By Sünje Schwarz
When discussing the philosophies that influenced Latin America, it is important to note that the centuries under colonial government have left a lasting impression. As soon as they gained independence from the Spanish and Portuguese empires, the Latin American regions started founding republics (Palti, 2009). This gave way to the liberalism movement. With the uprising of the liberalism movement, its supporters stressed the need to replace the old, colonial laws with those that grant liberty and equality, anchored in the foundations of a constitution. However, it was inevitable that some of the laws of the “ancient constitution”, as the old Spanish and Indian laws are called, were preserved to guarantee legal continuity. Thus, the old rules often survived the liberal reform wishes (Chiaramonte, 2010). Nevertheless, the Latin American countries struggled to incorporate two of the most influential liberalism principles: the English liberalism and the French liberalism, personified by John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau respectively (Palti, 2009). One of the reasons the Latin American countries struggled to establish democratic governments can be seen in the difference of interpretation of liberalism. While for Locke the purpose of government laid within securing property and liberty for men, Rousseau saw the purpose of government in the creation of unity and harmony among people. At the same time, Locke favored a representative government, while Rousseau favored a more direct democracy with active involvement of the people (Gaus and Courtland, 2011). While European countries, as well as North America, were able to combine these two philosophies, the same could not be achieved in Latin America and instead gave rise to caudillos.
Caudillos are highly charismatic leaders, who often came to power through violent action or illegal methods. They were sometimes highly educated men who studied law and theology (Chiaramonte, 2010). Generally, the caudillos can be distinguished between those who favored the free market and social liberals (Margolis, 2008). In the end, they were strong but populist leaders, who obscured the division between government and state (Peronism and its perils, 2004).
One of the most recognized and popular caudillos is probably the former Argentinean president Juan Perón. Although he was essentially a dictator, he was nevertheless a freely elected dictator who had support from labor unions and the military. Perón used a vast propaganda machine to garner support among all social classes, but it was especially the poor, who supported him most because of his social welfare programs (Foss, 2000). To understand Peronism, it must be understood that Argentina was a country in which the clergy and religion did not play an important role in the creation of political parties. Nevertheless, political parties that sought votes depending on a certain social class existed even before Perón’s presidency. It is interesting that before Perón, the conservatives and socialists were sure to receive the votes of the classes they targeted, but after Perón, they essentially ceased to exist. The Radicals, which were split into Peronists and Radicals under Perón, were able to gain the votes that previously belonged to the conservatives, while the Peronists had vast support among the poor voters. This support reversed during Perón’s time in exile, likely because many of the poor voters were illiterate.
However, the social welfare agenda, largely propagated and implemented under Perón continues to define the Peronists’ legacy. In times of instability and crisis, people seem to remember the social agenda and Peronists gain votes among the middle class while the Radicals, who can secure most of the middle class votes during times of stability, are losing them (Lupu, 2009).
When researching the impact of European encroachment on Latin America, it is important to recognize that this impact was certainly two-fold. While Latin Americans and Europeans alike certainly benefited from some of the resources and technology, it should not be forgotten that the indigenous people paid a high price for it. Not only were many of these civilizations eradicated by disease, forced labor and exploitation, they were also faced with the loss of their culture (Sayre, 2010). This resulted in a heavy dependence on Europe, not only economically but also culturally. It should, therefore, not be surprising that the way Europeans enacted liberalism was seen by many as a way for elitist and special interest groups to run the country and not as a way to provide democratic values to all. To Europeans, on the other hand, caudillonism and Peronism were seen as an attack on aristocratic and liberal values (King, 1984).
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Foss, C. (2000). Propaganda and the Perons. History Today, 50(3), 8. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Gaus, G. and Courtland, S. D. (2011, Spring). Liberalism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Retrieved from <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2011/entries/liberalism/>.
King, J. (1984). Civilisation and Barbarism: The impact of Europe on Argentina. History Today, 34(8), 16. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Lupu, N. C. (2009). The social bases of political parties in Argentina, 1912-2003. Latin American Research Review, 44(1), 58. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Margolis, M. (2008). The Return of The Old Caudillo. Newsweek (Pacific Edition), 151(19), 36. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Palti, E. (2009). Beyond Revisionism: The Bicentennial of Independence, the Early Republican Experience, and Intellectual History in Latin America. Journal of the History of Ideas, 70(4), 593-614. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Peronism and its perils. (2004). Economist, 371(8378), 7. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Sayre, H. (2010). Discovering the humanities. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.