a new opportunity

Clara Figueiredo, series_ Brasília_ fungi and simulacra, national congress, 2018.
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By LEONARDO MAIA & PAULO DOMENECH ONETO*

The Brazil of the present moment desperately needs new ideas

“What can philosophy do today? […] I think that the task of philosophy is not to provide answers, but to show how the way we perceive a problem can itself be part of a problem. Mystifying it instead of enabling us to solve it. There are not only wrong answers, there are also wrong questions. […] What I can do, as a philosopher, is just to analyze how we perceive the problem” (Slavoj Zizek, conference year of distraction).

 

1.

“It is necessary to safeguard Brazilian democracy”. This seems to be the central problem of our political life at the moment, after repeated anti-democratic threats throughout the term of the previous president, Jair Bolsonaro, and which remain. There is no doubt that attention to the theme of democracy is imperative, not only because of the events that occurred on January 08, but also because of the general ideological tone of this conservative extremism that has installed itself in Brazilian society since the middle of the last decade.

However, if contemporary politics is also, or above all, a politics of affections – “micropolitics”, to use the terminology of the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari –, it is worth asking who this problem really affects; whom he materially touches and reaches. In this case, philosophy and politics come together, because if politics fails to identify the major problems to be faced, or the affects that define/configure it, the chance of failure in its practice tends to be the tonic. It is immediately worth asking whether the problem that has taken shape in recent years – and which was reinforced on the Sunday of the symbolic destruction of the three powers –, however great it may be, that is, the problem of democracy in danger, would be an adequate and , above all, sufficient to resolve the current impasses in the Brazilian political scene.

In a country as large and complex as Brazil, it is perhaps worth considering whether this simplistic perspective of giving centrality to a single theme retains any coherence. In short: would devoting our exclusive attention to the issue of democracy in crisis really allow us to face our limits in relation to it?

The 'question of democracy' in Brazil clearly and essentially depends on others, which it will always be necessary to evoke if we want to face the meaning and orientation of this political experience among us. Thus, we insist, would it not be fearful to concentrate on the single, exclusive issue, forgetting precisely that such a democratic crisis is not the cause, without being, deep down, a symptom or effect of so many other ills in Brazilian society? Illnesses these without whose confrontation it is impossible to get out of (or even understand) any crisis.

In addition to the difficulty of 'simplicity', there is still an aspect related to the order of the problem. Is democracy a principle, and an obvious precondition for other developments? Or is it a mere result, possible from other possibilities, without which it remains only as an abstract image, a formal construct, as Marx feared? Finally, it is also necessary to consider an 'authorship' for such problematization. Where did this theme come from? Who does he serve? How does it work?

We must not fail to consider the hypothesis that placing the problem only on the level of the fierce defense of democracy is exactly the form of problematization desired by the very forces that one wants to face. Wouldn't it be typical of the more right-wing right to glue their opponents to the image of an abstract/fragile democracy in order to disqualify it in the name of other values?

From all of this, and even from the very results of the recent elections, this thorny question is configured, whether the qualification of democracy, or even whether democracy in itself is a relevant construction for many Brazilian men and women. Thus, it seems little to affect, to a significant part, whether the ultimate intention is to recover or suppress democracy, since after all little would be lost, given its degree of abstraction. This may prove, then, contrary to what it seems, a methodology that could help and not empty the political perspectives of the populist extreme right – this one that is strengthened precisely because it is more attentive to the concrete problems of the daily lives of the majority of the population.

The left (or what's left of it) is thus pushed towards a topic or problem that, deep down, may be of little interest (or concern) to the bulk of the population. A sad truth of Brazilian politics is certainly the fact that where the people are, there is no democracy – a still abstract value for them (the people), and not just since the Sunday attack on democratic symbols.

Yes. In politics, too, we show ourselves a bit like an immense Belindia: on the one hand, the 'Belgian' defense of democracy, on the other, an 'India' that does not even accompany or is interested in following the debate around this notion.

In the face of all this, it is worth recovering a formula from the aforementioned Gilles Deleuze: in politics it is about moving (and not correcting). It is a radical displacement that we need, and even in relation to our current 'problems', eventually downgraded, inadequate, unproductive, if only because we, the so-called progressives, were not the ones who effectively proposed them.

 

2.

And yet, in relation to this highly complex picture, the newly elected government seems to point to simple solutions, repeating its previous passage. Everything seems thought out like last time.

In relation to Sunday's events, for example, the government tends to privilege a unison 'long live democracy', throwing all contrary expressions in the opposite field. Something like, 'whoever is not with me, is against me' (or, in this case, against a 'system' – the system of democracy, the rule of law etc…). Faced with the impact of events, the aim is then to characterize an opponent who would be, as it were, directly responsible for him, only reinforcing his own antagonism and polarization towards him. But, strictly speaking, nothing is politically constructed that way. The feeling that remains is that they are only seeking to (re)affirm new elections - now necessarily imaginary -, during the mandate itself. The horizon clearly should be different.

Is there any way this works well?

Perhaps… If there is still an effort, a greater task. If the government dares more and tries to be a kind of Big Bang, the radically disparate process of a really new project, with greater clarity about the future of society that is desired: a new government, to erase from hearts and minds, as soon as possible time, the last years of destruction, condensed symbolically in the acts of January 8th.

