- The Vanguard of the Atlantic World: Creating Modernity, Nation, and Democracy in Nineteenth-Century Latin America by James E. Sanders
James Sanders’s thorough and engaging exploration of republicanism, modernity, and nation is at the vanguard of scholarship on nineteenth-century Latin America. For more than 150 years the idea that civilization sprouted in Europe and had to be transported to America defined the scholarly paradigm for understanding modernity in Latin America. Many Latin American intellectuals and politicians have likewise largely adhered to this interpretive framework. Yet, building on the work of scholars like Florencia Mallon and Peter Guardino, Sanders presents us with a distinct model for locating and understanding democratic modernity and its impact on nation formation throughout the century. Rather than a set of processes and discourses deemed desirable to import from Europe, he argues convincingly that modernity developed first and most fully in America. This American republican modernity offered an “alternative political culture” defined by citizenship rights, democracy, political liberty, and a new understanding of the pueblo and popular participation in the public sphere. From the 1830s through the 1870s, American republican modernity did not merely gather an intellectual following from Mexico to Colombia to Uruguay. As Sanders illustrates through an exhaustive reading of decades of press reports, columns, and articles, from dozens of newspapers and magazines as well as wide-ranging source material from archives [End Page 93] across the region, American republican modernity was omnipresent among diverse social sectors. And herein lies one of the most significant takeaways from the book that makes it indispensable reading for students and scholars interested in the cultural, political, and literary history of the region.
While republican ideas originated among elites beginning with the wars for independence, popular classes quickly became attuned to the new political realities and made demands that transformed republicanism and universalism (certain equalities guaranteed to everyone in a polity) and put them at the core of democratic modernity. This modernity that Sanders studies “challenged the tenets of the nineteenth-century world: the primacy of both Europe as the imperial center and the material realities of capitalism for dictating the future” (7). We see the development of American republican modernity through seven chapters, which alternate between clear examples from different historical moments in Uruguay, Mexico, and Colombia, and a solid theoretical infrastructure for relocating modernity to America.
The first chapter centers on the soldiers (many of whom were Afro-descendants and foreigners) who fought with Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Colorados “for liberty” during the Guerra Grande that engulfed Uruguay and Argentina in the 1840s. The Garibaldinos and Colorados invoked notions of fraternity, rights of popular citizenship, and liberty in their fight. They also called for the abolition of slavery as central to civilization. Thus, even prior to 1850 significant challenges arose to Europe as the source of all things civilized, illustrating an early articulation of American republican modernity.
In chapter two, Sanders surveys the shifting conceptions of modernity in the first couple decades after independence. During these years, civilization was above all about cultural refinement coupled with elite, Europhile fears of the pueblo’s inability to handle the responsibilities of a republic. The result: elite attempts to limit rights on the one hand, while on the other, subalterns employed the very “language of liberty” and sought to appropriate rights and access political space (55). The US–Mexico War of 1846–1848 is the backdrop for chapter three, which probes new attitudes toward the US across Latin America, as well thinking about the nation in terms of fraternity rather than power in the wake of the war. Now the sister republics of Spanish America questioned the idea of the US as the model American republic.
Chapter four is the keystone of the book. It traces two predominant threads in the Spanish American public sphere after midcentury, when American republican modernity reached its apex: 1) manifestations of what Sanders calls the “vanguard of the future” in America, and 2) civilization’s meaning stemming from political culture (81). Liberals...