The vote for Bolsonaro


Rubens Pinto Lyra*

The inability of individuals to assume their responsibilities as citizens demands that the theoretical tools of political scientists be completed by the results of social psychology..

Specific factors

The 2018 presidential elections were absolutely atypical, with the victory achieved by a right-wing extremist, militarist, in favor of large-scale privatizations and the severe reduction of social rights. “Less rights, more jobs” is one of Bolsonaro's favorite catchphrases. In addition, he repeatedly expresses his sympathy for the military regime installed in 1964, which he has always denied having been a dictatorship.

In the cultural and ideological sphere, Jair Bolsonaro defends the restoration of the “conservative family”, the “School without a Party” and the criminalization of “apology for communism”. He cultivates, moreover, a delirious obsession with combating “cultural Marxism”, supposedly responsible, even, for the “ideology of globalization” (a mockery of the expression “cutural Bolshevism”, by Hitler).

For him, “a good bandit is a dead bandit”; public security is carried out to the detriment of human rights, which are always confused with those of criminals. The left opposition is invariably presented as unpatriotic. The far-right discourse also “activates notions such as the threat to supposed shared values ​​about family and sexuality, using cybernetic power for a combination of messages, structuring homophobic, racist, sexist and classist narratives” (Bocayuva, 2019).

Even this regressive and authoritarian ideology, the use of fake news, financed by big businessmen in the electoral campaign and the systematic avoidance of candidate debates without clear programmatic nor demonstrated political competence, were not enough to shake the preference of its voters. Nor did the retired captain's voluntarism, intemperance and misogyny deter them. Such a shocking choice, involving the majority of voters from all social classes and regions of the country (except those in the Northeast) left political scientists, the enlightened media and democrats of different stripes perplexed and apprehensive. What would have actually happened?

It is known that the vote for Bolsonaro was not determined by his personal qualities, or by a programmatic option. He decisively weighed the situation of part of the electorate, fearful of unemployment and insecurity, both growing, and indignant with the degeneration of the parties and the generalized and endemic corruption of the State.

In this context, not a few directed their anger against the forces that fought against the dominant interests, blaming the beneficiaries of assistance policies and holders of rights for the country's economic situation. The target of these voters' hatred was the weakest and most oppressed people who tried to save themselves by submitting to the dominant sectors, the rich and those in possession of the use of force. It is impossible not to compare what happened in Brazil with the factors that led Mussolini and Hitler to power.

With regard to Italy, let the great thinker and novelist Umberto Eco speak: “Fascism comes from individual and social frustration. Which explains why one of the characteristics of historical fascism has been the appeal to frustrated middle classes, devalued by some economic crisis, frightened by the pressure of subordinate social groups” (Eco, 2002, p. 16).

About Germany, William Shirer, one of the most important scholars of the Third Reich, explains that “in their misery and despair, the poorest made the Weimar Republic the scapegoat of all their misfortune” (Shirer, 1967, p. .85). And this despite that Republic, thanks to the German socialists, having built the welfare state (Welfare State). But they did not know how to face, as a result, the serious economic recession in the country, which Adolf Hitler took advantage of.

 Any resemblance to the factors that determined Bolsonaro's election is not mere coincidence. Furthermore, an opportunistic and fanatical anti-PTism weighed in the balance, also fueled by conservative political parties and driven by the media monopoly, which served to hide – consciously or unconsciously – poorly disguised class interests.

By electing corruption as the number one problem in the country, the media contributed decisively to voters, dissatisfied with all the parties – all of them supposedly trapped in the “old politics” – to vote for someone considered the outsiders, critic of the “system”. Therefore, who would be the only one accredited to fight it. This finding, obviously, does not exonerate the Workers' Party from its share of responsibility for the victory of the right.

Its political and administrative missteps, and the corruption that contaminated some of its greatest leaders, were never the object of true self-criticism. PTism paid the price for its ever-repeated refusal to recognize the mistakes committed, thus demonstrating its alienation from reality.

