Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Contradictions, Contradicciónes and Andrew Jackson

I've changed the name of the blog from "Old Hickory's Weblog" to Contradicciónes (Contradictions).

Not because I've given up the positive image I have of Andrew Jackson as a historical figure. It's that his image at the moment among left-leaning Americans is so bad and, bizarrely, white supremacists are "defending" him over the Treasury Department's just-announced decision to put the image of black Abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20 bill and move Jackson to the back.

Somewhere in Hell, John C. Calhoun is cackling madly in delight. About his political descendants the white supremacists praising Jackson, that is, not about me changing the name of the blog.

I don't have the text immediately at hand. But I recently read something by the left-Peronist Argentine leader John William Cooke (1919-1968) about Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793-1877), a major Argentine political leader in the 19th century. Known as the Restaurador de las Leyes (Restorer of the Laws), he served as Governor of Buenos Aires province in 1828-1832 and 1835-1852. He was a contemporary of Andrew Jackson and his governorship overlapped in time with Jackson's Presidency.

Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793-1877)

Rosas was a representative of the Federalist political current of that time, the main carrier of the democratic tradition in Argentina at that time. The more conservative trend was represented by the Unitarians. Or as, Rosas' followers called them, "the wild Unitarians." The Unitarian name had nothing to do with religion. It referred to the centralism of that faction which wanted Buenos Aires to have dominance over the other provinces that became the nation of Argentina.

But actually it was Rosas that first forged an effective national grouping of various provinces.

Rosas was a large landowner and a shrewd and ambitious politician. But he had particular appeal to the gauchos, the small farmers. He also gave strong support to the black Argentines who were a numerous group in the urban area of Buenos Aires. Slavery was never large in Argentina, nothing like in Brazil. But it Rosas explicitly abolished slavery.

Rosas promoted voting. But one could scarcely say that he was a "Jacksonian democrat." (Nor were the Wild Unitarians.) But he also empowered the lower classes in ways they had never been empowered before.

He also defended the Argentine national honor and independence against Britain and France. In 1845, when those two empires were blockading Argentine ports, Rosas mounted a naval attack known as the Vuelta de Obligado. He didn't have the forces that would have been necessary to force the lifting of the blockade. But it has been remembered ever since as an important moment in the defense of Argentine independence. José de San Martín (1778-1850), one of the great heroes of Argentina and of Latin American independence, sent his sword to Rosas in recognition of his actions in the Vuelta de Obligado.

Cooke's comment on Rosas that struck me was that though there were bad things about Rosas, it's also important to recognize that democracy and freedom come into being in the messy process of real history, not in pure declarations of principle. And left-leaning history in Argentina recognizes Rosas as a major figure in the development of freedom, democracy and national independence in Argentina. In her last speech as President celebrating the national day May 25 in 2015, Cristina Fernández mentioned Rosas and how San Martín had honored him by sending him his sword.

Rosas was a kind of Argentine Andrew Jackson, in other words. (Yes, Rosas fought Indians, too.) Or maybe Jackson was an American version of Rosas. Neither were model democrats by the standards terms of 2016. But they both led important advances in democracy in their respective countries.

History is messy. Which is my cue to roll out one of my favorite Hegel quotes that cautions us against expecting perfection in real history and reminds us to recognize the good parts: "World history is not the ground of happiness. The periods of happiness are blank pages in it ..." - Philosophy of History (German original: "Die Weltgeschichte ist nicht der Boden des Glücks. Die Perioden des Glücks sind leere Blätter in ihr ...")

No comments: