Two years of misgovernment – ​​Thanatos-Bolsonaro and the totalitarian root



Death trivialized in bureaucratic implementation mechanisms of public policies.


The question of the relevance of the totalitarian regimes of the XNUMXth century arises in contemporary Brazil. The mixture of a head of state with an authoritarian personality and a deadly pandemic has created a broth in which the issue of large-scale death, that of genocide, comes to the fore.

Totalitarian regimes have this characteristic of walking hand in hand with death, as Hannah Arendt reminds us. They bring death closer and elevate it to banality as an operative mode, through the mechanisms of bureaucratic implementation in social actions. It is the type that incarnates, in a surprisingly crystalline way, our general Eduardo Pazuello in his way of working with effectiveness in killing by distributing poison to the population.

Totalitarianism, in its typical conformation of the authoritarian regimes of the 1930s and 1940s, brings this deal with death on a large scale in the way of the frightening everydayness of evil. It permeates various bureaucratic instruments for its practice (the practice of death), through the agents responsible for the effective functioning of the state apparatus. The executive secretary of the Ministry of Health, for example, Elcio Franco, an employee of a state organization supposedly dedicated to preserving the health and preventing the death of citizens, believes that it is commonplace to wear a brooch on his lapel, in the everyday banality of his institutional activities, which depicts a skull crossed by a knife, a symbol of death originating from the Nazi SS imaginary.

The concept of totalitarianism, which some fear in its more direct connotations, may have structural validity that goes beyond the demand for singular historical illustrations. The relationship with death on a large scale, using new technologies that increase and optimize genocidal devices, reaches the root of this type of social structure as it emerges in the first half of the twentieth century. Dealing with public affairs in state administration and its practical results is replaced by the omnipresence (not epic, but banal) of extensive death and the logistical demands for its effectiveness.

The ethical dilemmas of the close presence of social action towards death make ideological gravity turn exalted. For dealing with the ethics of death to be positively absorbed, the turn of ideological centrifugation needs to be accelerated to conceal ignominy, being constantly renewed in furniture and focused on the empire of the will. The regime starts to revolve around the hidden axis, sensed (as affirmation through banality, or negation in martyrdom) or shared (in the way of cruelty).

The collectivity then must be united and without gaps. Hence the relevance of a critique that goes beyond the demand for understanding totalitarianism in its restriction by historically particular conditions. At root, the totalitarian formation is aggressive and returns with intensity in contemporary mass societies, which have an active degree of sociability mediated by digital communication devices.

We watched today in Brazil the hubris of a tyrant-type personality asserting, without remorse, in everyday statements, the genocidal demand as banality, coupled with a speech with totalitarian overtones. These are temptations that are configured in a political model of right-wing authoritarian bias, seeking institutional landing. This landing is structured in a duo of interacting determinations: on the one hand, a nepotist/corporatist structure that turns the policy of favor. On the other hand, a fundamentalist/religious and militia/military counterface, which allows the effective exercise of power.

Both are articulated through strong media support in digital networks, which perhaps represent the main innovation in their constellation. At their core, they provide for the progressive domination of the Brazilian state by Bolsonarism, supported by a bureaucratic administrative layer that encourages the absorption of the military establishment at different administrative levels.

The duo's first structure, the 'nepotist/corporatist' leg, also concerns the overlapping of the private dimension with public instances, of the extended family level of the clan. A clan, in the broadest sense of the word, which brings a pattern we are already familiar with in the use of public resources for private benefit. The fundamentalist religious discourse, on the other hand, serves as an ideological axis for the orphans of modernity who resist, now completely at ease, the progressive affirmation of the framework that was established around the counterculture (women's rights; rights for ethnic (black) and sexual minorities (LGBT); issues of customs and artistic freedom, ecology, etc.).