Lastly. Those who study the psychosocial factors of Bolsonaro's election to the Presidency cannot fail to make an analysis – albeit perfunctory – of the Evangelical vote in the presidential election, as he decisively competed for the choice of the right-wing extremist who governs the country. Indeed, there are not few who, even today, question themselves about the reasons why a significant part of the Christian electorate – in this case, the evangelical majority – could vote for the highest office of the Republic in a candidate who, having fled the debates , did not fail to proclaim, loud and clear, his sympathy for regimes that tortured, killed or persecuted thousands of Brazilians. A vote that contributed decisively to the victory of “Myth”.

The Messiah – Bolsonaro – sadistically manifested himself in the vote to impeach Dilma Rousseff. He gloated over the suffering experienced by the former president, when arrested during the military regime, by exalting the figure of her torturer, Coronel Brilhante Ustra – what stood out most, during the dictatorship, in this repulsive practice (Tavares, 2020) .

We understand that the psychological conditions that characterize the vote for Bolsonaro, with regard to evangelicals, are not foreign to the doctrine of the two greatest icons of Protestantism - Martin Luther and John Calvin - similar, in the question under analysis, despite their doctrinal differences .

These theologians emphasize the impotence of the individual in the face of the unfathomable designs of the Lord. For them, only the divine will determines people's lives and all historical events. Calvinists and followers of Luther, but also a significant segment of evangelicals, transferred to the political plane, in the 2020 presidential elections, feelings of impotence, in a moment of crisis and hopelessness. They believed, conditioned, among other factors, by their doctrinal background, that only a demiurge could avoid the economic and social defeat of their countries: the Myth.

Like the Leader, in Germany and the Duce, in Italy. Indeed, for Luther and Calvin, even the worst tyrant cannot be contested: if he rules, it is because God wants it. In the words of the first of these, quoted by Fromm: "God would rather put up with the continuation of a government, however bad, than let the rabble rebel, no matter how justified they think they should do so" (Fromm, 1970 , p.74). This same fatalistic view, in an even more accentuated form, is present in Calvin for whom “those who go to Heaven do not do so, absolutely, on their merits, just as those condemned to Hell are there simply because God wanted it that way. Salvation or condemnation are predeterminations made before man was born” (Calvin).

Such conceptions, which radically deny the autonomy of the individual, prepared, nolens volens, the path to its submission to secular authorities, holders of state power. These, at present, have, preponderantly, guided their policies, exclusively, in the interests of the market. They aim at the deconstruction of the social-democratic model of the State (that of Social Welfare) and its replacement by the “minimum State”, a mere instrument of the neoliberal policy of the dominant classes.

The aforementioned conceptions are in line with theologies that consider their best followers to be those who managed to excel in “free enterprise”, or who, in one way or another, achieved material success. This adequacy does not always occur consciously. Even for the religious reformers in question, the idea that human life would become a means to achieve economic ends would have been unacceptable. In Fromm's words: "Although his way of looking at economic issues was traditionalist, the emphasis given by Luther to the nullity of the individual contradicted this conception, opening the way for an evolution in which man should not only obey secular authorities but also subordinate their lives to the ends of economic achievement” (1970: p.75).

Similarly, the evolution of the Calvinist doctrine highlights the idea that success in secular life is a sign of salvation (1970: p. 80), a theme that deserved Max Weber's attention, as an important link between this doctrine and the spirit of capitalism. As Ghiardelli recalls, pastors of the largest evangelical churches, nicknamed slot machines, are among the greatest fortunes in the country. In his words: “The wave of conservative customs in Brazil has to do with the growth of these churches. Bolsonaro is, in large part, the political expression of such churches. The cultural backwardness of this movement is a liquid in which it loves to bathe” (Ghiardelli, 2019, p.78).

The ideology of Luther and Calvino became hegemonic in several churches, both Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal. (Pacheco, 2020). Therefore, the link between the authoritarian aspects of the doctrines of the aforementioned theologians and that of important evangelical sectors, supporters of the reformed captain, who promote the adequacy of the ideology to the needs of the market is revealed.

As a reward to these churches, the Bolsonaro government appointed one of the most prominent Calvinist exponents, Benedito Aguiar Neto, to the presidency of CAPES. In addition to him, Pastors Sérgio de Queiroz, Secretary of Social Development, and Guilherme de Carvalho, Director of Promotion and Education in Human Rights, were also appointed to the highest government levels.

