Beyond necropolitics



Considerations on the genesis and effects of the suicidal state

“And the body became plant, / and stone, / and mud, and nothing else” (Machado de Assis).

It is possible that, through the global impacts of the pandemic, fundamental changes are taking place in the form of social management to which we are subjected. One concerns transformations in the exercise of sovereign power through ways of managing death and disappearance. As occurred more than once, such modifications begin on the periphery of the global capitalist system to, gradually, serve as models for central countries, especially in times of chronic intensification of social conflicts such as the ones we are entering now.

Such modifications are pressured by the contemporary explanation of the profoundly authoritarian dimension of neoliberal management models and their inability to preserve macrostructures of social protection and redistribution in a scenario of worsening inequalities and concentration. In this sense, if we want to understand certain trends immanent to the neoliberal model in its new phase, we must turn our eyes to laboratories of authoritarian neoliberalism, such as those that are being developed in countries of peripheral insertion, such as Brazil.

We can begin to describe such changes from the notion of paradigm shift. Because, in fact, we are observing a displacement outside the paradigm of what is conventionally called “necropolitics”. We know how such a discussion on necropolitics is born from reflection on sovereign power as an exercise of: “generalized instrumentalization of human existence and the material destruction of human bodies and populations”[I]. Not just power as management of life and administration of bodies, as Foucault preferably describes, but mainly decision on death and extermination[ii].

This understanding of sovereignty was largely based on the way in which Nazism and its ways of managing death were based, among others, on the integration of technologies of social subjection and destruction whose roots take us back to the colonial logic and the its constituent racism. As if Nazism should also be seen as part of the history of the transposition of technologies of colonial domination to European soil, to the soil of central countries of world capitalism.

In fact, the colonial dynamic is based on an “ontological distinction” that will prove to be extremely resilient, preserving itself even after the decline of colonialism as a socioeconomic form. It consists of the consolidation of a sharing system between two regimes of subjectivation. One allows subjects to be recognized as “persons”, another leads subjects to be determined as “things”[iii]. Those subjects who reach the condition of “persons” can be recognized as holders of rights linked, preferably, to the capacity of protection offered by the State. As one of the consequences, the death of a “person” will be marked by malice, by mourning, by the social manifestation of the loss. She will be the object of narrative and commotion.

On the other hand, subjects degraded to the condition of “things” (and the structuring degradation takes place within slave relations, although it normally remains even after the formal end of slavery) will be objects of a death without intent.[iv], which will be seen as carrying the statute of degradation of objects. This death will not have a narrative, but will be reduced to the numerical quantification that we normally apply to things. Those who inhabit countries built from the colonial matrix know the normality of such a situation when, even today, they open newspapers and read: “9 dead in the last police intervention in Paraisópolis”, “85 dead in the prisoner rebellion in Belém”. The description usually boils down to numbers without history.

It is not difficult to understand how this naturalization of the ontological distinction between subjects through the fate of their deaths is a fundamental device of government. It perpetuates an undeclared civil war dynamic through which those subjected to maximum economic dispossession and the most degraded conditions of work and pay are paralyzed in their strength of revolt by widespread fear of state extermination.[v]. It is thus the armed wing of a class struggle to which, among others, evident markers of racialization converge. For it is a question of making such an ontological distinction pass within social life and its everyday structure. Subjects must, at all times, perceive how the state acts from such a distinction, how it operates explicitly and silently.

In this sense, we note how such necropolitical dynamics responds, after the decline of explicit colonial relations, to strategies for preserving class interests, in which the state acts, in the face of certain classes, as a “protective state”, while it acts in the face of others as "predator state"[vi]. In short, it is necessary to insist on how necropolitics thus appears as a device for preserving structures that paralyze class struggle, normally more explicit in territories and countries marked by the centrality of colonial experiences.

The genesis of the suicide state

But we must be attentive to the consolidation of socio-historical contexts in which the state absolutely abandons its protective nature, constituting itself from the discourse of “letting die”, of indifference in relation to the deaths that occur in all sectors of the population. under its jurisdiction. That is, there are situations in which the logic of the predatory state is generalized to the entirety of the social body, even if not all sectors of this body are at the same level of exposure to vulnerability. In these circumstances, as I would like to defend, a phenomenon of another nature occurs, which cannot be completely read in a necropolitical logic.

Paul Virilio, in a text in which the analysis of the specificity of regimes of violence in the fascist state was a question, coined the term “suicidal state” to account for this unique dynamic[vii]. This was an astute way of going against the grain of the liberal discourse of equality between Nazism and Stalinism by insisting on regimes that structured violence as a distinguishing feature between the fascist state and other forms of so-called totalitarian states, and even other forms of colonial states. The term “suicidal” will prove to be fruitful because it was a way of remembering how a state of this nature should not be understood only as the manager of death for specific groups, as we see in necropolitical dynamics.

