Reactionary freedom

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By JOSÉ SZWAKO*

Denialism, antifeminism and antiglobalism in the Brazilian far right

“For the freedom to be born
For the freedom to walk in the square without being choked by the guard
For the freedom of the doctor to give medicine to the patient
For the freedom to cover the ears of hysterics – with a microphone and a lab coat
Against the censorship of good
Against the real liars
For the freedom to defend oneself – with buckshot, if necessary
By cultivating what is beautiful
For the freedom to profess our faith.”[I]

These were the ideological battlefronts on the site Brazil without fear – self-proclaimed “the only avowedly conservative news streaming about culture and politics”. As you can see, freedom matters a lot in this streaming. O Brazil without fear (BSM) has none other than Olavo de Carvalhos as its main source of intellectual inspiration. Most of its 30 journalists and columnists come from previous careers in networks and media, especially in the YouTube e Twitter. For the most part, they act as influencers on profiles and channels online heirs of the Olavista counter-publics (Rocha 2018, Nóbrega da Silva 2018).

In a sense, BSM is a version aggiornada do media without mask, this one directly led by Olavo de Carvalho.[ii] Both define themselves as “conservative” and “against leftism”. Also common is its spirit of reaction to conventional Brazilian media: while the Unmasked Media it was said as a kind of “media watch", Or Brazil without fear has columns dedicated to providing “always unforgivable coverage of national journalism”, as we will see, called “extreme press” by several of the newspaper’s writers.

The intellectual roots of this aversion to the media are, in large part, in the work of Olavo de Carvalho. For him, the Brazilian media is marked by “unanimism”, which he denounces: “[anyone] who ventures to show public opinion certain facts or ideas generally ignored by the media will have against them not only the media itself, but the consensus dominant among intellectuals and artists” (Carvalho 1999, p.371). In this vein, the Brazil without fear claims to fight today “against the censorship of good”, that is, against the alleged censorship to which he would be subject.

From a communication point of view, the Brazil without fear links to other websites and companies, equally nurtured by intellectuals and far-right groups, such as Brasil Paralelo, Burke Instituto Conservador, Estudos Nacionais and Gazeta do Povo, in addition to a number of smaller satellites. This constellation that brings together Olavo, BSM and other ultra-conservative stars forms a sort of disinformation ecosystem in which battle strategies and weapons are shared (anti-media, anti-globalism and scientific denialism) that aim to inscribe their ideals, speeches and reactionary canons in a broader cultural dispute (Szwako & Cardoso-da-Silva, 2022).

In this text, I present an analysis of the specific ideological production of Brazil without fear,[iii] understanding her as an exponent not of conservatism, but of current reactionism; the latter is, therefore, a purified and radicalized version of our conservatism (Lynch 2022). As we saw at the beginning of the text, the notion of freedom is at the center of this reactionary ideology. Freedom is demanded for a myriad of objectives: freedom not to vaccinate oneself and not to vaccinate one's children; freedom, during the pandemic, to superbly prescribe chloroquine; freedom, in short, to misinform.

Here I analyze this desire for freedom in its connections with the work of Olavo de Carvalho, as well as in its connections with anti-globalism, denialism and anti-feminism. After all, what are websites and ideologues talking about when they ask for freedom? It is the reactionary response to this question that I try to bring to light.

“Extreme press”, collusion and scientific denialism

One of the main roots of the feeling of repudiation of Brazil without fear conventional media lies in the production of Olavo de Carvalho, for whom, in Brazil, even a “pimp is more decent than a journalist”.[iv] In all the subjects of the Brazil without fear that address media and science, the largest Brazilian press institutions receive sarcastic treatment. While the Brazilian Press Association is labeled the “Aglomeração Biruta da Imprensa”,[v] the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism is called the “little club” of the “conglomerates that control the majority of Brazilian media, the famous extreme press”.[vi] Journalists and conventional media would then be the national representatives of the “metacapitalist interests”[vii] – a notion also used by Olavo de Carvalho (2013) in his anti-globalism.

It is through this notion of “extreme press” that journalists from the Brazil without fear they operate the so-called twist (Taguieff, 2001). The rhetoric of retort is the strategy by which one imputes to an opponent the realities and criticisms that are directed, in this case, at the Brazil without fear. Thus, it would be the “extreme press” that adheres to “alarmism and sensationalism”[viii]. For example: given the obscene number of deaths and hospitalized people in the pandemic crisis, responsibility is directed not at the former president, but at the coverage of traditional newspapers.