We certainly cannot forget that, despite Calvin's positions, described above, Protestantism emerged, objectively, as a movement of great impact, in the struggle for freedom and autonomy, within the Catholic Church. However, the study of this issue goes beyond the objective of this work. It only aims to identify the fatalistic aspects of the Protestant doctrine, which favor, at the political level, the acceptance of authoritarianism and, at the economic level, the neoliberal ideology.

These aspects led to a huge setback, especially in countries like Brazil, neo-Pentecostalism gaining considerable space and with it, economic, moral and political options of conservative bias. These changes occur pari passu the severe decrease, among pastors, in the quality of their formation, which often takes six months, while that of clergymen of the Catholic Church lasts five years. All of this contributes to the “hard core” of Bolsonarism reaching a significant contingent of evangelicals, through a deleterious combination of low cultural level, fundamentalism and religious conception anchored in market values.

In addition to the factors studied above that conditioned the vote in the presidential elections, it is worth remembering, in the wake of Machiavelli, that Fortune (by chance, good or bad luck, or imponderable) also made its contribution to the stab suffered by Bolsonaro. She was responsible for the “turn”, which contributed decisively to his election.

Brazil and Germany

The background that determined the debacle of the democratic candidates was the emergence of a visceral authoritarianism, ingrained in the most hidden layers of the Brazilian social formation, never before manifested as strongly as it is now. Thus, a majority of voters stopped opting for these candidates to follow the dark path, full of obstacles, represented by the election of the retired captain.

Feeling helpless, voters abdicate their right to choose the political-electoral alternative consistent with the public policies with which they identify, and with their democratic convictions. He transfers to a higher authority the resolution of the problems that afflict him and society. This inability to assume its responsibilities as a citizen concerns Social Psychology. Its study has to be incorporated into the theoretical instruments of political scientists as one of the most relevant aspects for understanding the behavior of the common man in contemporary societies.

Theodor Adorno's analysis of the decisive force achieved by irrational, unconscious and regressive processes that occurred in fascist regimes fits Brazil like a glove. It “was facilitated by the state of mind of all those strata of the population who suffer frustrations, for them incomprehensible and who, for that reason, develop a petty and irrational mentality”.

This is achieved by propaganda that simply “takes men for what they are – the true children of a standardized culture, largely stripped of autonomy and spontaneity”. On the contrary, “it would be necessary to establish goals, the achievement of which would transcend the status quo psychological and social”. And he concludes: “this may explain why the ultra-reactionary mass movements use the psychology of the masses to a much greater degree than those who show a lot of faith in them”.

Brilliant psychoanalyst and social psychologist, Erich Fromm, in his classic book The fear of freedom, written in 1941, analyzed the reasons that led the Germans to end up in the Nazi regime. He emphasizes that understanding the propensity of the individual, in times of crisis, to give up freedom is an essential premise to face the danger of democratic societies metamorphosing into totalitarian regimes.

The understanding of this phenomenon goes through the perception that the social dynamic interacts dialectically with the processes that act within the individual. To understand them, mister appreciate them in the light of the culture that shapes them. Thus, the analysis of the human aspect of freedom, and its relationship with authoritarianism, forces us to recognize psychological factors as active forces in social processes and to face the problem of the interaction of psychological, economic and ideological factors in determining these processes.

Many Germans did not imagine that the Leader came to take the last consequences what he defended. Thus, “they took his ideas as mere propaganda, if not outlandish fantasies. No one could believe that ideas, as eccentric and dangerous as those expounded in his book Mein Kaft, would one day be put into practice” (Hofer, p.14). Something similar happened in Brazil, where many who voted for Jair Bolsonaro believed that his extreme positions were nothing more than bravado, used only as a tactical resource to succeed in the elections.

Fromm highlights the importance, for the Nazi-fascist ideology, of the emblems chosen by the enemies of human freedom, the gammed cross and the beams of fascism that meant “union and obedience”. We also had, at the time of the military regime, a similar motto, such as the widely disseminated “Brazil: love it, leave it”. And now we have “Brazil above all and God above all”, both from the same fascist matrix.

