the difficult cesarism


By Leonardo Avritzer*

With Mourão in the presidency, we will have a bureaucratic military that will not excite Brazilians, but neither will it put people's lives at risk.

On Sunday, May 03, 2020, a truck in Brasília was led by a vehicle with the words “military intervention with Bolsonaro”. When stopping in front of the Planalto Palace, the president positioned himself on the ramp and told the participants: “that he would no longer admit interference in his government and that he had reached the limit and that he had the support of the Armed Forces”. The banner of the demonstration and Bolsonaro's speech, which is not the first and will not be the last in this direction, points to the so-called Cesarean solution to the crisis. Only, apparently, they failed to agree with the Russians or the Armed Forces.

Caesarism was a concept widely used in the XNUMXth century when several authors came to the conclusion that the opposition dictatorship versus democracy allowed for several intermediate points. A good definition of caesarism found in policy dictionary (Editora UnB) organized by Norberto Bobbio defines it as “a strong power that knows how to detach itself from the interests of groups and individuals and ally itself closely with the Army…”. In this article, we will start from this definition, but we will add other dimensions: plebicitarism and the conditions for the charismatic leader to acquire military support.

Karl Marx and Max Weber dealt with the issue of Caesarism, but they did so quite differently. For Marx, the concept of caesarism and especially Bonapartism has two main dimensions: the first of them is a class balance caused by the fact that the bourgeoisie has lost the ability to govern while the proletariat has not yet acquired it. The second is linked to Louis Bonaparte's strategies of defeating his opponents one by one [1]. For the purposes of this article I will deal only with the question of balance, but not as a class balance, but between political groups and subgroups. We are in Brazil in a situation of equilibrium, or what Antonio Gramsci called “catastrophic political equilibrium”.

Max Weber also addressed the concept of caesarism, albeit in a different context. For him, Caesarism was the result of the rise of plebiscitary leaders. For Weber, the great plebiscitary leaders introduce emotional elements into politics. “The “mass” as such (regardless of the social strata that compose it in any particular instance) is only able to think in the short term. For, as all experience shows, it is always exposed to direct, purely emotional and irrational influences.” Thus, the danger of plebiitarianism is to corrupt the democratic capacity to produce the rational decisions that democratic politics needs. This is the pernicious role played by leaders. Every Brazilian in the coronavirus crisis has the ability to understand the phrase “corrupting the democratic capacity to produce rational decisions”, among which we could highlight “opting for life”.

Bolsonarism can be understood as a combination of elements of Caesarism highlighted by Marx and others emphasized by Weber. The Bolsonaro government is not a government of the military, and the relationship between Bolsonaro and the military is not simple, since when the Army could, it reformed the then lieutenant.

Bolsonaro got closer to the Army through clientelistic corporatism, proposing parliamentary amendments to benefit the corporation. But nothing indicates that he is seen with confidence by the leaders of the Armed Forces. Thus, Bolsonarism would be an association between charisma and an alliance with the Army as the ultimate legitimizer of a mass policy.

Thus, we have the main elements of Bolsonarism, especially after the rupture with Sergio Moro: mass politics for an anti-left middle class, mobilization and military anchorage. Bolsonaro has had the ability to maintain this core of support, but has lost the surroundings of this core that included sectors of the middle class with higher education and now with the dismissal of Sérgio Moro “lavajatistas” in general.

Some difficulties seem to stand in the way between Bolsonaro and the possibility of a cesarist solution. The first and most relevant lies in the fact that the retired captain had little effective leadership in the barracks. In classic Caesarist solutions, such as in French Bonapartism, the politician's charisma extends to the Armed Forces. There is a strong doubt whether the captain's charisma in the face of a low clergy on social networks is associated with effective military leadership. Bolsonaro does not have it.

It seems increasingly doubtful that the generals closest to him actually have the leadership of the barracks. In this case, alternative and more thoughtful leaders appear in the Army, not to mention the Navy and Air Force, which were much more reluctant to join the Bolsonarist alternative. Thus, commanders like General Edson Pujol seem to prevent this solution. On the weekend of the 02nd and 03rd of May, the news appeared in some media, planted by someone close to the captain, of his intervention in the army to insert one of his favorite generals there, a solution that once again seems unlikely. and against which almost all the generals were opposed.

Max Weber states in Politics as a vocation (Cultrix publisher) that in times of deep crisis political leaders need to show three qualities: passion, responsibility and proportion. Bolsonaro's reaction to the crisis is not lacking in passion. By the way, passion is one of the characteristics of the behavior of the former rebel captain.

But the kind of passion with which the president engages in issues is the passion of the friend versus enemy logic, the destruction of the other. If the ideas of coercion and the enemy are part of the logic of the barracks, they are mediated by other concepts that Bolsonarism cannot identify, such as the trust of the population, an important factor for the Armed Forces and that the Bolsonarist adventure can eventually place to lose.

The biggest problem for the Armed Forces to join Bolsonarism, however, is that the president's levels of irresponsibility do not generate a prospect of stabilizing the health crisis. The Armed Forces left their military adventure between 1964 and 1985 with their prestige barely scratched, when we think of a historical perspective. They managed to maintain the ability to intervene in society at the call of one of the powers; they managed to maintain the fake self-amnesty that they themselves granted and that fell in countries like Argentina and Chile and, finally, they maintain a huge apparatus of corporate tax benefits recently expanded by the captain.

The question the military must be asking is: is it worth joining this pseudo-Bonaparte that seems to be a farce and putting everything to waste? Even more basic, in the case of impeachment, the Armed Forces would be in the presidency with a general with greater levels of responsibility and stability.

Thus, those who are afraid that an impeachment request would reinforce the Caesarist solution should realize that the captain's Caesarist attempts do not seem to have been fruitful. After two notes from the Ministry of Defense against the captain's anti-democratic outbursts, the second of which was signed by the commanders of the three forces, everything indicates that the Armed Forces' stomach for yet another adventure is low.

Are we afraid of Bolsonaro's vice? Yes, but the left's mistakes were made in 2018 or even earlier and the institutional alternatives are already given. Everything indicates that Mourão will be a deputy of the Armed Forces themselves, but with a more classic behavior, especially if the coronavirus pandemic continues. That is, he will not be a converted democrat and we should not have illusions about that, but he will not be an irresponsible neo-fascistoid either. He will only complete his incumbent's term without major outbursts, not least because he lacks charisma and mobilization capacity. In other words, we will have a bureaucratic military that will not excite Brazilians, but neither will it put people's lives at risk.

*Leonardo Avritzer is a professor of political science at UFMG. Author, among other books, of The Pendulum of Democracy (Still).


[1] Thanks to Ricardo Musse for this tip.


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