What I found particularly interesting this week was this concept of ‘modernity’, and how it is defined and used not only in the context of Latin America, but also in general. ‘Modernity’ evokes images of progress. However, what is progress exactly? The very idea that there exists a heightened form of society to which we can attach the term ‘modern’ is, to me, contestable. I think it is very important to note that modernity is a posited concept with a constructed meaning, and further to decouple the concepts of ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’. Are such things as progress even quantifiable? And what value is attached to having ‘progressed’? If progress is conceptualised as moving towards something on a linear timeline, then when can a society be said to ‘regress’?
Modernisation theory tends towards Western economic ideals and policies, and as raised by critical economists such as Prebisch, this can therefore leave such factors as colonialism and exploitation out of the picture. But there also exists a normative element to modernisation that Dawson touched upon. In a western conception, modernisation is a process that is often accompanied by democratisation – a dual transition. However, it is interesting to see that Latin America exists as an outlier to this process (obviously due to its vastly differing social, historical, economic, and political foundations) yet difficult to explain why this remains the case.
Aside from this observation, I was interested to engage with Díaz’s discourse about limits on Presidential terms. My fixation on this part of the interview is most likely due to the fact that I am also currently undertaking a course on the politics of Latin America (POLI 332 – I highly recommend it!), and Latin America has a long and persistent authoritarian legacy. This legacy has led to a decay of a number of democratic processes, especially with regard to the reworking of constitutions in order to expand powers of the President. Therefore, I found Díaz’s insistence that a third term of presidency for Roosevelt was not something to be feared as a sort of confirmation of the authoritarian tendency (at least in Latin America) to pervert such democratic rules. Of course, it was only after the 22nd Amendment of the US Constitution that a limit on the number of terms that a President may hold office was of any constitutional significance, but it was still very interesting to contrast the attitudes towards breaking democratic traditions – which Latin American Presidents seem to do with much gusto and very radically.