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!

Key Liberal Documents: Beyond Civilisation and Barbarism

In addition to eliciting an animated debate about Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and the Conquest of the Desert in late nineteenth-century Argentina, the recent ISA-hosted symposium “Two Hundred Years of Sarmiento: Backwards and Forwards” also gave me some new ideas about important documentary sources for the project’s digital library on Liberalism in the Americas.

Of course, Sarmiento’s name immediately brings to mind his most famous work, Facundo o civilización y barbarie (1845): a polemic essay critiquing the provincial leaders and political cultures of the Argentine interior opposed to the liberal reformers of Buenos Aires. Facundo was an enormously important work that helped to shape the debate about the nature of Latin American societies and political cultures during the nineteenth century and remains a key referrent for researchers and educators working on this era. However, while it is undoubtedly a key referrent on the subject, the fact that Facundo is already very widely available in print and digital formats means that it is not a priority for inclusion in the Liberalism in the Americas digital library. For digital versions of Facundo, see:

The Internet Archive, available in pdf and other formats. [Edition: Buenos Aires: Librería de Facultad de Juan Roldán y Compañía, 1921], [Edition: Buenos Aires: Félix Lajouane, 1889], [Edition: Montevideo: Tipografía Americana, 1888], [Edition: Nueva York: D. Appleton y Compañía, 1868], [Edition (in English): London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marson, 1868], [Edition (in English): New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1868] [Edition (in French): Paris: Arthus Bertrand, 1853].

The Internet Archive also hosts some other items of interest written by Sarmiento, including “North and South America. A Discourse Delivered before the Rhode-Island Historical Society, December 27, 1865,” various editions of Sarmiento’s biography of Abraham Lincoln, and two editions of Las escuelas: Base de la prosperidad i de la republica en los Estados Unidos.

Missing from the collection, however, is Argiropolis (1850), which creates a vision of a utopian city of the future in the Argentine region. Adrián Gorelik discussed this text in the symposium, explaining how Sarmiento used the imagined city as a prototype for the ideal national community, outlining in microcosm how society, politics, culture and the economy operated in this urban community. The British Library carries two editions of this text: one is a French edition published in Paris in 1851; the other dates from 1916, published in Spanish in Buenos Aires, with a bibliographical introduction by Ernesto Quesada. Which of the two editions would be most useful to include in our digital library? Are there other lesser known works by Domingo Sarmiento that we could usefully include? Let us know in the comments section below.

Two Hundred Years of Sarmiento: Looking Backwards and Forwards

As President (1868-74), advocate of educational reform, and author of one of the most widely known and discussed essays of nineteenth-century Latin America, Facundo o la civilizacion y la barbarie (1845), Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811-1888) was an enormously influential figure in Argentine liberalism. The bicentenary of Sarmiento’s birth provided the inspiration for this symposium, which sought to interrogate the historical, political, scientific and cultural legacy of this important Argentine state-builder of the nineteenth century. Three speakers gave short papers on different aspects of Sarmiento’s role in public life and how subsequent scholarship has interpreted his legacy, and a particularly animated discussion between the speakers and the audience followed. Abstracts of the three papers can be downloaded here.

Richard Gott (The Guardian) opened the symposium with, “Sarmiento: Ideologue of White Settler Racism,” which contended that the historical consensus routinely portrays Sarmiento as a progressive statesman and educationalist, glossing over or ignoring altogether his role in providing intellectual justification and political support for the military conquest and extermination of indigenous groups during the Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s. Gott argued that Sarmiento’s advocation of immigration of white Europeans, in order to promote the economic, political and cultural development–or “civilisation”–of Argentina was twinned with an increasing belief in the need to bring about the extinction of the indigenous population of the hinterlands who, Sarmiento believed, were holding back Argentina’s advancement and modernisation. In addition, Gott argued that this aspect of Sarmiento’s philosophy–ultimately, his racism–cannot simply be dismissed as “of the time,” since many of Sarmiento’s contemporaries advocated for the education, or, to a lesser degree, the autonomy, of the Indians, rather than their extermination.

In “The Metaphor and the Prototype: Figures of the “Urban” in Sarmiento’s Imagination,” Adrián Gorelik (Simón Bolívar Chair, Centre of Latin American Studies, Cambridge) also discussed the “Desert” into which the Argentine nation expanded in the late nineteenth century, in terms of the desert’s metaphorical function and relationship with urban space in Sarmiento’s prose. Outlining two major ways in which Sarmiento used urban images in his works–as metaphor and as prototype–Gorelik explained that the desert acted as a kind of blank canvas onto which images of the emergent nation and its evolving future as a more civilised nation could be projected. Within this figurative framework, the city could function as an experimental prototype of the national: the urban landscape and its architecture act as agents capable of creating and shaping civic practices and communities of citizens. In the second figurative trope–city as metaphor–Sarmiento used the materiality of urban life and urban space to reflect on the moral character and universe of the Argentine people and nation.

In the final presentation, “Sarmiento and Science in Argentina,” Eduardo Ortiz (Imperial College) gave a detailed overview of the early institutionalisation and solidification of the Argentine scientific community during, and in the wake of, Sarmiento’s term as President (1868-74). Sarmiento promoted scientific research as part of his general program of modernising reforms designed to improve educational levels in Argentina and to attract a high calibre of immigrants from Europe. Within this overall picture, Ortiz traced the careers of some prominent scientific figures, including Santiago Cáceres, and gave a fascinating insight into the international networks and connections involved in this process.

