Monthly Archives: October 2019

Week Nine: Power to the People

Contrasting the political leaders who favoured the middle-class or elites, populist leaders appeal to the working class. These people often felt forgotten by repressive regimes and were empowered by leaders who respected them. Dawson argues that populism’s massive influence in Latin America came about at a time of social and technological change that inspired populists to change the role of a political leader while “crowds” became a unified “people.” He relates populism to caudillaje as well, claiming that both these types of leadership encompass a vast amount of leadership that otherwise is not defined as left- or right-wing leaning. These types of leadership seem to cater more towards the “people,” or at least, they appeal to the people’s demands and reflect what the people need and want at the time.

Social changes, like larger cities and a larger working class, coupled with new forms of media like the radio, inspired politicians to take advantage of technology to reach (and appeal to) a wider audience. Attempted by Getúlio Vargas and Carlos Lacerda in Brazil, and Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico, Juan Domingo Perón and Eva “Evita” Duarte seemed to successfully grasp the power of new media (radio, popular culture, music) to appeal to the working class of Argentina.

Perón’s emphasis on political loyalty from the working class is reflective of the caudillaje loyalty system. Caudillaje was popular in its time, and Peronism became very popular too. Perón coupled this loyalty with government-partnered unions to empower industrial workers while achieving his goal of rapid industrialisation that was successful during Argentina’s postwar economic boom due to its export industry. Dawson says that Perón was successful because he was charismatic, delivered on his promises, and respected workers.

The primary sources this week surround Evita’s speech about refusing the VP position alongside Perón. Though both Perón and Evita “subject [them]selves to the decision of the people” and “do as the people decide,” Evita really captured the people’s attention. From my analysis, she acted as a bridge connecting the people and their demands with Perón and his political actions. Dawson argues her relationship with the masses was due to her unique perspective on Argentina, created because of her working class upbringing and professional career later on. Before politics she was a bridge between worlds, and her association with Perón only strengthened that role. The question I had while reading this chapter was “why did Evita so badly not want to become VP?” In the documents she mentions the struggle and the honour of the VP position, and reliquishes the honour portion. She implies she would still be heavily involved with Peronism and the people. so why does she not want the VP position to make that responsibility official? Was she afraid this official title would lead to her being caught up in a revolutionary overthrow? I came to the conclusion (but am definitely open to other opinions!) that she appealed to the people through her humbleness (always crediting work to Perón, her one goal of supporting Perón, explaining her infinite debt to the descamisados) and an official title, anything other than “Evita,” would cause her to focus more on political bureaucracy (Perón’s responsibility?) than being a bridge, a voice for the people, the thing that made her popular in the first place.

Week Eight: Signs of Crisis in a Guilded Age

Dawson’s definition of revolution is interesting. He states that “revolution is a claim of ownership on history” and “an attempt to shape a view of the past that organises power in the present” through inheritance or attributing meaning. Before the American Revolution, “revolution” was a much more literal word. Revolutionaries would want to “revolve” or revert back to the old method of operations because they were unhappy with a new government. I’d like to argue that American revolutionaries redefined this term as their government did not revert back to British rule pre-reforms that caused the revolution in the first place. This form of revolution took global hold, as France, Haiti, and eventually Latin America revolted under this new definition. To my understanding, in Latin America, the goal of revolutions was to create new governments that would better represent the population (or at least the population in power); whether they achieved this is a different question, but I’d say in the context of Latin America, revolution is definitely more of a “claim of ownership on history,” or on a time period in history where the revolution and its leaders is the most significant aspect, than Dawson’s other argument.

I believe some themes we brought up early in the term appear here again. Continuity vs change, for example, can be applied to revolutions. Earlier in the term we discussed if revolutions really change anything. Dawson argues in the lecture that politically, revolutionary governments often revert back to the past, but socially and economically a new order emerges. So perhaps both occur. The theme of “a past that hasn’t passed” appears here as well. Dawson’s evidence for this argument is the Mexican PRI, which claims an ongoing revolution through a series of reforms. Dawson also doesn’t want to outright state when the revolution happened, its beginning, its ending. He doesn’t want to limit it to within a certain time-frame as the ideologies still exist even today. “The claim ‘land and liberty’ never goes away” and is still a very dear part of many Latin American peoples’ values and heritage, though we may tend to otherwise see it just as history. This brings us back to another question: what is a revolution? Is it bloody and violent? Is it sudden and significant? Or is it a less dramatic, constant process of bureaucracy, protests, and reform? Are revolutions more common than we think, if we give the term a less rigid definition?

Week Seven: The Export Boom as Modernity

In the lecture, Alec Dawson revealed that the concept of modernity is usually split up into 4 categories when looked at by historians and analysts. Innovation includes the improvement of society through development and the creation of new things. Emancipation suggests the emergence of liberalism and rights. Secularisation promotes inclusivity because places and people of power would not have a religious bias. And finally, universalism combines these 3 categories into a 4th one that favours the value of sharing modern ideas throughout society and the world and values rational thought above all else.

In the reading, Dawson also mentioned that modernity in Latin America can be seen through different lenses. Ideological and professional narratives clash to focus on certain aspects of Latin American modernity and create an incomplete narrative. But by looking at all the different types of narratives together, we can see the general, important themes and how they matter to these different lenses and points of view. Dawson again suggests 4 different narratives that exist in studying Latin American modernisation: tragedy, epic, comedy, and romance.

I’d like to take a look at these 4 ideas and see how the reading, “Porfirio Díaz, Hero of the Americas,” an interview conduced by James Creelman, fits in with them.

