The victory of Javier Milei in the Argentine presidential election open primary took the political world by storm. Milei, a self-confessed anarcho-capitalist, famously known as el peluca (the wig) because of his eccentric hair (which he claims is combed only by the invisible hand), rose to stardom as a radio host and frequent TV guest while Argentina’s economy collapsed under rapid devaluation, three-digit inflation, and rising poverty.
For 80 years the Argentine political landscape has been dominated by Peronismo, a big tent movement created by Juan Domingo Perón after WWII as a nationalist and populist third-way between Soviet communism and Western capitalism. But it took a hard turn to the left in 2003 with president Néstor Kirchner, a close ally of Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro. So, it might appear obvious why a populist uprising seems set to thrust a libertarian into power in Argentina.
But as The American Conservative’s Bradley Devlin has asked, how does a libertarian that wants to end the Argentine central bank and privatize state assets fall under the umbrella of the international “New Right,” which is typically more skeptical of capitalism and less scared of wielding state power? The political trends variously called the New Right, populist right, National Conservatism, or whatever you might prefer, remains a new phenomenon. Precisely because of this novelty, it lacks a unified ideological and conceptual foundation to help define the strategic direction of this movement of new populist conservative parties around the world.
One of the intellectuals making a conscious effort to make sense of this political moment and to build a coherent philosophical system for it is Agustín Laje, an Argentine political scientist and authors of books such as Generación Idiota (“The Idiot Generation”) and Batalla Cultural: Reflexiones Críticas para una Nueva Derecha (“Culture War: Critical Reflections for a New Right”). Laje has become one of the leading voices of the New Right in the Spanish-speaking world.
Laje, a close ally of Milei, spoke with The American Conservative about Milei’s rise to stardom, the apparent contradictions of the New Right and its differences with old-school conservatism, and Donald Trump. The interview has been translated from Spanish and edited for clarity and length.
Edgar Beltran: Why did Milei win the primaries in Argentina and why is he now leading the polls for the presidential election?
Agustín Laje: Kirchnerismo, a mixture of Peronismo—a catch-all populist movement that has dominated Argentine politics for 80 years—and 21st-century socialism, has been the most significant player in Argentine politics since 2003, since the beginning of the presidency of Néstor Kirchner, followed by his wife Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, now vice president of Argentina. And they manipulated public opinion through public television and radio, buying journalists, the movie industry, schools, universities and through intellectual groups paid by the state.
But there was a group of citizens who waged a culture war as we could, writing books, giving conferences, giving workshops, hosting debates, using our social media, doing podcasts, creating YouTube channels, writing on Twitter. And some of them were able to get into the mainstream media. That is the case of Javier Milei. He managed to get into the system’s media, due to the intrinsic characteristics of his personality—he has a very TV-like personality.
Thus, our culture war began to be successful in terms of public opinion and the limits of public discourse. And at a certain moment Javier Milei decided that it was time to reap the fruits. We had been sowing, and now it was time to reap the fruits through an electoral struggle by creating a political party, La Libertad Avanza (Liberty Advances).
This is very important to understand Milei’s victory in the primary: public opinion in Argentina has turned to the right in such a way that the other two political alliances have had to opt for figures as far to the right as their own spaces allow. Bullrich is the most right-wing that exists within Juntos por el Cambio, the center-right coalition, and Massa is the most right-wing that exists within Kirchnerismo.
You do not have any politician talking in the name of social justice, you do not have politicians talking in the name of social and collective rights, you do not have politicians talking about redistribution of wealth, and you do not have politicians in campaign talking about leftist cultural issues; you do not have politicians at this moment raising feminist flags, multicolor flags, or using the so-called “inclusive language.”
They have realized that the culture war in Argentina is beginning to be lost by those sectors, and even if they still believe in these ideas, they cannot politically win based on them. In 2019, things were very different, Alberto Fernández—now president, then the candidate of the Kirchnerista left—in his campaign appeared with the green scarf of abortion, raised rainbow flags, met with feminists, exhibited his drag queen son, and tried to speak in inclusive language. That was only four years ago. Today, it would the biggest political blunder a candidate could make, but it shows that the culture war has taken effect.
Those are the ideological conditions to understand Milei. On the other hand, you have the material conditions: Argentina is going through a thundering economic, political, and social crisis. Some basic numbers that may be useful for readers who want to understand this: We are already heading towards 150 percent inflation; we have 45 percent of the population below the poverty line; six out of ten children do not eat every day; we have a fiscal deficit; we have a huge devaluation of the currency; the country has 2 million more poor people per year—in a country of 42 million people; we have around 160 different taxes, and one of the highest tax pressures in the world.
E.B.: Something that has confused some in the United States is that, although Milei is allied with the New Right—as he claims to be an admirer of Trump, endorses Bolsonaro—he seems to be cut from a different cloth, doesn’t he? In the United States, the populist right shares a certain level of skepticism of the free market and capitalism, while Milei is a confessed anarcho-capitalist on a theoretical level and libertarian in practical terms. How does Milei fit into the New Right?
A.L.: In practice, what we can call the “New Right” is an effort to articulate three sectors that in principle would seem incompatible, but that in the framework of the 21st century are becoming more and more compatible. These three sectors are libertarians, conservatives, and sovereigntists or patriots.
Now, not all libertarians, conservatives, and sovereigntists are compatible with the New Right, but only some of their particular manifestations. For example, a progressive libertarian does not fit into the New Right, but the most important libertarian politician in history, Ron Paul, was allied with conservatives and was completely opposed to the abortion agenda. Among conservatives you have some more flexible, others more dogmatic who can only read politics under religious glasses, these cannot belong in that articulation. Finally, you have the patriots or sovereigntists. On the one hand, you have the statists and on the other, those who do not confuse love for the homeland with love for the state. With the former, it is difficult. With the latter, it is possible to articulate an alliance.
When these three forces exist, dialogue, and reach an agreement, what we call the New Right appears.
Now, depending on the circumstances of each country, one of these three expressions will take the lead within the alliance. In the case of Spain, it is quite expected that the one taking the lead in this alliance will be the sovereigntist or patriotic sector because the problems afflicting Spain have to do with the E.U. government in Brussels, with illegal immigration, and with a government that has a 2030 Agenda ministry. In the case of the United States, something relatively similar could be said. In addition, the United States has a geopolitical situation of confrontation with China that calls for protecting American industry from unfair competition against a political force that uses slaves to generate wealth, which leads to a certain skepticism with the free market on the right.
Now, in Argentina, it is to be expected that, under the economic conditions of the country in the last 20 years, the sector capable of articulating and leading the new right will be libertarianism. But when you look at Milei’s space with a magnifying glass, you will find the three parts of the alliance.
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