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!

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!

David Rock, Liberalism in Argentina and Mexico: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives

On 5 December 2011, we were delighted to host a lecture by the esteemed Professor of Latin American History, David Rock (University of California, Santa Barbara), entitled “Liberalism in Argentina and Mexico: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives.” He engaged with the comparative ambitions of our project by using selected contrasts from Mexico’s experiences with liberalism to throw into clearer focus the distinctive and particular aspects of Argentine liberalism. In a dynamic discussion session after his paper, Rock answered questions for nearly an hour and spoke to many of the important issues that have shaped our research agenda on the Liberalism in the Americas project.

Recalling Tulio Halperín Donghi’s maxim that Argentina was “born liberal,” Rock began by pointing out that for this to be the case, a period of “pregnancy” must have occurred, and discussed the pre-Independence trading relations that Buenos Aires developed with British merchants as evidence of this, and as a possible distinguishing feature of Argentina from many other Latin American countries. In terms of economic liberalism, at least, Rock argued that liberal policies were implemented, first in Buenos Aires, and then in other parts of the future nation-state of Argentina, with a comparative lack of opposition and contestation. In Mexico, by contrast, significant interest groups–primarily the Catholic Church, and the indigenous peasantry–posed strong opposition to successive attempts by liberal reformers to eradicate communal landholding practices.

In political terms, Rock contended that the essential liberal criterion was the presence of representative government and, in this regard, Argentina’s relationship with political liberalism was less straightforward than with economic liberalism. Although independent Mexico’s periods of monarchical rule (which will be explored by Erika Pani in our next research workshop) might again suggest that Mexico’s experience with political liberalism was more contested than Argentina’s, Rock outlined the existence of a “second tradition”  that opposed liberalism throughout modern Argentine history. In various different eras, disparate movements (Rosismo, nacionalismo, Peronismo) emerged to challenge the individualist elements of liberalism, whether through a clientelist political culture, corporate structures like trade unionism, or an organic vision of collective society such as nationalism.

In the extended discussion following Rock’s paper, among the most interesting issues were: how Latin American ideologies are formed from national, international, local, popular and elite influences; the political and economic struggles between the centre and the regions in the process of nation-building; the relationship between liberalism and nation-building, with the “civilising” agenda within liberal ideology being a strong impulse behind nation-building; and the relationship between liberalism and democracy. During his paper, Rock stressed the importance of representation to the existence of political liberalism and this issue was central to the later discussion of the extent of the connections between liberalism and democracy, on which no consensus was reached. By a happy coincidence, we will be returning to these very issues in our next events in February 2012: a research workshop on “Liberalism, Monarchy and Empire: Ambiguous Relationships” and a public lecture by Roderick Barman (UBC): “The Enigma of Liberalism in Imperial Brazil.”

In the meantime, let us know your thoughts on David Rock’s lecture in the comments section!