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The Luso-Brazilian Enlightenment:


Between Reform and Revolution
Alice Soares Guimares

hrough the eighteenth century, the European sociopolitical


order suffered crucial challenges. New world views arose from
critical reflections about the social and political life in the context of
the Enlightenment. In the political realm, a process of secularisation,
with the questioning of the religious legitimacy of political power,
and the decline of the ancien rgime, with the delegitimisation and
gradual abandonment of the principles and practices of absolutism, are
regarded as the main transformations of the period [Hobsbawm, (1962)
1996; Habermas, (1996) 2002].
The Portuguese intellectual milieu at that period is generally identified as being radically different from that of the rest of Europe. The
Enlightenment was supposedly absent from the Portuguese Empire as
a result of the rejection of modern ideas by conservative world views
and projects. In this chapter I argue in the opposite direction, claiming that there was a Luso-Brazilian Enlightenment which is ignored
owing to an erroneous account of the Enlightenment as a homogeneous intellectual movement, inevitably associated with the death of the
ancien rgime and the critique of religious authority and theological
world views. Adopting a plural conception of Enlightenment, I show
through the Portuguese case that this movement was far from uniform,
and does not necessarily lead to a revolutionary critique of religion
and absolutism. Even within itself, the Luso-Brazilian Enlightenment
was plural and eclectic, supporting both critiques and defences of the
absolute power of the king, endorsing simultaneously a secularisation
process, the promotion of reason and Roman Catholicism, and fostering not only revolutionary projects but also conservative state reforms.
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The Plurality of Enlightenment


Traditionally, the Enlightenment is portrayed as a homogeneous movement of ideas that emerged in Europe around the mid-seventeenth up
to the end of the eighteenth century, putting forward a social, political
and cultural project that was based on three central elements: reason,
freedom, and individualism. Additionally, it is depicted as inherently
revolutionary, having replaced the epistemological authority of God
with the secular authority of reason. Thus, the Enlightenment enacted
a major rupture in the foundations of knowledge, being the main force
behind the process of secularisation and the emergence of modern
rationalism.
For some [Kant, (1784) 1990; Constant, (1816) 1988; Marx and
Engels, (1848) 2000; Habermas, (1962) 1984] the Enlightenment made
possible the realisation of freedom and emancipation in both the
individual and the collective spheres, with the democratic and rational
organisation of state and society and their interrelation. In the realm
of politics, for instance, it is said that the Enlightenment was the main
force behind the overthrow of the ancien rgime, postulating that all
external authority not justified by reason should be rejected. Therefore,
the Enlightenment has been treated as a revolutionary movement, in
conflict with traditional religious and political authorities [Cassirer,
(1923) 1997; Hazard (1946) 1989; Gay (1966) 1995].
This image of a homogeneous and harmonious movement is challenged by another picture that portrays the plurality of forms that
the Enlightenment took in different settings, highlighting the specific
features it acquired according to differences between and within societies [Outram, 1995; Koselleck, (1959) 1999; Pocock, 1997; Schmidt,
2000]. Indeed, the Enlightenment was heterogeneous in space, time
and themes, and presented evident contradictions in the writings of its
major thinkers.
Under the term Enlightenment is hidden a variety of ideas that can
be observed in some crucial vectors around which central understandings of the Enlightenment have been constructed, such as religion,
politics and the ideals of freedom and equality. Regarding religion, a
recurring theme was the defence of religious freedom and tolerance.
Nevertheless, around this defence were congregated thinkers who held
different opinions (Villalta, 1999: 84). In some places, as in France and
England, antireligious understandings prevailed. But there were also
Christian versions of the Enlightenment, including a Roman Catholic
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one, very influential in Portugal, Spain and Italy, which articulated


some of the so-called enlightened ideas such as the defence of reason,
freedom, and religious tolerance, and the critique of Aristotelianism
with Catholicism.1
There was also diversity in what concerns the political life. Some
versions of Enlightenment rejected the reason of state doctrine as a
principle of rule, stipulating rights as the beginning and end of politics.
They promoted the existence of natural law as prior to and above any
human convention, defining freedom as an inalienable, universal,
natural right, consisting of the right to private property, equality under
the law, and participation in legislation. They also advanced the idea of
an initial social contract between the individuals and the ruler by which
the former abdicate some of their rights to constitute public authority.
This abdication, however, was revocable in cases where the ruler did
not fulfil his duties (Villalta, 1999: 912). In this line, Locke [(1690)
1988] rejected the absolute power of monarchies, deeming it incompatible with natural rights and civil society. He defended the necessity for
different powers with distinct attributions and developed a powerful
theory of resistance. Montesquieu [(1748) 2001] also advocated the
principle of the separation of powers. Rousseau [(1762) 1978] considered freedom an inalienable right of man, conceiving the existence of a
general will as the expression of popular sovereignty and the regulator
of the moral and collective body at the basis of the republican constitution of the state.
Nonetheless, most authors put limits to their criticism of absolutism.
They sought to combine political authority, natural rights and civil
freedom while they deemed state power necessary and absolutism as
something to be tolerated as long as it was lawful (Falcon, 1982: 134).
As Koselleck [(1959) 1999] correctly points out, the political ideas of the
Enlightenment enabled not only the critique but also the justification
of absolutism. Indeed, in some political communities, its ideas were
used to enhance the authority and power of absolutist monarchies.
The presence of a legal optimism within the Enlightenment generated
a belief in the unlimited power of the law to promote the welfare and
happiness of men. This optimism led, in some readings, to the conviction that an enlightened sovereign might sweep the darkness away
from his kingdom and deploy reason through laws and institutions.
Therein lies one of the main pillars of enlightened absolutism (Falcon,
1982: 113).
In what concerns the modern ideals of freedom, reason and
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equality, usually considered as values universally promoted by the


