A strong state for a strong democracy

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By LUIZ CARLOS BRESSER-PEREIRA*

The pressures of neoliberalism and its evil baby: right-wing national populism must be resisted

For capitalist societies, the desirable and possible paradigm is that of a strong, capable State for an equally strong democracy. The idea of ​​a strong State seems to be in contradiction with a strong democracy, but this is not what reality shows. Switzerland and Finland are examples of countries in which this ideal is close to being achieved, but this statement requires defining what a strong democracy and a capable State are.

The State is the constitutional-legal system and the organization that guarantees it, while the nation-State is the sovereign political-territorial society formed by a nation, a State and a territory. A State is capable when the Constitution and other laws of the country are complied with. Something that not only depends on the State's police power, but also and mainly on the cohesion of society around the State.

In other words, it depends on the entire society understanding that the law is necessary for the life of society, and on each citizen considering it their duty to denounce those who act against it. By acting like this, he will not be a “snitch”, but a citizen who fulfills his duty. At the economic level, the State that has the effective power to tax is capable of increasing taxes when this is necessary to ensure fiscal balance.

The nation is the form of society of each State; it shares a common origin, history and objectives, these explicit or implicit in the legal system. A “good” society is one that is relatively cohesive. It is never fully cohesive, because there is class struggle and an infinite number of conflicts between citizens, but this struggle or these conflicts are not radical, they do not imply a life or death relationship – and, therefore, they can coexist with a nation or a relatively cohesive civil society (another name for the society of each State).

Strong democracy, in turn, is consolidated democracy. It is the democracy existing in a country or nation-state that has completed its capitalist revolution – it has already formed its nation-state and carried out its industrial revolution. And, therefore, the new bourgeois ruling class no longer needs direct control from the State to appropriate the economic surplus (it can realize it on the market through profit).

It is the political regime in which the new and broad middle class and working class that were born from the capitalist revolution prefer democracy. In practice, a strong democracy is one that has been able to resist the anti-democratic pressures of neoliberalism and, later, its evil baby – right-wing national populism.

Although democracy is the best political regime for a country that has completed its capitalist revolution, this same democracy will weaken the State of countries that have not yet completed it. And it could also weaken the States of middle-income countries, which have already carried out their capitalist revolution, as is the case of Brazil, as this democracy is characterized by a polarization that makes it incapable of making the necessary compromises to carry out institutional reforms. The empire knows this, and uses democracy to guarantee its domination over countries on the periphery of capitalism.

The priority of middle-income countries is, therefore, to strengthen their State, because in this way they will be strengthening their democracy; is to make your nation more cohesive; is to free it from the conflict between liberals who submit to the empire and those who seek national solutions to problems.

There is no clear path to achieving greater national cohesion. However, the simple fact that social elites – not only economic ones, but also political, intellectual and organizational ones – know the need for this greater cohesion is already a step in that direction.

Brazil has been an “almost-stagnant nation-state” for 44 years, growing more slowly than rich countries and even other developing nations – it is therefore not achieving the expected achievements (“catch up“). It therefore needs to dramatically strengthen its nation and its State to stop being left behind – as it has been for almost half a century.

* Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira He is Professor Emeritus at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV-SP) and former Minister of Finance. Author, among other books, of In search of lost development: a new developmental project for Brazil (FGV Publisher). [https://amzn.to/4c1Nadj]

Originally published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul.


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