From the anti-Rosas protests of the 1840s to the federalization of Buenos Aires in 1880, a remarkable generation of Argentine thinkers pondered national problems and debated solutions. Thanks to Tulio Halperín Donghi, we now have a useful collection of the original writings of this group. The one hundred selections cover topics such as Argentine reality in the age of caudillos, the lack of unity after the fall of Juan Manuel de Rosas, national political organization, the countryside and its problems, and social and economic questions. In addition, a detailed chronology compares the writers and their works to the major events of Argentine, Latin American, and world history.
Having completed these 599 pages of compilation and chronology, Halperín would not have been faulted for ending the task, yet he also adds a major essay on the intellectual ferment of the era. His essay is true to the works he analyzes. Halperín refuses to reexamine the past in order to justify current political philosophies. The ideas of his subjects, therefore, often appear novel and refreshing.
For example, we read José Hernández as he cautions against using scarce domestic capital when foreign resources more efficaciously would promote economic growth. We have José Manuel Estrada lamenting that urban Argentina monopolized the wealth while the countryside suffered administrative indifference and Indian raids. Finally, Julio A. Roca in 1880 cites the civil wars of the recent past to justify the omnipotent power of the new central government. At the same moment, Sarmiento questions the rationale of a state apparatus so independent of any interest group that its ministers pursued no one’s policies but their own.