- Political Culture in Spanish America, 1500–1830 by Jaime E. Rodríguez O.
Over the past three decades, the "new political history" has produced a rich scholarship about the emergence and development of the nation-state in Latin America. That historiographical turn, enriched by the postulates of the French linguistic turn and the Cambridge school of conceptual history, has explained in detail the origins and formation of the representative political system in Latin America. One of the major proponents of the new political history is Jaime Rodríguez O., and this book offers a synthesis of his prolific academic trajectory. In this work, Rodríguez explains some fundamental concepts and arguments about Hispanic political culture that are not well acknowledged among Anglophone scholars.
The book's eight essays, previously published in Spanish as a single collection, argue that the Hispanic world possessed a common political culture based on the profession of Catholicism and on an imagined social compact between subjects and their king. Rodríguez traced the origins of the Hispanic political culture to Spanish neo-scholastic theorists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who developed the idea that the Spanish monarchy was a conglomerate of realms with rights and political representation and viewed Spanish American territories as kingdoms, not colonies. When Napoleon Bonaparte invaded the Iberian Peninsula and captured the Spanish royal family in 1808, Spanish subjects appealed to the traditional Hispanic political culture by founding juntas—autonomous governments—in the name of the king. The author makes clear that insurgent movements in Spanish America initially did not seek independence from the Spanish crown but sought more political autonomy according to the traditional discourse of rights and privileges.
Amid political turmoil, Spanish subjects on both sides of the Atlantic decided to form a national assembly—the Cortes of Cádiz—that in 1812 created the Cádiz Constitution. Rodríguez states that the Spanish charter gave birth to political representation and mass politics in the Hispanic political culture by creating a representative system based on popular elections. Given that the charter enfranchised the majority of the male population in the Hispanic world, Rodríguez considers it "the most radical charter of the nineteenth century" (9).
These essays, based on case studies concerning Mexico and Quito, Ecuador, explain how the Cádiz charter and Spanish political culture shaped Latin American independence and its early national period. The author addresses not only the participation of prominent politicians but also of clerics and indigenous people. Thus, Rodríguez demonstrates how different social groups referred to the traditional political culture [End Page 225] to defend their interests and improve their social position once the Spanish monarchy evolved from an absolutist regime to a constitutional one. Furthermore, Rodríguez emphasizes that the United States' early political system and its independence from monarchy did not influence the actions of Spanish Americans, and that the caudillos—military politicians—emerged not because Hispanic societies inherited an authoritarian culture of dominion, but because they strived to represent a variety of interests, including ordinary people.
Rodríguez also reflects on the evolution of Anglophone historiography. He appreciates that in the 1980s and 1990s U.S. scholars abandoned the study of politics because of the rise of subaltern studies and cultural history. The author praises Nettie Lee Benson, who founded one of the most important Latin American studies libraries in the United States and was one of the first historians to identify key aspects of the Hispanic political culture, all much before the advent of the new political history. Hopefully this book will revive interest in the political history of nineteenth-century Spanish America, continuing the work that Benson initiated.