furtive authoritarianism



In Brazil, the same process of retrogression of democracy to authoritarian situations is taking place that can be observed in several places in the world.

The concept of “stealth authoritarianism” was proposed by political scientist Adam Przeworski in his new book Crisis of Democracy [Crisis of Democracy] (Cambridge University Press, 2019). In this outline, it is a process of retreat from democracy to authoritarian situations – which is taking place in several places in the world –, but in a completely different way from its previous forms. Before, what happened were coups d'état, generally perpetrated by the Armed Forces at a certain time, the so-called “D” day.

Now it's different. We are facing a process that is gradually imposing itself little by little and barely perceptible. This continuous “increase” takes place, secondly, within the laws, and does not appear as a constitutional rupture. A third feature: it is run by democratically elected political leaders.

The result of the sum of these three characteristics is the slide from democracy to dictatorship without society noticing what is happening. Because democratic institutions apparently continue to function, but increasingly become a mere “façade”. The Executive Power gradually expands its ability to dominate and erases the presence and strength of counterpowers.

This concept helps to understand what is happening in Brazil today. We are living through a process of rupture of democracy led by a democratically elected leader. The current President of the Republic was elected in 2018, in a competition where, until further notice, there was no fraud, there was freedom of expression and there was freedom of organization. We also maintain an apparent respect for the law. Even on this very important issue, the intervention on the Federal Police, the president claims that he has the constitutional right to act in this way. He is arguing – in line with the movement that the Przeworski thesis seeks to explain – from within the laws. This enlargement of the Executive Branch also happens incrementally, little by little.

We can verify this in this example of the intervention in the Federal Police or in an interesting previous case which was the appointment by the president of an attorney general who was not part of the triple list, of an attorney general in tune with his ideological vision. This obviously has practical consequences, in addition to the fact that little by little institutions are becoming intimidated. Society itself is becoming intimidated.

*André Singer is a professor of political science at USP. Author, among other books, of Lulism in crisis (Company of Letters).

Text established from an interview given to Gustavo Xavier, on USP radio.

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