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Hispanic American Historical Review 82.1 (2002) 194-195

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Book Review

La seducción de un orden: Las elites y la construcción de Chile en las polémicas culturales y políticas del siglo XIX

La seducción de un orden: Las elites y la construcción de Chile en las polémicas culturales y políticas del siglo XIX. By ANA MARIA STUVEN V. Santiago: Universidad Católica de Chile, 2000 . Bibliography. 316 pp. Paper.

Chile in the 1840 s witnessed a flurry of intellectual activity, helped no doubt by the relaxing of the most draconian phase of the Portalian period, as well as the contributions of many talented South Americans, including Andrés Bello, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, and Vicente Fidel López. Chileans responded well to the freer intellectual environment, enriching the vigorous press of the period, participating in political debates, and writing influential books and pamphlets. Some of the most significant figures of the nineteenth century, including José Victorino Lastarria, Francisco Bilbao, and many others, made their first appearance during this decade. The period has not lacked significant attention, beginning with Diego Barros Arana's monumental Un decenio de la historia de Chile, 1841-1851 (1913); Norberto Pinilla's La generación chilena de 1842 (1942); Bernardo Subercaseaux's Cultura y sociedad liberal en el siglo XIX (1981); and Allen Woll's A Functional Past (1982). Ana María Stuven offers a new and insightful analysis of the central cultural and political issues of the time.

Stuven focuses on four major subjects of debate during the 1840 s, namely, the polemics on language that centered around Sarmiento's proposed orthographic reforms; the debates on romanticism involving a wider circle of intellectuals, including López and Bello, in addition to Sarmiento; the polemics on historiography triggered by Lastarria's essay "Investigaciones sobre la influencia social de la conquista" (1844 ), and the reaction to Bilbao's incendiary essay "Sociabilidad chilena," which led to his notorious trial in June 1844 . It is Stuven's contention that these were no mere academic subjects of debate, but rather intense and divisive issues with profound implications for nineteenth-century Chilean culture and politics. [End Page 194]

The author argues that these debates reveal a fundamental tension between the republican institutions adopted by Chile after independence, and the dominant Catholic culture of the country. Advocates of republican ideals pushed for increasing secularization, but not so far that they would precipitate an open conflict with the church. Stuven contends that this restraint translated into a consensus among political and intellectual leaders, for most of them valued social and political order above all. These debates helped them define the limits of liberalization, as well as probe into such issues as the relationship between tradition and change, views of the Iberian past, and national identity. Occasionally, these debates could get out of hand, and bring tensions between church and state to dangerous levels. Stuven finds the trial of Bilbao to be a good example of the limits of consensus, an emblematic case that revealed just how far secularization could go during the Manuel Bulnes administration.

La seducción de un orden is a nuanced, elegantly written book. Stuven is to be commended for her extensive use of the press articles of the period, as well as some archival sources, which provide a sense of the intensity of the debates. But the book also suffers from some shortcomings: for instance, it persists in the traditional misreading of the Bilbao trial, whereby a conservative establishment retaliates against a courageous young intellectual for exposing the traditional values of Chilean society. In reality, the trial was based on the more pedestrian, but no less real, categories of the 1828 press law, in which "immorality" and "blasphemy" were punishable offenses, as determined by a jury. There is also a tendency in the book to refer to a "clase dirigente" and its "ejercicio hegemónico del poder" (p. 170 ) whose power, fittingly, rested on "values." As historians of...


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pp. 194-195
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