How dictatorships arise

Image: Daniel Sperindeo


When we don't participate, someone else participates, when we don't vote, someone else votes, when we don't exercise citizenship, someone does it on our behalf

We know the most pernicious action of citizens in a democracy: omission. This act of “not acting” has been present since the oldest civilizations. But it was never thought of in terms of “not acting” as a right, quite the opposite: as the status of citizenship was granted to citizens with rights, so being a citizen and participating politically, that is, in favor of equity, the collective and the public thing, it was a privilege sought by many, but a privilege that had to be honored with services to the administration of the city-state.

In Athens, ancient Greece, for example, political participation was compulsory for citizens, it conferred the status of citizenship and measured the degree of legitimacy not only of laws and judgments, but, fundamentally, the extent to which a citizen “reciprocated” ” to the polis the counterpart of the enjoyment of the benefits allocated proportionally to those who were citizens.[I] It is not that the Athenians had the prerogative to participate, they had the obligation to work and act in favor of the “public thing”, in litigious conciliations, in the courts, in political discussions in the agora, in the creation of laws, and directly in the most serious trials. important, in monitoring pedagogical activities (educational and games), in wars (as in Sparta).

Politically, one of the most symbolic tools of citizen participation was the institution of “ostracism”, created by Cleisthenes around the 16th century. V BC, in which citizens had the possibility of a certain individual being able to participate politically in rallies, with the penalty of being banned from the city for ten years, less for his current acts, more for his ambition for power and the possibility of becoming a tyrant (the vote was made with white and black shells [ostrakon]).

In Rome, the Republic inaugurated democracy under the auspices of the Roman Senate, granting plebeians the right to vote on laws among themselves (conciliates plebis), and electing the tribunes of the common people in plebiscites. Around the century. III BC, plebiscites were also used by patricians before laws were submitted to the Senate. Although during the republican period the Senate acquired more and more power, Cicero (Of the Laws) believed that the Republic was still the best form of political-administrative organization for citizens, because in it, he said, far from dynastic commitments among themselves, there was freedom for each person to develop their gifts in accordance with the laws of nature ( in principle always harmonious and wise).

With the Stoics and Cicero, jusnaturalism was inaugurated based on the integration of man with nature, and, most importantly, a morality that long before being ascetic was mainly focused on ethical responsibility in accordance with, of acting well, of acting in accordance with nature, humility and wisdom. One should obey and act not because one recognizes the power and violence of the ruler (State), or based on the fear of a transcendent justice, “but by recognizing the meaning of well-being and happiness when one is integrated into the whole and the community.”[ii]

When Hannah Arendt, in Of violence (1985) said that there is no minority power, but only disinterest and omission on the part of the majority, he thought so much about homo politicicus of Aristotle and its integrative nature with the collective. She says: “The extreme form of power is all against One, the extreme form of violence is One against All” (1985: 35).[iii]

The masses end up being the modern form of collective, more than the people; precisely because the concept of people is circumscribed in the political form of the nation-state, it is limited given the very possibility of its political representation. The masses, in turn, are deformed, which is why their representation is unlimited and incommensurable, according to Atilio Borón (2003),[iv] and in some ways more malleable. This allows us to think that, faced with the ideological political disinterest of post-Modernity, as a liberal bourgeois society, the masses are reconfigured around fanaticism and denial of science, and sophisticated and complex models of social life.

It is no coincidence that Hannah Arendt spoke to us of these masses as “rabble” and how they are distinguished from “the people”: “Both attitudes derive from the same fundamental error of considering the rabble identical to the people, and not a caricature of them. The rabble is fundamentally a group in which residues from all classes are represented” (1978, p. 163).[v]

However, the masses, which do not form stricto sensu only the “rabble” can, in the most forceful political scenarios and ideological confrontations, restrain their opinions, out of fear or lethargy, because to the extent that they, specifically the people, distance themselves from their constitutive limits of responsibilities and obligations of citizens, the “right of omission” is installed, which boycotts political participation or ideological struggle in the field of constitutional democracy.

This is what we now want to understand by freedom in societies of mercantile liberalism: the more individuals feel free, away from the normative ties of the nation-state, the more they feel, then, part of the shapeless mass without measurable limits, and the more their apathy towards this normativity grows; and with it the growing power and unreasonable beliefs of certain groups, even minority ones. These, initially at least, can, with a cunning project that denies the very democracy in which they participate, come to power with megalomaniacal projects, the most irrational, fanatical and denialist.

Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, drew attention to the successive and persistent disregard of the majority when gaining the benefits of being well in Western democracies. But he was also concerned, on the other hand, that the majority supported by this material prosperity became disinterested in the equally legitimate rights of minorities, oppressing them, without Tocqueville suspecting, however, that that contempt and omission could not affront or disregard the rights of minorities, but, under certain conditions, observable now, that they can articulate themselves together with other social groups (possibly, among them there are people linked to social and recognition movements), more or less served by the equity of the State, and can alter the political correlation of forces to the point where they govern in disregard of democracy.

