Bolsonarism in the light of Hannah Arendt

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By Leonardo Avritzer*

The persistent use of lies or dissimulation was present in the monopoly coalition of the mainstream media and in procedures outside the Lava Jato law and Judge Sérgio Moro before extending to the Bolsonarista field

At the beginning of this year, some misinterpretations circulated on social networks about the Arendtian argument present in one of his main books: The origins of totalitarianism (Company of Letters). In Brazil with the polarization of social networks, Hannah Arendt's argument about totalitarianism was revived for the most pedestrian reasons possible.

After the video of Goebbels' disciple on duty at the National Secretariat of Culture, Arendt was used to assert that socialism, in its Stalinist version, is as bad as Nazism. Each of the totalitarian experiences produced deaths and strong restrictions on freedom, which makes it difficult to disagree with this type of statement. However, this reception of Hannah Arendt, common since the publication of The origins of totalitarianism and is linked to the Cold War situation, it is a mistaken reception (see among others Jeffrey Issac, Arendt, Camus and Modern Rebellion).

This reception is mistaken, in fact, because it assumes that the aim of the work is to relate the two totalitarian experiences when in fact the aim of this and other Arendtian works is to show how authoritarianism destroys the spaces of plurality that are necessary for democratic politics. It is with this idea that I will try to explain the Bolsonarist plague that affects Brazilian democracy.

For Hannah Arendt, democratic politics is structurally dependent on a space in which diverse trends of thought intertwine based on the plurality of events and experiences. The only way to constitute a democratic space is to accept this plurality in which no idea, other than the idea of ​​the right to have rights, achieves complete hegemony and the different forms of action are debated by political actors (Arendt, 1951, The origins of totalitarianism and 1958, the human condition [University forensics]).

In contrast to the idea of ​​democratic politics, totalitarianism or authoritarianism aims to destroy the public space of plurality by transforming political actors who differ into enemies who do not deserve access to the plurality of public space. It is not difficult to see that this demonization of the public, which the secular totalitarian thinking of the mid-XNUMXth century and the religious fundamentalisms of the XNUMXst century share, is what allows the degradation of politics – which we are witnessing taking place in large steps in our country. And here it is worth thinking about the role of social networks, which are obviously not responsible for narrowing pluralism in the public space, but obey a political ghetto logic that accentuates this process.

Brazil is a country in which these characteristics are expressed day and night, regardless of the impossibility of classifying the country as totalitarian. Brazil has an atypical public space for several reasons: firstly, it was unable to have a pluralist media in the media liberal period. We have an oligopolized mainstream media due to the way it was constituted in the authoritarian period and the inability of democratic forces to subject the mainstream media to any kind of regulation, such as it suffers in the United States and England.

The result is a media that is not very pluralistic. The exception is the Folha de S. Paul which maintains pluralism among its writers and quickly distanced itself from the monopoly coalition of the mainstream media by calling for new elections, even before the discussion of a possible impeachment of Jair Bolsonaro.

It was this media coalition that constituted a space for questioning the political conceptions of the Brazilian left and accepted a normalization of the political conceptions of the extreme right. The result of this distortion of perception emerged in 2018 and has not yet come to an end. There, Jair Bolsonaro was presented as having the same conceptions of politics as Fernando Haddad – both would be anti-democratic – but the retired captain would not come from the impure field of “corruption”, another element that deserves an Arendtian analysis.

Hannah Arendt stated in The origins of totalitarianism, as well as in other writings, that one of the central elements of mass support for authoritarian experiences resides in the displacement of certain utopian ideas. Both Nazism and Stalinism operated successfully in this space, transforming ideas such as racial purity or class purity into utopias that justified the distortion of public debate and the repression of their opponents.

I dare say that the idea of ​​corruption, as it has operated in Brazil since 2014, fulfills a similar function. Although it is difficult to conceive of it today, due to the absurdity of the proposition, the idea of ​​the pure race, this was understood as a form of utopia in Germany in the 1930s, in the same way as the idea of ​​class purity in the former Soviet Union. I have no doubt that the supposed campaign against corruption fulfilled the same requirements in Brazil: the introduction of a clean versus impure analytical key associated with the idea of ​​a great combatant of this process of social degradation, in this case the judge of the 13th court of justice Federal, Sergio Moro.

