[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-LatAm]: Schaefer on Sabato, 'Republics of the New World: The Revolutionary Political Experiment in Nineteenth-Century Latin America'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Wed Oct 10 18:23:41 MDT 2018

Best regards,
Andrew Stewart 

Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Date: October 10, 2018 at 1:17:41 PM EDT
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-LatAm]:  Schaefer on Sabato, 'Republics of the New World: The Revolutionary Political Experiment in Nineteenth-Century Latin America'
> Reply-To: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Hilda Sabato.  Republics of the New World: The Revolutionary
> Political Experiment in Nineteenth-Century Latin America.  Princeton
> Princeton University Press, 2018.  240 pp.  $29.95 (cloth), ISBN
> 978-0-691-16144-0.
> Reviewed by Timo Schaefer (Independent Scholar)
> Published on H-LatAm (October, 2018)
> Commissioned by Casey M. Lurtz
> The countries of Latin America gained independence--through chance
> and narrow opportunism--when a small and privileged social class,
> taking advantage of the French occupation of Spain (1808-14),
> initiated a military conflict that would result in the end of Spanish
> rule on the Latin American continent. It is true that the
> independence wars were closely fought and involved significant parts
> of the region's popular classes: Mexico's even began as a priest-led
> social revolt. But by the time Mexico became independent that revolt
> had long been defeated, and the priests hunted down, excommunicated,
> and dispatched by firing squad. Across Latin America, it was
> American-born elites, the creoles, who controlled the armies that
> would ultimately triumph against the metropolis, and who would battle
> each other for control of the states that emerged in the wreckage of
> empire. For the poor and excluded majorities, independence merely
> exchanged one grasping elite with another.
> This story--call it the story of postcolonial failure--is more
> familiar than it should be. Once the dominant interpretation of Latin
> American history in the nineteenth century, it is worth pausing over
> what made the story seem plausible. The independence wars in Latin
> America really did begin as reactions to imperial collapse. They
> really did erupt in societies that were diverse and hierarchical, and
> they ended up creating polities that were prone to fragmentation and
> riven by class and racial animosities. Perhaps as important, from a
> twentieth-century perspective--and especially a Cold War
> perspective--to describe the predatory nature of nineteenth-century
> politics in Latin America was to create an origin story. It helped
> twentieth-century researchers explain the poverty and authoritarian
> rule they were witnessing in their own time.
> It is a story, though, that assumes both a deep continuity and a kind
> of cultural impermeability of structure. It assumes that Latin
> Americans before the wars of independence possessed a given set of
> values, interests, and political assumptions; then experienced
> traumatic ruptures, and experimented with unprecedented social
> alliances, during more than a decade of bloody warfare; and then
> picked up their lives with the old values, interests, and assumptions
> all intact. It assumes that creole elites but not native peasants
> were drawn to liberal political principles, and that national
> projects built on those principles were consequently limited and
> brittle. "[Simón] Bolívar and his comrades"--the political and
> military leaders of Latin America's independence wars--"had removed
> the head of a patrimonial society but they had not created
> nations."[1]
> Few specialists now agree with this interpretation, which leans more
> heavily than is comfortable on the writings of conservative
> politicians--Lucas Alamán, Bolívar himself--from the period it sets
> out to explain. And yet the interpretation not merely persists, it
> flourishes. "In South America," writes Jürgen Osterhammel in _The
> Transformation of the World_, one of the most ambitious and admired
> histories of the nineteenth-century world, "the political map changed
> little after independence, with its mosaic of weakly articulated
> states all more or less in search of nationhood."[2] In _The Birth of
> the Modern World_--another global history of the nineteenth
> century--C. A. Bayly suggests that after independence, Latin
> Americans became attached less to new laws and ideas than to the war
> leaders, or caudillos, who had come to the fore during the
> independence struggles. Bayly summarizes the early years of Latin
> American nationhood by contrasting the new republics' "wordy
> constitutions" with the oft-told story of Mexican General Antonio
> López de Santa Anna's amputated leg: ceremonially interred when
> Santa Anna was president, dug up and destroyed by "an enraged mob" a
> few years later. In the new republics, Bayly seems to say, the
> fetishized leg of a vainglorious general was more important than so
> many constitutions.[3] Even in the field of Latin American studies,
> such ideas still enjoy surprising cachet. They appear in
> well-regarded studies--Paul Drake's _Between Tyranny and Anarchy: A
> History of Democracy in Latin America, 1800-2006 _(2009), for
> example, or Miguel Angel Centeno's _Blood and Debt: War and the
> Nation-State in Latin America _(2002)--that interpret the nineteenth
> century for scholars of politics and society. And they appear in
> textbooks--such as John Charles Chasteen's popular _Born in Blood and
> Fire: A Concise History of Latin America_ (fourth edition,
> 2016)--that introduce Latin American history to undergraduate
> students and general readers.
