The Unholy Alliance of Baby Doc and Bob Barr

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 23, 2011 — 89 Comments

One week ago, former Haitian dictator/”president-for-life” Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned to Haiti from exile in France. There’s been much speculation as to why Duvalier, the son of the infamous François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, chose this time to return. Whatever the reason, two days later he was charged with corruption by a Haitian court, though human rights organizations also want him charged for his role in the torture and death of thousands of Haitians. Duvalier, while president of Haiti, was head of a paramilitary force known as the “Tonton Macoutes,” who enforced the will of their leader and used Vodou as an element of psychological warfare against the populace.

Vodou leaders were also members, giving what came to be called the Militia of National Security Volunteers (known as MVSN, for its French acronym) an almost-religious aura. Opponents were killed in the night and their bodies were often placed on public display. “The Duvaliers are estimated to have ordered the deaths of between twenty and thirty thousand Haitian civilians,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement this week.

Employing vodou leaders and illiterate peasants was integral to the Duvalier’s method of overseeing the torture and murder of political opponents and robbed public funds, biographer Elizabeth Abbott writes in Foreign Policy. “Duvalier’s genius lay in how he designed their hierarchical structure, chose their (usually humble) social origins, and included priests (voodoon and Christian) and rural section chiefs who ruled their fiefdoms with iron fists and reported personally to him any subversive activity or even thought.”

Despite this, some Haitians, including Vodouisants, have welcomed the return of Duvalier, seeing his family’s reign as a time of relative stability, and preferable to the policies of left-leaning president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (currently in exile) and his supporters. That number may include Max Beauvoir, the appointed “supreme master” of a coalition of Haitian houngans, who has been linked to Baby Doc by the New York Times.

“Voodoo and politics have long been intertwined in Haiti, with some past leaders reaching out to voodooists as a way of burnishing their populist credentials. Beauvoir has himself been linked with François Duvalier, or Baby Doc, the dictator who fled the country in 1986 after a popular uprising against him. And Beauvoir opposed Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s rule, becoming a hated figure among loyalists of the former Catholic priest.”

So the return of Duvalier has introduced a new element of instability in an already unstable situation. Dredging up a past that is still fresh for many Haitians. Into this morass comes conservative Libertarian politician Bob Barr, who is now acting as the former dictator’s “voice to the world.”

“Now, with Duvalier once again seeking to become a public figure in Haiti, he is working to rebuild his public image in the eyes of both Haitians and the international community. In order to do this, he has enlisted the help of numerous U.S. attorneys, including none other than former Libertarian Party presidential candidate and Clinton impeachment champion former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA). Barr will serve as the former dictator’s “voice to the world,” and he told CNN that he plans to bring Duvalier’s “message of hope to the world“ [...] One has to wonder how Barr — who ran for president in 2008 to “deliver a refreshing message of liberty” — can reconcile his supposed right-libertarian beliefs with being on the payroll of a notorious autocrat who shut down elections and the free press and tortured nonviolent dissidents.”

Barr is a known quantity to many in the modern Pagan community for his 1999 campaign to have Wiccans banned from military service. A stance he (somewhat) recanted in 2008 when running for president on the Libertarian party ticket, only to re-embrace it once he longer had to curry political favor.

“… if I were in the Air Force and was being commanded by an officer who practices hedonism as a religion (another part of the definition of “pagan”), and who dances around a circle of stones in the woods carrying a lighted candle, I would be more than a little worried about following him into battle.”

So it seems that Pagans serving in (and receiving fair accommodation from) the United States military is something he doesn’t like, but acting as an ambassador for an ousted ruler who happily employed practitioners of Vodou in a paramilitary organization that terrorized Haiti is just fine. As for the well-documented crimes against humanity and his country perpetrated by Duvalier, they are, according to Barr, mere “allegations.”

Barr, who represented Georgia’s 7th District from 1995 to 2003, and was the Libertarian Party’s 2008 presidential nominee, said Saturday that the allegations against Duvalier are just that. “I deal with allegations all the time,” he said. “They are the cheapest commodity on the market.”

What we are witnessing is a desperate PR campaign by a fallen dictator, one who is already cynically manipulating an already desperate people. Whether Duvalier came of his own accord, or was manipulated into place by the Haitian government or the international community, few can determine what the results of introducing this wild card may be. However this goes, his presence does not signal the salvation of any community in Haiti, certainly not those who practice Vodou, and his alliance with Barr should raise many troubling questions as to how this came about and who exactly benefits.

Send to Kindle

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • freemanpresson

    Unbelievable. Clearly, Barr was never a Libertarian, and his nomination in 2008 was the end of the Libertarian Party USA as far as I and many others are concerned.

    • BryonMorrigan

      Indeed. Believe it or not, I was once registered as a Libertarian. But the basic premise of Libertarianism is Social Liberalism and Fiscal Conservatism. If you are Socially Conservative…you CANNOT be "Libertarian," especially when much of your Social Conservatism is based on Christian Supremacism, as with Barr.

  • Jacquie Minerva Georges

    I have been getting a lot of negative feedback due to my non-issue of Baby Doc’s return and how I feel about a possible trial. Like many of my family who forgave Baby Doc and doesn’t understand the “off with his head” cheers. This could be of course due to my family, both maternal and paternal, political position during Baby Doc’s reign. I will not go into details about that.

    Anyways, stay tune for Aristide is contemplating about his return to Haiti in the near future. That is all I will say. If there is a trial the question is do the international community and the Haitian government want to use the donations and loans for reconstruction of Haiti on a trial that will be drawn out? Many people DON’T want any funding for reconstruction of Haiti used to trial Baby Doc but where will the funding for trial come from? This will be a drawn out trial with lots of money dishing out.

