“Being knowledgeable is not about reading many books, it is about never reading even one with verbal intelligence only, outside the jurisdiction of moral conscience.”Olavo de Carvalho


The art of being a Christian

´Translation: Fabio L. Leite

  “Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that the art of being a Christian lies on the tensional balance between two things: 

(1) an unwavering fidelity to the Creed of the Apostles, to tradition, to the Church, 

(2) that modesty of intentions that comes from a realistic understanding of human weakness (our own first of all), from the comprehension of the complexities of concrete situations and of the mutability of times.

A Christian is neither a reformer of the Creed, nor a doctrinal doctor stuffed with abstract rules, seeking to impose to others by force a burden they themselves cannot carry.

The mediator between these two extremes is Christ Himself, who through the actions of the Holy Spirit subtly guide our steps through a forest of enigmas, dangers, temptations and ambiguities”. 


“There is no formula for a happy marriage, but there is one mandatory condition for it to happen. The first and most important of all: don’t be the judge of your wife, but her lawyer. She will never lack critics or those who think ill of her. Somebody has to defend her”.

the intellectual maverick

The recent victory of the conservative populist Jair Bolsonaro in the Brazilian presidential elections brought the name of the philosopher Olavo de Carvalho to the center of Brazilian political debate. Many have since stated that Carvalho is an intellectual precursor to the populist candidate – as someone who was able to reshape the Brazilian political discussion in ways that cleared an intellectual path for Bolsonaro’s electoral victory. It is not a coincidence that when Bolsonaro gave his victory speech, Carvalho’s best-selling book The Minimum You Need to Know not to be an Idiot (2013), was in plain sight.

Carvalho’s influence over the Brazilian new right is indubitable. Many of his disciples supported Bolsonaro since the beginning. Some of them were elected to the Congress in the conservative wave that shifted Brazilian politics. So how was Carvalho able to provide public debate in ways that helped bring Bolsonaro to power?

First and foremost, Carvalho provided a political philosophy capable of structuring conservative ideas in ways that undermined the intellectual hegemony of the left.

Secondly, Carvalho was able to cultivate the image of an outsider: as an intellectual maverick who refused to follow the social norms imposed by the leftist media and the neo-Marxist academy. Even his opponents concede that he has an attractive personality and formidable speaking skills, so much so that he was able to cultivate thousands of followers and talk for hours without tiring his audience. In short, Carvalho has all it takes is to become an Internet personality.

But added to that is a third factor. While Carvalho is an internet personality, he also knows what he’s talking about. He can write about classics of philosophy or conspiracy theorists with the same resourcefulness. He can explain the thought of right-leaning intellectuals Eric Voegelin and Louis Lavelle as easily as he can recite entire passages of the Portuguese epic The Lusiadas. To a large extent, Carvalho played a crucial role in introducing a handful of conservative thinkers to the broader Brazilian public and was the first to warn of the problem of globalism and the way it was negatively shaping Brazilian political culture.

Carvalho’s philosophical positions are deep and have been developed over 30 years. Here, however, are two concepts which are critical to Carvalho’s and recent changes in Brazilian politics.

First, Carvalho believes that philosophy, since at least Rene Descartes, has broken with its Greek roots in the Socratic project. According to Carvalho, the philosophy developed initially by Socrates and his disciple Plato was based on the search for understanding the position of the individual in the universe. Therefore, individual experience is the raw material of philosophical reflection. By contrast, modern philosophy in the form in which it started to develop under Descartes abandoned this understanding of the importance of personal experience as a compass of philosophical construction in favor of an extreme introspection. Carvalho calls this displacement cognitive parallax.

Karl Marx is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Marx argues in his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right that the social reality of men conditions his consciousness; later, in his Theses on Feuerbach, he goes a little further and says that social reality determines our consciousness. In short, our position in society is defined by our role in the system of production and our ideas is determined by this position

The proletariat, according to Marx, is the only class capable of apprehending the reality of the historical process and contemplating reality beyond the illusion imposed by class ideology. But, we must ask ourselves, how is it that Marx, a non-proletarian, could have been the announcer of a truth that only a proletarian could contemplate? This elementary contradiction between philosophy and reality is the cognitive parallax.

Carvalho identified the most common and intense manifestation of cognitive parallax in a process he calls revolutionary mentality. This occurs when the mental framework of cognitive parallax is converted into a phenomenon of crowds. This has two characteristics. First, the revolutionary sets the hypothetical future which one he wants to realize as the parameter of the judgment of his actions. The past thus becomes irrelevant.  Second, the revolutionary inverts the subject and object positions; attacking the opponents of his future society and turning them in scapegoats who prevent him from achieving his plans.

In substance, then, the revolutionary process is unleashed through the systematic rejection of reality. The higher the level of alienation of the individual concerning to the reality that surrounds him, the higher will be the power exerted by the proposal to transform the present so that it confronts to an imaginary future.

