Catholic New Dealer* Sohrab Ahmari denounces Argentina’s new president as a faux populist. Good for Milei.

Javier Milei, new libertarian-leaning president of Argentina, against a yellow and blue background. | Lex Villena; Manuel Cortina / SOPA Images/Sip/Newscom

With critics like Sohrab Ahmari, the sourpuss cofounder of the conservative social democrat* journal Compact, Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, is looking better and better even before doing a damn thing.

Writing in The New Statesman, Ahmari bemoans “Maga’s foolish embrace” of Milei, whom too many are mistaking for a real populist—you know, the sort of strongman who embodies the volk, punishes certain businessmen, rewards certain labor unions, appeals to tradition and hierarchy, and generally bosses people around. Indeed, even Donald Trump—whom Ahmari slags for doing “precious little to implement a more solidaristic agenda”—congratulated Milei.

Milei, clucks Ahmari, “rejects nearly everything ‘Maga’ populists in the United States, and analogue movements across the developed world, claim to stand for…. [He] is a doctrinaire Hayekian seemingly grown in a secret laboratory funded by the Koch brothers, with the editorial staff of Reason, the extremist libertarian magazine based in Washington, serving as the scientists.”

That’s flattering, really. Milei’s perfidious agenda includes such horribles as reducing tariffs in a country that is battling 140 percent annual inflation and has seen poverty climb from 5 percent a decade ago to over 40 percent. Milei—who does indeed quote libertarian economists such as Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Murray Rothbard—also wants to “dollarize” the economy as a way of hemming in an incompetent central bank and spendthrift government. This is bad, Ahmari says, because it “would leave the country without its own central bank and at the mercy of the US Federal Reserve System.” Maybe, but such a complaint simply ignores the existing reality, which is beyond untenable.

Ahmari is aghast that Milei, who was called a “Trump-like radical” by The Washington Post, has said he supports markets for organs (which are always in short supply) and the use of cryptocurrencies that escape the state’s machinations. Despite being a practicing Catholic, Milei has had sharp words for the Pope, Ahmari reminds us, calling Francis, a “son of a bitch preaching communism” and “the representative of evil on Earth.” Though a surrogate spoke of severing ties with the Vatican, Milei has, says the National Catholic Reporter, walked back such comments after victory.

Whether Milei’s agenda has any chance of being implemented, much less finding any success, is far from clear. As Arturo C. Porzecanski has written, his party holds just 37 seats in the House (out of 257) and a mere eight out of 72 in the Senate. Assuming he is able to take a figurative chainsaw to various agencies, it is uncertain whether his policies will yield quick and decisive results.

But Milei represents a break from Argentina’s past, which for a century has been ruled by a series of left-wing and right-wing authoritarians who crush opposition and initiative in the name of the people they abuse.

That’s a start, in and of itself. There are reasons to be worried about Milei, not least of which is his predilection to downplaying past governmental violence, but to the extent that he confounds proponents of “real” populism, he might just be exactly what his country needs.

CORRECTION: The original sub-headline of this article referred to the Sohrab Ahmari as a “national conservative” and the first line identified Compact as a national conservative publication. He wrote me to say “I’ve repeatedly said I’m not a ‘national conservative.’ Nowhere in COMPACT’s ‘About Us’ page or in our pages generally will you find celebration of national conservatism. And I’ve personally written numerous pieces on why I’m not a nationalist.” He suggested the two descriptor phrases marked by asterisks, noting,”Any of those descriptors would still be odious among your readers, but they’d be more accurate than natcon.

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