Indeed, all these mottos subliminally seek to delegitimize manifestations contrary to totalitarian bias conceptions, confusing patriotism with a homogeneous vision of the nation. It would exclude all those who do not agree with this vision, considered enemies who must be exiled, arrested or placed, in one way or another, outside the law.

Addressing the psychological aspects that determine the vote for the Nazis, Erich Fromm expresses himself as follows: “We were compelled to recognize that millions of Germans were willing to give up their freedom, just as their parents were willing to fight for it. ; that instead of desiring freedom they were looking for ways to escape it; that other millions were indifferent and did not consider freedom worth fighting and dying for (Fromm, p.14).

This historical fact also applies to generational differences in Brazil regarding political choices. In the XNUMXs, young people, and with them a large part of the Nation, only conceived of its building based on the values ​​of social justice and democracy. These questions were part of their daily lives. For them, not a few sacrificed their immediate interests, some their lives. Nowadays, many young people, as well as a good part of Brazilian citizens, are no longer guided by these values; in practice, they are unaware of them. Thus, the vote for Bolsonaro was guided by pragmatism, putting democratic and egalitarian values ​​in the background.

 In Europe, the depoliticization of voting meant that, when fascism and Nazism rose to power, few imagined what was to come, not realizing the rumble of the volcano that preceded the eruption. In the course of history, only a few geniuses such as Marx, Nietzsche and Freud have disturbed the XNUMXth century's infatuated optimism.

In the field of social psychology, says Fromm: “Freud went further than anyone else in paying attention to the observation and analysis of the irrational and unconscious forces that determine certain aspects of human behavior. They and their followers not only uncovered the irrational and unconscious aspect whose existence had been neglected by modern rationalism, but they went further. They showed that these irrational phenomena obeyed certain laws and could therefore be understood rationally” (Fromm, p.17-18).

However, Erich Fromm shows that Freud's pioneering contribution was, in many aspects, dialectically surpassed by some of his successors, such as himself, notably with regard to the crucial problem of psychology: the nature of men's relationship with the world. Freud conceived it as the satisfaction or frustration of this or that instinctual need. per se, as a result of naturally conditioned psychological forces.

Quite different is the thought of Erich Fromm, for whom society has not only a suppressive and repressive function, but also a creative one. In his words: “The nature of man, his passions and anxieties, are a cultural product; indeed, man himself is the most important creation of human effort. In turn, human energies become productive forces, shaping the social process” (p. 2l).

"Negative Freedom"

We have known since Marx that human nature derives from the social process, and is therefore subject to improvement, including with regard to the understanding of political processes. Overcoming the impulses that lead men to totalitarian submission to saviors of the Fatherland is among the greatest challenges of this and succeeding generations. Indeed, societies are still dominated by forces that make man, on many occasions, give up his freedom. In these cases, his conscience and his ideals are generally reduced to the internalization of external demands (which Fromm qualifies as “anonymous authority” and Freud as “superego”) and not to the expression of objectives arising from his own “I”.

We are manipulated by a kind of diffuse, invisible force, so that we do not behave according to values ​​we have elaborated, but according to common sense and social conveniences, considered “normal” and by “public opinion”. Nevertheless, we feed the ideological illusion of having complete freedom, when, as a general rule, if we do not level ourselves with automatons, we approach them. But what actually determines our behavior are unconscious motivations, which, although not resulting from our original choice, are perceived as if they were by most individuals (Fromm, p. 202-203).

We live under the aegis of capital, which does not favor the formation of a critical conscience aimed at realizing the values ​​of equality and social justice, nor praxis authentically democratic, prerequisites for building a free society. The majority option, on the part of the electorate, for a candidate sympathetic to the military dictatorship, openly hostile to workers' rights, made it clear that the ideological struggle against the values ​​propagated by the market, indispensable, is not, however, sufficient to face the alienation of many voters regarding the virtues of democracy.

It became evident that the possibility of successfully constructing a counter-hegemonic ideology has as a prerequisite the understanding of the individual's most intimate reality and of the psychological constraints that induce it - especially in situations that exacerbate its feeling of impotence in the face of the world. – to renounce their autonomy. However, there is no doubt that we have advanced, in democratic societies, in the conquest of individual freedoms, since under its aegis the State cannot hinder or hinder its exercise.