Fundamentalist Bolsonarism is radically opposed to this modernist horizon by establishing abstract designations that, through repetition, gather content for empty oppositions that collide producing energy. They fix synthetic designations dilating a thread of original meaning, such as the 'communist' name, the 'gay kit', the 'erotic bottle', the sale of the Amazon, accusations of pedophilia, etc. In this way, discourses that are initially heterogeneous and subject to opposition (the thread of meaning) are consumed, but which begin to absorb everything in a negation united by the undermining around itself, providing a kind of total explanation of the world.

It is a 'super-meaning' that universalizes propositions that were previously closed with their own gravity and that mix, with great agility, fantasy and understanding. In this breath, they incorporate gender (patriarchal family) and racial (historical denialism) prejudices, obsolete pedagogical practices (non-party school), the defense of violence in its most immediate representations, such as the cult of firearms, paramilitary extermination groups , torture, lynchings (virtual or real), and other representations of death (such as the aforementioned knife symbol).

The militia face of Bolsonarism assumes modes of action based on the use of violence and the elegy of armaments. The militarist leg of Bolsonarism has the characteristic of being militia, with armed groups with an autonomous structure and local chiefs interacting with each other. Insertion in the army corps serves institutionality, but, at first, it does not seem to be organic. The vision of a direct articulation with the masses, supported by the action of militias, police or paramilitaries (typical of totalitarian regimes) is frightening. Its expansion also occurs through the infiltration of independent militia groups in the state military police, later being incorporated into the bureaucratic framework of the State.

The corporate side, the nepotist side of the coin, has a dubious dimension. Bolsonaro operates with little conviction in the liberal book for fear of reaching his base of support in right-wing corporations, particularly police and military, as well as truck drivers. It transfers the burden of deregulation to abstract entities that are now endowed with competence, or lack of value, alternating.

This is the case of the expressions 'Posto Ipiranga' in economic actions, or 'old politics' in Congress. It becomes necessary to maintain the corporate foundations and transfer the crudest demands, the 'savages' so to speak, necessary to make capital turn in acceleration, to party political forces, but without identifying itself as a brand in this register (Bolsonaro, therefore, does not has a party). Moving in this way appears to hover above the joint for political support and uses verbal aggression freely. He can then shine light and free, like an irresponsible kid, exercising the presidency to attract, at some point, the most masochistic demand of the national conscience.


Bolsonarism inherits from the totalitarian tradition the exercise of ideological persuasion through new communication technologies. The audiovisual spectacle is daily, in a kind of new and enhanced spectacle society (as well exposed by Guy Debord, in another stage). He knows how to dominate the news cycles, imprinting an unprecedented speed, still unknown in the totalitarian societies of the last century.

At the current stage, extreme speed coexists with the slower pace of traditional media outlets. These begin to reproduce, breathlessly, the factoids created by Bolsonarism at a pace that is not typical of its media. The weekly cycle has been left behind for a long time, causing the bankruptcy of the magazine media that was linked to it. The daily cycle has also been bypassed, resulting in mixed forms. They allow for morning headlines and the construction of the first page, a sort of summary of the previous day, with progressive accompaniments, more or less agile, that follow immediacy. In the background, and often the main stage, the social media themselves (Tweet, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc.) reverberate through repetition or start the cycle. They constitute the privileged space of Bolsonarism's ideological action, which has the necessary instruments and technology (shooting robots, inflated or phantom internet groups, cancellations, etc.) for manipulation.

The immediacy of the news cycle carries with it an essential format for new media, which is repetition. It is through the mechanisms of repetition that the dilution of objectivity materializes in fanciful or exotic discourses. The accelerated repetition is interrupted at a random point, which then takes on objectivity and crystallizes – at the same time that it opens the format for a new cycle, in which another false unit is constituted again, and so on. Autonomous density is given to empty statements that overlap, composing the news by the simple fact that they pop up and cause denial, thus conquering their place in the sun in the dense forest of social media. There is no escape from this fake trap. The brief cycles created from the outside to the inside of the system, but emerging as natives of objectivity, at shorter and shorter intervals, are called 'fake news'.

