Eva Duarte Peron

Image: Alex Umbelino


The difficulties and resistance to understanding phenomena such as those of “Evita”

Revisiting old books and films with a view involved by the tensions of the moment we live in can help us to think about possibilities and connections. It is the case of musical drama Evita (USA, 1996), which tells the story of Eva Duarte Perón (1919-1952), first lady of Argentina between 1946 and 1952. becomes an increasingly well-known actress and approaches Juan Domingo Perón (1895-1974), a military man and politician who will become president after marrying Eva.

With great charisma among the people, they will be two iconic figures in Argentine and South American politics: she as a “mother” to the country's “shirtless”, and he as the “father” who will bring hope to those who suffer. Extremely popular, involved in charity works, giving speeches on the balcony of the Casa Rosada and presented by the country's official press as the great woman who represents Argentina, the figure of Eva Perón is now worshiped and seen as a deity, however, seen also as inferior and opportunistic by the political and economic elite of the country. Her early death at the age of 33 will further elevate the mythological character of Eva, “Evita” to her “shirtless ones”.

Even after her death, Eva Perón maintained her prominence and famous character: her body was embalmed and hidden, seen as a threat by Perón's political enemies, and her tomb is still one of the most visited in the Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires. “Evita” will forever be one of the most celebrated symbols of Peronism, the popular, democratic and national political movement initiated by Perón, which has among its agendas themes such as the country's sovereignty, economic independence and social justice.

It will also represent, for many, one of the main examples of “populism”, a type of policy that is difficult to define, but generally understood as an organization with an emphasis on an intense and direct bond between representatives and those represented, structured from discourses and affective connections between the “people” and the “leader”. In the definition of the political scientist Jan-Werner Muller, the “people” here is about “a moral, homogeneous entity, which cannot err”. In this sense, the “people”, properly regimented by a leader, against the political and economic “elites”, would be able to find their own answers and organize their own destiny.

On the subject, Argentine political scientist Ernesto Laclau pointed out that we understand little about populism as a way of doing and organizing politics, as this has been relegated to a marginal position in political science. Ernesto Laclau analyzed the nature of political phenomena understood as populism, mainly in relation to the way in which the connection between the people and the political leader takes place. Its objective was to understand how certain discourses and practices involve people, creating differentiated bonds between represented and representatives.

Ernesto Laclau, who experienced the emergence of charismatic and undemocratic leaders in his local Argentina, sees in establishing this connection a rationality that captures the feelings and insecurities of the mass identified as “the people”. In this way, the connections between the politician and the people make possible the emergence of democratically elected governments, possessing legitimacy, but limited in relation to the practice of democratic exercise. It is thus a highly effective means of reaching and staying in power.

In the case of Perón, Eva is understood by many as an asset of someone who used her charisma and popularity to approach and maintain power in the tumultuous and poorly structured Argentine democracy (which would last until 1955, after another of the several military coups in that country ). Her story, her figure and the role she plays for millions of people who found themselves in the most diverse insecurities will be fundamental in building popular support for Perón. The “descamisados”, as named by Evita, are those who live far from the opulence and luxury of Argentina, which exports its riches to Europe.

The capital Buenos Aires, with its sumptuous streets and neighborhoods, is far removed from life on the outskirts and inland, where hungry and cold people connect their hopes to the mythical speeches and actions of “Madre Evita” and “Father Perón”. However, according to some thinkers, populism mainly involves demagogic characteristics and little commitment to structural changes that really alter people's living conditions.

Bulgarian Tzvetan Todorov was one such critic. According to his analysis, populism constitutes a serious risk for democracy because it involves the emergence of charismatic leaders in democracies with easy solutions to the problems of such societies, saying “what people want and need to hear”, but which is impossible to apply. Together with “messianism” (the almost mythical, religious and infallible character of leaders and policies, which find support in the social and economic difficulties of individuals), and “ultraliberalism” (which keeps economic dynamics increasingly exclusive and unequal), populism is a risk to the effectiveness and functioning of democracy, insofar as it expands the power of those who are powerful and does not bring effective changes to the lives of the people who are under its government. As a whole, such characteristics are fed back, where populism makes room for messianism, maintaining ultraliberalism and contributing to the processes of exclusion becoming natural in democracies.

In the analysis of Argentine historian Federico Finchelstein, populism is intrinsically democratic, that is, it has a base of support and support in the vote offered in elections. However, even with historical paths and inherent differences, populism can also be at the root of fascism, since the broad support of the masses can open space for attacks on freedoms, limitations of rights and diverse political dominations.

The “enemies of the people” are common elements in populist discourses, which can dangerously approach violent and persecutory practices, both in political views of the right and left (by whom populism is also criticized). It is not a direct and determined path, but it is possible to observe the rise of practices of this nature at different times throughout the XNUMXth century. However, even if we can analyze how the so-called populisms rise and remain in power, in addition to the risks they bring to political structures, it is still relevant to ask ourselves about the origins of such a deep and intense appeal.