Enlightenment, they found limits and conditionings in the writings
of many thinkers. Most enlightened authors limited their defence of
equality to the political and the juridical realms, excluding the social
dimension of it. Some even denounce social equality as a source of
political instability and, therefore, as something to be contended.
Voltaire, for instance, judged the persistence of class inequality necessary to the conservation of society, while DAlembert and Holbach
considered that nature established a necessary and legitimate inequality between its members, it being unreasonable to equate the social
classes (Villalta, 1999: 92).2
The debates about freedom and reason also defied the widespread
idea of an unrestricted and resolute promotion of these elements by
the Enlightenment. It is true that some thinkers defended political and
intellectual freedom as universal rights.3 But there was also a lively
debate about how much enlightenment of the citizenry was desirable,
advisable and possible without destabilising the public authority and
leading to political disorder (Schmidt, 1996: 2). Some authors, such
as Kant and Mendelssohn, considered that a free and unrestricted
discussion of religious, moral and political matters could undermine
the conventional mores and beliefs on which society rested, and tried
to balance the demands of enlightened reason with those of civil order
by limiting the spheres and situations where reason should be applied.4
Others maintained that the common man needed to live by dogmatic
precepts in order to behave properly; not everyone could or should be
enlightened, as many people were unable to be guided only by reason
without threatening the sociopolitical order. For certain classes of man,
prejudices, errors and dogmas could do more to promote the public
good than reason and truth (Schmidt, 1996: 45). Freedom and reason,
after all, should not be universally and unconditionally applied to all
human beings, in all matters of social life.
Furthermore, most enlightened authors did not question or even
debate colonialism, in a strange silence for those who supposedly
promoted the universal values and principles of equality, reason and
freedom. When it comes to the colonial domains and subjects, these
do not apply.5 Thus, as Israel (2006: 525) points out, despite a strong
rhetoric in defence of enlightenment, liberty and reason, in practice
these elements were in many cases set back, rather than advanced in
eighteenth-century Europe and still more in the European colonial
empires.
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Finally, the outcomes of the Enlightenment were also varied. Usually


associated with revolution, the enlightened ideas were also operationalised to legitimise reforms, some of which were very conservative. In
some polities, as in Portugal, Russia, Prussia and Austria, legal optimism was complemented by a diagnosis of the necessity for better laws,
apt to ensure the common good and the happiness of humankind. This
provided the justification for reformist versions of the Enlightenment,
based on placing hope in rational laws and in the enlightened sovereign.
The existence of different perspectives and outcomes within the
Enlightenment deconstructs its naive depiction as a homogeneous
movement of ideas which advanced a clear, coherent revolutionary
project. By contrast, what endows it with the qualities of an intellectual
movement is not any kind of substantive content or a revolutionary
drive, but an attitude: a critical reflexive posture in relation to knowledge, sociopolitical life, and to humanity as a whole. Therefore, what
characterises the Enlightenment is the conviction that everything, in all
fields of human experience, can be the object of critique and questioning. There is no external guarantee of authority. The only justification
for any kind of order is based on rational inquiry about its validity.
Thus, the Enlightenment is more of an attitude a critical and reflexive
one than a closed system of thought [Kant, (1784) 1990].

The Portuguese Milieu


The critical attitude that characterises the Enlightenment starts being
adopted by the Portuguese intellectual elite in the first half of the
eighteenth century, in the midst of a crisis of consciousness. For some
authors, this crisis was the result of a perception of marginalisation of
Portugal in relation to European culture since the Renaissance, and
of the backwardness of Portuguese society in comparison with other
European ones [Cidade, 2005 (1929); Falcon, 1982; Dias, 1986]. Others
situate its origins in the bitter understanding of the loss of status and
decadence of Portugal in the world system, from a prestigious position
as the vanguard in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to a marginal
one in the following centuries (Calafate, 2001; Carvalho, 2008).
In any case, this crisis was a reflection of the non-linear and uneven
character of the development of modernity. Modernity is not a radically innovative order that emerged from radical ruptures and major
discontinuities with previous forms of organisation of social life. The
transformation of the world in the modern era is better understood as
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a complex process, with advance and backlash, changes and continuities, in relation to earlier sociopolitical orders. Also, the modernisation
of societies does not embrace all the spheres of social life at once.
Dissimilar levels of modernisation can be observed in the different
aspects of a society at any given period.
In this sense, Portugal showed different degrees of modernisation in
the various areas of social life. Already at the end of the medieval age, a
precocious modernisation was in motion in the Portuguese kingdom,
grounded in monarchical centralisation (Falcon, 1982: 149). Later, from
the end of the fifteenth century and throughout most of the sixteenth,
in what became known as the golden age of Portugals history, the
country was, along with Spain, the main maritime power of the occidental world. Its mercantile and colonial enterprises were central to the
development of global trade and modern capitalism. It also generated
new knowledge which challenged the dominant scholastic tradition
(Dias, 1986: 43). Thus, in the age of discovery, Portugal was at the head
of a process which revealed a new world to the Europeans, a revelation
whose importance was felt at all levels of reality (Falcon, 1982: 149).
In spite of Portugals vanguardism and an early modernisation in
the economic and political realms, the cultural and scientific paths that
were opened up with the discoveries did not produce major changes
in Portuguese thought. This was a result of political, ideological and
epistemological obstacles, such as the loss of Portugals independence
between 1580 and 1640, the censorship operated by the Tribunal of the
Holy Office, the triumph of the ideology of the Counter-Reformation,
and the dominance of the monastic scholastic tradition in Portuguese
schools (Dias, 1986; Falcon, 1982).
At the end of the sixteenth century, the Society of Jesus assumed
control of education in Portugal and its colonies, imposing an
AristotelianThomistic orientation to it. Thus, Portugal remained loyal
to the scholastic epistemology, not experiencing the renovation that
occurred elsewhere, under the impact of the Renaissance and the scientific revolution. The identification with the peripatetic scholastic kept
Portuguese society within the epistemological frontier bequeathed by
the Middle Ages. The hegemony of a medieval kind of thought, refractory to humanism, rationalism and empiricism, together with the pedagogical control exercised by the Society of Jesus, represented a major
obstacle to the proliferation of modern thought (Falcon, 1988: 77).
The passing from transcendence to immanence did not occur. The
repudiation of anything associated with another truth and not subor106

