The crisis of governance in Western democracies

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It is increasingly difficult for the State to manage efficiently, as its ability to act to govern for the benefit of the population is undermined by capitalist logic.

In the current stage of productive forces, dominated by large multinationals and transnationals, the financial sector and agribusiness, capitalism is increasingly predatory. The social surplus collected by the State is captured by the interests of big capital. There is a crisis of governance in the great nations of the capitalist world. Today it is increasingly difficult for the State to manage efficiently, as its ability to act to govern for the benefit of the population and achieve collective goals is undermined by capitalist logic.

Obtaining income or economic advantages (rent seeking) by individuals or interest groups, which do not derive from the free play of the market, has become a problem for large nations. These individuals or groups take undue advantage of State revenues, evading taxes, corrupting public officials, rigging bids, invoicing prices, receiving bribes or acquiring large pensions or pensions, which do not correspond to their contribution.

Instead of profit being generated by free competition, bringing benefits to the entire society, the capture of the State by individuals or economic groups produces harmful results for social well-being. According to Queiroz (2012), the activity of agents in the search for profit in a competitive manner in the market, according to the rules of the economic game, is something beneficial for the whole society.

The profit obtained in this way generates positive contexts, such as increased productivity throughout the economy, as well as the improvement of production processes and the well-being of individuals, benefiting the entire economic and social system. However, obtaining income through mechanisms external to the market, taking advantage of privileges obtained through political decisions, does not find the same positive context, since it produces precarious social well-being.

In Brazil, the capture of the State by individuals and interest groups is part of the culture of institutions. Sérgio Buarque de Holanda already pointed out certain Iberian cultural traits in the Brazilian soul, in particular the Portuguese, such as personalism, privileges, disrespect for laws, social hierarchy and appreciation of the status quo. For this reason, “anarchic elements have always borne fruit easily here, with the complicity and careless indolence of institutions and customs” (HOLANDA, 1995, p. 33). It was these cultural elements that crystallized in our organizational culture, such as personalism, patrimonialism and clientelism.

Patrimonialism is characterized by the subjection or appropriation of goods and services from public institutions by individuals or private groups linked to organizations in the capitalist world. Despite the reforms that Brazil has undergone since it was a colony, patrimonialism still remains a cultural trait of our institutions. As Bergue (2010, p. 34) points out: “Despite the repeated approaches and studies that highlight the influence of patrimonialism, formalism, clientelism, among other factors, the failures of administrative reform projects in Brazil may also be related to the insufficient observance of these cultural elements, including their more modern variants such as cronyism, vassalage, bargaining, physiology, bachelor's degree and centralization”.

Today, patriarchal values ​​still exert a significant influence on politics. Powerful family elites extend to the spheres of institutions and public positions, echoing the past of the colonial period. Power continues to be passed down from generation to generation, as if the highest political ranks were hereditary. Our business elites, mainly those linked to agribusiness and banks, monopolize political power, controlling parliaments, ministries and all main leadership positions.

Therefore, today it is seen as natural that agribusiness does not pay taxes on its exports and that it is also subsidized by billions per year by the State. This phenomenon, in addition to characterizing a form of patrimonialism, can also be understood by what Berge (2010) and experts in public administration call baccalaureate, that is, the habit of trying to shape reality through laws and decrees.

Despite our peculiarities from a colonial past, which still influences our present, patrimonialism, clientelism and bachelor's degrees are also determining conditions in other countries. These characteristics are also found in the modern democracies of the Western world. However, they do not correspond to their historical past, but to the organization of the capitalist world itself, in its neoliberal aspect, in which, with the “minimum State” discourse, big capital appropriates State revenues and puts an end to social policies, reducing its governance capacity.

The best example of this is the largest economy in the world, the United States, which has almost 50 million poor people (12,8% of the population) and has become hostage to the military-industrial arms complex. The gun industry lobby is very powerful. It is the country that is most involved in and finances conflicts around the world, with the sole objective of making a profit from the deaths of innocent civilians. Today, we see this country involved in two major wars, that of Ukraine and that of Israel, making the decisions of the United Nations and international cooperation to guarantee peace unfeasible.

Neoliberalism is today a new form of “governmental reason” that is very close to what Adorno and Horkheimer (1985), in the 1940s, called managed society. It is a normative system “capable of internally guiding the effective practice of governments, companies and, beyond them, millions of people who are not necessarily aware of it” (DARDOT; LAVAL, 2016, p. 14). Today, the forces and powers that establish neoliberalism operate in an interconnection both nationally and internationally.

Bureaucratic and political oligarchies, multinational companies, financial entities and large international economic organizations collaborate in a coalition of concrete powers, playing a significant political role on a global scale (DARDOT; LAVAL, 2016). In this sense, neoliberalism is a new form of managed capitalism, as it imposes a form of social domination based on technical, economic and administrative rationality, transforming individuals into objects of coordination, organization, control and planning on a large scale.

*Michel Aires de Souza Dias He holds a PhD in Education from the University of São Paulo (USP).


ADORNO, Theodor W.; HORKHEIMER, Max. Dialectics of Enlightenment: philosophical fragments. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1985.

BERGE, Sandro Trescastro. Culture and organizational change. Florianópolis:

Department of Administration Sciences / UFSC; [Brasília]: CAPES: UAB, 2010.

DARDOT, P.; LAVAL, C. The new reason of the world: essay on neoliberal society. São Paulo: Editora Boi Tempo, 2016.

HOLANDA, Sérgio Buarque. Brazil roots🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1995.

QUEIROZ, Roosevelt Brasil. Formation and management of public policies. Curitiba, PR: Intersaberes, 2012.

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