  • Dave Easterly

    Barr may have been a Libertarian (with a capital L) candidate, but he was never a true libertarian (with a small l). He and W.A.R. were the most shameful and pathetic ticket the LP has ever offered to the voters.

  • Robert Mathiesen

    There are wheels within wheels here!

    It is well worth remembering that Bill Clinton was appointed by the United Nations as its first ever Special Envoy to Haiti in May, 2009. A few months later, in August, 2009, Clinton appointed the idealistic physician Paul Farmer as UN Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti. Farmer is also one of the founders of Partners in Health, which has done so much for Haiti, but also for other parts of he third world.

    Farmer has always stressed the need for Haiti to take charge of its own destiny and not remain dependent on any outside power. He is one of the very few genuinely good guys in the whole long history of the USA's interest in Haiti. I tend to use him as my touchstone for judging any policy move vis-a-vis Haiti.

    Barr, on the other hand, has a long history of opposing the Clintons, and I strongly suspect that he supports Duvalier as much to get back at both Clintons as to increase his own wealth and power. Time will tell, of course.

    There is, of course, one good thing about the Duvaliers (father and son) from the perspective of readers of this blog, namely, that they favored Vodou (while co-opting it for their own purposes, of course). But that should not be the only issue for Pagans and for those who sympathize with Haiti.

    • Jennifer Parsons

      Actually, the Duvaliers co-opting Vodou for their own purposes could be one reason why it's such a feared, maligned, and misunderstood faith today. There could now be generations of people who associate "Vodou" with the depredations and cruelty used by the Duvalier regimes to prey on the superstitions and fears of an uneducated populace to keep them in line.

      I pray that both Haiti and Vodun will survive this, and that Vodun will no longer be perverted to political ends.

      • Jacquie Minerva Georges

        @ Jennifer: I do understand how one may correlate Vodou with ugliness due to Duvalier and his regime. Yet, how many times have politicians and those in power used Christianity or any other religion and or ideology to carry out the heinous of crimes [i.e.: the Inquisition]?

        • Jennifer Parsons

          I'm not blaming Vodou for the Duvaliers' use of it; I'm simply pointing out that the way it has been used by their regimes result in its being maligned and misunderstood– not unlike the way the religious wars of early modern Europe and the witch trials of late medieval Europe resulted in Christianity being mistrusted and losing its influence on the general populace.

          Christianity was widespread, so its losing influence didn't lead to too much suffering on the part of Christians. But most Haitians identify as Christian, not as Vodouisant. If Haiti shakes off the influence of Vodou as a revolt against the abuses of the Duvaliers this could result in the suffering of Vodouisants and the death of a very beautiful religion.

          Of course, this is a worst-case scenario; I hope that it won't happen. I'd very much like to be wrong about this.

          • Jacquie Minerva Georges

            @ Jennifer: I presumed you, personally, don’t correlate Vodou with how the Doc’s lead Haiti. I just wish individuals can see the correlation with their religious affiliation, especially “their own”, and how government abuse of it. Yes, most Haitians are Christians but not all Christians in Haiti practice Vodou. That is where there is a lot of confusion: and where I state it is somewhat “away of life” There was no either or. It is possible for “followers” of Vodou attending Christian church services, baptized, and has their communion and still observes Vodou. I believe that is the misconception with those who are unfamiliar with Vodou. They see it as an either or not both.

          • Jacquie Minerva Georges

            Sorry, comment was too long: Likewise in Africa where African Traditional Religion is blended into Islam or Christianity. Papa Doc and Baby Doc were married in and by a Christian Church [Catholicism]. They had their first communion and baptism under Christian Church. Yet, Papa Doc, more than his son, also follows Vodou. I find it funny that their “Christian” side is hardly to blame but their Vodou side is? Which there is no sides…they are one.

  • Apuleius

    Vodou is integral to Haitian culture. In almost any conflict between Haitians, there will be Vodou on both sides.

    It's sad to Jason once again passing along allegations against Max Beauvoir. A real journalist tries to find the truth.

    • Jason Pitzl-Waters

      The New York Times are hardly the only ones who allege Beauvoir was a supporter of Duvalier. It has been mentioned in several printed publications. Do you have any document or interview that specifically rebuts this?

      • Apuleius

        Jason: "Do you have any document or interview that specifically rebuts this?"
        Moi: Rebut what, exactly? Vague accusations that Max Beauvoir was "linked to" the Duvalier's? Or the "portrayal" of Beauvoir (by Amy Wilentz, the only specific source cited by the NYT) as an "oily" man who should not be left alone with children? Please tell me what the evidence is of Beauvoir's "links", his "oiliness", and his supposed tendencies towards mistreatment of children. When I see this evidence I will be happy to evaluate it and give you my response.

        • Jason Pitzl-Waters

          I don't care how "oily" he may or may not have been. But several publications do link Beauvoir to Duvalier. Both "Haiti: the Duvaliers and their legacy" and "Written in blood: the story of the Haitian people, 1492-1995" assert that Jean-Claude consulted Beauvoir for guidance. In a 1998 article, Jake Tapper at the Washington City Paper says that he "got a little too chummy with Duvalier's followers." Finally, Mambo Racine, whom I do take with a grain of salt since she has a grudge against Beauvoir, relays a tale that portrays him as "a Macoute-allied Houngan." I also have more circumstantial references regarding his fleeing into exile and his role in the immediate post-Duvalier Haiti during the time of retributions and violence.