But after all, why do we cry for Evita? Why does it touch so deeply? A scene that draws attention in the musical Evita is when the main character (played in the film quoted by the singer Madonna) goes to the pulpit of Casa Rosada, the seat of the Argentine government, to announce that she will not be a candidate for vice-president on the ticket of Juan Domingos Perón. In this dramatization, the character sings a song entitled Don't cry for me Argentina, moving everyone who attended her, in a scene that captures the affective dimension and connection between Eva Perón and people. However, as Ernesto Laclau's analysis points out, relatively little attention is paid in political studies to the phenomenon of populism and even less to the intense relationship between emotions and politics, which can prevent us from understanding why we cry for Evita.

To fill this gap, the Spanish political scientist Manuel Arias Maldonado sought to understand the ways in which emotions and politics are linked in Sentimental Democracy: Politics and Emotions in the XNUMXst Century (2016). It shows how investigations into the origin and functioning of rationality show that situations and emotions involve us much more than we think, which can help us understand the potential of populist discourses in our relationship with politics.

Manuel Arias Maldonado argues that perhaps we have never been as sovereign as we think, that is, our thinking is not as free and rational as we think to make our choices – one of the common assumptions of democratic expectation. Whether on the platforms, on television, on the radio or on social media, our feelings and emotions are much more impactful in political decisions than we assume. With the expansion of the reach and potential of technologies, messages reach us and impact us more and more. We are talking here about a “post-sovereign subject”, influential, not very coherent and limited in terms of rationality. This picture differs from the “enlightenment” and “humanist” expectations traditionally cited when we think of deliberative processes.

For Manuel Arias Maldonado, the increasing stimulus to a type of skeptical reason, which doubts and evaluates before accepting visions and hypotheses, can contribute to reducing the impact of inflamed and shallow discourses. However, this step requires the recognition that we are not as rational as we think we are, along with the design of institutional circumstances and stimuli that encourage such procedures.

This point is resumed and expanded in a more recent analysis, entitled nostalgia for the sovereign (2019), in which Manuel Arias Maldonado directs his attention to current circumstances, in which various turbulences caused by political, economic and social crises invade people's lives, which can open up space for a “saudade for the sovereign”, to use terms of the Portuguese language. This feeling concerns the lack of “a political power capable of imposing order in a threatening and uncertain present”, which “helps us to regain control” and which can bring stability to the tumultuous times in which we live.

This “nostalgia for the sovereign” can stimulate in societies the resumption of a vision of the past as “glorious times”, where a political leader gave us security and order, which is precisely what we lack today, together with a defense of the national community, stimulating feelings nationalists and extremists. Consequently, standardizing discourses that are not open to plurality can become commonplace, anchored in violent and reactive emotions. In this sense, it is in the yearning for stability and conservation that populist discourses can find space and grow, where the need for belonging, identity and protection reaffirms an allegedly lost sovereignty that needs to be resumed, even if to the detriment of rights and freedom.

According to Manuel Arias Maldonado's hypothesis, the decisive step to limit the reach of such discourses involves the awareness that “politics cannot do everything”, that is, that there are limits to what the political organization can offer. This recognition may diminish the reach of populist discourses that promise “heaven on earth” and that exploit people's weaknesses and hopes. Maldonado defends a “sovereignty for skeptics”, which recognizes the limits of political action, restrictions on the idea that the past was harmonious and happy in a sovereignty that never existed, and the acceptance of the complexity of social life and the impossibility of consensus, accepting the pluralities and the difficulties of living together.

Here, realistic hopes must be based on a vision of the true scope of politics, especially in a new, diverse world open to uncertainty. However, even recognizing the importance of understanding how emotional bonds arise between people and leaders and recognizing the limits of populist ambitions, Manuel Arias Maldonado's analysis seems to lack a broader understanding of the social structures that make room for the ambitious populist discourse.

In the case of Argentina where Eva Perón is almost a queen, for example, there are gigantic social and economic inequalities, in troubled political contexts and little concerned with the attribution of rights and dignity, as exemplified by the way in which she refers to “your dear shirtless and poor”. In the complex contemporary circumstances, however, we are still experiencing the effects of the great economic crisis of 2008, where many lost income and rights, together with the daily pandemic we are experiencing, where the future presents itself as a great threat.

In such contexts of crisis and great difficulties for most people, in which hopes and stability seem distant, the worrying “sovereign nostalgia” can be understandable and even expected. Even if it is recognized that “politics cannot do everything”, it is still possible to argue that “politics can do something”. Here, it may be necessary to reaffirm the role of the sovereignty of the state itself, whose raison d'être is directly linked to the care and maintenance of its citizens.

Actions linked to investments in the construction of citizenship, through the recognition of the need for social protection and the desire for dignity are essential to prevent insecurities and resentments from starting to drive political decisions, as is the case today. Even recognizing the pluralities and diversity inherent to democratic life, as Maldonado hopes, it is also possible to establish an ideal of society that recognizes itself as a whole, with inclusive expectations that can limit the “nostalgia for the sovereign”.

