Republic of Capital: Buenos Aires and the Legal Transformation of the Atlantic World

Republic of Capital: Buenos Aires and the Legal Transformation of the Atlantic World

Republic of Capital: Buenos Aires and the Legal Transformation of the Atlantic World

Republic of Capital: Buenos Aires and the Legal Transformation of the Atlantic World


This book is a political history of economic life. Through a description of the convulsions of long-term change from colony to republic in Buenos Aires, Republic of Capital explores Atlantic world transformations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Tracing the transition from colonial Natural Law to instrumental legal understandings of property, the book shows that the developments of constitutionalism and property law were more than coincidences: the polity shaped the rituals and practices arbitrating economic justice, while the crisis of property animated the support for a centralized and executive-dominated state. In dialectical fashion, politics shaped private law while the effort to formalize the domain of property directed the course of political struggles.

In studying the legal and political foundations of Argentine capitalism, the author shows how merchants and capitalists coped with massive political upheaval and how political writers and intellectuals sought to forge a modelof liberal,republicanism. Among the topics examined are the transformation of commercial law, the evolution of liberal political credos, and the saga of political and constitutional turmoil after the collapse of Spanish authority.

By the end of the nineteenth century, statemakers, capitalists, and liberal intellectuals settled on a model of political economy that aimed for open markets but closed the polity to widespread participation. The author concludes by exploring the long-term consequences of nineteenth-century statehood for the following century's efforts to promote sustained economic growth and democratize the political arena, and argues that many of Argentina's recent problems can betraced back to the framework and foundations of Argentine statehood in the nineteenth century.


Escribí: Somos oradores sin fieles, ideólogos sin discípulos, predicadores en el desierto. No hay nada detrás de nosotros; nada, debajo de nosotros, que nos sostenga. Revolucionarios sin revolución: eso somos. Para decirlo todo: muertos con permiso. Aun así, elijamos las palabras que el desierto recibirá: no hay revolución sin revolucionarios.

Andrés Rivera, La revolución es un sueño eterno

The Problem of Buenos Aires' Revolution

Revolutions usually lead the revolutionaries; new regimes seldom reflect their original proponents' vision. the late eighteenth-century upheaval that shattered the Atlantic empires was no exception. England, France, and soon Spain and Portugal would lose their main possessions. in the age of democratic revolutions, to borrow R. R. Palmer's coinage, the ancien régime of restricted property rights and limited representation gave way to new paradigms of personal entitlements and public powers. Seldom, however, did the architects of the new regime share a strong sense of what their achievements would resemble when they embarked on their struggles. New republican systems were, for the most part, more unintended results of imperial collapse than products of willful, intended change.

This was especially true of mainland Spanish America. As the twilight of Europe's presence in mainland America approached, Spanish creoles were only beginning to sort out the intellectual principles of an alternative political community. They envisioned a world in which the rights of private property would prevail over political prerogatives, where virtue would flow from purposive activity applied to nature and not from colonial offices and special corporate prerogatives. in their mind's eye, rights should eclipse privileges and profit-making should displace rent-seeking; interests should obey market, not political rules.

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