Political participation, comprehensive or universal, providing the “inclusion” of all social layers, as Stuart Mill and Montesquieu advocated, no longer tells us much from the point of view of the ability to want to proactively resist and act in some degree of representation government to ensure the democratic regime, even one that is based on the bourgeois mercantilist configuration. Note that it is not about defending democracy without considering the social constitution and capitalist economic and cultural organization, but the need to consider the minimum of objective conditions in the ideological struggle of our time.

To lose freedom and civilization in democracy is to lose in advance the revolutionary struggle on all possible fronts that it presents against capital and the value system. State authoritarianism, government despotism, Facinazist intentions, if carried out in the 21st century. XXI, will be the unprecedented setback and delay of the historical possibility of the socialist path, and beyond (capitalism and socialism).

“Political action” must be critical even of rationality itself as a lure for mass freedom without obligations (let us not forget commodity fetishes here). At the same time, it is preponderant in mass movements that individuals who anarchize the limits of the nation-state do so in a (false) perception that their rights are less weighed by public policies and government actions. In a vacuum, without rights and obligations, the homo sacer[vi] modern man thinks he is on the brink of the abyss and, then, the parasitized individuals will parasitize.

They will run to the first group that apparently gives them some dignity and restores their feeling of belonging. At this moment at least, if it is a problem to live under the aegis of the State (and the rule of capital), so is the omission of social agents and institutions in not wanting to participate through “political action”. On the other hand, it would not be reasonable or rational to omit “political action” simply in the name of a symptomatic contempt of the “against capitalism” type.

In these strategic vacuums, on the right and on the left, the worst policy is repeatedly installed, the shadow of despotism takes over. None of them interest us, and none of them go beyond what we already have. Our actions matter. The same rationality that Hannah Arendt asked of American students fighting the Vietnam war was the same that Theodor Adorno asked of European students in May 1968.[vii] The question is clearly not wanting to transform the world, but more precisely whether reason enlightens us in our understanding of the world and in our actions.

If any dictatorship of the majority does not seem to be admissible, any form of dictatorship of the minority does not seem defensible either. There are many revolutionary actions that can raise our struggles against the value system; Neither omission on the one hand, nor irrational fanatical participation, on the other, are acceptable if they consider, even as a means, the loss of freedom and the end of justice.

On the other hand, it must be said, in the world of dispute and alternation of power, a good life with equity and justice cannot be generated in terms of omissions in relation to immediate struggles, this is because the space of politics will be always and quickly occupied by those who live off the omission of others and extreme confrontation on the basis of fascinazism. One cannot abandon struggles, for rights or otherwise, in the name of interpretations of traditionality, Marxist or otherwise, even if legitimate. All critical daily struggles, confronting the mercantile mode of production, cause more or less blunt cracks in the capitalist system.

It does not follow from this that, when the concrete conditions of popular social movements are presented, the transformative power in progress should not be made viable and solidified. It may happen that at critical moments certain accommodations are made in the name of the pragmatism necessary to achieve the revolutionary objectives of wage workers in capitalism. It can always be debated to what extent this “pragmatism” is acceptable and convenient for the working, exploited and excluded masses. But this is politics. As Marx and Engels wrote: “The attitude of the revolutionary workers' party, in the face of petty-bourgeois democracy, is the following: to march with it in the struggle for the overthrow of that faction whose defeat is desired by the workers' party; march against it in all cases where petty-bourgeois democracy wanted to consolidate its position for its own benefit.”[viii]

It is often forgotten that even the greatest repudiation of the liberal, constitutional bourgeois form takes place in the space of this democracy, even the most radical criticism, and the most anarchic act of inaction, regarding the available constitutional powers. As in Aristotle, man is a political being, and politics is always a project of social organization for collective life that derives from an ethical-political-economic struggle, or, how to regulate by fair means the rights and obligations of others. to others regarding their social positions and material possessions. Omission is never a void in fact, it is not a denial, omission is a positive political action that favors the establishment, having little to do with strategies for doing so in free or autonomous spaces and/or for popular mass struggles.

“Political action” can be related to a series of everyday actions in which people decide to do differently, alone or in groups – taking care of the garden, reading, not wanting to be promoted/have responsibilities, working fewer hours, helping in the community garden in the square or on the corner of our street, or participate in an assembly that votes on the appropriateness of a strike, or even participate more selectively on social media. In the same way as any traditional revolutionary action, “political action” has the power to transform what offends and oppresses us, alienates us and drains our lives.

When we don't participate, someone participates, when we don't vote, someone votes, when we don't exercise citizenship, someone does it on our own, while we find politics unfavorable, some find it the best way to guarantee privileges and benefits, when we don't think, someone will. for us. We are far, far away from the day when creative leisure can be “up to each person, according to their ability”, when each person will be able to freely choose between going to a political assembly where the increase in funding for education or health will be discussed, or exchange this available time to stay at home reading a book.

Until that day arrives, political flight is an irreparable omission. This is how dictatorships are historically built within democracy, this is how dictatorships are built democratically (we must not forget that both Hitler and Stalin came to power through democratic, representative and revolutionary processes).

