The crisis of the social contract

Image: Alexey Demidov


Liberal democracy failed to stem the downward spiral of the modern social contract

In classical political theory, the tension between social regulation and social emancipation is supported by the national state, law and civic education. In Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau this happens through the social contract. Individuals and their associations participate in the pact. Excluded from the social contract are those who do not correspond to the tacit criteria of citizenship and also the inhuman nature – the environment, defined as a plunderable economic resource. In the consortium, only white and straight men receive the status of citizens. Women and minorities outside the hegemonic pattern (indigenous, gay) and even ethnic majorities (black, black) are excluded.

The political groups that call themselves “conservatives”, what is the Ku Klux Klan, join the patriarchal and colonialist matrix of thought and oppose with an indomitable radicalism the universalization of contractualism, therefore, the values ​​of modernity. It is not surprising the denunciation of Olavo de Carvalho's daughter, in an interview with Capital letter, that she only learned to read at the age of twelve when she went to live with an aunt who, shocked by her father's neglect, enrolled her in a school where she sat next to seven-year-old children. Her father's intellectual abandonment, which provokes disgust, is a consequence of a philosophical conservatism put into practice by discriminating convictions in extremis, in the name of traditions. It should not be psychologized, but criminalized.

The feminist movement for gender equality, the fight against racism for racial equality, LGBTQIA+ groups in favor of freedom of sexual orientation and actions for sharing civilizational benefits, between rural and urban populations, seek in egalitarian ideals the basis for the democratic society, open to alternative sociabilities. Such groups, on the battlegrounds for rights, create the solidarity of equals that encourages one to carry on in the face of adversity.

As highlighted by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, in The grammar of time: towards a new political culture (Authentic): “Although contractualization is based on a logic of inclusion/exclusion, it is only legitimized by the possibility that those excluded – declared alive under a civil death regime – may be included. The operative logic of the social contract is in permanent tension with its legitimation logic. The immense possibilities of the contract coexist with its inherent fragility”. Certainly, neoliberalism potentiates and sharpens contradictions to the point of paroxysm.


revolutionary reformism

Here, it is important to point out that the desired contractualization for “all” implies public goods: legitimate governments supported by the popular will through clean elections, economic and social well-being for the people, security and respect for human rights and also a national cultural identity. Misgovernment in Brazil does not include any of the requirements. The combination of neoconservatism (Damares) with neoliberalism (Guedes) and neofascism (Bolsonaro) breaks ties with modernity and undermines the fragile foundations of constitutional democracy. In other words, “religious fundamentalism, libertarianism and the recycling of the old anti-communism” provoked the “reemergence of the Brazilian right”, points out Luis Felipe Miguel, in an article in the book Hate as politics: the reinvention of rights in Brazil (Boitempo). Hence the illiberal governability.

In this context, in the midst of the pandemic crisis and the economic crisis now compounded by the military conflict in Ukraine whose consequences will be felt beyond Eurasia, the horizon is lowered. Class struggle functions as an instrument to tame rather than supplant capitalism. The review of the labor reform that made work more precarious and generalized unemployment on a scale of millions, the resumption of State investments in education, health, infrastructure, popular housing, technological innovation, etc. – will serve in a likely Lula government to minimize exploitation and humanize capitalism with a social democratic bias: along the lines of post-war Western Europe. However, jaez concerts have little chance of prospering, unless they are articulated with a perspective of overcoming the system – to obtain substantive victories.

In the central countries, utopia was reduced to the welfare state. In peripheral countries, to the developmental State. The flag of socialism was kept in the closet, where it only came out on feast days, during the neoliberal winter. According to Thomas Piketty, in Capital and ideology (Intrinsic), a “just society is one that allows the greatest possible access to fundamental goods and participation in the various dimensions of social, cultural, economic, civil and political life”. Its purpose is, in short, “to organize socioeconomic relations, property relations and the distribution of income and wealth in order to enable less favored members to benefit from the highest possible living conditions”. For what it takes to dare to conquer justice.

It is difficult to classify the policies, listed above, in a reformism with a view to masking the domination of capital, although they do not propose the allegorical takeover of the Planalto Palace. There is virtue in empathy with people's suffering and humanism in institutional actions that fight misery and poverty, gender and "race" inequality, intolerance and police repression to curb differences, promoting the social ascension of subordinated classes to qualify existence in society. Reforms are not opposed to revolutions. Lucien Goldmann condensed both in the expression “revolutionary reformism”, to fill the vacuum of strategies in the anti-capitalist ranks and to circumvent the messianic inflections in the interpretation of history. The enemy of the socialist utopia is the lack of rights, it has never been the awareness of the right to have rights.


The legacy of social fascism

It is correct to say that the apex of the State's legitimacy resides in the conversion, always problematic, of the tension between democracy and capitalism into a virtuous circle in which both prosper, without sacrificing the former on the altar of accumulation. However, variants of the extreme right spread, announcing the crisis of the social contract in a kind of cyberdystopia. “Social networks are important in the process of change; but they are, above all, a sounding board for the phenomena that generate states of opinion: not the setback. Phenomena that can be the product of stimuli, many of them indirect, that overlap different models of political, criminal and military control that were ignored, accepted and tolerated by social actors”, according to Francisco Veiga et alOn Indignant Patriots: On the Ultraderecha in the Cold Post-War (Alianza). Without the fear aroused by the shock in the structures of sexism, racism and homophobia, the fake news Bolsonarists about absurd “dick bottles” would not have an audience.

