Brazil – authoritarian society

Image: João Nitsche


What constitutes and reproduces a highly authoritarian society is the image increasingly distant from the notion of democracy — a society in which freedom is increasingly part of market advertising than of life itself.

A sociological paraphrase is in order to the question asked by Nietzsche in Ecce Homo, “How does someone become what they are” which, reformulated, would consist of the question: how does a society become what it is? This question is followed by another: Why, in Brazil, does an intensely authoritarian tradition resist?

Such questions do not offer ready-made answers, finished and packaged knowledge, ready for use. And the difficulty lies in the ambiguous nature of key concepts for constructing answers: the way in which we face open notions such as “democracy”, “human rights”, “society”, “justice”, “respect”, etc. directs our gaze, sometimes to one side, sometimes to another.

Although it is possible to admit something immanent in the idea of ​​democracy, justice, etc. what remains are the social uses and the representational corpus about them, preventing objectified conceptions from coinciding with the social forms they acquire in the different fields in which they are inserted. Thus: justice between brothers is not the same as justice between a couple of lovers. The multiple details of everyday life, as they accumulate over time, produce subtle codes that give shape to the notion of justice placed between them. It is in the notion of “middle”, of this “between us” that ends up expanding and shaping, as if pulling the temporal flow of the original idea; and strangling it like a colorful mass, the instrument of concepts that we use to explain reality.

We announce, in the title of this essay, the reigning authority in Brazilian society. But what is it and what makes it durable and reproducible? Let's go to the slopes. We say that society is authoritarian, and not exclusively this or that government. Here is the point: democracy, in the Brazilian cultural context, needs to be rewritten — which does not mean erasing from memory the examples of those who fought for its construction and expansion.

I advance: the rewriting of democracy does not require a new constitutional text. The 1988 constitutional landmark is already the redesign of democracy after more than two decades of military rule. It turns out that, as soon as redemocratization had begun, the vampiric neoliberalism already present in the open veins of Latin America, especially in Chile under Pinochet, arrived in Brazil in an incisive way, showing itself through the hyperinflation that accompanied the entire Sarney government (1985 -1990), followed by successive and failed economic plans.

He was followed by nothing more, nothing less, than Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-1992) – a neoliberal prototype of what, years later, would become the stereotype of the extreme right represented, here, by Jair Bolsonaro (2019 -2022), in the USA, by Donald Trump (2017-2021), in Hungary, Viktor Orbán (since 2010), in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Prime Minister, 2003-2014; President since 2014), in Poland, Andrzej Duda (since 2015), in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte (2016-2022), in Italy, Matteo Salvini (Leader of the Northern League, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, 2018-2019).

Discounting the period in which Brazil was governed by the PT, first by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and, later, by Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016), which deserve a more in-depth look in view of the real effects produced in society, such as the emergence of the new middle class, the expansion of the public university, the reduction of poverty and social inequality, among others, moreover, it follows that, in Brazil, neoliberalism coinciding with the process of redemocratization, it concerned the construction of a new mentality, whose starting point consisted of satisfying the population's deepest expectations: that of the transition from a controlled society – marked by the years of dictatorship – to a free, inclusive and plural society.

And then, the corollary of new times brought with it the notion of diversity and, consequently, of identity agendas as the greatest expressions of this new democracy with an air of freedom. Here is a first sign of the gears that perpetuate the functioning of authoritarian society: the replacement of the historically legitimate agenda of exploitation-labor tension with agendas fragmented into demand bubbles. It is the character of specialism introjected at the heart of the class struggle. 

Another sign is the distribution of authority (and, by extension, speech) through what Pierre Bourdieu called “Diploma inflation”, whose social consequences, in addition to increasing competitiveness for the exclusive benefit of the market, imply the relative devaluation in reason for replacing the notion of distinction with requirement and, finally, the frustration resulting from the “promise” intrinsic to the diploma, in contrast to the “power” of the discourse it produces, especially if we consider the inflation of diplomas at higher levels of training , as well as masters and doctors.

So, let's put together the pieces of what constitutes and reproduces a highly authoritarian society: the image increasingly distant from the notion of democracy (a society in which freedom is increasingly part of market advertising than of life itself); the fragmentary, ideologically oriented agendas of demands; the authority of speech endorsed by an opaque diploma, followed by desperate resentment and cynicism. And, finally, we can understand why hatred is the central characteristic in contemporary Brazilian society — and why it is urgent to rethink democracy.

*Fernando Lionel Quiroga is a professor of Fundamentals of Education at the State University of Goiás (UEG).

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