Javier Milei’s decrees – a leap in the dark

Image: K J Anandhan


The precedent that will leave the decree signed by Milei has much broader systemic consequences, both for the political game and for the stability of legal norms

It is very likely that we are facing a president who has confused the mandate to reorder the macroeconomy with the messianic task of refounding society on the basis of conservative libertarianism. But we have to point out – and it is important to insist on this – that we are also faced with a civil society that mostly voted for an extreme right-wing program, playing with the fantasy that it would not do “the crazy things it said it would do”.

When we warned that there was a democratic risk behind the candidacy of the vernacular radical right, we were referring exactly to what could happen as has just happened: a decree of necessity and urgency (DNU) which modifies and annuls more than 300 laws linked to transcendental aspects for the social, economic, cultural and political life of our country. We know that in the past college delegations voted and regulations were approved that attempted to respond to economic emergency situations.

In all cases, in the case of questionable measures, they were norms that emerged from political agreements and were sanctioned in parliament, following the legal procedures stipulated in the constitution. The decree that we now have before us is an authentic state of exception in terms of the promulgation of legal regulations and, what is worse, an authorization for the uncontrolled use of delegated political authority.

Javier Milei undoubtedly takes advantage of regulations that establish weak and ill-thought-out control for this type of decree. The law that regulates the DNU objectively generates incentives to legislate on important issues through tools that favor the president's discretion. It is incoherent that the indifference of one camera is sufficient to approve a regulation that would otherwise require the deliberation and approval of both cameras.

The precedent that will leave the decree recently signed by the current president has much broader systemic consequences, both for the political game and for the stability of legal norms. If these great transformations of society can be carried out with an extraordinary legal tool, then the entire legal system is weakened and, at the same time, political power is radically transformed.

What is the point, from now on, of disputing the legislative power of senators and deputies, or the interpretative functions of the courts of justice, if the president can annul, modify and approve an extensive number of laws whenever he wants? This chaotic precedent will no longer be erased from the legal system itself, nor from the customs of political actors, thus reorganizing the whole of public life in a post-democratic direction.

All these anomalies reveal multiple failures. Many of them have been pointed out to the point of exhaustion, starting with the performance of the previous government in a context of multiple crises that overcame it. But in political terms, parliament's failure to reach agreements on important issues for society and the economy in times of crisis is clearly evident.

Many political leaders and legislators from different parties in the democratic field saw the need for these agreements. It is unreasonable that with each change of government the monetary regime, the permitted levels of public debt and the structure of the taxation system change. Parliament is also co-responsible for the economic order. Otherwise, every change of government becomes an opportunity for “the business of political chaos”, which, depending on the stakes and the power of influence over new officials, can offer surprising economic benefits.

When parliament does not deliberate or decide on issues relevant to society as a whole, it ends up on the sidelines in a double failure: discredited by the citizenry and delegating the decisions that were the reason for political disagreement to the president. In the future, it will be essential to remember that democratic legislators are those who collaborate with new ideas to face public problems, and to generate the conditions for political negotiation necessary to avoid the type of dilemmas in which both paths lead to the precipice.

If we analyze the decree from the point of view of the political will that it builds through exceptional means – without knowing, as I write this, the final destination it will have – what appears is the adventure of taking a leap in the dark in normative terms, which in turn aims to mirror the invitation to citizens to take a leap in the dark when it comes to gathering support for the radical right candidate before the elections. The ideological and clearly authoritarian form of this construction is notable. The image of the exalted candidate who would have quickly transformed, thanks to the mediation of Mauricio Macri, into a pragmatic president lasted only a week (less than the same fantasy of moderation lasted in relation to the presidencies of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro).

With just over ten days of exercising executive power, Javier Milei executes what he imagines to be the refoundation of society through a single act of creation: that of his will as an enlightened sovereign. Deep down in this decision lies the magical belief, most likely shared by many of his supporters, in the absolute nature of symbolic power. As if the symbols that the subject believes he can manipulate with dexterity had the omnipotent ability to traverse reality by recreating it from nothing, this delusional re-nationalism captures some of the effects on subjects left by the pandemic and bad government.

The same thing happens with the interpretation of the idea of ​​urgency invoked by the decree, which seems more taken from Carl Schmitt's political theology manuals and less from a concrete reading of the urgent problems of Argentine society. The model of speech and decisions on which President Javier Milei has been insisting follows the basic idea of ​​what Kant called “autocracy”: the political regime that has a single relationship, that of a single subject (sovereign legislator) with the people (obedient subject). I don't see how answers to the difficulties of a complex and plural society like Argentine society could come from this.

Building the trust of the distrustful (those who did not believe that Javier Milei would do what he said he was going to do) has to be analyzed in its subjective and ideological complexities. Between the megalomania of this type of candidates and the fantasies that lead citizens to the ballot box, there are many mediations and power relations. But in democracies the issue of responsibility present in this bond cannot be avoided. If we want to prevent the entire building of people's self-government from collapsing, citizens' co-responsibility in public debate, social criticism and open reflection on political alternatives is essential.

Western democracies today have to deal with the discomfort of an opaque and unequal globalization in the allocation of opportunities, but also with the frustration of a citizenry that has not found institutional answers for a long time. Radical right-wingers, like the one embodied by Javier Milei in Argentina, offer frustrated individuals the possibility of restoring their protagonism through a narcissistic retreat and a paranoid authoritarianism that finds scapegoats everywhere. The neoliberal masses have a structural affinity with this type of political solutions today embodied in the fist of a Caesarist government and in the mythological melancholy of the struggle for alt-right against socialism and social justice.

It will be very difficult, in this context, without agreements that are up to the political challenge, without ideas that free citizens from frustration, without institutional responsibilities of other public powers, and, fundamentally, without the courage of political leaders capable of overcoming old conflicts and to generate new alternatives to the arbitrariness of the executive power, to recreate the egalitarian promise of democracy.

Ezekiel Ipar is a professor of sociology at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA).

Translation: Maria Cecilia Ipar.

Originally published on the website of Amphibia magazine.

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