The ‘New Man’ Symposium
Conveners: Jorge Dagnino (de los Andes) & Matthew Feldman (Teesside)
The ‘New Man Symposium’ will examine fascist movements and regimes through the lens of an attempted anthropological revolution. This attempt to create a ‘homo fascistus’ during the fascist epoch is approached via a comparative angle, with presentations by leaders in the field of Fascist Studies. Taking different perspectives and looking at national movements across Europe, as well as in Latin America, it is hoped that this interdisciplinary conference will revive interest in this much neglected topic.
Professor Aristotle Kallis (Lancaster) – The laboratory of ‘renewal’ (renovação): Brazil’s Ministry of Education and Health during the Vargas dictatorship (1930-1945)
Between 1930 and 1945, Brazil underwent seismic changes that transformed the relations between individual, society, nation, and the state. The Ministry of Health and Education (Ministerio de Educación y Salud, MES), established only weeks after Vargas’s ‘revolution’ and remained the hub of the regime’s quest for a “new man, Brazilian and modern”. Combining responsibilities for both education and health, but also being at the centre of a cultural campaign for the ‘renovation’ (renovação) of modern Brazil, the ministry introduced a series of reforms with the principal aim to both “educate and sanitise” the country. Under ministers Francisco Campos and especially Gustavo Capanema, the MES waged numerous campaigns against disease, poverty, social inequality (also linked to a debate on race), urban degradation, and illiteracy. It also played a pivotal in the state’s efforts to redefine a unifying collective feeling of ‘Brazilian-ness’ (brasilidade).
Such campaigns unfolded against a complex national and international backdrop. Within Brazil, a battle between traditionalists and modernists was in full swing at the heart of the Vargas regime. Meanwhile, on the international field, the rise of fascism in Europe provided Vargas’s Brazil with an influential matrix that promised a post-liberal and nationally-rooted modern(ist) futural thrust. Thus the MES sought to perform the role of the authoritative translator of the international experience into Brazil’s cultural, political, and social specificity.
The story of three design projects (the MES headquarters and the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro; the Brazilian pavilion at the 1939 New York Fair) provides an opportunity to discuss how the Vargas regime and its key Ministry of Education and Health envisioned the Brazilian ‘novo homem’ as a unique hybrid situated between a carefully redacted and unifying rendering of Brazilian tradition, on the one hand, and the emphatic embrace of a mediated idiom of international modernism as the template for national renewal, on the other.