Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dead presidents

Juan Forero at the Washington Post writes about the Latin American tendency to worship dead leaders, and how this can be viewed as an inability to "move forward" politically.  It is an unfortunately simplistic piece, focusing of course on Juan Perón, the cult of whom has been written about to death (no pun intended).

More problematic is the fact that he suggests this is a Latin America-specific phenomenon.

Some pundits say it’s nothing less than necrophilia, evident in everything from literature to public holidays to the symbolism used by governments across Spanish America.

But let's stop for a moment and think about the United States, where there is plenty of dead president fetishizing.  The Republican Party has elevated Ronald Reagan to cult status, while the Democratic Party has done the same for FDR (and just search on Amazon for the mountain of books published constantly on each one).  Near here, the Mecklenburg County Republican Party has what they call a "Lincoln Lunch."  Political parties use dead presidents for the purpose of generating a certain kind of idealized image, and that is not unique to Latin America.

True, we don't focus so much on the bodies or body parts of dead presidents, but that does happen around the world (Vladimir Lenin comes to mind).  But in the United States we built massive monuments to dead presidents, with millions of people visiting each year to be awed by their greatness.  We don't exhume dead presidents, we just carve their likenesses on mountains so we can stare at them.


pc 5:08 PM  

One of Oppenheimer's books is about that too, right? I don't agree with it either. It just seems to be one of those things everyone believes because it's been repeated so much. Your points are completely correct. Peron is a rather unusual example who doesn't have any real counterpart in other Latin American nations, but is, say, Lazaro Cardenas any more beloved than FDR? Does Bernardo O Higgins or Diego Portales loom larger than say Madison? Or Jefferson? I don't see it at all. This argument really has little foundation.

Richard Grabman 8:16 AM  

Better than, I suppose, the U.S. fixation on dead pop stars -- think of Velvet Elvi, and the endless Michael Jackson memorabilia.

The exhumation of Bolivar was not all that "necrophiliac" (as British writer Christopher Hitchens labeled it)— the causes of Bolivar's death have been a medical and historical mystery for years.

I sense that much of the Anglo-American "issues" with Latin American are rooted in historical anti-Catholicism: the veneration of saints (and their relics) when carried over to the political sphere is "icky" to the English-speakers. The display of the remains of Mexico's independence leaders last year, for example, came in for more than a little snark from Ango-American commentators.

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