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The Unnerving Example of Argentina

The first time I read Paul Johnson’s magnificent history of the twentieth century, Modern Times?  Back in the Eighties, when the book first came out–and things were going pretty well for this republic.  Re-reading portions of the book this evening–at a time, needless to say, when things aren’t going so well–I found myself struck by something to which I had earlier paid little attention:  Johnson’s account of Argentina.peron.jpg

By the turn of the twentieth century, Johnson explains, Argentina had become, with Australia, one of only two countries outside Europe and North America to achieve wealth on the level of a Great Britain, Germany or United States.  Then, as the result of a military coup, Juan Peron came to power.  A gifted demagogue, Peron ingratiated himself with workers using his oratorical skills–and by creating, and ceaselessly expanding, a welfare state.  In 1955, the military turned on him, sending Peron into exile.  But it was too late.

[H]is successors could never get back to the minimum government which had allowed Argentina to become wealthy.  Too many vested interests had been created:  a huge, parasiticial state, over-powerful unions, a vast army of public employees.  It is one of the dismal lessons of the twentieth century that, once a state is allowed to expand, it is almost impossible to contract it.

ObamaCare delenda est.

  1. Haakon Dahl

    I adore Paul Johnson, and I commend you Peter for selecting that paragraph out of thousands for placement here. 

    Illegitimi non carborundum

  2. Xennady

    The US ain’t Argentina.

    A tiny data point. I used to work at a unionized steel mill. I’ve never forgotten the story I heard in 1996 that employees at a certain part of the mill told union reps that they would cross picket lines if the union went on strike that year. I believed it- and it was told to me in such a way that I thought the union believed it also.

    There was no strike- that year or since.

    EDIT: My date is wrong. I realized that once I posted- and I went googling to fix that. Kind of off topic but I found out that the one union rep I recall who had a clue is now the union local president. 

    I’m thrilled about that, actually. I know he deserved that success, and I salute him for it, Argentina whatever.

  3. The Mugwump

    Be careful not to draw comparisons when contrasts are in order.  There’s a cultural component to this equation.  While the rest of Europe benefited from a religious reformation and a cultural renaissance, Spain dug in her heels against the forces of modernity.  The tragedy is that Spain exported a medieval mindset to the Americas.  El Patron, or El Jefe in the modern idiom, was expected to be a provider and protector of his people.  Peron fits the template.

    The difference is that the English and their spawn value self-sufficiency and individual rights.  It’s a thread stretching back to ancient Germanic law with a mention by no less than Tacitus. The United States of America is not Argentina.  We just don’t roll that way.  And if we ever get close, our streets will erupt in gunfire.  And the populace will be well-armed.  

    So say I.  

  4. genferei
    Peter Robinson ObamaCare delenda est.

    But Johnson doesn’t say it was nationalised healthcare that crippled Argentina (it clearly wasn’t), but

    a huge, parasiticial state, over-powerful unions, a vast army of public employees.

    There is an awful lot more that delenda est. Obamacare is a symptom, not the disease.

  5. Nealfred

    Peter I am reading this first thing in the morning (at least since I got online I have read some scripture). are you engaged in negative projection

  6. Nealfred

    I’m unsure of the reason for your post. Are we DOOMED to repeat history? How does that make you feel? Looks like your engaged in some unhealthy projection. Don’t you have some wood to chop?

  7. raycon and lindacon

    Argentina is merely a cautionary tale.  We ignore failures at far greater peril than ignoring success.  To not succeed means not moving forward.  To fail means to slip back towards the abyss.

    Argentina hasn’t quite fallen into the abyss, but they certainly are a pathetic image of their past.  Egypt…Persia…Greece…Rome…Spain…Britannia…  America??

    Will we some day be selling hot dogs to sightseers at the Washington Monument, as the lower classes in Greece sell Gyros at the Parthenon?