He was the continual actor of his own catastrophe, the cultivator of his own explosion, the organizer of a thrust of society out of its own self-reproduction.[viii]. According to Virilio, a state of this nature materialized in an exemplary way in a telegram. A telegram that had the number: Telegram 71. It was with him that, in 1945, Adolf Hitler proclaimed the fate of a war that was then lost. He said: "If the war is lost, let the nation perish". With him, Hitler demanded that the German army itself destroy what was left of infrastructure in the weakened nation that saw the war lost. As if that were the true end goal: that the nation perish by its own hands, by the hand of what it has unleashed.[ix].

The discussion on the “suicidal” nature of the fascist state was resumed in the same year by Michel Foucault, in his seminar in defense of society (in an approximation and deeply mistaken with the violence of real socialism) and years later, more systematically, by Deleuze and Guattari, in thousand plateaus. Faced with the destructiveness regime inherent to fascism and its permanent movement, Deleuze and Guattari will suggest the figure of an uncontrolled war machine that would have appropriated the State, creating not exactly a totalitarian State concerned with the extermination of its opponents, but a State suicidal incapable of fighting for his own preservation. Hence why it was the case to affirm: “There is, in fascism, a realized nihilism. The thing is that, unlike the totalitarian State, which strives to close all possible lines of flight, fascism is built on an intense line of flight, which it transforms into a line of pure destruction and abolition. It is curious how, from the beginning, the Nazis announced to Germany what they brought: marriage and death at the same time, including their own death and that of the Germans”.[X] […] A war machine that had no object other than war, and that agreed to abolish its own coreligionists rather than stop the destruction”.[xi]

By deepening this point, Guattari will go one step further and will not see problems in stating that the production of a line of destruction and a pure “passion in abolition” would be related to: “the tuning fork of the collective death drive that would have been released from the ditches of the First World War”[xii]. This allowed him to state that the masses had invested, in the fascist machine, “a fantastic collective death drive” that allowed them to abolish, in a “phantom of catastrophe”[xiii], a reality they detested and to which the revolutionary left would not have known how to provide any other response.

Leaving aside the complex problems raised by such use of the concept of death drive, let us remember how, according to this reading, the left would never have been able to provide the masses with a real alternative for rupture, which necessarily involved the abolition of the state, its immanent individuation processes and their repressive disciplinary dynamics[xiv]. This is Guattari's way of following Wilhelm Reich's statements such as: "Fascism is not, as is tended to believe, a purely reactionary movement, but it presents itself as an amalgamation of revolutionary emotions and reactionary social concepts"[xv]. The issue could not be reduced to just what fascism forbids, but what it authorizes must be understood, the type of revolt it gives form to, or even the libidinal energy it would be able to capture.

This reminds us how there would be many ways to destroy the state and one of them, the counterrevolutionary way proper to fascism, would be accelerating towards its own catastrophe, even if it costs our lives. The suicidal state would be able to make the revolt against the unjust state, against the authorities that excluded us, the ritual of self-liquidation in the name of the belief in the sovereign will and in the preservation of an “outlaw” leadership that must enact his ritual of omnipotence even when his impotence is already clear. In this way, it joins the notion of fascism as a preventive counterrevolution and a form of pure and simple abolition of the state through the call for the self-immolation of the people linked to it.[xvi].

In a way, this topos of the suicidal state converges with analyzes made decades before regarding the violence typical of the fascist state, coming from the Frankfurt School. Let us remember, for example, what Theodor Adorno says in 1946: “At this point, attention must be paid to destructiveness as the psychological foundation of the fascist spirit (…) It is not accidental that all fascist agitators insist on the imminence of catastrophes of some kind . While warning of impending dangers, they and their followers are excited by the idea of ​​inevitable doom without even clearly differentiating between the destruction of their enemies and themselves (…) This is the agitator's dream: a union of the horrible and the wonderful, a delirium of annihilation masquerading as salvation”.[xvii]

That is, it is a question of talking about destructiveness as the “psychological foundation” of fascism, and not just as a characteristic of immanent dynamics of social struggles and processes of conquest and subjection. For if it were only a question of describing the violence of the conquest and perpetuation of power, it would be difficult to understand how one arrives at this point where it would not even be possible to clearly differentiate between the destruction of one's enemies and oneself, between annihilation and salvation. In order to account for the singularity of this fact, Adorno also spoke, in the 1960s, of a “desire for catastrophe”, of “end of the world fantasies” that socially echo typical structures of paranoid delusions.[xviii]

Statements like those by Adorno aim to expose the uniqueness of patterns of violence in fascism. For it is not just a matter of generalizing the logic of militias directed against vulnerable groups, the logic through which state power is supported by a parastatal structure controlled by armed groups. Nor is it just a matter of leading subjects to believe that the impotence of ordinary life and constant plundering will be overcome through the individual strength of those who finally have the right to take the authorized production of violence for themselves. In this regard, we know how fascism offers a certain form of freedom, how it has always been built on the vampirization of revolt.[xx]. Nor is it a combination of indifference and extreme violence against historically abused groups. As necropolitics theorists remind us, such an articulation did not have to wait for fascism to appear, but it is present in all countries with a colonial tradition with their technologies for the systematic destruction of populations.[xx].

