Those who still defend socialism in any of its sauces (acid, sour or bitter) argue that what has happened in Venezuela is a case of fascism. They try to preserve the purity of socialism, its original message, the tablets of the law given on the mountain because they argue that it is always possible to return to the roots and there are plenty of interpretations in any future and plausible opportunities in history.
Indeed, there is a purity in socialism which is the dogma of its unique thought. Those who think like this do not like mixtures or heterodoxies. Everything is resolved as a religious book adapted to all uses. So that if there is the revelation of the word, everything else is disposable and dispensable. We prefer to say fascism and not the predatory and confiscatory socialism that it has been because, in this way, we do not compromise Marx and the creators of it who thought with candor that we could be equal when nature has made us different. The only possible equality is before the law.
Some of these ideological advocates go so far as to sanctify the prophet of Das Kapital. They say that Marx was one thing and Marxists were another, arguing that the composer was misread by his performers. From that gibberish arose the even worse socialism of the 21st century. This fallacious argument of the return of faces makes it possible to excuse all the excesses, genocides, and follies of socialism because it is possible to go back to the starting point and start the chronometers again. Thus, Stalin gets off scot-free until the next Iósif Vissariónovich Dzhugashvili appears on the opposite sidewalk, this time with a message of conciliation and unity.
When Proudhon learned of Marx’s work, he immediately wrote to him that his theory would become a new instrument of domination. Let us return to the cognomen of fascist: it is very useful and invoked being the one with the worst reputation. Nobody likes to be a fascist, even though there are so many of them, and the worst thing is that they do not know it. Nevertheless, there are those who assume with all normality their rejection to democracy and advocate for the strong man, for the driver who unifies and puts order.
In Venezuela, the Vallenillas, father and son, composed the philosophical costumes for the Venezuelan dictatorships of Gómez and Marcos Evangelista. At least, the father had the talent of a good pen and that of a historian dedicated to research, although he contemplated that same history with very exclusive and rather bossy sociological eyes. His son, on the other hand, squandered his writing talent in malignant gossip and in the editorials of El Heraldo (which I recommend reading to understand how to metaphorize hatred with a style that ends up being suffocating and unbearable). But with all sincerity and equivocation they said that democracy was not a business for these equinoctial regions. And so they supported it by letting us know how inferior and anarchic we could be.
By the way, a rocky heir of the perezjimenismo was some original chavismo that made people squint with the idea that Hugo’s election would have some similarity with Marquitos’. I remember an interview that El Universal made many years ago to the beloved and remembered José Giacopini Zárraga (I was very fond of him, regardless of the fact that we were on different political sides. Which should lead us to believe that friendship should be at odds with politics).
At the end of the interview, Don José told the journalist: “Look, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me, thinking that I am right-wing. Because I am not right-wing, but extreme right-wing.” This sincerity is appreciated just like the sincerity of Dr. Domingo Alberto Rangel who, until his death, maintained that Venezuela urgently needed a government of the Soviets and that Chavism was the representation of neo-liberalism. But in these relativistic times, the sincerity of the case is not usually shown precisely because of the fear of social condemnation from both sides. Therefore, the enemies of freedom abound. One of them is the polarization of our time.
Polarization has created a state of permanent indignation, as my friend Armando Coll used to tell me. The polarized no longer exchange points of view, they argue in an aggressive tone and have lost all ability to listen to each other. The rules of the good listener and conversationalist are a staple in this age of the deaf. In Venezuela, we have lived it intensely during recent years and it seems that the phenomenon persists with all the consequences of disagreement that in the long run affect us all.
