On Vargas Llosa and Putrid Liberalism

By Alvaro Garcia Linera

All things age: living organisms, people, and ideas. It is the tough reality of the second law of thermodynamics. But there are dignified ways to do it, staying true to the principles at which the zenith of one’s existence was reached, aware of the mistakes, and without regrets or last-minute switching of sides. But there are existences that are corrupted by choice, that degenerate by decision. They are the beings that wallow in their own rotten soul, dragging behind them the pestilences of a lost destiny.

This is the pathetic future of, what is now, the politician Vargas Llosa; not of the literary genius who entered the canon of universal literature on his own merits with “The city and the dogs” or “Conversation in the cathedral”. His current political prose is tacky, full of ideological monstrosities that tarnish the neatness of the conservative ideals that he once professed. It is as if there is a deliberate effort to debase the person who won the Nobel Prize and leave behind a decadent politician troubled by barbarous passions.

Vargas Llosa swallows his once substantial democratic convictions to support, without any decorum, the heiress of the Fujimori regime that closed the Congress of the Republic, suspended the judiciary, ordered the military assault on Peruvian media, and promoted death squads with dozens of massacres to his name. That speaks to a perverted drama in which a laid-back liberal mutates into an ardent neo-fascist.

And it is not a subject of weak temperament or ephemeral convictions that perhaps, in this case, have contributed to the elegance of his prose. In reality, Vargas Llosa is an example, an advocate, of the emotional displacement of this period.

He endorses the gross maneuvers of the defeated Keiko Fujimori who denounces electoral “fraud” and calls for the annulment of thousands of votes from indigenous communities and maintains a curious silence in the face of the manifesto of former military leaders who call on the Armed Forces to ignore the victory of Pedro Castillo. He is therefore ideologically related to Trump, who instigated his followers to violently take over the United States Congress in January 2021; or with the presidential candidate Carlos Mesa who, upon learning of his defeat in November 2019 against Evo Morales, summoned his followers to set fire to Bolivia’s electoral courts, including those that held voters ballots. These are attitudes not very different from that of Bolsonaro, who reproaches the Brazilian dictatorships (1964-1985) for only having tortured rather than killed numerous leftists; or to the indignity of Piñera, crumpling up his little national flag, to show Trump that his colors and star would fit in a corner of the American flag.

They are symptoms of the decline of political liberalism that, in its refusal to assume with dignity the dying light of its existence, prefers to exhibit the miseries of its retreat. Before, he could boast of his democratic affiliation, his cultural tolerance, and his sympathy for the poor. He could because regardless of the victorious political party, the rich had always triumphed, all the “possible worlds” were designed for them.

Now, the planet has been plunged into an uncertain destiny. Ruling elites are divided on how to get out of the economic and environmental quagmire they have caused, the poor no longer blame themselves for their poverty, the neoliberal utopia is fading, and the free market priests no longer have parishioners at their feet to dupe with future redemptions in exchange for current complacencies.

It is the time of decline for the consensus around globalization. Those from above do not have a shared perspective of where to go; those below do not trust the old course that those above used to point out for them. All live in a state of collective stupor, all live with the absence of a feasible future that triggers, among the global humiliated, outbreaks of anguish, discomfort, anger, and revolt. Occupy Wall Street, the movement of the Indignados in Spain, the “yellow vests” of France, the popular uprisings in Chile, Peru, and Colombia, the waves of Latin American progressivism, are the symptoms of a convulsive era of unleashed anxieties that is just beginning. None of the nonconformists know with certainty where to go, although they know, with the clarity of the commoner and of the street, what they can no longer bear. It is the time of a present that is failing and of a future that neither arrives nor announces its existence. The old dominant beliefs are fissured, they retreat to give way to radical disbelief first, and then to the search for some new certainty to take root. Hopes.

It is a creative chaos that erodes the old moral tolerances between those “above” and those “below”, it pushes the neoliberal consensus that used to rule society into retreat. The street and the vote, no longer the media or the governments, are now the spaces and the grammar with which the new popular mood will be written. Democracy is revitalized from below, but paradoxically because of this, it has become a dangerous environment for neoliberal ideologues who were democrats as long as the vote did not put the privatization and free-market consensus at risk. But now that the street and the vote challenge the validity of this unique destiny, democracy is presented as a hindrance and even a danger to the validity of twilight neoliberalism.

The claims of electoral fraud that are spreading throughout the Americas, and which will surely be present soon in Europe, are not only the howl of the defeated. They are the desperate slogan of the now neoliberal minorities, to systematically attack the democratic institutions and the legitimacy of voting as a way of electing rulers. The coup d’etat tends to be installed as a feasible option in the conservative political repertoire. And it does all this riding an enraged language that crushes in its gallop any respect for tolerance and pluralism. They flaunt racial supremacism against indigenous people and migrants alike. They despise the nonconformity of the people, they label them as “wild hordes”, “ignorants” “foreigners” or “terrorists”. And in a laughable anachronism, they dust off old anti-communist phraseology to cover up the violent disciplining of the poor, women, and leftists. Neoliberalism is degenerating into a complex neo-fascism.

We are facing the decomposition of political neoliberalism that, in its phase of decline and loss of hegemony, exacerbates all its violent charge and is willing to make a pact with the devil, with all the dark, racist, and anti-democratic forces, to defend an already failed project. The universalist consensus that neoliberalism boasted of in the 1990s has given rise to the feared hatred of an outlet ideology. And, as the last Vargas Llosa shows, the narration of this cultural rot is a literary mess lacking the epic of worthy defeats.

This piece originally appeared in El Diario AR. Translated by Kawsachun News.

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