The military’s “nation project”

Image: João Nitsche
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By MANUEL DOMINGOS NETO*

Military usurps popular sovereignty without fear of going to jail

The Terrestrial Force presents itself as a “strong arm, friendly hand”. Whose arm and hand? They would not be from Brazilian society. What sense would it make for the arm and hand of Brazilians to announce friendship to Brazilians?

The slogan is fallacious. The Army belongs to the State, not to the people. It even tries to lead the State, meddling in its entrails and businesses. It is up to the people to pay the costs, hand over their children to the commanders and protect themselves as best they can.

State and society have always been entities with difficulty in reconciling. The State is the domain that is exercised over society, explained Machiavelli, giving rise to modern political thought. It has its own will, it does not translate the collective desire.

When the dynastic principle lost legitimacy, the idea that power should emanate from the people came into vogue. The legitimation of the State came to be conferred by an abstract community, the nation.

Brazilian soldiers presented a “nation project” in recent days. They did not realize the illegality perpetrated. They listed sinister propositions, without a shred of love for the people. They bowed down to the rich and powerful. They ignored constitutional principles.

I will not stick here to the festival of horrors exposed. It is a nostalgic proposal from the dark colonial times. I register that I did not find news. Most of the items listed are ongoing. Some, even with the support of the unsuspecting left, such as the one that intends, through “civic-military schools”, to convert children into janissaries.

I focus on a basic question: how do the military get authority to dictate the course of society? They have been doing this with impunity ever since they ordered Pedro II to die outside the house.

The petulance does not derive only from the possession of weapons. Violence needs to be coated with “noble” justifications. The permissiveness of the military has ballast in the state apparatus and in the fragility of popular reactions.

The Brazilian State was born dominated by a few. It's patriarchal and racist. Keep society at bay. It never aspired to effective sovereignty, it always obeyed the lords of the world. He created instruments of force that correspond to his designs. Armed corporations portray their nature.

Society, in turn, was never mobilized to change the state. Punctually combats aspects of its perverse domination. The last Constituent Assembly praised citizenship, but did not change the State. It left intact fundamental devices for the submission of society. The instruments of force remained with their traditional roles. In the case of military corporations, the existential dilemma of acting as a police and an external defense remained untouched.

The Charter attributed to the military the mission of defending the homeland, that is, the nation. By these terms, it is possible to designate both the State and society. The expression “National State” is even more cunning: it refers to a dominion over society exercised with its consent.

The nation has never been convincingly conceptualized. Ernest Renan said it would be an “everyday choice”; Otto Bauer said it would be a community united by the promise of a common destiny for all. Benedict Anderson said it would be an “imagined community”…

The nation is mysterious and enchanting because it refers to the distant past and the unknown future. Both scoundrels and honest people speak for this community that people kill and die for.

After Mussolini, Hitler and Franco, “nationalism” became an ugly thing in Europe, but in lands colonized by Europeans, it persisted virtuously. Left and right proclaim themselves nationalists. It is past time for us to understand that the State is not a nation. Nation is society. Armed arms of the State do not express the collective will. They express the intentions of a State that, while maintaining the colonial legacy, attacks society.

As long as conceptual confusion prevails, pedantocrats in uniform, as they said at the time when those in the ranks ordered the Emperor to die outside his home, will try to take over the destinies of the people.

They will write “nation projects” and dictate “national objectives”. They will usurp popular sovereignty without fear of going to jail.

* Manuel Domingos Neto is a retired UFC/UFF professor, former president of the Brazilian Defense Studies Association (ABED) and former vice president of CNPq.

 

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