micropolitical authoritarianism

Image: Anderson Antonangelo


The sense of the Bolsonaro government, before the concentration of power, is the dispersion of the authoritarian form as a kind of micropolitics of force

Traditionally, authoritarianism is thought of as a phenomenon of concentration. From this point of view, for example, “authoritarian” is the ruler who concentrates, or seeks to concentrate, the means of exercising power in his own hands in order to, on the one hand, remain in power and, on the other hand, impose his will over the governed.

Thought of as a phenomenon of concentration, authoritarianism can be easily recognized in those situations in which there is a concentration of powers in the figure of a single individual. In them, the ruler acts in such a way as to strengthen his own position and impose his will. In this sense, concentration appears as an end in itself.

Certainly, the totalitarian experiences of the XNUMXth century, notably Nazism and Stalinism, can be broadly thought of as processes through which social and political power underwent a concentration whose point of convergence would be the figure of the leader. Under the form of totalitarianism, authoritarian concentration is taken to its ultimate consequences, so that the very lives of individuals become subject to the one who concentrates power.

Totalitarian experiences, however, must be considered as extreme forms of authoritarian concentration. Governments can safely be authoritarian without this center clearly delimited by the figure of a leader. The core of the concentration may well be a group or an institution. This would be, for example, the case of dictatorships in Latin America, in which the center of concentration of power was military groups and institutions, more than an individual.

Moreover, nothing prevents this process of concentration from taking place in a veiled manner, that is, within an institutional framework whose shell is still democratic, but whose content converges towards a center that, so to speak, on the sly, concentrates this power. . In other words, a convergence between democratic form and authoritarian concentration is entirely possible, and this would be the case, even if tending, of the democratic corpses whose autopsies were performed recently[1].

That said, it would hardly be possible to deny the authoritarian bias of the Bolsonaro government. The president's movements in the sense of guaranteeing his personal control, first, over the police forces and, later, over the military forces are the most visible face of this authoritarianism, that is, the effort to concentrate the means of exercising power (in the case, violence) into their own hands. The episode in which the minister of defense made the position available, being accompanied by the commanders of the military forces, it seems, is based precisely on this concentration effort on the part of the president.

I would like to suggest, however, that the form of “concentration” not only does not exhaust the meaning of the authoritarian experience, but also that it is not the deepest dimension of the authoritarianism characteristic of the Bolsonaro government. In addition to the phenomenon of concentration (characteristic of authoritarian experiences in the XNUMXth century), authoritarianism can also take the form of a process of dispersion. That is, it is possible to speak of two types of authoritarianism, if you like, one centripetal, the other centrifugal.

The way in which Bolsonaro seeks to attract, directly or indirectly, the personal command of the police and military forces clearly represents a phenomenon of concentration and, in itself, is something absolutely worrying. However, even so, the “authoritarian risk” of the Bolsonaro government cannot be thought of only in terms of the concentration of powers, but must also be taken from the perspective of a generalized dispersion of authoritarianism, that is, an “authoritarian dispersion”.

What could characterize an authoritarianism that presents itself, not as concentration, but as dispersion? If “authoritarian concentration” is the concentration of power, strength, authority in a fixed nucleus, “authoritarian dispersion” can be thought of as the diffusion and spreading of the authoritarian form throughout society, a dispersion of force. As dispersion, authoritarianism operates by producing social and political conditions from which the authoritarian form can find expression in the most distant points of the nucleus that radiates it.

It is for this reason, for trying to make authoritarianism flourish in the most distant regions possible, that this type of authoritarianism could very well be defined as a micropolitical authoritarianism. For this form of authoritarianism, what is fundamental is not the concentration of power in the hands of a restricted group or a leader, but the creation of conditions in which authoritarianism can express itself, as a manifestation of force and violence, in the most everyday situations, in family disputes, in traffic fights, between neighbors, in bar conversations, on school benches and in children's games, even assuming more spectacular forms such as spontaneous lynching, or more or less organized ones such as vigilantism and, obviously, the militia[2].

It is about producing situations in which an authoritarian personality can manifest itself and assert itself without restraint. For this micropolitical form of authoritarianism, the concentration of power is not excluded, but it is just a means, an instrument to achieve the greater end, which is the dissemination of the authoritarian form and of what is its fundamental experience, force. Concentration is secondary here. It happens only to the extent that it is possible to create a circuit in which political concentration can feed this dispersion of the authoritarian form and the use of force at a micro level.

Mismanagement, disorder, the construction of chaos, confusion and contradiction are clearly not the simple result of an incapacity[3]. Rather, they are useful and even fundamental tools for authoritarian dispersion. They are precisely the mechanism that produces the ideal conditions for the proliferation of authoritarianism. Attempts to intervene in police and military institutions are certainly worrying, even urgent, but it is dispersion, not concentration, that is the most fundamental and perhaps most dangerous facet of the type of authoritarianism represented by Bolsonaro.[4].

Perhaps therein lies the difficulty in describing Bolsonarism as a form of fascism. Fascism, as a historical experience, was mainly marked by the concentration of power. Bolsonarism, in turn, may well do without concentration, or it may instrumentalize it. In any case, this concentration certainly cannot be treated as the ultimate purpose of the project that Bolsonaro is carrying out in Brazil. Its meaning, before the concentration of power, is the dispersion of the authoritarian form as a kind of micropolitics of force.

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


[1] See, for example, the analyzes by Levtisky and Ziblat in How Democracies Die (2018)

[2] This quasi-organization, however, has nothing to do with a process of institutionalization or linking these institutions to the state apparatus, as was the case, for example, of the SS in Germany. In the form of micropolitical, dispersive authoritarianism, this organization is fragile, fleeting, spontaneous and unrelated to state power. Dispersion does not occur as institutionalization.

[3] Micropolitical authoritarianism, therefore, can even dispense with the appeal to “order” as a value, characteristic of authoritarian concentration.

[4] The question of whether or not institutions will be able to “contain” Bolsonaro’s concentration efforts, therefore, would also be secondary.


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