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dinate to the revealed truth persisted. Secularisation was postponed


and modern rationalism rejected (Falcon, 1988: 77). Thus, there was
a structural tension between the possibilities opened up by a new age
and actual practice (Dias, 1986), between the empirical tradition built
by the Portuguese at sea and in the conquest and preservation of the
Empire, and the educative tradition that favored scholastic speculation and a bookish culture (Camargo, 2005: 578).
During the reign of Dom Joo V (170750), there emerged a growing
concern about the cultural isolation of the kingdom and a nostalgia for
the golden age. The desire to overcome the stigma of decadence and
regain a prestigious position within the international order stimulated
a search for solutions to the Portuguese problems. The rationalism
and the critical attitude characteristic of the Enlightenment were in
motion, impelling some members of the intellectual elite to reflect on
how to achieve the progress of the Portuguese state and society. Thus,
despite the persistence of the aforementioned obstacles, the impact of
the Enlightenment started to be felt in Portugal, albeit reluctantly and
in a shy and restricted way.
Dom Joo V attracted to Portugal foreign scholars of various origins,
and sponsored local initiatives to develop and disseminate new knowledge (Camargo, 2005: 57980). A process of renovation of Portuguese
thought began, with the creation of experimental laboratories, the
proliferation of journals, translations and publications of important
works, and the emergence of literary and scientific academies. In these
new spaces, the rationalist and experimental spirit were debated and
defended, while current Portuguese culture was criticised. All this
was part of an incipient reaction against instituted knowledge, the
Inquisition and the scholastic spirit. Nonetheless, Jesuit control over
education persisted and, more broadly, the cultural and intellectual
attitude of Portuguese society was still steered by scholastic guidelines.
Responding to this ambivalent situation, some men of letters, who
became known as foreignisers, opted to emigrate, among them Lus
Antnio Verney, Antnio Nunes Ribeiro Sanches and Dom Luis da
Cunha. These men had a strong influence on Portuguese enlightened
thought and reformism; in their works, they elaborated a strong critique of ecclesiastical power, pointing out the need to limit the scope of
church influence and domination, and emphasised the urgent need to
secularise the state and some areas of society, such as those involved in
the generation of knowledge, defending the implementation of radical
educational reform.
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Under Dom Joss rule (175077), a new phase of political modernity


was inaugurated. A criticalreflexive posture and the debates it gave
rise to were incorporated into the state apparatus, informing new policies and reforms. This enlightened reformism was broad in its scope
and resulted in a crescent concentration of power and resources, with
an expansion of the state apparatus and its control over the sociopolitical and economical dynamics of the kingdom, as well as over the lives
of its subjects. Critical reflexivity and reason were put to work on behalf
of the absolute power of the king, in a new political project for the
Portuguese Empire that fits what is defined as enlightened absolutism.
Enlightened absolutism redefines the field of state action. Obstacles
to sovereignty must be removed, no sector of social life can remain
outside the sphere of state sovereignty associated impersonally with
the government. New governmental techniques favour the centralisation of the administrative structure, the creation of a loyal and competent bureaucracy, the division of governmental functions between
subordinate agencies, and the attack on the independent and private
jurisdictions of feudal origin (Falcon, 1982: 134). As I shall argue below,
the Portuguese enlightened reforms of the eighteenth century were
oriented towards these objectives.
The Portuguese enlightened absolutism and reformism had their
particularities and limitations which resulted from Portugals concrete conditions and historical determinations. Portuguese society was
deeply marked by previous cultural legacies, particularly by corporate
medieval theories of power, theological world views and scholastic epistemology (Villalta, 1999: 22; Hespanha, 1989). Against this background,
the Portuguese enlightened rulers and thinkers opted for eclecticism,
attempting to bring apparently irreconcilable elements into a coherent whole: faith and science, the philosophical and religious tradition,
rational and experimental innovation, theocentrism and anthropocentrism (Falcon, 1982: 430). Caution in the face of excessive innovation
prevailed, leading to a process of modernisation without radically
breaking with the previous forms of political and social organisation.

