Jay Kinsbruner’s purpose in these five exploratory essays is to revise a number of standard interpretations concerning Diego Portales and his era of Chilean history. In his most substantial essay, which deals with the Constitution of 1833, the author denies that this constitution was the creation of Portales and the pelucón leadership. Instead, Kinsbruner maintains that Portales had no influence over Mariano Egaña or the other delegates. As a matter of fact, even the pelucón leadership itself lacked unanimity on very basic questions and made no attempt to provide direction to the delegates. Moreover, a perusal of the debates of the delegates has convinced the author that “according to the standard interpretations . . . the wrong people were presenting arguments that should have come from others” (pp. 51-52). And while much of the constitution was certainly drawn from Mariano Egaña’s Voto particular, the delegates also rejected some of its important provisions. That so much of Egaña’s work was ultimately incorporated into the constitution “must be taken as an indication of how well he [Mariano Egaña] captured the sentiments of the majority of the delegates,” and must not be imputed to Egaña’s hold over the delegates (pp. 55-56).
Kinsbruner also dismisses the idea that the landed aristocracy was the driving force behind the constitution, maintaining that the impelling force was a monied class not dependent upon landed wealth. The constitution granted benefits to the landowners (such as the preservation of the mayorazgos), not because of their power, but because the monied class had a high regard for property rights and deemed it politically inexpedient to alienate the landed aristocracy. Unfortunately, the vital contingency in Kinsbruner’s revision is missing, for he makes no attempt to identify the monied class or to explain exactly how it wielded its purported power.
Three of the essays focus upon Diego Portales, whom the author characterizes—along with the pelucón leadership—as a practitioner of classical liberalism. Of greater significance is Kinsbruner’s portrayal of Portales in non-monumental terms. For instance, Portales was no architect of an ideological tradition, for his program was essentially only a pragmatic alternative to chaos. Portales was not omnipotent in the period between his ministries, nor should he be given credit for so much of the pelucón administrative program. Furthermore, the author is unimpressed with Portales’ economic views. Classifying them as an uninstructed and “informal mixture of mercantilism and classical economies,” he concludes that “before Portales died his economic views were already outdated and a detriment to the progress of the country” (p. 27).
It is unlikely that these interpretations will meet with universal acceptance, and the author often weakens his arguments by failing to develop them comprehensively and systematically. For example, are we to conclude from his revisions that Portales made no contributions at all to the economic development of Chile or that he was impotent in the period between his ministries? Another logical gap occurs when the author begins by arguing that Portales did not tightly control the press, but ends with unfounded conclusion that Portales favored freedom of the press.
Kinsbruner embellishes his study with a historiographical essay, which though valuable is hampered by the fact that he seems more concerned with attacking textbook misinformation than in fully evaluating the significant works bearing on his subject.