the serpent's egg

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By Filipe Campello*

Finally, it is naive to want to believe that politics is made with reason and arguments. We cannot keep falling into this trap, underestimating what is being germinated in Brazil

There is a mantra in Brazil that says that the institutions are working and that, therefore, there is no risk of an authoritarian escalation. This causal relationship argument is, however, questionable.

Even if it is recognized that, since Bolsonaro's inauguration, the STF has managed with relative success to mitigate several illiberal bets carried out by the executive, this is not reason enough to be reassured.

The option for the methodological framework around the functioning of institutions has the advantage of what can be called normative effectiveness: it can p. ex. contribute to argue in favor of certain institutional arrangements or comparatively analyze the relations between powers. On the other hand, this option runs the risk of underestimating the impact of everything that occurs beyond institutions.

In the underworld of social networks, but not only, what we see is a highly flammable fabric of mobilization of affections. A spark could catalyze a fire of unpredictable proportions. It's not hard p. ex. imagine that an eventual impeachment could trigger reactions quite different from those of people gathering to chant “Fora Temer”. The combustible that is breathing is not that of feelings of justice, but of hatred and contempt for the democratic plurality.

Not by chance, the speech adopted by the president is strategically ambiguous. The increasingly cynical promise of fidelity to institutions is continually countered with a speech addressed to his entourage. It is in this group that the calls for the return of AI-5 and the closure of Congress and the STF grow exponentially and without any more shame. Add to this the typical echoes of any populist rhetoric: “It is we, the people, who decide”.

In the face of any reaction that goes against the president, the Bolsonarist reaction is that it can no longer be tolerated that Brazil, just imagine, has become a dictatorship (read: “how is it possible to continue accepting that, in this authoritarian regime that we live in? , the president continues to defer to the constitution and congress?”)

It's no use – in fact, it never was – trying to explain how democracy works. Nor is there any point in wanting to show that there is nothing like “the people”, but a permanent conflict between divergent opinions. None of this makes sense when what is at stake is precisely the undermining of democratic institutions and the abhorrence of those who think differently.

Finally, it is naive to want to believe that politics is made with reason and arguments. We cannot keep falling into this trap, underestimating what is being germinated in Brazil – or rather, what was never buried.

More than ever, betting on institutions requires a firm hand from them: they need to work to put an end to those who want to destroy them. But it is only possible to have a more precise diagnosis of what is at stake today in Brazil if we go beyond institutions and the belief in rationality.

*Filipe Campello is professor of philosophy at the Federal University of Pernambuco. He was a visiting researcher at New School for Social Research (New York).

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