week 5

Week 5: Federalists vs. Unitarians


“figures who entered the vacuum of power left by the collapse of the Spanish colonial state and who offered hope for stability through the force of their will and their capacity to vanquish their enemies.”

In this sense, the appeal of the strongmen makes sense: the individual leadership was a stark difference compared to the corporate entities that came with colonial rule. With all the turmoil surrounding Independence, it would make sense that people sought a different form of leadership than the failed bureaucracies of colonialism. Suspicion of liberalism fits in this narrative as people doubted the abstract notion of the state. The geography of Latin America is relevant here as well: “even when these countries were sparsely populated, vast distances and geography put the lie to all illusions of central control.” Local governance, then, was not only more popular, but was more suiting to the geographical conditions of Latin America. This was the  position of Federalists, described in Esteban Echeverría’s, The Slaughterhouse. Echeverría paints Federalists in a very unattractive light in his story, as brutal savages that couldn’t think for themselves. I think this his depiction of Federalists was extreme to the point of absurdity, but there might have been some truth to it. On the other hand, he attempts to depict Unitarians as educated saints, even going so far as to allude the Unitarian young man in the story to Jesus. 

This division between groups (Federalists and Unitarians) reminds me of the current political climate in the United States. In fact, the reading’s description of Rosas sounded a bit familiar…

“He spoke a language that resonated with the rural and urban poor, showing them that he was one of them. And he always divvyed up the spoils of power among his followers.”

This reminds me of the rhetoric around Trump and how he has gained such a following. Creating division between liberals and conservatives, Trump definitely “speaks the language” of his followers. When people are feeling voiceless and powerless, a strongman may seem like the only hope. This being said, it’s important to question narratives that are as extreme as Echeverría’s: how could his story itself be considered violent? Dawson explains that liberals’ idealization of civilization became “genocidal,” attempting to eliminate those who came in the path of modernity. This included many indigenous people who opposed liberal attempts to privatize communal lands.