Not yet. There is a feeling of a negative condition, an absence of work. The government seems to want to make clear its limits above all. Since the elections, there hasn't been much to present as a political and social novelty – the electoral campaign has focused on the importance of rescuing the golden years of the first Lula governments (bear in mind that the 1% difference in the elections owes much to Bolsonarist reactionary immanence was not surpassed. And then, it is worth asking why so much difficulty against an opponent in principle so mediocre).

It is hard to see that the PT still lacks a break, a self-criticism. Political self-criticism, which a certain pride seems to block. Apparently, the PT and its allies do not even understand, due to an excess of moralism and Manichaeism, the reactionary extremist phenomenon of which Bolsonarism is a symptom, and not the cause. The great risk is clear: becoming hostages – instead of protagonists – in the process of reaffirming such imprecise/formal democracy.

It can be seen that the government has barely begun and has already been placed against the walls of Brasilia. Could none of this have been anticipated, avoided? Deep down, it is no longer just a matter of difficulties due to the strength of the opponent, defeated in the elections, but rather the result of the fragility in presenting or convincing the population of a consequent project (a situation observed even by some unsuspecting PT members, which the dogmatic ufanistas do not want or cannot understand).

Everything indicates that four very difficult, unpredictable years will come, but of impossible optimism.

Granted, this unpredictability isn't purely negative. It implies the undeniable fact that history is dynamic. New events can always erupt. And new attitudes and acts are always possible before them. In this general framework – and considering that the victory in the 2022 elections was a partial and provisional victory over the proto-fascist tendency – we can aspire to something. This is not about optimism, but about knowing that it is still possible to ask the government and us, politically distracted, for greater attention and focus in order to establish a real crossing in this political time we face.

We need to demand from the government and from ourselves, as a society, the elaboration of a clear strategy for change within the supposedly evident and unanimous democratic space. Strategy to open something in the sequence of events, taking advantage of unpredictability – the two times that the Greeks called Cronos and Aion.

In reality, it is rather the third time – Kairos time – that which we lack the most. Time in which we take events for ourselves and imprint them with our own meaning, according to our desires. So too for the democratic idea itself.

Kairós is time made opportune for something, time that will be associated, centuries later, with the virtù by the Florentine philosopher Machiavelli. A virtù it would be the ability of rulers to take advantage of opportunities in facing political adversities.

We must therefore maintain attention and focus, but also modesty and firmness. Attention to the political gravity of the current situation (not underestimating the opponent's ideals), and focus on what is desired. But still, modesty and firmness, to get the country off the ground, so that we can move forward definitively.

As a matter of fact, perhaps another chronic problem for the PT is shown here: it has become a party of just now, with no tomorrow. No later. Poverty of pragmatism, and questions just of the hour. The government needs much more boldness and dialogue. It needs to conceive itself as what, in fact, it can be: a transitional government, whose main task is to maintain, yes, clarity about democratic purposes, but actively working for a country project.

It is necessary to act together with sectors that threaten constitutional legality (armed forces and police, agribusiness, economy dominated by the 'market' etc...), but without stigmatizing them, and presenting their function and position in a framework that wants to move. It is important to learn a fundamental Machiavellian lesson: negotiate when pressured, but without ever giving up its political power of effective action and reinvention/expansion of the democratic space.

Instead of, right from the start, raffling off positions and finding any and all political coexistence convenient (which possibly only anticipates a crisis of hegemony), it is up to, on the contrary, to call the population closer and, together with it, to relaunch a democracy as project still unfinished, and this regardless of the continuation of the party or the government, as the sociologist Florestan Fernandes already advocated three decades ago.

To conclude: let's hope that what happened on January 8, 2023 can be read as yet another warning that it is necessary to conceive Lula's third term (something unprecedented in our republican history) as a transitional government in the face of a very serious political crisis that spans nearly a decade. Since 2013, we have witnessed a failure of political leadership, and a decline in politics in general. This is, above all, the target to face.

It is about conceiving oneself modestly, but clearly and firmly, without boasting. A necessary humility for those who need to put their own house in order, before anything else.

It is fundamental not to forget that Lula – with all his popularity and capacity – was elected with a minimal difference, and the opposition, strengthened especially in the legislative houses, will be permanent; in this sense, we continue within a political vacuum, in the midst of one of the saddest moments of disbelief in the possibility of new ideas. We now have one more opportunity to believe again, and to make believe that democracy is about to be invented; one more opportunity for virtù.

Perhaps, the biggest lack is in the absence of the affirmation of strong ideas that shape our democratic field. What is ultimately aimed at? Where do you want to take the country? It is not enough to say that we are for democracy, nor to brandish the qualities of Lula or the PT. The Brazil of the present moment desperately needs new ideas. And even a new idea about yourself.

Much of the country's best intelligence, as well as its most generous forces, are in solidarity with the current government. It is up to us to take advantage of this unique opportunity to take a decisive step forward. Or at least somewhere else. An opportunity not to be missed, under the greater risk, not only of the return to power of the extreme right, but of a generalized political nihilism in which the motto 'long live democracy' will mean very little to us.

*Leonardo Maia He is a professor at the Faculty of Education at UFRJ..

*Paulo Domenech Oneto Professor at the School of Communication at UFRJ.

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