The Americas 59.1 (2002) 127-128
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This is an anthology of essays originally presented at a workshop at the University of Turin in early 1999. Judging by the presence of a few better-known scholars, such as M. Carmagnani and S. Serrano, the participants seem to have been professors from Italian and Latin American universities, although the volume provides virtually no information on the academic background of the contributors. They came together to discuss absolutism, constitutionalism, and the liberal order in Latin America as part of a larger international project on the guiding principles (norms and practices) of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century public administration and states in the region. The coordinator of the project and this edited volume is Marcelo Carmagnani, author of several works on the economic and social history of Chile and Mexico and larger syntheses of colonial and modern Latin American history.
Coming on the heels of another workshop-related anthology, Marco Bellingeri's Dinámica del antiguo régimen y orden constitucional, this volume aims to evaluate historical changes brought about by the liberal constitutional order generally implemented in Latin America from the mid nineteenth century until the 1920s. According to Carmagnani, its principal virtue is the attempt to relate political culture, formal institutions (constitutions, laws and other norms), and social realities. He also argues that the contributors made an effort to keep away from the ideological views that tend to dominate the discussion of Latin America's liberal past. Apparently, the contributors are all convinced—Carmagnani certainly seems to be—that historians can adopt an entirely neutral ("non-ideological," pp. 1, 3, 7) approach when evaluating historical processes.
Carmagnani holds that liberal institutions opened up all kinds of possibilities for individuals, taking advantage of their formal equality under the law, to transform not only their private worlds but also social and political life. Focusing particularly on constitutional provisions concerning civil and constitutional liberties and individual rights, the contributors try to discern the ways that political and social actors ("hombres" is the expression used by Carmagnani, pp. 3, 5) found and took advantage of new individual and collective means of action. The emphasis throughout the book seems to be on how liberalism gave birth to a new type of historical agent whose ideas and actions should become a central subject of historical research.
Of the eleven essays in the anthology, four are dedicated to Mexico, four more to Argentina, two to Chile and one to Peru. The Mexico-related contributions examine [End Page 127] the growing significance of statistics in fields such as criminal law, medicine, and hygiene (L. Mayer); the reactions of society and church before the civil registry in the southern region of Oaxaca (D. Traffano); the pace of economic and political reforms concerning free trade and its consequences (P. Riguzzi); and the impact of liberal reforms in the adoption of monetary and fiscal policies (M. Carmagnani). The essays on Argentina deal with the participation of the military in state-building (R. Forte); religious freedom and the role of Catholicism in nation-building (L. Zanatta); liberal administration of justice in Tucumán (S. Rex Bliss); and debates over tributary policies in the early twentieth century (A. Montequin). The sections on Chile address anti-secularization strategies used by the Catholic Church and conservatism (S. Serrano), and the liberal transformation of the administration of justice and the judiciary (M. R. Stabili). Finally, the essay on Peru evaluates the political significance and impact of statistics and the country's first population census (G. Chiaramonti).
Unlike refreshing trends in the analysis of the liberal experience in Latin America by English and American scholars (Guardino, Mallon, LaFrance, Thomson), which emphasize liberalism's popular dimension and the people's insurgent appropriation of the liberal discourse, this anthology gives more emphasis to elite experiences, intellectual debates, and high politics. Nevertheless, the essays are engaging, well documented, and informative. Whether or not they deliver what...