In the context of a tragedy, we can take a historical approach and identify elements of this interview that lead to the “tragedy” of incoming, brewing revolution to Díaz’ Mexico. Díaz says the middle-class is a recent development and it is considerably favoured in the order, progress, and prosperity of Mexico in this era. This shows the inequality, political and economic, that the other classes (especially the poor) face. How can they reap the benefits of progress if they are too “ignorant” to participate? How come this isn’t seen as the state’s fault? Why do the rich have no responsibilities in progress as they are too “preoccupied?” How come they aren’t contributing, working, or perhaps suffering in the same manner as the other classes? It seems even the rich aren’t free to participate in Díaz’ peace.

Regarding the epic narrative, immediately we can identify how this relates to Creelman’s portrayal of Díaz himself. The title of the interview names Díaz a “Hero,” and Creelman quotes an official as having said that Díaz is “one of the great men to be held up for the hero-worship of mankind” (139). Even the progress that Creelman identifies is written about in a very impressed and admired manner. This is the story of Díaz’ triumph over Mexico, a story of a self-made man transforming the country into a disciplined and practical one through his venerable independent thought. Interesting how Díaz is seen as the one fighting the good fight while so much of the country is repressed. Or is Díaz’ idealised portrayal by those who have an influential voice more the avoidable problem?

Dawson looks at the comedy lens through a 20/20 hindsight historical perspective, how we see how certain elements are left out of the primary document portrayal of Mexico and how that contributes to the revolutions. I believe this same idea can be applied to the Díaz document. Rather than exploring the tragedy of the victims through Mexico’s modernisation, we can see as Díaz lists all his achievements and Creelman admiring them, political progress and the idea of emancipation is greatly limited. Díaz seems to favour the middle-class and disregard all else. How can he ignore so much of the population and consider the poor “ignorant” and the rich “preoccupied” when they still contribute in their own way to Mexico’s development and subsequent revolutionary spirit? Is this class-based repression, one that could have been avoided if more attention was diverted from economics to politics, the reason for Mexico’s revolutions?

And of course, Creelman’s journalistic writing style is extremely romantic. As mentioned in the lecture, he describes Díaz in an incredibly poetic manner. He even describes the surrounding environment and the information he has learned about Díaz’ progress in the same way. Perhaps this reflects the narrative of the appeal of innovation, the romance of progress, that Creelman believes his readers will want to surround themselves with.


Week Six: Citizenship and Rights in the New Republics

All of this week’s readings have an “action” type feeling to them, that they contribute to a higher calling and whoever wrote them felt as if they specifically were in a position to help or educate others in some way. The textbook mentioned that the literature of post-emancipation represents both liberalism and scientific racism of the 19th century.

Unfortunately I didn’t really understand Nina Rodrigues’ “The Fetishist Anamism of the Bahian Blacks,” and I didn’t quite see the point of the Santa Rita de Casia y San Lázaro Manifesto. So I’ll comment on those in a limited manner, based on what I did understand.
From the perspective of someone living in a generally liberal society looking back on historical moments, I found that all these works fell in either “liberal” or “could be liberal” or “scientific racism” categories. Also, I identified many instances of the “affect” theme that Jon mentioned in the video lecture throughout the readings, and I’d like to analyse that too.
I think the point of Nina Rodrigues’ text was to understand the different religious customs of Afro-Brazilians. He interestingly pointed out that the “African element” of their culture had been “diluted” in the diverse environment of Brazil, and that the only pure thing left was “the feeling that animates beliefs.” Take that as you will, here the idea of “feeling” or “affect” comes up. Is Nina Rodrigues using the affect argument to deny these people access to equal, unemotional rights? Or to define specific rights that would suit them? I think this work fits into the “scientific racism” category.
I was surprised at how liberal the Political Program of the Partido Independiente de Color was! Some of what they call for is even controversial today, like the free university idea. I think this fits into the “liberal” category. Words like “love” and “worthy” are used to address the nation and its citizens, respectively. Did this “affect” aspect affect how rights and responsibilities are defined within the nation, with all of its diversity?
The only thing I managed to analyse from the Santa Rita de Casia y San Lázaro Manifesto is that death symbolism was used a lot in the wake of a massacre (context given by the textbook). Liberal notions of this text are paired with imagery of death: “Death is Nature’s justice,” and mentions of everyone being equal since everyone is born to die. Also interesting is the amount of times they declare they are “true Christians.” Is this to appeal to whoever they are writing to? This plays on the cultural/feelings/affect argument I believe. Elites may have a better impression of them if they share spiritual values.
Brush Strokes by Echenique is almost explicitly liberal. She critiques affect in favour of women’s rights and emancipation. She clearly rejects tradition, stating that “the women of today are not the women of the past.” And she defines rights and emancipation in the context of women: they must be more philosophical.
In Josefina Pelliza de Sagasta’s piece, she takes the opposite stance and fights for tradition, mostly on the basis of “affect” spirituality. This immediately seems illiberal, as she calls for tradition and not progress, but interestingly her support for women (at least women in her own class) is quite uplifting and inspirational. She clearly uses the idea of “affect” as she praises womanhood through words like “love” and “exalted.” Also her use of empowering words like “queens” and “strong” could be seen as catering to the individual.
One last thing: I feel like these readings especially pointed out some flaws of liberalism (building off the discussion my section got into on Tuesday!). Can liberalism lead to the loss of individuality while trying to protect the concept of the individual? All for the “greater good” of society? I think this especially shows in Echenique’s writing, she almost calls for the erasure of female feeling in favour of emancipation. Just a thought!