Technological forms of social domination

Image: Paweł L.


The delay of the left and the triumph of the extreme right in the political praxis of the digital era

Ideology and public sphere in digitalized social experience

Reactionary political subjects in the main Western democracies of this 21st century appear to be very well united and articulated in the public sphere through ideological processes capable of producing a political praxis equipped with discursive practices updated with the algorithmic digitalization of social experience.

There is no shortage of examples of leadership in the wake of names such as Javier Milei in Argentina and Nayib Bukele in El Salvador; Donald Trump in the USA, who is moving towards returning to the White House in 2024; Recep Tayyip Erdogán in Turkey and Viktor Orbán in Hungary (successful version of what Jair Bolsonaro tried to be and do in Brazil); Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, undertaking his project of “Nazification” of Israel, which through the implementation of a theocratic Zionist State underlies the Palestinian genocide.

We also cannot forget Narendra Modi and his far-right politics that mixes religion and politics (Hinduism and hypernationalism) in India, and of course, Vladimir Putin in Russia with his political project of eternity in power inspired by the neo-fascist Russian philosopher Ivan Illyin – as very well analyzes Timothy Snyder in his book Going against freedom: the authoritarian turn in contemporary democracies (Company of Letters).

These are leaders who not only work to win elections, but invest in building neofascism as a culture and ethos politics in civil society, from the family to the company, involving everything from education (at school) to religion (at church). Thus, the extreme right produces a reactionary political praxis very well aligned with the inseparable duo in times of algorithmic digitalization of social experience under the logic of rentierism: neofascism and neoliberalism.

The extreme right has demonstrated unquestionable skill with the renewed form of ideology in the digital age. The essence of this key turn lies in the fact that ideology no longer functions as a rational discourse based on facts elaborated on argumentative principles, as we saw especially in the first half of the 20th century with a strong left-wing protagonism. In the digital age, the strength of ideology lies in its updating into an image language that forms and deforms the experience of life in society as an uninterrupted spectacle, which becomes fertile ground for the neo-fascist rise.

This phenomenon concerns how at the beginning of the 21st century, technological forms of social domination have advanced in their ability to model discursive practices in the public sphere, so that ideas that acquire political strength appear as an enormous articulation of images governed by the logic of spectacle aligned with neoliberal rationality.

Under the tutelage of Silicon Valley neofascism, which has its main representative in Elon Musk, the tactics of uninterrupted firing of image stimuli managed by algorithms come into play, which (dis)educate politically and connect individuals ideologically, but not from of elaborate political and philosophical speeches, but based on their deepest convictions, passions and affections, established above factual reality itself. Ideology then acts as an efficient way of constituting individuals into political subjects in the digitalized social experience, in a way that produces and reproduces ways of being in the public sphere, thus constituting a true and powerful political praxis.

In times of surveillance capitalism, duly updated ideological tricks as a central dimension of political praxis in the digital era, have become essential in the production of discursive practices favorable to capitalist social domination of an authoritarian and reactionary inclination, involving objective conditions situated in the facts to the more strategic dimension established under the algorithmic digitalization of social experience: the question of how these objective conditions that constitute social experience are subjectively experienced by individuals as political subjects in the public sphere.

ideology and fake news in times of digitalized political praxis

The extreme right has demonstrated greater tactical and strategic ability with the issue of ideology in times of algorithmic digitalization. A problem that I suggest analyzing from three aspects that I consider fundamental and inseparable from each other.

(i) The weight of the fake news, which must be understood not simply as mass lying, as it is much more complex: in the public sphere determined by digitalized social experience, the fake news they act as an astute and effective mechanism for producing discursive practices that hold their own rituals of truth, ideologically elevated above scientific rationality, the ethics of human rights and the democratic logic of the rule of law.

At this point, the tactical and strategic use of ideology by the extreme right is sophisticated: it is not just about deliberately lying, but above all about producing their own ideological rituals to support the truth in the public sphere, capable of forming and deforming the subjective forms of individuals politically experience the social experience above any rational discourse minimally anchored in facts. The cultural basis of this mentality is moralistic-Christian authoritarianism in a tropical-digitized version of Cruzadas, because the swords of these new “templars” are the fake news wielded on social media. Without forgetting that, strictly speaking, the fake news They are not a cause, but a symptom of this process of advancement of neo-fascism.

