I suggest in this article that the arrival of the pandemic has changed the future horizons of this phenomenon. Although opaque, a new economic and political agenda is being outlined at this very moment. And if we are not facing just a temporary change in the political situation, what are its most profound sociological determinations? How should classes, especially precarious workers, who are most exposed to health risks and the economically harmful effects of the pandemic, act? After all, what is the foreseeable impact of the current crisis on the authoritarian and philo-fascist political project of Bolsonarism?
First of all, it is necessary to underline that the Bolsonaro government represents a “necropolitical” project of power whose purpose is to permanently mobilize part of society against an internal dehumanized enemy which is, therefore, subject to elimination. Until the advent of Covid-19, the role of this other “dehumanized” enemy was played, in addition to the “bandits” who threaten public security, by militants of the diverse shades of the left, especially union members. The conclusion? In order to “save the Nation” from its internal enemies, the “bandits”, the “vagabonds”, the “corrupt”, etc., it is necessary to put an end to the human, social and labour rights that support them.
It is always necessary to remember that the current project of subversion of Brazilian democracy is not an isolated fact. In reality, it is a national alignment with a set of other international experiences, in particular, the American and the Hungarian, which emerged after the 2008 crisis. However, with a notable difference: unlike the regimes led by Donald Trump or Viktor Orbán, the Brazilian model of |Bolsonarism adopted a radically neoliberal economic strategy, whose constant cuts in public spending prevented concessions to subalterns. This contrasts, for example, with the full employment program in the United States and the market reserves for national workers in Hungary. In such a situation, what can be done to ensure that the necropolitical project represented by Bolsonarism has some popular integration?
Neopentecostalism and “Getting By”
Until quite recently, the solution to square the circle was to sponsor an ultraconservative agenda of social and moral customs aligned with the aspirations of Christian fundamentalism, in particular, of the ascending evangelical right. However, this transition from reactionary values to material concessions to subordinates, especially in an economic context marked by the informalization of labour relations, the increase in unemployment and underemployment, and the subsequent compression of labour earnings, derived from the ultra-liberal agenda led by the Ministry of Economy is quite uncertain and tortuous.
My hypothesis is that, until the advent of the pandemic, the popular alignment with the Bolsonarist project born during the 2018 presidential campaign was largely due to an “elective affinity” between a certain neo-Pentecostal theology and the typical “getting by” characterized by informal employment as seen in the country’s poor peripheral areas. Here, perhaps a quick sociological digression is convenient. Since the expression “elective affinities” was raised by Max Weber to the position of a classic concept of sociology, the relationship between religious doctrines and different economic ethos has ceased to occupy a central place in the investigative activity of sociologists.
At least when we think of the links between class interests, especially those of the subordinate classes, and social views of the world framed by transcendent dogmas, reflections on such affinities have moved to a subsidiary plane, taking refuge, at most, in very specialized areas of the scientific field. In a broad view, the concern with the subject shifted to historiography, as demonstrated, for example, by The Making of the English Working Class, the most famous work of E. P. Thompson. In the Brazilian case, if the rooting of popular religiosity in the world of work is no longer among the central concerns of our research, we may lack a perspective on the plebeian drives that search for some illumination of the somber colors that dye the current crisis.
In this sense, something that has always caught my attention in the way Weber constructed his concept is that the relationship of elective affinity mediated social structures, notably, Protestant asceticism and the inclination towards the accumulation of capital, without this creating a new social substance, a new synthesis. That is, even if the interaction produced significant consequences, there was no noticeable change in the composition of the initial components. Protestantism, like capitalism, has retained its own legality, historically evolving more or less autonomously from each other. Hence Weber himself reminds us that the affinity between Protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism had been lost in the days of the original accumulation of capital, with almost nothing left in his time of the “sober capitalism” synthesized in Benjamin Franklin’s sermons.
Even so, exactly one century after the definitive edition of his most famous work, another relationship of elective affinity related to that studied by the sociologist from Heidelberg seems to have taken root in Brazilian society with the force of a popular prejudice: the neo-Pentecostal doctrine of prosperity and the spirit of popular entrepreneurship. Here, the problem arises in seeking to understand to what extent the attraction between a religious belief and a professional ethic influenced the development of this material culture which, in the absence of better expression, we will call neoliberalism.