In many ways Juan Domingo Perón is emblematic of South American politics. He is the perennial man on a white horse come to the nation’s rescue. This almost messianic yearning for a supreme leader is a constant strain running throughout the continent’s history. Perón is in a long line of leaders, who through force of personality and charisma, dominate the destiny of their nation through a style of leadership called "Personalismo."
This penchant for dictators, or “caudillos” as they are called in Spanish, arises from the historical and ideological underpinnings of South American independence. Although a chain of revolutions in the early nineteenth century swept these republics to independence from Spain, democratic reforms were never truly institutionalized. The leaders of South American independence were the caretakers of a native-born aristocracy called “criollos.” Their intent was to guarantee privilege, not to build democratic institutions which might threaten their own future well being. Tellingly, most of the constitutions of South America were modeled on the Napoleonic Code. They are thus the spiritual stepchildren of Napoleon’s own brand of Personalist politics.
Perón is also the model for the corporate-statist system, which he copied from Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. His regime was based on the supremacy of politics over economics, an egalitarian ideology, and a bureaucratic corporate state. He promised to enrich the urban working class by a massive redistribution of wealth and nationalization of the banks, railroads, telephones, and electric power, and by the expansion and intrusion of the public sector into all realms of the economy. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez continues this system today.
From a Divine Principle viewpoint, Peronism and its modern forms reflect the Four Fallen Natures:
- 1) Incitement to jealousy and hatred. This corresponds to the first fallen nature. Personalist leaders like Perón objectify the enemy, whether in the form of a minority group like the Jews, or a large superpower like the United States. They thus deny personal responsibility by focusing their energies on taking what they feel has been unjustly robbed.
- 2) Leaving one's proper position. Perón sought to concentrate power in his hands at the expense of others because he believed he had a calling that justified these actions. This form of leadership demands loyalty and blind obedience. In these circumstances the possibility of renewal and change are virtually nil, so that these forms of government eventually stagnate and fall.
- 3) Surrender of free will (reversal of dominion). This is the eventual result of leaving one’s proper position. In exchange for promises of unbridled prosperity, citizens are willing to place power in the hands of a few, or one. By striking this bargain they have lost their proper position and surrender all ability to control their destines, or that of their nation.
- 4) Multiplication of evil. Dictators who rule by hatred and fear eventually see these emotions multiplied until they are beyond their own control. Perón’s government, by denying the exercise of free expression in the marketplace of ideas, or in the financial marketplace, blocked the creation of civic institutions and a civic culture that allows, and in fact thrives, on citizen participation. Therefore, the growth of truly democratic institutions was paralyzed. The result became growing numbers of people disenfranchised from the system, and seeking redress to their grievances outside civilized norms. In the case of Perón, this inevitably led to the “dirty war” of the 1970s, which tore apart the social fabric of the nation.
Charismatic leaders like Perón present themselves as false messiahs whose promises shine bright for a time, but whose destructive social and economic policies lead to eventual ruin, often for themselves, but certainly for their nation.