However, if Adorno speaks of “psychological foundations”, it is because it is necessary to understand violence, mainly, as a psychic mutation device. A mutation that would have as its axis of development a certain generalization of destructiveness to the forms of relationship with oneself, with the other and with the world. In this horizon, psychology is called upon to break the economic illusion of individuals as interests-maximizing agents. On the contrary, it would be necessary not to ignore libidinal investments in processes in which individuals clearly invest against their most immediate interests of self-preservation.

This diagnosis of a race towards self-sacrifice, in a process in which the figure of the protective State gives way to a predatory State that even turns against itself, a State animated by the unstoppable dynamics of self-destruction of itself and of social life itself, does not was exclusive to Frankfurtians. It could also be found in Hannah Arendt's analyses. It is enough to remember how, in 1951, Arendt spoke of the astonishing fact that those who adhered to fascism did not waver even when they themselves became victims, even when the monster began to devour their own children.[xxx].

These authors were sensitive, among others, to the fact that the fascist war was not a war of conquest and stabilization. It had no way of stopping, giving us the impression that we were facing a “perpetual movement, without object or target” whose impasses only led to an ever-increasing acceleration. Arendt will speak of “the essence of totalitarian movements that can only remain in power as long as they are in motion and transmit movement to everything around them”[xxiii]. There is an unlimited war that means the total mobilization of social assets, the absolute militarization towards a conflict that makes it permanent.

Even during the war, Franz Neumann will provide a functional explanation for such dynamics of permanent war. The so-called Nazi “State” would be, in fact, the heteroclite and unstable composition of four groups in perpetual conflict for hegemony: the party, the armed forces and their Prussian aristocratic high command, big industry and the state bureaucracy: “Devoid of any Common loyalties and concerned only with preserving their own interests, the groups in power will split as soon as the Miracle-Producing Leader finds a worthy opponent. Currently, each part needs the others. The army needs the party because the war is totalitarian. The army cannot organize society “totally”; that is left to the party. The party, on the other hand, needs the army to win the war and thus stabilize and even increase its own power. Both need monopoly industry to ensure continued expansion. And all three need bureaucracy to achieve the technical rationality without which the system could not operate. Each group is sovereign and authoritative; each is equipped with its own legislative, administrative and judicial powers; each is therefore able to quickly and relentlessly carry out the necessary compromises between the four”. [xxiii]

In other words, only the indefinite continuation of the war allowed this chaotic composition of sovereign and authoritarian groups to find a certain unity and stability. It was not, therefore, a war of expansion and strengthening of the State, but a war thought of as a strategy of indefinite postponement of a State on the path of disintegration, of a political order in a regime of collapse. And to sustain such continuous mobilization with its monstrous demand for effort and incessant losses, it is necessary for social life to organize itself under the specter of catastrophe, of constant risk invading every pore of the social body and of the ever-increasing violence necessary to purportedly to be immune from such a risk[xxv]. That is, the only way to postpone the disintegration of the political order, the tacit fragility of the order, would consist in managing, in a movement of continuous flirtation with the abyss, a junction between calls to self-destructiveness and systematic reiteration of hetero-destructiveness[xxiv].

It will not be by chance that, decades later, we find some analysts suggesting the figure of the fascist state as a social body marked by an autoimmune disease: “The last condition in which the protective apparatus becomes so aggressive that it turns against its own body (which he was supposed to protect) leading to his death.”[xxv]

The systematic presence of the topic of protection as immunization against the degeneration of the social body would, in fact, be an expression of the awareness of the deep antagonisms that cross a society in dynamics of radicalization of class struggles and revolutionary sedition, as was the case of German society of the 1920s, with its communist party on the rise. Since Hobbes, we know how the use of the topic of immunization against “diseases of the social body” is mobilized in situations of revolutionary upheaval[xxviii]. It would not be different in a preventive counterrevolution like fascism. This immunization will require the acceptance, by all actors of the order, of the militarization of society and the transformation of war into the only possible situation for the production of the unity of the social body and imperialist economic expansion on a planetary scale.

Neoliberalism and Collapse Stabilization

But we must ask ourselves if this notion of the suicidal state should be restricted only to fascism and, in particular, to German Nazism. Would it have any explanatory power to describe the logic of violence in other political forms? And, if so, what could such symmetry with the fascist suicide state mean?

If we accept, with Wolfgang Streeck, that contemporary capitalism, with its articulation between continuous low growth, chronic indebtedness and the explosion of inequality, has entered into an irreversible process of decomposition, for not being able to guarantee any form of systemic stability, without however existing while some other consolidated alternative to replace it[xxviii], could we not argue that such a terminal horizon would ask for some form of generalized mutation in the relationship between protection and government, in order to allow a certain possibility of stabilization in decomposition? Wouldn't it be necessary to have a certain form of “normalization” of the decomposition of social macrostructures and, consequently, of disinvestment in the expectations of protection directed at the state, which implies tacit acceptance of the exponential increase in the generalized level of risk in the face of death? And finally, such disinvestment would not require a certain form of mutation of the affections that sustain the social body, such as the implosion of all generic solidarity, in addition to a certain structural psychic mutation from the generalization of identification with figures or processes that legitimize the violence of such an implosion of solidarity?

