The legacy of a lost decade



The left is entirely representative of the common sense of our society – everything good that happens, and everything bad, belongs to the President alone


I'm not a fan of institutions, I mean: I don't consider that the key to democracy lies in them. In fact, there are two aspects to thinking about modern politics – one is action, the other is institution. I developed this theme in my book Society against the social, from 2000, I quickly summarize it here.

Nicolau Machiavelli breaks with the Middle Ages and the idea of ​​“good governance” by freeing the prince’s action from the moral bonds of Christianity. It shows that the doctrine of the good king, because Christian and moral, masks the reality of kings who were successful when they knew how to disregard religious precepts, whenever necessary to seek more power. Therefore, it is not fortuitous that Gramsci sees the prince in the revolutionary party: he is the one who acts without being tied to the old world that is dying, he is the one who helps the birth of the new world, the new order that is the name of the organization he leads before being arrested by fascism.

Bernard Mandeville, less known, two hundred years after the Príncipe write to Bee fable, maintaining that private vices can generate public benefits. Greed, vice and even sin, encourages entrepreneurs to produce better and cheaper – this is the great example. Capitalism depends on knowing how to channel an amoral or even immoral drive (to use Freudian language) towards socially positive ends. It is what gives vigor to institutions, which makes the lack of human kindness (or even evil) channeled in good directions. Montesquieu even says that the Inquisition and absolute monarchy combine well in Spain, because each of them – bad – limits the other. It is the foundation for the balance of the three constitutional powers.

Those who support revolutions or strong changes – ultimately, utopia – will value action. Whoever wants, not necessarily the status quo, but a slower political evolution, goes from institutions. Now, since revolutions remained on the periphery of the world system, since they stopped occurring in developed countries, the institutional path became established.


But what happened between us, in the period starting in November 2014?

It was an emptying and transfer of power between institutions. It is often said, paraphrasing Aristotle (“nature hates a vacuum”), that in politics, if there is a vacuum, it is promptly occupied. This is what happened between us.

Dilma Rousseff, re-elected in 2014, immediately changed her economic policy, which – in plain English – had a strong impact on social policy. (Economic policy is what the right calls what the left understands to be social policy, getting down to the essentials). The left base was disappointed and stopped concretely supporting her. He did not promote his dismissal, but neither did he fight to defend his mandate – just look at the silence with which the left experienced the impeachment vote, without uprising, without indignation in the streets.

The Executive Branch was emptied and, in this context, the Legislative Branch grew, under the leadership of Eduardo Cunha – who significantly initiated the coup by voting on a constitutional amendment that gave each individual parliamentarian full control of a percentage of the budget. This measure, in my opinion unconstitutional, means that this amount, to become law, does not need a vote from the Legislative Houses or presidential sanction. It is the privatization of a portion of the budget – a portion that has only grown since then.

Subsequently, a series of bombshells reduced the Federal Government's ability to control finances and the economy. (The scenario is now repeated). Congress, and especially Eduardo Cunha, grew stronger, until the moment came when the opposition within it and on the streets, faced with allegations of crimes that would end up taking him to jail, came out proclaiming “we are all Eduardos Cunhas”.

But this strengthening left aside anything that was positive for the country. It was negative: it prevented the Government from governing. Prevented it, even before impeachment. But he did not design an alternative. Therefore, a void was left - which was occupied by the third power, the only one not elected, the one that gives stability to the system, the one that is (I dare say) more of an institution than the others, precisely because it does not come from the popular vote or This is why it is renewed: the Judiciary or, in this case, the STF. Because it was this one that decided the impeachment process, not Congress. (Remember the phrase from the MDB politician, “with the Supreme Court, with everything” – which included the Armed Forces, it’s worth remembering).

Finally, as the STF itself could not govern, a figure grew up in the vacuum we had: a proactive judge, who did not hold back in the face of legal or ethical limitations, and who set out to condemn whoever he wanted. Not surprisingly, he became something of a favorite with politicians; he helped the election of Jair Bolsonaro and received an important ministry from him. If he later collapsed, it was because of his hybrids, his arrogance – especially because the government that the former judge supported was the same one that buried LavaJato, which he had commanded.

