Liberalism and Religion: Workshop

The fourth workshop in our series, Liberalism and Religion: Secularisation and the Public Sphere in the Americas, took place on 18 April 2012 in London. The workshop series brings together scholars who work on different parts of the Americas to examine themes related to the history of liberalism in a comparative context.

Following the pattern of previous sessions, the workshop was wholly discussion based: our commentators, Dr Austen Ivereigh (Catholic Voices) and Dr Natalia Sobrevilla Perea (University of Kent), opened the sessions with some reflections and questions about the papers that participants in the workshop had been able to read in advance. Papers were contributed by Prof. Roberto di Stefano (Universidad de Buenos Aires), Dr Trevor Stack (University of Aberdeen), Prof. Ricardo Martínez Esquivel (Universidad de Costa Rica) and Dr Gregorio Alonso (University of Leeds). Download the Programme (18 April) for further details.

The papers and the discussion helped to shine a critical light on several important issues and to highlight research areas that needed further investigation. Overall, the workshop participants emphasised the need to turn away from an oppositional conception of liberalism and religion in the context of Latin American state-building and to understand the overlapping and intertwined spaces that liberalism and Catholicism occupied in the public sphere in the nineteenth century. In addition, several avenues for future research were indicated, including how the relationship, by turns co-operative and conflictive, between liberalism and religion operated within local political and social institutions. Above all, the comparative framework of analysis helped discussants to think about the larger origins and consequences of Church-State conflicts across the region in terms of political discourse, institutional structures, and social identifications.

Download the full conference report for further information. And please leave a reply in the comments section!

Prof. Linda Colley, “Liberties and Empires: Writing Constitutions in the Atlantic World, 1776-1848″

ISA welcomed a distinguished guest to take part in our Liberalism in the Americas lecture series on 21 March 2012: Shelby M. C. Davis 1958 Professor of History at Princeton University, Linda Colley. A recording of the lecture, entitled “Liberties and Empires: Writing Constitutions in the Atlantic World, 1776-1848″ is available to watch on our youtube channel. There was a big turnout for Colley’s lecture, which was generously co-sponsored by the British Library’s Eccles Centre for American Studies and by the University of London’s John Coffin Memorial Fund.

Colley’s lecture was impressive in its geographic breadth and its depth of analysis of the swift expansion of constitutional practice throughout the Atlantic World, and even beyond. The decades following the American Revolution were marked by an increasingly self-conscious mobilisation of written texts and print culture to inform, display, extend and justify political power around the world, in what Colley referred to as “public and political writing-ness”. One of the core tenets of her argument was to show the multiple contexts within which written constitutions were produced, and the multiple ends to which they were put. In particular, the lecture emphasised the centrality of written constitutions to imperialist projects – American, French, and British – as well as to nation-states; to monarchist systems – in Haiti, Portugal, and Brazil for instance – as well as to republics. With these points, Colley’s lecture echoed conclusions that were made during one of our previous workshops on Liberalism, Monarchy and Empire: Ambiguous Relationships, and the argument put forth by Max Edling in the workshop on Liberal Constitutionalism in the Americas, that the federal constitution of the United States had been designed to strengthen the authority and reach of the central government throughout the union, particularly regarding the settlement of intra-union disputes and the management of international relations.

This perspective was also used to challenge the assumption that British politics was largely unaffected by the wave of constitutionalism and “writing-ness”. On the contrary, Colley pointed to figures such as John Cartwright and Jeremy Bentham who participated in an internationalist dialogue of constitutionalism, penning constitutional proposals for different parts of Europe and Latin America. Much of this activity was underpinned by the assumption that Anglo-Saxons were better equipped to design governing systems and political structures than other peoples, an idea that simultaneously justified and reinforced imperial expansionism on both sides of the Atlantic.Therefore, Colley noted, constitutions, as ”engines of improvement and freedom, sometimes merged… with the ambition to manage, control and even invade”.

Colley also identified several fascinating issues that would make productive avenues for future research: in particular, her research has uncovered an extensive body of “amateur” constitution writing across the globe (including a radical figure in New South Wales, who composed a blueprint for a democratic, republican, and imperial Australia in the 1850s), which could yield numerous insights into the transnational circulation of political ideas, local political cultures, print cultures, and alternative visions for political organisation that were on the agenda but never codified into law. Another fruitful avenue Colley suggested was investigating the broader print and literary culture – both elite and popular – of the era, and how constitutions compared to other types of texts designed to inform, reform, control, and demarcate boundaries. This is a particularly important subject given the self-conscious awareness that many constitution-makers of the era had for the “potential of language and texts to mould and to manage”.

