What Comes After Depression? The Crisis of Neoliberal Subjectivity and the New Authoritarian Wave in Brazil
Keywords:Crisis, Neoliberalism, Depression, Authoritarianism, Effervescence
On the basis of an analysis of Brazil’s political history from 2013 to the present, this essay advances the idea that the current rise of the far right – in that country and possibly elsewhere – can be understood as one among various political expressions of a ‘post-depressive constellation.’ Such a diagnosis takes its cue from analyses which, in the 1990s and 2000s, recognised in the rapid increase in the depression rates an index of major social transformations occurring in the last decades of the 20th century. The foregrounding of depression in clinical diagnoses was considered, then, the sign of a new social order: one in which individuals were faced with ever stronger requirements of self-responsibility and authentic self-realization (i.e., the demand of ‘being oneself’) in a context of declining social support and escalating inequality, competition and precariousness. Today, however, we seem to have reached a point at which the tensions of this order – which can be designated, metonymically, as the ‘depressive society’ – intensified to such an extent that its persistence appears to be seriously compromised. It is in this sense that we may speak of a post-depressive constellation: a situation in which the social psychological tensions of the depressive order have reached a peak, leading to a variety of reactions and struggles but not yet to the establishment of a new consensus and a stable institutional framework. While suggesting that such a diagnosis might be significant for understanding contemporary political processes in many parts of the world, this essay will focus on how these dynamics have unravelled in Brazil’s recent political life – from the mass demonstrations of June 2013 to the rise of new right-wing movements that culminated in the election of Jair Bolsonaro. The Brazilian case seems, indeed, particularly well-suited to examine the contours and outcomes of this possibly broader process. It allows, in particular, for the distinction of two political forms that have taken centre stage in the past years and can be understood as reactions to core tensions of the depressive order: ‘post-depressive effervescence’ (as it emerged in key moments of the June 2013 protests and their continuation in the following months) and ‘post-depressive authoritarianism’ (as it has progressively built up from the 2013 demonstrations to the election of Bolsonaro).
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Copyright (c) 2021 Arthur Bueno
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