By Shayne O’Loughlin
On August 13th, 2023, Argentines across the country attended their nearest polling station to vote in their primary elections. These primaries narrow down candidates on the ballot to those with over 1.5% of the vote in the general election to take place October 22nd. Among the candidates were showings of the establishment coalitions: on the left, the Peronist “Unión por la Patria,” and on the right, the “Juntos por el Cambio”. Uniquely, this election also featured a showing from one of the many young coalitions occupying the spirits of dissatisfied Argentines, “La Libertad Avanza”. Their candidate, 52-year-old Javier Milei, made waves when he won 30% of the popular vote, outperforming each establishment candidate by millions (UP received 21.4% and JxC 17%). Who is this dark horse of Argentinian politics, and what does he advocate?
Under the affectionate nickname el Peluca (“The Wig”), economist Javier Milei seems like a character in all aspects of his life. As a young adult, he played soccer at a semi-professional level as goalkeeper and was a musician in a Rolling Stones cover band. He is a devout Catholic and a former tantric sex instructor who preaches “free love”. He even cloned his deceased English Mastiff, Conan, into six separate dogs, whom he refers to as his “sons”. He named four of the six dogs after some of his favorite economists like Milton Friedman and Murray Rothbard. He claims that he and Conan met 2,000 years ago in the Colosseum in Rome, him as a gladiator and Conan as a lion. He believes he can communicate with the dead, and has apparently had dialogues with the likes of his dearly departed Conan, Ayn Rand, Rothbard, and God. Needless to say, his eccentricities give Milei a sort of cult of personality among his fans, and an easy means of derision among his enemies.
Milei stands as the leader of both the Argentinian Libertarian Party and its greater coalition “La Libertad Avanza”. In 2021, he became the first member of the coalition to break into Congress as a Deputy representing the city of Buenos Aires. As per his political promise, since his victory, he has refused to vote for any tax increases on the Congress floor.
To describe his beliefs, Javier Milei has used many terms in the past that basically refer to the same general political philosophy. These terms include “libertarian liberal” or “classical liberal” (as opposed to liberalism’s use in modern American parlance), “philosophical market anarchist”, “philosophical anarcho-capitalist”, or “paleolibertarian” but with the distinction of being a “short-term minarchist”. For the uninitiated, these terms sound like an indigestible stew, but essentially they’re all synonymous with each other: above all else, Javier Milei believes that everyone deserves equal respect for their “project of life,” free from government coercion to its fullest extent. As such, he advocates for the “Non-Aggression Principle,” a libertarian concept which proscribes the use of force against others and their property.
In practice, Milei supports massive privatization of industries, “dollarizing” the economy, extensive tax cuts, legalizing drugs and prostitution, giving citizens the right to bear arms or sell their organs legally, and reducing corruption by minimizing government bureaucracy. He has expressed his interest in immediately closing down the Ministry of Women, Genders, and Diversity, which he called a “Cultural Marxist administration.” Some criticism has been levied against Milei among libertarians globally over his fervency to ban abortion completely within Argentina. This ties into Milei’s belief in life as a binary continuum from conception to death, to which he calls all premature cessation at the hands of another “murder”. Despite his identification as Catholic, he has been critical of the current Pope for abetting Communist regimes, which he regards as unchristian and evil.
A major part of Milei’s meteoric rise has been his abundant television and radio appearances, including his interviews and debates on public television. While few of these segments have aired in English, various YouTube channels like “Milei in English” have uploaded clips of Milei’s thoughts on topics such as socialism, cultural degradation, and taxation with English subtitles. It’s easy to see why his iconoclastic takes have garnered him a large following among young people, as well. These clips display Milei not only making strong logical arguments against his detractors, but also imbuing it with his own brand of passionate pathos. This appeal to the average citizen has made him become labeled as a “populist” and “far-right” “ultra-conservative” in a similar vein to Trump and Bolsonaro by the English media, who otherwise seems unsure of what to make of him.
Milei’s prominence in the English-speaking world only grows over time, however. His interview with Tucker Carlson has been viewed over 420 million times on X as of the writing of this article, with 300 million of those views happening within the first 24 hours of its release. This makes it Carlson’s most successful episode yet.
Milei’s victory in the October 22nd general election may seem imminent, but it won’t be without its challenges. Despite recent polling data suggesting that “La Libertad Avanza” is 8 points ahead of their competition, this likely won’t be enough to ensure victory in the first round. Argentinian general elections work so that if a candidate cannot secure at least 45% of the vote or 40% of the vote with a 10% lead in the first round, then a second round will take place with the top two candidates. If this were to happen, the runoff election would take place on November 19th. While chances look promising for Milei, remember that in politics, the situation can change very quickly.
The influence of Javier Milei on global politics and the efficacy of his policies may cause a shockwave, particularly among the Latin American world. If his policies of liberalization and dollarization are unsuccessful, they may doom libertarian politics in Latin America for years, even decades. Remember that no matter the quality of a policy on paper, its implementation is just as important, and much easier to blunder. However, if they are successful, it may encourage a new wave of libertarian politicians to throw their hat in the ring in response to the seemingly endless wave of failed socialist policies that have been plaguing Latin America for well over a century.