The Portuguese Enlightened Reformism


The main ideas of the Portuguese Enlightenment were put into practice during the reign of Dom Jos I through the reforms of his chief
minister, the Marquis of Pombal. Like other reforms undertaken by
absolutist monarchies, Portuguese enlightened reformism marked a
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selective incorporation of the ideas of the eighteenth century, articulating the valorisation of reason and science with a defence of absolute
monarchy, religion, and colonialism (Villalta, 1999: 22). Thus, while the
Enlightenment constituted, on the one hand, a benchmark for reforms,
on the other hand, some of its ideas were opposed, specifically those
that supposedly threatened the absolutist prerogatives of the king,
colonial rule, and Roman Catholicism. To understand this ambiguity, it is necessary to take into account the political project behind the
Portuguese reforms and the broader historical context in which they
were developed.
From the second decade of the eighteenth century onwards, an
economic and political crisis took place within the Portuguese Empire,
with the decline of the infrastructural power of the state and a significant reduction in colonial profits. The result was government inertia,
administrative inefficiency, and an increase in corruption inside the
bureaucratic apparatus. Consequently, state power became the object
of tough disputes between the classes connected to it (Falcon, 1982:
3712).
Against this background, Pombals main objectives were the reorganisation of the economy and the strengthening of the Portuguese
state. To that end, he implemented an ambitious set of reforms,
incorporating political, economic, and societal elements. In the political realm, the main goal was to increase state power by introducing
modifications to the bureaucratic and legal systems, and operating
major changes in the configuration of the blocs of power. In the economic sphere, the aim was to recover control of the national economy,
with a strong emphasis on colonial trade, industrialisation and fiscal
reform. And, at the societal level, he sought to promote secularisation and modernisation and supported the diffusion of doctrines that
justified the unrestrained sovereignty of the king over his subjects and
territories.
The ancien rgime had specific characteristics in Portugal, being
heavily influenced by the medieval corporate tradition grounded in
the organic representation of the sociopolitical body. The king was the
head, having the role of maintaining the established order. But the
notion of pact was central in these theories, implying the interdependence between the monarch and his vassals, and allowing every part of
the sociopolitical body a certain amount of autonomy (Hespanha, 1989;
Villalta, 1999).
In opposition to this configuration, the political project of Pombal
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was based on the notion of the absolute and indisputable sovereignty of


the monarch. He systematically pursued the centralisation of political
decisions and the elimination of the relatively independent jurisdictions. The group that most benefited from this kind of autonomy was
the upper stratum of the nobility. Moreover, during the reign of Dom
Joo V, the aristocracy benefited financially and politically, mainly
as a result of the influx of substantial revenues generated by gold
mining in Brazil since the end of the seventeenth century. There was
also a strengthening of the relationship between the aristocracy and
the bureaucratic sector, with the former increasing its presence and
power of decision inside the state apparatus. Thus, some of its members
were explicitly hostile to the project of strengthening state power, as
this would end their autonomy and reduce their political prestige.
In response to their unveiled opposition, Pombal adopted highly
repressive measures, resorting to extreme violence against those who
supposedly challenged the state.
On different occasions the state apparatus was used against the antiabsolutist fraction of nobility, but the Tvora affair was of particular
significance, as the government used this event to terrify, by physical
and symbolic violence, its enemies at the apex of the social hierarchy
(Falcon, 1982: 377). This episode was the culmination of a process starting with the attempt to murder Dom Jos I in September 1758. Between
those arrested and accused for the crime was a group of prominent
aristocrats who, despite the absence of a confession and any kind of
evidence, were convicted for the crimes of lse-majest, treason, and
rebellion against the King and the State (Maxwell, 1995: 79). They were
sentenced to death, some of them by public execution, in a display of
extreme violence.
Additionally, a 1759 decree reaffirmed the irreducible nature of the
property of the crown. The concessions granted by the king to noble
families, whether in income, property or titles, were susceptible to
reversal and in need of periodic confirmation. During Dom Joss
reign, the renewal of these concessions was slow, regularly postponed,
with the titles and revenues of the houses that constituted the core of
Portugals aristocratic elite suspended for many years (Monteiro, 2003:
39).
Another powerful group opposed to Pombals objectives was the
Roman Catholic Church. Eighteenth-century Portuguese society was
characterised by the ecclesiastical control over it. The Church had in its
hands the monopoly of education and regulated the production and dif110

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fusion of information through its dominant position in the Inquisition


and the Tribunal of the Holy Office, the institution responsible for the
censorship of publications. The Church was also the main agent of
socialisation. Thus, the Catholic Church had a dominant role in the
ideological realm, being the main exponent of, and the agent responsible for, the cultural and intellectual hegemony of the aristocracy. In
other words, aristocratic supremacy, expressed in the prominence of its
values and world views, has its reproduction and perpetuation assured
by the ecclesiastical sector (Falcon, 1982: 422).
Within this ecclesiastic hegemony, the Jesuits occupied a key position and, as mentioned above, they held a near monopoly of education.
As a result, thinkers of the Portuguese Enlightenment blamed them for
the cultural and educational decadence of the kingdom. The Society
of Jesus was considered as the main upholder of a dead and sterile
scholastic tradition, ill-suited to the Age of Reason, and an obstacle to
the development of modern ideas (Maxwell, 1995: 12). There was also
an understanding that only an education directed and maintained by
secular power could contribute to the stability of the civil order and to
the development of Portuguese society. During Pombals administration, this perspective became the official state view. In 1759, a royal
decree suppressed the Jesuit schools and banned the Society of Jesus
throughout the Portuguese Empire.
These measures should be understood in the broader context of
assertion of regal sovereignty. What was at stake was the political role
of the Church and its hegemony in the ideological expressions of the
state as a result of its dominance in forming mentalities. The objective was not merely the modernisation of the educational system but
also the elimination of ecclesiastic hegemony in the political realm
which threatened Pombals intentions of ensuring royal supremacy.
Thus, the secularisation of education, with the establishment of public
instruction controlled by the state, was strongly articulated with the
enlightened absolutist political project.
In 1769, the Law of Good Reason was promulgated which complemented the political and ideological subjection of the Church with
its juridical subordination. The law established a rational precept for
the validity of all laws, according to which only those laws should be
accepted that do not conflict with the principles of human reason. It
also declared the primacy of national law over Roman and canon law,
the last two applied only in the cases not covered by the first.
Hence, the reign of Dom Jos was a moment of rupture with
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e cclesiastical power and of secularisation of the political sphere which