Identity groups have dug ditches and breaches: they care little about what does not relate to their parish passwords, namely gender, race or culture. In these chapels they exercise the tyranny of cancellation that is the postmodern mode of inquisition for the suspicious. But, on the other hand, there are the populists of the new right, dogmatic, closed-minded, anti-immigrant, anti-globalization, and nationalist. They form a membership as pervasive as the first, but they are Putinists, anti-vaxers, supremacists and, very soon, flat earthers. They are the new advocates of the whip, the iron fist, and irrational charisma (when asked what kind of ruler I would prefer for my country, I usually answer “a prudent administrator and the less charismatic, the better”).
The language of polarization attacks because it is encouraged by the extremes. On both sides, it seems to recognize only enmity and confrontation and there is no dialogue or understanding possible. Between Black Lives Matter and movements like the one sponsored by Steve Bannon, there is a great similarity: no one wants to know that there is another, but to impose themselves at all costs. Respect for the opinion of others, an indispensable condition for any democracy, has been lost. Is there another way among this shouting? Can we overcome the onomatopoeia? Yes, with freedom.
I have never held any position other than liberalism. In the United States, to call oneself a liberal means to be a progressive or one of the left. It is time, by the way, for the conception of progressive to be detached from identification with the left. That is why some have opted for the term libertarian, which I have never liked because the label is too heavy and gives me the impression that I belong to a book club that only buys copies of Ayn Rand.
The first defenders of workers’ rights in Europe were the conservative governments of Benjamin Disraeli in England, Otto von Bismarck in Germany and Napoleon III in France. Faced with the unbridled advance of Marxist hatred, an essential ingredient of the collectivist recipe, these governments, out of genuine belief, embraced social reformism and formulated the first social laws, precursors of the welfare state, which today is so stagnant and discouraging.
Governments that embrace liberalism tend to grant without a doubt the greatest possible happiness to their citizens, the balance of which results in an undoubted progressiveness of freedom and constant improvement. That it is the citizens who control the government and not the other way around, is the aspiration of us liberals. Something so simple but difficult.
The problem was never or will never be the market economy itself, but the absence of that which Adam Smith privileged so much in his work: ethics. Without ethics, there is no true competition. Liberalism defends freedom in all fields and is not restricted exclusively to the economic sphere. The history of mankind has passed through this axis of the defense of the three freedoms: religious, economic, and political. And the process has never ceased to be exhausted because the custody of freedom should be a daily fact that should involve the greatest number of people because a single stick does not make mountains.
Freedom, it must be said, is not an unlimited vivalapepismo, quite the contrary, but a harmonious and indissoluble set of rights and duties protected by the rule of law born of the general will. That is why there is so much fear of freedom because it forces people to be creative and innovative, and many prefer the comfort of being commanded.
I recently listened to an extraordinary interview on Jaime Bayly’s program with the Argentine liberal José Benegas. He referred to the futility of the conflict that is dazzling the polarized, between an apocryphal nationalist populism and those who do not understand the market. He said these opinions about Putin’s war against Ukraine, but it has derivations towards the rest of the planet with its populists of the right or left who are doing so much damage to humanity.
The only future for not failing, according to Benegas (and I subscribe to it without restrictions) is to meet the market. The market represents diversity like nothing else, so that those who bet on closed councils, without migrants and any other unwanted beings, or who withdraw into their identity cards and cancellations, are the enemies of the market and, therefore, of freedom. The triumph of the market represents the consecration of the individual idea of happiness, Benegas points out. Not to mention that the market and freedom are the only antidote to poverty.
One of the most tremendous phrases of the interview was when he said that the market (and its freedom, I insist) has managed to advance society much more than any gospel, in its search for productivity and the satisfaction of people’s desires. The discussion proposed by polarization and its agents in the pay of the bully or the bossy, is not only destructive but useless and trivial.
We must defeat illiberalism with more and more liberalism. Faced with the blackmail of despotism, faced with those who do not understand that globalization is an opportunity to improve ourselves in competition, it is imperative not to neglect freedom, the only one that ensures liberal democracy and the certainty of not falling in the face of any authoritarianism. We must learn that freedom transforms our lives into a moral argument for improvement.