Vanguard of the Atlantic World

I have the book and have read a lot of it; this is the article and I am going to recycle the paper copy, but not after saying, or recalling, a bit about it.

How did Mexicans and Colombians envision and emplot modernity in the 19th century? The author posits an “American republican modernity” that lost out after about 1875, as more conservative notions of modernity (technological innovation, industrialization, state power) became dominant.

* 1868 orator in Mexico, announcing that (Latin) American democracy will spread to Europe, emancipating it: this was said in the context of the victory over Maximiliano and the restoration of a Republic in Mexico. It went against the prevailing notion of the day, that modernity had started in Europe and the U.S. and would spread from there to the so-called peripheries.

1. Most professional scholars of modernity, beginning with Hegel, think the opposite. Giddens says so, too. Sanders: modernity is not an analytical category, but a discursive force. It is not measurable; it is only a normative and judgmental comparison.

2. Many 19th century political thinkers would have agreed with these scholars. Sarmiento and Alberdi, for instance. And many current scholars have accepted Sarmiento’s vision as representative. BUT if you read newspapers, not these elite people, you see that “American republican modernity” was actually quite widespread in the mid 19th century.

3. And this period of Latin America’s claim to modernity was short-lived. It lost out to other versions of modernity, but not before profoundly challenging the political, intellectual and social history of the Atlantic world.

* On p. 111, see the marvelous quotation from the writer in Cali. Europe is backward, Latin America is modern. Also,  it was believed that economic prosperity would follow if political modernity were created. There is another beautiful quotation on 113, about slavery; then Sanders points out that Europe was now “embarking on a SECOND great wave of imperial conquest, creating a colonialism that would define dominant visions of modernity until this day … [and that] Mexicans proposed a countermodernity that rejected the right of power and equations of civilization with violence.” That is to say that they did not accept the modernity that is the other side of coloniality but proposed another. And the constitutions of that period showed it.

* Emphasized were universal fraternity (116), antiracism (117), the identity of citizen (117) … and note how important all of this was when the state was still weak to nonexistent and nations undefined (119).

+ BUT: economic liberalism meant that the demands of capital became more important than democracy or the demands of the subaltern by the last quarter of the century. It was more and more believed that to achieve economic modernity one would have to sacrifice democratic and republican political modernity, which meant the poor lost rights and the subaltern were excluded.

* Mexico and Colombia thus no longer saw themselves as standing at the vanguard of the Atlantic world, but as the opposite; and they dropped the democratic values that earlier on they had espoused.

Axé.

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