> That the narrative of postcolonial failure should persist is of
> course not wholly surprising. It belongs to a familiar group of
> stories in which the Global South plays either laggard or victim to
> the historical leadership provided by Europe and the United States.
> The narrative also has a homegrown, Latin American pedigree that goes
> back at least to the end of the nineteenth century, when oligarchic
> governments and their supporters found it convenient to belittle the
> republican experiments they had recently replaced or abandoned.
> Lastly, while central elements of the story of postcolonial failure
> have now been refuted, a clear successor narrative has yet to emerge.
> In the last quarter century, historians have shown that popular
> actors often took part in--and in many cases helped shape--the public
> life of Latin America's independent republics; that member of the
> creole elite actively sought those actors' support for their policies
> and programs; and that the resulting alliances divided Latin American
> publics into political blocks that defined themselves by their
> relationship to competing ideas and ideologies. These findings are
> supported by too much evidence, coming from too many countries and
> regions, to be in serious dispute. But what further conclusions to
> draw from such findings, or how to arrange them into an analytical
> narrative, is not at all clear.
> In anglophone scholarship, an ambitious attempt to forge a new
> narrative of nineteenth-century history in Latin America comes from
> revisionist studies of popular political culture. A first generation
> of such studies, beginning with Florencia Mallon's foundational
> _Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru_
> (1995), chronicled the attraction of popular actors--peasants and
> workers, men and women, black and indigenous people--to liberal and
> anti-colonial ideologies.[4] The larger story was that these actors
> flocked to liberal political projects but were ultimately betrayed by
> their allies up the social scale, who, out of fear of the political
> energies they had unleashed, began assembling the repressive
> institutions that would so catch the eye of twentieth-century
> historians. But this story, as a second generation of revisionist
> studies has now pointed out, made little room for popular actors who
> valued colonial institutions--including courts of law and the
> Catholic Church--for their protective qualities, and who after
> independence involved themselves not in liberal but in conservative
> national projects.[5] Mallon also concluded that indigenous villagers
> were especially likely to support liberal national projects, while
> estate (hacienda) tenants often remained beholden to local authority
> figures. Yet other studies have since described staunchly
> conservative indigenous people and estate tenants who espoused
> radical liberal tenets.[6] Instead of a new narrative of Latin
> American history, what has emerged from recent scholarship on popular
> political culture has thus been a mosaic of sometimes contradictory
> stories rooted in particular local or regional contexts.
> ------
> Hilda Sabato's _Republics of the New World _is, to my knowledge, the
> first book-length attempt to step back and survey the mosaic of
> stories the last quarter century of scholarship on nineteenth-century
> Latin America has brought to light. That Sabato succeeds superbly, in
> an analysis that is both nuanced and captivating, and that gets by
> without once mentioning Santa Anna's ridiculous leg, should give us
> hope that a new standard of writing and thinking about this period
> will finally find a wide audience. Sabato begins her story with what
> she describes as the fundamental innovation of Latin American
> politics in the nineteenth century: "the revolutionary decision of
> adopting popular sovereignty as the founding principle of the polity
> and as the only source of legitimate power" (p. 35). Given how little
> Latin America has figured in traditional histories of the Age of
> Revolutions, it is curious to note that the dominance this doctrine
> was to enjoy in the region may almost seem overdetermined. The idea
> of popular sovereignty in Latin America found inspiration not only in
> the natural-rights theory we associate with the French and
> US-American Revolutions but also in Spanish neoscholastic sources
> that imagined an "ancient constitution of the Spanish monarchy,"
> lately under attack from Bourbon absolutism (p. 27), and it was
> championed not only by insurgents in the region itself but also by
> the liberals who, between 1808 and 1813, tried to rule peninsular
> Spain in the name of its captive king while fighting the Napoleonic
> occupation. These diverse sources would push Latin America's new
> nations to pioneer republican forms of government at a time when
> revolution had been defeated, and when monarchs once more ruled
> supreme, across continental Europe.
> But the diversity of inspiration for the principle of popular
> sovereignty also contained the seeds of conflict. In the Spanish
> Empire, government had at least in principle been simple--the
> sovereign being one. What it should mean, by contrast, that
> sovereignty rested in a multitudinous "people" was never obvious. By
> analyzing competing notions of this crucial republican concept,
> Sabato is able to reject the narrative of postcolonial failure
> without minimizing the centrality of armed struggle to the political
> history of nineteenth-century Latin America.  She explores three
> fields of practice in which popular sovereignty came to be exercised
> and contested in postcolonial Latin America: elections, armed
> citizenship, and public opinion. None of these fields was precisely
> new, but all were transformed by the doctrine of popular sovereignty.
