Pablo Stefanoni, Argentine Historian: "The Left Today Is Afraid Of Being Accused Of Utopianism"

Pablo Stefanoni was an economics student in the 90s, when he met Javier Milei. At the time, few would have imagined that almost three decades later Javier would be the star deputy of the extreme right in Argentina. Milei, an economist with no political experience, was the novelty in the last Argentine legislative elections, after obtaining third place in the city of Buenos Aires.

Already in those days, Milei wore her hair “combed by the invisible hand of the market”, as the elected deputy likes to say, but he was not yet a fan of Austrian economics but a conventional neoclassical. “If Milei built a character, she did it early. It has nothing to do with the leap into politics,” says Argentine journalist and doctor in History, Pablo Stefanonjajajai.

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Stefanoni, author of the book ¿The rebellion turned to the right?, published in Spain by the Clave Intellectual and Siglo XXI publishing house, analyzes how declared anti-progressism and political incorrectness, in the hands of the new political actors of the extreme right, manage to create a new common sense and push public debate one step further towards the right.

How do you analyze that the candidate of the extreme right in Chile, José Antonio KastDid you get first place on Sunday?

Kast’s votes came from the north’s fear of migration, from the south to the Mapuche conflict and from the center to insecurity in a broad sense. Kast is the product of a campaign that appealed to the discourse of order but also to transgression. His slogan was “dare.” And the denomination of his followers, “daring”. This shows how someone can transform Pinochetism into something transgressive starting from the anti-progressive rebellion. To a large extent, Kast managed to demonize and position himself well for the second round. We will see how Gabriel Boric reacts after the blow that meant finishing second. It’s going to be a hard-fought choice.

How do you define Kast’s speech?

His speech focuses on the idea of ​​order. Which does not mean that he will get order if he wins, because the scenario is possibly quite convulsive. It seems to me that in Chile, profound changes also bring uncertainty and those expectations of change coexist with demands for order and certainty.

But at the same time, Kast represents an unknown right that, unlike Sebastián Piñera’s traditional center-right, we do not know what he will do once in government …

The paradox is that, which could possibly generate much more political upheaval than order if it wins. It is a demand for order from a part of the population that feels that all this that started well in 2019 can generate too much chaos. He says that Chile did not wake up but is living a nightmare. And also, a second element is the crisis of the center-right. Just as the crisis of the center-left gave rise to the candidate of the left, Gabriel Boric, the crisis of the center-right, which is very deep, leads to Kast eating his electorate and much of the leadership. Somehow Kast is to the center-right what Boric is to the center-left.

Did the crisis in the center provoke the emergence of the extremes?

Yes, the crisis of the center-right has given rise to the growth of the extreme right. And also, somehow Gabriel Boric emerges from the crisis of the transition. Both Boric and Kast are expressions of the political crisis. The situation cannot be explained without the “social blowout” of 2019 and the consequent Constitutional Convention.

Argentina seemed the exception to the advance of the extreme right. However, in the last legislative elections they got a good result, why?

The fact that there is a force to the right of Juntos por el Cambio, of former President Mauricio Macri, as is the case of Javier Milei and José Luis Espert, has to do with the exhaustion in traditional politics due to the complicated economic situation that the country lives. The “anti-systemic” candidates, who question traditional politics and express a transversal disagreement, made a good choice because they took advantage of that disenchantment. As it happened in Spain with Vox that there was a parallel space, which was located to the right of the traditional conservative force. In Argentina there is also a certain space, it is not a huge space, but it exists. Macri himself realized that and made his speech right.

The concept of ‘caste’ was not usual in Argentina until Milei arrived, did they take it from Spain?

Santiago Oría, Javier Milei’s campaign advisor, has publicly said that they took the anti-caste speech of Podemos. These new rights or alternative rights, which can go from Trump to Bolsonaro via Vox, in this case took a “libertarian” form: Javier Milei defines himself as an ‘anarcho-capitalist’. That is why Milei, his political culture, does not fit so well in the extreme right, although he takes some of the Trumpian rhetoric without digesting well.

If it is not extreme right, how would you define it?

I think we have to frame it in what the United States calls the paliolibertarianism. This is a type of libertarianism that turned to the extreme right, which is referenced in Murray Rothbard, who is the one who established the bridges between classical libertarianism and reactionary right. It is interesting because it is still a tension when Milei says “I am an anarcho-capitalist”, there is a disruptive streak against forces like Kast or Vox, although later they all get together in events like the Madrid Charter.

Do you think that this radical right makes progressivism uncomfortable?

It may be, because now she is not facing the neo-conservative discourse of the 90s, but rather she is facing something that is not what she was used to having. Now one comes, says “I am from the right and I am against social justice and equality.”

In Argentina there was no one who said “social justice is bullshit” and defended capitalism with heroic tones like Ayn Rand in his Atlas rebellion. These rights play with discursive forms that misplace. And the left became theoretically lazy, repeating very generic Keynesian formulas or critical of inequality, but most of its followers hardly read or discuss economics anymore.

In line with what you propose in your book, did rebellion cease to be from the left?

I think that these sectors, in a certain way, recover the idea of ​​political incorrectness that at some point was on the left. And they say there is a kind of dictatorship of progressive political correctness. When I say that rebellion turned to the right, it is important to say that rebellion is not the best way to govern. At times, these rights when they come to power, as in the case of Bolsonaro in Brazil or Trump in the United States, seem to govern more than with conservative policies, with quite unpredictable positions. In fact, Trump dedicated himself to eroding the entire institutional framework of his country, to question all the unwritten pacts and even the electoral system.

What does the extreme right take from the left?

It seems to me that there are a series of topics that somehow dispute the flags of the left, especially in the idea of ​​the ‘anti-system’. The traditional left will say that they are not truly anti-system because the system is something else. But the truth is that they manage to put together that discussion about the system and candidates like these appear outside of it.

How ‘anti-system’ is this type of candidacy?

They play a little outside, a little inside. And it is the problem of all these candidates who present themselves as outsiders but they end up creating links with the more traditional right. It seems to me that there is a type of right wing that is changing the axes of public conversation, of the way of doing politics, and in that I believe that the different figures that are emerging in the world do have a lot in common.

Talking about them in the media, does it end up helping their growth?

That is relative. Sometimes there is the idea that “we”, as progressives, are the ones who give press to these candidates for talking about them. And in truth many times they do not need the media, their growth goes the other way. For example, in Latin America evangelicals never had a place in mainstream media and they have not stopped growing for 20 years. Sometimes there is too much pride in the idea of ​​giving them press, I think the point is to try to understand what these rights are like, what kind of nonconformity they express and why they sometimes express them better than progressivism.

Is the most revolutionary thing the left can do is guarantee rights or is there room for a moving agenda?

It seems more rational to defend what has been achieved. Especially since the logic that “everything is going to get worse” makes the idea of ​​the future clearly negative and even dystopian. Today the left is afraid of being accused of being utopian. Undoubtedly, the crisis of the revolutionary left and the reformist left opens space for the extreme right, but sometimes it is forgotten, also the crisis of the center-right that with the crisis of globalization also faces identity problems.

How should the left respond to this?

The left has to construct non-catastrophic images of the future. Theoretically rearm. It is not easy, it requires a theoretical and political interpretative rearmament that will take time, but it is necessary to reconnect with the nonconformity of the present. The risk of defending the status quo is that there are many people who are quite pissed off with the present. And they are not all flat-earthers.

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