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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 4 The Spiritual Socialist: Juan José Arévalo of Guatemala (1945–1951) 117


CHAPTER FOUR The Spiritual Socialist: Juan José Arévalo of Guatemala (1945–1951) In 1945, the year that he became president of Guatemala, Juan José Arévalo gave an outline of his political philosophy: We are socialists because we live in the twentieth century. But we are not materi- alist socialists. We do not believe that man is primarily stomach. We believe that man is above all else a will for dignity …. Our socialism does not aim at an ingenious dis- tribution of material goods or the stupid equalization of men who are economically dif ferent. Our socialism aims at liberating man psychologically and spiritually …. The materialist concept has become a tool in the hands of totalitarian forces. Commu- nism, Fascism and Nazism have also been socialist. But theirs is a socialism which gives food with the left hand while the right mutilates the moral and civic values of man.1 This thinking has been called ‘spiritual socialism’. Arévalo’s antipathy to materialism was understandable, given the year in which he was stating this position. His stress on human values shone through. But he opened himself to an obvious critique: that this kind of thinking was naïve, too idealistic, and not conducive to ef fective governance. Surely, it could be argued, Arévalo was out-of-touch with the harsh realities of mid-twentieth- century Latin American politics? 1 James Dunkerley, Power in the Isthmus: A Political History of Modern Central America (London: Verso, 1988), p. 138. 118 CHAPTER FOUR Critics could go...

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