> Elections, which in colonial times had been the prerogative of a
> small urban patriciate, associated with the strictly limited sphere
> of town politics, after independence became a critical venue for the
> exercise of citizenship. By nineteenth-century standards, the
> franchise in Latin America was impressively wide: "in most places,
> all free, nondependent, adult men were enfranchised. Exclusion was
> mainly associated with the lack of autonomy, a condition that was
> considered indispensable to ensure the freedom of choice on the part
> of the voter" (p. 53). Servants were thus excluded from the vote
> together with women and slaves. But male workers, as well as native
> and free black people, who would have been kept from the urns by the
> property restrictions of European or the racial restrictions of many
> US-American elections, were able to cast their votes.
> But did elections actually matter? Sabato dismisses the notion that
> most voters participated in elections only at the behest of powerful
> patrons. Political clientelism existed--in Latin America no less than
> elsewhere--but so did political clubs, election campaigns, and a
> partisan press, all working hard to persuade, dazzle, bribe, or
> otherwise sway the electorate. As to whether elections could have
> been significant in an era of frequent coups and revolts, this is a
> question that misunderstands the relationship between bullets and
> ballots in postcolonial Latin America. In the nineteenth century,
> Sabato argues, elections and revolts were only rarely regarded as
> alternative pathways to power. Losers at the urns frequently
> challenged electoral outcomes they regarded as fraudulent, by force
> of arms if need be. But victory on the battlefield did not by itself
> confer legitimacy: it needed to be confirmed by popular vote, so that
> successful uprisings were usually followed by new elections. While
> elections were not often the final word in politics, they were
> regarded by all as the central events in the political cycle.
> A close relationship between formal politics and armed revolt was in
> fact crucial to Latin American understandings of republican
> citizenship. Most postcolonial Latin American nations divided their
> military forces into a professional army and a civic militia, the
> latter composed of citizens-in-arms whose patriotic service was meant
> to shield the nation from the danger of tyranny. When government fell
> in the hands of would-be despots, defending the constitutional order
> was considered a civic duty. "You have offered and spontaneously
> provided [your help], just like the sons of Athens, Sparta, and Rome
> did in past heroic times," a Colombian governor addressed the members
> of his provincial militia in 1854. "Let this be your war cry: Long
> live the Constitution! Long live the Republic!" (p. 107). The figure
> of the citizen-soldier has been attractive to revisionist historians
> of nineteenth-century Latin America, and for good reason. In the
> civic militias, popular sovereignty found its most unequivocal
> expression, as the people became living embodiments of the nation.
> By involving popular actors so directly in the defense of the nation,
> however, Latin America's postcolonial republics also fragmented
> control over the means of violence. Because professional armies were
> less concerned with tyranny than with political unrest, and because
> both professional and citizen armed forces were further divided by
> region and ideology, civil conflict in nineteenth-century Latin
> America became almost inevitable. With this argument, Sabato stands a
> key aspect of the narrative of postcolonial failure on its head.
> Violence, she suggests, became pervasive in the region as a result
> not of a lack but of a surfeit of citizen engagement with new ideas
> and political forms. But she also repeats a key dimension of the
> traditional narrative: in her account of the civic militias,
> extra-legal violence still rules the day. This focus on revolt and
> revolution helps her explain the instability of Latin American
> politics but makes for an incomplete analysis of armed citizenship.
> Left out of it completely is any recognition of the role that many
> militias played in local law enforcement, even though Latin Americans
> considered this role as no less critical to the preservation of the
> republican order than the defense against tyranny.
> Public opinion is the subject of the last of Sabato's thematic
> chapters. Formed in the press, on the streets, and in a proliferating
> web of voluntary associations, public opinion had a more oblique
> relation to popular sovereignty than did elections or armed
> citizenship. It was a crucial source of legitimacy for governments
> yet also stood apart from the direct exercise of power. This distance
> was important to the self-understanding of public intellectuals, who
> thought of themselves as embodying a sphere of "reason" and "dialogue
> among equals" in contrast to "the corruption of political life" (pp.
> 146, 161). In reality things were a bit messier. While some clubs and
> associations promoted apolitical identities, many others worked hard
> to influence political life. The press was highly politicized and
> only partially independent from governments, who exerted control
> through restrictive press laws and, even more, through subsidies and
> public subscriptions. Popular mobilizations, meanwhile, tended to be
> carefully planned partisan affairs, rather than the spontaneous
> expressions of popular will participants pretended to be enacting.