thus became more autonomous. Nonetheless, there was never a generalised fight against the Church or a deist movement in eighteenthcentury Portugal. The Church, kept subordinated to the state and
operating within limits, was treated as necessary for the conservation
of order.
In 1768, the Royal Censorial Court was created, with the objective
of secularising and centralising control of the works to be published
or disseminated in the Portuguese Empire. This task, shared until then
between the Tribunal of the Holy Office and governmental bodies, was
transferred in its totality to the new institution. The state secular censorship, however, focused not only on books and ideas that challenged
the sociopolitical order but also on those that threatened Catholicism.
In this sense, the Royal Censorial Court decree of 1770 is illustrative
in that it reflects the eclecticism of the Luso-Brazilian Enlightenment
and its complex articulation of religion, science and politics.6 The
decree implicitly affirmed a need to combine natural reason and
revealed religion. It affirmed the absolute primacy of Christianity,
conceiving it as the only religion that provides that men know the
influence of natural reason and subject their weak lights to the higher
truths of Divine Revelation, thus leading to the enlightenment of
humankind. Religious reason becomes enlightened. It is religion that
guides individual and social conduct, subjecting people to natural
reason, and restraining their passions. Thus, it would establish the
good [social] order. Finally, the decree states that Christianity would
found the power of the political government, instilling the authority of kings, and inculcating obedience and subjection in the vassals.
Therefore, Christianity remains the foundation of political society.
For these reasons, the Crown would fiercely combat irreligion.
Books or authors which supposedly blasted the Catholic religion
and supported deism and atheism were forbidden in the Portuguese
Empire. Also banned were authors and books whose ideas challenged
the colonial system, particularly those defending the free market
against colonial exclusivism, and those affirming the natural and inalienable right of freedom for all people, therefore condemning slavery.
In this second group we find authors who proposed changes in
the relation between the metropolis and its possessions in America.
The main targets of criticism were the excesses of royal power, the
privileges of the king and nobility, commercial monopoly, slavery, and
the fiscal oppression of the colonies. Additionally, some defended the
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right of insurgency of the vassals against their rulers, questioning the


legitimacy of absolutist monarchy and of the colonial system as a whole
(Villalta, 1999: 1089).
To defend the supremacy of the king and the Catholic religion,
the Royal Censorial Court forbade many books and authors. The list
was extensive, including all works of Raynal, DAlembert, Buffon,
Condorcet, Condillac, Diderot, Mably, Montesquieu, Rousseau and
Voltaire, among others. Also censored were Montaignes Essais, La
princesse de Clves of Mme de la Fayette, the Contes Moraux by
Marmontel, Adam Smiths The Wealth of the Nations, Thomas Paines
Rights of Man, and different books by Pope, Swift, Sterne, Goethe,
Robertson, Hume, Hobbes and Locke.7
It is worth noting that the prohibition made it harder to disseminate the works placed on the list but did not prevent it, with copies of
all of the aforementioned authors and books circulating in Portugal
and Brazil. In addition, special permits to possess prohibited books
were granted to some individuals who were considered to be able to
be enlightened without corrupting their morals and, consequently,
putting the sociopolitical order in danger. Thus, some people were
seen as more suitable than others to adopt the critical attitude of the
Enlightenment which should, therefore, be allowed only within this
select group of people.
At the same time, within limits and in mitigated versions, some
of the new ideas developed in the context of the Enlightenment
were propagated by the Crown which supported the scientific and
pedagogical renewal of educational institutions and the foundation
of literary and scientific academies. Seeking to change the educational
and cultural Portuguese landscape, which privileged theology and the
scholastic tradition, the government made a major reform of Coimbra
University, emphasising natural sciences, philosophy, economics and
other knowledge useful for commercial activities (Villalta, 2005: 19).
In the political realm, the enlightened reforms dealt not only with
ideological but also with practical matters, aiming to reorganise and
strengthen the state bureaucracy. Pombal sought to rationalise the
bureaucracy, following one of the most typical tendencies of the
enlightened governments of the period; he tried to increase the revenues of the state through the reduction of the costs of the administrative apparatus, eliminating unnecessary expenses. This was pursued
mainly through administrative reorganisation and a functional review,
centred on replacing the traditional and random forms of payment
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by fixed scales of remuneration for officials, and on the adoption of


