Roberto Mangabeira Unger is a citizen of Brazil. While working on Politics, his large-scale treatise on social theory, he has been active in his country's politics. Among the fruits of these activities is a series of political and programmatic commentaries on Brazil published in the Brazilian press. The commentaries apply the style of political analysis and the general political program elaborated in Politics to the recent circumstances of Brazil. Thus, they give an extended illustration of Unger's general social theory. At the same time, they exemplify a form of political writing that attempts to combine ambitious critical social theory with popular journalistic policy discussion.
Unger's major journalistic efforts, on which I will focus here, are two series of articles published in the largest Brazilian newspaper, A Folha de Sao Paulo. The first is The Country in a Daze, a seven-part essay published as part of a special supplement entitled Brazil After Geisel in January 1979. The second is The Transformative Alternative, consisting of fourteen linked pieces published separately on the paper's "oped" page between December 1984 and April 1985.
Unger's journalistic style in Portuguese differs little from the style of his theoretical writings in English. It eschews jargon, portrays abstract ideas with high drama, resorts constantly to dialectical (thesis-antithesissynthesis) exposition, sweepingly and often ironically characterizes people and events, and is occasionally unabashedly hortatory. If one compares this work to the journalistic efforts of some of the classic social theorists, it resembles those of Marx and Keynes in its flair for dramatizing current events by infusing them with broad historical significance and in its ability to criticize contemporary figures through pithy characterization. But Unger's journalism seems more integrated with his social theory than that of Marx or Keynes. Unger makes more of an effort to portray his general theoretical scheme in his journalism; much of the two Folha series summarizes major sections of the argument of Politics. In some respects, Unger's Brazilian writings seem more in the style of The Federalist Papers and the eighteenth century pamphlet literature from which it arose. Like The Federalist Papers, Unger's articles quite explicitly and systematically expound a general social theory in the course of addressing current political issues and events.
I propose to describe the analysis in Unger's Brazilian journalism, especially the two Folha series, that addresses most directly the circumstances of Brazil. What follows is partly interpretive summary, partly close paraphrase. I have supplied a few basic background facts about Brazil, but otherwise the account is drawn entirely from Unger's work.
William H. Simon,
Social Theory and Political Practice: Unger's Brazilian Journalism,
Nw. U. L. Rev.
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