What’s New in Peru

The Unrevolutionary Society: The Power of Latin American Conservatism in a Changing World

by John Mander
Knopf, 331 pp., $6.95

The Colonial Heritage of Latin America: Essays on Economic Dependence in Perspective

by Stanley J. Stein and Barbara H. Stein
Oxford, 222 pp., $5.00

Pressure Groups and Power Elites in Peruvian Politics

by Carlos A. Astiz
Cornell, 316 pp., $12.00

Politics in the Altiplano: The Dynamics of Change in Rural Peru

by Edward Dew
Texas, 216 pp., $6.00

Peru 1965: Notes on a Guerrilla Experience

by Hector Béjar
Monthly Review, 142 pp., $6.00

For the past ten years writing about Latin America has been one of the growth industries of literature. The immediate stimulus for this growth was Fidel Castro, who transformed the traditional gringo view of what a Latin American revolution was supposed to be, and with it also the conventional European view that what happened south of the Rio Grande was politically negligible to the rest of the world. Latin America ceased to be an object of history and became a subject. As it did not immediately erupt into general social revolution, and no longer posed significant problems of constitutional decolonization—most of it has long been politically independent though economically colonial—there has recently been a tendency to assume that it was all a false alarm. John Mander calls his new book The Unrevolutionary Society, and stresses “the power of Latin American conservatism in a changing world.” Another of the authors under review, Carlos Astiz, concludes with the statement that

…the present distribution of power in Peru shows a remarkable tendency to remain essentially as it is and has been for a long time…. Neither revolution from above nor revolution from below seems to be around the corner.

A view he does not modify in a hurried postscript about the present military junta.

Such are the pitfalls of writing history on the journalist’s (or the diplomat’s, the visiting expert’s, the intelligence officer’s, the social science Ph.D’s) time scale. Matters that determine the future of a continent do not oscillate at the same rate as our changing short-term hopes, fears, and political assessments. Whatever may actually happen in Latin America, a number of facts about it are undeniable. Most of it is changing with great rapidity. More especially, its rates of population growth and urbanization are higher than those of any comparable area of the world. Unless something unexpected occurs, its rate of economic growth is lower, or at least no higher, than that of its population growth. Compared to the developed countries it is for the most part becoming relatively poorer and more backward, though probably in this respect its lag is somewhat less dramatic than that of other parts of the Third World. Finally, its political superstructures remain notoriously unstable. All this does not look like the setting for a scenario of unchanging conservative stability.

In fact, the layman is much more likely to sympathize with the late Irene Nicholson, the author of the well-written study, The Liberators* (of the early nineteenth century), who says: “In the next few decades Spanish America will either grow into maturity, or explode into anarchy. The pressures within and without it, and its own extraordinary energies, make any midterm impossible.” Whatever that may mean exactly, it feels a lot more like reality than phrases about changelessness, conservatism, and the like.

But ought we to talk about “Latin America” as such anyway? Historically, of course, it makes a good deal of sense, allowing for the obvious limits of wide generalizations; more sense…

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