The Memory and the Future
Rosa Freire d’Aguiar Furtado
“I want to register here and now an idea that I have fostered for some time:
to write a History of the Brazilian Civilization”
August 20th, 1937. Celso Furtado.
It came from afar, from the first pages of an adolescent’s diary, that first note that would become the powerful and wide-ranging, harmonious and varied theme of a symphony entwined with Celso’s own life: to understand Brazil, history and mankind. The musical image lingers on another passion of that 17-year old youth: music, learnt in Paraíba and heatedly discussed on the beach at Tambaú with friends from the Liceu Paraíbano. Later, when already in Rio, music would feed his dream of being a music critic, his boldness in conversations with Villa-Lobos, his fervor when watching a concert by Toscanini. Later still, music would become a refuge from the clear or turbulent hours, from pleasures or jolts, and from recovery enriched by the pain of experience.
The stubborn desire to understand Brazil presupposed understanding why the country was underdeveloped, and, therefore understanding the mechanics of underdevelopment. This was the primordial mark of his life’s trajectory, one that gained in one go both breadth and depth to develop into many others in the construction of Brazil and its destiny. Author of around thirty books, some of which were definitive in the history of modern economic thinking, both in Brazil and Latin America, this intellectual was not satisfied in simply pointing out paths to take, but went in search of an interlocutor in reality capable of leading the nation to full development, giving the strength of hope-in-action to ideas.
If one could unravel a lifetime at speed, I would remember that Celso was a journalist at the age of 19, a civil servant at 23, a lawyer at 24, a doctor of economics at 28; he was second lieutenant in the FEB (Brazilian Expeditionary Force) at the age of 24, a pioneer of ECLAC at 29, creator and superintendent of Sudene at 39, Minister of Planning at 42; he was also a professor at great Universities in Europe and the United States, ambassador and Minister of Culture.
I would remember the strength of his character. His undisguised pride of having been no more than a servant of all things public, always and only in civil governments. His strength of thought, be it in theoretical formulation, be it through a clear phrase, without faltering, just elegant and literary. I would remember his intellectual strength, his will to think for himself and to extend the required interdisciplinary and humane vision to economics. I would see the recognition awarded him as the theoretician of underdevelopment. I would remember the things not said: the burden of exile, which went deep, the sadness of being expelled from his own country, a country “that would stop being a country that protects and become one that threatens”.
The distress of hearing the echoes of brutality in the regime that had punished him unfairly. I would say that Celso personified the definition of journalism as described by Cláudio Abramo: the daily application of intelligence and the daily use of character. I would remember his gesticulations – the mark of great maestros when they want Centro Celso Furtado to inject certainty and passion into their conducting.
I would remember all this, and much more. In a sense, much of this has already been remembered by Celso himself, in his three books of intellectual memoirs, and by those who have believed in his ideas. It has even been remembered through the small exercise that we carried out together, that is, the biographical chronology that thanks to the gimmicks of the Internet, has been given its own life, and crops up here and there in the entangled world of virtual reality. This website that is dedicated to Celso in a Centre named after him adds, puts in order and updates reflections on his ideas and activities. It does not look to the past, but to the future, to the youth of his country, which he steered so many times.
This is the purpose of the texts collated in About Economists. This is the purpose of the thematic Expositions, the first of which, herein presented, deals with his well known book The Economic Growth of Brazil (Formação econômica do Brasil). This is also the purpose in outlining a “Celso, by Celso”, as included here in his Profile.
It includes asides that permeated interviews, small phrases picked out of conversations he had with the press during the last ten years of his life. They are grains of sand, which when looked at through a magnifying glass, and singled out, reveal a brush stroke which had until now been hidden; an arrested feeling now brought to the surface; a snapshot of an impression from deep within the memory. Angles of his character that bloomed with the passing of the years, when fears and anxieties gave way to the realization that the moment to pick clean, to decant what is secondary and focus on the essential, had finally arrived. Less visible arches of a broad bridge, which support his permanence in our History.
The primary mission of the cultural management of the International Celso Furtado Centre for Development Policies is this exercise of decanting the memory as a piece of the future. In steering it we have the certainty that the testimonials of this life dedicated to Brazil and to the fight for development (or as he preferred to describe it, to the overcoming of underdevelopment), must be included in the legacy of those whose thinking is aligned with Celso Furtado who, one day also wrote: “ideas do not always become obsolete with the passing of time; sometimes they gather strength.”