This book joins an increasing number of works that attempt to explain the role of the military in postauthoritarian Brazilian politics. In contrast to academics such as Alfred Stepan and Frances Hagopian, whose analyses stress continuity in the Brazilian system, Wendy Hunter argues that the dynamics of democratic politics have eroded the political influence of the military.
Hunter’s “rational choice” perspective claims that following the return to democracy in 1985, a self-interested emphasis on reelection, engendered by the change to electoral politics, has driven Brazilian politicians to disregard the military’s legislative wishes. Hence, unpopular attempts by the military to weaken labor rights in the constitution of 1988, to garner a larger share of the national budget, and to exert dominance over Amazonian policy have failed.
Developments in postauthoritarian Brazilian politics are described early in this work, but the interpretation offered is fuzzy. Hunter often contradicts her own points. The argument that the military failed to obtain a strict antistrike law in the 1988 constitution because elected politicians did not want to alienate organized labor is followed by the somewhat contrary assertion that military influence led to 1989 legislation regulating strikes. The law may not have been as strict as the military wished, but it did produce the desired effect of lessening the severity of labor strikes.
To strengthen her analysis, Hunter briefly compares Brazil with Chile, Argentina, and Peru. She maintains that despite variations from one country to another, the validity of the rational choice approach, according to which electoral competition pressures politicians to deflate military influence, is evident in these democratizing nations. Hers is a brave attempt to bolster this thesis, but the comparisons lack enough depth to be of great value and become distracting asides that in themselves are worthy of a separate volume. Moreover, while militaries throughout the world seek to preserve institutional prerogatives, comparing the Brazilian military only to those of other Latin American countries carries its own set of problems.
Missing in this work is a well-developed sense of the Brazilian military as an institution and its historic role in society. What emerges is not a picture of waning influence but one of a politically adept military compromising in areas where institutional integrity and national security are not threatened. Rather than experiencing an erosion of its influence, the military has adapted to national and international change in order to sustain a preeminent place in the national polity.
The passage of time will show whether or not the rational choice proposition has substance in the case of Brazil. Nevertheless, this book will stimulate debate on the nature of postauthoritarian Brazilian politics. For that reason alone, Hunter has done a service to those interested in the evolution of the Brazilian military and political system.