In this void, the most unlikely, the most inept of the candidates was elected (I don't know if Corporal Daciolo would be worse, frankly...). And in government he proved incapable of running the machine. He performed a circus with his motorcycles, with his lines more suited to the Super pop than Alvorada. Power remained between the Legislature and the Judiciary. The first, he pleased by vitaminizing the privatization of budget resources. The second actually limited his adventures.

One day it will be known – perhaps – why the STF, which had taken the decisions that sent Lula to jail, not hesitating to arrest thousands more people who had not had final convictions, changed its mind. Was it because he was the first to realize the monster that institutional disorder had given birth to? Good journalists, good historians should investigate this dark moment in our history. But let's continue.

Since 2020, alongside a very disorganized opposition, almost headless due to Lula's incarceration, it was the Supreme Court that contained the worst excesses. It is true that some governors – basically, the opposition ones (in the Northeast) and the one from São Paulo, João Doria – fought for the vaccine and for the reduction of the very high mortality caused by covid, while the president and his allies, including the governor of Rio Grande do Sul, which today presents itself as the cutest name on the right, was wiped out. Ah, honor be done to him: Ronaldo Caiado, the very right-wing governor of Goiás, also supported vaccination. The Judiciary contained the march of senselessness and slaughter by recognizing local authorities' right to limit activities that could spread premature death even further.

In the Judiciary, the defense of democracy was led by Alexandre de Moraes, with the support of some decisive ministers, especially Gilmar Mendes. It was not a performance by all ministers, there were those who approached Jair Bolsonaro, through thoughts and words, at least.

Here, the power that had been the last to speak, in the emptying of powers in 2014-16, was the first to mobilize. The Senate, it is true, while it had Renan Calheiros in its leadership, also acted – later, no. The Chamber too, but only while Rodrigo Maia presided over it. Afterwards, no.


Today, we are witnessing President Lula's necessary struggle to recover the powers that belong to the Executive Branch. When we read that 60% of the Health budget is captured by parliamentary amendments, we see how planning, more than necessary in this area, was hijacked by neighborhood politics. But this fight is more than arduous. The president of the Chamber, Arthur Lira, visibly does everything to make it impossible for someone who is the only authority elected by conviction to regain political protagonism, in an election that almost always goes through a second round, in order to define who represents the country. today a quasi-parliamentarism, but without parliamentary responsibility.

This is the dispute we are experiencing today. The Judiciary, which was the power of resistance, while the Executive destroyed the country, and Congress negotiated some kind of advantages with it, is now close to the Presidency, in an attempt to limit the centrifugal power that still resides in the legislative houses. But it is not and will not be easy.

It's not easy, especially because what would be the left-wing base of the Government doesn't understand, or more likely doesn't want to understand, that our presidentialism today is an appearance. Yes, we live in a society that wants a presidential regime. (Parliamentarism, here, is either a sympathy of intellectuals, like me, good for chatting in a bar chat – or the resource that the right seeks to use whenever it realizes that it is going to lose the dispute: as happened in 1961, to block the President Jango, and several times in the past decade, to remove the PT).

But, as “the weak king makes the strong people weak”,[I] six years with two presidents who survived in power due to minor agreements vitiated our political fabric. Our presidentialism is a facade – however, the left does not realize or does not want to realize this, and for all evils it blames the president. It would be him who would have imposed the fiscal framework, he would be the one who would deny salary increases, he would be the one who would not revoke the secondary education reform. In other words – and at this point the left is entirely representative of the common sense of our society – everything good that happens, and everything bad, belongs to the President alone.

*Renato Janine Ribeiro is a retired full professor of philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Machiavelli, democracy and Brazil (Freedom Station).


[I] Lusiads, corner III, stanza 138.

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