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Enlightened Rule

Portraits of Six Exceptional Twentieth Century Premiers

Paul Maylam

The twentieth century has been called an ‘age of catastrophe’, characterized by devastating wars and a general poverty of leadership at government level. This book, written in a more optimistic vein, offers biographical essays on six twentieth century heads of government – three from Latin America, and one each from Africa, Asia and Europe – who were exceptions to the norm. During their terms of office each displayed admirable qualities: moral authority, integrity, an egalitarian spirit, and a firm commitment to democracy, human rights, social justice and international peace. They shunned personality cults, grandiosity and conspicuous consumption. Their governance was shaped by high ideals, in the tradition of democratic socialism or social democracy, but also marked by pragmatism and an awareness that the realization of these ideals was not always practicable. Although some of the six became iconic, venerated figures, none of them are presented here as ‘heroes’ or ‘great leaders’. Each had failings and flaws, and each has been subject to critique. They are rather presented as government heads whose leadership has been worthy of deep respect and admiration. Had other premiers emulated their style of governance, twentieth century history would have taken a very different course.


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Chapter 2 The Philosopher-Ruler: José Batlle y Ordóñez of Uruguay (1903–1907, 1911–1915) 25


CHAPTER TWO The Philosopher-Ruler: José Batlle y Ordóñez of Uruguay (1903–1907, 1911–1915) The history of Uruguay for much of the twentieth century has been described as ‘the lengthened shadow of a man’.1 That man was José Batlle y Ordóñez, who served two terms as the country’s presi- dent, from 1903 to 1907 and from 1911 to 1915. His impact and legacy lasted well beyond these two terms. ‘Probably in no other country in the world in the past two centuries’, wrote Russell Fitzgibbon in 1954, ‘has any one man so deeply left his imprint upon the life and character of a country as has José Batlle y Ordóñez’. His impact can be compared to that of Ata- turk on Turkey. ‘For a half century past’, continued Fitzgibbon, ‘the course of Uruguay’s history has been turned, the policies of its government have been molded, the thinking of its people has been oriented by the vision, the courage, the crusading fervor of the man Batlle’.2 He came to be venerated in Uruguay for decades after his death in 1929. His followers revered him, cherished his ideals, chanting his name for long periods at party conventions. A cult grew up around him. 1 Russell H. Fitzgibbon, Uruguay: Portrait of a Democracy (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1954), p. 122. 2 Ibid. Note that in Uruguay the name Batlle is pronounced ‘Bah-jay’. 26 CHAPTER TWO Why such reverence? There are two main aspects to Batlle’s achieve- ment. First, his...

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