When we fail to participate in a petition against the defamation of someone unfairly persecuted, or we fail to participate in a public consultation on a law to be voted on in Congress (not all, of course), we give up our citizenship and lose the opportunity to establish correct, fair flags and a good life with freedom and justice. Those who suffer, immediately, are those who need the most protection from the Republic. But we will all be impacted sooner or later by the “victory of omission”: in this case “evil” wins, and dictatorships are about to take over everyone, for example, the dictatorship of pesticides, the dictatorship of land expropriation from ancestral and autochthonous peoples, the dictatorships of racism, the dictatorship of exploited labor, the dictatorship of fanaticism and denialism.

However, the darkest side of political omission in democracies is the simple fact, not always realized, that the less we operate by our own will the mechanisms of participatory support, on the side of the mystical and bloody shadows, despotisms and dictatorships grow and become stronger. and totalitarian systems. Every despotism and every dictatorship wants to be totalitarian, in the same way that every competition wants to destroy or assimilate other competitors – here just the transfiguration of free market laws in conformity with politics and the State.

In all the significant cases in History in which dictatorships are established, behind all the restrictions of freedom and mystical abrogations and falsehoods, and unprecedented violence, there is a long trail of omissions by those who could have made a difference by not omitting , participating in small actions easily available to them, or others, but being present in the public space could influence future decisions and the harmful development of events.

And it will be seen that the vile and vengeful convictions and actions grew exponentially, hatred and violence that only increased, because the omission sent a clear and concrete message to these dehumanized people, that if our petitions are insignificant and if In public consultations we do not make a difference, they believe they are winners and worthy of their plans for government and society, in other words, despotism will then grow in the exact proportion that equity and autonomy decrease.

They “win”, not because they have more time available or because they are more aware of the issues in dispute, but fundamentally because we are not committed to “political action”. In fact, they think they win and start acting like it, in front of us, while we shrug our shoulders. Evil triumphs by believing in the worst social and scientific aberrations, and, in many cases, they express it explicitly. And from so much seeming to believe and not believing, we have already lost, and usually when we wake up it is already quite late and the moments are already devastating for democracy, freedom and justice.

The worst thing for this dark scenario of democracy is that individuals do not see the validity of being active in relation to the mechanisms set up by the State; in state logic, just think about how much you can benefit or harm, participating or not, if not immediately, but in the future, given the uncertainties of government and power, both from an economic, ideological or religious point of view[ix]. Out of “fear”, they execute their choices and act in accordance with what Max Weber called “rational action in relation to ends”, coined by him as the “ideal type”, since this type of social action is the most comprehensive in societies modern (and post-modern): agents think about the advantages and disadvantages in the face of the risks of their actions with a view to present or future benefits or inconveniences.

So we have a vicious cycle: the less people participate, the more extremist people implement their power strategies, using physical or symbolic violence, on the agenda of values ​​and subjectivities, and with this, the more there is “fear” of future violent retaliations: working on the hypothesis that these individuals come to power, then they will be less predisposed to expose themselves and participate in the possibilities available to them to curb the despotic impulses of the extreme right and the establishment of authoritarian and dictatorial governments.

*José Manuel de Sacadura Rocha He has a PhD in Education, Art and Cultural History from Mackenzie University. Author, among other books, of Legal sociology: foundations and borders (GEN/Forensics). []


[I] First of all, we are here grasping the “spirit” of “political action” and its relationship with the duties of citizenship, knowing that the title or status of citizenship was not attributed to many, such as slaves and foreigners.

[ii] ROCHA, José Manuel de Sacadura. Fundamentals of Philosophy of Law. Salvador: Juspodivm, 2020.

[iii] ARENDT, Hannah. Of violence. Brasília: Ed. University of Brasília, 1985. Trans. Maria Cláudia Drummond Trindade.

[iv] BORÓN, Atílio B. Empire: two mistaken theories. Marxist Criticism, Sao Paulo,

Boitempo, v.1, n.16, 2003, p.143-159.

[v] ARENDT, Hannah. The totalitarian system. Lisbon: Publicações Dom Quixote, 1978.

[vi] Read AGAMBEN, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: sovereign power and bare life I. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG, 2004.

[vii] Quoted by Arendt as an experience in the book Of Violence when minority students managed to prevent classes that the majority said they wanted. Also ADORNO, Theodor. Negative Dialectic, Rio de Janeiro: Editora Zahar, 2009, in relation to what seemed to him to be a lack of rationality and psychological induction of the masses in the case of progressive students in the 1968 movement. On the subject, WILDING, Adrian: Flautistas de Hamelin y eruditos: sobre las Adorno's last conferences. In: HOLLOWAY, John; PONCE, Fernando; VISQUERRA, Sergio (org.). Negativity and revolution: Theodor Adorno and politics. Buenos Aires: Herramienta; Mexico: Universidad de Puebla, 2007, p.18-36.

[viii] MARX, Karl; ENGELS, Friedrich [1850]. Message from the central committee to the League of Communists (Germans). São Paulo: Editora Alfa-Omega, s/d.

[ix] See the individualistic logic of social agents when it comes to the collective interest politically, for example, in OLSON, Mancur. The Logic of Collective Action. São Paulo: EDUSP, 1999.

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