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  • Argentine Democracy: The Politics of Institutional Weakness
  • Rebecca Bill Chavez
Argentine Democracy: The Politics of Institutional Weakness. Edited by Steven Levitsky and María Victoria Murillo. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006. Pp. xii, 325. Tables. Notes. References. Index. $85.00 cloth; $25.00 paper.

This timely volume is a useful addition to the literature on democratization in Argentina, and it represents an important study on the potential tension between neoliberalism and democracy. The book, which arose out of a 2003 conference at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, seeks to help [End Page 695] explain Argentina's political and economic development since the beginning of Carlos Menem's decade as president. The essays address two important questions. First, why did Argentina, a country that was widely praised for its radical market-oriented reforms during the Menem years (1989-1999), undergo a dramatic economic collapse shortly after Menem left office? Second, how did Argentine democracy endure the profound economic crisis? In the book's first chapter, the editors identify institutional weakness as a major challenge to both economic growth and democratic stability in Argentina. However, the most thought provoking essays go beyond the critical issue of institutional frailty to explore other themes including subnational politics, the role of civil society, party politics, and executive-legislative relations.

Each chapter has merit, but the three chapters on provincial level politics by Kent Eaton, Mark Jones and Wonjae Hwang, and by Ernesto Calvo and María Victoria Murillo are particularly cogent and represent a worthy contribution to the scholarship on Argentina. Subnational analysis is a powerful tool for political scientists who study Argentina as well as other Latin American nations. The tendency has been to focus on institutional factors and their consequences at the national level. By supplementing the study of national politics with a systematic look at the provincial level, these authors have found rich new laboratories for theory-building. Eaton's compelling chapter calls attention to the provincial governor, an actor that is often overlooked in analyses of Argentina. In his analysis of federal revenue sharing, Eaton shows that governors are decisive players in Argentine democracy. Indeed, governors have taken substantial power from the center. Jones and Hwang build on cartel theory to demonstrate that, as a result of Argentina's electoral system, provincial party bosses (typically governors) wield significant influence in the federal legislature. In so doing, they provide an alternative explanation for Congress's deference to Menem.

The chapters on the politics of civil society and social movements highlight the role of nonstate actors. Enrique Peruzzotti's chapter analyses Argentina's vibrant rights-oriented movement that emerged in response to the state terrorism of the 1976-1983 Dirty War, and it explores the politics of social accountability that has led to public concern about the quality of Argentina's fragile democratic institutions. In his study of mass social upheaval, Javier Auyero provides insight into this form of protest, which became common in the wake of Argentina's economic collapse.

Juan Carlos Torre and Steven Levitsky help explain how Argentina avoided a full-scale collapse of the party system that would have undermined the potential for democratic consolidation. As Peru under Alberto Fujimori and Venezuela under Hugo Chávez demonstrate, the disintegration of party systems has been a major factor behind the erosion of democracy in Latin America. In contrast, Argentina has been able to avoid the proliferation of candidate-centered movements that has plagued much of the region. Torre demonstrates that Argentina's crisis of representation led to only a partial collapse of the party system. Indeed, anti-party protest targeted primarily non-Peronist parties. In his analysis of the Peronist party, the Partido Justicialista or PJ, Levitsky skillfully shows how the PJ's flexibility permitted it to adapt [End Page 696] during crises. In particular, the PJ's internal fluidity allowed the party to survive during the socioeconomic crises of the Menem years and of the 2001-2002 period.

On the whole, the volume is a welcome contribution to our understanding of Argentina. The collection of well-crafted essays should be read by anyone interested in the issues facing this troubled yet promising...


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