The Rise of Rentier Populism

Sebastián L. Mazzuca
2013 Journal of Democracy  
The "left turn" that many South American countries made during the early years of the twenty-first century has been the first major continentwide political trend about which Guillermo O'Donnell remained silent. Moreover, his vast arsenal of concepts is nowhere to be found in the copious scholarly literature that deals with the left turn and its bifurcation into radical and moderate variants. O'Donnell decisively shaped the intellectual agenda for the study of the rise of military dictatorships
more » ... tary dictatorships in the Southern Cone in the early 1970s; pioneered the analysis of authoritarian breakdowns and democratic transitions throughout the 1980s; and broke new conceptual ground for efforts to understand the problems of life after transition (including the issue of institutional quality) during the 1990s. Yet analyses of the left turn have dispensed with the ideas that O'Donnell developed over four decades of a singularly distinguished scholarly career. How can that be? The reasons are two. First, experts on the region have tended to see South America's turn to the left as taking place at the level of policy outputs, whereas O'Donnell focused more deeply, examining regime outcomes or underlying state capacities. O'Donnell's analytical framework was designed to capture large-scale institutional transformations. In order to be effective, this framework had to abstract from features at the level of policy such as the ones that define the left turn and divide it into two variants: the wholesale reversal of trade liberalization and privatization seen in the radical cases of Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and especially Venezuela; and the more restrained center-
doi:10.1353/jod.2013.0034 fatcat:hkrqkiv5gbc67lfsec6pamljzi