Colley’s lecture was followed by an energetic question and answer session. Within this discussion Colley emphasised that, along with many of their contemporaries, British politicians – even as they disavowed constitutionalism proper – recognised that written constitutions were a vital means of legitimising particular political systems, or even particular administrations. This helped to make Colley’s lecture a fitting conclusion to the discussion held earlier in the day at the Liberal Constitutionalism workshop, regarding the central importance of establishing or consolidating legitimacy as a motivation for writing constitutions – a detailed report of this discussion can be downloaded here.

Watch the recording of Linda Colley’s fascinating lecture once more, and please give us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Liberal Constitutionalism in the Americas: Workshop

On 21 March 2012, we hosted the third in our series of research workshops, on Liberal Constitutionalism in the Americas: Theory and Practice, at Senate House, London. The research workshops bring together scholars working on similar themes in different parts of the Americas in order to shine a comparative light on questions related to the history of liberalism in the region.

These workshops are heavily discussion-based: after our initial workshop in October 2011, we decided to leave out spoken presentations altogether and devote the entire session to discussion, comments, questions and feedback on the written papers that paper contributors submit in advance of the workshop. This has allowed in depth, exploratory discussions for the group to focus on comparative analysis, and I hope that individual paper contributors have also found the detailed focus on their work helpful in redrafting the working papers for future publication.

The Liberal Constitutionalism workshop featured two panels, one on South America, and one the United States and the Atlantic World (see the programme (21 March) for full details), and our paper contributors were: Dr Natalia Sobrevilla Perea (University of Kent), Dr Gabriel Negretto (CIDE, Mexico), Dr Marta Irurozqui (CCHS-CSIC, Madrid), Mr Tom Cutterham (St Hugh’s College, Oxford), Dr Max Edling (Loughborough University), and Prof. Kenneth Maxwell (Retired). We were also very grateful for the participation of Dr Adrian Pearce (KCL) and Dr Erik Mathisen (University of Portsmouth) for their excellent and stimulating contributions as commentators on the two panels.

The discussion focused on many interesting areas, which were greatly enhanced by the comparative focus of the event: the extent of liberal hegemony in the early to mid-nineteenth century; the ability of non-elite actors to participate in and shape constitutional practices; the importance of constitution-making for government and state legitimation; continuity and change in political cultures through the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century; and the mobility and malleability of liberal constitutionalism throughout the Americas and the Atlantic World. Please see the full report (21 March) for further details, and join the discussion in the comments section!

Roderick Barman, “The Enigma of Liberalism in Imperial Brazil, 1822-1889.”

Our lecture series, which has to date featured Professors Greg Grandin, Klaus Gallo and David Rock, continued on 10 February 2012 with “The Enigma of Liberalism in Imperial Brazil, 1822-1889″ by Roderick Barman, Emeritus Professor of the University of British Columbia. The endurance of monarchy as a political system made Brazil quite unique among the newly independent nations of Latin America in the 19th century, but Barman’s lecture demonstrated that liberalism had a major impact on Brazil during this period and that, in the wider global context, this co-existence of liberalism and monarchy was not so unusual.

Barman began by outlining three essential components of liberalism–the constitution, the nation-state, and the citizen–thus making an important contribution to our ongoing discussions about how we should categorise and define “liberalism” in this research project. Central to this part of Barman’s presentation was the identification not only of the appeal of constitutions, nation-states, and citizens (and thus what made liberalism appealing to various interest groups), but also of the limitations and weaknesses that these fundamental elements of liberalism brought to its adopters.

It was in the tension between the appealing aspects and the limitations of liberalism that Barman located liberalism’s potential synergy with monarchy as a means of reform without jeopardising political order and social stability, not only in Brazil but also in various European states, such as Norway, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. The transfer of the Portuguese court to Rio de Janeiro after Napolean’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula was the key factor that led to the development and spread of liberal ideas and goals in Brazil, which were in turn very important in the establishment of an independent Brazil in 1822 and in the design of the 1824 constitution. A liberal-driven experiment in confederate government followed the abdication of Brazil’s first constitutional monarch, Pedro I, in 1831 and, although this experiment largely failed, liberalism remained an important referrent during the reign of Pedro II, who styled himself as a “Citizen King”.

Pedro II’s reign saw the emergence of two broad political parties – Conservative and Liberal – in the 1840s, and he successfully managed political rivalries to lead a stable political order. This was also made possible by the shared support for slavery that the Conservative and Liberal political factions had, and by a period of economic growth in the mid 19th century. In concluding his lecture, Barman identified factors explaining the decline of the constitutional monarchy: a rise in nationalist sentiment not dependent on the person of the monarch; an expansion of state bureaucracy in response to economic development; uncertainty regarding a successor to Pedro II; the abolition movement; and the development of new political philosophies, such as Spencerian Social Darwinism and Positivism, that appealed to the political classes of Brazil.