The new right-wing authoritarianism breathes in an integrated way in this environment. Tracking of biological identity data and key opinion markers are structured in control algorithms classifying groups of users of digital devices into genres and categories. In the new society of control, expectations for the realization of capital value are also meticulously mapped through the free use of major search engines (Google for practical action demands) and social media (Facebook, Instagram, for more personal habits and sensations).

In general, they identify individuality in multiple series, synthesized in huge computer systems that define subjectivity as a categorical space of consumption. The great digital algorithm that looms at the core of contemporary capitalist society is oriented towards this nucleus, in its real base. Alternative sites, including left-wing ones, are incorporated without fault serving as a channel for the consumption and identification algorithm and the large companies that manipulate it. The perspectives that the digital system opens up for control in an authoritarian state (politically centralized or not) are evident and present today.

In the operability offake news', the ubiquitous digital device rotates an exogenous fantasy interval that moves at will in objectivity, creating a layer of belief that attracts and collapses understanding. The field of will as faith crosses and incorporates the totality, assuming itself as the total explanation of the world. The new forms of discourse produced in these media instances are astonishing for their ability to generate belief as a basis for understanding, challenging common sense.

They even reach scientific paradigms absorbed centuries ago, such as flat earthism, vaccines, biological evolutionism, geological eras, etc. From the first fantasy negation, objectivity is undermined in a series that falls like dominoes. Basically rhetorical, chance happens based on the 'irresistible force of logic itself' (Arendt) of totalitarian regimes, closed in on itself and feeding back the idea that succumbs displaced from the senses and the phenomenon itself, corroded from within.

Digital social media is therefore the perfect technological medium for the hyper-accelerated succession necessary to undermine individuality in the totalitarian mode. In it, the rotation of arguments acquires strength due to the speed of the rotation in an expanded and omnipresent actuality (only gifts) that repeats itself empty, but binding due to its speed.

Faith as propositional crystallization embodies the reason enmeshed in the superimposed will, serving to replace that first common level of consensual objectivity that, since the Enlightenment regime, had been established as a reference, even in denial. The vigor of the new regime of exogenous objectivity, detached from experience and common sense, crystallizes from the mid-2010s, with the universalization of individualized mobile technological devices with great popular appeal and intense communication capacity in oral, written and also audiovisual.

We can say that the horizontal expansion of new portable technological devices occurs at the same time as the rise of new right-wing social formations with totalitarian aspirations. Our point is that, by composing Bolsonarism with the fundamentalist layer integrated into digital media, corporatist/military bureaucratic groups and blatant nepotism are added. Thus, loyal followers (crachadinhas) enjoy themselves in the public space, who are also armed for eventual support by force, in the form of militias. At the same time, capital turnover is maintained at its cruising speed (even looser from social ties linked to historical labor rights), completing the support framework. A framework that is managed through an extremely conservative agenda of customs, integrated into the hallucinatory discourse of fanciful objectivity kidnapped from experience.


In this context, the division of two ideological poles takes shape, both originating from the middle class, determining divergent fields without a hegemonic perspective and in conflict with each other. From then on, they expand into the most miserable or excluded strata of society, mirroring one first division on another: the first, resulting from an unequal distribution of income, has a non-uniform impact on the rupture between fundamentalists and moderns.

On the modern side, we find the portion of society attuned, in its praxis everyday life, with values ​​derived from the 'counterculture' as they emerged in the 1960s. This side is sensed by the conservative critic who opposes libertarian hedonism. In conservative criticism, which also crosses the divide between wealthy and miserable strata, there is the traditionalist pole that is constituted by retrograde and authoritarian cultural references in terms of customs.

Under the Bolsononarism culture, it converged to the mix of integration between religious fundamentalism (popular petty-bourgeois) with militia militarism. In the militia field, Bolsonarism is imposed through the exercise of direct violence; in the fundamentalist by detaching thought from experience, co-opting, as exposed, the will in the gravity of faith. As a social action, fundamentalist-militia politics are instituted, dispensing with an organic party structure. It forms a para-institutional 'movement' that acquires gravitational weight responding to particular conjunctures.