  8. katievs
    ~Paules: The difference is that the English and their spawn value self-sufficiency and individual rights.  It’s a thread stretching back to ancient Germanic law with a mention by no less than Tacitus. The United States of America is not Argentina.  We just don’t roll that way.  And if we ever get close, our streets will erupt in gunfire.  And the populace will be well-armed.  

    I agree with you, Paules, that the problem of paternalism is more serious and endemic in Latin America, and though I’m Catholic and have differences with you about the value of the Reformation, I do see the link you mention.

    If we succeed in turning things around it will be because of our tradition of cherishing independence.  But that tradition has been drastically and systematically undermined over the course of the last century.  The Tea Party is a heartening counter indication.

    We need, beside a massive roll back of government, a massive cultural revival, including a re-education about America.

  9. John H.

    I expect to be in Argentina in a couple of weeks and I am stoked. Even though I’ve been reading local websites and the place clearly retains the gloom I remember from decades ago. I always had the idea Argentines, unlike most peoples who just can’t stop making bad moves, forever console themselves by telling themselves they sure look European. That excuses everything!

  10. The King Prawn

     If we have a $14T economy with this much government no our backs just imagine what we would be like if we were truly free.

    Make welfare checks as hard to get as building permits.

  11. skipsul
    ~Paules: Be careful not to draw comparisons when contrasts are in order.  There’s a cultural component to this equation.  While the rest of Europe benefited from a religious reformation and a cultural renaissance, Spain dug in her heels against the forces of modernity.  The tragedy is that Spain exported a medieval mindset to the Americas.  El Patron, or El Jefe in the modern idiom, was expected to be a provider and protector of his people.  Peron fits the template.

    Actually this model goes back a long long way.  The Patron system is a Roman construct, prevalant today not just in Spain and former Spanish territories, but throughout much of the Mediterranean world and its offshoots.  This sort of Patronage (through several evolutions and grossly simplified for my point) became the Medieval Feudalism system.  It wasn’t a Protestant – Catholic split, but a deeper divergence between Romanized and non-Romanized Europe that set this up.

  12. skipsul
    katievs

    ~Paules: The difference is that the English and their spawn value self-sufficiency and individual rights.  It’s a thread stretching back to ancient Germanic law with a mention by no less than Tacitus. The United States of America is not Argentina.  We just don’t roll that way.  And if we ever get close, our streets will erupt in gunfire.  And the populace will be well-armed.  

    I agree with you, Paules, that the problem of paternalism is more serious and endemic in Latin America, and though I’m Catholic and have differences with you about the value of the Reformation, I do see the link you mention.

    See my earlier point.  This isn’t really a Catholic-Protestant cultural split at its root.  It is a far older split along Roman / Germanic fault lines.  You see that same economic / cultural fracture between say Austrian and Spanish Catholics.  

    The Patronage poison goes back a long long way.  It’s just a natural fit with socialism, which is why socialism found fertile soil in former Spanish colonies.

  13. tabula rasa

    Anything the great Paul Johnson has written should be read.  Modern Times is, I believe, his masterpiece.

    Younger conservatives should read it–it places the events of the day in context.  And the man writes like a dream.

    Peter:  Put him on Uncommon Knowledge even if you have to fly to London to do it, and while you’re there do one with Melanie Phillips, Theodore Dalrymple, and David Pryce-Jones.

  14. The Mugwump
    skipsul

    Actually this model goes back a long long way.  The Patron system is a Roman construct, prevalant today not just in Spain and former Spanish territories, but throughout much of the Mediterranean world and its offshoots.  This sort of Patronage (through several evolutions and grossly simplified for my point) became the Medieval Feudalism system.  It wasn’t a Protestant – Catholic split, but a deeper divergence between Romanized and non-Romanized Europe that set this up. · 16 minutes ago

    Exactly.  And Germanic custom would eventually evolve into what we call English Common Law.  Not a bad contribution from a bunch of hairy barbarians.  But don’t be too hard on the Latins.  They valued and preserved Greek philosophy even if they didn’t add much to it.  Combine the above with Judeo-Christian ethics and you have the three mighty pillars that provide the foundation for the western world, and the basis for modernity itself.  It’s ironic that the left has substituted “social justice” for the rule of law, opinion for logic, and neo-paganism for religion.  And this is progressive?  In my book they are reactionary in the extreme.         

