The problem with conservatives in Latin America

Shortly after the declaration of independence of the USA, in 1776, several independence movements in Iberian America followed. Basically between the 1800s and the 1820s almost all of Latin America broke its colonial ties with Spain and Portugal, giving rise to the national states we know today, from Mexico to Chile. This disruption of colonial ties, however, was only the beginning of the process of formation of Latin American national states. The borders would still undergo many transformations, and especially there would be a long and tortuous task of forming national governments in each country.

In general there was much influence from the USA and the French Revolution in the formation of Latin American national states. The constitutions that emerged on the continent were generally liberal in their essence, using a theoretical background similar to that which gave rise to the American constitution. However, in the case of Latin America, this liberalism proved to be only a veneer covering the surface. Below it Latin America was a region marked by oligarchy, paternalism, and authoritarianism.

Using Brazil as an example, one can observe how much the French Revolution was a strong influence on Latin America. In the Brazilian case, this influence was due to the fear that there would be a radicalization of liberalism that guided the process of independence, leading to a Jacobinism such as that which marked the period of Terror in France. The fear that a Brazilian Robespierre would emerge at some point forced Brazil’s founders to cooperate in such a manner that the formation of the Brazilian state was more conservative and less liberal.

One problem with Latin American conservatism lies in what it retains in trying to avoid liberal radicalization. There is a conservative Anglo-Saxon tradition identified primarily with Edmund Burke. As in Latin America, Burke was critical of the radicalization of the French Revolution (with the advantage that Burke predicted radicalization before it actually occurred). However, Burke had an already liberal country to conserve. In his case, conservatism was a liberal conservatism. In the case of Latin Americans, preserving meant maintaining mercantilism and absolutism, or at least avoiding a more rapid advance of liberalism.

Another problem with Latin American conservatism is to confuse Rousseau with true liberalism. The ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau were behind the most radical period of the French Revolution. Burke criticized the kind of thinking that guided the revolution because of its abstract nature, disconnected from the traditions. But this was not really Rousseau’s problem. His problem is that his ideas do not make the slightest sense. John Locke also possessed an abstract but perfectly sensible political thought. Rousseau does not represent liberalism. His thinking is a proto-socialism that we would do well to avoid. But the true liberalism of John Locke and the American Founding Fathers still needs to be implemented in Latin America.

In short, the problem of conservatism in Latin America lies in what we have to conserve. My opinion is that we still need to move forward a lot before having liberal societies that are worth thinking about being preserved. Meanwhile, it is better to avoid the idea of a Latin American conservatism.

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Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation, V: Britain and European Models

The last post looked at how Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws, the biggest classic of Enlightenment political thought, certainly in size and probably in importance, does not offer Britain as the model of liberty for Europe. Rounding off that argument, Germany produced its own important liberty oriented thought at the end of the eighteenth century in the work of Immanuel Kant and Wilhelm von Humboldt, in which they do not offer Britain as a model. Of course at this time Britain stood as an example of liberty, particularly in the exact period from 1792 when the French Revolution had turned highly violent and dictatorial, and European monarchies were tending to become more conservative-authoritarian in reaction.

Nevertheless, the opening phase of the French Revolution developed a much more complete vision of a equal citizens under laws they had made themselves through representative citizens than Britain itself. France was the home of great liberal thinkers such as Benjamin Constant (like Rousseau and Voltaire, Swiss in origin) and Germaine de Stael, who were  horrified by the descent of the French Revolution into state terror and then Bonapartist dictatorship. Switzerland and the variety of German states within the loose structure of an empire (the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) gave them ideas for liberty.

Going back to Germany itself, there was a strong element of aesthetic liberalism, focused on the cultivation of individuality and individuality sensibility, which drew on the growth of German culture at that time and the history of many different states and state forms, that includes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and Friedrich Schlegel that had a European wide influence, including in Britain.

On the level of what was going in European nations during the eighteenth century is should be noted that the death penalty was abolished in the state of Tuscany in northern Italy in the late eighteenth century at a time when Britain was famous for widespread use of the death penalty, not just for murder and treason but for small crimes in property. The French Revolution inspired severe attacks on civil liberties in Britain and one of many rounds of state force to keep the Irish down, when the United Irishmen revolted in 1798 for Irish self-government.

