Argentina – the transvaluation of values

Image: Regina Pivetta


It is necessary to disarm the rhetorical manipulations in which the extreme right's operations of ideological transfiguration are linked

Chromatic transfiguration

When the Ministry of the Interior ratified the results of the primary election[I] August 2023 in front of television cameras, digital platforms turned into quicksand and discussion forums became a swarm of comments discussing the inconceivable results of the elections throughout Argentina until late at night.

That night, opinion polls launched live by streamers they confirmed on the networks, once again, what the official numbers showed in the traditional media. There was no information or political authority that could make people believe what could not yet be believed. In fact, the logical relationship between seeing and believing had already been completely distorted throughout the electoral campaign.

Unlike the presidential campaigns of Carlos Menem in 1989 or Mauricio Macri in 2015, the radicalized version of local neoliberalism had not failed to express in words everything it thinks and promises to accomplish once in government: destroying the elements of state institutions, employ police repressive forces on the streets, review the trials of genocidaires from the last civic-military dictatorship. Effectively, the emperor had stripped himself naked. “Not being able to believe” then meant not only the “surprise” faced with the evidence of an unexpected event, but also the crisis of belief on the part of cynical individuals who, as Slavoj Zizek formulated many years ago, “know”, “and even That’s how they continue to do it.”[ii]

As it was quickly possible to observe on the electoral maps, a violet wave had spread across the entire national territory. But this time it wasn't about the violet wave that in Argentina is identified with feminism. The color that was now expanding across the territory was no longer that of the popular cry “Not one less”, which since 2015 has set the tone for the massive mobilizations against sexist violence.

Map of primary election results (PASO) in Argentina in 2023 by provinces

This time, the color violet had been adopted as an element of identification of the party alliance “A Liberdade Avança”, headed by the duo Javier Milei and Victoria Villarruel. The expansion of this wave did not represent, therefore, the popularization of the set of demands led by the feminist collective, but rather social support for a right-wing radicalism whose backbone of the campaign was cruelty against all dissent (ideological, sexual, cultural, ethnic). and the positively worded promise to abolish the law that legalizes the right to abortion.

This operation of chromatic transfiguration, however, is not a mere anecdote nor an innocuous pictorial metaphor: it touches the hidden nerve of the logic of spillage with which the sticky materiality of the new radicalism of the right operates. In effect, this is a true transvaluation of all those values ​​that serve as a driving force for resentment and a morality of rancor. A rite of war against all those icons of a heavy tradition, to which it is only possible to respond with the light act of a liberating dance, as Zarathustra advised.

A refoundational dance

But the art by which libertarianism moves is extremely unique. Play and dance as a movement of liberation in the face of the weight of what only appears as an expression of a particularistic will to power. Thus, it classifies popular struggles against feminicides and patriarchal violence as simple “gender ideology”, the problem of climate change, which in Latin America is associated with extractive spoliation by capital, as a “leftist lie”, and the trials of genocidal of the last Argentine civic-military dictatorship as an act of “incomplete memory” that ignores who the real “victims” of “guerrilla terrorism” were.

Like the crab, Zarathustra moves freely from one side to another, and in his zigzagging movements he manages to laugh at the tragedies of those who suffer. Another of the ominous scenes of this libertarian transfiguration could be observed in the speech that Javier Milei gave on the night of the elections that made him the candidate for president with the most votes in Argentina. Once again in front of the cameras, the main actor was observed on stage, the unexpected protagonist of an enraging night. The ovation of his followers could be heard in the background.

On the public side, exultant young men could be seen, jumping and shouting in chorus an extemporaneous message, brought to the present from the traumatic memory of recent Argentina. A message that once represented a slogan of popular struggle sung in the streets; protest song in which the drama of Argentine history at the end of the last century was condensed. “Let them all go away, not alone!”

it was a slogan that synthesized the emancipatory and transformative desires of thousands of Argentines who mobilized in December 2001, whose struggles marked the end of the economic, political and cultural model set in motion by neoliberalism in the 1990s. a popular outbreak that rose up against unemployment and foreign debt, against privatizations and the destruction of state social protection institutions. The music of a slogan that was opposed by the State itself, as recalled by the bodies of those fallen by police repression. This same slogan was now sung by the new young conservatives of authoritarian liberalism to celebrate the electoral triumph of their candidate.

Faced with such a rite of outrage, it was only possible to respond with a shout that redoubled the bet, in order to satisfy the expectations of its joyful public. This cry would expose the refoundational ambitions that drive this latest expression of what William Callison and Zachary Manfredi called “mutant neoliberalism.” It is certainly not just a matter of blowing up the Central Bank, as the “Freedom Advances” candidate declared; nor to reduce the number of ministries to reduce the fiscal deficit.

It is, first and foremost, about fulfilling a mission, which is presented here in the form of revealing justice. It is necessary to say, then, standing on the stage, in front of his exultant audience, that “social justice is an aberration”. Because, behind this beautiful word, the leader shouts on stage, there is a simple robbery hidden. Yes. It's about abolishing the national currency and dollarizing the country's economy. But not merely as a proposal to superficially clean up monetary policy. Ending inflation is in fact the necessary means on the path to an eschatology in which Argentina will have to sacrifice what it has mistakenly considered as most sacred and proper.