These two concepts, Carvalho says, help us to understand the modern political debate. To the extent that the left came to exercise considerable power by guiding the political discussion, the disassociation between objective reality and ideas became more severe and clear. The post-modernist philosophers can be understood as the archetype of this process because for them all relations are essentially relations of power and all processes can only be interpreted as a process of domination. The possibility of objective truth and rational debate are consequently ruled out.

All of Carvalho’s works are a reaction against the introduction of the irrationalism of this philosophy which he sees as characterizing the revolutionary movement. From the beginning, Carvalho understood that the way to counter this revolutionary outlook that dominates the Brazilian left is to reestablish the bridges that enable human understanding: in other words, to reconnect the mind to objective reality.

By understanding the chaotic situation of the modern world and contemporary political discourse, Carvalho was able to restore real language and concern for objective reality into Brazilian political debate. This made possible the transformation of the diffuse underlying conservatism of much of the Brazilian population into political action. In this way, Carvalho was skillful enough to break the cultural hegemony of the left and help create the intellectual framework that enabled the flourishing of conservatism in Brazil.

Carvalho himself once said that every political revolution begins as an intellectual revolution. In this sense, we can say that Carvalho is the John the Baptist of Brazilian conservatism.

Homepage photo credit: Brasília –Filosofo Olavo de Carvalho em Bucareste. Wiki Commons.

An impartial judge

One thing Christians and conservatives have to learn once and for all, but which they seem obstinate in ignoring – is that nobody can be, at the same time, the defender of a cause and an impartial judge.

One cannot speak in both tones either. In the effort of trying to persuade those who are hostile and recalcitrant, conservative discourse frequently takes the “impartial observer” tone, treating both sides with equal deference. And thus, enters the field already with one arm tied.

Impartiality is just an initial precaution, useful when we don`t know the truth and all we can do is to investigate. When truth is already known, to be impartial is to pretend to not know it, giving to error and lie the same honors that are due to truth and truth only. Truth is not impartial. Ever.

Impartiality is the logical expression of doubt and ignorance, precisely because it assumes itself provisory. When the defender of truth assumes the tone of an impartial judge, he demeans and degrades it. Because of that, often and against his own explicit intentins, will be framed as an enemy and detracto of what he intends to defend.

This primary mistake was committed even by Pope John Paul II, in his preface to the minutes of Congresso L`Inquisizione? it was not the media who distorted his declarations, making him sound to be condemning the inquisition. It was himself who, adopting an undue tone of impartiality, gave the impression of condemning what he was defending.

Olavo de Carvalho


translated by

Fabio L. Leite

Find Olavo

Olavo de Carvalho is Brazil`s most prominent living philosopher. Here is what one can find of his work in English online. Enjoy.

Some old philosophy handouts translated by Google (Portuguese to English translations have become almost entirely correct in the last years and very readable). If you feel comfortable with the automatic translations, I would recommend you browse the whole site.

Translations of his online philosophical diary on Facebook, made mostly by me:

Online videos subtitled in English on various philosophical subjects.…/UC4xsj-xJYlAbT0PXb2PVLaw/videos

Newspaper articles translated by real people. He considers most of them case studies of his philosophy applied to politics. That is why I gave the links for the philosophical works first. The study of the real life issues is founded on what is there.

A more detailed case study is Olavo’s debate with Alexander Dugin, who is Putin’s most important intellectual influence. They debated the role of the US in the world today (although “today” is the Obama era when the debate happened).

Online videos subtitled in English where several political issues of the day are discussed.

Extraordinary flourishing of intelligence

“The quality of your intellectual formation has nothing to do with what you can get in academia, in universities. Nothing. There you have only professional exchange.

The personal circle of intellectuals who are friends, who know each other, and thus are able to exchange experience in depth, this is the real locus of learning. It’s not schools or universities.

When I taught in Rio de Janeiro, we created a series with interviews with Brazilian intellectuals who had appeared in the 30s – the 30s and the 40s were the most brilliant for Brazilian culture. The question was: “where did you learn?” And every single one of them answered: “in personal meetings”. It was never in the university, even for those who had studied abroad in the best universities. Even for them, it was not in the universities that they learned.

This means that it is the meeting of intelligent people that is the basic circumstance to develop intelligence. Later, investigating history, I saw that it was precisely the case, for example, among the Scholastics; it was what had happened in Austria in the beginning of the 20th century, what had happened in the age of German romanticism. In several periods where there had been an extraordinary flourishing of intelligence, it was within groups of people who knew each other and who, sometimes were even more than friends, they were even relatives, since one would marry the other’s sister or something like that.”

Olavo de Carvalho

Argue for the rules

“An essential ‘progressive’ rhetoric sleight of hand is to never argue for the rules they want to implement.

Instead, those rules are made superior to all discussions, pretending they have already been accepted by all humanity, being of automatic application and mandatory to all fields of human society.

Hard punishments should be applied not only to those who violate such principles, but also to all those who fail to apply them with the same vigor and emphasis.

Judicial activism itself cannot work without this preliminary operation.”