The Portuguese solution



Democracy has been permanently tested, not only in Brazil, but in the world

Democracy has and has always had hints of authoritarianism. It is in mass democracy that this authoritarian temptation finds its habitat. Its emergence has always threatened representative democracy. In the 1930s, for example, the emergence of the masses subverted the oligarchic representative regime in many parts of the world. Representative democracies, which function minimally and with stability, we only have in Anglo-Saxon countries. Mass democracy, the demands of consumption, the fraying of society, all these factors, which are present in the contemporary scene, pose a great challenge to the representative system.

Representative democracy has shown itself to be able to stop authoritarian adventures in the various countries where it is solidly organized. In Brazil, the 1988 Constitution created a robust system of defense of the representative system, which has proved resistant. The unanswered question is another: where does this Executive come from who aspires and works to reinforce authoritarianism? Does he not come from the masses?

The president was elected in a very significant mass election. The representative system was not working properly before Bolsonaro. The PT did not perceive the need to take root in society: it preferred to manipulate society from above, in devices and agencies, instead of favoring the self-organization of popular life. In a city like Rio de Janeiro, for example, the PT ignored the associative life of the favelas. Although there were highly favorable conditions for organizing society from the bottom up, the PT preferred to make politics from the top down.

What is the project? This “Bolsonarist republic” is the total loss of the national experience, replaced by the fanatical and the irrational. There is a notorious difficulty of this government in dealing with politics and institutional relations. A Brazilian contraption is being sought – that is, a version of the heterodox grouping of parties, in the case of the left, which had never walked together, suddenly came together and governed Portugal for almost five years. This arrangement seemed unlikely. Why can't we also have a gathering of similar forces, which is not on the horizon right now?

I don't know if we'll have the capacity to build this Brazilian contraption right now, but it's always an interesting prospect. Let it not be now, let it be later. The elections will help with this contraption architecture. That it has to be a contraption, that is, something more rustic, but that brings together. Take the case of the reaction to that sinister attempt by former Culture Secretary Roberto Alvim, mimicking Goebbels. It was very strong. He showed that there is a limit in society. It is an example that this mass democracy will not pass like a bulldozer over the representative system. The resistance mechanisms are in place, they are resilient and will give us the necessary time to find this contraption, this new grouping of political forces.

Democracy has been permanently offended, tested, not only in Brazil, but in the world. Surveys by reputable entities show that the share of the global population dissatisfied with democracy grows year after year. But she is not at risk here. We are not facing a monolithic reality, as has now been shown in Italy (the defeat of the extreme right in the regional elections in Emilia-Romagna) and in Spain (the alliance between PSOE and Podemos). The world of politics is very complex. The fact that the population is dissatisfied with democracy does not mean that it is necessarily looking for alternatives. Is different. These alternatives are even there, more so in Poland, in Hungary, but I ask: so what? How will they find diffusion field?

Trump's policy, while having reasonable resonance, is just one episode in this process. Let's see now in the next elections. A proof of the resistance of democracy is the emergence, not necessarily in politics, but in the economy, of reactions from very strong groups, such as those in defense of the environment. The banner of environmental protection is the antipode of the capitalist regime as it currently exists. It has the need to retreat from the advance of the economy to defend its good, that is, the environment. And that's a universal platform. No more.

Just as there is an agenda to contain neoliberalism in the economic field, there is also a movement to contain authoritarianism in the political sphere, either through parties or through established institutions. Less than a journey towards authoritarianism, what exists is a search for someone to present an alternative. What is discussed in the United States, in this regard, is discussed in the field of economics. No one there is thinking about creating a mass party that will overwhelm the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.

A lot of nonsense is being talked about these days about the end of democracy. The issues exist and are distressing, but there is also, and I emphasize, a movement towards valuing the environment, equality, etc. The complexity of the world – this world of free and franchised communications – is slapping people in the face. It may be that society has less altruism and is more selfish, but the world of Rio's favelas, for example, has a lot of associative life. What we lack and what we have been lacking is politics. What we lacked during the PT period, because there were no policies at all! It's a pragmatic thing: the world is turning. Where? To dehumanizing forces? No. It was like that in the 1920s, 1930s, but a limit was found for that. It's over, although there are always nostalgic vocations.

It is clear that we are not on a bed of roses, but some things happened and they are irreversible. The loss of American hegemony in the economy is irreversible. The advance of the flame of equality, irreversible. The ability to coordinate some dimensions of life, not just nationally but internationally, is irreversible. They are huge bureaucracies, very well trained, that are trying to coordinate as much as possible in this world, apparently so chaotic, but subject to regulation. A little or a lot, it depends on the circumstances, on the talent of the people involved.

It has an open field for innovation. See Portugal. Who would have thought that such an innovative, creative solution would appear in that lost country? I've been to Portugal recently, it's amazing! So rich and confident. Anyway, it's possible. There is always room for virtuous action, which may not have much effect now, but may later on. Furthermore, the West has a tradition of democratic values. It's there in the minds, in every generation in one form or another. Exactly the attempt to displace this tradition is called culture war.

Our world is not yet one of catastrophe, and I don't think it will be. There are many things at stake. It is clear that mass democracy weakens and weakens parties, but it does not cancel them. A way to replace political parties has not yet been found. And here there is no cause for despair: there is cause for concern. Because the authoritarian policy of that government has not yet been able to announce a positive agenda for society as a whole, only for the portions that support it.

What has been the intention of the present authoritative animal? Remove these institutions. It turns out that there is a line of resistance there. Of course, there is a war of positions around this “Maginot line”, established by the 1988 Constitution. This government is pushing to shake its ground, but there are institutions capable of maintaining their positions, without giving up too much ground. There is a limit to this advancement. The press remains free and critical.

Part of the media meets with the government based on its economic orientation and the future it intends to achieve: making a clean slate of all defense plans that exist to curb the advance of capitalism in the land, in the indigenous issue, in the environmental issue. Remove all obstacles. Although there is plenty of room for capitalism to take place in the country without canceling rights, current neoliberalism sees the economy as the only existing reason in the world. A helpless reason of society and politics. It has encountered resistance and may, further on, encounter greater resistance.

It is impossible to prophesy, but in Brazilian history there is an incompatibility between its traditions and purely economicist views. In the 1930s, although Getúlio Vargas wanted to favor capitalism, he did not separate it from social and political concerns. The ruling elites have always had a certain astuteness when dealing with the nature of our society. There was a neoliberal element in 1964, but the dictatorship eventually introduced a national element. Now the national element is completely absent. How long will this last? It is possible that tradition will soon claim its rights, and we will return to its bed, national, social and political. Let us wait, worried, but not desperate.

*Luiz Werneck Vianna is a professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio). Author, among other books, of The passive revolution. Iberism and Americanism in Brazil (Revan).

Article established from an interview given in 2019, originally published in the magazine Insight Intelligence.





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