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The Quixotic liberal of the Republic

Book recovers the ideas of Oliveira Lima, the pioneer of nationality

reproductionOliveira Lima: history placed him in the shadow of Rio Brancoreproduction

Manoel de Oliveira Lima (1867 -1928) – historian and diplomat from the city of Recife – was an outstanding intellectual in a decisive period of Brazilian history, the passage from Monarchy to a Republic. Besides the change in the regime, this phase had particular relevance as it marked the end of the alignment of Brazil with England and the beginning of tutelage by the United States. A member of the diplomatic service between 1890 and 1913, Oliveira Lima dedicated a large part of his writings on reflection about important themes for the understanding of that particular historical moment, which show the process of construction of the National State and the debates surrounding nationality.

Forgotten about for decades, Oliveira Lima is coming out of ostracism thanks to the historian Teresa Malatian, a professor at the São Paulo State University (Unesp), who dedicated to him her thesis for substitute professor, presented in 1999, and has now had published: Oliveira Lima e a construção da nacionalidade [Oliveira Lima and the construction of nationality] (Edusc/Fapesp, 2001, 460 pages.). The researcher was able to receive financial support of FAPESP, who conceded a post-doctorate travel scholarship to the author.

The researcher had begun to take an interest in Oliveira Lima some years ago when she had been studying Monarchy thinking in Brazil and came across the liberal ideas of the diplomat. “For being the author of an historic work and having entered into conflict with the Baron Rio Branco – Minister of External Relations – throughout his administration right at Itamaraty (The Brazilian Foreign Relation Ministry) (1902-1912), Oliveira Lima was cast aside by the dominant historiography, which praised and praises until today the role played by Rio Branco. Oliveira Lima got ith the fame of being a good historian and a rebellious diplomat”, comments the researcher. One of the rare intellectuals to come out of the closet about influence by Oliveira Lima was Gilberto Freyre, who admired his capacity for observation and the thoroughness of his descriptions. Freyre got to the point of making a study about his countryman, Oliveira Lima: D. Quixote Gordo [Oliveira Lima: the Fat Don Quixote] (1970).

“The quality of his descriptions is the best part of the Oliveira Lima works”, evaluates the historian José Jobson de Andrade Arruda, who explained the loss of interest in the work of the diplomat through his bond ith positivistic historiography, dominant between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. “With the emergence of the historiography marked by Marxism, based on analysis, reflection, and conception, Oliveira Lima’s texts fell into limbo, since they were very empirical”, he explains.

Another great virtue of the diplomat from the State of Pernambuco was his enormous capacity for collecting documents, such as books and manuscripts – many of them extremely rare -, drawings and paintings. His library, which has an archive of some 16,000 items, is in Washington, at the Catholic University of America, where the historian lectured after his retirement from the diplomatic corp. The collection ended up in the United States because Itamaraty refused to pay to transport it to Brazil. As well as being a vociferous collector, Oliveira Lima maintained regular correspondence with more than one hundred personalities of his time, such as Euclides da Cunha and Machado de Assis, which allowed him to recompose a large part of the cultural environment and of the Brazilian thinking at that time.

Today, the descriptions of Oliveira Lima may well be seen through a new set of eyes, according to Arruda. “In D. João VI no Brasil [Don John VI in Brazil] (1908), the diplomat demonstrated a notable capacity to describe the royal court events. He is to a certain extent a forerunner of the day to day historian”, he says. Based on unpublished documents, the book shows a Don João VI very different from the description given by Portuguese historiography, which had considered him as a burlesque and indolent figure. For Oliveira Lima, he was dealing with a “humanized and popular king, endowed with countryside shrewdness, astute and acute”, writes Malatian.

The diplomat conceived the Monarch as the founder of Brazilian nationality that was developed by the Monarchy. The concepts of nationality formulated by Oliveira Lima based themselves on the three races that mixed together, in the State-nation and Christianity. The theory of the three blended races integrated itself into the historiographic canons of the 19th century, with the preponderance of the white man, legitimizing the domination of the elite. The State – which organized the Nation and gave it its identity – would demonstrate the superiority of the white man. Christianity was to be valued only while it was a civilizing instrument, parallel to and dissociated from the State.

The reports about the impressions provoked by some of the countries in which he lived are another high point of his work. Teresa Malatian considers that the most interesting of them to be No Japão: impressões da terra e da gente [In Japan: impressions of the land and the people] (1903), re-edited in 1905 and 1997. In the book the diplomat makes observations on Japan and the Japanese society, putting together description, personal sensations, history, sociology, ethnography and psychological speculations. Oliveira Lima was one of the first Brazilians to visit the country, which at that time was opening itself up to the West, and had been initiating an expansionist policy in Asia, and showed lucidity in perceiving the country as an emerging power.

The fact of having exercised a diplomatic activity is intimately linked to the evolution of the thinking of the historian. He served successively in Lisbon (1890-1896), Washington (1896-1900), London (1900-1901), Tokyo (1901-1903), Caracas (1905-1906) and Brussels (1908-1912). With the exception of Tokyo and Caracas, he was always in posts of privileged observation of the international scene and in the front line of the execution of Brazilian foreign policy. As well as this, he had available to him exceptional conditions of research, since he had access to diplomatic documents. His diplomatic work determined changes in his point of view in such as way that his work cannot be understood without knowing about his life. The researcher took this into account, since her analysis goes over things both chronologically and simultaneously.

“He lived in Monarchist Portugal, was a disciple of Oliveira Martins – Portuguese Monarchist historian – and dwelt among the exiled Brazilian monarchists in Lisbon. On the other hand, Oliveira Lima was a diplomat nominated by the Republic, at the moment of staff renovation in which diplomacy had to take a stand in favor of the Republican”, she adds. As part of his job, he wrote Republican texts, destined to the creation of a positive image of Brazil abroad and to enhance the country’s credibility in the eyes of European investors.

His Monarchist conviction began to pop up between 1903 and 1904, a period that he spent in Brazil and became stronger from 1908. In spite of never having been linked to an organized Monarchist movement, Oliveira Lima insisted in the idea of Brazilian national unity being the work of the Monarchy, as a period of political and institutional stability. During the year he lived in Venezuela, he came into contact with the instability of the Republican regimes of Latin America, dominated by military chiefs. The idea that military chiefs could install themselves in Brazil because of the constant crises that involved the various Republican Governors, breaking down national unity, reinforced his defense of a centralized government.

The monarchist inclinations of Oliveira Lima must also be understood as a consequence of his controversies with Rio Branco, of disenchantment with Republican diplomacy, which for its part, privileged the border issue in detriment to commercial relations with abroad. He went as far as to defend a policy of the approximation of Brazil with Latin America as a counterbalance to the economic and political expansionism of the United States, in line with the old proposal of Simon Bolivar in 1825.

The project
Oliveira lima and the construction of nationality (nº 00/11493-8); Modality Post-doctorate scholarship; Coordinator Teresa Malatian – History, Law and Social Services College – Unesp/Franca; Investment US$ 5,141