Olavo de Carvalho, born in Campinas, State of São Paulo, Brazil, on April 29th, 1947, has been hailed by critics as one of the most original and audacious Brazilian thinkers. Men of intellectual inclinations as diverse as Wolfgang Smith, Diana West, Jeffrey Nyquist and current President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro have already expressed their admiration for his person and for his work.
The keynote of his work is the defense of human interiority against the tyranny of collective authority, especially when supported by a “scientific” ideology. For Olavo de Carvalho, there is an indissoluble link between the objectivity of knowledge and the autonomy of individual conscience, a link that gets lost when the criterion of validity of knowledge is reduced to a uniform and impersonal form for use by the academic class. Believing that the most solid shelter of individual conscience against alienation and reification is found in ancient spiritual traditions – Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Olavo de Carvalho seeks to give a new interpretation to the symbols and rites of these traditions, making them the matrixes of a philosophical and scientific strategy for solving problems in today’s culture.
An example of this strategy is his brief essay Os Gêneros Literários: Seus Fundamentos Metafísicos [“The Literary Genres: Their Metaphysical Foundations“], where he uses the symbolism of verb tenses in sacred languages (Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit and Greek) to re-substantiate the distinctions between literary genres. Another example is his reinterpretation of Aristotle’s logical writings, where he discovers, among Poetics, Rhetoric, Dialectics and Logic, common principles that imply a unified science of discourse in which answers are found to many topical questions of interdisciplinarity Aristóteles em Nova Perspectiva: Introdução à Teoria dos Quatro Discursos [“An Aristotelian Philosophy of Culture – An Introduction to the Four Discourse Theory“].
Along the same lines is the essay Símbolos e Mitos no Filme “O Silêncio dos Inocentes” [“Symbols and Myths in the Movie ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’”], “fascinating and – dare I say – definitive analysis”, according to the preface by Prof. José Carlos Monteiro, from the Film School of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) that applies to a discipline as modern as film criticism the criteria of the ancient symbolic hermeneutics. His work published so far culminates in O Jardim das Aflições [“The Garden of Afflictions“], where some primordial symbols like the biblical Leviathan and Beemoth, the cross, the khien and the khouen of the Chinese tradition, etc., serve as structural molds for a philosophy of History, which, starting from an apparently minor event and taking it as an occasion to show the links between the small and the large, is widening in concentric turns until it encompasses the entire horizon of Western culture. The subtlety of the construction makes “The Garden of Afflictions” also a work of art.
There is great difficulty in translating Olavo de Carvalho’s texts into another language, where the depth of the themes, the relentless logic of the demonstrations and the breadth of cultural references are combined with a most unique style, which introduces the use of popular language – including many wordplays of Brazilian daily life, of great comicality, practically untranslatable, as well as sudden changes of tone where the expressions of the sermo vulgaris, interspersed with the most technical and rigorous philosophical language, acquire unforeseen connotations and surprising depth.
Olavo de Carvalho’s work also has a controversial component, where, with forceful eloquence and a fearful sense of humor, he exposes the false academic prestige and the fallacies of the current intellectual discourse. His book O Imbecil Coletivo: Atualidades Inculturais Brasileiras [“The Collective Imbecile: Brazilian Incultural News“] earned him a good number of disaffected in the literate circles, but also a multitude of devout readers, who sold out the first edition of the work in three weeks, and in four days the second.
Based in the United States since 2005, Olavo de Carvalho undertook one of the most ambitious and successful educational projects that Brazil has ever known, the Online Philosophy Course, better known as “COF” (acronym for Curso Online de Filosofia, in Portuguese), reaching thousands of students. Successor to the Permanent Seminar on Philosophy and Humanities, a course that he taught in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Curitiba, the COF has been educating generations for the rebirth of high culture in Brazil.
In philosophy, his area of expertise, he also published Maquiavel ou A Confusão Demoníaca [“Machiavelli or The Demonic Confusion“], A Filosofia e seu Inverso [“Philosophy and Its Inverse“] and Visões de Descartes – Entre o Gênio Mau e o Espírito da Verdade [“Visions of Descartes And The Psychology of Doubt.“], all by Vide Editorial publishing company.
