The decivilizing effect

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Anderson Alves Esteves & Antonio Valverde*

“cloud of mosquitoes
the air moves
no wind”
(Alice Ruiz S. disorienting)

“We are being attacked”, said the character Lunga, in Bacurau; the dystopian sentence, coming from some moment in the future, can be pronounced, in the present, by education professionals and students in Brazil, degraded by the dismantling of the welfare state that never surpassed the incipient stage.

Neutralized to stop contributing to the acceleration of the “civilizing process”[I] and not helping to establish the progressive increase of access, formal and substantial, to what humanity builds and built, educational institutions, under financial strangulation and doctrinal persecution, were attacked to metamorphose into agencies of the same barbarity that occur in other areas , such as environmental, ethical, ethnic, gender, economic…

The country literally burns, is stained with oil, buried under broken dams, affronts native populations and forest peoples, raises levels of various forms of inequality – and it remains for education, according to the understanding of the Jair Bolsonaro government, to join efforts in force. - “decivilizing” task. First of all, educational institutions must shut up.

A part of the myriad of attacks outrages and contemplates education in general, and another, more specific, was calibrated to hit the area of ​​Humanities and Philosophy.

In the first, in addition to the barbarities carried out under the Michel Temer government – ​​Constitutional Amendment 95/2017, which froze investment in the public service for twenty years; reform of Secondary Education (Law 11.415/17) that envisioned a school for the poor and another for the rich, which "made it more flexible" in order to withdraw public investment in this stage of Basic Education and allow the resources sent to be channeled to companies and, thus, to colonize public education by the commodity form[ii] –, the McCarthyist paranoia of the government and its entourage encourages the persecution and censorship of teachers; it raises irrationalism; propagates and insists on making the “Escola sem Partido” project pass through the federal, state and municipal legislatures as many times as necessary; condemned academic activities of universities of national and international renown as “shambles”; “contingent” discretionary funds from universities and federal institutes; froze research grants; threatened to eliminate scholarship programs in private education; promoted budget insecurity in public institutions; financially strangled CAPES and CNPq; presented the “Future-se” project to enable the domestication of education and the public university by the commodity form; made an effort to carry out a budget bill that reduces funding for development agencies for 2020; interfered in the choices of presidents of federal universities; vetoed the bill that provided Psychology and Social Service professionals in public schools; prioritized the project to implement civic-military schools in the states, considered by state governors as elitist and expensive.

More specifically, Human Sciences and Philosophy were attacked by Jair Bolsonaro and Minister A. Weintraub. Via Twitter e lives (!), the authorities promised to subtract public investments in courses in the area and send them to others – a flagrant disrespect to the 1988 Constitution and the 1996 LDB, guarantees of university autonomy.

For the government, the Humanities courses and, above all, those of Philosophy and Sociology, have little relevance and only form political militants; argument easily refuted by data from the Web of Science (if you want to limit the discussion to purely quantitative and shallow metrics): it was precisely the Human Sciences and Philosophy courses that placed Brazil among the 15 countries that most produced science in the world between 2008 and 2017.

In truth, however, Education, Human Sciences and Philosophy are persecuted due to the “false projection”[iii] government in electing a group to be stigmatized, elected as outgroup and enemy, attacked in order to channel their repressed impulses, in addition to focusing the altercation on students and education professionals who, historically, have been opposed to the status quo and to the multiple faces of the marriage between liberalism and authoritarianism as they have shown themselves to be open to dialogue, to diversity, to pluralism, and to the extent that they unshackle wire-frame thinking, both contemporary and canonical, to elaborate new epistemologies. Instead of pacification, the Federal Executive and the MEC promote war.

Barbarism is already recorded in data. Henry Burnett[iv] analyzed the figures released by the Folha de São Paulo, in October of the current year, and established links between government attacks on Social Sciences and Philosophy and the drop in the number of enrollees in these two undergraduate courses: in the comparison between 2014 and 2019, enrollments fell by 47% in Social Sciences and 20 % in Philosophy.

