Contemporary politics and fierce antagonisms – 07/28/2021 – Latinoamérica21

Jacques Rancière, French political philosopher, writes that politics exists because there is disagreement. For disagreement is constitutive of human and social life. And so the need for policy comes from there. Not to cancel disagreements, although this is also political, dictatorial politics, but to reach minimum arrangements that allow us to live in disagreement. In this sense, decades ago the electoral system was instituted and perfected as the best means of representing decisions in government, the product of relevant debates that concern us all.

The elections were therefore a battleground of ideas, positions and representations of social life. Political arena that boiled at the time of the elections so that once the heat had passed, with the Democratic winners and the losers, things returned to a level that would allow the daily progress. The exacerbated temperaments of electoral disputes have given way to personal, collective and sectoral concerns. Neither heavenly peace nor pax romana. Just keep on living and waiting for the next battle.


The politics of recent years have shown other characteristics: a fierce, dialectical and ideologically violent material and symbolic antagonism, which survives electoral competition. A social, political and even philosophical division – not necessarily in two – which survives the elections and, above all, intensifies after them. A social structure in which political positions remain in a state of confrontation beyond the electoral result. Fragmented societies without electoral politics generating the balm necessary to unify certain criteria and decisions concerning the policies to be followed.

It is necessary to clarify: the confrontational moods do not survive because of the electoral options that have just clashed, that is to say, the political parties that have come forward. Confrontations and antagonisms persist based on representations of political and social life, representations that the parties in electoral competition assumed more or less programmatically. Elections, in addition to winners and losers, do not dilute ideologically instituted social positions.

The last election in the United States is a paradigm of this. It is no longer the classic Democrats against competition. republicans. Maybe not even between Trump and Biden. It is a fierce ideological, cultural and symbolic battle between two ways of representing the values ​​of a correct human and social life in the context of contemporary globality. Absolutely opposed and irreconcilable views. Imaginaries engaged in a social institutionalization made up of totally opposed and mutually exclusive values. And this division is not diluted by the outcome of the election; on the contrary, perhaps it is exacerbated.


For the past fifteen years, the same scenario has been played out in Latin America between positions defined as populist and republican, made more complex today by the division between right-wing populism and left-wing populism. In Europe, between populism and philosophical-political liberalism. Or between nationalism and cultural cosmopolitanism. In some Asian countries there is an authoritarianism defined as necessary because it maintains traditions in the face of the dissolution of cultural values ​​and more westernized options. Not to mention theocratic political systems.

In contemporary Latin American society, this social polarization is clearly visible in recent political events. The recent Peruvian election can be seen as problematic, not only because of the close electoral equality, but also because it reflects a clear and irreconcilable division of the population between two antithetical projects for the future. The final decision of the Electoral Council, which recognizes the victory of Pedro Castillo, will hopefully exacerbate the confrontation within Peruvian society.

The Chilean Constituent Assembly, besides its heterogeneous composition, is clearly divided between those who want a structural reform of the model in force for 40 years and those who are ready to accept only cosmetic touches in the constitutional text inherited from Pinochetismo. .

The Colombian conflict is so divisive that political analysis predicts an upcoming electoral conflict in which Gustavo Petro’s potential victory will spell the end of the Uribismo. The same is true in Brazil, where Bolsonaro’s setbacks are directly proportional to Lula’s rise to power at the polls. The next midterm elections in Argentina have the same component: confrontation and a clear division of society into two almost exclusive options, at least in terms of social acceptance.


What seems to be fierce electoral disputes are so insofar as they represent very strong social divisions, violent at certain stages, irreconcilable, to the point of constituting the real vectors of political and electoral disputes.

Generally, electoral disputes in representative political systems lead to debates and confrontations that have the tone and duration of these moments. Today, the reverse seems to be happening: the argument and the confrontation are timeless. Elections are only very partial amalgamations of differences, anger and hatred.

Electoral policy no longer fulfills the democratic promise of being a catalyst of social impulses and, in its resolution, of generating avenues that generate visions of possible futures. Election politics is currently overcome by personal and social disagreements, rooted in vital conceptions of social life. A form of disagreement that goes beyond representative democracy. A structure of disagreement which disrupts even the democratic way of validating life in society. This form of democracy that Winston Churchill called “the least bad of all political systems” known to date.

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