As fake news are ideologically established as the main political form of neo-fascist discourse in the digital era, as only in the digitalized public sphere of social networks can they go viral on a large scale and, thus, fulfill their mission of social and political alienation without limits in space and time . We can find a powerful example in research that proves how in several countries, fake news are the main cause of low vaccination in recent years.

(ii) Along with this, the ideological instrumentalization of neoliberal rationality as a matrix of discursive practices that form the business subject, guarantees fertile ground in social experience to sow neo-fascism, even among the most vulnerable social classes. After all, as Gilberto Maringoni analyzes in a recent interview[I] granted to the Instituto Humanitas Unisinos (IHU), “the precariousness of work is the ground where fascism fertilizes”.

In this entire process, ideology is the mediation capable of “harmonizing” the contradiction immanent to the neoliberal subject and his ways of being in the digital era. A contradiction is established between, on the one hand, the objective content of social relations (read: the complete destruction of the social state guided by the maximum precariousness of work under the rentier logic), and on the other, the subjective ways in which individuals experience the social experience as political subjects in the public sphere.

(iii) We have the synthesis of the two previous aspects in the composition of a process of cultural formation in the digital era, which has demonstrated great strength in its character of political deformation of the public sphere with enormous electoral strength and capacity for institutionalization, as we see in Bolsonarism. In this synthesis, the front line of the neofascist infantry that operates in the streets, on the networks and in the three spheres of government (executive, legislative and judiciary – including the Supreme Court (STF) – is made up of the most reactionary sectors of evangelicals as representatives of the form contemporary antidemocratic Christianity.

The strength of these theocratic political movements based on Pentecostal fundamentalist Protestantism lies, to a large extent, precisely in the fact that, just as the militia and drug trafficking occupy the place of the political State in the field of security and social order of the poorest communities, the Evangelical churches assume the role of the social state through Christian philanthropy that reaches where public policies cannot reach. And most importantly: in an assiduous and permanent way, in addition to being strategically accompanied by its characteristic ideological proselytism that does not separate religion and politics, after all, in the history of humanity these were born together and mixed - as we know that the separation between religion and politics as The project of modernity did not reach these sectors of society.

It is in the wake of this entire context, that I identify not exactly the death of the left, but a profound delay in the face of the political praxis of our time, which produces, to a large extent, a self-blockage in the sense of demonstrating an effective capacity to enunciate new discursive practices capable of to confront neo-fascism in times of algorithmic digitalization.

In other words, this self-blockade prevents the left from reacting to the triumph achieved by the extreme right. Yes, the left has not died, but in its delay, it has blocked itself while the extreme right continues without blocks capable of effectively containing its advance in the construction of neo-fascism – below, I will try to better express how I understand the dialectical synthesis of the three aspects mentioned above in the composition of today's situation.

The success of the neofascist global wave and its expression in Brazil

The neofascist global wave is successful as it ideologically articulates in the public sphere, on the one hand, an image language resulting from the digitalized stage of the cultural industry, and on the other, the subjective ways in which individuals politically experience power relations. In Brazil, this process mobilizes an intense ideological proselytism of the most reactionary political subjectivity, in a way that channels evangelical mandates into its political spectrum, which in a highly organized way mobilizes each church operating whether on the periphery or in prisons, in the YouTube or within families.

With this, the bases of the extreme right in civil society obtain a reach that no political party or social movement can obtain and, consequently, elect important figures of Bolsonarist neo-fascism. Meanwhile, on the streets and in agora of social networks, fragmented between identitarianism and Lulism, the left initially missed this bandwagon and today is chasing the loss, without demonstrating the same political strength as the extreme right, whereas, in the institutional field in its broad front strategy that achieved a narrow victory at the polls in 2022, it is unable to advance in the public sphere with the promised “union and reconstruction” equal to the neo-fascist threat.