> Still, public opinion was at least partially independent from
> politics, and Sabato argues that it became more so over time. For
> example, as the century progressed, nonpolitical items made up an
> increasing proportion of the total content in most newspapers. Such
> items could include news stories, "literary pieces..., commercial and
> social ads, and caricatures, among others" (p. 154). This growing
> autonomy and thematic pluralism probably explains why, of the
> institutions covered in this book, the press alone was able to
> flourish under the oligarchic regimes that throughout Latin America
> succeeded the democratic experiments of the early republican decades.
> In the last third of the nineteenth century, neither elections nor
> civic militias fared well, as governments either restricted the
> franchise or, as in Mexico, cracked down on the kinds of political
> rights that made elections meaningful, and either abolished the civic
> militias or put them "under the tight control of increasingly
> centralized standing armies" (p. 119). As Latin America entered the
> twentieth century, the ideal of popular sovereignty was on the wane
> even as the press was becoming a diverse and dynamic actor in public
> life.
> ------
> In _Republics of the New World_, Sabato has engaged with--has
> summarized, digested, and condensed--an immense new literature on the
> political history of postcolonial Latin America. To have harmonized
> the findings of these studies, not only with each other but also with
> the durable part of previous generations of scholarship, is an
> achievement and a service. Specialists will appreciate, and will
> surely learn much from, the lengthy, multilingual bibliographies
> appended to each of the chapters. Scholars who wish to familiarize
> themselves with state-of-the-art historical knowledge on
> nineteenth-century Latin America will want to start by reading this
> book. Instructors will want to assign it to their students.
> Does the book tell a story that might take the place of the dated
> narrative of postcolonial failure? While Sabato is not a heavy-handed
> narrator, and is, perhaps, more interested in analysis than
> storytelling, readers might detect two major plotlines running
> through the book. Both plotlines take as their point of departure the
> revolutionary decision to build Latin America's postcolonial
> republics on the principle of popular sovereignty. The first story is
> one of tension and conflict. Popular sovereignty, Sabato points out,
> "was an abstraction that evoked, at the same time, the unitary
> character of the principle of sovereignty and the plurality of
> individuals voluntarily come together through the pactum societatis"
> (p. 177). It generated conflict because it might entail any number of
> different institutional arrangements, but also because nobody after
> independence had experience with reconciling the principle of
> political unity with that of social diversity and ideological
> pluralism.
> Through this story of Latin America's nineteenth century runs a
> thread of Hegelian tragedy: the century was riven by conflict between
> opposing positions, each of which could make equal claims to the
> principles of republican justice. This experience, Sabato points out,
> was not unique to Latin America. Republican regimes also had trouble
> establishing their authority in nineteenth-century Europe, and
> political conflict in the United States resulted in a bloodier civil
> war than any of the ones fought in Latin America. Collective violence
> in this era should thus be understood not as the abnormal condition
> of a marginal part of the world but rather as "deeply embedded"
> within the modern republican tradition, which Latin America helped
> pioneer (p. 189).
> The book's second story is about transformation. This is a story one
> might almost call comedic, in that it involves a cast of historical
> actors stumbling more or less blindly but, it is implied, with good
> intentions through the unintended consequences of their actions. If
> this story ultimately lacks the satisfying ending--the resolution of
> conflict--we associate with comedy, it still contains elements of
> renewal that put it in tension with the first story, which ends in
> decline and dissolution. An important part of this story takes place
> in the realm of public opinion, which became richer and more diverse
> even as elections and civic militias were restricted or abandoned.
> But Sabato argues that Latin American republicanism was permanently
> transformative not only in the realm of public opinion but also, and
> perhaps above all, in the realm of political identity.
> Sabato here takes issue with what she describes as the tendency of
> "subaltern history" or "history from below"--works like Mallon's
> _Peasant and Nation_--to exaggerate the autonomy of collective
> popular actors and to posit an "axiomatic opposition" of those actors
> "to the elites or the powerful." She asks, "Why should we presume
> that the subaltern ... followed, by definition, their own collective
> agenda guided by their struggle against the established order" (p.
> 184)? Sabato argues that subaltern history fails to acknowledge the
> new attachments popular actors formed as a result of their political
> activities: their participation in political clubs, or their
> engagement with newspaper stories, or their service in the civic
> militias. According to this argument, it is unsurprising that
> subaltern historians have not been more successful at associating
> particular popular groups--indigenous villagers or estate tenants,
> for example--with fixed political or ideological positions, since the
> practice of politics complicated whatever identities people may have
> derived from their social and cultural backgrounds. The incorporation
> of popular actors into new political networks transformed the field
> of politics in Latin America and would be a permanent legacy of
> nineteenth-century republicanism.
