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Liberalism as Utopia
The Rise and Fall of Legal Rule in Post-Colonial Mexico, 1820–1900

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Part of Cambridge Latin American Studies

  • Date Published: February 2019
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316640784

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About the Authors
  • Liberalism as Utopia challenges widespread perceptions about the weakness of Mexico's nineteenth-century state. Schaefer argues that after the War of Independence non-elite Mexicans - peasants, day laborers, artisans, local merchants - pioneered an egalitarian form of legal rule by serving in the town governments and civic militias that became the local faces of the state's coercive authority. These institutions were effective because they embodied patriarchal norms of labor and care for the family that were premised on the legal equality of male, adult citizens. The book also examines the emergence of new, illiberal norms that challenged and at the end of the century, during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, overwhelmed the egalitarianism of the early-republican period. By comparing the legal cultures of agricultural estates, mestizo towns and indigenous towns, Liberalism as Utopia also proposes a new way of understanding the social foundations of liberal and authoritarian pathways to state formation in the nineteenth-century world.

    • Proposes an original theory of the social origins of liberal state formation, allowing readers to adopt its theoretical framework for the study of other societies
    • Combines disciplinary approaches not often brought together, and of interest to those with a wide array of academic backgrounds
    • Examines the entire arc of Mexican history from the achievement of independence to the consolidation of a dictatorship
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    • Winner, 2018 Social Science Book Award, Mexico Section, Latin American Studies Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'This is a remarkable study of Mexican legal culture and local experiments in inclusion. Following the long tail of early nineteenth-century revolutions and the egalitarian aspirations of their protagonists, Schaefer shows how these ideals took institutional roots. Though legal equality ran challenged by social hierarchies, townsfolk and hacienda settlers forged their own egalitarian, ethical worlds.' Jeremy I. Adelman, Princeton University, New Jersey

    'Liberalism as Utopia is an impressive rethinking of nineteenth-century Mexican history that challenges long-held orthodoxies about nation and state formation. Timo H. Schaefer convincingly unites social, legal and political history, to tell a remarkable story of Mexico’s experiment with liberal and egalitarian legal cultures, especially at the level of local, lived experience.' James E. Sanders, Utah State University

    'Timo H. Schaefer examines revolutionary liberalism to rethink nineteenth-century Latin America, Mexico in particular. He not only revives important debates about politics, regionalism, law, and the lower classes, but also contributes to our understanding of liberalism and the utopian quest for social justice. This is an engaging, timely book that deserves a broad readership.' Charles F. Walker, University of California, Davis

    'Liberalism as Utopia is a remarkable, learned, and original work. By placing engagement with the law at the heart of popular politics, Timo H. Schaefer has redefined how we should view nineteenth-century liberalism not only in Mexico, but also throughout Latin America and even Europe. If there is any justice (and if this book teaches us anything - it is that this is relatively rare), this work should inspire numerous comparative works on what Schaefer terms 'legal culture' in decades to come.' Benjamin T. Smith, University of Warwick

    'Schaefer is pushing toward a new and nuanced understanding of nineteenth-century liberal politics in Mexico. He shows how the unheroic and fractured experience of law drove conflicts over who was to control liberalism’s meaning and possibility. The book is crucial for anyone with an interest in the origins and fate of liberal polities in the post-independence period.' Brian P. Owensby, University of Virginia

    'Schaefer gives us a bold, powerful and clearly written book … Schaefer’s study, in other words, deserves a wide readership among scholars of Mexico, Latin America and political regimes in the nineteenth-century world.' Edward Beatty, The English Historical Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316640784
    • length: 258 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.45kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Mestizo towns
    2. Family and legal order
    3. Haciendas
    4. Indigenous towns
    5. Dictatorship
    Conclusion: law and exception in the making of modern Mexico.

  • Author

    Timo H. Schaefer, Brandeis University, Massachusetts
    Timo H. Schaefer received his Ph.D. in History from Indiana University. Between 2015 and 2017 he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia.


    • Winner, 2018 Social Science Book Award, Mexico Section, Latin American Studies Association
    • Honourable mention, 2018 Premio al Mejor Libro Siglo XIX, Nineteenth-Century section, Latin American Studies Association

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