“The extreme press discovered that he [Bolsonaro] does not show solidarity with the victims. Only now, only late, only once and for the first time. He certainly fired fireworks before when he found out about the death of a compatriot. Or is it the extreme press that reports each death as a goal and doesn’t give a single note about those who have been cured?”[ix]

It is interesting to note how this anti-media appeal is linked to attacks on the scientific community, since, in the ideology of Brazil without fear, there would be collusion between journalism and science. In turn, the “extreme press” would have, during the pandemic, manufactured a “hysterical” scenario. “Much of the work of the media, the mouthpiece of authoritarian politicians and power-hungry billionaires, was aimed at generating a state of collective hysteria”[X].

In this collusion imagined by the Brazil without fear, scientists and journalists would be committed to spreading more than “sensationalism”: “we see experts, doctors and scientists treat science as something unquestionable, bordering on superstition, we also see journalists using the image of social responsibility and guide of democracy to descend into sensationalism of the most vile, whose apex appears in Brazil through the search for the censorship of dissenting voices and the dissemination of hatred, fears and prejudices”.[xi]

Once again, reality is now twisted to question the monopoly of scientific interpretation. Interestingly, the denial of international consensus on frame of the extreme right does not only occur outside scientific frameworks. As in other cases (Oreskes & Conway 2010), the Brazil without fear It doesn’t just have journalists on its hands; it also has scientific endorsement. “Brazilian scientists write an Open Letter to Brazil about pseudo-science [sic] of the coronavirus pandemic that wants to ban the use of hydroxychloroquine” – reads the headline from one of the April 2020 articles.[xii]

“In this pandemic”, the letter opens, “the term 'science' has been used'ad nauseam'. They repeat the exhaustion: 'Science, science, science', I am 'pro-science', and 'through it, in it and for it' I guide myself and act. 'I, therefore, am right and right'”[xiii]. In the letter, the defense of methods and remedies without scientifically proven results, or whose use has proven harmful, with hydroxychloroquine at the forefront, aims against an alleged authoritarianism that claims to be “covered in reason”: “Never can a scientist or a group of them declare authorized to speak in 'the name of science!'”.[xiv]

This letter can be understood as a form of scientific denialism, as it is a deliberate effort to delegitimize scientific consensuses – which are, by definition, provisional. However, contrary to popular belief, the denialist strategy is not external to the sciences. On the contrary, it uses academic credentials and rhetoric to pass itself off as “scientific”. In this sense, signatures of researchers are mobilized who, although they are not experts in health, are and present themselves as academics.

They have little or no expertise in chloroquine, but use such credentials to impose authority without expert basis. Furthermore, her performance is scientific, that is, she is more realistic than the king by mobilizing indexes and aesthetics of what her signatories imagine would be “scientific”; they say: the “researchers who signed the letter have more than 69 thousand citations”.[xv]

It is no coincidence that this letter is linked to the “Docentes Pela Liberdade” movement, whose objective is to “recover the quality of education in Brazil, break with the hegemony of the left and combat ideological persecution”.[xvi] Furthermore: at the head of the letter is the name of Marcos Eberlin, chemist, university professor and author of the book We were planned: the greatest scientific discovery of all time. Marcos Eberlin is one of the central figures in the dissemination of so-called “intelligent design”, a direct heir to American creationism (Hentges & Araújo 2020).

At first glance, the central point of the letter appears to be hydroxychloroquine. In effect, its authors ignore the evidence already available between April and May 2020 (Valverde, 2020), resorting to a reflexive maxim dear to the sciences themselves: the “scientific clash” is “inevitable”. And, twisting science, he concludes that it nurtures “the culture of conflict, of divergence of opinions”. However, going deeper, we see that it is the demand for “freedom” that is on the horizon of this defense of chloroquine. They ask for freedom, affirming “sovereignty” in the face of “uncertainties in diagnosis, and because we treat not papers or exams, but people, it is imperative for the doctor to decide face to face with his patients, invoking not the 'science' of some, but the valuable compass of medicine that has saved lives since the beginnings of medicine: “the clinic is sovereign!”.[xvii]

This ode to chloroquine is not disconnected from an anti-media vein: “famous scientists” would have been “selected by the establishment and by the media to give a 'scientific veneer' to social isolation and the condemnation of hydroxychloroquine”[xviii]. However, against these “pseudoscientists”, the letter does more than defend the use of chloroquine.