All Brazilian media institutions operated in this interpretative key that allowed the judge to try to intervene in the 2014 electoral process, pressure judges of the Federal Supreme Court, release audios prohibited by law and extort information from witnesses through the illegal use of the instrument of coercive conduct.

It is worth drawing the parallel with the way judges in Nazi Germany operated: the criminal legislation of National Socialism assumed the duty of loyalty to the Volk. Thus, National Socialist law renounced the idea that “the law should be the sole source for determining what is legal and what is illegal” (see the excellent book by Ingo Muller. Hitler's Justice). I have no doubt that Lava Jato operated based on the same principle: once its enemies were established, the issue would be to punish them and not be based on legality.

The field of media or judicially sanctioned lies began to develop in 2016, when Moro asked the then STF minister, Teori Zavascki, for the excuses. There he states that he made a mistake, but that it was not “aimed at generating party-political fact”. In 2017, after condemning former President Lula for owning the triplex and for receiving bribes in exchange for favoring Petrobras contracts, Sérgio Moro goes a step further when he states, when responding to the declaratory embargoes of former President Lula’s lawyers , that the least important thing was whether the origin of the resources was in Petrobrás contracts.

Finally, he stated that he had no personal relationship or invitation from the current president when he released excerpts from the award-winning denunciation of former minister Antônio Palocci a few days before the first round of the 2018 elections. dissimulation is present in Lava Jato and in the behavior of judge Sérgio Moro before reaching the Bolsonarist camp.

A central question at this juncture and of which, not by chance, we know almost nothing, because no press body has proposed to investigate, is what was the relationship between Sérgio Moro and Jair Bolsonaro (or the military) between 2015 and October 2018 when the former was then invited to take over the newly elected president's Ministry of Justice. We know, however, that there is a clear cover-up of this relationship.

On March 04, 2016, when Sérgio Moro felt armored enough to order the coercive coercion of former President Lula without ever having named him or included him as a suspect in any of the processes of the Lava Jato operation, Jair Bolsonaro found in Curitiba waiting for the ex-president to arrive there. It is legitimate to assume that these relationships that are part of the underworld of Bolsonarism existed much earlier and with various intermediaries.

Thus, the visit of General Hamilton Mourão to the president of TRF-4 was also considered absolutely natural when he was in possession of the former president's appeal that would be judged or perhaps decided in record time. Thus, the politicization of the Judiciary and the narrowing of the public field and the media went hand in hand until the beginning of the electoral campaign. What happened from there? The appropriation of the body of work by Bolsonarism.

Jair Bolsonaro belongs to this field in a very particular way and his use of lies seems to be of another type, different from Moro and Lava Jato. In the first place, Bolsonarism's strategy until the beginning of the electoral campaign was to occupy the margins of political debate and the public field. In this marginal moment, there is no lie in Bolsonarism, only a minority and isolated interpretation of recent facts in the history of Brazil. Thus, Bolsonaro can assume the legacy of the military dictatorship, openly defend torturers and militiamen and attack the Judiciary.

It was only when the media, judicial and business groups came to the conclusion that their centrist project had completely failed, at the beginning of the 2018 electoral process, that a more sophisticated operation came into play. In this operation, Bolsonaro, Moro, and religious groups are presented as the source of ethical purity or moral purity, always in opposition to the PT and the left, which for some years had been presented as the center of corruption in Brazilian society.

That was the content of fake news, just as this was the content of the public debate held by these actors. At that moment, the mainstream media and their journalists on duty opted for a second electorally successful strategy: the PT and Bolsonarism were equally outside the democratic field, but the PT should be punished for its actions in the economy and for corruption. This was the discourse that prevailed until the beginning of this year despite the scandals of the “crack” in Rio de Janeiro, the disappearance of Queiroz, the manipulated investigation into the murder of Marielle Franco and the president's opinions about Congress and the STF. Why doesn't this strategy work anymore?

