Charisma and Letter Writing: The Case of Peronist Correspondence

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:50 AM
Chicago Ballroom A (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Donna J. Guy, Ohio State University
While charisma and personalism have been terms used to denote populist leaders all over the world, Peronism has been particularly cited as a case where leaders’ charisma led to obsessive loyalty, one determined by the goals of the leaders, but rarely by followers. This paper intends to explore the classic definitions of charisma cited by sociologists, political scientists, and historians, to ask several questions: 1) Can followers affect the charismatic relationship; 2 Can charisma be a two way street and 3) how does the process of writing to powerful figures help invent fictive bonds that have often been described as charismatic.

The case of Peronism is particularly intriguing, as this political movement formed by Juan Perón during his two administrations (1946-55) (1973-74) has often been termed personalistic and charismatic without really distinguishing between the methods of elected officials (Juan) and office representatives of the president (Eva). Collections of letters from everyday people to the Perón’s demonstrate distinctive uses of correspondence to promote the desires not only of the leaders, but also the followers. Furthermore, many of these people proved to be quite effective at soliciting favors at various times. 

The letter writing is important also because despite military interventions and dictatorships that plagued the period from 1955 to 1973, only the Peronist party has been able to rule Argentina without military intervention since 1983. How has this happened and what role does selective memory, including notions of the charismatic, play into these resilient bonds that survived the destruction of a generation of youths and turning Peronists into pariahs.