The Evolution Of Liberalism In Latin America

1611 words - 7 pages

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Liberalism was the dominant political and economic theory of the world throughout the
enlightenment and that gave way to many economic and social advances. In particular the 19th
century saw an increase both in the literature associated with this movement and the amount of
leaders that nominally subscribed to this theory. In Latin America, specifically, liberalism took a
very unique path that culminated in the abandonment and complete rejection of these theories.
The adoption of liberal policies both economically and socially moved from adhering very
strictly to the theory at first (whilst being disconnected from reality) to the eventual degradation
and disassociation of ...view middle of the document...

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One clear example of the relative commitment to liberalism are numerous Constitutions
developed throughout Latin America that emulate, if not directly copy, the Constitution of the
United States and “generous ideas of the French revolution”(Hirschman). Although in theory the
form and structure of the newly established governments resembled the working “democracy”
the US had, there were great discrepancies with the actual implementation of these. One of the
biggest and most glaring issues was the lack of universal suffrage. Not only was the right to vote
reserved for males alone, but it also excluded a big portion of the people present including
natives and African American slaves. Thus the very core principle of equality was almost
immediately violated.
Further on, another clear violation of the principles of liberalism is the persistent
authoritarian character that haunts Latin America well into the 21st century. It’s impossible to
separate the region from this particular characteristic as it determines so much of its history. In
Mexico for example there were over twenty heads of state (dictators) between 1823 and 1835.
Even during the most liberal points of Latin American history, around the 1880s, one could still
observe caudillos and strongman appear and be central to the way of life. According to Hale
“Bunge, echoing a widely held view, referred to Porfirio Diaz as 'the progressive cacique', one of
the great statesmen of the century. ‘He governs Mexico as Mexico must be governed.’” It is clear
that the autocratic nature of the Latin American character was accepted socially and even
defended by many despite its illiberal roots.

Albert Hirschman points out that Laberinto de Paz (a book about Mexico’s political
reality) and Nuestra America are two books that espouse on the topic of ideological and practical
discrepancies in political and economic life in Latin America. The latter work is a “recitation of

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vices and failures” that were popularly believed at the time. In particular Nuestra America
stresses that the people are lazy, sad, and arrogant which accounts for the economic and social
lag that Latin America experiences relative to European countries. Many others continued to
expand on inherent problems with Latin America, some delving into determinism and hereditary
predispositions. Francisco Encina believed that Chileans were unable to be cooperative,
ostentatious, and lacked initiative due in large part to hereditary considerations and the lack of a
proper education that civilized the masses.
It is here that the influx of positivism can be clearly seen. Positivism is defined as a
philosophy that confines itself to data from experience and excludes a priori information
(Britannica). Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer were both deeply influential social
commentators that strictly adhered to this philosophy. Their works and their reasoning had a
deep impact in Latin America even though many...

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