Of Wild and Cultivated Politics : Conflict and Democracy in Argentina
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Democratic theorists have argued that it is possible to sustain and nurture democratic culture by facilitating democratic interpersonal behavior.2 For nations undergoing democratic development, the related question is whether it is possible to plant and cultivate democratic culture in settings where it is relatively unfamiliar, its appearance has been infrequent and its roots, even in the context of a formal democratic regime, may be shallow, indeed. Can a wild, violently conflictual, and nondemocratic culture gradually metamorphose toward restrained, democratic methods of political interaction and conflict resolution? This question lies at the heart of this essay. To address this issue I have chosen a setting where the move from nondemocratic political patterns and history toward democratic behavior constitutes one of the longest steps any democratizing nation has faced: the example of Argentina. Known for violence and harsh authoritarianism, Argentina today boasts nineteen years of democratic process, even in the face of crisis. If Argentina can move from so harsh a past toward a democratic present, then we gain some sense of the possibilities of cultural change in other settings that have less brutal histories to overcome. The Argentine example, of course, is still a political process underway, an incomplete and unconsolidated democratic transition. In Argentine politics one can still see wild and savage vestiges of authoritarianism struggling side by side with newer varieties of political and social behavior including mutual respect, dialogue, softened perceptions of “the other” and declining self-righteousness about any particular position. For that reason it offers an opportunity to look at the process of cultural change while major change is still occurring. This essay is an exploratory study of one aspect of political culture in Argentina, what Marc Howard Ross has called “the culture of conflict.”3 It uncovers patterns and changes in cultural uses and understandings of violence, violent conflict, and authoritarian political methods in Argentina. The essay uses historical comparison and contemporary data framed within theory about conflict to suggest some reasons why certain patterns of conflict developed historically in Argentina and why cultural change may be underway today.