Because Bolsonarism is unable to deliver promises either in the field of the economy or in the field of public security and runs the risk of entering poorly positioned for the 2020 electoral process. What does it do then? It breaks with the tacit alliance with the sectors of media manipulation. And it breaks completely, both with the Folha de S. Paul who did not even fully enter into this alliance, as with the groups that at first were part of it, such as the The Globe and the Estadão.

Bolsonarism's rupture with the media field, which contributed to the narrowing of public debate, takes place through the same means that the previous process was constructed: as an attempt to create a mobilization against the impure or unethical politicians that are now Congress, the STF and the press. The president, due to his personal characteristics, took this strategy a step further by choosing journalists (not by chance female) to attack on a personal basis. But what most calls attention about Bolsonarism and the field it has been building is that the presentation of evidence by journalists like Patrícia Mello or Vera Magalhães did not prevent the president from lying openly about these issues.

We return once more to the Arendtian analysis. If the field in which plural public debate can be held does not exist, the lie can be normalized as truth. the newspapers The Globe e Estadão they made editorials in the last week that show the size of the problem we face today in Brazil to try to re-establish a plural public space.

O Estadão followed the same line that he has followed at least since 2016. He identifies a process that violates the law, but makes a point of referring it to what the newspaper's owners call lulopetismo. Thus, “in fact, it is not new that a president makes fun of institutions and the law. The repeated insults by Lula da Silva to the Judiciary have already passed into history, as well as his blessing to the rampant corruption promoted by the PT in Congress. Bolsonaro, by the way, was elected precisely because of the revolt of Brazilians in the face of this thorough and systematic demonstration of disrespect for democracy”.

In other words, we have here two statements that absolutely distort the central elements of the public debate in Brazil: the first is that those who elected Bolsonaro sought the restoration of democracy and order. There are no statements in this regard in the biography of the retired captain who became president. Second, that order, law and democracy were threatened by the leftist government. If they were, as the Estadão editorialists believe, why does the degradation produced by Bolsonaro and his gang of supporters on social networks imply such a strong degradation of democracy?

O Globo also published an editorial, but with a more intelligent strategy than that of Estadão. For the Globe, Jair Bolsonaro “benefited in 2018 from a happy conjunction for him, in which the debacle of the left, destabilized by the Lulopetista ethical disaster and the stubbornness of ex-president Lula to remain owner of the PT, added to the lack of names to occupying spaces in the center, allowed its election, with the help of many who used the vote to punish the PT. As the former captain began to reveal his whole face as an extremist, and not just in politics, a good part of these voters turned away. Bolsonaro then became a low-popular president, supported by digital militias and palace door cheerleaders. And he increasingly began to address these pockets, which kept him away from the greater part of society”.

That is, both narratives try to establish the impossible, a relationship between the left government and Lulism with a degradation of public space sponsored by Bolsonarismo. In case of Estadão there was already this degradation before, but Brazil did not know. In case of The Globe, the problem was the voter's attempt to punish the PT and Lulism, an action with which the newspaper or the group would have nothing to do. In both cases we see yet another attempt at a Tabajara operation, that is, an attempt is made to create a line of continuity in a process of clear rupture: Moro and Bolsonaro's attempt to break with the rest of the plurality that remained in the country and that the Bolsonarism is willing to break with attacks on journalists and lie about the facts involved.

Even more important is the attempt to deny the obvious by the mainstream media: that the ethical demarcation constructed by Lava Jato is false and that it was what allowed the construction of Bolsonarism as a non-corrupt field, despite all the evidence of relations with militiamen and “ cabinet cracks.

Unfortunately, there is not half a sole in the reconstitution of a political public field in Brazil. For its reconstitution, it is necessary to recognize what “Vaza Jato” showed: the attempt to manipulate the judicial operation, as well as the attempt to establish a pseudo ethical field in politics. Trying to oppose Bolsonarism and maintain the ethical demarcation strategy built by the Moro-Bolsonaro duo is an unviable strategy that will not be able to stop the deterioration of public space in our country.

*Leonardo Avritzer Professor of Political Science at UFMG.

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