          So I think all of that together, including the NYT article is enough to establish a link, and to wonder if he's among the many Haitians who have a soft-spot for the former dictator.

          • Apuleius

            1. Lets take your "circumstantial" evidence about Beauvoir's "role" in the 1986 violence first.

            There was a wave of violence immediately following Duvalier's fall in 1986. This was called "déchoukaj", the Haitian word for "uprooting". Basically it was like the Cultural Revolution, but with machetes. Much of this violence was directed against Vodouisants who were not even suspected or accused of connections with Duvalier. At least one Catholic priest (from Canada) was documented to be encouraging violence against Vodouisants. This (and more) can be found in a report published by the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees and Americas Watch:

            See especially section VII on "Allegations of persecution of Voodoo practicants". Max Beauvoir is one of the people cited frequently in that section.

            An LA Times article from March 7, 1986, reports on the killing of 10 Mambos and Houngans in just one incident within days of Duvalier's departure from Haiti:

            In other words, Beauvoir's "role" in the violence following Duvalier's downfall was twofold: (1) he was a target of violence, and (2) he tried to alert the international community to violence against Voudoisants.

            2. As to the two books that claim that Duvalier "consulted" Max Beauvoir. I believe that this refers to a single incident when Duvalier asked a group of Houngans and Mambos to conduct a public Vodou ceremony. Fidel Castro did the same thing with the Pope Paul II, and on a far grander scale. Does this mean the former Pope had "links" with Communism? George W. Bush feted the Dalai Lama and awarded him a medal. Does this mean His Holiness has "links" with the Republican Party and should be held partly responsible for the invasion of Iraq?

            3. In the 1998 City Paper article, Tapper cites two un-named sources for the "chummy" characterization, and then immediately states that Beauvoir himself "brushes aside such accusations." Tapper also references respected anthropologist Wade Davis, who has worked closely with Beauvoir over the years. 13 years later, Tapper still calls Max Beauvoir "a friend of mine":

    • Robert Mathiesen

      Max Beauvoir is in a tricky position right now, but he is very intelligent and skilled in politics, and he may be able to come out of things in one piece. His recent emergence as the sanctioned head of Vodou in Haiti and elsewhere was a deft piece of religio-political work, but he is very far from being recognized as head by all the Vodou peristyles throughout the country. Some view him as an opportunist, who has even gone so far as to organize "Vodou" ceremonies for tourists.

      Naturally Beauvoir opposes those who are working to obliterate Vodou in Haiti, whether they are Protestants or Catholics. Also, his sympathies are said to lie strongly with "noirisme" — very roughly, Black power in Haiti –, which places him in opposition to the old Haitian light-skinned, Francophone aristocracy. Duvalier Sr. rode "noirisme" to power back in the day, and used Vodou to maintain his power. So Beauvoir and Duvalier Sr. had certain important things in common, and they probably worked together whenever it suited their several distinct purposes. This is not at all the same thing as saying that Beauvoir was Duvalier Sr.'s man.

      Yet it's not clear that Duvalier Jr. is so strongly a "noiriste" himself; his sympathies may in fact lie more with the old Haitian aristocracy and with the foreign corporations that have dominated Haitian politics since his father's time. So Beauvoir is probably waiting and watching right now, looking to see which of the many competing political factions can best serve his own purposes. And he has no way of figuring this out until (1) he knows whether Aristide (who is a Salesian Catholic priest) will also succeed in returning to Haiti and (2) he can ascertain whether Duvalier Jr is operating on his own, or is a puppet whose strings are being pulled by others behind the scenes (and if so, by whom).

      So it's premature for us outsiders to commit to one side o another yet.

      • Cat_C_B

        Thank you for this analysis. I'll confess, it does appeal to me in part because it is in agreement with my own impressions, that the situation is Haiti is complicated, and that the Pagan instinct to simplify matters mentally (Voudoun = good; ergo, anyone allying themselves visibly with Voudoun must be good also) may be missing things.

        I'm not dissing Max Beauvior, by the way… just reading the nuances as a sort of "Caution: Go Slow" sign when it comes to forming hard and fast judgments on a situation I know only via second and third hand reports at best.

      • Apuleius

        I think Robert Mathiesen gives a good idea of some of the complexities of Haitian politics and recent history.

        I am no expert on Haiti or Vodou, but I know a little about it, and traditional African religions generally. These traditions have been the subject of centuries of the most outrageous disinformation and lurid slanders. Some Vodouisants use every possible opportunity they get to try to patiently explain the truth about Vodou and to calmly dispel some of the worst misperceptions that people have. On the other hand there are unfortunately other Vodouisants who whenever they have any opportunity to speak to the public, use that opportunity to spitefully attack other Vodouisants.

        Here is what I consider to be a positive example of the former: an interview with Max Beauvoir's daughter, Rachel, who is herself a Mambo and also a Harvard educated professor of anthropology:

        As to the other kind of Vodouisant, the less said about them the better.

  • Howdy Doit

    Respectfully, Barr is NOT a "conservative." He is a right-wing extremist. Currently, a large percentage of the people who are leading extremists call themselves "conservatives" in order to gain popularity. "Conservative" is such a nice sounding word. All they want to do is conserve what we have.

    Calling him (and other extremists like him" a conservative is falling into their trap, making them sound far more reasonable than they are. I would suggest beginning to call the extremists by their deserved title, rather than calling them "conservatives," is a first step in regaining the mindset of America.

    • BryonMorrigan

      Indeed. I've found myself falling into this trap from time to time, and one should always endeavor to use words in their correct meaning."Conservative" means center-Right, and "Liberal" means center-Left. There are no "Communist Liberals" or "Fascist Conservatives."

