Ethics & International Affairs Volume 23.1 (Spring 2009): Essay: Populism and Democracy in Latin America [Excerpt]

Mar 26, 2009

Paraphrasing Karl Marx, a specter is haunting Latin America—the specter of "populism." This label has been attached to a wave of radical left leaders in the region, including Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. The term is normatively charged. The Mexican politician and scholar Jorge Castañeda contrasts radical populist leaders (such as Chávez and Morales), whom he characterizes as less convinced of the intrinsic value of democracy and human rights, with moderate left-wingers (such as Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, and Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay), who embrace representative democracy and respect human rights.1

This division of the Latin American left between "good" social democrats and "bad" populists is open to challenge. But Castañeda is right to draw attention to the fact that democracy and populism are engaging with similar challenges of political order. Moreover, it is important to recognize that democracy and populism also have compatible normative grounds, both seeking to enact the sovereign rule of the people. Nevertheless, democrats and populists diverge over how to respond to such challenges as how to manage majority-minority relations, safeguard individual rights, and establish a just and enduring political order. The coexistence of these two political logics within Latin American societies generates significant political fault lines, reflective of the incomplete nature of democratic order in the region.


NOTES

1 Jorge Castañeda, "Is Evo Morales an Indigenous Che?" New Perspectives Quarterly 23, no. 2 (2006), p. 59.

To read or purchase this article, click here.

You may also like

JAN 4, 2022 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 35.4 (Winter 2021)

The issue features a book symposium organized by Michael Blake on Anna Stilz's "Territorial Sovereignty," with contributions from Adom Getachew; Christopher Heath Wellman; and Michael ...

OCT 29, 2021 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 35.3 (Fall 2021)

The highlight of this issue is a book symposium organized by Peter Balint on Ned Dobos’s "Ethics, Security, and the War Machine," featuring contributions ...

JAN 13, 2022 Podcast

The Doorstep: Opportunities for New Narratives in Foreign Policy, with Judah Grunstein

Judah Grunstein, editor-in-chief of "World Politics Review," returns to "The Doorstep" to discuss 2022 trends in U.S. global engagement with co-hosts Nick Gvosdev and Tatiana ...