It should be noted that Streeck's argument does not require that social macrostructures actually functioned as a device for social stabilization and limitation of impoverishment. They just need to be able to preserve the belief that political struggles that respect institutional frameworks can, at some point, produce conditions for general principles of redistribution to occur. Well, we have to end once and for all with one of the greatest fairy tales of contemporary politics. The so-called “Welfare State” produced its alleged limitation of impoverishment only in certain core countries of capitalism and, even in these cases, it did so by preserving the logic of colonial domination until the end of the XNUMXs and transferring precariousness to masses of poor immigrants. .

But it is true that he managed to lead significant sectors of the organized working class to believe that political struggles within the institutional horizon of liberal democracy could lead to structural changes in income and wealth sharing. Those, in turn, linked at that time to policies of revolutionary transformation were still able to share clear and hegemonic horizons of collective action, a fact that effectively began to decline with the end of the cycle of revolutions (the last one in Nicaragua, in 1979) . Thus, we arrive at the current situation, in which the problem of building social macrostructures of effective protection and cooperation is no longer even posed as a central problem for political forces with revolutionary aspirations.

Taking these issues into account, it would be the case to argue that there is something paradigmatic in the notion of the suicidal state and that it seems to be returning today in world laboratories of authoritarian neoliberalism, such as Brazil. But, now, everything happens as if the suicidal state returned as a model of “normal functioning” of a situation in perpetual crisis. Because it is about defending the thesis that humanitarian catastrophes, such as the one produced by the Brazilian government in the face of the pandemic (second country in the world in number of deaths, even in the face of evident underreporting; total absence of federal policies to protect populations; complete absence of mourning and social commotion over the deaths), function as part of a pressure policy towards paradigmatic changes in the exercise of power.

Such modifications may indicate deeper global recompositions aimed at adapting to the socioeconomic processes led by the neoliberal horizon and its reduced horizon of expectations. In turn, they indicate a consolidation of indifference and disaffection as fundamental social affection, fundamental elements for the generalization of psychic mutations such as those described, each in their own way, by Adorno and Guattari.

Initially, we insist on some specificities of the Brazilian situation in order to understand its privileged position to analyze this phenomenon. As Celso Furtado will recall, Brazil was a country created from the implementation of the economic cell of the primary-exporting slaveholding land on American soil.[xxix]. Before being a colonization of settlement, it was about developing, for the first time, a new form of economic order linked to export production and the massive use of slave labor.

Let us remember how the Portuguese empire was the first to engage in the transatlantic slave trade, reaching the position of a near-monopoly in the mid-35th century, with XNUMX% of all slaves transported to the Americas being directed to Brazil. Since the slaveholding estate was the basic cell of Brazilian society, and Brazil was the last American country to abolish slavery, it is not strange to conceive of it as the greatest experiment in colonial necropolitics in modern history.

This characteristic allowed the Brazilian State to develop a technology of disappearance, extermination and execution of vulnerable sectors of the population (indigenous, poor, black) that will prove resilient in its history, creating the technical conditions for the management of a “permanent counterrevolution”[xxx]. This technology would develop exponentially during the military dictatorship (1964-1984), through the systematic use of “forced disappearance” techniques against opponents of the regime, in an adaptation of the “revolutionary war” practices developed in the colonial struggles in Indochina and Algeria[xxxii].

Since Brazil was one of the rare cases in Latin America of a country without transitional justice and judgment of crimes of the military dictatorship, such devices could remain in the normal practices of the State police apparatus during the post-dictatorship period until the present day.[xxxi]. As an example of the impact of such permanence, Brazil is the only country in Latin America where cases of police torture increased in relation to cases during the military dictatorship.[xxxii].

It should not, therefore, be seen as a coincidence that a country with such social structures serves as a laboratory for the development of authoritarian neoliberalism, now no longer under a dictatorial cover, as occurred in Chile under Pinochet, but in an allegedly “democratic” environment.[xxxv]. We know how the reconstruction of social life through neoliberal rationality requires the reconfiguration of social relations based on the requirement of guaranteeing and realizing a unique conception of “individual freedom”.

This freedom requires, in turn, a society that has imploded all its current and potential relations of generic solidarity. This implosion will not see any problems in defending a conception of freedom that, in certain “exceptional” circumstances, will take place as a complete disengagement of protection in the face of the imminent death of significant sectors of the population marked by historical relations of dispossession. The soil for the flourishing of such a conception of freedom needs to be marked by repeated violence and by systematic indifference.

Let us remember some fundamental traits of freedom within neoliberal ideology. We know how neoliberalism is not only an ideology of economic policies, but also an ethical horizon (violently organized through massive state intervention in the depoliticization of social life) that aims to subject all demands of justice to imperatives of freedom. In fact, freedom appears as a fundamental axis for the legitimation of both government actions and ways of relating to oneself.

Demands of justice, be they demands of redistributive justice or social reparation justice, must submit to the uncompromising defense of freedom, the neoliberals will say. In a way, we can even say that the rationality of economic actions is not analyzed in terms of greater production of wealth and goods for a greater number of people, social security or equity, but based on their ability to socially realize freedom . And if we ask ourselves about what is meant by freedom, in this context, we will find freedom as an expression of proprietary individuals, as the exercise of self-ownership.