      Unfortunately, much of the dialogue in America is governed by the Right-Wing Extremists, who have dictated the playing field, and set the rules. Only in such a world could a Right-Wing Extremist like Glenn Beck successfully portray himself in the media as a mere "Conservative," while simultaneously convincing the American public that the very Center-Left President Obama is some kind of Communist infiltrator, bent on destroying the country by any means necessary.

  • Jennifer Parsons

    Gods and Ancestors help us, this seems like the last thing Haiti needs.

    Jason, thank you for covering all sides of this mess in as balanced a fashion as possible.

    • Cat_C_B

      Yes, truly. I think Pagans have more reason than most to hope for the best for the people of Haiti. It is very difficult to find thorough and unbiased coverage about this part of the world.

  • Norse Alchemist

    Wow, I really think this sound bad for voodoo. I don't know that it will have the same effect on voodoo that the Nazi's have had on Germanic/Scandinavian religions, but even if it's on a smaller scale, having a murdering dictator use that path as part of his campaign of death will seriously be bad pr at best. At worst…well, we've seen what Heathenism and the Scandinavian/Germanic religions are going through even now.

    • Apuleius

      The Nazis had nothing to do with Germanic/Scandinavian Heathenism. Hitler very explicitly rejected any such connection. As did the primary "theoretician" of the Third Reich, Alfred Rosenberg. As did the man who was Rosenberg's primary inspiration, Huston Stewart Chamberlain.

      Hitler, Rosenberg and Chamberlain all supported a modernized version of Christianity that was non-sectarian, that accepted modern scholarship and scientific thinking, and that emphasized the "social" aspects of Christianity over theology and metaphysics. That is to say, they all supported what people normally think of as "liberal" Christianity. Chamberlain, it turns out, was a life-long friend of Adolf von Harnack, one of the central figures in liberal Protestant theology.

      • Norse Alchemist

        Hey, I'm Asatru, I know all of the above. But it isn't about the truth of a situation, it's about what people believe.

        • Apuleius

          Sadly, this is true. What matters, even to many Pagans, is simply how often a lie gets repeated, and who repeats it. If it is repeated in "respectable" media outlets often enough, it becomes "true" in their eyes.

          • Peter

            With each new event I pray for Haiti and the friends I made there. Thank You Jason for the continued coverage.

      • Cathryn Bauer

        Sadly true. Hitler was in favor of something he called "positive Christianity." Can't think that meant anything other than compliant Christianity. There is even a church in Berlin, built in the 1930s, that has carved images of Jesus with storm troopers. II have seen photos, including one of the baptismal font which features a carving of Hitler. t is called the Martin Luther Memorial Church. I recall that around 2006, there was some movement to save it from being bulldozed. I believe it is still around, but not sure if services are held there or if there is an actual congregation.

  • jaybdicedi

    I was unaware of the Bob Barr element in the story. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

  • Cathryn Bauer

    Barr is a scary guy, and I find myself wondering just who his friends are in our government and intelligence communities. I'd also like to know what the "numerous U.S. attorneys" believe they will get should the Duvaliers come back to power. To my mind at least, it's a given that Baskethead (Baby Doc's school nickname) is someone's marionette. How unfortunate that the amoral Barr may be one of the puppetmasters.

    • ES1966

      The Monroe Doctrine is alive and well. Corporate America sees the western hemisphere as a source of captive markets and cheap near slave labor.

      That's never going to change.

      • Crystal7431

        Unfortunately, you are more than likely right.

      • Cathryn Bauer

        Afraid you are right. I'm sure Haiti is seen as ripe for the picking at this desperate time. And there are also the strategic aspects. Israel is a U.S. friend in the Middle East, and no doubt there is strong interest in acquiring the same kind of friend in the Caribbean. (I use the word "friend" both loosely and sarcastically in this context.) As far back as the Gulf War, I was saying that I thought one of its functions was to test the people's tolerance for invasions with an eye to further adventures, likely in Central America and the Caribbean would be the next target. Still think this, actually. Clearly, the vultures are closely circling Haiti.

  • Florence Edwards-Miller

    Well, trying to find the silver lining here – at least this spells the absolute end of Barr's political carrier. It was pretty dead to begin with, what with his laughable Libertarian run, but representing a dictator just won't fly with American audiences. Perhaps when other politicians try to score points off of Wiccans and Pagans we can use this incident to paint them the same brush as Barr.

    • Cathryn Bauer

      "…ut representing a dictator just won't fly with American audiences." I wish I could believe that, but I do not.

  • leea

    Crystal, you are right! It is strange-Barr had a certain reputation that some on the fir right admired. Baby Doc was considered a thug by many in this country, including on the right. I think there is a huge lot we don't know….and it creeps me out..

  • Souris Optique

    Wow. Knew he was a slimeball, but apparently he's divested himself of the very last of his humanity to be able to support Duvalier in any way.

  • Matthew Hooper

    I posted it a bit further downstream, but I'll add it here: I think it's a huge mistake to equate voudon as it's practiced in Haiti with New Orleans voodoo, let alone the umbrella of wicca. Haitian vodoun is not an asset to Haiti in many, many ways. Just because they're not Christian doesn't automatically make them "one of us".

    • Apuleius

      Matthew Hooper: Just because they're not Christian doesn't automatically make them "one of us".

      What do you mean "us", kemosobe?

