by Matheus Lucas Hebling. Editor-in-chief of the BRaS-Blog.
September 7th is one of the most important celebratory dates in Brazil. The value of independence and the release from the Portuguese monarchy meant that we could finally live by our own interests. Tomorrow, a series of protests pro-Bolsonaro are happening around the world to show support to the most rejected president in Brazil’s democratic history. These are also an effort of very noisy few to discredit institutions like the Federal Court and the Legislative Power, who unfortunately have the support of the police force – a fact that led São Paulo’s state governor to remove a police force commander from power. How can our institutions hold their trust and stop more far-right movements from getting to power and threatening democracy?
Jair Bolsonaro is an example of a far-right populist politician who uses discourse to highlight his patriotic and nationalist preoccupations and advance a strong neoliberal economic agenda in the country, as well as placing authoritarian and xenophobic views of Brazilian society at its core. Since his campaign, he has had freedom as a main concern, as well as having a pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-military stances. On one hand, this freedom is interpreted as a criticism to the previous administrations and other political parties, but also as an ode to liberalism.
And Bolsonaro is not alone. Several far-right politicians have got visibility and made to power in a resurgence of illiberal populism – an even stronger shift due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A growing global concern to the increase of far-right movements reflect anti-globalization and pro-nationalist sentiments, which result in a growing number of protests, like the one scheduled for tomorrow in Brazil, and many others that may also be characterized as terrorist attacks because of their violence and political reasonings, such as the Capitol insurrection in the United States in the beginning of 2021, while Donald Trump was still in the office.
The dawn of the radical right is built around the idea of a movement. Modernization leads to an increase in the individual’s autonomy, understood here as status mobility and flexibility. This is followed by the differentiation of society or segmentation and the growing autonomy of social subsystems. Right-wing radicalism is an effort to undo social change since this social differentiation is opposed to a defined national community. Alongside this, individualization is opposed to a return to traditional roles, or ideas of social homogenization.
Even though far-right extremist ideologies may not be described as having the same exact phenomenon, they echo an assortment of anti-democratic beliefs, such as the removal or decrease of protections for minorities; refusal to support or doubt of electoral processes; beliefs in hierarchies of superiority across racial and ethnic groups; conspiracies about the instrumentation of multicultural communities over white ones; and delusions in the use of violence as the preferred means to cause societal collapse and a renaissance of a new and reinstated society.
It is not only cultural and economic aspects that may explain why we experience this surge. Political ones also play an important role in understanding the reasons behind it: crisis of representation of mainstream political parties; more political awareness and mobilization of middle-class populations that carry elevated expectations of democracy’s delivery ability; more activism of civil society through protests; fragmentation and polarization of the public sphere, reinforced by social media; the transformation of political culture with the increase in the use of information and communications technologies and an bigger focus on the individual.
The question we face as a society is how to prevent these movements from emerging in the first place and how to stop them from getting to power. Some initiatives are being conducted in different parts of the world and much has been learned from the fight against terrorism in the past century. Germany has started a program called Demokratie leben. In it, it tries to strengthen and protect a more inclusive and diverse democracy through investments in education for all. It is a broad program to fight both racism and right-wing extremism. Norway has done an approach whose focus is on families of at-risk youth, providing support to them. A bottoms-up approach – political education and socio-economic equality – is essential in preventing a threat to democracy and society, but it is a plan for the long-term.
More short-term solutions are also necessary – such as educational tools to increase the turnout in elections and emphasis of voting in candidates that make credible promises. Another idea can be seen in New Zealand, with its survivor/victim-centred engagement.
Politically speaking, political parties must be able to distinguish themselves, become more responsive to their voters and convey and adhere to democratic rules – such as free and fair elections and democratic procedures. Mainstream parties need to mobilize voters, support institutions, and regain the rule of law, which has been taken from them by far-right movements. This may require a new set of policies and engagement in different levels, such as electoral and institutional reforms to improve election security and integrity. Also, an (even stronger and) independent judiciary system is needed to reinforce the rule of law. Now, more than ever, there is an urgent need to embrace coalitional politics to fight back and exclude anti-democratic forces from the political game.
The burden does not only fall to parties. The media, civil society, and the courts need to respond in the same way, by fostering equality, participation and guide the public. And it goes beyond the national level. Even if less important, international actors as supranational institutions and foreign governments also need to reject these forces that emerge in different societies around the world. Far-right movements need to be taken seriously: they are a threat to democracy and the function of society and timing is important: they need to be handled as soon as possible to avoid anti-democractic actions.
Matheus Hebling (2021) "Independence or (the) death (of institutions)". Brazilian Research and Studies Blog. ISSN 2701-4924. Vol. 2 Num. 2. available at: https://bras-center.com/independence-or-the-death-of-institutions/, accessed on: September 27, 2021.