It is with this articulation in mind that we should read, for example, the beginning of the text that presented the objectives of the Mont Pélérin Society, the first group formed for the dissemination of neoliberal ideals, in the 1940s:

The core values ​​of civilization are in jeopardy […] The group argues that such a development has been driven by the growth of a view of history that denies all absolute moral standards and by theories that question the desirability of the rule of law.[xxxiv]

From which followed the exhortation to explain the alleged current crisis from its “moral and economic origins”. This double articulation is extremely significant. The mentioned view of history that would deny any absolute moral standard and that would be on the rise would be the collectivist and socialist ideologies that reject the primacy of private property. It is the 1940s, communism is expanding and even capitalist countries are adopting hybrid models, such as the Scandinavian one, or else models characterized by strong doses of state interventionism of a Keynesian nature.

The above excerpt is interesting because it shows how the refusal of the primacy of private property and competitiveness is not understood only as an economic mistake that could bring about inefficiency and backwardness, but mainly as a moral fault capable of endangering the core values ​​of society. western civilization. That is why its defense should be based not only on its alleged economic effectiveness in the face of the imperatives of wealth production, but through the moral exhortation of the values ​​imbued in free enterprise, in “independence” from the State and in the alleged individual self-determination. .

We must fulfill the moral obligation of a society of individuals free from the tutelage of anyone, able to enjoy their property as they see fit and secure that violations of this fundamental right will be promptly punished. For the right to private property would be “the most important guarantee for liberty”, as Hayek would say. This explains why, in a “free society”, the individual would always have the possibility of (economic) choice, contrary to the so-called “collectivist” models in which the individual is “exempt from responsibility”, and it is not possible to “stop being antimoral in its effects, however lofty the ideals which engender it.”[xxxiv]. As we can see, decisions are justified in terms of “responsibility”, “majority”, “independence”. I mean, the terms are all moral, not economic.

The freedom realized in genocide

“Much greater than life itself is our freedom.” This statement is not from Hayek, but from the current president of Brazil when justifying his analysis that the policies restricting circulation and activities adopted to combat the pandemic would be an “attack on freedom”. Leaving aside the elementary contradiction that a lifeless freedom is no freedom at all, there is the more or less consequential realization of the neoliberal conception of “responsibility”, “majority” and “independence”. We saw something similar when North American protesters took to the streets with a sign that showed a mask inside a prohibited sign and read “my body, my rules”. The same reasoning served as the basis for German demonstrators to demand the “right to be infected”.

The logic is clear and there is no denying a certain consistency. Being “freedom” something that some understand as the property I have over myself, no one could force me to wear a medical mask, stay at home or take care of my body, unless he has my consent to do so. After all, as Mr. Bolsonaro on another occasion: "if I get infected, it's my problem".

We could counter-argue that, even admitting freedom as a property of the self that is at the base of neoliberal ideology, we should relativize it by stating that: “the exercise of my property of the self must be subject to respect for the risk to the life of the other ”. However, there will always be those who will ask (and, again, with some consistency): but who decides what are the “relevant risks” to the other? Why should I admit that the state or scientists who pose as oracular sages have decided what “relevant risk” is? That is, who has the recognized authority to define what affects my body without my consenting to recognize such authority?

We note how the generalization of a logic of this nature accounts for the perception that social protection macrostructures are in decline and that a possible way out would be the massive shift of responsibility and action to microstructures, such as families and individuals. Wasn't this, after all, Margaret Thatcher's greatest slogan: "there is no such thing as society, there are only individuals and families"? But, if that is the case, how can we demand protection from the state in exceptional moments, such as those produced by pandemics? Wouldn't it be, in fact, a “moral fault” that indicates a lack of courage and willingness to work and fight? It would be better, then, to describe confinement and isolation practices as “cowardice”, as has systematically been the case in Brazil.

In this way, in the name of defending freedom and decomposing macrostructures of social protection, the state can subject populations to a properly suicidal dynamic, since it is based on indifference to the brutal increase in the risks of “violent death”, to talk like Hobbes. Of course, this risk is mitigated by access to the market, that is, access to private health and protection systems. The certainty of privileged access to such systems establishes a differentiated sharing of risks, even if it cannot nullify the general increase in exposure to the risk of death.

It defines a different impact of risk according to social classes, creating completely different contagion and death curves between the wealthy classes and the poor classes[xxxviii]. However, it does not eliminate the naturalization of a new level of social exposure to death for the entire population and the acceptance of such an increase by significant portions of the population, and this is the fundamental data here.

Such a process requires disaffection dynamics that cannot occur if society is engaged in public mourning and civic commotion. Therefore, it is necessary to produce the systematic disappearance of dead bodies. This happens through counter-information (systematic work by the government to discredit the numbers of deaths, which are already underreported), simple denial (stating that the dead classified as dead by covid are, in fact, victims of other diseases), explicit refusal to to be sensitive to the dead (continuous declarations by federal authorities, mainly the president of the republic, that “life goes on”, “everyone dies”), among other strategies. The military tactic of “enforced disappearance” returns as a policy in the government of populations.

