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Identity, politics and rational choice

Fbio Wanderley Reis

I Giovanni Sartoris distinction between two different meanings in which the word ideology is used in the social sciences can be taken as a point of departure for my discussion.1 The first is the meaning it is given in works on the sociology of knowledge, where it refers to the diffuse set of values, beliefs or ideas of any kind that are linked to a certain cluster of general social conditions (class position, epoch, nationality) and that make up peoples worldview. The second is the meaning ascribed to it when one is dealing with political ideology: in this case, emphasis is laid on the notion of a structured and coherent set of ideas, which involves as an important dimension the one of being intended to serve as a guide to political action. A salient aspect in the contrast between both concepts of ideology, then, is that the first points to something that is largely given in the social situation of individual agents, whereas the second, dealing as it does with political action, stresses a voluntary and tendentially lucid component of the behavior of those agents. If we take a little farther the insight contained in this distinction, it will be possible to speak of a contrast between the sphere of the social in general, seen as the realm of the given, the substratum, the ascribed, and the sphere of the political, seen as the realm of the voluntary and deliberate (intentional). That leads us at once, as seems clear, to the question of the rationality of socio-political agents. Thus, it is not a mere casualty that the sociology of knowledge, resorting as it does to the notion of ideology to indicate certain socially given elements of the worldview of individuais and groups, emphasizes also the distortions produced hy the operation of such elements with regard to the perception of social reality itself. By
Originally prepared for the seminar Rationality, Identity and Interest, Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, former Yugoslavia, March 17-28, 1986. Published in Portuguese in Fbio W. Reis, Mercado e Utopia: Teoria Poltica e Sociedade Brasileira, So Paulo, Edusp, 2000. 1 Giovanni Sartori, Politics, Ideology and Belief Systems, American Political Science Review, 63, 2, June 1969.

contrast, the image of the political actor to be found among those resorting to the notion of political ideology is rather that of a rational actor, who is supposed to be capable of coherently structuring a complex political universe and of deciding in a consequential way when confronted with any specific problem or issue within that universe. Quite clearly, when employed in the sense of the sociology of knowledge, ideology suggests the difficulty of achieving the intellectual or cognitive decentration which, in Jean Piagets work on the process of intellectual development, appears as distinctive of the mature stages of that process.2 In Piagets lexicon, ideology is rather synonimous, in that sense, of sociocentrism, that is, the direct and nave immersion in and adoption of the outlook of a certain group or collectivity, which is the match, at the sociological level, of the egocentrism pertaining to the early phases of individual development. As to the conception of political ideology, it can probably be shown, in its use in political sociology, to involve also a certain more or less important ingredient of sociocentrism. However, the basic thrust of political ideology goes rather in the opposite direction, being linked to the assumption that intellectual and cognitive decentration can be achieved in the sphere of political action and through political action. In particular, that is the case with regard to the effects that the appearance and penetration of a politicai ideology among the members of the subordinate classes are presumed to have on their chances of escaping precisely the diffuse grip of dominant ideologies. This allows us to shift to a brief but, I hope, useful discussion of the idea of rationality and its connections with several categories which are salient themes of our seminar. There will not be any effort to make explicit the linkages that some of the ideas bellow, or the field of problems in general, obviously present to the work of several authors.3 I will just try to make some analytical points in as brief as possible a way. Let us start with the proposition that rationality inevitably supposes intentionality (which, I think, has to be admitted even by those who are concerned to avoid the identification or reciprocal assimilation of both categories). The assumption stressing the intentional character of human

See, for instance, Jean Piaget, Introduction lpistemologie gntique, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1950, vol. III, chapter La pense sociologique. 3 Two names, however, should be mentioned, the ones of Jrgen Habermas and Jon Elster. See, for instance, Jrgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Boston, Beacon Press, vol. I, 1984; and Jon Elster, Ulysses and the Sirens, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1979.

behavior seems to be much more broadly shared than the one stressing its rational character. However, the importance of intentionality as a guiding asumption in the social science is clearly associated with or dependent upon restricting intentionality to the behavior (action) of an agent who is autonomously capable of evaluating its effectivenes as goal-seeking behavior, or who is capable of autonomous evaluation of the connections between her goals and the means available to her. For to admit the idea of goal-seeking without such autonomy would amount to reducing intentional action to the conditions proper to stimulated or conditioned behavior, where the acting subject disappears as such. It then turns out that intentionality has an inevitable cognitive component and implies the processing of information. In other words, and contrary to the supposedly broader scope ot intentionality as opposed to rationality, intentionality implies rationality. It will certainly be possible to speak of degrees of rationality according to the volume of information processed; but that does not detract from the connection between rationality and the effectiveness of an intentional action in the pursuit of its ends, for it is through the increased probability of effectiveness that increased information-processing comes to mean increased rationality. From that we can move to several ideas on the links between rationality, ou the one hand, and knowing and acting, on the other. 1. Rationality is necessarily an attribute of an action or, by extension, of the subject who acts, insofar as it can be assumed that her actions will be rational. If there is no action, there is also no problem of rationality. 2. This attribute has to do above all with the effectiveness of the action, which is directly linked to controlling and processing relevant information. 3. Knowing or the search for knowledge can itself be seen as a type of action whose goal is to acquire or increase information. Its effectiveness will be associated with the creation by the agent(s) of the conditions leading to that goal, whence the requiremont of openness, decentration, willingness to communicate and interchange and to let presumed information be intersubjectively controlled as a condition of its objectivity. We are here in the realm of communicative action but it is crucial not to forget or minimize that it has its own instrumentalness.

