Roberto Mangabeira Unger

The Traditional Forms of Property Rights and Politics Limit Our Vision of Possible Political Forms

Roberto Mangabeira Unger (born March 24, 1947)


Is a brazillian philosopher and politician, educated in the United States. His vision of humanity and program for society offers a path by which each individual can rise to a greater life. He has developed his views and positions across many fields, including social, political, legal, and economic theory, and his theories of false necessity and empowered democracy are an alternative to neo-liberalism and social democracy. He has further presented a radicalized revision of pragmatism, and his work in legal theory in the 1970s and 80s as part of the Critical Legal Studies movement disrupted the methodological consensus in American law schools. His political activity helped bring about democracy in Brazil, and culminated with his appointment as the Brazilian Minister of Strategic Affairs.

Unger studied law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and was awarded a research doctorate by Harvard after he had already been teaching there for several years.[citation needed]

At the root of Unger’s thought is the conviction that the world is made and imagined. His work begins from the premise that no natural social, political, or economic arrangements underlie individual or social behavior. Property rights, liberal democracy, wage labor—for Unger, these are all historical artifacts that have no necessary relation to the goals of free and prosperous human activity. His books have sought to explicate the ideals of human social, political, and economic activity, and to free them from their institutional chains. Doing so, he holds, will enable the realization of the full extent of human potential and, as he puts it, “make us more god-like.” For Unger, the market, the state, and human social organization should not be set in predetermined institutional arrangements, but need to be left open to experimentation and revision according to what works for the project of the empowerment of humanity.

Unger has long been active in Brazilian oppositional politics, where he has attempted to implement institutional alternatives. He was one of the founding members of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party and drafted its manifesto. He directed the presidential campaigns of Leonel Brizola and Ciro Gomes, ran for the Chamber of Deputies, and twice launched exploratory bids for the Brazilian presidency. He served as the Minister of Strategic Affairs in the second Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva administration. He is currently working on social and developmental projects in the Brazilian state of Rondônia.



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