What is at stake is, rather, freedom of choice. On the one hand, clinging to immediate experience, to a type of eupirism (this empiricism of the self), it is argued that each doctor, “eye to eye”, is free in his “sovereign” prescription. On the other hand, it defends, literally in bold letters, the freedom of choice for each patient, so that “absolutely all Brazilians who so wish have the right to be treated with [hydroxychloroquine] HCQ”.[xx]

 Now, it was none other than one of the main fronts of the regressive battle of Brazil without fear in 2020: “for the freedom of the doctor to give medicine to the patient”[xx]. In the eyes of this editorialist, “for the first time in history we saw an international crusade against a medicine”.[xxx] And, again, we return to that imagined collusion, as 2020 was, for him, the year “in which the fine flower of global science, charitable billionaires, detached politicians and committed journalists told us to stay at home”.[xxiii].

Antiglobalism and antifeminism

Not only is the anti-media streak of Brazil without fear which is inspired by the work of Olavo de Carvalho. In the vocabulary of the greatest thinker of the Brazilian extreme right, the so-called “globalism” would be the union of “metacapitalists” with liberals and progressive politicians, under the mantle of the United Nations, in defense of socialism and against an imaginary “Judeo-Christian civilization” (Carvalho 2013). In all the articles on the website, the repudiation of the agencies of the United Nations System takes on a strongly gendered tone. That is, the anti-globalism of Brazil without fear It is full of figures and themes linked to family, reproduction and sexuality.

A suitable example of this can be read in “Abortion: the satanic dogma of the globalist sect”.[xxiii] In this libel against the World Health Organization, sexual and reproductive rights would be just “a euphemism for abortion and contraception”. WHO policies and documents, in the author's view, “promote abortion throughout the world and also provide the technological means to carry it out”. In these terms, “[e]mpowering women, for the UN and WHO, is giving them the power, for example, to authorize the dismemberment of their defenseless babies inside their wombs”.[xxv]

The anti-globalism of Brazil without fear it thus gives rise to gendered sources of moral panic. “According to the WHO's logic”, writes the journalist, “the manicurist cannot open her beauty salon, but the abortion 'doctor' can keep his abortion clinic running, to continue murdering babies and profiting from this blood”[xxiv]. What's more: the WHO would be encouraging a “genocide” that “cannot stop during the [COVID 19] plague, simply because abortion is the satanic dogma of the globalist sect”.[xxv] For this ideologue, feminists and the United Nations are linked and want to deceive everyone, as they would be “abortionists”; In the middle of the pandemic crisis, he asks himself: “Will we trust abortionists to save the lives of Brazilians?”[xxviii]

However, it is not just the decriminalization of abortion that comes into play. In anti-globalist rhetoric, the specter of “pedophilia” and the supposed end of the “family” also emerge. While media like Globo are accused of “supporting pedophilia”,[xxviii] In parallel, the left is accused of intending to “legalize pedophilia, rape and murder”.[xxix] In the view of the author of this last article, in addition to being supposedly a “flag” of Jair Bolsonaro and Damares Alves, it “does not please a series of international agendas that, through millionaires, pour millions of dollars every year into NGOs throughout Brazil” [xxx]. Like other anti-gender movements (Szwako 2014), an imaginary bridge operates here between feminisms and pedophilia, as “activists for the decriminalization of abortion invariably have something in common with defenders of LOBBY of pedophilia.”[xxxii]

On the other hand, alongside the specter of “pedophilia”, feminists are also accused of teaming up with the UN and supposed “mega-billionaires” to “destroy” families. In this sense, the pandemic crisis would have been “used to advance one of the main agendas of globalism: the destruction of the family institution”.[xxxi] A “great social reform” would be underway to put “the family” in check through “free sex, divorce, family control, abortion. All of these things went through similar processes. Nothing emerged spontaneously from the will of the people.”[xxxii] In reactionary ideation, the “spontaneous” nature of human beings and societies would be contrary to the interests and “social engineers” of this “globalist reform”.

This set of moral panics, imaginary bridges and supposed collusion carries something analogous to that creationist defense of chloroquine: both concern the defense of an ideal of freedom coming from the extreme right. “We are at a time when the fight for freedom begins in the mother’s womb” [xxxv] – says the editorialist when commenting on the battle of Brazil without fear “for the freedom to be born” [xxxiv]. In this struggle, faced with the danger of the right to abortion, the figure of the “womb” is turned into an “anteroom to death, a gallows for the innocent, a Nazi chamber”.