4. Other types of action, by contrast, though requiring informationprocessing as a condition of effectivenes, as does any action, require also some degree of closure, decision, firmness or pre-commitment, which is tantamount to saying that the ends or goals of the action have to be established in a sufficiently clear and consistent way, or else there cannot be goal-seeking at all. That means that the processing of information in such cases has to refer not only to the immediate environment as such, but also to the acting subject herself, her goals or preferences and their consistency through time, the relationships hetween long-run and short-run goals, the costs for the possibility of effectiveness in the pursuit of a certain goal that may ensue from delaying the corresponding action and keeping open and decentered in the interest of increasing relevant information, and so on. 5. An upshot of this line of reasoning concerns the relationships between intellectual openess and the very idea of character or identity. On the one hand, the latter clearly implies an important element of closure and commitment,4 of fidelity to certain guiding objectives that are somehow authentically ones own, which means above all that they have an affinity to features of ones personality that lay roots in ones deep past and memory and are as such largely given to or even imposed upon oneself. And it is crucial to remark, with regard to the issue of rationality, that the presence of this aspect of commitment and closure not only does not in itself imply irrationality, but must even be seen as a condition of rationality in certain important contexts. But, on the other hand, for that to be true it is also necessary that an element of enlightened will and deliberation come to assert itself in the very process of being faithful to oneself; the issue of authenticity has itself to be decided in a self-reflective manner, and there must be the ability to learn about oneself (and occasionally to change oneself) if authentic self-affirmation is not to be made equivalent to the blind behavior of an authomaton, but rather to be seen as actually autonomous and rational action. In other words, there must be the possibility of choosing oneself, even though the restrictions on this possibility are part of the idea of character or identity.

Cf. Nietzsches aphorism in Beyond Good and Evil: Once the decision has been made, close your years even to the best argument: sign of a strong character. Thus, an occasional will to stupidity. (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, New York, Vintage Books, 1966, p. 84.)

6. To sum up, the issue of rationality turns around the tension contained in the notion of informed action: acting implies closure, clear and consistent (persistent) goals; getting and processing information implies openness, availability, detachment. Everything seems to boil down, then, to the inevitable dialectic between self-centering and decentration which is implicit in that notion.5 II The link betwen the idea of rationality and the idea of autonomous action unfolds itself , if looked at from a certain standpoint, into some epistemological views that are of relevance to important issues in the confrontation between the rational choice and the conventional or sociological approaches in present day social science. The main idea is that there are two important aspects to the relationship between autonomy and rationality: on the one hand, autonomy is inevitably at the roots of rationality precisely in connection with the cognitive requirements of the former (as well as the active requirements of the latter), and autonomous action thus provides the building block for any attempt at cognitive grasping and analytical structuring of human and social reality (or even objective reality, for that rnatter); on the other hand, autonomous action is also, from the point of view of the human and social sciences, the decisive factor accounting for the occurrence of the fortuitous und unpredictable

It is perhaps worth the while to connect this discussion to the theme of Albert Hirschmans book, The Passions and the Interests (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1977). Despite the various shades in the meanings and relationships of passions and interests in the chapter of intellectual history explored by Hirschman, the chief element to emerge from Hirschmans analysis of the contrast between them seems to lie precisely in the better balancing of selfcentering (motivational drive, determination in the pursuit of an objective) and decentration (cognitive detachment) to be found in interests as opposed to passions. So, it is adequate to speak of someones considered interest, which of course implies the sober and informed appreciation of the latter. But, from different points of view, some remarks should be made which go in a somewhat different direction. First, the notion of interest is currently used to stress just the aspect of self-centering, being usually linked to egoism and partiality. Second, the strong motivational drive supposed to be inherent in passional behavior can be a factor leading to a quite instrumental way to seek ones aim, as love novels abundantly illustrate. Furthermore, though this is perhaps less relevant from the point of view of Hirschmans approach to the subject, there is no reason to oppose passion and interest as frequently sugested in the current use of the words, especially the latter according to the intrinsic nature of the objectives that are sought: it is of course possible to be quite passional about material goods, for instance, and coolly interested about immaterial ones.

