Liberalism in the Bolsonaro government

Clara Figueiredo, double exposure_Digitized analog photography_São Paulo_2018


Considerations on an article by Christian Lynch

Instigated by the article by Christian Lynch, published in the Illustrious from the newspaper Folha de S. Paul on March 21, 2021, I think it would be important to contribute to the deepening of the debate there. Professor Lynch, from the prestigious IESP-UERJ, is a recognized authority as a researcher on the subject and we all learn a lot from his texts. What follows aims to stimulate discussion about his ideas and about this topic, liberalism or not in the Bolsonaro government, so decisive in current Brazilian politics.

Lynch's point is that there is a distinction to be noted between what he terms democratic liberalism and neoliberalism. He resorts to the notion of families, traditions and lineages of thought to demonstrate the continuity (and sometimes discontinuity) of political currents. It stems from the assertion in Lynch's text that in Brazil, liberals invariably play the role of a sucker by allying with authoritarians, conservatives and neoliberals. The case of the Bolsonaro government and the endorsement it receives from liberals – and the explanation of this sustains Lynch.

I have some intellectual and perhaps political disagreements with Lynch's general thesis. The first refers to the insistence, even naive, of observing that liberalism in a left-right continuum is at the center – “at times, democratic liberals found themselves in a climate of polarization between the radical left and right that reduced the its space of action in defense of public freedoms and inclined the country towards authoritarianism”. The second divergence concerns the attempt to say that there is no correlation between economic and political liberalism; “Although an automatic correlation between economic and political liberalism is always imagined, this relationship, over the last three centuries, has become more complex and not always easy to distinguish”. The third consideration on which I differ with Lynch is his understanding of what neoliberalism is as a historical, political, and ideas phenomenon.

Concerning the history of ideas and even political history, if liberalism was not an intransigent and decisionist current like contemporary liberalism or neoliberalism, it was also unwilling to share power with popular movements. To resort to the 1848th century and the position of many liberal writers and politicians in the convulsive context of the 1640 insurrections would be rhetorical; just check the arc that goes from 1688 to 1642 in England. Of course, there was no modern distinction between left and right, which may turn out to be more negative for Lynch's formulation; for the independent Calvinists who turned against the Stuart monarchy in XNUMX, when they saw the rise of the Levelers, not only did everything not to meet their demands, but also structured a moderate electoral system of indirect “democracy” to the detriment of popular radicals (see on this Leo Kofler – Contribution to La Histotia de la Sociedad Burguesa, ed. Amorrortu) . The fact in itself says nothing about liberalism being center or not. But it illustrates a circumstance that Lynch is not aware of. In the modern world, political ideas are not families that result from osmosis as in the Axial Age – Christianity, as a cultural system that unified the West after the fusion of parcelized Germanic communities and the vast Roman territorial areas, benefited from the institutional scenario resulting from this historical moment , did not have to contend with a rival belief system. Modernity offers radically opposite questions. Here the ideas are mobilizing; they act, appear, promote within a material and cultural mosaic that moves in the differentiation between left and right. If they didn't have to face the Levelers it is very likely that independent Calvinists would have a center position. If this happened at the dawn of our time – in the twilight we face more serious situations. It is enough to see the position of the centrist liberals, the consensus theorists, John Rawls, Jürgen Habermas and Norberto Bobbio (unsuspected democrats) at the very moment of Kosovo and the Gulf War. For academic decorum, it is not convenient for us to comment on what the liberal center trio wrote and elaborated [the interested reader can consult Guns and Rights: Rawls, Habermas and Bobbio in the Age of War by the English historian Perry Anderson]. From the angle I am approaching, we would have to have interpretative and political parsimony in order not to affirm that liberalism, even the democratic one, is a right-wing current. And we can dispense with good, well-thinking mocism in this discussion, not respect, education and purity of language, which is denying polarization. We must face our theoretical, political and historical problems head-on.

From what I mentioned above, the assertion of the non-correlation between economic and political liberalism follows. Supporting this consideration based on the complexity of the history of ideas and politics as such can be suggestive in descriptive positions of social phenomena. However, they can also be naively excessive at certain times. It so happens that we are at a juncture of life and death. Yet, indeed, complexities are not a Deus Ex Machina. They are movements of social relations, and in our case modern ones. It is the very autonomy of the spheres of value, resulting from the dynamic and multifaceted development of capitalist society that produces the differentiation between the economic and the political, to the extent that the organization of market actors does not demand direct state action. Hence, the bureaucratic and legislative bodies that shaped modern political regimes acquired a space that allowed them to act before their “citizens” with “equality”. Claiming the non-correlation between economic and political liberalism says little, making it a fragile and convenient defense of the latter. Again: ideas are relational mobilizers of practical action in history. Now, not even with a magnifying glass would we find a political liberal who defended the non-deposition of Dilma Rousseff in 2016 at the height of the crisis that devastated the country; and those who “shut up” consented… unfortunately. And we will be facing greater difficulties if we look for a political liberal and an economic liberal who do not passionately defend constitutional-representative democracy, the rule of law, the virtues of the market, etc.; from another angle if we scour texts by economic and political liberals it is very likely that we will not find the same passion with forms and models of popular democracy, or direct democracy at any level. If anything, we will come across the sympathy of political participation, but as a realistic pluralization of representation. Indeed, ideas and “texts are inseparable from historical contexts” (Perry Anderson). It is limiting to understand them either as generic systems or specialized structures. In both cases, the social and discontinuous times of reference are lost.

Finally, my colleague Christian Lynch's understanding of neoliberalism is reductive. At this point, the two previous divergences are articulated in a certain way. The liberalism that emerged in the West in the late 1970s was never exclusively the inescapable defense of the market, or the minimal State. If that were the case, the left would long ago have managed to present itself as a viable alternative. Our problems would be not unimportant or easier – but surely the status of lesser difficulty. Neoliberalism is a political, economic and cultural restoration. That is why, among other things, he needs to “repress” the left using various modes of action. It is an ideological program that converted those who were historically inclined to it and had the right nature to do so. Hayek, who considered himself a classical liberal, was not the only one to become a neoliberal. Whoever browses José Guilherme Merquior's articles on The Globe from the 1990s will see that ideas can be families, but they are also mobilizing constructions in the historical dispute in the modern era. With humanist diction Merquior demanded from Brazilian society (and left uspiana) a more airy understanding of the new times. In terms of Susan Watkins (see Quicksand, New Left Review, nº 61, 2010) neoliberal restoration has three defining characteristics: the first is American, the United States is the nation-state that postulated the changes we have witnessed since the 1980s; the second, the opponents are intransigently fought and the radical left, above all; the third, the success is almost absolute of neoliberalism, it is a definitively universal movement: “neoliberalism mobilized the [political and economic] enthusiasm of those who could count the profits obtained from it [...]” (Op. Cit.) If, for theoretical and political reasons already suggested, liberals move to the right, or are properly speaking a set of ideas and political action of the “right”; in the restorationist context that neoliberalism presents, it is unlikely that they will be as suckers as Lynch wants.

As for the Brazilian article (Roberto Schwarz), which Lynch analyzes with mastery and erudition, I will only comment that our liberal political culture (our not as suckers as the Portuguese Antonios of Temporary Hell) is always waiting to put his hand in an iron glove (Conceição Evaristo) to protect his share, no matter who hurts – and we know who the pain speaks louder to. Thus, we will not be able to understand and overcome our current political and social situation since 2014, intensified from 2018 to 2021 if we do not ascertain the “reality” of political ideals.

*Ronaldo Tadeu de Souza He is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science at USP.


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