The let-die policy



The necropolitics of Bolsonarism in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic is to take advantage of the right to let die

For Foucault, the term biopolitics has become paradigmatic and is recurrent in several of his works. According to the author, this idea is present when “life and death are inserted within the field of political power and the sovereign has the right of life and death over his subjects, that is, the right to make die or let live”. ” (FOUCAULT, 1999, p. 287). Thus, biopolitics offers us concrete mechanisms to exercise control over populations through, for example, institutions such as schools, hospitals and prisons.

The concept of necropolitics stems from Mbembe's intention to complement the idea of ​​biopolitics brought by Foucault. For the author, the primacy of sovereign power over life, the power to decide on the discipline of bodies and the regulation of populations is insufficient to “account for the contemporary ways in which the political, through war, resistance or struggle against terror, makes the assassination of the enemy its first and absolute objective” (MBEMBE, 2018, p.6). Necropolitics would therefore not only be the right to kill, but the right to expose subjects to death in different ways: biologically, civilly and/or socially.

Thus, necropolitics explains the existence of governments whose central political project is not the struggle for autonomy, but the “generalized instrumentalization of human existence and the material destruction of bodies” (MBEMBE, 2018, p. 10). In this sense, the concept of necropolitics can be illustrated, according to Dunker (2020), by the slowness in political responses and by the maintenance of situations of social vulnerability, misery and lack of protection by the State, when treating people's lives as administration of populations.

The Covid-19 pandemic around the world highlights a series of structuring inequalities of social and political relations in capitalism and the measures adopted by governments are crucial to minimize the damage. For Davis (2020), the impact of the virus on age groups can be radically different in the poorest countries and groups. The author comments that the pandemic instantly exposed class inequality: some can follow isolation guidelines, working from home, while others will have to make choices between income and health protection.

Likewise, Harvey (2020) argues that the economic and social consequences of the virus are discriminatory, starting with the workforce in patient care and in the logistics sectors, such as supermarkets and airports. For the author, “although mitigation efforts are conveniently camouflaged in the rhetoric that 'we're all in this together', practices, particularly by national governments, suggest more sinister motivations” (p. 20). The advance of the pandemic makes gender, race and class differences explicit.

The State should therefore undertake practices aimed at avoiding a strategic catastrophe, as discussed by Badiou (2020), to control the epidemic as safely as possible and protect lives. The policy adopted by governments contributes to determining the spread of the virus and the number of deaths. In this sense, Birh (2020), argues that the healthy or morbid state of each person's body is directly related to the ability of the social body to defend itself against pathogenic factors, through “an efficient social assistance system and a public health policy that provide the second with the necessary and sufficient means (human, material, financial)” (p.25).

The Brazilian Federal Government, through the figure of President Bolsonaro, by not establishing institutional measures of social isolation, to supposedly prioritize economic recovery measures, follows the line contrary to the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the experiences of other countries on measures effective pandemic control. As presented by Zizek (2020), the return of capitalist animism is observed, by treating phenomena such as markets or financial capital as if they were living organisms.

Dunker (2020), when specifically addressing the Brazilian case, states that it is no coincidence that we have returned to the discussion of prioritizing life or the economy. The coronavirus arrives in the country in the midst of a process of discursive social division and the impoverishment of economic life and labor rights. The rhetoric of the electoral campaign and the method of government of the current president of producing imaginary enemies generates the denial of the arrival of the real and biological enemy.

This is what explains the slowness in taking protective measures, the blatant ignorance of informal workers and the disregard for people's lives practiced by presidential pyrotechnics. What to do with the millions of poor, miserable and unemployed? The answer so far has been denial of existence. The virus is this little ingredient that says, loud and clear: but these people exist, they are life. (DUNKER, 2020, p. ).

The necropolitics of Bolsonarism in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic is to take advantage of the right to let die, through speeches such as “so what?”, “I am not a gravedigger”, “little flu”, when commenting on the victims of the pandemic in Brazil; by not adopting empirically recommended policies to curb virus contamination and avoid the collapse of the health system; by insisting on the recommendation of medication without any scientific basis for it; by not advancing in the institutional apparatus and in a public health policy that gives the social body material, human and financial means to save lives. It is important to emphasize that in Bolsonarist necropolitics, the right to let die does not apply to any Brazilian citizen, but to those who live in a vulnerable situation, to those who cannot follow the isolation suggestions to guarantee income, to those who do not have access to to protective masks and hygiene items, to those who are in the care of the sick.

*Izabella Sabatini e Maria Clara Maia are Master's students in Political Science at UFMG and activists of the World March of Women.


BADIOU, Alain. About the epidemic situation. In: DAVIS, Mike. et al. Coronavirus and the class struggle. Land without Amos: Brazil, 2020.

BIHR, Alain. France: for the socialization of the health apparatus. In: DAVIS, Mike. et al. Coronavirus and the class struggle. Land without Amos: Brazil, 2020.

DAVIS, Mike. The coronavirus crisis is a monster fueled by capitalism. In: DAVIS, Mike. et al. Coronavirus and the class struggle. Land without Amos: Brazil, 2020.

DUNKER, CIL The art of quarantine for beginners. Boitempo: Brazil, 2020.

HARVEY, David. Anti-capitalist policy in times of COVID-19. In: DAVIS, Mike. et al. Coronavirus and the class struggle. Land without Amos: Brazil, 2020.

FOUCAULT, M. In defense of society: course at the Collège de France (1975-1976). Translation Maria Ermantina Galvão. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1999, (Collection topics).

MBEMBE, Achilles. Necropolitics: biopower, sovereignty, state of exception, politics of death. N-1 Editions: São Paulo, 2018.

ZIBECHI, ​​Raul. Coronavirus: the militarization of crises. In: DAVIS, Mike. et al. Coronavirus and the class struggle. Land without Amos: Brazil, 2020.

ZIZEK, Slavoj. A “Kill Bill” blow to capitalism. In: DAVIS, Mike. et al. Coronavirus and the class struggle. Land without Amos: Brazil, 2020.

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