feature in the sphere of human behavior and so poses also the main challenge to be dealt with by those sciences. The consequences for the current dispute between the rational choice and sociological approaches can be appreciated if we take the somewhat startling symmetry of a charge made by them against each other, which appears, for instance, in two recent papers by Barry Hindess and Adam Przeworski. So, Hindess accuses rational choice models of adhering to a postulate of homogeneity, as a consequence of which stylised forms of rational calculation are uniquely defined for all actors within each category of actors recognised in the model.6 According to Hindess, actors generally have reasons for their actions, but there are no grounds for supposing that the form of reasoning involved should be the same for all voters, all parties, or all entrepreneurs, a supposition that would imply structural determinism.7 Curiously enough, Przeworski, siding with methodological individualism and the view of bebavior as intentional, strategic action as against the psychosociological views of hehavior as execution of internalized norms, accuses fuuctionalists (whose mode of explanation he argues to bave been adopted by Marxists in practice) of viewing all individual behavior as an act of execution of the internalized society, with the implication that all persons exposed to the same norms and values should behave in the same manner. Specifically, Marxists were satisfied with the intuitive belief that people act out their class positions, and thought, anyway, that what was important about history happened at the level of forces, structures, collectivities, and constraints, not individuals.8 Now, the point I want to make in this regard is that this symmetry can be taken as an equivocal expression of an epistemological problem that each position cannot claim to be able to solve by itself. The homogeneity assumption that each field presents as a charge against the other corresponds to an unavoidable need pertaining to the nomological bent inherent in any effort to build a science of society, and so to the aim of substituting regularity for fortuitous or idiosyncratic behavior, or of

Barry Hindess, Rational Choice Theory and the Analysis of Political Action, Economy and Society, 13, 3, 255-77; quotation from p. 263. 7 Ibid., p. 267. 8 Adam Przeworski, The Challenge of Methodological Individualism to Marxist Analysis, in Pierre Birnbaum and Jean Leca (eds.), Sur lindividualisme (Paris: Presse de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 1985); cited according to mimeo version, quotations from pp. 5, 6 and 7.

scientifically domesticating the fortuitous. This domestication is indispensable, of course, if we are to stick to the ideal of scientific parsimony and to avoid a blind hyper-empiricism that would not be able, in the limit, even to describe anything. Now, the regularities that we have to resort to in the context defined by the dispute in question are necessarily referred to the behavior of actors within environments (the latter including, of course, aspects which are material, social, socio-psychological etc.). In principle, it is possible to start, when looking for the sources of regularity in actions, either from the characteristics of environments that somehow constrain the actors or from the characteristics of actors themselves. But in any case the reference to the other pole is inevitable, and there will always be restrictive and homogenizing assumptions at any given analytic level. The constraints of an assumedly homogeneous environment can operate differently upon different individuals (for instance, certain norms are more fully internalized by some individuals than by others) and the scientific problem will consist largely in establishing categories of individuals in which such differential operation occurs. Conversely, individuals assumed to be, say, homogeneously rational will act differently according to differences in the environnents and the scientific problem will then consist in establishing categories ot environments that account for such differential behavior. I believe there are good reasons to take as a more basic and parsimonious starting point the one that is built upon the assumed rationality of acting subjects. For one thing, I think it can be shown, in line with some points I argued above, that the main ingredients of a rational approach will be present whenever the intentional characteristic of behavior is admitted and will thus be present even in conventionally sociological approaches, of whose propositions it would be impossible to make sense, in the last analysis, in the lack of such ingredients. If norm-oriented behavior is not merely causal behavior, this is so because it is still rational behavior, that is to say, behavior of an autonomous acting subject who can evaluate for herself the situation in which she has to act and occasionally even decide to transgress the norm, enjoy the delights of crime or sin and then suffer the sanctions or perhaps evade them, or help create new norms. But the other side of the coin is that, to my judgment, it will always be necessary to spell out the categories of environments where our actors