      Those who have preserved their ancient African religious traditions through centuries of savage oppression are an inspiration to all real Pagans. You must be one of those "neo" Pagans one hears of. In fact, I think this pretty much defines what that "neo" prefix really signifies.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        The prefix in neoPaganism means we are inspired by what we know of the spirit of ancestral religions, not asserting that we are doing exactly what they did.

      • Matthew Hooper

        Only vodou is not a preservation of African vodoun. It's gotten several doses of Roman Catholicism and other religions in it as well, and it's entirely fair to say that it's a religion all to itself that bears the same resemblance to African animism that Roman Catholicism does to Greek Orthodox Christianity. There's a consistent undercurrent in most pagan discussions I've had that monotheism=bad. That doesn't necessarily mean that pagan=good – especially in Haiti.

        • Souris Optique

          You are aware that plenty of people practice the Haitian version in the 'States too, right?

        • Apuleius

          Matthew Hooper: "There's a consistent undercurrent in most pagan discussions I've had that monotheism=bad. That doesn't necessarily mean that pagan=good…"

          (1) Monotheism is an artificially imposed form of religion that is inherently authoritarian, exclusive, and intolerant.

          (2) Polytheism is the natural, spontaneous form that human spirituality takes of it's own accord. It therefore requires no enforcement of any kind and is, therefore, intrinsically tolerant and inclusive.

          This distinction was recognized and articulated by ancient Pagans including Celsus, Iamblichus and Julian. The same distinction was rediscovered during the Enlightenment and was articulated clearly by David Hume in his essay "That Polytheism was the Primary Religion of Men."

          The same idea has been refined and further elucidated by scholars of human religious history such as Raffaele Pettazzoni and Jan Assmann, as well as by historians who have focused specifically on the period of transition from Pagan polytheism to Christian monotheism in the Roman world (especially Edward Gibbon, J.B. Bury, and Ramsay MacMullen).

          My point being that this distinction between monotheism and Paganism is much more than some "undercurrent" only found among Wiccans on teh interwebs. It is a very serious idea that has been around for a very long time.

    • Tea

      "Haitian vodoun is not an asset to Haiti in many, many ways."
      Please, elaborate.

      • Matthew Hooper

        A brief glance at the history of the Tonton Macoutes pretty much summarizes my point – in Haiti, vodou is more often than not a tool of the opressors.

        • Apuleius

          Matthew Hooper: "in Haiti, vodou is more often than not a tool of the opressors."

          Thank you for clarifying just exactly who and what you are.

        • Tea

          An unscrupulous tyrant uses spiritual power and emotional manipulation to control the populace. Not really a phenomenon specific to Haiti or voudoun, is it? Any belief system can become a tool of oppression in the wrong hands.

          • Matthew Hooper

            Precisely my point. Thank you.

          • Souris Optique

            You could have just come out and said you think *any* form of organized religion is a terrible thing to begin with instead of pretending it had something specifically to do with Vodou.

          • Matthew Hooper

            I'm more the opinion that any form of religion *can* be a terrible thing. It can also be a great thing. In Haiti in particular, it's Vodoun that's the problem. I think that the disorganized religions, like Vodoun and Islam, tend to be uglier than the organized ones, but it's a toss up. Depends a lot less on the religion and a lot more on the person who's practicing it, overall. This thread's been rather graphically demonstrating of late that polytheists can resemble fundamentalist Baptists in some startling ways.

          • Tea

            I'm pretty sure Voudoun and Islam are organized religions, Matthew.
            As far as my comment being "precisely your point", I really don't think it was. You seem to think "it's Vodoun that's the problem", while I think it's certain bad people that are the problem, not Voudoun.
            Furthermore, where in this thread do polytheists resemble fundamentalist Baptists? You lost me.

          • Robin Artisson

            Neither Islam or Vodou are organized religions. They have no centralized hierarchies. Islam has a canon of scripture which is binding on all Muslims, so they come close, but even they don't have a huge bureaucracy of leadership, just local preachers and commentators on the Koran, and prayer leaders. Islam is a revealed religion, and Vodou an organic one. that's a huge difference.

          • Cat_C_B

            Polytheists, or humans, Matthew? (It has been my experience that humans have a tendency toward destructiveness.)

            I see no reason to believe that "disorganized religions" (which would include most forms of Paganism, if not all) are more prone to misuse than organized ones. I do agree that these things seem to depend more on the individual practicing the religion than on the religion itself–and, in particular, their willingness to grow and change, to accept some responsibility for cleaning up messes in life (their own or others'), and to find and listen to wise spiritual guidance, ideally from more than merely human sources.

            I've seen horrible and wonderful examples of humanity in every religion I've yet been exposed to. Degree of organization seems to have very little to do with that–though degree of (and encouragement to) oppression within an organizational structure might.

        • Souris Optique

          So you are arguing that any religion that has ever been twisted by those in power to frighten and control people cannot ever again be a force for good?

          • Matthew Hooper

            No, I'm saying that the religion that's there right now isn't a force for good. Vodoun can certainly change over time, but a great deal needs to change before it can do that, and I'm not seeing evidence that vodoun is going to be the force that implements that change in the near future.

          • Souris Optique

            Tea said: "Not really a phenomenon specific to Haiti or voudoun, is it? Any belief system can become a tool of oppression in the wrong hands."
            You said: "Precisely my point"
            Now you are going back to claiming that it is *specifically* Vodou and not religion in general that is bad for Haiti?

            Yes, you've said that you don't think Vodou is a force for good. You haven't, however, given a single reason why beyond that it has been twisted and used politically for great evil.

            Who are you that evidence as to whether or not Vodou is a "force for good," should be presented to you, or to decide whether /what needs to change about it? That's a pretty arrogant position for someone who can't even argue specifics of the religion itself.

