Liberalism is an ideology that emerged in Europe in the Age of Enlightenment. It emphasizes such principles as equality before the law, individual freedom, freedom of speech, free trade, and secularism. However, liberal ideas, adopted by political elites in other regions, were transformed in accordance with the socio-political conditions of these countries, and often served particular political purposes. One of the countries in which liberalism experienced noticeable transformations was Brazil during the age of empire.
The distinct features of liberalism in Brazil can be attributable to specific interests and purposes of ones who promoted it in Brazil. They were people with certain financial capital, often engaged in import-export operations. At first, they were struggling against Portuguese colonial rule. They employed liberal ideology to fight against restrictions imposed by the Portuguese. After the country achieved liberation from colonial dependence, elites employed liberalism in pursuit of limiting monarchical authority.
While the Constitution of 1824 stressed such liberal principles as equality of all before the law, the right of property, freedom of speech, and the autonomy of the judiciary, these declarations contradicted with reality. Millions of people were enslaved; others had no valuable property of their own. Freedom of speech and the autonomy of the judiciary were, in turn, limited by monarchical authority and the influence of elites.
Meanwhile, powers struggling against the existing order were diverse. While some representatives of upper classes used liberalism merely as a tool in their pursuit of limiting royal power, others supported secularization, free trade, local autonomy, and even gradual abolition of slavery. However, Liberals were united with Conservatives in their intolerance of radical liberalism, and inner divisions in both political parties were present when controversial issues were discussed.
It is notable that having gained power, Liberals failed to accomplish reforms they had been advocating for. While Liberals promoted some political transformations, they sought to maintain the existing economic and social structure they benefited from (such as systems of clientele and patronage and the use of slave labor). Therefore, while European liberal ideas seemed inspiring to Brazilian elites, their practical goals included preserving their economic privileges and enhancing their own political power. The practical implementation of liberal ideas clearly contradicted with these objectives. As a result, liberalism in Brazil was, to a large extent, merely a rhetoric of the ones in power, which had little to do with improving the lives of slaves or other oppressed social classes.
The review of the paper
The paper emphasizes the role of liberalism in the empire of Brazil and states that among the two major political powers, Liberals and Conservatives, Liberals prevailed. It also stresses that the views of Liberals were in direct opposition to the ones of Conservatives. It continues by describing how Brazilian elites, inspired by European liberal ideas, tailored the principles of liberalism to serve their own needs.
While it cannot be denied that liberalism was merely a tool for many representatives of upper classes in their struggle for political power, some other statements of the paper are not so easy to agree with. Though liberal ideas were widely expressed, they hardly prevailed in the empire of Brazil. The socio-economic and political situation at times facilitated political competition, but both Liberals and Conservatives were, in essence, representatives of the same social class. Moreover, distinct inner divisions within both parties regarding some controversial issues could be noted.