move and act. And in that task I cannot see how the rational choice approach, in what it has of distinctive in contrast with conventional approaches, might aspire to replace the latter. Take, for instance, the formulation made by Przeworski himself, in the above cited article, of the central question posed by methodological individualism (under what conditions, from always to never, is solidarity ... rational for individual workers or particular groups of them?), as well as the important answer he believes to have been given to it by Michael Wallertein: (1) particular unions will try to organize all and only those workers who compete with each other within the same labor market and (2) particular unions will cooperate with each other in small economies forced to depend on foreign trade and will seek to cooperate with employers if they can benefit from any form of monopoly rents (in particular protection). It is quite obvious that both the question and the answers point to the need for knowledge of a quite conventionally sociological nature to be used in the diagnosis of the situations (environments) faced by workers and particular unions: how do you get to know what is an economy dependent on foreign trade (and to what extent does a specific economy exhibit this characteristic), what are the conditions for particular unions to be able to expect to be granted protection, how does a particular union get to be a union at all in the first place? Above all, since this refers to the question itself posed by Przeworski and points to conditions in which it would have to be reforrnulated, arent there situations where solidarity among the members of a group is a fact to be taken as such and where the problem consists rather in establishing the conditions for this solidary system to act effectively (rationally) in pursuit of its solidary or collective interests in the strategic interactions it engages in with the other members of an encompassing interest system? Doesnt that fit the case of the particular unions or groups of workers considered by Przeworski? True, the great merit of methodological individualism or, more generally, of the rational choice approach lies in the vigor with which it calls attention to the problematical character of the process of formation of just such collective subjects or solidary systems capable of concerted action, a process which itself involves a strategic ingredient that often tends to be ignored. But this healthy component of a measured and sober methodological individualism which does not require, for one thing, the assumption of egoistic motivation is no ground for adhering to the idea of

a pure game of strategy to be played in a sociological void. Such an idea is clearly present in much of what is done by rational choice theorists, whence the claim to replace sociology by the rational choice model: quite often, their paradigm involves an at least implicit assumption according to which it would be necessary to invent society from scratch starting from merely calculating individuals, to deduce the former from the latter. Their view of society typically dissolves it into a state of nature where there is no history, loyalty or solidarity, there are no institutions, intergenerational links, groups of any nature. This, I think, is clearly overshooting the mark. If we think specifically of political affairs, the challenge and the promise in emphasizing rationality and its inevitable instrumental component seems to me to lie in grasping the way in which conscious decision-making and strategy (the sphere ot properly political action) articulate themselves with the sociological and institutional context that is, of course, always present. The effort in this direction seems to be necessary for avoiding the common threefold error in methodological debates in the social sciences: (a) the postulate of the isolated individual of the contractualist fiction that I have just mentioned; (b) the utilitarian postulate of the whole society as the collective unit or subject, which ends up in the organic or cybernetic model of society; (c) finally, the postulate of the automatic and unproblematic constitution of collective subjects of a partial nature, such as social classes, a postulate that is often resorted to in the work of many who question its adoption for the case of society as a whole. III In all of the above discussion, there is a clear thread in the opposition of two dimensions that either underlie the conceptual problems or emerge at the surface as explicit antinomies: ideology as sociocentric worldview versus political ideology, traditional sociology versus rational choice, communication versus instrumentality, identity versus intentionality, solidarity versus interests, and so on. I have argued that the idea of rationality contains in itself much of the tension expressed in such pairs of categories, and also that the epistemologically proficuous posture involves an integration or coupling of the rational choice and sociological approaches rather than an either-or attitude. It is quite clear, I think, that the dialectic between those two basic dimensions provides what is perhaps the

major motivation of the social sciences as such. That dialectic is certainly fundamental to critical social science, whose overall emancipatory concern poses at once the instrumental problems associated with achieving the goal of emancipation and the problem of the identity of those who are (authentically) to emancipate themselves. But some analytical gains can still he made, to my judgment, if we pursue that dialectic somewhat further at a more concrete level proper to political sociology, where the very idea ot identity reveals a great deal of ambivalence in its relationships to the instrumental side of politics. Take, for instance, the classic forms of political movements referred to nationalities, ethnic groups and social classes. On the one hand, such movements tend to present themselves as the expression of collectivities whose identity seems somehow given or prior (ascribed), and it is the reference to the pre-established grounds of identity that furnishes the prima facie legitimacy of the movements. This is linked to the fact that the nature of the collectivities in question is such as to render meaningless, in principle, the attempt to associate someones participation in them to functions to be fulfilled or tasks te be performed: one is dealing here with microworlds or subcultures (sometimes named multifunctional or suprafunctional groups in the sociological literature) in which the individual is usually immersed in an involving and complex way, by contrast with the segmental and voluntary forms of participation characteristic of such functional associations as parties, clubs etc. This multifunctional nature acquires its relevance first of all for being a decisive factor (in connection precisely with the non-voluntary and ascriptive character of participation) in the important role played by this type of collectivity in conforming the personal identity of its members: the very sense of personal worth or dignity is often deeply affected by the immersion in this or that multifunctional collectivity and by the way in which it relates to others. On the other hand, however, the chief objective sought through the action developed in the political movements in question is precisely to change the basis of collective and personal identity into a problem of voluntary and lucid choice referred to a task to be performed. That shows itself in an exemplary manner in the connection established in the Marxist literature between class consciousness and identity, on the one hand, and, on the other, a certain political ideology (in Sartoris sense) which specifies