          • Matthew Hooper

            I'm saying that in this case, right here, in this point of history, Vodou isn't a help to Haiti. No more, no less. And my opinions are entirely my own; I make no claims to moral authority, other than my own observations.

          • Souris Optique

            You haven't defended that argument. I object to blanket claims that a beautiful religion is bad for it's country of origin, which never would have existed in the first place without it merely because it has been misused for political power (as most have.)

          • Cat_C_B

            Thank you, Souris. I agree with you both in terms of the overarching principle, and Matthew's failure to defend his rather sweeping condemnation of an entire body of religious belief and practice. (Or is it any religion? Certainly this argument parallels that of many angry atheist voices. As well as, in the specific example of Voudoun and Haiti, the most hateful Christian ones.)

    • Cathryn Bauer

      I'd really like to hear the "many, many ways" voudun is not an asset to Haiti because the only one I can see is the way it's — or a hyped-up perception of it — is used as a weapon by some outsiders.

      • Matthew Hooper

        I'd recommend this link to you:

        Papa Doc Duvalier's private army deliberately used vodoun to garner legitimacy and authority. Their legacy pretty much speaks for itself.

        • Cathryn Bauer

          I think you're equating the perversion and abuse of voudon with religion itself.

        • Apuleius

          Matthew Hooper: "Papa Doc Duvalier's private army deliberately used vodoun to garner legitimacy …."

          Aristide (and others who opposed the Duvaliers) also deliberately used Vodou to garner legitimacy. You either don't know that, in which case your ignorance of Haitian politics is amazing, or you are deliberately cherry picking your evidence, in which case you are simply dishonest.

          • Matthew Hooper

            Fair's fair, neighbor. I gave you my link; show me an outside source backing your claim, please Proclaiming my ignorance without providing any outside sources isn't confidence inspiring.

          • Daniel

            Oyveh, this is certainly a wind that bodes ill for Haiti. Here's for hoping, praying, and acting that he does not come into power. As for Barr, he is, to put it simply, an ass hat that only someone like Pat Robertson would wear.

            As for historal narrative arc in relation to Liberalism and Conservatism, I am amazed at how, for instance, during Lincoln's Administration, it was the progressive elements of tne newly-found Republicanism that fought against slavery, and were the party that fought for equal liberties, and democrats, for the most part, advocated for the unimpeded continuation of slavery. The Barr Code? Oh, please. *rolls eyes in disgust*

            Nearly a hundered years later, positions generally switched with Republicans supporting Segregation. Democrats, however, took a 180 turn, and supported the abolishment of the Jim Crow/Segregation laws with the tenure of Kennedy's Presidency.

          • Robert Mathiesen

            Yes indeed. I am old enough to remember that 180 degree turn first-hand. There was a time when hardly any Southerner would call himself a Republican — that was the party of Lincoln, and also of the hated carpetbaggers –, and in the North there were also many highly progressive, left-leaning Republicans.

            Democrats in the North — a significant part of whom had been distinctly right-leaning — really began to favor the abolition of segregation in the 1960s, as you said. (This was one facet of the extensive culture wars of the '60s and '70s.) As this became more clearly the position of the national Democratic Party, much of the South switched its allegiance as a bloc to the Republican Party. This switch was skillfully engineered by some Republican political strategists, who used it to put Reagan in the White House.

            It may amuse some of you to hear that my own right-leaning mother, who never kept up with politics at all, did perceive Ronald Reagan to be an extremist candidate when he first ran as a Republican for the Presidency. However, because she thought that the Republican Party was still as leftward-looking in 1980 as it had been in her parents' and grandparents' days, she assumed that this meant Reagan was an extreme leftist candidate, virtually a Communist!!! It's a silly anecdote, but it can serve to illustrate how the two parties' positions have changed since the Civil War, although the names of the parties have remained the same.

          • Apuleius

            Matthew if you are unaware of the involvement of Vodouisants in the opposition to Duvalier, then why on earth don't you just keep your mouth shut about Vodou and Haitian politics until you have taken the time to educate yourself? (Hint: "Educating yourself" does not mean looking around on teh interwebs for websites that back up your uninformed opinions.)

            As to providing you with links, didn't your parents ever tell you to "look it up yourself"? This turns out to be extremely good advice: you actually learn much more that way. This should help get you started:

          • Matthew Hooper

            What really impresses me with this line of argument is that I did, in fact, look up this line of argument on google before posting. The results were fascinating.

            Voodoo was proclaimed by Aristide as a the national religion of Haiti near the end of his reign; in fact, one article I read suggested he bathed in human blood to put a curse on George W. Bush so that John Kerry would win. Here's a link:

            …now, I'll leave it to the general reader to determine the truth, but I'll ask you specifically Apuleius, since you seem to feel you know more about this than I do: Is bathing in human blood something that's usually done in voodoo?

            More to the point, if you read the entire article (and other articles on its parent site,, a consistent theme emerges: Voudon is consistently cited as a tool of oppression by whoever is in power – Duvalier, Aristide, whoever. I have very grave doubts that Aristide ever bathed in blood, but I do think that he pandered to vodoun near the end of his reign to try and shore up his power base. It's not at all dissimilar to how Republicans will appeal to the evangelical crowd, and in Aristide's case I suspect it was just as cynical.

            I'm not entirely certain that Professor Yves A. Isidor (the primary author on is a reliable source; since he is in fact Haitian, I'm more inclined to listen to him than a non Haitian commentator. He's very anti-Aristide; on the other hand, he's not exactly a fan of Duvalier either. But it is extremely hard to find anyone who will argue that vodoun is a positive voice in recent Haitian politics. I can find sources who proclaim that vodoun is a force for good and beauty, but it's terribly hard to find anyone actually doing anything about it, and it's easy to find a lot of people who are doing horrible things in its name.

