Sao Paulo’s industries and finance a supposed “national development.” It would make sense, nowadays, to have the Amazonian states trade with the Andes countries. That is not possible, though, because Brasilia thinks the Mercosur is sacred.
Something amazing about the American left-libertarian tradition is its ability to turn libertarianism into a powerful tool of contextual political analysis. Albert Jay Nock, for one, used to denounce the usage of “imposter terms” such as laissez faire and individualism to cover the fact that since the very beginning of the modern factory system, there have been systematic interventions in favor of manufacture. In Brazil, in law schools, a convenient “imposter term” is the “liberal state from the 19th century,” a century in which liberals themselves were the opposition.
Hence, the conclusion we can arrive at is that, superficially and out of context, the application of libertarian principles seems to coincide with the interests of the elites, but attention to circumstances reveals that they are in line with the general welfare, especially for the poor. A contextualized libertarianism tends to be some form of left-libertarianism, which promotes individual freedom and social justice at the same time. We will not always agree on the details because the intellectual variety in libertarianism is impressive and positive, but we will be more consistent with the soul of classical liberalism.
Brazil needs a contextualized libertarianism that should be consequently inclusive, liberating and humanitarian. Contextless libertarianism, on the other hand, is but a pretext to those “those selfish and blind interests that set themselves athwart the necessary transformation of a political and economic organization which has ceased to be adapted to societies’ present conditions of existence,” which Gustave de Molinari mentioned in the 19th century.
Translated from Portuguese into English by Erick Vasconcelos.