Fortunately for those of us concerned with Argentine history in the nineteenth century, interest in the caudillos does not slacken. Using completely different approaches, and yet supplementing each other beautifully, these two books analyze the careers of many of them. In Encuesta, Arias and his co-authors discuss Nazario Benavides, Justo José de Artigas, Martín Güemes, Juan Manuel de Rosas, Bernabé Aráoz, Gregorio Aráoz de La Madrid, Alejandro Heredia, and Estanislao López. In contrast, Luna divides his study into two periods: that of 1819-1831, for which he selects as representative Artigas, Francisco Ramírez, and Juan Facundo Quiroga; and that of 1862-1868, whose representatives are Angel Vicente Peñaloza (El Chacho) and Felipe Varela, Peñaloza’s able pupil. Luna, however, brings other Argentine leaders into his account as they relate to the subject under discussion, so that one gets a better picture of the relations between these figures. The two books should be read as supplements to each other. Neither is obviously a definitive study of the caudillo and of what made him tick, but they are a good beginning for the person who wants to study the Argentine phenomenon which has its counterpart in other parts of Latin America and in Spain and Portugal.
Encuesta is the result of a proposal made in 1961 to study the socio-economic-political bases of the caudillo in Argentina. The historians selected were asked to comment on the following criteria: the caudillo and his geographic-economic environment; the caudillo in the socio-cultural environment, including his personal background, education, etc.; the caudillo and the politics of his region; and the caudillo and national politics, including his ideas about a national government and the economic structure of the nation. These criteria seem far too broad and extensive for the space allotted to each investigator. Perhaps for that reason, only six historians responded to the request, and several of them did not cover the topic assigned them. As might be expected, the essays are very uneven in quality and in scholarship.
Using the results of the essays, the editor drew up a useful chart to illustrate the principal conclusions of the encuesta. It is interesting to note that all of them had three things in common. They were military men, landowners, and governors of provinces. On the other hand some wanted a national constitution along federalist lines, while others did not or wanted one on a different basis. Some wanted protectionism, while others preferred free trade. All but López and Urquiza came from patrician or semi-patrician backgrounds with ancestors who had been colonial administrators of some type. In general all the caudillos defended the autonomy of their provinces while trying, on the local level, to extend their hegemony over others. The only exception was Buenos Aires, which tried expansion on a national scale.
The organization of Luna’s book is different. He is a prolific present-day historian of Argentina and also a lawyer, journalist, university professor, and composer. Here he rejects both the Mitre-López interpretation of Argentine history (generally anti-caudillo) and the extreme revisionist interpretation which eulogizes such leaders as Rosas.
According to Luna, the caudillos were authentic protagonists of Argentine history and expressed a view of the fatherland which merits respect. In the main he finds them traditionalist, conservative, and generally religious. They were provincial and suspicious of everything, especially European innovations, which changed the complexion of Argentina. That is why they were so popular in their day and why they are again so popular today. They express the nationalism of Argentina. They resisted change and so were called los bárbaros. With the disappearance of Varela, progress (which Luna accepts as such) seemed to triumph. But according to Luna, “Sarmiento planteó su alternativa sin condiciones, drásticamente: nosotros creemos que la civilización y la barbarie pueden encontrar la fórmula de su síntesis. Deben encontrarla: la Argentina lo necesita, para su salud” (p. 35).
Luna’s book is filled with interesting interpretations. Historians should be grateful for his careful, generally important, substantial, and profound study. It has much in it to reward the careful reader generously.