The Centralist Tradition of Latin America
by Claudio Véliz
Princeton University Press, 355 pp., $9.75 (paper)
Public Policy in a No-Party State: Spanish Planning and Budgeting in the Twilight of the Franquist Era
by Richard Gunther
University of California Press, 361 pp., $17.50
Professor Véliz, like so many others, admires Isaiah Berlin. He approves Berlin’s by now classic division of the human intellect into the single, all-embracing vision of the hedgehog and the multiple, confused—even conflicting—insights of the fox. Of course without generalizations—about the class struggle, imperialism, dependency, etc.—provided by the terrible simplifiers, poor foxes like myself would be condemned to intellectual petit point devoid of pattern. Moreover we would be deprived of a satisfying experience, something to get our teeth into: snap go our foxes’ jaws, the back of the generalization is broken, and, licking our lips, we trot home to the kennel, the vixen, and the cubs.
Professor Véliz is mighty like a hedgehog. He seeks a generalization that will explain the disillusionment that surrounds attempts to “modernize” from above or to “revolutionize” from below the countries of Latin America. Again and again, he suggests, Latin Americans have suffered from a bad case of the wrong model. Indigenous reformist intellectuals like the Argentine philosopher-statesman Sarmiento, bearers of what Véliz calls an “outward-looking nationalism,” saw Europe as the pattern of excellence from its literature to its mechanical engineering. Foreign experts, who step out from an airplane to do a quick job advising governments in Bogotá or La Paz, arrive with the wrong tools in their bags. Both share the mistaken belief that the experience of industrialized northwestern Europe and the patterns derived from that experience are relevant to Latin America.
What the right experience to imitate, what the correct model may be, Professor Véliz is not clear. Nor, for that matter, is Professor René Dumont who has written twenty-odd books also deploring the propensity of the new nations of the Third World to copy the developmental strategies of the First World. As he points out, after a long experience at the hands of Western model makers, Africa is hungrier now than in the bad old days of colonialism.
The European model, Véliz argues, does not fit because Latin America has shared none of the formative experiences of northwestern Europe. The Spanish Empire had no feudal past; it was the creation of the centralized, Renaissance monarchy of Castile. Centralism was intensified by the reforming civil servants of the eighteenth-century Bourbon monarchs, in search of higher tax revenues as much as engaged in the spread of the ideas of the Enlightenment. It was inherited by the bureaucrats of the independent nations that emerged from the wreck of the greatest colonial empire the Western world had seen. The newly independent countries of Latin America flung up no industrial bourgeoisie, confident of its values and ready to challenge the state. Employers and workers alike were dependent on bureaucrats. A latitudinarian Catholicism provoked no dissident sect, no race of Weberian entrepreneurs.
The most chronic case of the wrong model comes with what Véliz calls the “liberal pause”—the attempt to impose constitutions derived from that of the United States, which inevitably collapsed, and the laissez-faire economic policies of European free traders, which …