Doctrinaire and Inorganic Democracy

3 May 2009



Yesterday when I referenced José Luis Romero’s classic study, A History of Argentine Political Thought I didn’t have my copy to hand so I couldn’t consult its use of the distinction between organic and inorganic democracies. Now that I do have my copy in front of me, I see that that the distinction is central to the structure of the book, though it is made a little differently than how I attempted to unfold the idea yesterday.

José Luis Romero (Buenos Aires 1909 - Tokyo 1977)

José Luis Romero (Buenos Aires 1909 - Tokyo 1977)

Although the idea of “organic democracy” is implied by “inorganic democracy,” the distinction made by Romero is between “doctrinaire democracy” and “inorganic democracy,” which are the subject matter of Part Two, chapters III and IV, respectively. Romero’s book is not the kind that can be skimmed; his meaning must be gleaned from careful reading. He appears to offer no explicit definitions, but develops the ideas in the course of his exposition of Argentinian history.


One interesting idea I have taken away, however, from a quick skimming of Romero’s book is the distinction that he develops in the Foreward between authoritarianism and liberalism. This struck me especially because I have just finished going through Robert Kagan’s recent book, The Return of History and the End of Dreams. Kagan makes the distinction between authoritarianism and liberalism central to his exposition of contemporary geopolitics (though he formulates the distinction in slightly different terms), so after just finishing Kagan’s book it was interesting to find a much more detailed and historically sophisticated account in Romero’s book (first published in 1946, more than sixty years ago).


I have been meaning to discuss Kagan’s book in this forum, but haven’t had the time to do so yet. I have also been through his Of Paradise and Power. Of the two, I think the first, earlier book is much better. Both have the virtue of being short books of broad compass, and of being thoughtful books that provoke one to think things through for oneself. When I looked up the reviews of both of these Kagan pamphlets on I noticed that The Return of History and the End of Dreams was pretty well reviewed overall, while the earlier Of Paradise and Power was given several highly negative reviews, which uniformly characterized the book as a piece of post-Cold War triumphalism. That it may be, but it was also more than this, and indeed I think it was a better study of the ideas of contemporary geopolitics.


I find a political analysis in terms of a distinction between authoritarianism and liberalism problematic, because I view authoritarianism not as an ideology, but as a fact of the exercise of power that has no true ideological content. Authoritarian regimes employ ideologies such as nationalism, communism, democracy, or what have you in the attempt to legitimize their rule, but the authoritarian exercise of power in and of itself is not ideological. This was, to my mind, the weakness of Kagan’s The Return of History, but put in the context of Romero’s distinction, I can see how there can be a formulation of authoritarianism that is, at its core, ideological, but this thought would require further development, and it does not receive this development in Kagan’s work.


There is a great deal to discuss in regard to organic democracy, inorganic democracy, doctrinaire democracy, and the books of Romero and Kagan, but I am leaving for Ecuador tomorrow, and now I must pack. I’ll be taking a computer with me, so if I have the opportunity I will be posting from the road.


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