detailed regimens laying out the rights and duties with regard to each
function. Additionally, efforts were made to increase the subordination
to royal power and eradicate indiscipline and corruption from the state
administration through a closer surveillance of its officials (Falcon,
1982: 3902).
The administrative reorganisation reflected major changes in the relationship between the high nobility and the state. As mentioned earlier,
the influence of corporate theories of power was still strong in Portugal,
with independent and private jurisdictions persisting with some degree
of autonomy from royal power. Administratively, the organic idealisation of the sociopolitical body was translated into the existence of different councils, usually led by the most prominent noble families, the last
seen as parts of a body that worked with autonomy but in co-ordination
with the head, that is, the king. With these reforms, political power and
decision-making were centralised in newly created secretaries of state
which deprived the councils of their powers and autonomy.
In what involves the Portuguese colonies, Pombals main concern
was the progressive loss of state presence and the diminishing of its
infrastructural power in the periphery of the empire. He considered
that the decline in the capacity for state action and control in the
overseas possessions could pave the way for the development of local
autonomist aspirations, as well as increased smuggling and illegal
commercial exploitation of colonial goods, producing a significant
reduction in tax revenue. As a result, Pombal determined to reorganise the colonial administration and strengthen the state apparatus
overseas. Additionally, a fiscal reform was implemented to rationalise
and increase tax revenues, primarily by combating tax evasion and by
clearing the colonial bureaucratic channels that obstructed commercial
circulation and tax collection (Falcon, 1982: 374).

The Eighteenth-century Brazilian Enlightened Revolts


It is on the relationship between metropolis and colony that one of the
main contradictions of the Enlightenment rests. The colonial situation
is understood as one of necessary subordination and inferiority, as this
was the destiny of the colonies (Falcon, 1982: 3678). Thus, the critical
posture that is central to the Enlightenment does not apply when it
comes to colonialism which was considered as an institution beyond
questioning.
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The enlightened reforms generated reactions in Brazil and became


part of a broader discussion about the relations between state and
society, and between metropolis and colony. The claim, central to
the Enlightenment, that all authority which is not justified by reason
should be rejected challenged the idea of an indisputable and immutable colonial domain, stimulating the subjects to look at their reality
critically (Villalta, 1999: 108). This critical enlightened reflection contributed to the emergence of revolts against Portuguese rule in Brazil.
The most relevant instances of revolt in the eighteenth century were
the Minas conspiracy (178889) and the Taylor revolt (1798). They
should be understood both in relation to ideas and developments at the
international level and to local realities and specificities. The enlightened reformism, the crisis of the colonial system, the economic crisis
in the colonies, ideas developed by the Enlightenment, the local impact
of metropolitan policies, and specific events such as the American and
French revolutions, all contributed to these events, at least to some
extent.
The Minas conspiracy was a plot organised in the gold-mining
province of Minas Gerais. It was, according to Maxwell (1973: viii),
the result of socio-economic divergence between Minas Gerais and
Portugal, and of a classic confrontation between colonial and metropolitan interest groups. Almost all its participants were members
of the colonial elite: miners, farmers, priests, high-ranking military,
lawyers and judges, who had ties with the colonial authorities and, in
some cases, performed official functions in the colonial administration.
Even though they were the most powerful and wealthy individuals of
the province, they experienced, from the second half of the eighteenth
century, an economic and political decline. The political reforms aimed
at centralising the state apparatus and asserting the absolute power of
the king weakened the power which had been considerable during
the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth (Maxwell,
1973) exercised locally by these colonial elites. In addition, the continuous fall in gold production and the measures taken to ensure tax
collection had a great impact on their economic situation.
The enlightened fiscal reforms had changed the methods of taxation
of Brazilian gold production, replacing the fifth tax which consisted
in the payment of a fifth of total gold production to the king by the
avena, an annual minimum contribution of gold which should be
guaranteed by the municipal councils (Maxwell, 1973: 13). If the quota
was not reached, the councils had to implement a derrama, charging
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a per capita local tax to make up the difference. In 1788, the governor
of Minas Gerais received orders from Portugal to apply a derrama and
investigate all individuals who had debts to the Crown.
These measures represented an additional threat to the economic
situation of the colonial elite whose members were the main debtors
to the Crown and closely connected with mining activities. It is in
this context that they planned an uprising aiming to secede from
the Portuguese Empire and to install a constitutional republic in the
province.
In their project, a strong influence by some works of the Enlightenment
and by the War of American Independence can be identified. Despite
the censorship of works and authors considered dangerous to the
social and political order, many of the proscribed books were found
in the private libraries of the participants of the conspiracy.8 Several of
the books confiscated were about the War of American Independence,
and various witnesses declared that those involved in the conspiracy
recurrently mentioned the revolutionary events in English America
and passionately debate it, having a natural complaisance in the
success that the American rebels had.9 Other witnesses claimed that
the conspirators asserted that Minas Gerais, with the implementation of the derrama, was in the same circumstances that led English
America to revolt. Finally, many of those indicted for the conspiracy
were writers themselves and, in their works, the influence of the aforementioned authors, ideas and events is clear, abounding as they do
in criticism of tyranny, colonialism and specific aspects of Pombals
enlightened reforms. In addition, they contain plenty of references
to republicanism, and to the War of American Independence, as possible ways of solving the problems and fostering the progress of Minas
Gerais.10
The basic justification for the conspiracy given by its members followed the ideology of enlightened government; the incapacity of rulers
to accomplish necessary reforms, dictated by reason, justified the revolutionary option. The conspirators found in Raynals work a defence of
the legitimacy of popular rebellion against a despotic power. In Histoire
des Deux Indes the author criticises colonial atrocities, and appeals to
revolt and the affirmation of the principle of freedom and independence. Raynal asserts the existence of three kinds of freedom: the natural
freedom associated with man; the civil freedom of the citizen; and the
political freedom of a people. Political freedom is defined by the author
as the state of a people who has not alienated its sovereignty and that
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makes its own laws, or is associated, in part, to its laws. Departing from
this definition, Raynal states that the inhabitants of the colonies, either
slaves or freemen, were not really free, being subject to the captivity of
tyranny and despotism. He also emphasises the absence of a social
contract between the colonies and the metropolis. According to Raynal,
revolt is the name that the oppressor gives to the legitimate exercise
of an inalienable and natural right of the man who is oppressed, and
stated that if the people are happy under the form of their government,
they conserve it. He also signalled the transient character of all governmental forms, stressing that no form of government has the right to be
immutable, and that there is no political authority created yesterday
or a thousand years ago, which cannot be abrogated in ten years time
or tomorrow (Raynal 1781: 756).
Following Raynals ideas, the participants of the Minas conspiracy
claimed that they had the legitimate right to rebel against colonial power
because they were oppressed by an unreasonable sovereign, therefore,
a tyrant. Hence, they were acting in the name of freedom, their slogan
being Libertas Qu Sera Tamen. Nonetheless, their defence of liberty
had its limits: they did not touch on the theme of slavery, some of them
being slave owners. Their conception of a rightful pursuit of freedom
was restricted to white freemen. In addition, they did not broach the
subject of social equality, suggesting that some inequality was necessary
for social order. Thus, as with many enlightened thinkers, they did not
go beyond political equality, thereby condemning social equality.
Once again, as in the case of the Portuguese enlightened reformism, we are facing a selective and eclectic use of the Enlightenment,
according to specific interests and context. Their revolution, in fact,
was a conservative one. The freedom demanded in the economic and
political realms did not apply to the social order which should be
kept as it was. The members of this political and intellectual elite were
reformists, believing that it was possible to live with the basic social
structures of colonial society, provided that they were improved upon,
and that the rulers were rational, enlightened sovereigns. Claiming
that this was not the case with the Luso-Brazilian Empire, and that the
king was a tyrant, they admitted the possibility of political change
defending emancipation with socio-economic structural continuity
preserving the slave-owning order.
The Taylor revolt, organised in Salvador in 1798, was more popular
than the Minas conspiracy. It was a movement organised by people
marked by an inferior racial and social status: free blacks and mixed
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race people with urban occupations, such as craftsmen or soldiers,


