Non-Book Review: War And Independence In South America

War And Independence In South America, by Anthony Macfarlane

As a military historian whose specialty, if it can be called that given my notoriously wide area of interest, is 19th century world history, it is nice when I am able to get books that not only relate to an area of great personal interest but that also appear to provide insight in other areas of life as well. Personal circumstances, including the lingering lack of interest I have in traveling to foreign countries after my rather unpleasant experiences in Thailand [1], have made it impossible to spend as much time keeping in touch with my friends in Latin America as much as I would like. That said, perhaps in reading and writing about the experiences of their countries I may at least vicariously keep their concerns close to mind. I thank the Michigan War Studies Review for giving me another book to review after it took me more than three months to write nearly 5000 words about the last book of theirs I read [2] and after the other occasional drama I have had with books on occasion [3].

In looking at this book I see a straightforward and very detailed account of the generation-long destruction of Spanish power in continental North and South America. The book begins with the sudden invasion of Spain by France and the overthrow of the Bourbon king, and the establishment under British protection of a junta in Cadiz. The book then looks, from what I can see at least, at the long and gradual decline of Spanish power because of a variety of wars, including warfare in Spain against Napoleon, as well as internal conflicts after the restoration of the Spanish king, and the warfare within different areas of Spanish America led by caudillos and by different people and groups seeking a baffling variety of interests, some of them being pro-royalist but ultimately pro-independence given the “reformist” mood of some Spanish elements (like the Cadiz merchants whose interests were often inimical to those of provincial elites). The book appears to give more credit to actual military conduct than is common, which is definitely a welcome development, and also shows a complex picture of loyalties at cross-currents, which is of deep relevance.

From what I have seen so far, the book has one area of greatly unexpected personal relevance that I will have to ponder a lot. The book discusses the fact that the internal crisis of legitimacy of the Spanish empire, and the ultimate cause of its fragmentation, was the absence of pulls towards unity once an external crisis had removed the leadership of the empire. The lack of interconnections and infrastructure connecting the empire, which had been neglected (it would appear) with a desire to preserve external control, led to the fragmentation of the Spanish empire as a result of the behavior of various local strongmen who were able to develop a personal following, whose success led to instability in government as strongman after strongmen sought to overthrow corrupt or unpopular governments. Even more ironically, efforts at reform in the center often led to further instability as powerful interests opposed reform in one area because they saw their interests threatened by it. So one had native tribes supporting loyalty to a cruel Spanish empire because they saw the elites closer to home as an even greater threat to their liberties and well-being, and conservative (or even reactionary) local elites which supported one man government in the core becoming rebellious when reforms were made by “liberal” elements that were pursuing their own well-being and the freedom to increase their own profits in peripheral areas. The collapse of the Spanish empire reminds me of the collapse of other important institutions in my life, with the same baffling cross-currents and repercussions for increased anarchy and reduced unity. As has often been the case in my life, intellectual interests in one area provide insights about seemingly unrelated areas of life.

[1] See, for example:


[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, Church of God, History, Military History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Non-Book Review: War And Independence In South America

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