            History is a different matter; vodoun played a critical role in Haiti's independence. But a great many things can change in 200 years, and vodoun's role in Haiti now seems very different than what it was when the French ruled that island.

            Whenever anyone proclaims that they know the truth and demonizes doubters – no matter whether that truth is vodoun, Christianity, wicca, or any other belief system – they offer an opening for evil. Claiming that all monotheism is bad, and all polytheism good, opens you up to every ethical lapse that those who argue the converse commit.

            Fortunately, in some cases, it's easy to expose the sanctimonious with some basic critical thinking. I feel fairly confident that this is one of those cases.

          • Souris Optique

            Vodou, as a religious system, does *not* demonize doubters, so again, not sure of your point.

          • Apuleius

            Bathed in human blood? Do you listen to yourself, Matthew?

            Matthew, anyone can find all kinds of outrageous bullshit on teh interwebs. Yves A. Isidor is the type of person who makes Glenn Beck sound like a rational, open minded liberal.

            Here is a link to an article that takes issue with Isidor's rantings:

          • Apuleius

            Matthew Hooper: "Apuleius, since you seem to feel you know more about this than I do: Is bathing in human blood something that's usually done in voodoo?"

            On the use of human blood in religious rituals, here is an interesting article I just came across: Pope's blood to be built into altar. It's from the Jan. 19, 2011 issue of the Sydney Morning Herald.

  • Apuleius

    A little more on Max Beauvoir….

    Here is a link to an article by Andrew Schneider, Senior Public Health Correspondent for AOLNews from Jan 15, 2010:
    Rush of Medical Aid to Haiti Follows History of Suffering

    "Having been a part of the American health system, Beauvoir was vocal in his demands that Jean-Claude Duvalier, who'd assumed the presidency from his father, Francois, consider the medical needs of the poor. It was only his involvement with Voodoo that kept the president from unleashing his ruthless security force, the Tontons Macoutes, against Beauvoir."

    Andrew Schneider, btw, knows a little about the Duvaliers (and the Tonton-Macoutes). He was one of the few journalists who was on the scene to cover Baby Doc's departure from Haiti in 1986 first-hand:
    Recalling the Day the US Promised 'Baby Doc' Would Never Return

    Bob Corbett is a philosophy professor at Webster University, where he maintains a rather extensive website of information pertaining to Haiti, including a large subsection on Vodou. Corbett wrote some critical "notes" on Wade Davis' book The Serpent and the Rainbow when it first came out. Among many other things, Corbett criticized Davis for his reliance on Max Beauvoir, saying that Beauvoir "does not at all seem a reliable contact to me. Beauvoir's representing himself as an important Voodoo leader during the period of Duvalier's fall, was evidence of his unreliability, his illusions of grandeur." 16 years later, Corbett recanted his criticism of Beauvoir (but not of Davis!) saying that "Max Beauvoir has certainly emerged today as a highly respected scholar and houngan … I have no good reason to doubt the quality of his work …"

    Corbett is also quite familiar with the Duvaliers and the Macoutes. See his web page on Haitian history.

    Despite her constant accusations that Beauvoir is a "Macoute-ally", Mambo Racine credits Max Beauvoir with the work he did to to defend Vodouisants during the violence that swept across Haiti in 1986 after the downfall of Duvalier, and also with gathering documentation about the violence against Vodouisants:

    Racine acknowledges that during this period of violence, "Some Houngans and Mambos were burned alive by rampaging mobs." It was this violence that led Beauvoir to eventually leave Haiti with his family and to live in the United States for a period. Beauvoir's work on behalf of victims of the 1986 violence is mentioned prominently in this report: Duvalierism Since Duvalier, see especially section VII which is specifically devoted to violence against Vodouisants.

    As to the accusation that Baby Doc Duvalier "consulted" with Houngan Max Beauvoir: according to Elizabeth Barad this really did happen in the early days of Baby Doc's reign. But the way Barad tells it, Baby Doc sought out Beauvoir because he was "tired of the spiritual lackeys", that is, the Houngans and Mambos who had served his father, Papa Doc Duvalier. Apparently, and unlike his father (Francois), Jean-Claude Duvalier didn't want to be fed sweet lies, but rather wanted to know what the Lwas really had to say. And so Max Beauvoir told Duvalier: "The spirits are annoyed and angry. They want you to leave."

    Here is a link to Barad's article: Haiti dances to a different drummer. This was published in the August, 1994 issue of Dance Magazine.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    The statements of Bob Barr about Duvalier reported here are what one expects from the defense attorney of a notorious client. Blaming him for them undercuts his client's right to legal representation. My despise of Bob Barr is based on his past record, not on this choice of client.

    Max Beauvoir is the one I worry about. Any sympathy Vodouisants may have garnered as a result of being victimized by Christian missionaries is going to disappear if they fall in with the Duvalier machine again. Beauvoir does not have the fig-leaf of attorney-client rights to cover an association with Baby Doc.

