- Ravenna: where classical Rome, Byzantium and Christianity met Ian Thomson, Spectator
- ‘Cultural appropriation’ is American cultural imperialism Douglas Murray, UnHerd
- Will Eastern Mediterranean tensions matter if there is no war? Peter Henne, Duck of Minerva
- Bolivia: a tale of two countries Maëlle Mariette, Le monde diplomatique
The Argentine election was for the state president, who is head of government as well as head of state. An expected first round victory for the Peronist party (formally known as the Justicialist Party) candidate Daniel Scoli disappeared as he failed to clear 45%. He is clearly ahead of Mauricio Macri, Mayor of Buenos Aires, running on behalf of a three party centre-right alliance which contains the less statist, and populist elements of Argentine politics, but at least the hope exists of a second round triumph over the Peronists.
The third candidate is also a Peronist, showing the difficulty of overcoming that legacy and why even just turning the Presidential election into a competition between a Peronist and a non-Peronist is a victory of some kind. The sitting President Christine Kirchner pushed at the limits of the Argentine constitution, which prohibits more than two terms for any President, by alternating in power with her late husband Nestór Kirchner. If he had not died in 2010, we might now be looking forward to a fourth consecutive term in power for team Kirchner.
Peronists or the army have run Argentina almost constantly since the 1940s. The periods of army rule give a good indication of how successful Juan Perón and his widow Isabel (the third wife) were in stabilising Argentine society and political institutions. Nevertheless the Peronists have been the only party with a record of electoral success in Argentina and have improved from the chaos that Juan and Isabel instigated in more recent appearances in government.
As such a dominant party they have relatively centrist technocratic elements (most notably ex-president Carlos Menem) as well as the hard core statist populist nationalists. The Kirchner years have tended increasingly towards the more populist end, stoking nationalist sentiment over the islands in the south Atlantic known in Argentina as the Malvinas and in the UK, which has sovereignty over the islands, as the Falklands.
There has been economic growth under the Kirchners, but it has now very much slowed as policy has tended towards high inflation, currency controls, confrontation on debt owed to foreign creditors and increasing budget deficits. There has been social liberalism, most obviously, on attitudes to the LGBT communities, but in a context of nationalist sovereigntist politics. At least we can hope that if Scoli wins, he will feel obliged to shift towards genuine economic sustainability and a less populist politics.
In general, this adds to a feeling that South America has passed the peak of leftist populism which has influenced most countries outside Colombia in the last two decades. The more respectable end of that spectrum in Brazil’s Workers’ Party, which had been fairly successful economically, appears to be declining under the weight of corruption scandals, economic recession and incapacity in delivering on the more populist side. On the less respectable side, Venezuela has lost its status as model for the world’s radical left as corruption, economic decay, state brutality, election rigging and persecution of the opposition has become too extreme to ignore, particularly since the state socialist hegemony no longer has Hugo Chavez as a charismatic frontman.
Brazil and Venezuela were the models of the left, reformist and revolutionary respectively, and no longer have that status. If there is a model now it is the Evo Morales Presidency in Bolivia, which in some respects is radical left, but not consistently enough to get the kind of model status previously accorded to ‘Lula’ (now caught up in corruption scandals as his successor Dilma Rousseff) in Brazil and Chavez in Venezuela (whose successor Nicolás Maduro is a blatant and charmless neo-Stalinist thug-apparatchik). The Morales regime has received some cautious support from those inclined towards liberty on the grounds that he has pursued an overdue reduction of the power of traditional rent seeking elites in Bolivia and engaged in an economic pragmatism certainly distasteful to former Chavez admirers, and not even entirely comfortable for former admirers of Lula.
The leftist populist tide in south America has not entirely receded, but is now discussed with increasing nostalgia and an increasingly elegiac tone by left socialist observers, and as it has receded has tended to leave only embarrassments for the socialist left or reformist pragmatist examples of at least some interest to the liberty community. We are not looking at a strong shift towards liberty in all its forms in that region, but at least we see some shifts opening the possibilities of new movements towards liberty in markets, rule of law, individual rights, and social openness.
Thinking all the time about this country’s situation puts me in a blue funk. Here is a story to cheer me and you up. It’s one of my best.
I reached that mid-size Bolivian city in the lower Andes, on a research trip, the day before Bastille Day. I was an old undergraduate at Stanford at the time and still a French citizen. I reported my presence to the French consul, as required by law, as technically a member of the French Navy reserve. The consul was a Bolivian doctor who had studied in France and subsequently married, and then, divorced, a French woman. Bolivia being a landlocked country (bitterly so), the consul was not overwhelmed with naval business. He was glad to see me nevertheless and very cordial. He pressed me to attend the party he would give the next day on the occasion of the French national day.
It was a pleasant but schizoid event, starting with good French Champagne and ending with chicha, the soupy, local artisan corn beer. (Bolivians say that the fermentation of really good chicha starts with the spit of virgins. Just to make sure, they ask tiny girls to spit in the brew.) There was the usual mix of French expatriates and of Francophiles, most of the latter, probably silly unconditional Francophiles, plus some smart freeloaders.
The French expatriates often land in a particular town of a particular country at a particular time for no particular reason. They may have been heading somewhere else and gotten stuck along the way. They always include wives and former wives of natives who may have divorced them, or died. Coming from different epochs (such as before and after WWII), they form historical strata, each remembering a different France, and they entertain disparate and often incompatible visions of the fatherland. They have developed new habits in the country where they live and, without knowing it, they have drifted far from their culture of origin. That culture of origin, meanwhile, is itself changing, but in a different direction. Many expatriates disseminate more or less innocently patently false notions about the country where they were raised. Their French self is forever a young person, or even a child. Their own children are simply natives of their land of residence with a smattering of the French language and no real curiosity, forever strangers to their parents. Continue reading