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Jorge Nallim: Transformations and Crisis of Liberalism in Argentina, 1930-1955.

Jorge Nallim

Transformations and Crisis of Liberalism in Argentina, 1930-1955

Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh, 2012, xi + 288 pp.

Jorge Nallim's recent monograph offers fascinating insights into the contested nature of liberalism in Argentina between 1930 and 1955. In the face of a changing political scene, Radical, Socialist, and Progressive Democrat politicians and intellectuals embraced different elements of the country's liberal legacy. Nallim argues that "the varied groups that defended the liberal ideology engaged in a dynamic process of 'invention of traditions,'" deliberately but not always coherently drawing connections to the liberal policies created in the second half of the 19th century (4). Several pieces of legislation such as the Constitution of 1853, the penal code, the civil code, and the code of commerce characterized this liberalism, and they all sought to guarantee the economic and political rights of individuals.

This book shows that liberalism became the major ideological reference for anti-Peronist politicians and intellectuals. However, the failure of anti-Peronist groups "demonstrated the political and ideological limits of those who used liberal discourse to oppose Peron and their ultimate inability to reconcile liberalism and democracy" (106). By 1955, liberal discourse had grown more conservative and less capable of winning the support of the popular classes. The crisis that liberalism faced, as the author shows, was that this loose set of ideas ceased to be the ideology that gave social actors access to political power. This book is principally a study of Argentine politics and how political groups laid claim to liberalism rather than an examination of the development of this ideology over time. Nallim states that by the 1930s liberalism had become merely a "discourse" (66).

The book makes several important contributions to the historiography on Argentina. The focus on the decade and a half before the rise of Peronism clarifies many aspects of a transformative period of the country's history. Many historians have ignored the ongoing relevance of liberalism in the 1930s, and Nallim shows that many political actors continued to espouse liberal ideas and explicitly linked their political position to liberalism. The author shows that various political groups used liberalism to legitimize their opposition to the country's changing leadership. Nallim seeks to create a dialogue with recent scholarship on the rise of neoliberalism. His focus on the decline of the liberal order between 1930 and 1955 illustrates the need to pay greater attention to the differences between the country's liberal foundations and the re-emergence of neoliberal policies in the late 20th century.

Nallim's detailed study of antifascism in the 1930s and early 1940s highlights how many political groups contested the changing nature of the country's political authority. The analysis of antifascism in mainstream national politics will surely prove informative to the study of how Italian, Spanish, Jewish, and German immigrants and exiles navigated between local and transnational politics in the country in this period. The book also provides a detailed study of the Argentine political arena--in both formal politics and in discussions in the public sphere--in the 1930s and early 1940s. Congressional debates and a number of periodicals that laid claim to ideas about liberalism, particularly Hechos e Ideas, Sur, and Orden Cristiano, newspapers such as Clarin, and organizations such as SADE (Sociedad Argentina de Escritores) and CLES (Colegio Libre de Estudios Superiores) form the documentary base for this study. By focusing on both political parties and intellectuals, the author shows the widespread importance of the liberal tradition in debates about the shifting nature of national politics.

Nallim provides an in-depth examination of Argentine political history between 1930 and 1955. A key strength of this book is the detailed attention paid to how a range of groups on the left and in the centre of the political spectrum jockeyed for power within the limited democratic regime (1932-43), under two military regimes (1930-32 and 1943-46), and during Peronism (1946-55). This book will appeal to anybody interested in Argentine history or Latin American political history as well as those who want to learn more about the evolution of liberalism in the Americas.

Benjamin Bryce, SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto
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Author:Bryce, Benjamin
Publication:Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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