In this panorama, the progressive pole with social demands of a new individuality emerges at the end, more clearly affirmed in its post-1968 evolution mode. These demands are constellated on a planet exogenous to the one that engenders the dilution of the self and its subjectivity in the leveling wheel of fundamentalist belief. The progressive field has always had difficulty in being affirmed as a unit, but, progressively, in the last fifty years, it has been taking root, in varied syntheses in Brazilian society.

It has recently asserted itself by reaching popular social strata in which it did not operate before. It also has repercussions in the mainstream non-fundamentalist media and widely in the new media on social platforms. It has its origin in the ruptures of a libertarian character with a marginal context, which in its initial expression were concentrated in middle-income extracts of Brazilian society.

We are outlining it, in the case of libertarian individualism, in a demand for the valuation of autonomy and subjective spontaneity, expressed in the affirmation of human rights as an inalienable space between subjects. The particularity of the identity of each individuality is valued in its autonomy in relation to social demands, more or less coercive. Autonomy and marginality thus manage to acquire positivity.

This is a claim for women's rights, relating not only to their autonomous voice at work, but to their own body and the preservation of their right to dispose of their entire being (right to abortion, criminalization of domestic violence, etc. .). Ethnic issues related to historical demands of black movements are asserted, claiming historical reparations that refer to segregation and recurrent practices of racism.

For this, equality of opportunities is demanded, also within the enlightened middle class itself, as they emerge in their specificity in the root racial exclusion, often crossing traditional class oppositions. Along the same lines, gender issues are included, involving the preservation of civil rights of sexual minorities and the affirmation of their conduct options, such as the LGBT movement and derivatives.

The question of indigenous peoples in their right to land and to differentiated cultural expression is also raised. Rationality in dealing with drugs and the liberation of consumption emerges as a way to fight against mass incarceration. The right to cultural expression of different minority social groups incorporates free artistic creation and the prevention of any form of censorship. The appreciation of the environmental and socio-environmental issue appears in this context in the foreground. It directly affects the survival of mankind and the right to life, preventing the denial of the subject and even attacking more linear visions of the development of the productive forces.

Ecological denialism fulfills, in the new framework emerging from the totalitarian root, a function similar to that of previous formations by ideological frameworks that exalt chosen races or classes, destined to lead history. If at the center of the black hole, in its serpent's egg, is faith of the mystical fundamentalist type, its privileged object is not catechesis itself, but the affirmation of power and the submission in the trance that results. It is he who sustains the 'law of constant movement' of totalitarian formations, as Ruy Fausto sees it. The great uninterrupted breath is a recurring return, directed towards the discovery of a motive in the collective action.

The great totalitarian formations demand that the renewed fuel in the exaltation of the masses be transferred to empty targets, congregators of the will, which acquire gravity by the specter of death in proximity (the Jew, the communist, chloroquine). The power that comes from the delusion over objectivity now becomes a force of its own, demanding the self-denial of the shared 'self'. When directed towards the destruction of nature and of the species itself, the glorification of death manages, for example, to affirm itself through the glorification of destruction by fire, erected as a positive symbol (here clearly in the mode of totalitarian exaltation) about the extermination of ecosystems, in the proximity to the extinction of the human race itself.

The fantasies of globalist conspiracies to steal the Amazon and its forests are the new privileged target, the new 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' of the Brazilian right that established itself in this totalitarian combustion. This constitutes the 'totalitarian contempt for reality' (a good concept) which in the future will present its making in the real world as a tragedy (about nature and about history) demanding, in turn, new recycling of exogenous furniture to maintain the social force congregated to the new exalted will, thus perpetuating the constant movement of demand and need.