Important for the understanding of Vladimir Putin’s political-military strategy and the precepts of Eurasianism on the world stage was the internet debate between the Brazilian philosopher and professor Alexandre Dugin, an eminent Russian thinker and strategist, which took place in 2011 and published in a book by Vide Editorial under the title Os EUA e a Nova Ordem Mundial [“The USA and the New World Order“]. In 2013, Olavo soared to the bestseller list with O Mínimo que Você Precisa Saber Para Não Ser um Idiota [“The Minimum You Need to Know to Not Be an Idiot“], with a selection of articles published in the Brazilian press, between 1997 and 2013, elevated him to the status of one of the most successful authors today, with more than 400 thousand copies sold. His time as a columnist for the newspaper Diário do Comércio between 2005 and 2015 also yielded the collection Cartas de Um Terráqueo ao Planeta Brasil [“Letters From An Earthling To Planet Brazil“] with the collection of articles published in eight volumes by Vide Editorial so far. With an acute, fierce and profound criticism, his articles cover topics related to culture, politics, education, philosophy, behavior and society with a stylistic richness that has not been seen in the Brazilian press for a long time.
In contrast to the image of spiteful bully that his opponents wanted to superimpose on his authentic figure, Olavo de Carvalho is recognized, among those who enjoy his acquaintanceship, as a man of balanced and calm temperament even in the most difficult situations, and as a generous soul capable of taking to the ultimate consequences, even at his own loss, the gift of loving, helping and forgiving.
“If Voegelin had read this, he would have incorporated your thought into his own to explain how we proceed from perception to science.” — Frederick Wagner, Eric Voegelin Society, letter to the Author, February 14th, 2005.
To hear Jefferey Nyquist say how unfortunate it is that the US does not have its own Olavo de Carvalho brings about two different sentiments in me: the first is pride in knowing that we have a man of such magnitude; the second is sadness in knowing that he won’t be appreciated the way he should, at least in life. On the other hand however, I feel much better knowing that he doesn’t even seek glory on earth, because the treasures he is after are found in heaven. — Allan dos Santos, Brazilian journalist for the independent media “Terça Livre Channel”.
“I have known Olavo de Carvalho and his work since the spring of 2006. At that time, I had the pleasure to edit his very fine manuscript, entitled “Aristotle in a New Perspective”. After editing the manuscript, I took the uncharacteristic step of forwarding it (with the author’s permission) to a few of my former professors at the University of Notre Dame. I did so because I was quite certain that the manuscript marked a highly original contribution to our understanding of Aristotle — which is no easy feat, given the sheer volume of scholarship surrounding this ancient thinker.” — Jody Cockerill-Bruhn, PhD in Political Science, University of Notre Dame; worked on the elaboration of “Eric Voegelin’s Collected Works”; Institute On Governance, Ottawa, Canada.
“Olavo de Carvalho goes right to the founders of Western philosophical tradition.” — Paulo Francis, Brazilian Embassador to the U.S., and writer — about “Aristotle in New Perspective”.
“I really enjoyed the opportunity to read and think about Mr. de Carvalho’s paper. It is very well organized and quite consistent – on a solid philosophical, interpretative and historical foundation… It contains a convincing and fascinating explanation of the organic, historical development of discourses across cultures (and, incidentally, it reminded me of Voegelin!). This is followed by excellent rational justification (“logical necessity of the four discourses”) and by a thorough psychological explanation with detailed analysis of the discourses in relation to human activity. This structure makes Mr. de Carvalho’s treatment very complete, without any residue. I particularly liked his discussion of the unity of human knowledge in its unfolding; the interplay between imagination and reason; also the particular analysis of the dynamism of each discourse (in its vicinity, relying on the antecedent and subsequent discourses). Here, the author gives an excellent, informed account of Aristotle’s epistemology and emphasizes the mapping from process to method which is indeed very consistent with Aristotle’s view. I was quite impressed by his relevant note on modern studies on the inseparability of the discourses (the very pertinent mention of Pratt, Perelman, Kuhn, Godel) and with his rejection of Aquinas’ linear scale of “worth” among the discourses. The author is very mature and doesn’t let himself get carried away by his thesis, but plans carefully and handles all aspects in the proper historicophilosophical context; and he is always explicit about his intentions, never obscure. He does not avoid apparent inconsistencies or difficulties, trying to resolve or explain them. This is how philosophy is supposed to be done.” — Tudor Munteanu, Eric Voegelin Society, February 27th, 2005. — about “Aristotle in New Perspective”)