by Victor Hugo Barboza is a Master in Political Science. His research focuses on economic inequality in Brazil.

Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling

This article is based on two premises: The first is to show that democracies weaken no longer through authoritarian institutions, but rather people who are within the democratic game and favor flexible institutions and laws to lead the country to an authoritarian regime; the second is that cases like Hungary’s, it can make us learn so that we have stronger democracies. To measure the level of democracy, Juan Linz’s theoretical model will be used in his book entitled “The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes”, published in 1978. In this book, the author stresses that the role of political leaders can strengthen democracy or weaken them. With the premises of Linz (1978), the authors Levitsky and Ziblatt (2018) made the table below. Another theoretical reference will be the book “How democracies die” by Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt (2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 – Rejection of the democratic rules of the game (or weak commitment to them)

Do candidates reject the Constitution or express a willingness to violate it?

Do you suggest the need for undemocratic measures, such as canceling elections, violating or suspending the Constitution, banning certain organizations, or restricting basic civil and political rights?

Do they seek to use (or endorse the use) of extra-constitutional means to change the government, such as military coups, violent insurrections, or mass protests aimed at forcing changes in government?

 Do they try to undermine the legitimacy of elections by refusing, for example, to accept credible election results?

2 – Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents

Do you describe your rivals as subversive or opposed to the existing constitutional order?

Do they claim that their rivals pose a threat, whether to national security or the prevailing way of life?

Without reasoning, do they describe their partisan rivals as criminals whose alleged violation of the law (or potential to do so) would disqualify their full participation in the political arena?

Without reasoning, do they suggest that their rivals are foreign agents, as they would be secretly working in alliance with (or using) a foreign government – often an enemy government?

3 – Tolerance or encouragement of violence

Do you have any ties to armed gangs, paramilitary forces, militias, guerrillas, or other organizations involved in illicit violence?

Do they sponsor or encourage their partisan crowd attacks against opponents?

Did they tacitly endorse the violence of their supporters, refusing to condemn and punish them categorically?

Have you praised (or refused to condemn) other significant acts of political violence in the past or elsewhere in the world?

4 – Propensity to restrict civil liberties of opponents, including the media

Have you supported laws or policies restricting civil liberties, such as expanding libel and libel laws or laws restricting protests and criticism of the government or certain civil or political organizations?

Have they threatened to take legal or other punitive action against their critics in rival parties, civil society, or the media?

Have you praised repressive measures taken by other governments, both in the past and elsewhere in the world?

These premises are the weakening factors of the democratic system and that can lead the population to the disinterest of political participation. In Brazil, we see that in recent years there is a great polarization due to a populist discourse of corruption that was put to us by political actors with diverse interests, such as the Lava Jato Operation, but not the commitment to democracy or the desire for popular participation in political life. It is important to point out that corruption is a profoundly serious problem anywhere and should be punished with the rigor of the law, being one of the factors for the weakening of democracy as well. Government, financial market, companies, and personal relationships. When corruption becomes commonplace, there is a huge risk of reliability in any sphere mentioned above. But, analyzing Linz, do corruption as placed in the speeches of populists who claim to be “the voice of the people”, who go to war against what they describe as a corrupt and conspiratorial elite, tend to use democracy to achieve authoritarianism or are they fighting for the strengthening of democracy? For Linz, if a politician fits even one of these criteria is a cause for concern about democratic non-compliance.

If we analyze in Brazil the table of Juan Linz and the table of Levitsky and Ziblatt in a period of two years, how many of these precepts the current government of Jair Bolsonaro and the previous governments of Brazil fit or fit one or more criteria? If there is at least one positive response, we are on the opposite path to democratic strengthening. What can we do about it to strengthen our political system? This response may be analyzed more calmly and discussed at other times, but we can give an indication based on some countries where this has already happened. I propose to adapt the analysis of Levitsky and Ziblatt and to show the fate of some countries where there was, through the democratic system, the formation of authoritarian systems.

country

leader

Start date

Catching referees

Player removal

Changing rules

Destination of the scheme

Argentina

Juan Perón

June 1946

Yes

No

No

Authoritarian

Ecuador

Rafael Correa

January 2007

Yes

Yes

Yes

Moderately authoritarian

Hungary

Viktor Orbán

May 2010

Limited

No

No

Moderately authoritarian

Russia

Vladimir Putin

May 2000

No

Yes

No

Highly authoritarian

Venezuela

Hugo Chávez

February 1999

Yes

Yes

Yes

Authoritarian

To analyze the table above it is necessary to understand these premises as protection grids of a democracy, that is, institutions, people, and laws that must be placed as part of a game that benefits the population and not something that must be the possession or power of a government to use in its favor. Arbitrators are Ministers, Judges, Intelligence Services, Police, Ethical Agencies, and Courts; the players are the critics of the media and others who are opposed to the government; Rule changes are changes in laws with authoritarian and less bureaucratic purposes of achieving their goals.

Last year, in the wake of democracy, news broke that Hungary’s Parliament has approved a bill that gives full powers indefinitely to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. In the first vote, which required three-quarters of parliament for approval, the bill did not pass, but a new vote where two-thirds of the votes were needed the bill was approved. Since the law is passed, Viktor Orbán may amend or suspend any existing laws in the country without the need for parliament’s approval. With this law too, Orbán will be able to punish press agencies that report fake news with up to 5 years in prison. The main question is: With such powers, which press agency will risk reporting something against Órban’s government?

It is important to analyze that these two premises of change of law and control over the press that the Hungarian Prime Minister, who is already considered by scientists as “moderately authoritarian” proposes, placed on the same path of Venezuela as Hugo Chávez. An authoritarian regime, however, of the extreme right. Hungarian oppositionists, as well as Venezuelan oppositionists in the early 2000s with Hugo Chávez, accuse the prime minister of daring a “coup d’état” and leading the country into a dictatorship. The Orbán government, which is already the subject of European union investigations for various human rights violations due to violations of the rights of immigrants and refugees. Also for attacking the press and the judiciary, it is under pressure from the countries of the European Union for Hungary to be expelled if this law is put into force.

Conclusion

It is an exercise of reflection to analyze the first and second tables and see if the government of your country is going down the democratic path or whether it is moving, through democratic means, towards authoritarianism. It is important to point out that, as in the case of Venezuela, Russia and now Hungary, democracy does not go into decline by military institutions, as occurred in the twentieth century in several countries, but occur within the democratic game, which is extremely dangerous, because this authoritarianism is no longer abruptly, but is happening slowly until the democratic state languishes.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has made the capture of an arbitrator, how to use the Federal Police and intelligence agencies for use by the Federal Government, or are they autonomous? Has there been an attempt to eliminate players, such as discredit or censorship of the media or opponents of your government? Regarding the changes in the rules of the game, the president of Brazil tried to take away the power of governors, even though the country is federative? Has there been an attempt to change the laws to weaken the actions of opposing groups or speeches delegitimizing the country’s electoral process without proof?

If the answer to the above questions had at least one yes, Brazil is already heading for a break with the democratic system, following the same path as Venezuela, Hungary, Russia, and other countries.

Victor Hugo Barboza (2021) "Is there a movement towards authoritarism in the world?". Brazilian Research and Studies Blog. ISSN 2701-4924. Vol. 2 Num. 1. available at: https://bras-center.com/is-there-a-movement-towards-authoritarism-in-the-world/, accessed on: May 16, 2021.