Populism and Authoritarian Drift: The Presidency of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil

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Frédéric Louault
Palgrave Macmillan
The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy


This chapter analyzes Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency in Brazil using two interpretations of the concept of populism: the ideational approach (thin-centered ideology) and the political style approach. The author is interested in the way in which the Brazilian president associates a populist rhetoric aimed at disrupting the political game (politics) and populist practices aimed at breaking the classical patterns of democratic representation and reorienting public action (policies). Bolsonaro’s populist style is rooted in a radical ideological base that has polarized Brazilian society and rattled the political community (polity). The author first shows how the representation of the world underlying Bolsonaro’s populism was structured during his personal trajectory, until his victory in the 2018 presidential election. It then presents some features of the populist rhetoric Bolsonaro has developed since he took office as President of Brazil (January 2019). Finally, it assesses the way in which Bolsonaro exercises power and exerts pressure on the main democratic institutions of his country. The author thus highlights the existence of an intimate link between Bolsonaro’s populist style and the authoritarian temptation that drives him.