Ultimately, for reactionary conspiracism, it is the “globalist” forces, their international agencies together with feminist, media and left-wing figures, who are responsible for this state of affairs. Against them and “for the freedom to be born”, it is “necessary to fight for life, the most primitive of rights – and, therefore, the most important”.[xxxiv]

A reactionary freedom

When following a set of subjects from the Brazil without fear In connection with its Olavist roots of intellectual inspiration, we saw that the attacks on conventional media summarized in the accusation against the “extreme press” are linked to offenses of “hysteria” and challenges directed against health and scientific authorities. And, contrary to what one might imagine, reactionary denialism is not strictly anti-scientific. He uses the sciences, their logic, their arguments and even some of their scientists – not experts in a pandemic, despite being academically accredited with lath and it all. Thus, claiming to nourish “doubt” and “debate”, that pro-chloroquine letter saw itself and sold itself as an alleged demystifier of the “scientific veneer”.

Furthermore, we also note that a good amount of ultra-conservative energy has been invested against so-called “globalism”. Around him and against the “family”, there would be another collusion now involving feminists and “leftists” – they accuse. Thus, for the far right, the pandemic crisis would have served as an opportunity for journalists, politicians, feminists, scientists and leftists to spread “hysteria” and “misinformation”, “abolish the family” and “legalize pedophilia”. More than anything, the 2020 crisis would have put at risk the “freedom” of these sites and groups that claim to be victims of health measures.

In common, it is the appeal to “freedom” that is on the horizon of these speeches. Freedom of choice is affirmed, both for the patient and the “sovereign” doctor, to medicate and medicate themselves according to their own experience. There, it is the supreme realm of immediate experience (of eupirism¸ we said) which serves as the moral “compass” of ultraconservatism. The minimum international parameters achieved do not matter, because, in this imagination, they are always already the result of “globalism” that supposedly attacks freedom.

However, this is only the most accessible layer of this rhetoric. The reactionary defense of “freedom” goes further. It does more than ignore parameters for building scientific consensus; it wants and pretends to be unaware of standards for building social and political consensus. Scientific consensuses, in this imagination, are distortions of “family” values ​​– these, indeed, “values” imagined to be natural (“spontaneous”, said the reactionary) to society and humanity. Sociopolitical consensuses, in this imagination, would not be legitimate because legitimacy would arise from a supposedly spontaneous collective. For reactionaryism, such consensuses are spurious and illusory because “everything and everyone” would be part of a “sect” or “globalist” conspiracy.

In this way, when far-right leaders, intellectuals, journalists or doctors say they are attacked by the media and scientists or when they say their “sovereignty” is constrained, they are saying that they are not, or do not see themselves, subject to rules and institutions. . By saying that he can reign over the children and their “home” – because “the family is sacred” –, the reactionary father is not making a liberal claim for the right to autonomy, but is only exercising his patriarchal dominance by imagining that he legislates superbly, without ECA or law, where he reigns.

This reactionary freedom is, therefore, a “freedom” that is devoid of limitations, but not only that. It conveys a subject who understands himself and intends to be devoid of institutional sanctions. Thus, by opposing health measures or spreading misinformation day after day, in the name of chloroquine or against vaccination, far-right groups, subjects and speeches wield a so-called “freedom of expression”. Clearly understood: one claims to be free (“sovereign”) in order to – this is the point – not be sanctioned nor held responsible for the deleterious effects of one’s actions against others and against everyone. This is, after all, what these websites and ideologues are talking about when they ask for freedom: a carte blanche for themselves and their loved ones, an unpoetic license to act indiscriminately against others.

Taken seriously, these rhetoric and demands from the Brazilian extreme right do not allow for any drop of optimism even after a failed re-election. However, understanding what is most important to reactionism can, perhaps, help us find alternatives to it.

*Jose Szwako He is a professor of political science at IESP-UERJ. Author, with José Luiz Ratton, of the book Dictionary of denialism in Brazil (CEPE Editor). [https://amzn.to/3OY5FWz]

Originally published, in a longer version, in the magazine Brazil(s). Human and social sciences, no. 23 (2023) [DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/bresils.15071].

References


Agamben, Giorgio. 2020. Where are we? The epidemic as politics. Permanent Artillery.

Carvalho, Olavo de. 1999. The collective imbecile – Brazilian incultural current affairs. Rio de Janeiro: Faculdade da Cidade.

Carvalho, Olavo de. 2013. The least you need to know to not be an idiot. Rio de Janeiro: Ed. Record.

Hentges, Cristiano and Aldo Araujo. 2020. “A historical-critical approach to Intelligent Design and its arrival in Brazil”. Philosophy and History of Biology 15 (1): 01-19. DOI: 10.11606 / issn.2178-6224v15i1p01-19.

