Brazilian election will test the limits of democracy

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Fri Sep 30 2022

Author: Guest contributor

Brazilian political philosopher Marcos Nobre discusses the implications of the upcoming Brazilian general election for current debates about democracy worldwide. You can listen the discussion between Marcos Nobre (MN) and Springer's Editor Bruno Fiuza (BF) in our podcast below, or read it through the transcript we have provided.

The upcoming Brazilian general election in October is said to be one that will be full of implications for one of the largest democracies in the world. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of spreading fake news to discredit the country’s electoral system, and many analysts believe he may not accept the results if he is not reelected. To find out more about  the potential implications of the election and the wider issue of democracy in Brazil and worldwide, Bruno Fiuza, Springer’s editor of Behavioral, Health and Social Sciences books in Latin America, sits down with Brazilian political philosopher Marcos Nobre, Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) in Brazil; President of the Brazilian Center of Analysis and Planning (Cebrap); and author of the forthcoming book, “Limits of Democracy: From the June 2013 Uprisings in Brazil to the Bolsonaro Government”, which will be published by Springer this fall.

BF: Professor Marcos Nobre, I would like to start by asking the following question: the title of the book you are about to publish with Springer is Limits of Democracy: From the June 2013 Uprisings in Brazil to the Bolsonaro Government, could you please explain to us what these limits of democracy are and what is the book about?

MN: The title “limits of democracy” tries to understand the crisis and regressions of the present moment; that is to say, “limit” means also that democracy is always in dispute, it is not a fixed set of characteristics and so it cannot be “fixed”. But, at the same time, there are two kinds of disputes, there is a dispute within the democratic framework, in a conservative or in a progressive way, and whether deepening democracy or not deepening  democracy, and there is another way of thinking about the limits of democracy, which is outside the framework of democratic institutions that we are used to. So in the book, I try to think about these two arenas of dispute with which we are dealing today, and of course I try to put together this discussion in a theoretical and empirical way and in a global perspective - bringing the global context of democracy to the Brazilian casse.

BF: How does your research about democracy in Brazil contribute to current academic debates about democracy worldwide?

MN: I think the current political moment is discussed within an alternative, which is characterized in my view by two expressions, be it “crisis of democracy” or “fascist regression” - an alternative we should avoid. What I try to do in the book is try to remodel the discussion to avoid the alternative and also avoid some amalgams that come with this discussion. For instance there are many theories of democracy that are so linked to the form that democracy had before the 2010s that tend to say that if the theory doesn’t work any more then democracy is dead. So we need to dissolve this kind of amalgam to see that democracy can have other forms than the form it had after the Second World War. And, on the other side, when analysts talk about fascist regression, they imply that capitalism is inevitably tied to fasism and you can only avoid fascism if you overcome capitalism. The problem is: overcoming capitalism is not on our horizon, so this is problematic. These are two ways of thinking about the current situation that leads us to dead ends, so I have tried to reformulate such alternatives and these amalgams that are so present in the discussion today.

BF: Taking into account this view that democracy can have different forms, can you tell us briefly about the current situation in Brazil? And, building upon this theoretical framework you work with, would you say that democracy is under threat in Brazil today?

MN: Yes, it is clearly under threat. Our listeners should know that we had a military dictatorship from 1964-1985, and from 1985 onwards we tried to build a democracy in Brazil, and we have a regression now because it’s the first time since redemocratization that we have elected a president who was a supporter of the military dictatorship and that uses this as a model for the country. So this is a very serious threat to Brazilian democracy right now. We should note that the military was scattered for a long time. We know that dictatorships die hard and they die hard because they build authoritarian people and generations, and what the Brazilian democracy was trying to do was isolating and convincing those authoritarians that democracy was better than dictatorship. But it was not enough and in the book I try to say why the Brazilian model was not enough to convince these people that democracy was better. And for the first time all the authoritarian forces were not only concentrated by a single figure but they also got to federal power, which is a threat especially when you link this to a much broader movement of what we could call an “Authoritarian International”. All these authoritarian experiences around the globe are interconnected, so every single authoritarian regime in different countries is looking at the other to see what works, what doesn’t work, to move forward and make the world more authoritarian than it already is.

