This month was marked by grandiose celebration of the fall ofSoviet-designed Communism. It was a happy and inspiring sight. The fallof a tyrannical superpower, coupled with a reminder of the inhumansufferings and brutalities that its totalitarian philosophy allowed andencouraged, has helped the world to be wiser, and call its politicalleaders’ bluff when they intend to reinstate a similar chimera.
Communism hasn’t died. Indeed, it thrives in many regions of the world– North Korea, Vietnam, China… and, of all places, Latin America.Populist dictatorships of various creeds have popped up all over thecontinent, from Bolivia to Nicaragua, passing through Ecuador and, ofcourse, the pitiable rising star, Venezuela, not to mention the islandof the venerable Fidel Castro. Why? How can this be? As a LatinAmerican, I cannot help asking myself this question at least once a dayas I read the regional newspapers and learn about the most outrageousacts of corruption, the grossest public lies, the foulest deceptions,and — more recently -– the absurd rants of a warmongering fool.
|he who promises to deliver everything, to solve all the problems, to change all ideas and institutions, is always lying.|
Where did this sudden “red wave” come from? How could it supplantdemocratic governments and replace them with systematic oppression andabsolute inefficiency? How could the sickly and desperate appeal ofpoverty lead to record levels of underdevelopment, human rights abuse,and outright tyranny?
Well, the first answer is that, in most cases, the socialistgovernments of Latin America did not supplant “democratic governments”at all. Instead, they sat on the throne of already burgeoning republicsof corruption and waste, where anything but civil rights and economicprosperity seemed to be possible. My dear homeland Ecuador, forexample, elected and ousted seven presidents in the span of a littleover nine years before Rafael Correa (whom, for the purpose of thisarticle, we can accurately call “Hugo Chávez with a PhD”) came toestablish his “citizens’ revolution” and the “socialism of the 21stcentury”. Nine years of the most appalling corruption and the completedisavowal of the nation’s institutional framework.
Poverty, illiteracy, sheer human underdevelopment, have for too longbeen the justifiable victims of the economic policies of right-wing“technocrats”, while at the same time serving as mere trampolines forleft-wing charlatans and demagogues. While it is common for LatinAmerican pundits to exclaim –- with the Gnostic countenance of being“in the know” -– that our continent remains poor because the richcountries, and the US first among them, “want to keep us poor in orderto sustain their wealth”.
I would argue that the governments of Latin America have, in manycases, committed the same sin. In order to make their politicalambitions minimally credible, they have kept poverty on the forefrontof national issues while at the same time doing nothing about it. Thefact is that poverty is too valuable a political token to be traded infor anything.
The phenomenon is quite interesting: Progress justifies continuedmisery, Change serves to perpetuate corruption, Justice is the sloganfor lawlessness, Equality gives oppression a respectable name.
This frame of mind, this absurd mental trick by which men are blindedto what is really going on, is what the Berlin Wall represented. Itstood for the capacity of the human heart to reach the utmost depths ofsin and savagery that lead to the utter incapacity to judge foroneself, to call things, as C.S. Lewis wrote, as they “deserve” to becalled.
As French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut has said, “in the name of Man,men are forsaken”, and this he calls the definition and center of allrationalism at its core. I am not a philosopher. But if I’m proud ofthe fall of the Wall (despite the fact that I was three years old and12,000 kilometers away at the time) it’s because in that signal fact ofhistory I see the defeat of this political rationalism, of thegrotesque –- albeit surely well-intended -– premise that a politician’seye drapes men and peoples in the colors of “Ideals” and deprives themof humanity. Communism, like Nazism, committed this serious blunder,but so have liberalism and all its offshoots. Indeed, it is thetheoretical method of all modern thinkers at least since Hobbes – thatis, of all the philosophers that consciously kicked God out of theanthropology of politics.
If there is something that I’ve learned from my scant politicalexperience in my home country, it is this: he who promises to delivereverything, to solve all the problems, to change all ideas andinstitutions, is always lying.
Mind you, he’s not mistaken, he’s lying, because he knows he cannotpossibly deliver, and he still bases all his credibility on thisMessianic assessment of the situation. Rafael Correa, Ecuador’spresident, like Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin,and, to some extent, Thomas Jefferson and Barack Obama, share thistrait, that I like to call the “magic wand syndrome”, or if you will,the “the future will be nothing like the past” delusion.
Great ideals always tend to tyrants and oppression because they arefalse, while at the same time serving as justification for everything,for every law, every decree, every incarceration, every insult, everyinjustice, every death, every war. Salvation, it would not hurt toremember, is not of this world, and so we should hammer our heads withthe fact that no political system or initiative will ever be able toend corruption, poverty, disease, injustice, vice, etc.
Or, in the words of John Adams, America’s second president, “cold willstill freeze, and fire will never cease to burn, disease and vice willcontinue to disorder, and death to terrify mankind”. The best exampleof this is the very fact that, after the manifest brutality oftotalitarianism and the spectacular fall of the Soviet empire, thereare still prophets preaching the blessings of communism to deceived andexhausted peoples.
A savvy political leader, or better, a wise statesman, knows thatpolitics is not here to change human nature. He should understand thatgovernments exist, as Alexander Hamilton put it, “because the passionsof men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, withoutconstraint”. I would qualify this to say: “without authority”. If oneunderstands that human nature is what it is and won’t be changinganytime soon (at least not by any human means), politics can become thearena of true progress, which is to say, moral advancement.
So, the job is not complete – many more walls remain, waiting to beburst open. Perhaps the most important of them all is the intellectualwall of political rationalism, that teaches us ideals and preachesparadise on Earth, while at the same time marching heroically, bannerin hand, eyes on the horizon, over the muffled miseries of the age.
Pedro José Izquierdo is an Ecuadorian PhD student at the Universityof Navarre (Spain). He is currently a visiting researcher at ColumbiaLaw School in New York.