Quico says: It’s a real shame that Enrique Krauze’s dissection of the Chávez Experiment – El Poder y El Delirio – is not yet available in English. Only bits and bobs of it, such as this excerpt in The New Republic, are available if you don’t read Spanish. With a sense of intellectual seriousness that’s all too rare in Venezuela’s contemporary scene, Krauze penetrates levels of chavismo’s implicit understanding of state legitimacy that chavistas themselves are not at all aware of. And he does that on his way to unveiling the ultimate betrayal the “bolivarian” movement has perpetrated: re-instating the Spanish-monarchical model of state power that Bolívar fought his entire life against, and having the gall to do so in the name of El Libertador.
In Krauze’s retelling, when you set aside the Bolívar hero-worship, what chavismo has instantiated looks like nothing so much as neothomist monarchy. For the Neo-Scholastics, state power was made legitimate through the mystical union of the king and his people. They attained their happiness through him, and he embodied in his regal person all of their rights and aspirations.
Citing Richard M. Morse and Julio Hubbard, Krauze notes the way the Spanish monarch’s subjects were powerful – they controlled the richest, most expansive empire the world had ever seen – but they were not free. Their freedom had been transferred to Him. It was He who, through his “Real Gana” (his “Royal Will”):
For the Spanish monarchs, public assets were their private property which they disposed of at their discretion, according to their “real saber y entender.” Chávez follows them step by step. He is the private proprietor of his public office and wishes to remain so for eternity. In that sense he is a living example (even more than the Mexicans, even at their most extreme) of patrimonialism. Chávez is not on the Forbes list, but if we get over the small detail that is the fact Venezuela’s wealth is not notarized in his name (nor does it need to be, it belongs to “the people”), we see that Chávez is one of the richest men in the world. When Chávez expelled PDVSA’s 20,000 employees, he perpetrated the biggest privatization in history: PDVSA is now his property. That’s why – without legal or institutional counterweights, nor even public information – he can do with it whatever occurs to his Royal Will.
What Krauze grasps clearly is that, much as in the neo-Scholastic state Bolívar fought against, the chavista state blurs the dividing line between the State’s will and the Ruler’s out of existence. To question the Monarch is treachery against the State and an attack upon the People, because State, Monarch and People are a mystical whole.
This was the understanding of legitimacy that sustained Ferdinand VII when Bolívar declared the War onto Death on his followers in the name of republican liberty. And this neothomist view of the mystical unity of monarch and people is, in Krauze’s telling, the closest historial match to the understanding of the ruler’s role we have for chavismo.
It really is an excellent book, and it really really deserves to be made available in English translation.
Mr. Krauze, if you read this, consider this post my bid for the job. Send me an email. I’ll work nights and weekends if that’s what it takes.
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