Democracy in Latin America, 1760-1900, Vol. I: Civic Selfhood and Public Life in Mexico and Peru

In This Review

Democracy in Latin America, 1760-1900, Vol. I: Civic Selfhood and Public Life in Mexico and Peru

By Carlos A. Forment
University of Chicago Press, 2003
488 pp. $35.00
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This is the first volume of what promises to be a major reinterpretation of Latin American political history. In this immensely learned and thoughtful study, the distinguished Argentine scholar Forment turns much conventional wisdom on its head. His starting point is the realization that the most recent "return" to democracy in Latin America was radically different from all previous such movements in one respect: it was not accompanied by a renaissance in democratic practice or thought. He thus sets out to examine how democratic life can be rebuilt from the rubble of authoritarianism, shaking himself free from overly deterministic theoretical frameworks to ask why evidently vibrant civil societies have not produced stable democratic states.

Forment's first volume focuses on the development of democratic life in Mexico and Peru from independence to the late 1890s, tracing the emergence of hundreds of political, economic, and civic associations that together formed a culture of "civic Catholicism." By carefully weaving a rich texture of detail and vignette, he shows the disjunction between daily life and institutional structure. Contrary to what Tocqueville teaches, Forment concludes that democratic life in Latin America in fact arose from this fissure -- so that Latin American democracy, although weakly institutionalized, remains surprisingly robust in daily life.

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