El espejo is a collection of ten essays which examines the works and the careers of Argentine and other Latin American intellectuals. Much of the discussion concerns the nineteenth century, searching “for the directions of Latin America . . . in a period . . . decisive to its destiny.” Halperín addresses numerous issues, among them the origins of Latin American dictatorship; changing attitudes toward immigration in Argentina; the Argentine intellectual climate in 1880; a comparison of Argentine and Mexican liberalism; and the influence of Spain in Latin America from the midnineteenth century to the death of Franco. The book is less a formal analysis of its subjects than a critical commentary that reexamines often familiar issues, raises fresh questions, and demolishes established canons. Like all of Halperín’s work, these essays show magnificent erudition and an astonishing intellectual imagination and vitality.

In the essays on dictatorship and intellectuals, Halperín searches for the elusive continuities between the colonial period and the late nineteenth century. He finds such continuities—ambiguous, complex, multifaceted as they are—between Bourbon monarchical centralism and the liberal constitutional state. But this connection stands alongside a countervailing, noncentralist, and patrimonial thread which preserved the elements of a society based on estates. Attitudes toward Simón Bolívar in midnineteenth-century Argentina provide Halperín with an opportunity to illustrate conceptions of statecraft and the role of leadership among figures like Mitre. The career of the Mexican positivist Francisco Bulnes is used to explore the origins of the neo-authoritarian and militarist tendencies of the Latin American elites from around 1917. An “Autumn Song in Summer” unearths doubts among qualified commentators about the future of Argentine agriculture soon after 1900.

Halperín has gradually altered his view of the respective histories of Argentina and the rest of Latin America. If Argentina must continue its quest to escape “a South American destiny,” its past can no longer be viewed as “an inexorable upward march.” The military tyranny of 1976-83 shows that the idea that Argentina had a different history from the rest of Latin America was “a failure sustained by an illusion,” which “hides the uninterrupted survivals of barbarism.” Those years showed “irremovable features . . . which had ruled the course of Argentine history from its very beginnings.” Yes! Let’s tackle Latin American history from this precept.