Opinion – Latinoamérica21: The crisis of democracy beyond Bolsonaro


The crisis of Brazilian democracy has been attributed by many analysts exclusively to the government of Jair Bolsonaro and its anachronistic desire to impose a dictatorship in the style of the 1968 regime (AI-5). In fact, Bolsonaro has never hidden his aversion to the democratic regime, despite having had a career in it since 1988 – but this, in itself, does not put him in a position to destabilize democracy, even after he was elevated to the presidency of the Republic.

There are other factors acting in the same direction, the most significant of which is the erosion of democracy itself, making even a politically weak president to be seen as a serious threat. Understanding the causes of this corrosion among us, therefore, is essential to avoid the setback, which is not only in the authoritarian culture of our economic modernization but also and above all in the neopatrimonialist culture that inspired our last redemocratization.

I am not referring here only to the project of “slow, gradual and safe opening” of the military regime itself, which presupposed the annihilation even of its unarmed socialist adversaries, such as the PCB. Nor do I refer to the reformists of various hues gathered in the MDB and welcomed by Ulisses Guimarães as redemocratization progressed. I am dealing here with the classical liberal perspective among us, the democratic manifesto of 1977, prepared in the Arcadas do Largo de São Francisco and signed by the professor of law, Goffredo da Silva Telles Junior, a document currently used as the basis and inspiration for a new letter in defense of the democracy affronted by Bolsonaro.

Telles Jr.’s Letter, actually a manifesto, clearly expressed the point of view that colored the conception of the New Republic and is at the root of its crisis. His cry against the “oppression of all dictatorships”, although uttered in a totally different environment, echoed in the name of the old tradition of the “powerful Family (…) formed, during a century and a half in the great Faculties of Law in Brazil”, from where 17 presidents of the Republic left, most of them in the Old Republic.

The “illegitimate order” inaugurated by the military was condemned in the 1977 Charter for the use of “Force” in disagreement with the “Power” emanating from the “People”. The legitimate “Force”, said Telles Jr., can only be an instrument subordinated to the legitimate “Power”, originating from the laws of the Legislative Power granted by the “People” and not “downloaded from above” as occurred in the military regime.

This implied that the laws were “natural products of the demands of life”, reflecting “the ruling yearnings of the People”, not their elites. It happens, however, that the legal-political thought of the great Law Faculties of the country, as criticized by Oliveira Vianna, was more inclined to the “utopian idealism of the elites” and their “political marginalism” than to the popular needs, see the dogmatic defense of the private property, including that stolen from the State by institutionalized land grabbing. Such myopia, despite the humanist rhetoric, remains to this day in favor of “legally perfect” laws, but incapable of effectively achieving their goals.

The idyllic world of our legal thinkers has not changed much since 1977, instituting the ideal “People”, who would have to “decide on their political regime” and “on the structure of their government”, but without making further considerations about their real conditions, material and instrumental, to do so. At this point, it would be worth remembering the illustrious jurist Victor Nunes Leal, who, 30 years earlier, had warned us about the ineffectiveness of “measures to moralize national public life” without an effective fight against poverty.

If the criterion that “the legitimacy of the Constitution is evaluated by its adequacy to the sociocultural realities of the community”, as proposed in the 1977 letter, then it would be necessary to admit the separation between nation and State throughout our history, even in the validity of Constitutions democratic. In the past, such differentiation was based mainly on legal restrictions on the free organization of workers, but from 1985 onwards it became possible through institutionalized corruption – including vote buying –, progressively operated by political parties, from right to left. Surprisingly, no word on this is said in the new 2022 letter.

Looking at Brazil’s trajectory so far, it seems that we are still prisoners of the “round trip” alluded to by another jurist, Raymundo Faoro, where the conciliation of businessmen and workers with parasitic groups from the political class and the financial market perpetuate the underdevelopment of almost a century and a half and its uneven and unjust human geography.

The Brazilian democratic transition of the 1970s-80s, led by the MDB and inspired by political-legal abstractionism, proved incapable of changing this reality, bringing us back to political instability. This was possible because our institutions, in the words of Oliveira Vianna, made “impredent concessions to corrupt practices”, that not only allowed the survival of oligarchies, but also favored the deterioration of democratic forces of all hues.

This is the main cause of the current crisis, because, as sociologist Seymour Lipset said, alongside economic development and political legitimacy (free and clean elections), the stability of any democracy depends on the extent to which the system performs its basic functions. of government. Unfortunately, and it’s not today, we are wrong in all these aspects and our “bachelor democrats” still do not offer the necessary and urgent remedies to get out of the crisis.

You May Also Like

Recommended for you