a job to be done. Particularly from the point of view of the dominated classes, as previously stressed, it is precisely in this connection between identity and tasks to be perforrned, that is to say, between identity and the instrumentality of political action, that lies the possibility for them to resist the diffuse penetration of dominant ideologies or worldviews and so to get rid of the ensuing conformity and passivity in other words, to raise as classes for themselves, supposedly capable of collective action. Analogous remarks might be made about the transition from the nave and passive immersion in ethnic and national traditions to political action referred to the interests of the corresponding ethnic and national collectivities. Thus, against the sway of given worldviews and their moulding of personal and collective identity, the aim would be to redefine the question of identity itself in terms of functional groups with (political) tasks to be executed, i.e., to bring instrumentality, will and deliberation (and thus cognitive decentration) into the very sphere of the definition of identity. One would think this aim to be achieved, if we stick to the case of these classic forms of political movements, when we come to have party identifications. For then structured and coherent political ideologies supposedly mediate and clarify the adherence to multifunctional collective categories, and collective identities might accordingly be assumed to become intellectually enlightened and lucid. As we know, that is far from being the case. Through such studies as Gnther Roths The Social Democrats in Imperial Germany for the Marxist parties, the various and sophisticated Michigan School surveys, and many others, it is now common knowledge that the political party, instead of being the instrument of an identity referred to entities, categories or ideas that are not reducible to the party as such, is frequently itself the unreflected focus or object of collective and personal identities. The party identifications thus established not only tend in general to show a great deal of stability both within and between generations, as well as to be to some extent independent of such social bases as the one corresponding to social classes; they are also largely independent of the degree of ideological constraint or cognitive structuring ability shown by electors in their perception of the issues involved in political life. In other words, party identification as such, the mere acquired or inherited loyalty to a certain party, tends to become a


decisive factor in conditioning the politically relevant identity of a great many political actors. Some provisional conclusions can be extracted from these remarks. Above all, if it is certain that political action always involves, however it comes to take place, a problem of personal identity and its complex articulation with this or that focus of collective identity, there is no reason to suppose that this problem will always be solved in the same way. Given or ascribed factors of collective identity and corresponding multifunctional groups will often provide reference points for political action which, however, will fatally redefine them while daveloping as such. On the other hand, the instrumentalities themselves of political action may and frequently will turn out to raise as foci for the definition of personal and collective identities. Ideologies as worldviews, however diffuse, may of course become ingredients or instruments of political ideologies of a strategic nature and oriented toward action just as, symmetrically, the cognitive and intrumentally articulated themes or issues that make up the latter may come to replace given or ascribed worldviews in conditioning personal and political identities. Particularly, it should be stressed that this dialectic between the instrumental and the expressive in political action always involves the mediation of the cognitive level, with regard to which it is indispensable to keep in mind the ability to structure and integrate in a coherent way ones socio-political environment. In that sense, ideological political behavior is, first of all, issue-oriented political behavior that is, that form of political behavior in which the agent is informed about the several aspects of the political universe where she acts and is then capable of placing herself vis-vis the issues of day-to-day politics through the effort to establish their counection with the diagnosis of the more stable aspects of that universe. If the above sketched play between the instrumental (strategic) and the expressive or symbolic (identity) in political life is looked at in this light, one can see that it is possible to distintinguish certain more or less clearcut configurations in this regard: (a) a condition in which one is dealing with ascribed or given identities, taken in a cognitively nave and uncritical way and which are not, as such, the object or reference of instrumental or strategic actions; (b) another in which such identities, taken in a reflexive way, come precisely to constitute the object of a strategically oriented political action, in which case the cognitive articulation, both at the


synchronic and diachronic levels, of the various aspects of the environment in which the action takes place becomes crucial, and issue-orientation comes to prevail; and (c) another in which the instrumentalities themselves of political action, in particular the party or movement organized around a set of ideas of greater or lesser sophistication, become an important or even decisive reference point for the moulding of personal and collective identity. Of course, other possibilities and mixtures can and will occur, and they may become more or less relevant in different contexts. In any case, the coupling of identity and instrumentality is a rather complex and open matter, and they are far from representing legitimate alternative ways of looking at politics. IV I would now like to illustrate these views on the problem of identityinstrumentality relations by reference to two kinds of issues, the first dealing with class-based e1ectoral behavior and the second with racial relations. In both cases I will be referring chiefly to observations applying to contemporary Brazil, but both seem to me to permit drawing some relevant comparative lessons. Let us hegin by some studies of electoral sociology referred to the last decades of Brazilian political life, mostly to the electoral process taking place under the post-1964 authoritarian regime. Analyses of data collected at several moments lead to an interpretive scheme that can be described as an integration of two well known models appearing in the literature on political participation, to wit, the centrality model and the class consciousness model.9 The first of these models proposes a causal relationship between the intensity of political participation experienced by people and the degree of centrality of their social position, that is to say, the degree to which they reveal themselves to be, objectively as well as subjectively, either close to the nucleus of the general social system or far from it as a consequence of positions held along a series of dimensions or variables: class position or socio-economic status (the vertical dimension of centrality), urban experience and involvement in contacts and interactions of all sorts (its horizontal dimension), and so on. The higher
See Alessandro Pizzorno, Introduzione allo Studio della Partecipazione Politica, Quaderni di Sociologia, 15, 3-4, July-December 1966, 235-288, for the classic confrontation of the two models.


