War and the Nation-State in Modern Latin America

Conference on Latin American History 42
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Great Republic Room (The Westin Copley Place)
Matthew M. Barton, University of Chicago
"During the War": The Rise of the Febreristas in Paraguay, 1936
Bridget M. Chesterton, Buffalo State College (State University of New York)
The Audience

Session Abstract

The works of sociologists Miguel Angel Centeno, Fernando Lopes-Alves, and Charles Tilly have discovered broad trends in the relationship between the state and war.  They have all posited that, to some effect, times of war allowed nation-states to increase revenue, power, and the development of important national institutions such as taxation.  Yet, there remains much work to do on the cultural implications of this relationship.  This panel will explore how war and subsequent attempts at military reform have impacted nationalism, patriotism, and the consolidation of cultural institutions across Latin America.

It has also been posited by these sociologists that one of the deterrents to strong states in Latin America has been the lack of major international warfare.  Thus, the state was never able to build enough political cache to successfully accomplish institutional consolidation.  In the four papers on this panel, this difficulty seems to have carried over to the cultural projects of the state as well.  Each of the four papers on this panel analyze popular resistance to projects of state and national consolidation during and after times of war.  In Mexico, this is demonstrated through the failure of military men to abide by new regulations governing ‘honorable’ behavior.  In Brazil during the War of Triple Alliance, patriotic calls for mobilization were heeded in certain provinces, but in Minas Gerais, attempts at mobilization were met with ambivalence, and the provincial government chose instead to bolster those institutions that fell under provincial, and not national, control.  And finally in Paraguay after the Chaco War, demobilized military men successfully overthrew the reigning Liberal government, mobilizing against the dominant discourses of nationalism and patriotism in favor of a more indigenous view of the nation that was the product of their common wartime experiences.  In each of these three papers, the difficulties met by the state in its attempts to spread its discourse on nationalism and patriotism are manifest.               

Beyond a desire to fulfill the cultural lacunae in a literature on Latin American states and war that has been dominated by sociologists and military historians that have focused on elite politics and military strategy, this panel also has significant implications for understanding the cultural apparatuses of the modern nation-state.  Through the integration of political science and sociology-based theories of the state with historical analysis of nationalism and culture, this panel will be of interest to a wide range of historians.