Micropolitical authoritarianism – a hypothesis

Image: Scott Webb


It is possible to conceive of a distinct expression of authoritarianism that functions by dispersing and multiplying the instances in which the “authoritarian form” manifests itself.

I published a article on the website the earth is round in which I made the suggestion that the meaning of the Bolsonaro government could be captured from the idea of ​​“micropolitical authoritarianism”. With this term I wanted to point to the fact that it is possible for there to be an authoritarian form of management of social life, an authoritarian form of exercise of political power, which does not necessarily pass, as is usually imagined when it comes to “authoritarianism”, by the mere concentration of power. On the contrary, it is possible to conceive of a distinct expression of authoritarianism that works by dispersing and multiplying the instances in which the “authoritarian form” manifests itself.

The formulation of this hypothesis had as its main objective to suggest that the concentration of power by Bolsonaro, especially with regard to the police and the armed forces, would not be the only and perhaps not the main threat represented by his mode of operation. If this authoritarian concentration is always a risk, conversely, authoritarian dispersion is also a risk. This dispersion takes place, very clearly, for example, by the increase in the autonomy of police forms, by the multiplication of militias and by the organization of movements of vigilantism and justice. That is, authoritarian dispersion would appear as a process of multiplication and proliferation of organizations that act or begin to act systematically in an authoritarian and violent way at a micro level, a kind of authoritarianism "street level".

I would like to return to this hypothesis of micropolitical authoritarianism to make a few observations. First, I clarify that I start from the assumption that, in order to understand Bolsonarism as an authoritarian model, it is essential to take into account the historical experiences of fascism and Nazism. However, it seems to me that before trying to find out whether today's authoritarianism actually falls under the general concept of "fascism", whether it can be classified as a form or a derivation of fascism, it seems more interesting to resort to this comparison to trying to understand what, in fact, differentiates these forms, so that it is possible to capture the specific traits of the current form. And the same goes for thinking about its relationship with the Brazilian historical experience. When taking into account the relationship between Bolsonarism and the military dictatorship, even though there is an obvious connection, it is more important to understand how Bolsonarism differentiates itself as a specific model of damaged national life than simply to state that it is an ideological remnant of models former authoritarians.

Second, what I am calling micropolitical authoritarianism should not be confused with the social authoritarianism characteristic of Brazilian society, the national authoritarian personality. That this society has strong authoritarian traits does not seem to be in question. The question, in fact, is to understand the reasons why this social authoritarianism finds a particular mode of political expression, and not another, at a given moment. In other words, with the hypothesis of a micropolitical authoritarianism, it is not a question of reaffirming the thesis that Brazilian society is historically authoritarian, but of raising the hypothesis that, currently, this social authoritarianism seems to find a particular form of political expression. According to this hypothesis, the social authoritarianism that marks Brazilian society today would find expression in a political form that I am labeling as micropolitical authoritarianism.

It is certainly possible to argue that the processes of dispersion of the authoritarian form and concentration of power in a centralized core can be taken as being one and the same process. Separating them completely would not make sense. There is feedback between the dispersion of instances of violent social administration and the concentration of political power by a centralized nucleus. There is no doubt that the Nazi and Fascist regimes were born and strengthened precisely because of this feedback. In these regimes, however, it seems legitimate to state that the processes of dispersion are captured by the processes of concentration, so that the ultimate meaning of the process as a whole is given by the nucleus that directs political power, a general logic of centralization in that concentration is like the general balance.[1] This direction of the arrow is evident when we look at the process of formalizing and incorporating armed paramilitary groups into the body of the state. The SS is a paradigmatic case. From the personal guard of a party leader, the SS became perhaps the most important organization of the Nazi administration when it was incorporated into the state and became the official body responsible for the violent management of social life. As much as things are too ambiguous, the current movement in Brazil seems to be the opposite. The arrow appears to go in the opposite direction. What is seen is a process of detachment from violent management institutions, which begin to articulate with non-state organizations and even finance themselves through “alternative” means.

Before the nationalization characteristic of the so-called totalitarian regimes, what seems to happen here is an acceleration of the process of autonomization of the social control bodies that previously acted on behalf of the state. A process of decomposition and dismantling that is the opposite of the composition and modernizing construction of the Third Reich. In summary, it can be said that, in Brazil, before the politicization of militias and factions, as was the case with the SS, we have a militia and factionalization of the police. After all, perhaps this distinction is, in fact, subtle and ambiguous, but I suggest that perhaps its meaning deserves to be explored if we want to understand the unique form of social management that the Bolsonarist model seems to be the expression of. Ultimately, it was a phenomenon of incipient “destatization” of the administration of violence, a process of dissolution of the supposed monopoly on the legitimate use of force and the relegitimization of private violence. After redemocratization, we have a democratization of violence and participation in the violent management of life. The proliferation of closed condominiums and private security companies was already the first moment of this deconstruction process.

Bolsonarism and the Bolsonaro government are certainly not the cause of authoritarian dispersion, but they operate according to their logic and as accelerators of this process, undoubtedly linked to the decline of state legitimacy and the struggle for scarce goods in a context of crisis. In such a context, we have a multiplication and intensification of social conflicts at a micro level.[2] added to the weakening of an institutional mediation that would allow a non-violent resolution of these same conflicts. Without such mediation, force and violence fulfill this function. That is, what I am suggesting is that micropolitical authoritarianism is a response to a process of economic and institutional decomposition. It is a form of self-management of social life for a time when management is not possible.

To try to put it perhaps too directly, there is no money in Brazil to build a centralized apparatus of control along the lines of the image we have of totalitarian regimes.[3] If something like a form of peripheral totalitarianism emerges from Bolsonarism, this “totalitarianism” can only be supported by a democratization of violence, a dispersion of violent social management mechanisms that will constitute a very poorly connected archipelago of organizations and groups operating on a large scale. measured independently from each other, according to their own interests, and not directed by the will of a central nucleus that would be the face and brain of the management while these groups would be the arms.[4] Just as peaceful social management has left the hands of the state to be taken over by an infinity of independent organizations, NGOs, neighborhood associations, etc. What is seen in a regime of micropolitical authoritarianism is this same process, however, now in view of the violent management of the social. The main thing, however, is that everything indicates that this phenomenon transcends the current government, whether it wants to carry out a coup or not, whether it wants to be re-elected or not.

*Rodolpho Venturini is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at UFMG.


[1] This is perhaps fundamentally explained by the fact that such regimes are guided by a national and state construction project, a modernizing project carried out by a favorable economy.

[2] To the extent that such conflicts do not seem to be able to assume expression on a macro level today.

[3] And perhaps the financial collapse of the UPPs is indicative of that fact.

[4] The so-called “hybrid war” is not a centralized tactic, but a loose hypothesis that aims to bring order to a process that is actually chaotic. The Brazilian “hybrid war” is a “civil war” for scarce resources in which several actors claim for themselves the task of putting “order” in things in an authoritarian and violent way.


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