Until the dialectical cycle affirms itself with the explosion of the cataclysm, which today means the total destruction of nature and humanity as we know it. The structures of negativity in the reproduction of merchandise with genocidal demand for the realization of its value – nuclear production, weapons, pesticides, tobacco, animal anabolic steroids, large protein producers, harmful pharmaceutical products, chemical pollution – are outlined as a threat, mainly because they arise linked to large-scale production methods and industrial plants with advanced technology that involve widespread global destruction.

Totalitarian formations tend to be linked to them and to their defense, as they are well suited to the irrationality of the senselessness in which the empty idea has the attraction of being able to recur by itself (exactly because it is the validity of the senselessness), to the extent of its power that it is relative, in a closed circuit, to the unreasonable acceptance of its prevalence. Exaltation serves this purpose by reducing the will to the convinced, pleasurable acceptance of the corresponding submission. The validation of genocide by environmental denialism fits into this ideological realization mechanism.

Otherwise, how can one not retreat to criticism by generating the very suppression of the species, in which, paradoxically, the negation of those who concretize it by acting takes place? There is no contradiction in the paradox, as it is congruent, at its core, with the suicidal political action that the totalitarian dialectic demands for its realization.

We live, in this sense, a new cycle with totalitarian potential. If until now it has not fully blossomed in horror, it has clear roots in this soil, changing the structural modalities that underpinned it for the new formats of digital fundamentalism. They are mechanisms that allow the irrational affirmation of social and natural self-destruction to be current. It is she, this negation, that brings together the nonsensical magical thinking. It is what came to replace the former targets to be exterminated, such as the racial or national enemy.

There is, in this composition, the same formation of a crazy 'super-sense' that crosses the totality with its own breath and that, once there, nourishes, as in the past, the 'foolishness of totalitarian societies' in its greatest flowering.

The “drives of selfishness and aggressiveness” (Faust), or the 'radical evil' of the 'dead individuality' (Arendt), proper to the exercise of terror in the totalitarian horizontality, the violent background of the being that is in society, can be controlled through normativity that preserves rights, beyond the demand for immediate social results. The management of mechanisms for the effective renewal of central power within the state must be constant, being essential defense instruments to block deformations resulting from authoritarian bureaucratic expansion, of the military or corporatist type.

Mechanisms that protect individuality as a space of real alterity and that prevent its destruction. The diversity of the space of the 'other', a point bringing together the affirmation of the being's existence, would thus be absolute in its mode of opposition to totalitarian violence. It cannot be part of a larger finalist process, a project of humanity to be carried out in the way of postponement and of the future. On the contrary, it must be an ethical value, the purpose of transformation in the present exercise, keeping intact structural oppositions in a way that can certainly be called, in a broad sense (but very readable), 'democratic'.

The 'selfish impulses' of human aggressiveness that are released by valued subjectivity also manage the reproduction of the commodity, and therefore cannot be left unfettered. It is important, however, that its brakes do not end up reaching other modalities of realization of the subject in the public sphere. The controls to stifle, or suppress, the 'primate man' of 'savage' capitalism, a concrete adjective modality of a mode of production, must allow individuality to breathe in the will of its power.

Subjectivity as an absolute space of otherness must be affirmed in its own modalities of freedom, even if inscrutable in its core of power, but which pass by the triumphant, homogenizing meanings of nature and history. Social structures that assume the denial of social formations with authoritarian roots must bring, therefore, as an inherent horizon, the denial of inhuman violence in any of its restrictive demands.

These are ethical standards that must be affirmed without the need to reduce or deny the diversity and political tension of the contradictory, preserving the space for spontaneity as 'existential' freedom. The affirmation goes through the unraveling of new totalitarian configurations, which, initially, may seem innocuous, but which carry, in the making of their identity, the yoke of history with their failed buildings covered in death and tragedy.

*Fernão Pessoa Ramos, sociologist, is a professor at the Institute of Arts at UNICAMP. Author, among other books, of But after all… what exactly is a documentary? (Senac-SP).


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