In a lively questions and discussion period, various members of the audience called on Barman to dwell on the parallels and divergences between Brazil and other parts of the Americas in the 1800s, which further connected his lecture to our ongoing discussions about the comparative impact of liberalism in the Americas. In particular, Alejandra Irigoin raised the issue of the military resources available in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil’s then capital), that other Latin American states lacked in the same period, perhaps aiding the relative stability of the centralist state. Guy Thomson also remarked on the differences between the political systems that liberalism helped to foster in Mexico and Spain, as compared to Brazil: while Barman’s lecture pointed to the position of Brazil’s emperor as the “fourth power”, Thomson outlined how in Mexico and Spain, the municipality–a more local authority–became a “fourth power” of sorts. Tony McCulloch pointed to a further area of intriguing comparison: between Brazil and Canada in their experiences of liberalism and monarchical government. Barman, having lived in Canada for many years, agreed that there were interesting parallels between the two regions, in particular with respect to how, in both countries, patriotism was tied to a synergy of loyalties to a locality or region and to the monarch.

Watch a recording of the lecture and discussion here

Download the text of Barman’s presentation here.

The Multiple Faces of Republicanism, University of Warwick, 20 Jan 2012

As our recent workshop on “Liberalism, Monarchy and Empire: Ambiguous Relationships” showed, liberalism did not always, nor necessarily, go hand in hand with republicanism in the Americas in the 19th century. Nevertheless, it was extremely interesting to explore how republican governments, in various different guises, did develop in tandem with liberalism across the continent in a recent symposium at the University of Warwick: “The Multiple Faces of Republicanism: Democracy, Constitutionalism and
Popular Politics in the Hispanic world, 1824-1873″.

Organised by Jordi Roca Vernet, Guy Thomson and Francisco Eissa-Barroso, all members of the Department of History at Warwick, this symposium took place on 20 January 2012 and featured a packed programme and vibrant discussion. As suggested by the participation of several members of the “Liberalism in the Americas” network–including Guy Thomson, Will Fowler, Gregorio Alonso, and Alan Knight–there were numerous points of intersection with our interests in the Liberalism project. In particular,  Thomson and Anthony McFarlane both explored the continued appeal of monarchism, reflecting on many of the same issues that were explored in our workshop on 10 February. Moreover, Gregorio Alonso and Manuel Suárez Cortina both discussed the relationship between Church and State, and tensions between religion and politics in the public sphere, issues that we also intend to assess in our 18 April workshop, “Liberalism and Religion: Secularisation and the Public Sphere in the Americas”. Indeed, we look forward to Alonso’s participation in this event!

Jordi Roca Vernet, meanwhile, discussed the transformation of public space and the public sphere at the turn of the nineteenth century in a transatlantic context, and José Antonio Aguilar Rivera outlined how political thought in Spanish America was part of a broader transatlantic and transnational exchange of ideas. Again, this interest in the transnational dimension of political culture intersected with one of the major research themes of the Liberalism in the Americas project. Tentatively planned to take place in 2013 or 2014, we are designing an international conference on the theme of “Travelling and Translated Liberalisms” with a particular interest in how ideas circulated between North America and Latin America, and how ideas circulated between different parts of Latin America.

Also pointing to one of the research themes central to the future development of the Liberalism project was Will Fowler’s paper on “Popular Liberalism and the Nineteenth-Century Mexican pronunciamiento“. Growing out of his extended research project on Mexican pronunciamientos (which has yielded an extremely useful digital database, as well as numerous publications), this paper challenged the traditional view that this form of protest or petition was centred in elite politicking, by showing how local and popular concerns could be incorporated into some pronunciamientos. The Liberalism project is similarly interested in how non-elite actors engaged with liberal ideas and institutions, such as citizenship, the constitution, elections and so on. Some of these “popular” engagements with liberalism will be addressed in our next workshop on 21 March, “Liberal Constitutionalism in the Americas: Theory and Practice”, and our future programme of events also includes an international conference on “Indigenous and Popular Liberalisms in the Americas,” (to take place in 2013/2014) examining the similarities and differences in the political strategies and identities developed by a range of non-elite actors.

There’s plenty of other related projects and conferences going on in the near future, many of which come out of the bicentennial anniversary of the Cádiz constitution of 1812, which had a major influence on political cultures across the Hispanic World. Visit our useful links page for more information!