The first questions from the audience picked up on these transnational and international dimensions to Sarmiento’s activity and legacy. In particular, his ideas about the tensions between urban and rural communities within the nation, and about the competing forces of “civilisation” and “barbarism” in Argentine history, had great resonance with intellectuals and politicians across Latin America in the nineteenth century. Moreover, Sarmiento’s own travels throughout Europe and the United States, as well as the growing involvement of Argentine scientists in international networks, were instrumental to the development of his programme for educational reform, immigration, and modernisation.

The discussion became particularly animated when dealing with the issues raised by Richard Gott’s paper. Several members of the audience, as well as Adrián Gorelik, disagreed with Gott’s contention that the darker side of Sarmiento’s administration and legacy was rarely discussed by scholars of nineteenth-century Argentina. Some also took issue with the idea that Sarmiento actively supported and provided justification for a campaign of ethnic cleansing, while others argued that the demographic picture of indigenous decline was complicated by miscegenation, both biological and cultural, in this era. Gott remained unconvinced by the alternative points of view put forward regarding Sarmiento’s role in the Conquest of the Desert: namely, that Sarmiento did not systematically endorse genocide; and that the “elimination” of the indigenous population was not solely achieved through violent force, but also through cross-cultural marriages and cultural change, which meant that people with an indigenous heritage ceased to be identified or to self-identity as Indian. However, a greater degree of consensus was reached that the topic of Sarmiento’s racial ideology and policy had been given a considerable degree of attention by scholars. The interested reader might like to pursue this topic further, through the following works:

Jens Andermann, “Argentine Literature and the ‘Conquest of the Desert’, 1872-1896,” Relics and Selves: Iconographies of the National in Argentina, Brazil and Chile, 1880-1890. Web exhibition, London 2000.

Elizabeth Garrels, “Sobre indios, afroamericanos y los racismos de Sarmiento,” Revista Iberoamericana, Vol. 63, no. 178-79 (1997), pp. 99-113.

Álvaro Kaempfer, “Lastarria, Bello y Sarmiento en 1844: Genocidio, historiografía y proyecto nacional,” Revista de Crítica Latinoamericana, Año 32, No. 63/64 (2006), pp. 9-24.

 Are there any other useful sources that could contribute to the debate? Please let us know your thoughts about Sarmiento, the event, and ensuing discussion!

Klaus Gallo, The Development of Laicism in Argentina, 1810-1827: The Case of Juan C. Lafinur

Completing the project’s first wave of events, on 1 November 2011 Professor Klaus Gallo, from the Universidad Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires, Argentina, delivered a fascinating lecture on the rise of laicist and secularising agendas during Argentina’s first wave of liberal and republican reforms in the early nineteenth century. You can watch a recording of the lecture here. Having recently completed a biography of Bernardino Rivadavia (1780-1845), Professor Gallo focused his presentation on the era of Rivadavia’s reformist experiment in the province of Buenos Aires, when freedom of the press was expanded, universal male suffrage was introduced, the Universidad de Buenos Aires was founded, convents were closed, and other reforms were aimed towards reducing the political and social role of the Catholic Church.

In addition to summarising the heated debates that took place in the Buenos Aires press regarding secularisation, Gallo focused particular attention on the enigmatic figure of Juan Crisóstomo Lafinur (1797-1824), who pioneered a philosophy of teaching geared towards reducing the influence of the Catholic Church in university education and produced a series of controversial plays and performances at civic festivals that aimed to spread laicist and secularist messages to the broader public. In general, Gallo’s lecture indicated that the dramatic plays of the period are an under-researched resource for understanding how political debates were framed and how these debates engaged, or attempted to engage, broader public opinion. By exploring the case of Lafinur’s life and work in more detail, Gallo revealed the potential of theatrical performances to reveal the connections between political discourse and popular culture.

Along the way, we were introduced to the colourful character of Lafinur himself who seemed to have an uncanny knack for upsetting and antagonising clerical authorities and anti-reformist scholars at every turn. Lafinur’s departure from Buenos Aires for Mendoza, precisely at the point when Rivadavia – and the reformist agenda with which Lafinur had such affinity – came to power in Buenos Aires yielded a particularly amusing anecdote: Lafinur reportedly fell (even further) out of favour with the head of the School of Philosophy at the university, when he was discovered playing the guitar instead of teaching his scheduled class, and the resulting fall-out may help to account for his abrupt relocation to Mendoza. Unfortunately, Lafinur’s provocative antics were prematurely cut short when he died as a result of injuries incurred in a horseriding accident in his mid-twenties.

It would be interesting to hear about similar characters engaged in promoting secularist and laicist agendas in other regions and countries in the Americas. So please let us know in the comments section if you have any interesting examples of laicist mavericks like Lafinur? Equally, has any detailed work been done on the role of dramatic plays in extending political debates into popular culture in early republican Mexico, Peru, or other parts of the Americas? Are there other under-research media that could offer similar insights to those discussed by Professor Gallo? Let us know in the comments section!