This absence seems to be much closer to a symptom that something is not going well in the conduct of democracies, without concern for inclusion and effective citizenship, than the simple acceptance of the idea that people form an inert mass, identified as “ people”, which surrenders to the demagogic and parochial discourse of populism.

Following the intense events in the life of Eva Perón and the people who saw that figure as their salvation makes us think of all these yearnings, which are in our present and will certainly be present in the near future. It remains to be seen whether such anxieties will receive a response from the sovereign state that recognizes its role in structuring democratic and inclusive societies ou on confidence in messianic discourses that promise the impossible, but that keep us shirtless of citizenship and dignity. In such contexts, suspicious of the possibilities of the present and the future, in addition to being jealous of our own sovereignty, some questions start to haunt our time and our minds: What is the role of emotions in our relationship with political processes? Can we remove emotions and their stimuli from the realm of politics? What we identify as “populism” (and its difficulties) would not be just a recognition of the proximity dynamics between what we feel and live?

Analyzing the relationship between politics and emotions can be a difficult exercise. Due to the subjective nature of moods and passions, bringing them closer to political contexts is a complex task that requires careful reflection. The intensity of reactions and manifestations of political support and rejection always involve a strong emotional charge of indignation and frustration, which demands an understanding of this intense relationship between emotions and political and social contexts.

In the analysis of the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum, emotions have a little recognized role in collective and individual processes. Not considering its causes and effects limits our understanding of how social and political forces work, which can open up space for emotive and populist discourses to find a channel and spread, as has happened so many times in history.

Martha Nussbaum points out that her hypothesis does not advocate converting emotions into the foundation of political decisions, but recognizing that they play a considerable role in their formation, especially when manipulated or stimulated. Thus, emotions such as fear, insecurity, indignation and resentment can generate social and political consequences, especially in contexts of change, such as what we have experienced in the last decade in Brazil and in the world.

In this sense, it is possible to notice a curious link between political circumstances and our emotional dynamics. It is likely that we all have memories of this nature or have recently dealt with political issues in emotionally charged ways. However, many of the reflections on the nature of politics and democracy still seem not to consider the effects of affects and emotions on social and political dynamics, especially in our time, when everything seems to be so close to the surface. Whether in Evita's Argentina or in Brazil with so many tensions and anxieties, there are difficulties and resistance in understanding this very complex association between feelings, circumstances, emotions and politics. Words such as “populism”, “polarization”, “resentment” are some of the terms used in attempts at analysis, however, a complete analytical framework has not yet been outlined. Perhaps the main reason for this difficulty is the old and probably outdated belief in the expectations of rationality of the human animal, which history is quick to deny.

Bento Espinosa, in the XNUMXth century, already foresaw the consequences of this misunderstanding in his Political Treaty: “Philosophers conceive the affects we struggle with as vices that men incur through their own fault. For this reason, they are used to laughing at them, crying over them, censuring them or (those who want to appear the holiest) detesting them. Thus, they believe they are doing a divine thing and reach the height of wisdom when they learn to praise in multiple ways a human nature that does not exist anywhere and to punish with sentences that which really exists”.

And he continues: “In effect, they conceive humans not as they are, but as they would like them to be. As a result, more often than not, they have written a satire and not an ethics and that they have never conceived a policy that can be put into application, but a policy that is considered a chimera or that could only be instituted in utopia or that golden age of poets, where it would undoubtedly not be necessary at all”.

It is likely that we and philosophers have not fully understood the role of emotions in politics (and in life). Whether through platforms, television, radio or social media, our feelings and emotions are much more impacted by the political choices and decisions we make. With the expansion of the scope and potential of technologies, messages reach us and impact us more and more in the contemporary world, with consequences available for everyone to observe. This framework differs from “enlightenment” and “humanist” expectations, which limited the impact of emotion and sensations on political agency.

We cry for Evita, sometimes we get angry at the world and at other people when we are fragile, we feel welcome when someone tells us they will bring stability and sovereignty and we think of our happy and frustrated parents with promises that the world will be better and less violent, among others. other situations in which our emotions and political paths and organizations are strongly connected. In this sense, following Spinoza's suggestion, thinking carefully and increasingly considering affections and their effects on sociopolitical life, is a fundamental task for our time, overloaded with tensions and fears of a future that may (or may not) arrive. and that each time leaves us more perplexed and frightened.

*Jose Costa Junior Professor of Philosophy and Social Sciences at IFMG –Campus Ponte Nova.


ARIAS MALDONADO, Manuel. sentimental democracy. Indomitable page, 2017.

ESPINOSA, Bento. Political treatise. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2009.

FINCHELSTEIN, Federico. From fascism to populism in history. Read, 2019.

LACLAU, Ernesto. The Populist Reason. Rio de Janeiro: EdUERJ, 2013.

MÜLLER, Jan-Werner. What is populism? London: Penguin, 2017.

NUSSBAUM, Martha. political emotions🇧🇷 Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013.

TODOROV, Tzvetan. The Intimate Enemies of Democracy. Company. of Letters, 2012

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