BF: Based on what you’re saying, we can understand that the Bolsanaro government in Brazil is part of a wider network of anti democratic movements around the world. So my next question would be: what is the importance of the upcoming Brazilian presidential election next October to the current debates about democracy on a global level? Or how the Brazilian case fits into the wider discussion about democracy around the world?

MN: I think the first thing we should consider is that we cannot go backwards and many of the proposals that political theorists and political scientists have is to go back to some form of democracy we had before this crisis. This is not only impossible, because our lives have been modified in such a way that we cannot go back, nor do people want to go back to the democracy we had before. This is an important point in my book, and we should avoid the idea that coming back is possible or desirable. The second thing, regarding the upcoming election: I would say the election will be decisive, it will decide whether we can call ourselves a democracy or not. If president Bolsanaro wins the election, then democracy in Brazil is very probably over. We will have to resist and to fight the authoritarianism that will be implemented but it will be hard. On the other side, if Bolsonaro is defeated, this doesn’t mean Bolsanarismo - the movement he started - will also be defeated, because they are very well organized. They have what I call a digital party, they have mobilizing capacities, they are, I would say, a machine of disinformation and propaganda, and they will be there, facing the new government if the election results are upheld - we don’t know that, there is a threat to the electoral process itself. But let’s say a candidate other than Bolsonaro becomes the president in January 2023. In this case the opposition that this “digital party” will make to this government won’t be a loyal one, won’t be a democratic one. So it will be very hard for the next government - especially because Bolsanaro destroyed Brazil’s economy, Brazil’s social network and safety net, increased social suffering and the destruction of the environment, and so on. It was such a devastation that any government will have enormous difficulties in overcoming the devastation in 4 years. So Bolsonaro will be there in 2026 waiting to collect what he planted, which is destruction.

BF: One final question: based on what you said - that it’s not possible to go back to the democracy we had - I assume that the only way of fighting threats to democracy is creating a new democracy. So, how do you envision this future democracy?

MN: As I say in the book, this shouldn’t come from someone’s head, of a political scientist or political theorist or anyone, it should be a collective construction. What I see as an important point, is that the political system, not only in Brazil but especially in Brazil, will have to open up to new forms of participation, to new forms of influence in the political process, because in our current  digital lives, people are used to having the possibility of communicating and influencing other people's ways of thinking and this should be a major point for the new democratic institutions. We must have a united front against authoritarianism, but that doesn’t mean that the new government, if Bolsonaro is defeated, will be able to govern with this united front. It will very probably be centre-left and it should have this way of seeing things clearly. We should not confuse electoral alliances with political alliances, so there is a political alliance to defeat the authoritarian threat at least at the electoral level and then there are electoral alliances that should prevail and should govern Brazil in the future.

BF: Thank you very much for joining us and we hope this contributes to the continuing debate on democracy.

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Marcos Nobre's upcoming book "Limits of Democracy: From the June 2013 Uprisings in Brazil to the Bolsonaro Government" is currently in production, and will be published October 28th. 

About Marcos Nobre

Marcos Nobre is a Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Campinas (Unicamp), President of the Brazilian Center of Analysis and Planning (Cebrap), Principal Investigator of the Maria Sybilla Merian Centre Conviviality-Inequality in Latin America (Mecila) and Researcher 1A of The National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). His forthcoming book “Limits of Democracy: From the June 2013 Uprisings in Brazil to the Bolsonaro Government” will be published by Springer this fall.

About Bruno Fiuza 

Bruno Fiuza is Springer’s editor of Behavioral, Health and Social Sciences books based in Brazil.


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