  • Alex Pendragon

    Good, then could we please put to rest the idea that the term "liberal" is some sort of communist atheistic evil that has been trying for more than two hundred years to "bring America to it's knees"? "Liberals" bear children, have families, work in the community, serve in the military, own businesses, and believe in a Supreme Being, just likes those in this purported "real America" that certain vain and petty individuals I don't even have to bother to name like to crow about. So, what is so pure and holy about the term "conservative", anyway? Conserve WHAT, exactly? Slavery? The filthy rich? Pesticides and herbicides in our food supply because of "cost benifit"? "Creation Science"? Intolerance and bigotry? Mom's apple pie, which Mom doesn't know how to or have time to make anymore? Pah-leease! I will be more than happy to put aside labels as soon as people of a certain mindset have enough basic decency to stop labeling the rest of us with such misplaced acrimony.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Conservatives are the traditional keepers of the heritage of the sovereign individual. What you describe shows how far they have strayed from their own source — especially when they make political common cause with exquisite authoritarians in the churches.

  • Norse Alchemist

    Wow Alex, hate much?

  • Don

    Maybe in the States, but for traditional conservatives in the old world "sovereign individual" is a loaded phrase.

  • BryonMorrigan

    I wouldn't say that…given the fact that Conservatives have so often been on the wrong side of issues to do with individual freedom, such as with slavery, racism, women's rights, LGBT issues, and Freedom of Religion. Conservatism means simply that one supports preserving or restoring, "what is established and traditional and to limit change." (

    Social Conservatives have been on the wrong side of every major issue (*) dealing with Civil Liberties in the history of the United States…from 1776 onwards. And frankly, that's why the concept of Libertarianism even exists…as a way to reconcile Fiscal Conservatism with Civil Rights (Social Liberalism).

    (*) The only issue that I can even think of where Conservatives have been on the side of more Civil Liberties than the Liberals would be in regards to the 2nd Amendment.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Yes, I meant the US strain.

  • Don

    I think it is best to look at how conservatives actually define themselves and to those who were instrumental in defining conservatism (in the U.S at least): Bill Buckley, Russell Kirk, and the like.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    No argument; I was talking about (US) conservative's self-declared philosophical roots, not how they apply them. Eg, when I was growing up the young William Buckley was redefining conservatism to exclude anti-Semites and forge an alliance with the church. He also authored, via his magazine, the grossest conservative compromise of the 20th Century, taking the side of State's Rights in the civil rights controversy because (supposedly) state governments are closer to the people than the federal gov't.

  • BryonMorrigan

    Buckley considered "true" Conservatism to be essentially Libertarianism. And even then, he was a supporter of Joe McCarthy. Furthermore, his opposition to some of the more insidious elements of Conservatives during the Civil Rights era was hardly a majority position. (Hell, the bipartisan Congressional group opposed to Civil Rights called _themselves_ the "Conservative Coalition.")

    BTW, there was a "Right Wing" for nearly 2 centuries before National Review came into existence. I hardly think that they "defined" Conservatism, except for a small group of modern Libertarians.

  • Souris Optique

    Yet how they "define themselves" has nothing to do with what they actually do or how they operate.

  • Don

    American conservatism is a recent thing, really. While there have always been conservative (adj.) people, conservatism as a self-defined political ideology is novel in the U.S. I don;t think anyone actually identified as conservative until maybe the 30s.

    But that's the thing. Conservatism is diverse. Compare Buckley's vision of conservatism to say Kirk, or Kirk to Oakeshott (sadly, I don't think a modern American conservative would recognize these names). There is also the great distance between practical politics conservatism and intellectual conservatism.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    True, but conservatism redefines itself periodically just like every other political movement. Anti-Semites like Father Coughlin were part of the conservative rank and file pre-Buckley; by deciding who did and who did not get published in National Review he purged them. He also forged an anti-Communist coalition between political conservatives and the Church, on the grounds that Communism was a common enemy of capitalism and Christ.

    Some conservatives like to affect that conservatism is an eternal philosophy, but it mutates and adapts just like everything else. Conservatives of the era I'm evoking were against enforceable equal employment opportunity. A generation later conservatives accepted that as "obviously" necessary but opposed affirmative action using the same arguments — hell, the same verbal cadences — as had their forbears opposing enforceable EEO. The only constant is change.

  • Don

    "Some conservatives like to affect that conservatism is an eternal philosophy, but it mutates and adapts just like everything else."

    True. Also, something that a lot of U.S conservatives seem to forget is that conservatism is relative to place.

    And by what criteria was Coughlin a conservative of his day?

  • BryonMorrigan

    By what criteria was he NOT a Conservative?

    He opposed the New Deal, was very Anti-Communist/Marxist/Leftist, Anti-Semitic, and a supporter of the Far Right states of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

    Well, let me rephrase that: He was a Right-Wing Extremist…and was very popular in his day, so he could be considered "Conservative" in that he was a well-known example of Right-Wing punditry in that time period. He was really the Glenn Beck of his day. (Another Far Right Extremist who calls himself a "Conservative.")

  • Don

    He was once a quite enthusiastic supporter of both Roosevelt and the New Deal, going so far as to call the ND "Christ's Deal." In addition to being anti-communist, he was also a very vocal oppenent of capitalism–he claimed both economic ideologies were materialistic and full of vice. The right is hardly the exclusive abode of anti-semitism–it was socially acceptable across all classes, races, and political persuasions across the West. Yes, Coughlin did support "Far-Right" Italy and Germany…but then again so did a lot of hip, modernist, and progressive people at the time. Hell, my grandparents liked Mussolini at the time. "A great man" it was said. He and Hitler were considered the wave of the future.

    Now, today, Coughlin would certainly be a populist right-wing extremist.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Yes, the subjects of how they define themselves and how they behave are two different if modestly overlapping things. But embedded in how they define themselves is a supposedly practical view of the world, and it's handy to have several such views in one's quiver, to overlay one or another on a situation and see if one gets any insight.