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Brazil as a Part of the International Society

  • Category: World
  • Subcategory: Americas
  • Topic: Brazil
  • Pages: 4
  • Words: 1959
  • Published: 14 September 2018
  • Downloads: 17
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Since the beginning of the century, the supposed European decline and the ascend of emergent countries, such as Brazil, have been widely discussed. However, it appears as if the country has found itself stagnated in the status of “emergent” for most of the past fifteen years, not progressing or being able to achieve a “higher” status in the international sphere. But this has been (to a certain extend) an everlasting historical struggle. It was during the 19th century, when Brazil first started to negotiated its access and recognition as a member of an international society of European and global expansion. It sought to establish itself as an independent country in a system deeply marked by asymmetry of power, status, and ranking, developing in the process, instruments to access the world of diplomacy[1].

This essay aims at briefly analyzing how Brazil came to be part of the European –and later global– international society.

For the authors of the English School, such as Hedley Bull and Adam Watson, the transformation from system to international society was a historical process. According to them, the ancient world had several systems of states but these have eventually evolved into a European international society and, finally, into our “universal international society of the present”[2]. The most diverse regions of the planet were incorporated into the mold of European society, extending this configuration to the whole world following the Second World War and decolonization[3]. For the “classical” authors of the English School, Brazil adhered, as part of the process of independence of European colonies, as a kind of Neo-Europe -an admission free of greater obstacles[4]. There were confrontations not only in political, economic, or military terms, but above all in terms of civilizations and cultural patterns. The core of this clashes was the “standard of civilization” by which different civilizations identified and regulated their international relations. The practices that became accepted as “civilized” were those coming from European countries and soon became demanded by the international system centered in Europe, being used to distinguish those who belong to a particular society from those who do not. Membership was conditioned to a degree of homogenization, requiring non-European states to make social and political reforms and to accept the rules and principles of international society[5].

In the mid 19th century, Brazil and other non-European entities began to demand or be required to join a European core international society. This was an important period of the British “imperial turn”, in which the planet had been scrutinized, occupied and Europe’s relations with the world had been redefined based on European interests[6]. At the time, it was not easy to classify Brazil as barbarian or savage, but the domestic government and political elites worked hard to gain recognition of civilization and thus belong to the “civilized” group. Eventually, this was only to a certain extent successful, since even if a state was to be recognized as independent and legitimate, celebrating treaties and establishing diplomatic relations did not mean, however, necessarily to be seen as a full member of international society[7]. Brazil was a former member of the Portuguese Overseas Empire officially independent in 1822 in the form of a constitutional monarchy. To “allow”, even if recognized as legitimate and sovereign state, extraterritorial rights to Western powers, was seen as an important indicator of inferiority and subordination status and that the sovereignty of the country was only partial [8] [9].

Brazil officially only maintained it for a certain period, until 1844, as an inheritance of the Portuguese Overseas Empire. Thus, although it was formally recognized as independent and sovereign, it was not a full member of European core international society, because it lacked the so-called “standard of civilization”. It is interesting to notice that the option for the title “empire”[10] can be perceived as a statement of affiliation greater to the Old than to the New World[11]. In 1889, when the Republic was introduced, Brazil underwent a new phase of “renovation”, distancing itself to a certain degree from Europe and turning to the Americas[12]. In short, during the 19th century, Brazil was a newly independent political community in search of recognition.

Another huge impediment to Brazil’s annexation to the international society was the fact that it continued and even came to increase during mid 19th century its dealing with slavery, an institution which played an important domestic role at a time when it no longer had a place in the international society. In other words, it did not meet the “standards of civilization” required. In relation to that, a historical event worth mentioning is The Paraguayan War (1864-1870). The war helped the Brazilian Empire to reach its peak of political and military influence, becoming the Great Power of South America, besides also helping to bring about the end of slavery in Brazil[13].

However, it also caused a ruinous increase of public debt, which took decades to pay off, severely limiting the country’s growth. The war debt, alongside a long-lasting social crisis after the conflict, are regarded as crucial factors for the fall of Empire and proclamation of the First Brazilian Republic[14].Th de facto suppression of slave trade, came with the Eusébio de Queiroz Law (July 12, 1850)[15]. For the British, Brazil finally fulfilled its previously signed treaties and followed “the common principles of humanity and the fundamental precepts of the Christian religion”[16].

The process of Brazilian independence dragged on in successive stages between the arrival of the Portuguese crown in Rio de Janeiro in 1808, the formal British and Portuguese recognition between 1825 and 1827, until Dom Pedro I’s return to Europe in 1831[17]. The period coincided with the process whereby the Congress of Vienna came to accept new members, nominally the “new states of settlement” of the American continent. European recognition was formalized through treaties and the establishment of diplomatic relations[18]. It is interesting to consider that due to the fact that Brazil inherited great experience in diplomatic matters from the Portuguese, this expertise made all the difference in the formation of borders, in the management of rivalry with Spanish American neighbors and in obtaining European recognition[19]. The recognition of Brazilian independence, was first made by the African kingdoms of Benin and Lagos and the United States, then by Portugal and Great Britain and other European states, with the recognition of the old metropolis, Portugal, and the main power of then, Britain, certainly being most important cases[20].

