Fernando Henrique Cardoso: The Astuzia Fortunata of Brazil’s Sociologist-President

Laurence Whitehead


Even in the Renaissance, there were not that many Renaissance men. But if it was hard to live many lives in one even for the best placed of Renaissance Europe it is surely harder in contemporary republican Brazil. And yet Fernando Henrique Cardoso or FHC achieved it. How was this possible and at what cost in terms of conflict between the different specialized roles he occupied? What does this tell us about “politics as a vocation” in twenty-first century democratic Brazil? And what light does it shed on the scope for and limit of political leadership in contemporary democracies? To understand how choices are made we need to consider what motivated the career; what baggage the leader brought into office; what team of ministers were assembled and how their talents were used; what rivals (or enemies) spurred the leader into self-definition; what ethics were in play. These strands are not arbitrary or beyond systematic analysis. They are what mostly explain how democratic leaders behave, one of the most vital dimension of democratic performance.

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