Bolsonarism and the aesthetics of suicide

Image: Ekaterina Astakhova
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By SERGIO SCHARGEL*

Brief commentary on the events of January 08

“In their days of pain men cause me / Such pain that I cannot even torment them” (Goethe, Faust).

We all saw, during the pandemic, an aspect of Bolsonarism that cannot be classified as anything other than suicidal. To the military for unrestricted freedom – a dystopia with no support in reality –, the entourage militated for their right to die. A similar thing happened on January 08th, a nihilistic drive for death, destruction turned aesthetic. And this is no coincidence.

At this point, few disagreed with Bolsonarism's approximations with Nazi-fascism. If not on a programmatic level, at least on an aesthetic one. Among several elements in common, one stands out: tanatophilia. These are movements that have, at their core, a drive for death. And this applies not only to dehumanized enemies, but even to your own sect. Death becomes as aestheticized as politics itself, desirable, a natural step towards achieving the classical imagery of the mythical warrior. A death in favor of what is seen as the greater good, which appears in the motto of Squadristi, "I do not care” or, in free translation, “I don't care”; or, even more so, in that of the Phalangists"Long live the death!".

In his doctrine, published ten years after the March on Rome, Benito Mussolini says in all his words that dying for Italy is a necessary evil to lead it to greatness. Bellicism is so fundamental to the regime that he claims that peace “is hostile to fascism”.

Like Bolsonarism, Nazi-fascism emerged as a religion capable of mobilizing a following, mobilized by a melancholic resentment, to collective suicide. The leader, like a messiah – a fortuitous and symptomatic coincidence this being Jair's second name – acts against the vacuum and provides a meaning, a common cause, an explanation for frustrations and resentments. Specific groups, what Hannah Arendt called “objective enemies”, are blamed for the frustrations of this resentful mass, who become progressively aggressive and dogmatic. The enemy does not matter – they can be Jews, communists, LGBTQ+ –, it only matters that they exist, that there is a target to mobilize passions and hatred. So much the worse if there is an economic crisis and a desire to return to an idealized past.

Nazi-fascism not only does not meet its end with Hitler and Mussolini, but it evolves into new clothes and remains, albeit weakened, even in the era of post-war liberal democracy. And it emerges when conditions are favourable. Adorno and his research group had already noticed and dealt with this in the book authoritative personality, when they pointed out that “fascism was not an isolated episode, but was latently present in samples of the North American population”. Like an animal on a leash that reacts aggressively when released. Or, as Rob Riemen says, the “barbarian son of mass democracy”.

Even the greatest of authoritarians will always claim to be a democrat. Any work that deals with people and relates to democracy, as is well known, should avoid direct questions about democracy support. The share of declared anti-democrats is tiny, when compared to those with a dormant authoritarian personality, capable of adhering to authoritarianism if conditions are favorable.

As much as explicitly authoritarian for us, the Bolsonaristas who invaded Brasília on the last January 08th see themselves as the true defenders of democracy. It is paradoxical, and certainly demagogic, but Jair Bolsonaro and his subjects see themselves not as authoritarians per se, but as paladins responsible for rescuing a democracy taken over by authoritarian and degenerate forces. An authoritarianism to end authoritarianism, therefore. Real violence against fictional violence. For this, the messiah, who claims to be persecuted, moves his soldiers to march to the sound of “Long live the death!”. From the Phalangists to Benito Mussolini, Bolsonarism proved to be the direct heir of a messianic and suicidal political tradition.

In 1938, the Integralists, seeing the Estado Novo as a betrayal, organized an uprising against Getúlio Vargas. Plínio Salgado claimed, for the rest of his life, that he was not responsible for the demonstration. He accused the movement of having been contaminated and infiltrated by parts of the left. He remained submissive to the Estado Novo, even after his arrest and self-exile. Likewise, the Bolsonaros deny any participation, and go so far as to point out, without evidence, an alleged infiltration by the left. As the cowboys move to the slaughter, the shepherd remains safely in his tower, disclaiming any responsibility for his sheep, even after releasing and feeding them.

*Sergio Scargel is a doctoral candidate in political science at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). Author of Eternal fascism, in fiction and in reality (bestiary).

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