During the second half of the 19th century, despite the economic and political weaknesses that it still had, Brazil began to a certain point to participate in the international economic order that was established, being present at conferences, adhering to multilateral agreements and to the first technical and economic treaties that established cooperation among States[21]. The Brazilian participation in the Second Hague Convention (1907), which was responsible for dealing with formal issues of war and the creation of a permanent arbitration court, was important for bringing the public a discourse that called for equality between States in relation to international society[22]. It is significant, therefore, the understanding of Brazil as an average power of then. Its participation in World War I, on the British side, more symbolic than effective, finally granted the country a pass which enabled it to participate in the negotiations of the Paris Conference, and, finally, a ticket as a representative in the congress of the League of Nations. This can be considered to have been the definitive internationalization of Brazilian politics then[23]. The Brazilian participation in the universal exhibitions of the second half of the 19th century can also be seen as an effort to be perceived as an equal partner of the international society of that time[24].

Another interesting contemplation, is how the other nations considered the nation’s sovereign and how this was a strong indicative of the international positioning of Brazil then. D. Pedro II was the monarch of the “young sister nation,” a Christian, and though he was a native of Brazil, he descended from the most important European lineages. The fact that he did not “look like a king,” wearing ordinary clothes, wearing a straw hat and preferring to give up “benefits” from his position, rather than disappoint, attracted the American public interested in this “monarch of the New world”[25]. Brazil, which in the beginning of the 20th century started to take part in international events, increased its participation to the point of hosting the III Pan American Conference in 1906, in the then capital city of Rio de Janeiro[26].

With the destruction of the European international society after WWI and with the restructuration of the system in the interwar period, Brazil was finally able to found itself a place of (more) equality among the members of the new and global international society formed after WWII, with diplomacy and international law proving to be fundamental instruments for a militarily weak state. It is questionable however, to what degree the country is (even nowadays) fully equal to its European and American counterparts in the global international society.

To conclude, it its necessary to remark that even though there was a continuous pursuit of adherence to European diplomatic rituals, practices and symbols since its independence, this process parallel lead to the creation of asymmetrical relations with the center of European international society which still exist. For example, Brazilians still commonly refer to Europe and the U.S. as the “first world”, praising and considering superior everything that comes from the Old Continent and the American leader. The embedded feeling of inferiority, rooted in the past experiences and relations with the European international society have not yet completely disappeared. But the question is, will they ever disappear in the current international order or is the birth of a new one needed?


[1] GOLDFELD SOCHACZEWSKI, M.; “O Brasil, o Império Otomano e a Sociedade International: Contrastes e Conexões (1850-1919)”, Fundação Getulio Vargas, Centro de Pesquisa e Documentação de História Contemporânea do Brasil (CPDOC), August 2012, Rio de Janeiro, p. 20.

[2] BULL, H.; “A Sociedade Anárquica”, Imprensa Oficial do Estado, Editora UnB; São Paulo, Brasília, 2002, p. 15. & WATSON, A.; “A evolução da sociedade internacional”, Editora UnB, Brasília, 2004, p. 37.

[3] GOLDFELD SOCHACZEWSKI, M.; “O Brasil, o Império Otomano e a Sociedade International: Contrastes e Conexões (1850-1919)”, p. 34.

[4] GOLDFELD SOCHACZEWSKI, M.; “O Brasil, o Império Otomano e a Sociedade International: Contrastes e Conexões (1850-1919)”, p. 38.

[5] GOLDFELD SOCHACZEWSKI, M.; “O Brasil, o Império Otomano e a Sociedade International: Contrastes e Conexões (1850-1919)”, pp. 39 and 40.

[6] GOLDFELD SOCHACZEWSKI, M.; “O Brasil, o Império Otomano e a Sociedade International: Contrastes e Conexões (1850-1919)”, p. 40.

[7] GOLDFELD SOCHACZEWSKI, M.; “O Brasil, o Império Otomano e a Sociedade International: Contrastes e Conexões (1850-1919)”, p. 43

[8] GOLDFELD SOCHACZEWSKI, M.; “O Brasil, o Império Otomano e a Sociedade International: Contrastes e Conexões (1850-1919)”, p. 47

[9] DORATIOTO, F.; “Maldita Guerra: Nova História da Guerra do Paraguai”, Companhia das Letras, 2nd edition revised by the author, 2002, pp. 47-52.

[10] DORATIOTO, F.; “Maldita Guerra: Nova História da Guerra do Paraguai”, pp. 47-52.

[11] BETHELL, L.; “The Abolition of the Brazilian Slave Trade: Britain, Brazil and the slave trade question, 1807-1869”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1970, p. 341.

[12] GOLDFELD SOCHACZEWSKI, M.; “O Brasil, o Império Otomano e a Sociedade International: Contrastes e Conexões (1850-1919)”, p. 54.

[13] GOLDFELD SOCHACZEWSKI, M.; “O Brasil, o Império Otomano e a Sociedade International: Contrastes e Conexões (1850-1919)”, pp. 55 and 56.

[14] GOLDFELD SOCHACZEWSKI, M.; “O Brasil, o Império Otomano e a Sociedade International: Contrastes e Conexões (1850-1919)”, pp. 74 and 75.

[15] CARDIM, C. H.; “A Raiz das Coisas. Rui Barbosa: O Brasil no Mundo”, Civilização Brasileira, Rio de Janeiro, 2007, p. 52.

[16] GOLDFELD SOCHACZEWSKI, M.; “O Brasil, o Império Otomano e a Sociedade International: Contrastes e Conexões (1850-1919)”, p. 78.

[17] GOLDFELD SOCHACZEWSKI, M.; “O Brasil, o Império Otomano e a Sociedade International: Contrastes e Conexões (1850-1919)”, p. 85.

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