A book is published, at times, with whose substance one disagrees, but which one ought to commend, nevertheless, because it meets high scholarly standards and provides a useful professional service. Such, in brief, is my orientation toward most of the essays in Howard Wiarda’s edited and coauthored book. The editor is correct that “essentially the book argues that there is a distinctive Southern European and Latin American intellectual and socio-political tradition, one which serves as the Iberic-Latin counterpart to the great development paradigms formulated by Marx, Weber, and others. Latin America fails to conform very well to the processes of historical unfolding outlined in these schemes” (p. v).
The essays of the book fall into three modes of analysis: culturalist, political, and structural. The culturalist mode is represented best by Glen Dealy’s historical essay, and also by Howard Wiarda, Richard Morse, Ronald Newton, and Claudio Véliz. Although change is acknowledged, culturalist authors ordinarily deny that “fundamental” change has occurred. Marginal change occurs within a continuing, and basically unchanged, cultural and political framework. In Dealy’s elegant phrase, much of contemporary, even apparently revolutionary change, is no more than an “attempt to recapture their authentic tradition” (p. 73). The political mode is represented best by Charles Anderson’s rightly famous theoretical essay, reprinted here, on Latin American politics. Latin American politics are a “living museum,” where new power contenders are accepted only when they are socialized in the rules of the game, which requires them not to eliminate previous power contenders. This mode envisions the possibility of a revolutionary break with the past. Fundamental changes, though rare, do occur. The focus is on explicitly political variables. The structural mode is represented best by Kalman Silvert. There is both a consciousness of the weight of the past and of the presence of fundamental modernizing change, comparable to changes in non-Latin American countries, in significantly large groups in all but the least-developed countries. “In Latin America recent political change has been at least as profound as economic and demographic change.. . . Structural changes conducive to national integration are taking place” (p. 168). Lawrence Graham’s interesting essay does not fit this categorization, though it has strains from culturalist and political modes. One should add that culturalists have sharp disagreements on important points; e.g., “self-interest is not seen as legitimate within the public sphere” (Dealy, p. 81) vs. “the great intereses are as a matter of course accepted as socially legitimate” (Newton, p. 138).
The authors are learned, the arguments are interesting, and the subject is important. Most readers of this journal probably subscribe to one of these modes. And yet, let us criticize, albeit briefly. All of the essays follow an agglomerative approach, in which Latin America is a single whole. There are no case studies. And the field—not to say the book—is virtually devoid of comparative cultural studies. An agglomerative approach helps to understand why so much is shared by so many; it hinders understanding why so many differ so much. It is false that “perhaps in no other area of the world has the weight of tradition and history been so powerful, so durable, and so long lasting” (p. 269). A student of caste in India or of religion in northern Ireland should blush. The importance of tradition and history, admittedly neglected in the early modernization literature, has been rediscovered with a vengeance by scholars everywhere. Even Charles Anderson’s insightful work has suffered from excessive acceptance. If you wish to study an electoral “living museum,” look not to Argentina but to the Netherlands, look not to Cuba but to Sweden. Power contenders were normally added on in Europe, too, as Stein Rokkan and S. M. Lipset have shown. And power contenders of the classic period prior to the Depression in Latin America are a bit difficult to find even in non-revolutionary countries; surely the Gómez political system in Venezuela has passed. Anderson’s hypothesis renders Latin America not unique but standard.
The utility of the concept of corporatism is blurred especially in culturalist formulations. If corporatism is to be found in today’s Cuba and Allende’s Chile (Wiarda, p. 18) or if “it was Castro who called the Cubans to their colonial tradition of vox populi under the tutorial rule of the enlightened prince” (Dealy, p. 84—I wonder whom he means: Vives, Tacón, Martínez Campos or, alas, Grau or Batista?), then the variable becomes useless. By trying to account for so much variation, it explains nothing. Culturalist and, to a smaller degree, political modes, make it difficult to understand why change, however marginal, has occurred. Controlled, regulated change is allowed, say the authors, but readers are left at sea about its sources, scope, and domain. It is inaccurate that authoritarian rule is “fundamentally” the same if it operates on a politically inert mass, or if it operates to activate the mass politically, or if it operates to exclude a formerly politically activated mass. These regimes are different; the change is fundamental; and the patterns are not exclusive to Latin America.
Yet, if one reviewer remains unpersuaded, many will be persuaded. And these will be in intelligent, scholarly, and lively company, because this book has enriched our understanding of crucial issues. For, even those who disagree will now have a clear exposition, amidst diversity, of important ideas and methods about the past and present in Latin America.