Britain was largely ahead of the rest of Europe at the end of the wars with Revolutionary and Bonapartist France, but that was in large part because Britain had worked very hard to finance and encourage autocratic monarchies to take back control of Europe. Napoleon was no friend of liberty, though some British sovereigntist-Eurosceptics nevertheless celebrate him, as in Andrew Robert’s recent biography Napoleon the Great. Not for the first time a British sovereigntist shows signs of wishing to imitate European nations at times when they seem most aggressively sovereign, while holding to British separateness and superiority.

As the nineteenth century unfolded, Britain started as a nation where the existence of an elected parliament, a limited form of monarchy in the process of becoming a purely symbolic monarchy, and strong legal institutions allows a case for saying that Britain was leading the way in liberty, at least for those belonging to the most marginal and dominated parts of the state territory. However, that picture applies less and less after 1830, when the July Revolution put in place a system in France, under the Orléanist monarchy, comparable to that in Britain for promoting law, liberty, and commerce. It must be said that the preceding system introduced after the defeat of Napoleon under the restored Bourbon monarchy was directly modeled on Britain’s, but could not work like the British system, given the different national context. A lesson in the dangers of thinking that liberty can be exported and designed from abroad.

The 1848 cross-European ‘Springtime of the Peoples’ undermined the relative advantages of the British system further as republics and monarchies limited by constitutions were proclaimed in various parts of Europe. There was a big autocratic reaction reversing most but not all of this. Denmark made the most progress, with peaceful demonstrations leading to a constitutional monarchy and an elected national assembly. France reverted to autocracy under the Second Empire of Napoleon III (nephew of the famous Napoleon). However, the Second Empire did have elected bodies and however objectionable Louis-Napoleon’s seizure of sovereign power was, he was a moderate autocrat presiding over a continuing growth of civil and commercial society. If we look at models for liberty in Europe, Britain was certainly important, but so was France. Even under Napoleon III, France was a long way ahead of most of Europe in the liberties of its people and the vibrancy of the economy.

If we look at one of the most important events in nineteenth century Europe, the Risorgimento which turned Italy from multiplicity of more or less autocratic states, including the Austrian armies more of less resting on church domination of society and Austrian armies, into a unified nation; France was important in providing a model of a relatively secular liberal catholic society and in pushing for a more modernist liberal form of government in Italy. Napoleon III’s behaviour was opportunistic and designed to revive French power in Europe, but nevertheless he seems to have had a genuine sentimental attraction  to the idea of a free and unified Italy. Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, as chief minister of Sardinia-Piedmont was the major political architect of a unified Italy was impressed by both the French and British models. The ideological architect of the Risorgimento, Giuseppe Mazzini, largely lived in London and was impressed by the British type of constitutionalism and political culture, but nevertheless was also a republican and European federalist more influenced at the level of political thought by the French revolutionary and republican heritage. The military architect of the Risorgimento, Giuseppe Garibaldi, was popular in Britain, but belonged to the French republican revolutionary heritage, which he worked to spread in South America before returning to Italy.

Next post, Britain and Europe after the Springtime of the Peoples

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

This is starting to feel a lot like shooting fish in a barrel Dr Delacroix. Since we both know exactly how Leftists argue, I think it would be pertinent to over your rebuttals point-by-point.

I am glad we agree on the US intervention in Afghanistan based on the fact that the Taliban hosted and refused to deliver the terrorist Al Qaida.

And it would have been nice if we had focused our resources and our energy on staying there and hunting down al-Qaeda. There is also something amiss here: Osama bin Laden was shot dead in a shootout involving our special forces underneath the nose of Pakistan’s version of West Point. As we both know very well, the Taliban and Islamabad have never been on friendly terms, yet both sides gave refuge to bin Laden.

My suspicion is that both factions harbored bin Laden because of his immense wealth, not because of ideological solidarity. Also, I am not sure that the Taliban would have even been able to retrieve bin Laden if they wanted to. Rule by the Taliban was no doubt cruel, but for the most part they relied heavily on regional strongmen and political alliances to maintain control of the state.

