What I found particularly interesting this week was Jon’s discussion of the social contract, and how, in the face of such a fragmented and almost lawless society (especially in the countryside and remote outposts), such a concept that we take for granted in the Western world may be rendered obsolete and unfavourable in comparison to other modes of protection, such as caudillos.
According to Hobbes in Leviathan, the state of man nature is so fearsome and undesirable, that man will accept significant burdens on his freedom in the form of a sovereign in order to escape this state of nature; nature is a “warre… of every man against every man.” It is the very existence of a higher authority that keeps this war at bay. The perversion of this social contract by Rosas and his Mazorcas had ultimately led to a recreation of and reversion to this state of nature. After reading Echeverría’s short story, I could not help but draw similarities between The Slaughterhouse and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, both works drawing upon the central idea in Hobbes’ Leviathan that, in the absence of authority (i.e. in anarchy), savagery, cruelty, and chaos underpin social behaviour. Both authors also use vivid and visceral imagery to depict the depths of mankind in the state of nature, as well as the dangers of mob mentality (through Echeverría’s use of disembodied voices to create cacophony and chaos) and the almost irreversible impacts it can have on order and the rule of law.
These ideas echo a documentary that I watched a few years ago when undertaking a class called The Sociology of Third World Development. The documentary primarily dealt with the issue of ongoing and inextinguishable gang violence in Brazil, and when asked for the rationale for joining such violent organisations, many incarcerated gang members cited disenfranchisement and the feeling of living outside the protection of the law as the most attractive pull-factor of these gangs. (I cannot recall the name at this point in time, but when I do I will post it in the comments! It is a very interesting watch!) Additionally, disenfranchisement has always been (and still is) a significant concern for much of Latin America, and serves as potent kindling for populist movements and the election of populist candidates to positions of power. Perhaps it can be argued that these patterns of political mobilisation are well-established in Latin American consciousness – and just as the population have been conditioned by tradition to push back against feelings of disenfranchisement, so too have leaders learnt to read such trends and exploit them for political power.
But more than this tradition, what is it about Latin America that makes it so hard to govern? Surely it cannot simply be the result of a patchwork of identities. Why is it so that this cycle of disenfranchisement leading to momentum for populist movements seems to persist so vehemently in the region? And why on such a widespread scale?