Saturday, March 17, 2007

Chavez’s Vision: Latin America’s Coming Nightmare

Tibor R. Machan

In a recent Op Ed for The New York Times, Argentine novelist Luisa Valenzuela, who admits to having no special understanding of politics and is identified as a fiction writer in the "magical realist" tradition, gives a glowing send off to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez as a great "pan-American hope." In the process Valenzuela engages in a good measure of wishful thinking and pays no attention to the nature of the political vision Chavez is peddling in Latin America. Perhaps a word of warning from someone who has experienced the reality of that vision would be in order.

To start with, Valenzuela does not bother at all to discuss Chavez’s out and out socialist agenda—such as the nationalization of oil companies (a polite word for theft or expropriation), abolition of private property rights, and silencing of philosophical and political opposition, etc. Here is, at some length, her way of embracing this demagogue’s role in the region:

"Unlike the homogenous rallies of Peronist times, the 30,000 people in this crowd [who greeted Chavez with enthusiasm] came from very diverse backgrounds. In Argentina, the economic crisis of December 2001 significantly altered not only our social dynamic but our semantics. We no longer talk about the "pueblo" — which means town or village as well as people. Now we talk about the "gente," which also means people, but with a different nuance, derived as it is from the Latin gens meaning race, clan or breed.

"The new vocabulary transcends distinctions of class: the middle classes have now merged with the poor to demand their rights. Hence many students and professionals were in attendance that day, not necessarily attracted by the figure of President Chávez himself so much as by the anti-imperialist opportunity he symbolized. We Argentines, who once imagined ourselves more sophisticated, or more European, than the citizens of neighboring states, were brought closer to the rest of the continent by our impoverishment, and we find ourselves more open to the idea of pan-Latin American solidarity."

Notice, right away, the characteristic approach whereby 30 thousand Argentines become "we Argentines." Forget about the other several million and never mind that of the 30 thousand a goodly number were arguably (a) fictional, with the numbers embellished by Chavez supporters, and (b) simply curious or out for a public bash, with no serious commitment to Chavez’s agenda. (Anyone who has Argentinean friends and acquaintances could confirm this.)

This approach to dealing with public affairs is significant because it reveals the central trouble with socialism and the vision of communism that is often used to excuse its currently necessary harsh measures: it is a collectivist political ideal, one that logically produces a dictatorship. Even the innocent sounding doctrine of democracy, when it isn’t limited by constitutional provisions for the protection of individual rights, runs this risk but with socialism—or its current American equivalent, communitarianism—the idea is impossible to disguise except for the wishful thinkers among us: people who talk of "we" this and "we" that ultimately mean, whether they admit it or not, "those who agree with me." The rest just has to accept, like it or not, that they are going to be forced into the tribe, the big "we."

Valenzuela is actually not far from being up front about this when she announces, "Now we talk about the ‘gente,’ which also means people, but with a different nuance, derived as it is from the Latin gens meaning race, clan or breed." This pretty much confesses to tribal thinking, whereby the clan is taken to be some homogenous albeit somewhat diverse whole in which individual identities and differences, however, are abolished in favor of what some powerful figures regard as group traits that are supposedly superior to anything an individual might have in mind.

It is, of course, quite silly for Valenzuela to speak of rights in her column, when she says "the middle classes have now merged with the poor to demand their rights." What rights? Demand them from whom? Indeed, the stress of classes, clans, breed, and such brings to mind the most destructive trends in human social thought, whereby human beings are divided into warring groups, the trends that have given us the age old Balkan and Middle Eastern wars.

Of course, while there is plenty of oil flowing, the tribes can get along to some degree—although judging by the Middle East, even that’s doubtful—since the tragedy of the commons can be disguised when free goods are available a plenty. But once the oil is gone, look out! The solidarity Valenzuela holds out for Latin-America under this socialist vision Chavez is peddling will come to a screeching and tragic end.

I wonder how much responsibility the likes of Valenzuela will take for the result. Will they admit to having produced a vision that amounts to no more than the dream Karl Marx has spawned around the world and which ultimately led to the death of over a 100 million human beings East and West?

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