Thursday, 22 July 2021

Francis' Four Postulates From His Programmatic Encyclical "Evangelii Gaudium"


Fr Zed analyses Francis's Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, as an expression of Caudillismo, the 'strong man' philosophy of Latin dictators.

From Fr Z's Blog

At Rorate today there is a piece, the title of which called to mind something I’ve posted in the past.  The interesting part of the title… “Strong Communiqué of the Chartres Pilgrimage: “Clericalism-Caudillism never works well…”

Note “Caudillism”.  Caudillismo.

This is a reference to the Hispanic and particularly Argentinian phenomenon of the caudillo, or “strongman”, “warlord”. The quintessential caudillo being Argentina’s Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793– 1877).  Rivaling de Rosas was, of course Juan Peròn (+1974).  When Juan died his wife Isabel took over, a lieutenant ramped up what was called the “Dirty War” against political opponents, who were “disappeared” in large numbers.

The first encyclical issued by popes is widely consider to be “programmatic”.  You might recall that when Francis released his first encyclical Evangelii gaudium, there were in it four postulates

  • time is greater than space
  • unity prevails over conflict
  • realities are more important than ideas
  • the whole is greater than the part

In Juan Carlos Scannone’s ‘El papa Francisco y la teologia del pueblo’ (in Razón y Fe. 86) and in Tracey Rowland’s Catholic Theology (US HERE – UK HERE) we find the source of Francis’ postulates: a 1834 letter of the 19th c. Argentinian dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas sent to another Argentinian caudillo Facundo Quiroga (1788– 1835).

How might one in a swift and reductive way flesh out these postulates?  In a few words, what make’s Francis tick?

  • First, “wait them out”.
  • Second, “let there be chaos – eventually things will sort out, in a Hegelian way”.
  • Third, “lived experience trumps expressions of doctrine – eventually doctrine must adapt, in a Hegelian way, to lived experience.”
  • Fourth, “if there is a group that is not conforming to the larger group’s needs, reject them, because in a Rawlsian way the whole remains the whole even if you lop off a few limbs.”

Interwoven with caudillismo is personalismo, the practice of glorifying a single “strongman” while subordinating all other political interests to him.

I found an interesting summation of the connect of caudillismo and personalismo at American Diplomacy:


Personalismo, and its variant, caudillismo, are deeply rooted in Latin American, Spanish, and Portuguese history, and have dominated Latin American politics since the conquistadors (Cortez, Pissarro, etc.) and colonial rule. It was the entrenched political culture during the independence struggles with Bolívar, San Martín, O’Higgins, and others. Yet, the phenomenon is not unique to Latin America.

Elsewhere, personalismo is identified by “the cult of personality,” dictators, or autocrats (e.g. Stalin, Hitler and lesser examples like Mobutu, Qaddafi, and Sukarno). In ages past it was manifest in “the divine right of kings,” and in imperial rulers. Personalismo probably originated in prehistory, maybe as far back as the original “alpha-male.” But, in modern industrial democracy, it is a plague on society.

It elevates one individual, a caudillo (leader), to supreme leadership, often with demi-god status. His words and actions are accepted totally. Policies, programs and ideologies are created (PeronismoFidelismo, Sandinismo). In the personalismo culture, the glorified, charismatic leader turns institutions into personal tools of power. Any that resist are subverted or destroyed — except a few, kept as control mechanisms.

Besides neutered institutions, corruption is endemic, beginning with corruption of the law. The rule of law cannot exist without strong, independent political, judicial, and social institutions because the law is never self-implementing. It requires agents to make, interpret and execute it. In successful modern societies, separate civil institutions perform the three functions. Dictators, however, usurp all three functions. The corruption continues until the caudillo is above the law.

Caudillos come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. They are tactically smart, superficial thinkers, who borrow ideologies that reflect the temper of their times. Early in the 20th century, they adopted national-socialist, “right-of-center” ideologies (Peron, Trujillo, Somoza, Batista). With fascism discredited, later caudillos moved leftward and embraced Marxism (Castro, Ortega, Chavez, Morales; Pinochet is the exception). Caudillos practice populism and repression, no matter where on the spectrum they are. Most are initially elected, but as their popularity weakens, brute force predominates, until the next caudillo cycle. Peaceful transitions are possible, but unusual.

Believe it or not, a century ago Argentina was considered THE rising power of the hemisphere. But, personalismo has so dominated Argentine politics that institutions have never grown strong enough to stabilize and modernize the nation. “Peronismo” has been a populist political force in Argentina for 70 years; yet Peron has been dead for over 40 years. Successive Peronist leaders freely redefine Peronismo to suit their needs and the party dutifully follows.


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