Republics of the possible: State building in Latin America and Spain

Miguel A. Centeno, Agustin E. Ferraro

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

19 Scopus citations


Introduction Latin American republics were among the first modern political entities designed and built according to already tried and seemingly successful institutional models. During the wars of independence and for several decades thereafter, public intellectuals, politicians, and concerned citizens willingly saw themselves confronted with a sort of void, a tabula rasa. Colonial public institutions and colonial ways of life had to be rejected, if possible eradicated, in order for new political forms and new social mores to be established in their stead. However, in contrast to the French or American revolutions, pure political utopias did not play a significant role for Latin American institutional projects. The American Revolution was a deliberate experiment; the revolutionaries firmly believed that they were creating something new, something never attempted before. The French revolutionaries dramatically signaled the same purpose by starting a whole new official calendar from year one. In contrast, Latin American patriots assumed that proven and desirable institutional models already existed, and not just as utopic ideals. The models were precisely the state institutions of countries that had already undergone revolutions or achieved independence, or both: Britain, the United States, France, and others such as the Dutch Republic. Therefore, long before the concept was coined in the twentieth century, Latin American countries were embarking on a very similar enterprise to the one that we describe in our days as state building. Aware of the weakness and instability of their existing institutional arrangements, independent Latin American republics attempted to develop stronger state organizations and stable political regimes by adjusting modern institutions already tried and proven elsewhere to local conditions. Most of such attempts were not successful, neither according to the standards of the time nor to those of our own. Nevertheless, the question of what kind of adaptation can be possible for modern state institutions, in view of local circumstances, was clearly recognized and debated by the middle of the nineteenth century in Latin American public and scholarly opinion.

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 pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781139342667
ISBN (Print)9781107029866
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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