Let us note how a situation that we saw earlier with Neumann's analyzes of the Nazi state is repeated. At the time, we saw how resorting to a permanent war, with its constant calls to sacrifice and catastrophe, appeared as a response to a State in disintegration, which was born after the impossibility of liberal democracy to cope with the social conflicts that were becoming radicalized. What appears in its place is an apparatus crisscrossed by continuous struggle between groups, in a completely unstable equilibrium and which needs internal and external war as a condition for survival.

In turn, the diagnosis of loss of ability to mediate conflicts by the institutional apparatuses of liberal democracy is increasingly evident. This loss is not derived from some form of “populist regression” due to the alleged mobilization of identity affects. It is the result of the immanent limitations of liberal democracy and its unfulfilled redistributive promises. In this horizon, a path that consolidates is the acceptance of the collapse of the entire protective macrostructure and the strengthening of microstructures as a support horizon. In the Brazilian case, this process was driven by the establishment of financial aid for the direct transfer of income, financed, in fact, by the systematic decomposition of budgets destined to universalist public policies (in education, public health, research, among others). Logic follows the principle that the state has already done its part by transferring emergency aid, now each individual must exercise their individual capacity for survival.

The complement of this process can be the radicalization of the logic of self-ownership, without the increased risk of death due to disengagement from the state being able to stop this process. Thus, we can say that we entered a suicidal logic without the need for an effective war. If it proves to be effective, such logic may tend to be the norm in other horizons of application of neoliberal policies. But perhaps, in this way, neoliberalism has shown us what many of us already knew but struggled to forget, namely, that the economy is nothing more than the continuation of civil war by other means.

The terrorist realization of modern individuality

However, there is one last piece to be added in understanding the engines that drive such suicidal dynamics. We have seen how in Franz Neumann the topic of fascist war violence appears as a counterrevolutionary way of defense against the immanent decomposition of political unity in the face of the radicalization of the class struggle. This logic of violence as a means of defense should not, however, respond only to macro-structural decompositions linked to the political horizon of the state. It must also be linked to what we could call “micro-structural decompositions”, that is, those that occur at the levels of social norms that sought to manage sexuality, bodies, relations of reproduction within the family, among others. It is the articulation between modes of defense referring to these two levels of decomposition, it is the resonance between the two processes that enhances the suicidal dynamics characteristic of fascism. There is a historical link between these two levels of decomposition necessary for the resurgence of fascism. And its contemporary resurgence can tell us a lot about where we are today.

Such decompositions at the micro-structural level, that is, such impossibilities of material reproduction of the hegemonic forms of life at the micro-structural level, were thematized by Frankfurtians in the early thirties through the topic of the “weakening of the Self”, the “decline of authority paternal” and the consolidation of the “authoritarian family” as a desperate reaction to the collapse of patriarchy. They are present, at that same historical moment, in Jacques Lacan's reflections on the “decline of the paternal imago” and the consolidation of the I as a rigid instance of aggressiveness, of ignorance that most resembles the generalization of an authoritarian personality.

In all these cases, it was a matter of insisting that the forms of individuation had to deal with a collapse linked to the historical impossibility of sustaining the illusion that the identity, synthetic unity and integrity of the modern Self would not result from the internalization of a “ system of scars” and segregations. Hence the impossibility of sustaining the production of such an identity through the traditional strategies of normalizing paternal identifications. Historical processes have allowed the explanation of the profoundly repressive and segregationist nature of modern individuality, its psychology and its institutions of reproduction.[xxxviii].

A transformative strategy would consist of assuming such decomposition and taking it as the engine for the emergence of forms of subjectivity to come. But another possible strategy involves internalizing a defense mechanism against such weakening. It will consist of developing narcissistic identifications, defending the shaken social places of authority, defending the irreducibility of “individuals and families” from a narcissistic logic. The fragility of the Self will be compensated through the mirror identification with a narcissistic, rigid image of the self elevated to the place of authority. An authority, at the same time, virile and caricatured, phallic and cynical, a mixture of brutality and self-derision, since it would be impossible to annul the historical conscience of its decline. Thus, we will have what Adorno called: "the enlargement of the subject's own personality, a collective projection of himself, instead of the image of a stick whose role during the last phase of the subject's childhood may well have declined in today's society"[xxxix].

Adorno explores this trait to talk about the structure of identification with fascist leaders. For the fascist leader would not be constituted in the image of the father, but based on the narcissistic image of the subject. For this reason, he will mobilize the concept of the 'little big man': “a person who suggests, at the same time, omnipotence and the idea that he is just one of the people, a simple, rude and vigorous American, not influenced by material or spiritual riches[xl]. Someone who is not constituted from the image of a normative ideal, but who appears on the scene of omnipotence with the same clothes as us, with the same inabilities, who would allegedly speak “like us”, with the same rages and “explosions”.

Hence the well-known image, provided by Adorno, that Hitler would be a cross between King Kong and a suburban barber. But as a narcissistic image, it is a phantasmatic compensation for real impotence, a phobic and weakened defense through the construction of ideals that continually slide from omnipotence to impotence in a movement that, if taken to the extreme, can only be realized in a way , namely, through the subject's self-sacrifice as a desperate strategy to sustain ideals.