some white men who, with few exceptions, were also members of the
lower classes, and a few slaves. The main target of the uprising was
slavery and white dominance. It was triggered by the living conditions
of the population of Salvador where the scarcity of food and famine led
to several riots in 1797 and 1798. They sought to achieve free trade, independence, the end of racial discrimination in public offices and military
bodies and, most important of all, the abolition of slavery (Mattoso,
1969; Tavares, 1959).
The revolt was inspired by the ideas of French philosophers and
the example of the French Revolution. The documents relating to the
prosecution of the rebels show that they were found with notebooks
containing transcriptions of texts by Rousseau and a handwritten
translation of Volney, entitled Revolution of Past Centuries. Other texts
mentioned in the prosecution documents are O Orador dos Estados
Gerais de 1789, by Jean-Louis Carra, The Speech of Boissy dAnglas
(1795), Aviso de Petersburgo (1796), and Les Ruines ou Mditation sur
les Rvolutions des Empires by Volnay (Mattoso, 1969).
Here, the slogan centred on the idea of equality. In the manifesto
that urged the people to rebel, signed by the anonymous republicans,
they claimed that the time had arrived when we will all be brothers, the
time when we will all be equal.11 During the movement, other manifestos were circulated that reveal the aspiration to an egalitarian society
in which racial differences would not represent barriers to holding
office and to social mobility. The rebels also preached the benefits of a
government of equality and of republicanism which, together, constituted, in their view, the only truly reasonable and enlightened form of
rule.
The two conspiracies were very different in their criticism, motivations and objectives, and in the socio-economic status of their members.
Nonetheless, they had in common a way of thought, characteristic of
the Enlightenment; departing from a rational assessment of reality and
a critical evaluation of the present, they reflexively developed a project
for a better future, legitimated by the enlightened and reasonable
rejection of authority and of the status quo. Thus, the conspiracies in
eighteenth-century Brazil show, once again, that the critical attitude
which characterises the Enlightenment can lead to different social and
political projects.

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Conclusion
The conception of the Enlightenment as a homogeneous revolutionary intellectual movement, characterised by the defence of universal
freedom and equality, and an antireligious and anti-absolutist spirit,
led many authors to hold that the Luso-Brazilian Empire did not experience this movement until the first decades of the nineteenth century.
My aim in this chapter has been to show that this perspective is wrong.
Understanding the Enlightenment as a critical and reflexive attitude,
as the courage to use ones own reason [Kant, (1784) 1990], I claim
that this was clearly present in the eighteenth-century Luso-Brazilian
Empire. The crisis of consciousness of the beginning of that century
was a reflection of this, as were the reforms made under Dom Joss
rule and subsequent Brazilian conspiracies.
Some authors add an adjective when characterising the Portuguese
Enlightenment, recognising the presence of the movement while
highlighting its differences in relation to what is considered even if
implicitly as the original version of Enlightenment. The most usual
qualifications are mitigated, eclectic and compromised. These qualifications suggest a coexistence between the Enlightenment and previous traditions of thought. This coexistence is undeniable but it is not
specific to the Portuguese case. In fact, the coexistence of different ways
of thought is not an exception but the rule. All Enlightenments are,
somehow, eclectic, with their substantive content varying, according
to its articulations with different traditions of thought, specific to each
context.
In the Portuguese case, absolutism and Roman Catholicism were
the main ingredients that were blended with it. But the association
between Enlightenment and absolutism also occurred in other polities;
Pombals reforms are closely associated with those of other great figures
of enlightened absolutism, such as Catherine II in Russia, Frederick II
in Prussia and Joseph II in Austria (Maxwell, 1995: 1). The articulation
with religion can also be found in the writings of major enlightened
thinkers in other countries, such as Italy, Spain and Prussia, of whom
many were clergymen.
Finally, I argue that the Enlightenment can lead both to reform and
to revolution. Within the Luso-Brazilian Empire, religious men, absolutist rulers and political elites resorted to reason, objective knowledge,
criticism and reflexivity to defend the ancien rgime and Catholicism,
that is, the very same elements that, in other countries, laid the
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foundations for the criticism of these institutions. In addition, I have


