- Argentina’s Partisan Past: Nationalism and the Politics of History by Michael Goebel
Michael Goebel’s Argentina’s Partisan Past is a real historian’s book, a work that appeals to our scholarly impulses by tracing competing traditions of historical interpretation and modes of imagining the nation. This may sound like an effort to damn the book with praise, but Latin American specialists will appreciate the study’s creativity, thoroughness, and scope. It offers a welcome guide through the twists and turns of twentieth-century Argentinean intellectual history by considering an impressive range of historical thinkers, institutions, and movements. At the same time, Goebel takes care to situate Argentinean examples within a theoretically informed discussion of nationalism as a global phenomenon. Non-specialists will be rewarded by the book’s assessment of differing methodologies in the study of nationalism and its keen insights on the political uses of history.
The book examines the making of two broad “pantheons” of interpretation: the liberal school (also known as Mitrismo) and the revisionismo histórico school. The focus falls primarily on the origins and evolution of revisionism from the 1930s to the present. Although revisionists have occupied positions across the ideological spectrum, they share key historical claims in common, not the least of them an opposition to the “official” history promulgated by the state, the educational system, and dominant social sectors. For the revisionists, the problem began with the efforts of nineteenth-century liberals to impose Europeanizing models of progress, thereby turning their backs on the true nation. By contrast, revisionists celebrate the “authentic” Argentina associated with subjects such as Hispanic and Catholic identity, patriotic caudillos like Juan [End Page 756] Manuel de Rosas and their popular militias (montoneras), telluric rural culture (coded at times in ethnic/racial terms as the folkways of nonimmigrant criollos), and the manly independence embodied in the gaucho.
Revisionism was hitched to a confounding variety of political movements over the century. Goebel traces its applications across the revisionist pantheon with great skill and in the process illuminates connections among disparate nationalists. This is no easy feat, for revisionism was in constant motion, even if, paradoxically; its basic anti-establishment claims remained remarkably static. According to the author, revisionism emerged in the 1930s as the creature of right-wing intellectuals, many of whom fit a similar social profile and sympathized with nacionalismo (the confusing term given to the era’s hodgepodge of illiberal authoritarianisms). With the rise of Peronism in the early 1940s, however, revisionist history worked its way into the mainstream.
The author shows with wonderful nuance how Peronist authorities raided the revision-ist toolkit, without openly rejecting the liberal pantheon or fully embracing the unacionalistas, whom Perón shrewdly considered “piantavotos” or vote-repellents (p. 72). Thanks to this mingling with Peronist formulations of nationalism, the core tenets of historical revisionism later migrated to the New Left, shorn of their worst xenophobic tendencies and blended with revolutionary utopianism. That said, revisionism continued to circulate among right-wing extremists: the bloody conflicts of 1970s often pitted against each other political opponents who nonetheless espoused similar critiques of liberal history. For many reasons (including the brutal, irredentist nationalism of the Proceso dictatorship), revisionist nationalists occupied a lower profile during the 1980s and 1990s. But revisionist claims have resurfaced in new variations, most notably in the multicultural policies of the Néstor and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administrations (2003–present).
Goebel’s analysis of the liberal/revisionist contest comes at the price of reduced attention to historiographic currents not easily placed within either of the two traditions. Revisionists have often lumped together various types of conservative, Marxist, and republican history under the liberal rubric; aware of this, the author takes pains to avoid becoming a captive of his object of inquiry. Although topics such as methodological changes in academic practice in Argentina get short shrift, this study offers useful suggestions for how to breathe life into the study of Argentinean nationalism (for example, by exploring more fully...