The Oasis Reporters
February 3, 2024
A shockwave has been rippling through Argentina since Javier Milei came to power in December, prompting demonstrators to take to the streets in a general strike on Wednesday.
With an ideology described as “anarcho-capitalism,” Milei promises major upheaval in a country with a long tradition of state control, which is now in the throes of a deep economic crisis.
While the radical nature of his proposals won over many Argentines, it also alienated many, leading to calls for the general strike.
Analysts have tried to understand the ideological links between Milei and the various far-right movements that have emerged over the last 20 years, particularly in Europe and the United States.
As a doctoral student in political science at Laval University, my research focuses on authoritarianism, particularly in Argentina. In the following, I explore the relationship between Milei and the far-right movement.
Be careful about drawing quick conclusions
Milei can be described as a populist. The description is apt, even natural, if we consider the many references he makes in his speeches to far-right figures such as Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Spain’s Santiago Abascal, president of the Vox formation, whom he invited to his inauguration.
Milei’s calls to fight “the left,” his criticism of “cultural Marxism,” and his openly anti-system approach all reinforce this identity.
However, this rather simplistic comparison ignores significant differences in Milei’s program, particularly where his economic and migration policies are concerned. Despite similarities, there are significant differences, particularly in the way each movement understands the role of the state and its relationship to society as a whole.
Specifically, I would like to draw attention to a central difference, namely the role of nationalism, and to the innovations Milei has introduced in the context of the global rise of the right.
Nativist nationalism at the heart of the far right
In an article summarizing the far-right political parties in Europe, Matt Golder, professor of political science at Pennsylvania State University, analyzes the scientific literature on them. He finds three elements that are increasingly characteristic of this movement: “nationalism,” “populism,” and “radicalism.”
The nationalism expounded by far-right parties can be described as “nativism.” According to Cas Mudde, professor of political science at the University of Georgia, “nativism” is understood as “nationalism plus xenophobia.” It is based on the idea of the existence of an imaginary “native” population built on cultural or ethnic features, whose homogeneity must be protected from any element that is foreign and external to it.
With its conception of a homogeneous community, nativism is then added to nationalism, which is articulated as the congruence between state and nation. This contributes the element of xenophobia mentioned by Mudde. In so doing, extreme right-wing movements put forward a radicalized preference for anything that can be defined as belonging to the “national community.”
This version of nationalism is well known, and it is easy to find European and American examples of it: Éric Zemmour’s calls against the “Great Replacement,” Trump’s warnings about the danger of immigration, or the Islamophobia of the Alternative for Germany party, are some examples.
This nativism on the part of far-right parties is becoming the foundation of their political projects, including their economic policies.
It is on this basis that the contemporary far right is putting forward clear protectionist projects. A large proportion of far-right movements share Euro-scepticism, nationalization and anti-globalization rhetoric. The root of their projects is a belief in a national community, defined either in ethnic or cultural terms, which must be protected from the influence of outside elements.
Liberalizing the economy, Milei’s priority
Although the list of promises of Milei’s party may come as a surprise due to their radical nature and breadth, the element of nativism is absent from his rhetoric.
Rather, the plans and platform of his party, La Libertad Avanza (LLA), represent a clear opposition to nativism, which is widespread in Argentina and represented by the Peronist movement. Accusations of his alleged anti-immigration ideology are also unfounded, at least so far.
Milei’s program mentions immigration only marginally. This is evident in LLA’s electoral platform, where the subjects of “nation” and immigration are relatively absent.
Argentina has in fact received proportionally fewer immigrants than most European or North American countries in recent years. The debate over immigration is more about the universality of the health and education services, thanks to which everyone, regardless of their migratory status, can benefit from the public health system (even tourists) and free education. Milei is not exactly opposed to immigration (he has even expressed support for certain types of state spending associated with it).
On the other hand, liberalization has been, and continues to be the pillar of Milei’s program, which is perfectly embodied in the proposal to eliminate the central bank and introduce free monetary competition. His program also includes dollarization, optimizing and reducing the size of the state, opening up to international trade, reforming the labour code, mental health laws and regulations on medical services.
Wait before judging Milei’s political project
In other words, in spite of his populist style and the radical nature of his proposals, Milei’s approach makes it difficult to immediately identify him with the European and American far right without further qualification.
This does not necessarily mean that the Milei phenomenon should not be considered part of the extended family of the far right. As Cristóbal Rovira, Professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile states, not all members of the far-right “family” embrace all its elements. However, it does force us to think twice before making quick and what could be simplistic associations. The fact that Milei has spoken in favour of Trump does not make him, by definition, “Trumpist.”
There are certainly individuals within his political party who are closer to the political projects of Trump or Santiago Abascal. However, Milei’s personal positions largely define what we can expect from his government and the political project he is putting forward.
Although Milei, himself, affirms his ideological kinship with leaders often included in the large family of the contemporary far right, certain elements of his program and the core of his ideology show some distance from this movement. More broadly, in order to understand what is new about a political phenomenon and what this implies, it is important to put it into context.