shown how even within the Luso-Brazilian world, the Enlightenment
was plural, inspiring both conservative/reformist and radical/revolutionary political projects.
Hence, the Luso-Brazilian case shows that the Enlightenment is
plural in its manifestations, being shaped by the concerns, needs and
interests of particular times and spaces, that is, by specific historical
places. Also, it demonstrates that the Enlightenment can be articulated
with different traditions of thought and can lead to different outcomes.
Consequently, as Outram (1995) points out, a generalising analysis of
the Enlightenment is impossible. As Pocock (1997) suggests, we should
eschew the definite article and speak of a variety of enlightenments
rather than the Enlightenment, accepting the fact that it had a number
of projects going, not all of which necessarily got along very well with
each other (Schmidt, 2000: 737). As a result, case studies, as well as
comparative works, are central to understanding the Enlightenment in
its plurality, and the various roles it played in the trajectories of different modern societies. This chapter has attempted a contribution in this
direction.

Notes
1. The main representatives of this strand were clergymen, such as the Spanish
Benito Feijoo, the Portuguese Luis Antonio Verney, and the Italians Ludovico
Antonio Muratori and Antonio Genovesi.
2. It is also worth noting, regarding this theme, that the Enlightenment shows plurality, with some authors, such as Morelly, Malby, Spencer and Ogilvie, making a
radical defence of social equality as a necessary feature of a just society.
3. For example, Montesquieu, Helvetius, Voltaire and Holbach. Rousseau and
Raynal go even further, defending the freedom of all subjects to rebel against a
despotic sovereign (Villalta, 1999: 92).
4. Mendelssohn differentiated the civil enlightenment from the human enlightenment, while Kant developed a distinction between the public and private use of
reason (Schmidt, 1996: 45).
5. There was, as with the other main ideas of the Enlightenment, a plurality of
understanding, with some authors, such as Raynal and Kant, explicitly condemning colonialism on the basis of the equality of all human beings and the universal
value of freedom.
6. Instituto dos Arquivos Nacionais da Torre do Tombo. Real Mesa Censria, Edital
de 24 de setembro de 1770, caixa 1 (PT/TT/RMC/B-A/1).
7. Instituto dos Arquivos Nacionais da Torre do Tombo. Real Mesa Censria.
Secretaria da Censura 1641/1848. Editais de proibio de livros 1768/1816 (PT/TT/
RMC/B-A/1).
8. AUTOS de devassa, de perguntas, de testemunhas, de confrontao e conciliao

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e de inquirio relativos a Inconfidncia Mineira. AHU_CU_011, Cx. 133, D.
103445. The documents relating to the trials of the conspirators contain inventories of books confiscated in the houses of some of them. Also, different witnesses
declared that the conspirators owned or had mentioned books and authors
which were forbidden. The review of these documents shows the presence of
the following works: the Encyclopedia of Diderot and DAlembert; Observations
sur le Gouvernement des tats Unis de lAmrique; Le Droit Public de lEurope
(1776) and De la Legislation ou Principes des Lois (1777) by Mably; Histoire des
Deux Indes (1772) by Raynal; LEsprit des lois by Montesquieu; The History of
America (1777) by Robertson; O Verdadeiro Mtodo de Estudar by Verney; the
Teatro Crtico Universal of Feijoo; Baron de Bielfelds three-volume Institutions
Politiques (1772); Wallaces Dissertation Historique et Politique (1769); Youngs
Arithmetique Politique; Aikins Letters from a Father to His Son on Various
Topics; and different books without specification of Voltaire, Marmontel, B.
de Saint-Pierre, Condillac, Lafitau and Rousseau. Also, a collection of the constitutive laws of the United States appeared as part of the case for the prosecution.
9. AHU_CU_011, Cx. 133, D. 10344-45. In the references of authors, the work of Abb
Raynal features prominently. Various witnesses claimed that that the conspirators
read and mentioned with frequency the Histoire de lAmrique anglaise. Some, they
said, even knew passages off by heart. For most of the witnesses, the subversive
potential retained from Raynals work by the conspirators was that it explained
the mode of having an uprising, as involving the cutting of the Governors head
and then making a speech to the people [which should be] repeated by an erudite
person. Thus, the insurrection should take place as a political action which would
then be legitimised by a speech to the people and ratified by a scholar.
10. See, for instance, Toms Antnio Gonzaga`s Cartas Chilenas (1863); Canto
Genetlaco of Incio Jos de Alvarenga Peixoto (1782); Vila Rica (1773) and Poesias
Manuscritas (1779) of Cludio Manoel da Costa.
11. Autos da Devassa da Conspirao dos Alfaiates. Salvador: Arquivo Pblico do
Estado da Bahia.

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