Lynch, Christian. 2020. “The Reactionary Utopia of the Bolsonaro government (2018-2020)”. Insight Intelligence Magazine 89: 21-40. Available in: https://inteligencia.insightnet.com.br/pdfs/89.pdf

Birth, Raphael. 2022. “Agamben Case”. In: SZWAKO, José; RATTON, José L. (Orgs). Dictionary of Denialisms in Brazil. Recife: Cepe, p. 64-67.

Nóbrega da Silva, Leonardo. 2018. “The publishing market and the new Brazilian right”. Theory and Culture 13 (2): 73-84. DOI: 10.34019/2318-101X.2018.v13.12430.

Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway. 2010. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

Patschiki, Lucas. 2012. “The coasts of our bourgeoisie: Mídia Sem Máscara in partisan action (2002-2011)”. Masters dissertation. Paraná: State University of Western Paraná.

Rocha, Camila. 2018. “'Less Marx, more Mises': A genesis of the new Brazilian right (2006-2018)”. Doctoral thesis. São Paulo: University of São Paulo.

Szwako, José. 2014. “Lugo's 'bad performance': gender, religion and countermovement in the last Paraguayan presidential dismissal”. Public opinion 20 (1): 132-155. DOI: 10.1590/S0104-62762014000100007.

Szwako, José. 2023. “Négationnisme, antimondialisme et défense de la liberté dans le réactionnarisme brésilien contemporain”. Brazil(s). Human and social sciences 23 DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/bresils.15071.

Szwako, J. & Cardoso-da-Silva, M. 2022. “Orwell in Brazilian style”. Two Points 19 (2), p. 67-77.

Taguieff, Pierre-André. 2001. The Force of Prejudice. On racism and its doubles. London, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Valverde, Ricardo. 2020. “High doses of chloroquine are not indicated by the CloroCovid-19 study.” Fiocruz Portal, April 20, 2020. Available at: https://portal.fiocruz.br/noticia/doses-altas-de-cloroquina-nao-sao-indicadas-pelo-estudo-clorocovid-19.

Notes


[I] All mentions of the content of the Brazil without fear can be found on its website following the form “title” (month, year); cf. “2020, the year we were not afraid” (December, 2020).

[ii] For a history of media without mask, see Patschiki (2012).

[iii] For methodological details of the selection and hierarchy of selected subjects, see Szwako 2023.

[iv] Cf. “Pimp is more decent than journalist, says Olavo de Carvalho” (September, 2020).

[v] Cf. “My Korea is here” (April, 2020).

[vi] Cf. “Maia wants censorship on social media” (March, 2020).

[vii] Idem.

[viii] Cf. “Politicians and newspapers bet on chaos” (March, 2020).

[ix] Cf. “Bolsonaro’s pregnancy test” (April, 2020).

[X] Cf. “2020, the year we were not afraid” (December, 2020). We cannot fail to notice the thoughtless convergence between far-right and far-left discourses, when both accuse the media of forging “a climate of panic”, as recently argued by G. Agamben; This author has questioned himself “why the means of communication and authorities are working hard to spread a climate of panic, causing a state of exception” (Agamben, 2020, 11-12). For an analysis of this case, see Nascimento (2022).

[xi] Cf. “Politicians and newspapers bet on chaos” (March, 2020).

[xii] This letter was published in two versions. To the headline, see “The 'science' of the pandemic” (May, 2020); see also “Scientists publish open letter to the Minister of Health” (April, 2020).

[xiii] Cf. “The 'science' of the pandemic” (May, 2020).

[xiv] Idem.

[xv] Idem.

[xvi] See if: https://dpl.org.br/institucional/quemsomos/.

[xvii] Cf. “The 'science' of the pandemic” (May, 2020).

[xviii] Idem.

[xx] Idem.

[xx] Cf. “2020, the year we were not afraid” (December, 2020).

[xxx] Idem.

[xxiii] Idem.

[xxiii] Cf. “Abortion: the satanic dogma of the globalist sect” (April, 2020).

[xxv] Idem.

[xxiv] Cf. “Abortion: the satanic dogma of the globalist sect” (April, 2020).

[xxv] Idem.

[xxviii] Idem.

[xxviii] Cf. The virus that attacks families (April, 2020).

[xxix] Cf. “How the left wants to legalize pedophilia, rape and murder” (August, 2020).

[xxx] Idem.

[xxxii] Idem.

[xxxi] Cf. The virus that attacks families (April, 2020).

[xxxii] Cf. The virus that attacks families (April, 2020).

[xxxv] Cf. “2020, the year we were not afraid” (December, 2020).

[xxxiv] Idem.

[xxxiv] Idem.


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