Week 5 – Caudillos Versus the Nation State

I was immediately struck by the assigned reading for this week, The Slaughterhouse, written by Esteban Echeverria. A dark, chaotic and exaggerated story of 19th century Argentina, the work reminded me a lot of George Orwell’s 1984. The themes are certainly similar, and they both aim to represent a system of government or hierarchy in power. Personally, I think there is a lot to be learned from literary works like Echeverria’s, particularly about history in the context of that time period. In some ways, works like Echeverria’s offer an opportunity that is granted with a primary source. That includes the contextualization of what we are studying about Argentina at that particular time following colonization and the sense of what the people in the country would have felt like in the late 19th century. In this way, I think literary works are important to learning history because they tell us more about what people at that time felt and experienced.

In terms of the advantages and attractions of liberalism at this time, I think that these would have included the opportunity of individual rights, as opposed to being in the pocket or indebted to a caudillo. Moreover, whilst the caudillo would be propped up as the main leader it could be said that a more liberalist approach would have allowed for a much more spread out structuring of power, allowing people who might not have had the opportunity to have an opinion previously, to have more of a say. I think that the promise of liberalism at this time would have been understood as the more long-term option. Whilst it would not necessarily provide security and certainty in the immediate future, in the long term it would perhaps lead to an upheaval of the socio-political atmosphere in the region. However it is totally understandable that this was not popularly embraced at the time, and instead, the power of the caudillos remained for some time more. Offering an immediate sense of security and an upturn in popular fortunes, they could be seen as the man in shining armour, rather than hoping in an idealistic form of political theory that may or may not have made a difference down the road. So in a sense, it is as equally possible for us to imagine what the attractions of the caudillaje would have been.

For a final thought, I thought it was interesting reading about the caudillos and how they came to fill the power vacuum left by the end of colonial rule in Latin America. I couldn’t help but agree with the observation made by Dawson, that the way the caudillos ended up commanding respect and devotion from the locals of regions and states was not too dissimilar from the way the Spanish crown had ruled over the power. Their ability to protect their respective peoples and vanquish enemies was also reminiscent of the previous colonial power.

Thank you for reading,



5 thoughts on “Week 5 – Caudillos Versus the Nation State

  1. Lauren Hart

    Hey Antonin,
    I thought your comparison of The Slaughterhouse with George Orwell’s 1984 was really interesting! They definitely have similar themes, but I would say that George Orwell’s Animal Farm is even more comparable, as its more dark and extreme. Also, good insight into the longevity of liberalism vs. the immediate promise of protection from the caudillos. I definitely think that had a big role to play in whether or not people were drawn to liberal ideals at the time. Nice post 🙂

  2. Thalia Ramage

    I really enjoyed your thoughts on The Slaughterhouse. I found that the title immediately reminded me of Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and I personally haven’t read 1984 yet (though I’m sure I will as an English major), but I definitely did enjoy how you articulated your thoughts. I thought it was also a very clear reading and gave a good sense of the time that it took place in. I also agree with your points on liberalism at the time. It’s definitely hard to look into the future to try and see the long-term benefits of a particular political structure when right now, the world is in chaos.

  3. Lourdes Kletas

    I found it interesting how you pointed out that caudillos ended up acting similarly to the Spanish crown. Even if they had achieved independence, the same behaviour seemed to persist.

  4. kmhurley

    I liked your point about studying literature to understand more how people felt at the time. Maybe it’s the science student in me, but I felt kind of skeptical about reading an elite liberal’s account of history. This point you have made though makes me see the validity of reading such texts

  5. sabeeha manji

    I feel like your comparison of The Slaughterhouse with George Orwell’s 1984 was really well written and well articulated the thoughts you had! Very good point about how in the end caudillos ended up commanding respect from the people- I feel like because he was a charismatic leader that he was easily able to manipulate crowds.


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