the reactionary populism

Image: Kartick Chandra Pyne


Commentary on the book by Christian Lynch and Paulo Henrique Cassimiro

the reactionary populism, by Christian Lynch and Paulo Henrique Cassimiro, is one of the most important national books for an attempt to understand the current political situation. The authors are professors and researchers in Rio de Janeiro. In almost 200 pages, they present an X-ray of the reactionary populism that took almost half of the votes in the last elections (the book predates the election). They are not about a transitory and passing political adventure. They deal with a serious matter that demands confrontation.

Starting from the crisis of the New Republic, and focusing on the car wash judiciary, the authors explore our political time, groping for an obtuseness that we disdain (and today we pay for it) and point to an insurmountable aporia: the parasite paradox. The parasite needs the invaded body to survive, it cannot destroy it. The destruction of the invaded body presupposes and results in the death of the parasite. This metaphor implies the ambiguous relationship between the reactionary populist leader and democracy. On January 8, this tension reached its limit.

The authors identify this new populist wave (especially Brazilian) in the context of the crisis of democratic liberalism, which unfolds from the hangover of the euphoria of globalization, the attacks on the twin towers and the economic crisis of 2008. fate of the democratic agenda, that is, if there would be a revitalization of this project or if the threat was really real. What does the reader think?

It seems to me that this last postulate won. The threat transcended the digital space and went to the square with clubs in hand (literally). All seasoned by dangers potentiated by a universe of parallel information, in which an idealized communism, foreign immigration, a recurrent sense of injustice and social changes were fostered by the sharing of identity values.

For the authors, the reactionary populist is not interested in matters of government and administration. He commands a digital party that is dispersed and at the same time united around a digital account. This courageous book reads that the reactionary populist's digital account is not a democratic place with an open space for citizen criticism. The reactionary populist's digital account "is an altar, whose access is private to the faithful for the purpose of worshiping their idol". When materialized, and now this is my opinion, this space of worship is concomitant with the official topographical surroundings: it is the playpen.

The radical populist, according to the authors, presents himself as the anti-system hero. Management is incompetent. It uses this incompetence as a seal of authenticity. Between competence and authenticity (albeit feigned, if possible) the mediocre person dissatisfied with the mediocrity of his life doesn't think twice: he wants the authentic.

What historical path did the reactionary populist, spokesman for a regressive utopia of restoration to imagined times, pave? Was this utopia latent? In an attempt to explain these two questions, the authors first explore a judiciary revolution, which was said to be an instrument of a supposed regenerative capacity of the Nation. The Judiciary would solve everything. He would apply the law.

It is lavajatismo, in its most complete version, which has assumed the pattern of a tenentismo togado. The former Curitiba judge and the former Republic attorney who worked there tried to be contemporary versions of Juarez Távora and Eduardo Gomes. I don't think they succeeded, even though praised in the press and on the networks, applauded on planes and restaurants, heard in suspicious recordings.

In the thesis of the authors of the reactionary populism Judicialism was based on legitimacy derived from meritocratic access to public service. They also added the theme of neoconstitutionalism, which resulted in the appreciation of legal corporations and, paradoxically, in the massification of law teaching. There was a multitude of graduates who talked all the time about rules and principles, quoted German authors in translation (Hesse, Häberle, Müller and Alexy) and brooded over Anglo-Saxon legal aspartame (Dworkin and Rawls). They defended a greater participation of the Judiciary to the detriment of the other powers. Restoration took place in the curul, the seat of high Roman dignitaries who dictated jurisprudence.

According to the authors, it is enough to consult the books on Constitutional Law to verify that the space dedicated to the Legislature is tiny in relation to the space dedicated to the Judiciary and legal corporations. The judiciary that was already present in Rui Barbosa and Pedro Lessa returned to the proscenium. The recurrent moralism of the UDN, in the voice of Afonso Arinos, Bilac Pinto and Aliomar Balleeiro, was at the backbone of this revolution in the judiciary, which also, what is more paradoxical, was based on standardized interpretations of Brazil, as we read in Sérgio Buarque de Holanda , Raymundo Faoro and Roberto DaMatta. Such a dialogue would be impossible. The authors remind us that Carlos Lacerda's udenistas jumped ship in 1965, just as Sergio Moro and the MBL did in the near future.

In the argument of the reactionary populism the nucleus of the new expression of power orbited around the reactionary culturalism of Olavo de Carvalho and the neoliberalism of Paulo Guedes. From the first, a petrified conception of culture was apprehended, centered on the obsession with cultural Marxism, against which decadentism was opposed, the critique of globalization and the anchor of metapolitics, for which culture comes after politics. From the second, according to the authors, it is known that the weakness of the neoliberals has always been the unpopularity of the program.

Reactionary populism is far removed from the reference and reverence it has for military technocracy. The statist conservatism of Golbery do Couto e Silva subordinated and dominated the culturalism of Gilberto Freyre and Miguel Reale, as well as the neoliberalism of Roberto Campos and Octávio Bulhões. The authors do not even conjecture about an explanation for this dysfunction. Perhaps, the adherence of reactionary populism to structural denialism can be an interpretive key to the enigma.

The authors give clues. The denial of global warming, the holocaust, faith in flat earthism, belief in the hypothesis that Nazism and fascism would be of the left, reverse racism, conspiracyism, the pandemic, the efficiency of the vaccine, the orthodoxy of the ballot boxes and the theme of gender ideology would transit in this explanatory framework. In Fernando Gabeira's question, “why do they get so far away from reality and when they realize it they get so angry?”.

The reactionary populist surrounds himself with mediocre and servile cadres, fostering an administrative McCarthyism. Dissidents are persecuted. In building the path to reactionary populism, a constitutional theory of support was formulated, always served by enjoyable jurists (the authors' expression) who returned to the theme of the reason of the State, now justification of almost perpetual secrets (100 years).

I add to the authors' argument the role of a certain theology of prosperity. For Carl Schmitt (the prince of enjoyable jurists) the miracle would be to faith what jurisprudence would be to law. For its almost Brazilian version (Francisco Campos) the totalitarian State would be a technique at the service of democracy. It is the union between the temple and the palace of justice.

I think that the great message of Christian Lynch and Paulo Henrique Cassimiro in this beautiful book is the realization that the rational search for truth as the foundation of collective life has been abandoned. The authors instigate more for the rational search for the truth than for the truth itself. After all, about the latter, and the question is biblical (John 18:38) not even Pilate knew what it was about.

*Arnaldo Sampaio de Moraes Godoy is a lecturer in General Theory of the State at the Faculty of Law of the University of São Paulo (USP).


Christian Lynch and Paulo Henrique Cassimiro. the reactionary populism. São Paulo, Contcurrent, 196 pages (

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