Carlos Rangel was perhaps the most important thinker of the last century on the South American continent, with the exception of Vargas Llosa, Octavio Paz, and company.
In the 1960s and 1970s, while the intellectuals of the time, the mass media and the whole world watched with veneration and enthusiasm the advance of the Cuban revolution, there was a man who, without having yet lived through the hardships of communism-socialism, was already warning of what was coming for Cuba and the rest of the region if we followed in its footsteps.
His predictions were accurate; unfortunately nobody listened to him.
Del buen salvaje al buen revolucionario
Rangel was born in Caracas, Venezuela, went to college in the United States and Europe, and later became a university professor and career diplomat, until he became involved in opinion journalism and began to write the works that would make him immortal.
If it is difficult to talk about free markets, private property and individual freedoms today, imagine what it was like to do so 50 years ago, when an overwhelming majority of intellectuals were giddy for Marxism and Keynes was a superstar.
In 1976 Rangel would publish the work that in my opinion is one of the greatest essays written in the last century. Titled Del buen salvaje al buen revolucionario (From the Good Savage to the Good Revolutionary), the book was widely disseminated thanks to the admiration felt by the French philosopher, writer and journalist, Jean-Francois Revel.
Revel, in the prologue to Rangel’s work, wrote:
“Del buen salvaje al buen revolucionario is an indispensable book not only for the understanding of Latin America, but of a good part of the contemporary world, where the same failures, the same impotences, the same illusions are reproduced. Beyond its immediate object and its specific case, Carlos Rangel’s work constitutes a general reflection on the discrepancy between what a society is and the image that society has of itself. At what point does this separation become too great to be compatible with the control of reality? This is the question whose determination we approach through the history of Spanish America and by confronting its myths with its realities.”
Indeed, Rangel’s work is not only indispensable to understand the historical, political, and economic failures of Latin American history, but also the narrative and sociological gaps that have caused us, who consider ourselves Latin Americans, to be raised under a radically victimizing culture, with a serious disregard for merit, and with paternalistic states that have only managed to deepen even more the existing gap between the North of America (United States), and the rest of the countries of the Americas, from the highest in Mexico to the lowest in Argentina.
On this question, Rangel wrote:
“…prevailing from the beginning in North American society is the conviction that the rule of law is in itself such a fundamental conquest against the tendency to arbitrariness latent in all governments, that it is better to endure a deficient, and even bad, law until it can be modified through a regular procedure, than to admit (much less request) its amendment or abolition by an act of force, be it autocratic, be it revolutionary. Those who suppose it exaggerated to attribute such collective sentiments to the North Americans of the last quarter of the eighteenth century, have not learned or refuse to believe, against the evidence, that in those English colonies of North America Locke’s thought had become as subtly diffused, as influential, as immediate, as ‘folkloric’ as the thought of Marx and Lenin has become in the so-called Third World in the second half of the twentieth century. And it was Locke who said that where law ends, tyranny begins.”
Rangel’s book not only perfectly dissects the ideological and political obstacles that have condemned Latin America to poverty and backwardness, but also explains in detail how Marxism has been penetrating our nations, and how, on the contrary, the United States prospered thanks to classical liberal policies. Here is how he recalls one of the trips made by the precursor of the American emancipation against the Spanish empire, together with Simón Bolívar, probably the most important Venezuelan in history, the Generalissimo Francisco de Miranda:
“The advantages of a free government with calm common sense, Miranda attributes the virtues and prosperity he observes in American society not to any still impossible and unthinkable abuse of power in relation to other nations, but simply to the advantages of a free government (over) any despotism, something that ‘very few Frenchmen’ or Spaniards familiar with the United States are ‘capable of discerning’, for not having penetrated the wonderful arcane of the British constitution.”
Although Del Buen Salvaje al Buen Revolucionario is Rangel’s best known work, and by far the most revered, I consider Tercermundismo to be superior, because it dissects with much more precision and understanding the rotten roots that socialism has left, not only in Latin America, but in the whole world.
“Today it is possible for us to perceive that Marxist-Leninist socialism and fascism were not (and are not) essential opposites and antagonistic poles, as they themselves perhaps believed (and in any case were determined to make believe, managing to persuade a whole generation of it), but brothers – enemies. Fascism has the same statist ardor as Marxist socialism and is equally illiberal and therefore anti-capitalist. Far from being the last cartridge of dying bourgeois liberalism, it conceives itself as, and is in fact, a political philosophy of the socialist family.”
Rangel stood firm against the predominant Marxist intelligentsia of the time, pointing out the truth without complexes.
“Without exception, all the countries self-described as socialist know varying degrees of economic backwardness,” he wrote, “and all suffer a dismaying political backwardness.”
Father of Libertarian Ideas in Venezuela
Those of us who have survived the destruction caused by collectivist systems in the world try to alert our sister or host countries about this nefarious ideology, and in spite of the evidence and abuses, we continue to constantly run into multilateral organizations such as the UN, and all the departments that arise from there, washing away the crimes of the international left and the atrocities committed under socialism.
Even in what was historically the land of liberties, the US, we have observed how collectivism and Marxism has been making inroads, to such an extent that today libertarians and conservatives are marginalized and censored in social networks, discredited and defamed in the media, and in many cases virtually excluded from the publishing and film industry.
A Tragic Ending
Unfortunately, at the age of 58, one of the greatest thinkers of modern history, Carlos Rangel, decided to take his own life, after tirelessly warning that his country was also at risk of being infected by the socialist disease, and after calling time and again for the application of a market economy that was never practiced in Venezuela.
Today, we Venezuelans should regret not listening to Carlos Rangel. The least we can do is to pay tribute to his memory, revive his texts, make them known to the world, make our children and our children’s children read them, so that hopefully they do not fall into the same ideological traps as our generation and we can one day turn the nations of Latin America into prosperous, rich, democratic and free territories.
PS: This article in no way does justice to the legacy of Carlos Rangel. It’s impossible to summarize or reflect his great work in one writing. Therefore, my invitation to everyone is to go to his books and be amazed by the wisdom of a man who was ahead of his time.
This article, Carlos Rangel: The Man Who Tried to Save Venezuela From Socialism, was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education and appears here with permission. Please support their mission.