Secular Heretics: Poor Men, Independent Women, and Other Threats to the “Orthodoxy” of Patriarchy in the Early Venezuelan Republic

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM
Columbia Hall 1 (Washington Hilton)
Reuben C. Zahler, Clark Honors College, University of Oregon
This paper forms part of a larger project that explores the role of patriarchy in the political and legal culture in Venezuela’s early republic. Patriarchal ideals formed the bedrock of what people at the time considered to be the natural and religious order, and formed the basis of honor, justice, and social structure. Both the unwritten (honor) and written (legislation) codes that shaped the republic’s socio-political order enforced and relied on patriarchy. Patriarchy was one of the most powerful colonial legacies and it enjoyed nearly universal sanction throughout post-independence Latin American Church institutions, state institutions, and society.

 This paper will focus on one particular aspect of the patriarchal regime within republican culture and law. Venezuela’s republican government embraced religious freedom and promoted a separation of Church and State. The republic banished the Inquisition and the republican State no longer prosecuted people with the charge of heresy. Further, the republic enacted sweeping changes to its judicial standards in order to meet the rationalist, positivist standards of the day. Nonetheless, when the state prosecuted people who had challenged the patriarchal order, it abandoned these reforms and reverted to colonial court standards and procedures. Indeed, the republican courts treated people who challenged patriarchal values with standards reminiscent to the colonial prosecution of heretics. Specifically, the courts reverted to colonial standards when dealing with vagabonds (men who eschewed employment and therefore failed as family patriarchs) and with divorced women who challenged their husbands’ patriarchal privileges by seeking alimony. The courts no longer concerned themselves with religious heresy, but now treated threats to patriarchy in much the same ways that colonial courts had defended against threats to religious orthodoxy. This paper explores this phenomenon and considers its implications to the ways in which, in legal terms, republican patriarchy assumed a role similar to religious orthodoxy.

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