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#2382: Duvalier, Demagogy and Democracy (fwd)

From: Merrill Smith <advocacy@bellatlantic.net>

Jean Beaujour <jbb123@hotmail.com> wrote:

> Duvalier has changed the political scene in Haiti forever. Prior to him,
> noone really made a clear effort to include the mass in Haitian Politics.
> The mass which was excluded of politics is now a strong force to reckon
> with. He empowered the mass and this will prove to be significant now and in
> the future.

More historically astute members may draw on mass involvement going back
to the revolution but, in this century at least, didn't Daniel Fignolé
perfect the art of "mass involvement" with his "steamroller"
demonstrations before Duvalier?

More importantly, doesn't this beg the question of distinguishing
democracy from demagogy? The real question is not whether Duvalier,
Fignolé or others got the masses into the streets but whether they
became truly empowered, i.e., informed and effective political actors
independently formulating and implementing a coherent programmatic
agenda and not just tools manipulated by charismatic leaders to
intimidate political opponents. If Duvalier a) really did good and b)
really empowered the masses (both of which I highly doubt), what became
of this program after he died? People often refer to "Duvalierism"
surviving the death of Duvalier but they are generally referring to the
surviving kleptocratic, repressive and atomistic political culture --
not anything good.

The problem with mass cults of personality is not that they fail to
bring the masses into the street or that they can never do anything good
(although unrestrained personal power more often leads to bad). Any good
they might do evaporates with the death of the leader.

A side point: I find it interesting to note the difference between the
way Haitians use the word "demagoji" and the way English speakers use
the word "demagogy." The Haitian usage seems to denote merely trickery
or deceit without the connotations, pretty much essential to the English
usage, of charisma, popularity, prejudice and emotionality. Yet a string
of Haitian dictators and would-be dictators seem to correspond more
exactly to the English usage than the Haitian. Does Creole have another
word for it or, like Eskimos with respect to snow, too many to count?!