the class position and the greater the integration in city life, with the well known consequences in terms of widening ones intellectual and psychological horizons and of greater exposure to all kinds of information, the greater the political participation or so goes the theory. By contrast, the class consciousness model links political participation to the intensity and clarity of the consciousness achieved by people of belonging to a certain social class: the greater the class consciousness, the greater the participation.10 But it is possible to integrate the two models. For, at least in Brazilian conditions, and perhaps in a much more general way, the factors associated with the centrality of the overall social position not only directly affect ones political (and particularly electoral) participation, but also influence in a decisive way the chances that the class consciousness model may itself come to operate, as well as the forms to be assumcd by its operation. The general idea which is quite orthodox, despite becoming perhaps more precise when stated in this language is that the interplay of the several dimensions of centrality turns out to define contexts that show themselves to be more or less favorable to the operation of the sociopsycological and intellectual mechanisms envisioned by the class consciousness model. Moreover, since the notion of centrality includes class position itself as a salient dimension, the conditioning exerted by the factors of centrality over political-electoral participation, filtering as it does in part through the mechanisms of class consciousness, cannot but have important consequences for the content or direction (conformist or nonconformist, conservative or tendentially radical) of participation, whatever its offects with regard to the greater or lesser intensity of the latter.11 The overall result of the relatively complex web of causality thus indicated presents some salient and related traits. First, in the conditions of the Brazilian social structure of today, it is fatal that the members of economically privileged social categories be those to show the greatest degree of class consciousness in their political-electoral behavior. It is they,
Ibid., p. 261. The following are some texts by myself where these ideas and the findings to be presented below are more fully discussed: Classes Sociais e Opo Partidria, in Fbio W. Reis (ed.), Os Partidos e o Regime (So Paulo: Editora Smbolo, 1978); O Eleitorado, os Partidos e o Regime Autoritrio Brasileiro, in B. Sorj and M.H.T. Almeida (eds.), Sociedade e Poltica no Brasil Ps-64 (So Paulo, Editora Brasiliense, 1983); and (in collaboration with Mnica M. M. de Castro) Regies, Classe e Ideologia no Processo Eleitoral Brasileiro, included in Fbio W. Reis, Mercado e Utopia: Teoria Poltica e Sociedade Brasileira, So Paulo, Edusp, 2000.
10 11


in other words, who show the most sophisticated perception of the Brazilian political universe, structuring it in such a way as to establish a clearer and more coherent correspondence between their worldview or basic socio-political perspective, on the one hand, and the positions maintained with regard to the several issues of a given political conjuncture, on the other, and giving, by the same token, a more consequential translation to all this in terms of their partidary and electoral choices. Second, the Brazilian popular sectors will tend to exhibit heterogeneous and even, in a way, seemingly inconsistent forms of political behavior: whereas these sectors are, when considered globally, that category which by definition suffers more directly and massively the effects of the peripheral or marginal condition (in terms of the centrality model), they are also the one in which the impact of the transformation of that condition due to industrialization and urbanization will make itself felt to a greater extent over the dispositions relating to political participation. The consequence will be the combination in this category (for instance, according to the urban or rural or semi-rural character of parts of it) of both markedly conservative leanings, distinguished by habits of deference, and others of a non-conformist and demanding nature. Moreover, in most of the popular strata of the Brazilian electorate we have something that might perhaps be described as a fundamental ambiguity. On the one hand, we are dealing here with voters who are (independently, to some extent, of urban or rural living) politically indifferent, with a propensity to be deferential to authority and to allow themselves to be influenced at least at the level of rhetorical expression of values by the propaganda of an authoritarian regime like the one existing in the country until recently. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of those within these sectors of the electorate are uninformed about and unconcerned with the grand themes of the political-institutional debate, including those occasioned by the long-lasting authoritarian regime. But that is not all. Even those isues that can be assumed to have a direct effect on their daily life, such as that of the cost of living, are far from having, among people of these sectors, any clear relationship at all to electoral behavior. Nevertheless, there is, on the other hand, a marked and consistent oppositionist tendency in the majority of the popular sectors. Once a certain threshold of general socio-political participation is passed that is, once