Neofascism, ideologically anchored in part of the evangelical churches, demonstrates a greater capacity for mobilization not only on the streets, but above all, the capacity to penetrate homes and families, schools, favelas, organized crime, that is, even drug trafficking and the militia. .

Summary of the opera: while the extreme right undertakes a praxis that uses ideology strategically and equipped with tactics updated with the digital era – both in society and in the institutional field –, not infrequently, the left only reacts in an eternal disjointed defensive mode, accompanied by a weakened ability to mobilize on the streets. This is a central point for what I call the backwardness of the left, after all, it is not enough to save democracy with regard to the rules of the game of the democratic rule of law, it is necessary to build democracy as a culture and political praxis, because although the coup Jair Bolsonaro has not achieved success in the institutional field, he continues at full steam in society as a whole, that is, as political praxis. And of course, the extreme right has been triumphing through neofascism as a political culture with enormous reach among the masses.

The success of the extreme right in the public sphere of the digital era cannot be explained in the world of technology alone, quite the contrary, it arises precisely from that element in which the left's backwardness manifests itself, in such a way that it has blocked itself, namely : a political praxis ideologically sown by the extreme right in the real world of bodies of flesh and blood that exist, whether on the streets, sidewalks, religious temples, prisons and cracolândias, whether in open-air markets, in the street, in the bread line at the bakery or at the bar table; its reach goes from the favela to the condominium, from the thrift store on the corner to theshopping center.

Regarding the digitalized social experience, as a rule, the Brazilian left demonstrates that it has not updated itself in time with the ideological tactics in the era of algorithmic digitalization in order to effectively enunciate in the public sphere subjective ways for individuals to politically experience the social experience to starting from an effective capacity to penetrate the formative and organizational processes of the family and civil society.

Initially the left underestimated the myth of neofascism – like the almost three decades that it underestimated the “eccentric” congressman Jair Messias Bolsonaro –, and when it began to pay attention to the strength he demonstrated at the polls and in the streets (in the real world and in the digital) – catapulted by Operation Lava Jato –, began to invest in social networks very late and in a limping manner.

On the other hand, the extreme right has revealed itself as a powerful political force in the ideological seam between, on the one hand, neoliberalism as an anti-democratic business way of being, and on the other, globalized digital neo-fascism from the global north to the global south. After all, just winning the presidential elections, although very important, is not enough; and worse, Bolsonarism has demonstrated how to lose the presidential elections without losing its political strength. However, in their ideological bubble, Lula did not win legitimately, so that this neo-fascist mass experiences Jair Bolsonaro's victory in 2022 as the only clear and evident truth and, therefore, is above the facts.

Based on strategic ideological work updated with the digital era, the institutionalization of neo-fascism has been, especially since 2018, on an upward curve in the municipal, state and federal legislative spheres, with strength capable of confronting the central executive power acting in a very well-articulated manner. For example, education has been a strategically focused area, not only due to reactionary bills generated in municipal councils, legislative assemblies and the national congress, but also due to militancy formed within families, such as guardians (fathers, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, grandfathers, etc.) engaged in confronting “gender ideology” directly in the school environment and in a very well articulated way with digital social networks.

On the other hand, despite the defeat at the federal level, in the sphere of executive power at the municipal and state levels, the extreme right continues to advance and invest strategically in the 2024 and 2026 elections, through efficient political tactics in articulation with its bases involving the public and private spheres, from families, schools, churches, parties and companies, to digital platforms at local, regional and global levels.

In view of this, I have been trying to answer the following question: how to think about ideology in times of algorithmic digitalization and its relationship with the subjective ways in which individuals politically experience the digitalized social experience based on the conditions of possibilities of resistance and confrontation against neo-fascism in the public sphere ?

I work with the hypothesis that it will not be possible to answer this question (which is simultaneously theoretical and practical) if the left does not carry out theoretical and practical self-criticism capable of producing a political praxis that allows, firstly, to break down this blockade that the left itself still imposes itself, and along with this, engenders a confrontation with neo-fascism that is up to our times. Without any intention of saying the last word, I continue investigating my field of research and with enormous interest in this urgent and necessary debate.

*Wécio Pinheiro Araujo Professor of Philosophy at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB).


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