The values ​​associated with modernity remain (freedom, equality, solidarity, individual autonomy, social justice), but under the bombardment of disparate symbolic meanings in the “narratives” with enunciations that relativize the authority of science, knowledge and common sense. Today, denialist hordes make bonfires with sanitary masks to proclaim the “freedom” of each individual in spite of public health and WHO and Fiocruz recommendations, when they do not invade hospitals to confront nursing teams and patients. The public arena has become a god-help-us, in which it is not arguments that count, but subjective beliefs.

Two (complementary) issues contribute to the serious crisis of contractual guarantees: (a) Pre-contractualism, which blocks the way for social groups to enjoy citizenship rights, such as the right to a first job and; (b) Post-contractualism, which confiscates acquired rights, as Temer and Bolsonaro did when canceling the social programs of the Lula and Dilma governments.

In either case, citizens are thrown back into the Hobbesian state of nature with the stamp of the lump-citizenship, bequeathing a subclass of excluded people. In Jessé Souza's designation, a “rabble” that lives in remote areas, without steady employment and professional training, in single-parent families headed by warrior women despite being dependent on social assistance, and with a tendency to criminal activities to provide for survival. Impossible to change the status quo without joining.

The formatting of current fascism does not repeat the experiences of 1920-1930. “Social fascism” among us can take on traits of apartheid, with an urban cartography that separates rich and poor; parastatal, under coercion and regulation outside legal instances (in charge of militias); contractual, where the weaker party is subject to the power of a stronger one; finance, under the command of investors under democratic interventions in the casino of the Stock Exchanges. In this tangle of horrors, it is necessary to carry out “a solidarity and participatory reinvention of the State”, points out the author of the grammar of time. The Ato Pela Terra, in Brasilia, was perhaps the embryo of promising intersectionalities.


For participatory socialism

Future struggles need to go beyond the milestones of the great victory conquered by neoliberalism, over two generations of hegemony (since 1980) – which conditioned the spirit of utopia in the realm of needs, far from freedom.

Liberal democracy was unable to contain the downward spiral of the modern social contract, which for a long period weakened emancipation. Its limitations were wide open in terms of decontractualizations driven by the sinister neoconservative, neoliberal and neofascist convoy. Democracy needs citizen participation to address the tasks that representation has not accomplished.

With a platform in defense of an ecologically preserved and socially fair world, the progressive government led by Lula will have the opportunity to expand the contractualist paradigm to all Brazilian women and men, in all their diversity, advancing in the struggles that advocate the equalization of rights, without treating nature as a simple commodity. Global warming is not a metaphor. It is a reality that surrounds the very survival of humanity and the planet.

New forms of political sociability challenge the legion of social and political fighters with the seeds of participatory socialism for public control of the state. It's time to take the red flags out of the closet and put the block on the street.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.


See this link for all articles


  • Reasons for the end of the strike at Federal Universitiesbenches 16/05/2024 By TADEU ALENCAR ARRAIS: The Federal Government's new proposal announced on May 15 deserves debate on whether or not to continue the strike
  • How to lie with statisticschair 51 18/05/2024 By AQUILES MELO: The numbers presented by the federal government to education employees on strike confuse more than they explain, thus demonstrating a lack of interest in resolving the problem
  • “Multipolarity” and the chronic decline of the WestJose Luis Fiori 17/05/2024 By JOSÉ LUÍS FIORI: The defense of multipolarity will increasingly be the banner of countries and peoples that are currently rising up against the global military imperium exercised by the West
  • The strike at universities and federal institutes does not…path time 17/05/2024 By GRAÇA DRUCK & LUIZ FILGUEIRAS: The left-wing and democratic forces need to get out of passivity, as if waiting for Lula and his government, as well as the STF, to resolve the political impasses
  • The Caramel horsecaramel horse 15/05/2024 By LEONARDO BOFF: We must admit that we have not respected the rights of nature and its intrinsic value, nor have we controlled our voracity to devastate it
  • The operational universityMarilena Chauí 2 13/05/2024 By MARILENA CHAUI: The operational university, in university terms, is the highest expression of neoliberalism
  • Environmental denialism and the flooding of Porto AlegrePorto Alegre airport flooded 14/05/2024 By CARLOS ATÍLIO TODESCHINI: Porto Alegre has the best flood protection system in Brazil. It is considered a “Dutch mini-system”. Why did this system fail in its function of preventing the city from being flooded?
  • Oza's handJoao_Carlos_Salles 14/05/2024 By JOÃO CARLOS SALLES: The duty of the Brazilian State and the contracted university
  • Fake freedom and the Marquis de SadeEugenio Bucci 18/05/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Fake freedom, sadistic freedom, which in essence is the denial of all freedom, is leading Brazil to total shipwreck
  • SUS, 36 years old – consolidation and uncertaintiesPaulo Capel Narvai 15/05/2024 By PAULO CAPEL NARVAI: SUS was not the “stillbirth” that many predicted. Almost four decades later, the SUS is institutionally consolidated and has developed a notable process of republican governance