Self-sacrifice as the only way to preserve narcissistic ideals and their defense mechanisms, as if the impotence of such ideals in realizing what they promised should be masked through the transposition of such impotence to the subject himself, who sees himself as unworthy in the face of his own image of himself . Something close to what Durkheim once described as the dynamic of “altruistic suicide”. The central point is: self-destruction is done, paradoxically, with a view to self-preservation, the preservation of a superegoic and phantasmatic projection of the self.

It is difficult not to remember here the words of Jacques Lacan years after the end of the Second World War: “It is now clear how the dark powers of the superego have allied themselves with the most vile abandonments of conscience to lead men to a death accepted by the least human causes , and everything that appears as sacrifice is not necessarily heroic”.[xi]

This topic of sacrifice to the “dark powers of the superego” will continue to be present in Lacan decades later, when he returns to the “drama of Nazism” to speak of the desire for sacrifice to another who seems to place himself in the position of an “obscure God”.[xliii], a desire that allegedly few subjects would be able to escape. Difficulty in escaping from the fact that the last stage of modern individuality is its terrorist realization as a fascist authoritarian personality.

Realization whose consequent movement will be none other than suicide. Thus, contrary to the current thesis that the preservation of the individual would be the mainstay against fascism, it is necessary to explore the thesis that the autarchic, unitary and identity illusions of modern individuality can only be realized as social violence. This violence, due to narcissistic strategies of psychic compensation, consolidates a process of suicidal implosion of the social body.

*Vladimir Safatle He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at the University of São Paulo. Author, among other books, of Giving body to the impossible. The sense of dialectic from Theodor Adorno (Authentic).

Originally published on the website of n-1 editions.


[I] MBEMBE, Achilles. Necropolitical. Trans.: Renata Santini. São Paulo: n-1 editions, 2018, pp. 10-11.

[ii] See FOUCAULT, Michel; History of sexuality vol. I, São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 2015.

[iii] Regarding the ontological distinction between “persons” and “things” in slave relations, see ESPOSITO, Roberto; people and things, Sao Paulo, Rafael Copetti, 2016.

[iv] “In fact, the condition of a slave results from a triple loss: loss of a 'home', loss of rights over one's body and loss of political status. This triple loss amounts to absolute domination, alienation from birth and social death (which is expulsion from humanity).” (Ibid., p. 27).

[v] On the topic of civil war as a “normal” social situation, see above all: PELBART, Peter Pál. “Of civil war”, Brazilian Archives of Psychology, vol. 70, 2018. Available at:

[vi] On the figure of the “predator state” see, for example: CHAMAYOU, Grégoire. La chasse à l'homme, Paris: La fabrica, 2010.

[vii] VIRILIO, Paul. L'insécurité du territoire. Paris: Galilee, 1976.

[viii] FOUCAULT, Michael. in defense of society. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1999, p. 311: “There is, therefore, in Nazi society, this thing, despite everything, extraordinary: it is a society that absolutely generalized biopower, but that generalized, at the same time, the sovereign right to kill. […] So that one can say this: the Nazi State made absolutely co-extensive the field of a life that it organizes, protects, guarantees, biologically culture, and, at the same time, the sovereign right to kill anyone. — not others only, but their own. […] We have an absolutely racist State, an absolutely murderous State and an absolutely suicidal State.”

[ix] The centrality of the logic of self-sacrifice in the cohesion of the fascist social body was highlighted by authors such as: ZIEMER, Georg. education for death. Oxford University Press, 1941; MARCUSE, Herbert. “State and individual under national socialism”, In: Technology, war and fascism, London: Routledge, 1998; and NEOCLEOUS, Mark; “Long live death! Fascim, resurrection, immortality”, February 2005, Journal of Political Ideologies 10 (1): 31-49.

[X] DELEUZE, Gilles and GUATTARI, Felix. A thousand plateaus. Trans.: Suely Rolnik. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2012, 2nd. red., v. 3, p. 123.

[xi] Ibid, p. 125.

[xii] See: GUATTARI, Felix. The molecular revolution. Paris : Les prairies Ordinaires, 2012, p. 67. The use of the psychoanalytical concept of death drive in this context is not without raising problems due to the immanent multiplicity of the Freudian concept, which describes processes of destruction, destiny, estrangement and childish play, among others. But that will be the subject of another text.

[xiii] Ibid., p. 70: “All fascist meanings resume a composite representation of love and death, Eros and Thanatos becoming one. Hitler and the Nazis were fighting to the death up to and including the death of Germany. And the German masses agreed to follow him to their own destruction.”

[xiv] Such a diagnosis is close, in its own way, to Marcuse's positions such as: “National Socialism did away with fundamental traits that characterize the modern state. It tends to abolish all separation between state and society by transferring political functions to the social groups currently in power. In other words, National Socialism tends to the direct and immediate self-government of the predominant social groups over the rest of the population. See: MARCUSE, Herbert. Technology, war and fascism. London: Routledge, 1998, p. 70.

