The  Roots of Populism (2006)

Josino Moraes
Latin America Economic Researcher

The roots of populism in Latin America have to be searched in the crazy figure of   Auguste
Comte (1798-1857). His ideas, known as Comte's Positivism, were disseminated all over the
subcontinent in the second half of the 19th century. Do not confuse Comte's Positivism with
his contemporaneous Logical Positivism, also known as the Vienna's Circle, a quite  strange
philosophy. Neither attempt to confound it with  the American Positivist thoughts, a trend of
self-help psychology.

The victory of his ideas and his religious sect in the case of Brazil was so remarkable that
the Brazilian flag - 1889 -  carries the Positivist motto
Ordem e Progresso (Order and
Progress).  Comte's new religion of humanity did not prosper in Latin America, but his
political and economic ideas are still deeply crystallized here,  and added with some new hot
ingredients have transformed them into the current populism. Other strong Positivism ideas
were the republican dictatorship, hierarchy - "hierarchy is a natural gif" -, aversion to
free-market economics, etc.

Understanding positivism is a difficult task because its concepts are so obscure and  
contradictory. They refer to social engineering, sciences, social physics, etc, at the same
time as they attempt to create a new religion, a crazy variation of catholicism. Positivism is
probably one of the most mental imbroglios in the human history.

Auguste Comte was so insane that he attempted suicide by throwing himself from a bridge
over the Siena river in Paris ,and his most important works were written after 50 hours
without sleeping. As Ludwig von Mises said "Comte can be exculpated, as he was insane in
the full sense which pathology attaches to this term. But what about his followers?"   

Comte's positivism ideas spread out all over Latin America countries and it is the main
reason of the current Latin America tragedy. How could Chile, apparently and recently,
escape from this miserable fate is a mystery to be unveiled in the future. The only country
outside Latin America infected by these ideas was Italy and it is not a simple coincidence
that the birthplace of Mussolini's fascism was Italy, in 1922. Soon after,in 1933, Hitler took
the power in Germany, with some of those crazy ideas.

John Stuart Mill wrote that Comte's political philosophy aims at establishing " a despotism of
society over the individual, surpassing anything contemplated in the political ideal of the
most rigid disciplinarian among the ancient philosophers" The most concise thought about
Comte's ideas was explained by the Brazilian positivist Julio de Castilhos (1860-1903) who
stated that the success of a political party was due to "a chief, a  program and a discipline".

The current and extremely high oil prices signify an additional help for Colonel Chavez.
Besides, his rifle purchases  in the present level of war technology reminds me Benito
Mussolini's demential megalomania speech at the beginning of The Second War:"Italiani di
Italia e del mondo: abbiamo otto milioni di baionette; nessuno ci fermerà , la vittoria è
nostra" (Italians from all over the world: we have eight million bayonets; no one can hinder
us, the victory is ours).    

Of course, Positivist ideas gave origin to innumerable dictatorships in Latin America in the
past - Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, Rafael Trujillo in Dominique Republic, Getulio Vargas
in Brazil, Juan Domingo Peron in Argentina, etc. The case of Mexico  was masked with
elections and the dictatorship of a single political party, the Partido Revolucionario
Institucional (PRI). Traces of positivism are still alive, taking  for instance  the excessive
powers of the local presidencial powers that in fact legislate more than their congresses.
Recently, Nestor Kirchnert reached Argentina's record signing 67 decrees a year.

In the current "democratic" days, plenty of elections, basically paid  by taxes, the different
segments of political nomenklature have found a kind  of a tacit agreement: they can divide
their voracity for taxes among themselves in peace.