A critique of the idea of populism and the urgencies with authoritarianisms: Some South American notes on progressivisms, development and alternatives

17 March 2018

What kind of alternatives are required to address the crisis facing the rural world, and beyond this, the entire planet?

Some uses of the term populism are examined, finding that the term is applied to very different political circumstances, even contradictory ones; most of the uses are derived from northern, western and academic theoretical frameworks not always useful for Latin American contexts; and lastly, it implies barriers to deal with alternatives. So, it is not an useful term. Therefore, in the qualification of "authoritarian populisms", what is really relevant is the identification of the "authoritarianism" condition.

Moving on to an overview of some authoritarian mechanisms in South America, especially on rural spaces, most of them imply the imposition of development strategies. This exercise also requires distinguishing between left and progressive regimes. Present day governments in countries like Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, etc., are examples of progressivisms that should not be confused with the left at their initial stages. Some outstanding elements in this dynamic are examined, under the concept of "varieties of development". I distinguish three different levels in the disputes on development: disputes I are within a “family” of varieties of development (e.g. capitalism); disputes II are between “families” (e.g. debates between socialist and capitalist development strategies); while there are the so called disputes III that present alternatives beyond any variety of development. An example of this are the Buen Vivir alternatives in rural settings. As dispute III alternatives implies a critique to all varieties of development, in other words, questioning modernity, authoritarianism can be rethought as one of the defensive mechanisms of modernity. Therefore, two types of alternatives are observed: (1) Those that attack the authoritarian component, but understand that an adjustment is possible within modernization. (2) Those that understand that it is necessary to go beyond modernity. The crisis facing the rural world, and beyond this, the entire planet, requires precisely that kind of alternatives that transcend modernity.

This paper was presented at the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) 2018 Conference: "Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World"