[xv] REICH, Wilhelm. The psychology of the masses of fascism [Paris: Payot, 2001, p. 17, originally published in La Critique Sociale nº 10, November 1933]. That same year, this point was addressed by Georges Bataille in “La structure psychologique du fascisme”, criticize social, nº 7, January 1933.

[xvi] On fascism as a preventive counterrevolution, see: MARCUSE, Herbert. counterrevolution and revolt. Boston: Beacon Press, 1972.

[xvii] ADORNO, Theodor. “Anti-Semitism and Fascist Propaganda”, In: Social psychology and psychoanalysis essays. Sao Paulo: Unesp. 2015, p. 152.

[xviii] ADORNO, Theodor. Aspekte der neues Rechtradikalismus, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, ​​2019, p. 26. Adorno and Horkheimer had already insisted on fascism as a social pathology of a paranoid nature in ADORNO, Theodor and HORKHEIMER, Max. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1992.

[xx] “Rebellion against institutionalized law becomes lawlessness and the unleashing of brute force in the service of current powers.” HORKHEIMER, Max. eclipse of reason. London: Continuum, 2007, p. 81.

[xx] Not by chance, technologies for managing social violence, such as concentration and segregation camps, were initially developed in colonial situations. See, for example: ROUBINEK, Eric; “A 'fascist', colonialism? National socialism and Italian fascist colonial cooperation, 1936-1943”, In: CLARA, Fernando and NINHOS, Claudia; Nazi Germany and Southern Europe, 1933-945, Pallgrave, 2016.

[xxx] ARENDT, Hannah. Origins of totalitarianism. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, p. 434.

[xxiii] ARENDT, Hannah. Ibid.

[xxiii] NEUMANN, Franz. Behemoth: the structure and practice of national socialism, 1933-1944. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2009, p. 397-398.

[xxv] Hence the meaning of statements like these by Goebbels: “In the world of absolute fatality within which Hitler moves, nothing makes sense anymore, neither good nor evil, neither time nor space, and what other men call of 'success' cannot serve as a criterion (...) It is likely that Hitler will end in catastrophe (HEIBER, Helmut 2013. Hitler speaks to ses géneraux. Paris: Tempus Perrin, 2013, p. 324.)

[xxiv] See BALIBAR, Etienne. « La pulsion de mort au-delà du politique ? » (Mimeo)

[xxv] ESPOSITO, Roberto. Bios: biopolitics and philosophy. University of Minnesota Press, 2008, p. 116.

[xxviii] See HOBBES, Thomas. Leviathan,

[xxviii] STREEK, Wolfgang. How will capitalism end? Essays on a failing system. London: Verso, 2015.

[xxix] FURTADO, Celso. Brazil's economic formation🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2020.

[xxx] See FERNANDES, Florestan. The bourgeois revolution in Brazil: essay of sociological interpretation. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Guanabara, 1987.

[xxxii] See DUARTE-PLON, Leneide. Torture as a weapon of war: from Algeria to Brazil. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 2016. FRANCO, Fábio; rule the dead (in press).

[xxxi] See SAFATLE, Vladimir and TELLES, Edson. What remains of the dictatorship? São Paulo: Boitempo, 2010.

[xxxii] SIKKINK, Kathryn & MARCHESI, Bridget. (2015). “Nothing but the truth: Brazil's truth commission looks back”. Foreign Affairs, 26, Feb.

[xxxv] On this development, as well as on the relationship between neoliberalism and fascism, see CHAMAOYOU, Grégoire. The ungovernable society. Paris: La Fabrique, 2018.

[xxxiv] Apud MIROWSKI, Philip. The road from Mont Pelerin: the making of the neoliberal thought. Harvard University Press, 2015, p. 25.

[xxxiv] HAYEK, Frederick. The road to serfdom. University of Chicago Press, 2007, p. 217.

[xxxviii] According to studies carried out in the city of São Paulo, between the months of May and June, the seroprevalence of infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus is 2,5 times higher in districts with poorer populations (Projeto SoroEpi MSP:

[xxxviii] The historical causes for the exhaustion of the belief in the organic unity of the Self and its identity are several. The pressure for real equality coming from the communist movements collaborates to call into question the segregationist and colonial bases of modern individuality (this is an important topic addressed by REICH, Wilhelm; The psychology of the masses of fascism, op. cit.). “Sexual Bolshevism” (a term of war created by the Nazis) warned the German family against the allegedly destructive effects of gender equality and the communist disenchantment of the family. The decomposition of traditional orders, in a key that leads us to the “suffering of indetermination” described by Durkheim, must also be remembered (Cf. DURKHEIM, Emile; Le suicide, Paris: PUF). The rise of decentered expression in the field of aesthetics should not be overlooked either, even more so for a regime that took “Entartete Kunst” so seriously. In other words, we are facing a multifactorial phenomenon.

[xxxix] ADORNO, Theodor; Social psychology and psychoanalysis essays, São Paulo: Unesp, 2015, p. 418.

[xl] Ditto, p. 421.

[xi] LACAN, Jacques; Autres écrits, Paris : Seoul, 2001, p. 120.

[xliii] LACAN, Jacques; Séminaire XI, Paris : Seoul, 1973, p. 247.

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