7 abr 2024

La Argentina, y el peligroso experimento de Milei/ A Letter from Buenos Aires

Publicado en Verfassungsblog En inglés https://verfassungsblog.de/argentinas-dangerous-experiment/ En Alemán https://verfassungsblog.de/argentiniens-gefahrliches-experiment/ Argentina’s Dangerous Experiment A Letter from Buenos Aires Since the election of Javier Milei as President of the Republic, Argentina has been conducting an extremist, unexpected and dangerous political experiment. Allow me, in the following paragraphs, to make an attempt to explain and justify this statement.If the experiment we see today in Argentina can be defined as “extremist”, this is because it is headed by a President who defines himself as an anarcho-capitalist (an extravagant ideology, within the range of political ideologies), and who pretends to act as such. In fact, the head of the Executive has maintained that the State is “worse than the mafia” (because the mafia – he claims – at least has “codes of conduct”); described the State as a “rapist” that must be “destroyed”; contended that democracy (“as already proven by Arrow”) is a system that does not work; repudiated the public education system (once, national pride) as a “brainwashing mechanism”; etc. It is not just a matter of words: in the short span of three months since taking office, he has acted accordingly, mainly through an economic program that – so far – primarily involves imposing drastic cuts in state “expenditures” on health, education, social assistance and, above all, the pension system – all this, in a context of profound economic inequalities and social injustice. +++ Milei’s experiment is also “unexpected” in the national and regional context. On the one hand, Milei’s administration is unexpected in the light of Argentina’s political history – a history that has been marked, for more than a century, by the presence of strong political parties (the Radical party, center/center-left, which has existed since the beginning of the 20th century; the Peronist party, which has existed since 1945); and by a (thus far) solid institutional scheme (including a well-established Judiciary; a strong and functional Congress, and popular and autonomous provincial governments). On the other hand, Argentina’s political experiment is unexpected in the light of the regional context. We know that, in Venezuela, the party system collapsed in the 1990’s (with the crisis of the Democratic Action Party and the Social Christian Party; and the arrival of the military Hugo Chavez to power). We also know that, in Peru, the party system virtually dissolved (following the crisis of historical parties such as the APRA, created by Raúl Haya de la Torre). We know that Brazil has long suffered the tragedy of having a super-fragmented Congress, which hinders governability. Against those examples, cases such as those of Argentina (or Chile, or Uruguay), seemed – at least at first glance – more capable of resisting some of the most serious political “dramas” of our time. I am thinking about the “drama” of having “populist” Presidents (i.e., authoritarian Presidents, who pretend to rule over, or against, the established institutions) and “eroded democracies” (i.e, systems of “checks and balances” that have been “eroded from within”). +++ In addition, the experiment taking place in Argentina can be described as “dangerous”, particularly if we pay attention to the similar experiences that we find nowadays: cases like those of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil; Donald Trump in the United States; Recep Erdogan in Turkey; Viktor Orbán in Hungary. As these are well-known experiences, I will not dwell on them to explain the risks they entail. Let me just say that in Argentina, after just three months of the new administration, there have already been many events that caused concern. First of all, the first three legal initiatives promoted by the government appeared all very worrying, both in their content and in their form. They included an “Anti-Protest” or “Anti-Picketing” Protocol (which is still in force, although judicially challenged); a blatantly unconstitutional Executive Decree, through which the government intended to promote substantive economic reforms (which cannot be carried out by decree), repeal more than 40 laws, and partially change the Civil Code (the Executive Decree has been declared unconstitutional by the courts in several aspects, but is still partly in force); and an extraordinarily ambitious Bill (the Proyecto Bases), which, due to the disagreements it generated, the government decided to withdraw from parliamentary discussion for the time being. Additionally, there have been efforts by the new government to reintegrate the Armed Forces in matters of internal security (something forbidden by law, in the light of national history); harsh statements from the President against all his opponents; or very provocative “anti-feminist” measures (such as the dismantling of the “Women’s Hall” on Women’s Day) that seem in line with the government’s (self-imposed) “mission” to carry out “a war against communism”. In short, this is a government that shows a mixture of improvisation, irrationality, political clumsiness, and a certain provocative cruelty in most of its actions (perhaps influenced by the presidential obsession with twitter/X and the world of social networks) – all this in a context of profound social discontent and political instability. +++ I end with some brief reflections, aiming to better understand a phenomenon that appears to be very difficult to understand, but which we need to understand to avoid its repetition or aggravation. One crucial question that we need to answer is the following: What could have led us to this extreme, unexpected, and dangerous situation? In order to think about a possible response to this quest, let me resort to a recent statement by the noted political philosopher Charles Taylor. According to Taylor, what is happening in many of our constitutional democracies is “part of a wider phenomenon of disconnect between the needs and aspirations of ordinary people and our system of representative democracy” (Taylor et al, 2020). I think, along these lines, that in a good part of Latin America (not to say most Western countries), and also, undoubtedly, in Argentina, we are going through a serious institutional crisis, which is not conjunctural but epochal, and which has at its core an irremediable, irreversible crisis of the system of political representation. As I understand it -and this is the hypothesis I am putting forward in these few lines- in many countries of the region, we have an institutional system (very much in line with that of the United States), which was born for a society that is no longer there. It is an institutional scheme designed on the basis of a “political sociology” that today we can no longer assume as our own – a system designed for societies not only relatively small in terms of the number of their inhabitants, but also, and above all, divided into a few internally homogeneous groups. In the case of the United States of 1787, it was a society divided between large and small landowners, merchants and artisans, and the like. In James Madison’s words, the American was a society divided between the “rich” and the “poor”; “the few” and “the many”; “creditors” and “debtors” – that is, again, a few groups with homogeneous interests. With that political sociology in mind, it could have been reasonable to organize a constitutional schema such as the one then proposed, aimed at including or accommodating the whole of society within the institutional system (this was, in fact, the aspiration of the model of the “Mixed Constitution”: a proper Constitution had to be capable of representing/expressing all the different “sections” of society). The fact is that, with the passage of time, the “dream of full representation” came to an end. Today, we all recognize that we live in fundamentally multicultural societies (marked by “the fact of pluralism”, according to John Rawls), divided into an infinite number of radically heterogeneous groups. In such a framework, it is inconceivable to think that – say – “some workers” present in Congress will be able to represent the whole “working class”, or some aristocrats will manage to represent “the upper classes” (as in the original English scheme of the House of Commons and the House of Lords). In short, after more than two hundred years, we are still keeping in force a perished institutional scheme, radically incapable of fulfilling its original function. It is not that a “corrupt” political class (“the caste”, as President Milei calls it) has appropriated politics (and, therefore, what we need to do is to replace it with people who are not “caste”). The point is that, even if it worked perfectly, the institutional system would be incapable of ensuring the representation of the whole of society – as if we had acquired a suit in our childhood that no longer fits, nor will ever fit our body, no matter how much we stretch its sleeves or add buttons. This is to say, the constitutional suit was not designed for a social “body” like the present one. In this context, the “dissonance” between the “needs and aspirations” of the citizenry and the institutional system in place is (and most probably will be) very strong -something that will produce “democratic anguish” and “social anger”. Within this institutional scenario, the emergence of leaders oriented to exploit this persistent social anger is something to be expected, rather than strange – we have to expect the emergence of new leaders who will raise an aggressive and destructive discourse towards the established institutions. The challenge, then, is to think how to re-organize democratic life in a social, political and economic context that will never again be the one imagined two hundred years ago.

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