By way of testimony, Carla C. Kawanami[v] researched meanings constructed by high school graduates, in a campus of the IFSP, and noted that the attacks on education and the areas of Human Sciences and Philosophy have already been internalized by students, who are inclined to opt for other careers than those attacked by the government: “My will is to be a researcher and live off research and teaching. But due to the condition that Brazil is in, I, like, fell into reality to realize that maybe I have to work outside of that”, said a student interviewed.

Opposing civilization and barbarism is an ideological procedure (in Marx's sense) to the extent that it prevents the perception of the irrational dimension of positivized rationality, of the contradictions existing in reality, which justifies and conveys ethnocentrism, as it inclines to think of history according to a linear and teleological path from barbarism to civilization. In Brazil, the current corrosive conduct applied to education denotes barbarism under the auspices of a Republic, a Constitution, a representative democracy – thinking in a binary way, therefore, mystifies the issue.

Norbert Elias considered that the civilizing process, at the same time that it socialized people in such a way as to submit their primary impulses to rationalizing consciousness, metamorphosing external coercion into self-coercion, civilized them by circumscribing violence to latency. But the Author – and, before him, Vico had warned that civil nations could regress to barbarism – did not shy away from contemplating the prerogative of the “decivilizing effect”[vi] of many observable phenomena within the same process raised in the long term in the history of the West and that show the possibility of outbreaks of violence and regressions in the path of pacification of the social world.

Among the historical events, there are national states monopolizing the legitimate use of force, new forms of administration and supervision of territories, professionalized bureaucracy, the parliamentary route as a conflict resolution strategy, deepening of the division of labor and functions, growth of interdependence , monetarization of the economy, urbanization – the nexus between sociogenesis and psychogenesis contributes to the understanding of the suspension of the individual gladius, the civilization of customs, moderation, compulsion to the spirit of foresight and self-control, the formation of new habits at the table and fourth, blowing and spitting, love relationships, aggressiveness, sports rules, people's relationship with children and the elderly, counting time. A “concatenated ring” was undertaken[vii] between social control, control of nature and self-control that reduced the use of (external) violence and circumscribed it to the bottom of the social scene.

On the other hand, everything that dissuades self-control and inclines to violent outbursts is decivilizing: Elias observed these outbreaks of regression and barbarism in the insistent German tradition of duels, in Nazism, in extra-parliamentary organizations that adopted terrorism as a political action.

In Brazil, we can think, according to Elias's contribution, that education, when being violated by those who should protect it, is treated in step with processes of socialization and individuation to stimulate belligerent strategies in conflict resolutions and to stir up the decivilizing effect. Teaching institutions are inclined, when invaded by the commodity form, to excel in a mutilated and mutilating formation as they are reduced to the instrumental and convey all sorts of unbearable inequalities that, for centuries, crease Brazilian society and perpetuate barbarism . Education that mimics violence, propagates it, blocks liberation and encloses it as taboo.

- People are being attacked.

*Anderson Alves Esteves is a professor at the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of São Paulo (IFSP).

*Antonio Valverde He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC/SP).

Originally published on ANPOF Column


[I] ELIAS, N. The civilizing process vol. I: a history of customs. 2nd ed. Trans. by R. Jungmann, Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 2011, p. 69.

[ii] CORTI, AP “Politics and empty signifiers: an analysis of the 2017 High School Reform”. Available at: <>>. Accessed on: 21-10-2019.

[iii] HORKHEIMER, M.; ADORNO, T. “Elements of antisemitism: limits of Enlightenment” In: Dialectic of Enlightenment. Trans. by GA de Almeida, Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor, 1985, p. 174.

[iv] BURNTETT, H. “Philosophy and Social Sciences vs. Right? In: Anpof Column. Available in: Accessed on: 24-10-2019.

[v] KAWANAMI, CC Integrated High School: a study on the meanings constituted by students on a federal campus. Master's dissertation in Education (Psychology of Education), São Paulo: PUC/SP, 2019, p. 71.

[vi] ELIAS, N. Involvement and alienation. Trans. by A. de Sá, Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand Brasil, 1998, p. 21.

[vii] _____. The society of individuals. Trans. by V. Ribeiro, Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1994, p. 116.

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