The Secret and the Serpent

Image: Stela Maris Grespan

By Jorge Branco*

Authoritarianism can emerge from democratic normality and its norm.

Says Thomas Kuhn, in “The structure of scientific revolutions” (2000), that “the transition from one paradigm in crisis to another is far from being a cumulative process obtained through an articulation of the old paradigm. Rather, it is a reconstruction of the area of ​​study based on new principles (…)”.

The general policy developed by Bolsonaro in his government and his rhetoric during the crucial period for Brazil, between 2015 and the 2018 elections, consolidated the emergence of a new extreme right. This extreme right has, among its main meanings, the anti-system reason, which proved decisive for it to be able to present itself as an alternative to overcome the economic and political crisis experienced in Brazil since 2013.

The economic depression added to the conspiratorial movements that led to Operation Lava Jato and the deposition of President Dilma Rousseff, created a political sense of deep general crisis in the perception of Brazilians (Percepções da Crise/FGV. The political system, politics and democracy sank in the senses of Brazilians. The feeling, at that time, was one of extreme dismay. The easy promises of the extreme right, its anti-democratic, anti-inclusive sense of identifying the enemy, the cause of the crisis, have become strong and coherent elements contrary to order, as seen by citizens.

The break occurs when one realizes that the old paradigms are incapable of explaining reality and that new methods, new understandings of reality and new subjects, whether in the field of knowledge or society, are required to build them. In general, and this is how it is presented in Thomas Kuhn, there is the assumption that the rupture of paradigms has evolutionary meaning. No wonder we talk about new paradigm.

Can a rupture of paradigms take place in the sense of not new, but from old? Gramsci says yes. He considers that there are numerous historical episodes where rupture has the fundamental meaning of restoration (Cadernos do Cárcere, 2015). This process gives the concept of passive revolution, but also that of transformism. It is about overcoming a crisis, from which new class fractions can emerge as leaders without, however, fundamentally altering the mode of production of a society and its resulting dominant arrangement. The leaders can change but the hegemony remains.

Bolsonarismo, as a specific political form of the extreme right, is the rupture of the situation whose result is the restoration of former leaders based on the modernization of former political and moral values.

This contortionism, however, cannot be explicit, it cannot be uncovered. It is necessary to establish an appearance of things distinct from themselves. In part, this is the picture of the events of recent years in Brazil.

Although it is shown, as Marta Arretche does in “Trajetória das Desigualdades” (2015), that Brazil experienced a certain reduction in inequalities from democracy, its preservation, added to the global structural economic crisis, created the right environment for that the extreme right emerged armed with a political narrative centered on blaming democracy, politics and leftist parties for the inability to overcome the crisis. Establishing the enemy, the crime and the blame in a single attack.

Such a symbolic construction is only possible with the establishment of the reason for the secret as a political method, or as a paradigm of this restoration. The secret is thus operationalized either as concealment of the truth or as a falsification of reality. It is the articulation of these two political strategies that builds the conditions for the restoration of old values ​​as new values, of old masters as new saviors, of the guilty as innocent, of the innocent as guilty.

Secrecy is a founding dimension of authoritarianism, even if it is not eliminated in democracy. However, in this one, secrecy emerges as a reaction from those who had a certain privilege, in an effort to maintain their knowledge and usefulness within the State apparatus, as Juliana Foernges demonstrates in the article “Cultural and bureaucratic barriers to the implementation of public policies.” ( Already in authoritarianism, or in authoritarian policies, secrecy appears as an offensive dimension of war with the objective of restoring power and the ruling condition and subsequently stabilizing and consolidating it.

This is how the production of fake news – as a strategy to falsify reality – and the reappearance of political espionage – as a strategy to conceal reality, must be understood and faced.

As revealed by the leak of the existence of a dossier against anti-fascists, ironically produced in the Ministry of Justice, the implementation of the National Intelligence Center ( and the investigation conducted by the STF on the responsibility of Boslonismo in the production of “fake news”, these strategies are in progress.

The rationality of secrecy, expressing the authoritarian character of the government, had already been put into practice when attempts were made to make the transparency law ineffective. However, the revelations of espionage activities are new facts and, aggregated, constitute the materialization of concealment as politics, through the obstruction of opposition and contestation.

It is constituted as the preparation of the worst. From what can be considered an authoritarian situation. A state in which measures of democratic regression and the suppression of social and institutional control are being consolidated without there being a normative break with the normative system of democracy. From there, the question becomes not whether or not there will be a coup d'état, but understanding that authoritarianism can emerge from democratic normality and its norm.

The military dictatorship of 1964 raised this dimension of secrecy to the material extreme of concealing the corpses of those who faced it. No social support, no popular sympathy, must push back resistance no longer to an egg but to the erupted serpent.

*Jorge Branco is a doctoral student in Political Science at UFRGS.

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