But not because of that, individuals have achieved, as many think, their effective autonomy: their behavior remains subject to the determining influence of conditioning of a psychological nature that translates into the internalization of demands external to their “I”.. They tend to conform them to the dominant thought, style and way of life, alienating them from themselves and others, by depriving them of reasoning and behaving autonomously.

In other words, the current individualism works as an envelope, suffocating the affirmation of the individualism that liberates: the one that allows us to be original, to reason freely, and, above all, to externalize our thoughts without censorship. Crushed by this perverted individualism, “anonymous authority” reigns supreme, disguised in common sense, in “normal behavior”, in short, in positions shaped by “public opinion”.

Some of them strongly influenced the October 2018 elections, such as the myth that corruption was Brazil’s number one problem, or that “popular outcry” should determine the actions of state powers, such as the judiciary. The prevalence of such conceptions stems from what Marxists call ideological apparatuses, such as the television media monopoly existing in Brazil. It inculcates in individuals, supported by the almost exclusivity of the organs of thought and culture dissemination, hostility to politics, as if all aspects of social life did not depend on it.

Likewise, it presents a single position on issues that are dear to neoliberalism, such as the sacralization of the “minimal State”. But the internet, by disclosing fake news on a large scale and by showing reality in a fragmented way, it also contributes to its distortion. In this respect, the convergence of the “heterodox” Marxist analysis of Erich Fromm with the “classical” one is verified, since “there were not a few who, in the 2012th century, insisted that the modern individual is produced by the internalization of profound disciplinary processes and repressive” (Safatle, 69, p.XNUMX).

The numbing of critical capacity, derived from them, led citizens to despise voting as an instrument of choice between different projects of society. Despite their subsumption to a conformist view of politics, they were supposed to be guided by their own opinions, when, as a general rule, they follow those imposed from outside. Even when they have them, they prefer not to externalize them, as such a procedure can marginalize them, leaving them insecure about the consequences that could result from their manifestation of autonomy.

Thus, they become semi-automatons, because “the growth of the base of the ego is stunted, being superimposed on this ego, extrinsic patterns of thinking and feeling” (Fromm, p. 209). They exercise what Fromm called “negative freedom”. He stresses that “obedience is not recognized as obedience because it is rationalized as “common sense”, as an acceptance of objective needs” (Fromm, 1965, p.129).

For this reason, social events such as family gatherings, Christmas celebrations, colleagues' meetings and other gatherings of the kind are, in general, marked by superficiality, or even hypocrisy. Its protagonists prefer not to risk the consequences of exercising critical freedom – such as the discussion of their electoral preferences – which could cause ruptures that are difficult to bear. They also avoid frankly expressing opinions about the difficulties in their personal relationships, when only this can lead to the emergence of bonds based on authentic friendship, sincerity and affection.

The victory of freedom, by triumphing over the psychological constraints and behavioral deformations that restrict it, overcoming empty relationships, gives rise to the blossoming of the potential of the individual, goal and purpose of social life. The society built on these bases will be made up of healthy, alive, mentally healthy people, in contrast to the current one, made up of individuals numbed by the current mechanisms of social control.

In this new society, people will be able to act autonomously, fully aware of the personal and social realities that surround them. For Fromm, it can be said that they are carriers of a revolutionary character, because, with the predicates above, they are the only ones that are able to promote change. However, “when everyone is awake”, concludes Fromm, “there will be no more prophets or revolutionaries, there will only be fully developed human beings” (Fromm, 1965, p. 130).

In the view of this scholar of social psychology, this will be a society “in which life will not lack any justification given by success or anything else, in which the individual will not be subordinated or manipulated by any alien force, whether it be the State, the economic system or spurious material interests. A society in which man's ideals are not limited to the internalization of external demands, but which really come from him and express the objectives arising from his own ego”

* Rubens Pinto Lyra He is Professor Emeritus at the Federal University of Paraíba.

All rights reserved.


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FROMM, Erich. the dogma of Christ. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 1965.

GHARDELLI, Paul. Philosophy explains Bolsonaro.São Paulo: Three worlds, 2019.

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PACHECO, Ronilson. Who are the Calvinists who are silently advancing in the Bolsonaro government? Intercept Brasil. 2 Feb. 2020.

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