It is a courageous endeavor to offer an objective treatment to the man who was the ill-fated president of Colombia from 1950 to 1952. It is also one that is long overdue. For Laureano (as he was familiarly known) was the uncompromising, dogmatic figure of his Conservative party’s intransigent right wing, and, arguably, responsible for inciting more deaths in La Violencia than any other public man. It is therefore perhaps understandable that James Henderson has begun with Laureanos ideas, leaving what he actually did to a projected second volume.

Henderson succeeds in demonstrating that his subject consistently held high ideals. Laureano was a deeply spiritual man, a fervent Catholic with a divinely inspired belief in human progress, a romantic, and a nationalist. We are offered a compelling view of a man who perceived himself as being above politics, one who sought the bien común in the face of the corrosive modern influences of liberalism, materialism, and secularism. We also receive intimations that Laureano acted erratically, even obsessively, and that like many other conservative thinkers of the past two centuries, he was deeply pessimistic, even paranoid.

The author gives us his subject’s words in many long and usually enlightening quotations. The first part offers the main themes of Laureanos world view, while in the latter third Henderson seeks to place Laureanos thoughts in the main-stream of Western conservativism. While this treatment offers a rare view of the man, it is also often repetitive and cumbersome. But Henderson obviously feels that Laureano has been so misunderstood and maligned that his ideals need pointing to more than once.

This volume has a sense of completeness to it. Henderson states that a history of ideas with ample quotes from the subject offers a better understanding than would a “sociological” (i.e., Marxist) or a “psychological” (i.e., Freudian) interpretation, both of which presumably treat ideas as epiphenomenal (pp. 19-20). His methodology is a término medio between compilations of selected works and full-fledged analytical biographies. Herein lies the authors claim to objectivity (p. 15). Finally, Henderson believes that Laureano was motivated by his ideals—to which he nunca fue infiel (p. 28)—rather than by practical considerations (p. 217). It would appear that Henderson feels he has reached for the real man, thus leaving little for the second volume.

Laureano’s tragedy is rooted in his daily struggle against the forces of the twentieth century. It became a battle of one against all, good versus evil. The compromises of party politics that held Colombian society together in the 1940s were, in Laureano’s own words, mere “lentejas, si las quieres las tomas, y si no las dejas.” Perhaps Laureano’s ideals were so high that reality could be dispensed with. Now that we have a good sense of Laureano’s ideals, we can only hope that Henderson will have the courage to lead us through his daily life. So many defiantly discarded lentils will require a strong stomach.