In Brazil, Rule of Law is for the Birds
Written by Augusto Zimmermann
Tuesday, 17 June 2008 18:19
In an important survey conducted by DaMatta in
the mid 1980s, citizens in
In Brazil, social status is far more important than any protection of
the law, because laws are generally perceived as not being necessarily applied
to everyone. Unlike a typical North American citizen who would use the law to
protect him-or-herself against any situation of social adversity, a citizen in
Respecting the law in that country implies a condition of social
inferiority and disadvantage that renders one subject to it. As the late
historian José Honório Rodrigues
Accordingly, people without the necessary ability to develop such relationship ties have "only" the law on which to depend, whereas a citizen with "good" friends can also obtain any "special" treatment from the state and other institutions of prestige.
A phrase that is typically applied by people who expect such "special treatment" is "Você sabe com quem está falando?" ("Do you know whom you are talking to?"). It is often used by those who wish to somehow disobey formal rules, and as such it can be applied to a vast range of situations. A common application is when a police officer is "daring" to apply a fine for parking infringement. In such a case it is the officer himself who risks being punished if he tries to enforce the law.
It is not so much that the individual declaring personal exemption from the law necessarily views it as being wrong or unfair; it is just that he or she believes the law does not apply to a person like him or her. To obey it would be beneath him or her. The premise is that he or she possesses the privilege of being "more equal" than others, and so exercises the prerogative to ignore the law with impunity and utter arrogance. This sort of behaviour, argues history professor José Murilo de Carvalho, might be provoked by the mixed nature of the Brazilian citizen which he describes in the following terms:
"Master and slave live together inside him. When occupying positions of power he exhibits the arrogance of a master, when outside power he oscillates between servility and rebelliousness. A true citizen conscious of his (legal) rights and mindful of the rights of others did not develop... This cultural trait may help to explain the persistence of (social) inequality whose major victims are the descendents of the former slaves.
In reality, the fact that many people in
"There are... societal ills that can be traced at
least in part to slavery. For example, the slave owner could do as he pleased
with his slaves without having to answer to anyone for the consequences of his
actions. The master-slave relationship replicated the medieval relationship
between Portuguese king and his subjects, and it came to define the link
between the powerful and the powerless in
To understand the reasons for problems blocking the rule of law from taking hold in Brazilian society, we need to investigate these patterns of social behaviour that inhibit the normal respect for legal norms and principles.
The abysmal difference in
Augusto Zimmermann, LLB, LLM, PhD is a Law Lecturer at
Dr Augusto Zimmermann, LLB, LLM, PhD
Telephone: +61 8 9360 2979
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