With all this being said, I don’t think we ever declared war on Afghanistan. I may be wrong, but I think we focused our efforts on toppling the Taliban regime and hunting bin laden rather than fighting the Afghan state. This is actually a logical outcome, if you think about it, because al-Qaeda was not sponsored by Kabul, and it most certainly was not sponsored by the impoverished warlords of the Afghan regions, either. I’m willing to bet that the Taliban were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Remember, al-Qaeda, or whatever is left of it after President Obama gets finished with them, is not the same thing as the Taliban. I would even say, with some confidence, that the Taliban knew nothing of the attacks being planned against the United States.

Either way, both factions are finished, and it’s time to bring our troops home after a job well done (thanks to President Obama’s strategy).

The “some press reports” statement regarding the Taliban blinding of little girls with acid shows what might be deliberate ignorance. The assertion was made by several responsible neutral sources, including National Geographic, not exactly a hawkish extremist publication. I suspect the Libertarian pacifist stance cannot be maintained without a broad practice of tactical ignorance such as you just demonstrated: Iran’s nuclear weapons? No problem.

My point wasn’t to discredit the press reports, it was to suggest that going to war with a state because a regime sometimes sponsors the throwing of acid into little schoolgirls’ eyes is a little bit silly. And where did the statement on Iran’s nuclear weapons come from?

Pulling stuff out of thin air to legitimate a point that was used to purposefully misconstrue the argument of your opponent is something only Leftists do, usually.  When are you going to come out of the closet, Dr Delacroix?  We’re all dying to know!

Your disquisition on the French Revolution simply ignores my question: Is the American revolution any the less valid because ti was helped by the intervention of a foreign power, France? When you seem to relate the Terror to this intervention, you are going out on a very thin limb. There is a conventional belief that the French intervention hastened the revolution in France by aggravating the public debt.

Ah. Here I think there is a miscommunication between us. If a revolution happens, it is valid regardless of who is involved and who it affects. Pretending otherwise is a waste of time. I brought in the French angle because today the United States IS France playing the role of interventionist in the Middle East.

How is relating the social, political, and economic upheaval of the Terror – which was aggravated by French intervention in the Anglo-American war – going out on a very thin limb? I did not suggest that we are on a crash course for violent revolution. I only drew some (quite pertinent) parallels between the two situations: supporting revolutions that have nothing to do with national security has never bode well for the states that do the intervening.

If you negative feelings, your apprehensions about the Arab Spring were all well-founded (were) should we then, as a country, continue to favor tyranny in those countries as we did for thirty years?

Ah. I have never said that I do not support the revolutions going on in the Middle East. Ever. What I have done is raise a flag of caution in the face of bellicose calls for more bombing, more involvement, and more intrigue on the part of Washington in the revolutions going on in the Middle East. Given that we have been supporting brutal regimes in that part of the world for the last half century, I don’t think our involvement will be looked upon with graciousness by the peoples we are inevitably trying to help.

Of course I support the revolutions going on in the Middle East, I just don’t support our government getting involved with them. When the dust clears, I think we should be the first state to stick out our hand and offer our friendship to the new governments.  I think the people of the Middle East would be inclined to agree with me.

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

Brandon: I am glad we agree on the US intervention in Afghanistan based on the fact that the Taliban hosted and refused to deliver the terrorist Al Qaida.

The “some press reports” statement regarding the Taliban blinding of little girls with acid shows what might be deliberate ignorance. The assertion was made by several responsible neutral sources, including National Geographic, not exactly a hawkish extremist publication. I suspect the Libertarian pacifist stance cannot be maintained without a broad practice of tactical ignorance such as you just demonstrated: Iran’s nuclear weapons? No problem.

Your disquisition on the French Revolution simply ignores my question: Is the American revolution any the less valid because ti was helped by the intervention of a foreign power, France? When you seem to relate the Terror to this intervention, you are going out on a very thin limb. There is a conventional belief that the French intervention hastened the revolution in France by aggravating the public debt. It’s not much and isn’t there a chance it’s a little out of your area of expertise? All the same, I admire your gumption! Next thing you know, you are going to offer to continue this discussion in French and you will correct my grammar in that language! (OK, that last statement wasn’t fair. I couldn’t resist. I am deeply ashamed!)

Reply Part II: You sidestepped my main question by taking advantage of my advanced age to distract me with ancillary issues:

If your negative feelings, your apprehensions about the Arab Spring were all well-founded (were) should we then, as a country, continue to favor tyranny in those countries as we did for thirty years?

Same question: How about individually, as human beings?