people find themselves beyond the limits of strict socio-economic marginality, most strongly affected by habits of social deference and by total exclusion from the political sphere, to be encountered in the rural areas and in the extremes of urban poverty there occurs the tendency to vote for the opposition parties. Thus, for the electorate of the popular sectors, whose perception integrates only precariously the many aspects or dimensions of the sociopolitical universe, the option of voting for the opposition seems to be connected to a vaguely apprehended contrast between the popular and the elitist (e.g., rich versus poor, the people versus the government). This contrast is experienced with a diffuse dissatisfaction incapable of articulating itself wih reference to specific issues of whatever nature. In other words, to vote for the opposition, in the case of the type of voter being discussed here, is rather like rooting for a popular soccer club Rio de Janeiros Flamengo, let us say, to choose the most popular one. But the very simplicity of the perceptions and images on which this propensity is based turns out to be a factor lending consistency and stability to the patterns of popular voting. When the dust settles after every new disturbance, or when people can only perceive, following each more or less artificial or imposed rearrangemcnt of the party structure like the many recently undertaken by acts of the authoritarian government, the new contours of the political contrast between the people and the elite, we soon have voters coming back again to what looks like a natural riverbed. We have thus a kind of Flamengo syndrome that not only denies an authoritarian regime like the one whose demise we have just seen the possibility of true legitimation via the electoral route, but also makes populism, in the conditions of contemporary Brazilian society, an inescapable outcome whenever institutional rules come to permit even a modicum of openness and responsiveness in the political process. Let us turn now to the racial issue. As is well known, Brazil is a racially hetorogeneous society, whose population is partly white, partly black and partly from native descent, with a great deal of miscigenation and an official ideology of racial democracy. Of course, there is also racial prejudice and discrimination, particularly against Blacks. But there is little doubt that the situation in this respect is quite different for the better from the one traditionally prevailing, for instance, in the United States:


beside the fact that the lines of racial stratification seem to be much less rigid in Brazil, there is also no memory of racial hatred. Now, from a normative standpoint, it is quite obvious that the existence of racial prejudice and discrimination represents a repulsive aspect of the Brazilian social structure that it would be necessary to combat and overcome. I will nevertheless venture to propose, even recognizing that I am treading here on delicate and polemical terrain, that it does not follow that the fight to improve race relations in Brazil must necessarily pass, as argued by some currents of opinion, through the affirmation of a Black identity as such. It would certainly not be the case to take as a model in this regard the experience of the United States, where the bitter memory of race hostility would seem to support the expectation that the solution to the racial problem will end up involving some type of federation of racial groups, which may perhaps come eventually to relate to one another on an equal footing, but probably in a manner at least latently hostile, from one sovereign power to another. In the case of Brazil (partly as a consequence of the ideology of racial democracy and of a paternalistic ingredient that has permeated race relations, although both these factors have also involved considerable dissimulation and mystification) there are perhaps reasons to hope that conditions of genuine racial equality may be able to implant themselves without the passage through a stage of belligerent affirmation of a Black racial identity. To avoid going through such a stage would seem to be a prerequisite if we aspire to reach a final state in which, in addition to genuine equality, we might have a relaxed and fraternal coexistence between the races: note that, unlike the case of social classes, regarding which we can conceive of an antagonistic process resulting in the elimination of classes as such and in the creation of a classless society, in the case of races the fighting would have to be followed by the coexistence (on equal terms, in the most optimistic scenario) of the races that have fought one another, unless we adopt the absurd hypothesis of the elimination of some of the races. It is certainly conceivable that achieving a racially egalitarian society in Brazil may require the neutralization of a negative type of racial self-image already in existence among non-white groups, in which case the passage of these groups through the stage of positive socio-psychological affirmation of their racial identity would become necessary. That involves, nonetheless, an empirical question of great complexity, with respect to which it is not