  15. K T Cat

    YES YES YES!!! YOU GOT IT!

    Obama is a Juan Peron fascist.  BINGO!

    On my own blog, I had compared Obama to Mussolini until a commenter turned me on to Peron.  Once I read more about the guy it clicked.  Whereas Hitler used the power of the State to support the Volk, Peron used the power of the State to support the poor.

    The more you read about Peron and the arc of his story, the more you see Obama.

  16. K T Cat

    Peron’s political philosophy was built around Justicialism and was modeled heavily on Mussolini’s fascism.  Justicialism is a pretty good approximation of the intellectual core of Obama’s speeches and behaviors.

    I’ve spent some time exploring this topic and I’m convinced that Obama is a Peronist, or close enough to one to call him that.  As you say, Peter, the end results are disastrous.

  17. K T Cat

    Sorry to keep commenting, but you’ve hit the nail right on the head.  Here’s a bit more about Peronism from the man himself.

    In Congress a few days ago, some of our legislators have asked what Perónism is. Perónism is humanism in action; Perónism is a new political doctrine, which rejects all the ills of the politics of previous times; in the social sphere it is a theory which establishes a little equality among men, which grants them similar opportunities and assures them of a future so that in this land there may be no one who lacks what he needs for a living, even though it may be necessary that those who are wildly squandering what they possess may be deprived of the right to do so, for the benefit of those who have nothing at all.

    Patria Socialista!

  18. katievs
    skipsul

    See my earlier point.  This isn’t really a Catholic-Protestant cultural split at its root.  It is a far older split along Roman / Germanic fault lines.  You see that same economic / cultural fracture between say Austrian and Spanish Catholics.  

    The Patronage poison goes back a long long way.  It’s just a natural fit with socialism, which is why socialism found fertile soil in former Spanish colonies. · 1 hour ago

    I don’t know about that.  I think a strong case can be made for a link between the stress on freedom of conscience and self-government and the Protestant Reformation.

    Being Catholic, I wish Luther and the other reformers had been more like St. Francis.  I wish they had fought for reform from within, rather than splintering Christendom as they disastrously did.  But on conscience and self-government, they were right, as Vatican II confirms.  

  19. Haakon Dahl
    genferei

    Peter Robinson ObamaCare delenda est.

    But Johnson doesn’t say it was nationalised healthcare that crippled Argentina (it clearly wasn’t), but

    a huge, parasiticial state, over-powerful unions, a vast army of public employees.

    There is an awful lot more that delenda est. Obamacare is a symptom, not the disease. · 5 hours ago

    ObamaCare is not only the precedent for entrenching the above machinery, it actually accomplishes a fair bit of it.  ObamaCare is not a health care problem–it’s the Reichstag fire.

  20. Adam Freedman
    C

    Peter – thanks for posting. I used to live in Argentina, where I was an editor of the Buenos Aires Herald, evidence of the country’s past glory are everywhere.  Argentina’s constitution (adopted mid-19th century) was modeled very closely on the US constitution.  In 1897, however, the Argentine Supreme Court basically eliminated the concept of federalism, holding that the equivalent of the “general welfare” clause empowered the central government to legislate on the internal affairs of the provinces.  

    Yes, there are *huge* differences between Argentine and US culture, but those differences do not ensure that we won’t go down the same road.  After all, the US Supreme Court “caught up” to the Argentine Court in the 1940s, turning federalism into a dead letter in cases such as Wickard and Helvering.  Now in 2012, it is still considered an uphill battle to restore federalism.  Yes, Argentina has fallen victim to messianic leaders (Peron – who came back in the 1970s for yet another term in office; and more recently Sr. and Sra. Kirchner); but then again, we elected “the One.

    Peter’s right: it is unnerving.

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