Paper leviathans: Historical legacies and state strength in contemporary Latin America and Spain

Miguel A. Centeno, Agustin E. Ferraro

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

7 Scopus citations


We began this volume proposing that the experiences of Spain and Latin America in the nineteenth century are relevant for those countries undergoing the process of state building today. We noted that many of the same problems and challenges faced by contemporary states-in-the-making were common in the Iberian world: divided societies, improvised and often flawed institutional designs, and public organizations with responsibilities far above their capacities. In order to explore the contradiction between performance expectations and organizational realities, we identified four different forms or categories of state power: territorial, economic, infrastructural, and symbolic. Using these forms or categories of state power as an analytical scheme, we conclude the book with a summary of where our cases find themselves 200 years after independence, and how the patterns therein provide clues about the relative importance of each form of power. By linking contemporary states to their precedents, we hope to suggest how historical legacies help determine present outcomes, and to explain the relative lack of success of state-building projects in Latin America and Spain during the nineteenth century. Looking at our cases, we first need to consider the differences between Spain and Latin America. In the first section of this conclusion, we discuss the background for the successful Spanish state development during the twentieth century, an achievement arguably without parallel among Latin American countries. We will claim that some of the key factors for the later development of Spain are to be found at the turn of the century, a crucial period for state building in Europe as well as in the Americas. The failures of modern state building in Latin America are clearly felt today. In the second section of the conclusion, we will discuss and summarize some of the results of the book’s chapters as applied to the different forms or categories of state power in Latin America in our days. In the third and last section, we discuss what may be the central political deficit in much of the continent today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationState and Nation Making in Latin America and Spain
Subtitle of host publicationRepublics of the Possible
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781139342667
ISBN (Print)9781107029866
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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