enough simply to suppose that our understanding is sufficiently solid, much less derive from this supposed understanding problematic prescriptions that would entail grave risks from the point of view of the objective of reaching an egalitarian and harmonious society. Now, what is the interest of all this from the perspective of our theoretical dicussion? If we start with the observations concerning Brazilian political-electoral life, one point to be stressed is that much of what has been said must certainly he explained in terms of identity. That is particularly true for the Flamengo syndrome characteristic of the popular sectors of the electorate, regarding which the hypothesis of the acting out of a certain identity seems to impose itself if we are to account for a pattern that reveals a curious mixture of looseness or fluidity and consistency. But note that in this case we have identity of a certain kind, which presents a clear contrast either to the case of the, say, American strong party-identifier who may be weak in ideological constraint and awareness or to the supposed case of the European ideologically aware issue-oriented voter, whether identified with a party or independent. Clearly, in the case of the Flamengo voter we seem to be at the level of spontaneous and rather rough social (given) identities which have not been worked out politically a sort of sociological raw material only slightly touched by the instrumentalities of political life. Correspondingly, there are also varying degrees of politics of political alertness and involvement in the three cases, ranging from less to more as we move from the Brazilian voter of the Flamengo syndrome to the ideological and issue-oriented voter. And this differential degree of political (strategic, instrumental...) involvement is obviously connected to issues of a cognitive or intellectual nature which are of the utmost importance from the point of view of ones immersion in political life. But identity is always at play. It is at play in the Flamengo syndrome in which the poor are opposed to the rich and which provides the grounds for populism, just as it is at play in the inherited identification with Democrats or Republicans in the United States or in the supposedly issue-oriented identification of a West-European worker with this or that Socialist party. Of course, from the point of view of the instrumentalexpressive ambivalence of identity itself, it is important to note that what varies in these different cases is the degree to which a political ideology,


in Sartoris sense, makes itself present in the situation, as well as the role it plays in conditioning the definition of identity. When we turn to Brazilian racial problems, we see that in this context we are perhaps even more clearly dealing with problems of identity, for being black, white or whatever in a racially heterogeneous society seems to involve above all a question of identity. But, beyond the mere factual observation that a certain identity rnay find a rather defective expression in the political and strategic arena due to problems of a cognitive nature (an observation that we had already in the case of the Flamengo voter), in the case of racial issues we find grounds for questioning the normative desirability itself of a strategic and political translation of a certain (black) identity and even, for that matter, of the actual social emergence of that identity as such. A crucial upshot of all this discussion seems to me to be that to say that politics concerns identities as do some who are in opposition to the rational approach to politics12 is to say both too much and too little. Too much, for there is enormous room for the appearance of personal and collective identities that are not as such political in any not too fluid sense of the word. Too little, because it is precisely the application of strategy (with its cognitive-instrumental ingredients) to latent or actual, social or individual foci of identity that brings us to the realrn of politics. To close these notes, I will just say a few words on the underlying links among the several aspects ot this proposition and on their connection to the normative standpoint hinted at in my comments on race relations. V The main idea, which is closely linked to previous steps in this discussion, is that the notion of autonomy can be understood in two ways. First, it can mean a sort of spontaneous affirmation of self. In this sense, it suggests such ideas as the one of a strong personality or strong character, according to which one is supposed to act out in an unreflexive way ones deep feelings or motivations of whatever kind. The second meaning is rather that of self-control, where the chief element is precisely the element of reflexiveness and cognitive awareness with regard to ones

For instance, Alessandro Pizzorno, Sulla Razionalit della Scelta Democratica, Stato e Mercato, 7, April 1983, 3-46.


motives or goals and their relationship to other and perhaps more important objectives one may adhere to. Now, the chief point to note with regard to the above sketched ideas is the clear link between autonomy as self-affirmation, on the one hand, and ascription or unreflexive social immersion, on the other. Thus, if we admit, in a critical perspective, an emancipatory ideal emphasizing reflexiveness and lucidity as indispensable ingredients of the authentic expression of self that is to say, if we aspire to the expansion of enlightenment and free deliberation even with regard to the definition of identity and of a corresponding ideal of autonomy , then it will be necessary to tend toward individuation, i.e., toward the elimination of the social definition of identities, or of ascription wherever it may appear, even in residual form. That means that the question of character should ultimately be decided at the strictly individual level, and leads, from the point of view of organizational or institutional devices, to the requirement of an intransigent form of pluralism in which social groups or collectivities of whatever kind come to represent only the result of the voluntary and necessarily shifting and provisional coalitions of free individuals. By the same token, any attempt at deliberately producing collective identities should be seen with suspicion, all the more so if it is based on rigidly ascriptive criteria unless it turns out to be an instrument in the struggle precisely against ascriptive grounds for domination, in which case it should contain an important element of self-criticism and ultimately clearly look for the elimination of the social relevance of any ascriptive attribute or characteristic. So, if politics is, from the analytical point ot view, the sphere of the application of instrumentality and strategy to (interests or objectives pertaining to) socially given identities of whatever kind, from the normative point of view it becomes the instrument to neutralize the blind operation of just such identities. At the limit, we would have free individuals in pursuit of their lucid goals (instrumentality, and necessarily also strategy, since our goal-seeking agents are many), but under conditions in which self-control allows for communication and makes it possible to mitigate and discipline the strategic game. Thus, critically absorbed, rational choice, with its emphasis on individuality and rationality, comes to provide, whatever its descriptive accuracy (which of course is limited) and


analytic strength (which I think is great), something that can be seen as an adequate (and properly realistic) normative reference point.