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The Quest for Modernity: Latin American Technocratic Ideas in Historical Perspective

  • Michiel Baud
Part of the Latin American Studies Series book series (LASS)

Abstract

Research on technocrats in Latin America tends to focus on contemporary examples. Yet the technocratic phenomenon has roots that go back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this period, many advocated some sort of technocratic rule, and many Latin American governments included personnel which were specifically selected for their technical expertise. Large infrastructural projects in most Latin American countries resulted in a constant need for technicians, particularly engineers. They were not needed for their political capacities or social understanding, but constituted the necessary instruments to reach the sacred goal of modernization. The unrelenting desire to modernize their societies led Latin American elite groups into the arms of technical men. The technocratic phenomenon in this period is characterized by an ideology in which rationality and technological expertise were seen as the prime instruments for the solution of societal problems.

Keywords

Historical Perspective Latin American Country Dominican Republic Public Employee Technological Expertise 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    As Carlos Mariátegui stated it, “la Ciencia, la Razón, el Progreso fueron los mitos del siglo XIX” (1976: 212).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For this similarity between Liberal and Conservative ideologies, see Safford (1976).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    This is an important theme in the work of Paul Gootenberg (1993, 1995).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    An illuminating analysis of the Peruvian case can be found in Jacobsen (1988).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    This is the over-arching theme in the essays of volume V of the The Cambridge History of Latin America (Bethell, 1986). The disastrous financial results of this ambiguous state intervention become tantalizing clear in Marichal (1989).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    This is not to say that is was the only influence (see Hale, 1988, 1989). The same paradox may explain the fact that it took some time before positivism was accepted in Latin America (see Nachman, 1977: 5).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    However, Thomas Glick (1994: 467) has argued that the impact of Comtean ideas have been exaggerated at the cost of the influence of Spencer and Darwin.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Mariátegui (1976: 213) talks about “conservative and revolutionary positivism.”Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    This combination of a benevolent paternalism and a deeply felt pessimism about the potential for development is particularly clear in da Cunha (1964). See also Glick (1994: 470-72).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    The Dominican Minister of Agriculture stated in 1866: “The deplorable state of our roads constitutes a key factor in explaining the backwardness of our agriculture.” Memoria del Secretario de Estado de Agricultura e Inmigración, 1866.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Memoria del Secretario de Estado de Fomento y Comunicaciones, 1910, in: Gaceta Oficial, vol. XXVIII, No. 2193, May 20, 1911.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    This emphasis on the external incentives is particularly clear in Coatsworth’s analysis of the Mexican railroad building (1974, 1981). A balanced approach for the Argentine, Brazilian and Cuban cases can be found respectively in Goodwin (1977), Mattoon (1977), and Oostindie (1988).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Rory Miller (1987) has shown how these foreign experts were also essential for the construction of railroads in the bigger South American countries.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Memoria del Secretario del Estado de Hacienda y Comercio, 1912, in Gaceta Oficial, vol. XX, p. No. 2453, November 19, 1913. See also Terán (1983).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    See for these changes, Glade (1986), and Thorp (1986). It should be noted that Thorp downplays the role of World War I.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    According to Davies (1970: 36-7) the war between Chile and Peru destroyed the positivist myth in Peru and led to an increasing attention for the Indian population among the so-called “neo-positivists.”Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    In Brazil this tendency was called trabalhismo (see Needell, 1995: 24).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    It owes this interpretation partly to Richard Morse (1989: 146).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Leopoldo Zea (1963) stresses the fact that Latin American elites had been unable to integrate their countries’ history in their political projects.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Morse, 1989: 148–50. See also Herschmann and Messeder Pereira, 1994: 6. The origins of the indigenista movement in the Andean countries, which was also very much a literary movement, can be placed in the same historical conjuncture. See e.g. Kristal (1987) and Rénique (1991).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    See Henderson (1988: 14-16), and Romero (1986: 46–7). For an interesting analysis of arielista ideas in Peru, see Gonzales (1989).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    This point is convincingly made by Schmidt (1991: 176-7).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    It is interesting to note that the following analysis also seems to apply to the case of the tobacco sector in the Brazilian Bahia.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    For an early example of this attitude see “Cuestiones de gran actualidad,” La Información vol. II, No. 355, March 3, 1917.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    It could well be that Mussolini’s Italy was the example of Luis Carballo. He called the Italian leader “one of the greatest men of our time.” Ponencia dictada por el señor Luis Carballo, in Gobernación de Santiago, February 12, 1928, p. 7.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Letter from Emilio Ceara, April 1, 1931 annexed to “Campesinos deudores de esta Cámara por concepto de préstamos según formulario,” in: Sección de Comercio (March 27, 1931), vol. 14, p. 280.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Letter from Luis Carballo to Minister of Agriculture and Commerce, Rafael César Tolentino, March 6, 1931, in: Agricultura, p. 169.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    “Hay que extender...,” La Información, vol. XIII, p. 2064, February 6, 1928.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    As suggested before, Luis Carballo, for instance, admired Mussolini. About the contradictory vision of technology within German National Socialism see Herf (1984), particularly Chapter 7: ‘Engineers as ideologues.’ For the progressive belief in technocracy, which was strongly influenced by the ideas of Thorstein Veblen, see Akin (1977). For the Chilean and Bolivian cases, respectively P. Silva (1994) and Contreras (1995).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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  • Michiel Baud

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