On several occasions, the candidates of “Freedom Advances” formulate their discursive battles in terms of a salvific mission, an awakening from the lethargy of the nightmare that makes us believe that “where there is a need, a right must arise”. Thus, Argentina will be able to rise from its ashes. In each public intervention of this authoritarian neoliberalism, the program of refounding the nation appears on the civilizing foundations of the market, the firm ground of a stable currency and the freedom of the entrepreneurial individual.

The linguistic games of cruelty

But these delusional dreams of the new expression of denialism and right-wing radicalism cannot be understood simply as a superstructural expression of Argentine professional politics. Because these dreams spread like a limitless flow where a current is already circulating that gives them shelter. In fact, it would not be possible to understand these dreams without their counterpart, the ideological fantasies of that same society.

In each crusade undertaken by its spokesmen, it is possible to identify tectonic movements in the layers of damaged experience of contemporary subjectivity. It probably makes no sense to approach these questions with the expectation of finding causal linearities and simple relationships between explanans e explanandum. What came before?

But it would be necessary to conceive these difficult relationships between economy, politics, culture and subjectivity in terms of an internally contradictory totality, structured by asymmetrical levels and heterogeneous dynamics. In this way, however, the experiences of the crisis of individuals appear as supports, cause and effect, at the same time, of the expansion of these lunatic exercises of ideological transfiguration.

As our recent studies demonstrate,[iii] For years now, Argentine society has seen a shift in language between popular uses of the word “social justice” (commonly associated with the principle of equality) and the image of “justice of the people”. In this language game, the democratic concept of justice loses all meaning, completely emptied, starting to be used with an aggressive, punitive content, linked to the idea of ​​security and the desire for punishment for those who appear identified with an existence (or practice) that endangers the social order.

For reasons that have not yet been studied in the detail they require, for individuals suffering the crisis of contemporary capitalism it is not only simpler but also more rewarding to transmute the political and social constellation of problems associated with the egalitarian principle into a block of social problems. identified with the insecurity of private property and with minor crimes. The justice of the people denotes the active role that “society”, understood here as an amorphous and homogeneous mass, must assume in the adjustment of those perceived as having always-already transgressed the holy law of private property and the bourgeois nuclear family.

Finally, it is essential to interpret in depth the forms that the experience of time takes in current society in subjectivities in crisis. In the strategies that individuals employ to deal with the collapse of their certainties, an enigma emerges about expectations for the future. It is a certain willingness on the part of many people to sacrifice a gift whose value slips like sand between their hands.

For those who intend to vote for Javier Milei, the issue of dollarization is perceived as a measure free from negative consequences for the population. Many of its voters recognized that replacing the national currency with the US currency could imply a very high cost for the well-being of the population. And yet, the same erosion in subjectivity that produces an inflationary economy, the continuous and gradual increase in prices of all goods and services essential to the domestic economy, prevents imagining alternative political measures to what presents itself as a necessary sacrifice.

It is not just a certain capacity to evade reality, something like “denialism from below”, which we alluded to above using the figure of the cynical subject who does not believe in power and yet maintains his submission. Along with this lack of belief, an excess of fantasy capacity also develops. And along with these mechanisms of psychic repression that we call “denial”, “repression” and “forclusion” a desire for catastrophe is also articulated as a way of symbolically facing the distressing perception of the crisis. Evidently, this perspective is subject to a dead-end circular logic, as it encounters dramatic difficulties in imagining a different future.

Emancipatory counterpedagogies

Faced with this scenario of madness and a desire for death, it is only possible to respond with a practice of listening and a loving disposition to dialogue with those who suffer from the crisis. As Rita Segato suggested to us, in this true work of an emancipatory pedagogy against authoritarian coldness, we need to disarm the rhetorical manipulations in which its operations of ideological transfiguration are chained.

The networks of solidarity in which the democratic power of recent Argentine history is woven were nourished by long-standing experiences of struggle, by democratic patience in devising a form of life free from violence and focused on interdependence, among which are not few examples of concrete popular achievements.

The historical lessons that the battles carried out by the student movement, feminism, popular economy workers, trade unionism and human rights organizations taught on the streets bear witness to this. By being faithful to the emancipatory energies of this legacy, we will be able to position ourselves head-on and without fear in relation to the threats of fascism.

But this resistance will only gain its true material strength if it is capable not only of averting the danger that approaches us today, but also of relaunching new slogans in public life that revitalize the desire to transform every molecule of what exists.

*Agustín Lucas Prestifilippo He is a professor of sociology at the National University of Luján (UNLU) and coordinator of the Contemporary Critical Theory Studies Group at the Gino Germani Institute of UBA. Book author The language of suffering. Aesthetics and politics in the social theory of Theodor Adorno (Prometheus).

Translation: Ricardo Pagliuso Regatieri.


[I] Translator's note: Since 2009, Argentina has held primary elections, which define which parties will be able to stand in national elections and the list that will represent each party. Primary elections are known in the country by the acronym PASO, an acronym for Primary, Open, Simultaneous and Mandatory.

[ii] Zizek, S. 2003. The sublime object of ideology, Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, p. 58.

[iii] Cuesta, Micaela and Prestifilippo, Agustín Lucas. 2023. “Rhetorics of cruelty. Myths and reasons for social inequality”, in: Micaela Cuesta et al. (org.). Hate speeches. An alarm for democratic life, Buenos Aires: UNSAM Edita.

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