This week, I was able to see the effect that technology had to move the people into the forefront of the political game. As it has been noted multiple times thus far in this course, one of the things that made Latin American so hard to govern, even back to the earliest colonial days, was the difficulty in maintaining communication across its vastness. It was because of this that there became centres of concentrated powers in the form of caudillos, which ultimately led to the significant fragmentation of society.
However, with the advancement of technology came increased channels of communication, allowing leaders like Vargas, Cárdenas, and the Peróns into the homes (and often the hearts) of the people. The ability of radio to create a national consciousness was unprecedented. It is interesting to see how opportunistic leaders learned to use and dominate the medium in order to have their voice heard the loudest – and how in alienating their opponents from airspace, they were able to create a one-sided narrative that the people could follow and rally behind. In my mind, this parallels the Nazi’s use of the Volksempfänger to spread their propaganda outside the borders of the Reich – contributing to the personality cult of Hitler.
This brings me to my next point about populism and its dangers. I was surprised that Dawson skirted around any definitive way to identify a populist leader (or even define populism) as to me, this term is almost synonymous with Latin American politics. Its roots run deep in Latin American political traditions, and its various historical and current rises indicate that, for some reason or another, populist leaders have a vast and intense appeal to the people. Populism can be a great danger to liberal democracies as, among other things, the highly personalistic leadership styles of ‘true’ populists such as Perón and Chavez allow for a personality cult to grip the nation, further distancing people from democracy and leaving them vulnerable to imagined/curated narratives. Populists also tend to be anti-establishment, and in a lot of cases (e.g. Chavez) this has led to a rejection or weakening of democratic institutions such as the judiciary. Further, populism can be characterised as a type of groupthink, which is never a good thing (à la Bay of Pigs). I could sit here for hours and list out all the dangers of populism, however, I will save the effort and instead conclude that just as caudillismo can be seen as a long-standing legacy that has razed the democratic foundations of Latin America, I would argue that so too can populism.
Populism is not limited to Latin America, however. The world seems to have taken a populist turn, with the election of populist leaders such as Trump in the US, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Modi in India, Duterte in the Philippines, Netanyahu in Israel, Ergodan in Turkey, and many more. It is intriguing and a little daunting to think about the implications of these populist leaders in status quo nations for the current of international politics.
2 Responses to Week Ten: Power to the People
I agree with each of your arguments about populism. Still, I think Dawson did not cite any ways of identifying a populist leader because populism doesn’t have a universal definition, and there are many discordances about what makes a leader populist. For example, as a Brazilian, I wouldn’t say Bolsonaro is necessarily a populist, although he appropriated many strategies of populism to get elected. I think he is far too stupid to pull that off, but that’s it’s just considering my view on populism. It’s a tricky concept.
Good Job 🙂
The Volksempfänger is a great example of how radios were kind of “weaponized” in the early years of the 20th century by many political movements. It connects nicely with our discussions surrounding technology and its manipulation in Latin America during the 1920s/1950s. Love that you make connections between Latin American history and that of other countries! It really adds valuable perspective and insight.