> I already noted that most of the republican practices described by
> Sabato began to wane in the 1870s; at the turn of the century, Latin
> America was dominated by centralizing oligarchies with strongly
> anti-liberal tendencies. Sabato explains this shift by referring to
> new attitudes toward the instability that had plagued most Latin
> American countries in the half century following independence. "A
> rising creed put forward a concept of order that favored stability
> and discipline, rather than the active mobilization typical of
> elections and revolutions of old" (p. 197). While this is a notably
> elegant explanation for a vexed historical puzzle, it is ultimately
> too simple to be able to stand on its own.
> A more complete explanation for the rise of the fin-de-siècle
> oligarchies would have to explore the history of a dimension of
> politics that is strangely absent from _Republics of the New World_:
> it would have to explore the political and ideological content of
> elections, uprisings, and popular mobilizations. For in this book
> about nineteenth-century political conflict, ideologies like
> liberalism and conservatism, and issues like taxation, land
> privatization, or the relationship between church and state, receive
> at best cursory glosses. In a political history of the century of the
> abolition of slavery, the abolition of slavery merits barely a
> mention. It is a curious omission because these topics were so
> closely and obviously involved in the political practices--elections,
> armed citizenship, public opinion--that are Sabato's subjects. Can we
> really understand why governments turned against the civic militias
> without exploring the militias' ideological orientations? Can we
> understand public opinion in fin-de-siècle Latin America without
> knowing the political content of newspapers that were censored, or of
> those that were subsidized by the state?
> In asking these questions, I may of course be wishing for a
> completeness that Sabato never intended: a book that fills such a
> deeply felt gap cannot meet all expectations. It is to be hoped that
> _Republics of the New World _will spark debate and competition, that
> it will spur other historians to also try their hands at the task of
> panoramic analysis and interpretation. For that endeavor, Sabato's
> book now sets a very high standard.
> Notes
> [1]. Lester Langley, _The Americas in the Age of Revolution,
> 1750-1850_ (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996), 251.
> [2]. Jürgen Osterhammel, _The Transformation of the World: A Global
> History of the Nineteenth Century_, trans. Patrick Camiller
> (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014), 478.
> [3]. C. A. Bayly, _The Birth of the Modern World 1780-1914: Global
> Connections and Comparisons_ (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing,
> 2004), 147. As best as I can tell, Bayly, a historian of
> nineteenth-century India, wrote about Latin America after reading a
> single historical survey, Peter Bakewell's _A History of Latin
> America_ (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1997).
> [4]. The literature on popular liberalism and anti-colonialism is
> quite large. Studies of note include Peter Guardino, _Peasants,
> Politics, and the Formation of Mexico's National State: Guerrero,
> 1800-1857_ (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996); Sarah
> Chambers, _From Subjects to Citizens: Honor, Gender, and Politics in
> Arequipa, Peru, 1780-1854_ (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State
> University Press, 1999); and Marixa Lasso, _Myths of Harmony: Race
> and Republicanism during the Age of Revolution, Colombia, 1795-1831_
> (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007).
> [5]. Important studies include Cecilia Méndez, _The Plebeian
> Republic: The Huanta Rebellion and the Making of the Peruvian State,
> 1820-1850_ (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005); Benjamin Smith,
> _The Roots of Conservatism in Mexico: Catholicism, Society, and
> Politics in the Mixteca Baja, 1750-1962_ (Albuquerque: University of
> New Mexico Press, 2012); and Marcela Echeverri, _Indian and Slave
> Royalists in the Age of Revolution: Reform, Revolution, and Royalism
> in the Northern Andes, 1780-1825_ (New York: Cambridge University
> Press, 2016).
> [6]. On conservative indigenous people, see the books cited in the
> previous note. On liberal estate tenants, see John Tutino, "The
> Revolution in Mexican Independence: Insurgency and the Renegotiation
> of Property, Production, and Patriarchy in the Bajío, 1800-1855,"
> _Hispanic American Historical Review_ 78, no. 3 (1988), 367-418. For
> a study of both, see James Sanders, _Contentious Republicans: Popular
> Politics, Race, and Class in Nineteenth-Century Colombia_ (Durham,
> NC: Duke University Press, 2004).
> Citation: Timo Schaefer. Review of Sabato, Hilda, _Republics of the
> New World: The Revolutionary Political Experiment in
> Nineteenth-Century Latin America_. H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews. October,
> 2018.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=51593
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
> License.
> --

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