On the Political Peripheries of Brazil's Incomplete Welfare State: Explaining the Authoritarian Style

Benjamin Bradlow, Harvard University

The rise of right-wing authoritarianism is commonly attributed to factors aggregated to the national level, such as changing economic or demographic conditions. The rise of right-wing authoritarianism in Brazil certainly carries with it some of these characteristics. The rise of new president Jair Bolsonaro came amidst deep economic recession and its effects on middle classes that had swollen with new entrants during the first decade of the 2000s. However, I argue that we cannot understand the emergence of such an authoritarian figure without putting his support in the broader context of two phenomena. First, the construction of a modern welfare state rooted in the 1988 constitution’s guarantee of social and economic rights. And second, the changing nature of spatial stratification between the country’s peripheries and cores, both within cities and between urban and rural areas. As the bonds of traditional clientelism have broken in Brazil’s peripheries, the growing welfare state made possible a new form of politics that promised programmatic political contestation. But as the welfare state became more entangled in a consumption-driven model of economic development model, severe recession in the mid-2010s unleashed new forms of conflict and power on Brazil’s peripheries. This made them ripe to be the decisive spaces for the rise of a political majority behind Bolsonaro’s right-wing authoritarianism. I draw on an analysis of spatialized micro-data of voting preferences from the 2018 presidential election, and interview and archival fieldwork in São Paulo between 2016 and 2017.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 166. Democratic Disenchantment