Brazil: Culture and Politics in a New Industrial Powerhouse
By Ronald M. Schneider
Westview Press, 1996, 255 pp.
The Brazilian Voter: Mass Politics in Democratic Transition, 1974-1986
By Kurt Von Mettenheim
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995, 295 pp.
Brazil’s population of African descent, roughly 70 million, is substantially greater than that in North America, the Caribbean, or any African country save Nigeria. In contrast to his earlier writing, Schneider, who teaches at Queens College at the City University of New York, carries out a tough-minded discussion of the uneven distribution of the benefits of growth by social class, region, gender, and race. Afro-Brazilians’ life expectancy is 14 years shorter than whites’, infant mortality rates are 30 percent higher, and the illiteracy rate is double. He notes that blacks’ ‘fecundity rates have not dropped as dramatically as those of [citizens of] European extraction, giving the lie to the hoary myth that racial problems in Brazil would disappear with time and ‘whitening’ of the population.’ After 35 years of experience studying Brazil, Schneider reaches the gloomy conclusion that for Afro-Brazilians, ‘there is almost no chance of substantially equal accomplishment no matter the combination of talent, determination, and luck.’ More in line with Schneider’s past writing, there is also much on Brazil’s current government and its persistently distant relationship with the United States, despite improved relations with its South American neighbors.
Schneider’s generation was often close to the center of power as advisers or through personal connections. More typical today is Von Mettenheim of the University of Pittsburgh, who has formidable in-country experience and has observed democratization from the precinct and campaign level. Using an array of survey data and placing Brazil in the context of other recent democratic transitions, Von Mettenheim argues that classic ideas such as ‘mandate’ or ‘accountability’ fail to describe adequately how representation works in mass democracies. Rather, voters choose on the basis of executive performance, the national issues of the day, and substantive justice. Brazil’s increasingly competitive politics after 1974, especially after the return to civilian rule in 1985, rapidly educated voters, structured public opinion, and organized voter choices. Yet it also made for a political system in many ways highly demagogic and fueled by patronage. An excellent and provocative first book that makes consideration of the Brazilian political process essential to any informed debate about mass politics.