A Fulbright Brasil and Georgetown University Center for Latin American Studies Collaboration
The Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) and Fulbright Brasil co-hosted an event in November on “Challenges to Democracy in Brazil and the United States: A Collaborative and Comparative Analysis,” which featured two renowned experts, Drs. Abraham Lowenthal and Francisco Weffort, who expounded on the current state of democracy in the Western Hemisphere's largest democracies.
On November 8, Dr. Weffort and Dr. Lowenthal held a dialogue about the challenges democracy faces in Brazil and the United States.
The Origins of Brazil's Current Democratic Challenges
Dr. Weffort traced the origins of the current political crisis in Brazil to the economic crisis of 1929, which began a process he called “democratization through authoritarian means.” He claimed that authoritarian democracy has led to corporatism, corruption, nepotism, and disconnect between elected representatives and their electors. However, the sustained growth of the electorate and consistently increasing voter turnout rates over the last several decades has led Dr. Weffort to express hope that the “liberal state” can become the “liberal-democratic state,” and that the present “corporativist democracy” can become a “modern democratic democracy.”
Breaking Away from the Paradigm of American Exceptionalism
But are these issues far removed from democracy in the United States? Dr. Lowenthal warned against a growing type of American exceptionalism in political science which, by separating United States political systems from comparative political systems, suggests that the United States does not share in challenges to its democracy. He points to nonpartisan political phenomena—both new and old—that occur in both the United States and Brazil. These include declining trust in elected officials, concerns about campaign financing and the role of money in policy, gridlock, and increasing of income inequality.
Dr. Lowenthal concluded his remarks with a challenge: approach these questions of democracy from a comparative and a collaborative perspective. This was not just a challenge. It was an invitation, in the spirit of Senator Fulbright, to engage meaningfully as friends and as intellectuals, across languages and cultures to promote shared growth and progress.
This event was supported by the Center for Latin American Studies, the GU Latin America Initiative, the Latin American Leadership Program, and the Fulbright Brasil program.
Summary written by Kellington Swedish (F´20).