A century ago, in 1919 the first edition of the book Cesarismo DemocráticoEstudios sobre las bases sociológicas de la constitución efectiva de Venezuela (Democratic Caesarism. Studies on the sociological bases of the effective constitution of Venezuela), was published, written by the Venezuelan sociologist, historian and journalist, Laureano Vallenilla Lanz. A book that, as noted by the research carried out by the historian Nikita Harwich Vallenilla for the prologue of the 1991 edition published by the Ayacucho Library, was actually the closure of a series of investigations that were created and published by Vallenilla Lanz for some years.   

A piece of information that reveals that the work of Laureano Vallenilla Lanz begins ex ante to the rise to power of Juan Vicente Gómez, to later, find fertile ground in the advance of the Dictatorship considered as the factual expression of the thesis of the Gendarme Necesario (a sort of Necessary Strongman) . A thesis that later perhaps has not received a fair evaluation of its importance in its time and that we believe is worth reviewing.

The particularities of Venezuelan positivism

When we attempt to analyze the work of Laureano Vallenilla Lanz, it is easy for us to identify some broad traces of the positivist sociological thought founded by Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) and Auguste Comte (1798-1857), especially regarding the general idea of ​​ “Order and Progress”. However, about the intellectual influence present in the work of Vallenilla Lanz, Harwich Vallenilla warns that it would not be necessary to rigorously join the thought of this author with a single tradition, since, in reality, the theoretical proposal of both Laureano Vallenilla Lanz in a very particular way, and as of the “Positivist Generation” in more general view, was rather an eclectic form of analysis that did not show any inconvenience in merging knowledge from different disciplines with the intention of being able to answer some existential questions about our national identity.

In this sense, the Catholic priest and Doctor in Political Sciences, Arturo Sosa Abascal [1] , mentions that, although Venezuelan positivism adopted the name of this European current of thought and, in addition, assimilates some of its best-known postulates, The truth is that Venezuelan positivism demonstrated to have personalized features in the pen of authors who sought to understand the reason for the actual existing political order with the goal to propose a correct form of organization [2] which concurs with these circumstances. 

The Necessary Strongman: Proposal for an organization in the face of existing order?

To rigorously analyze the thesis of the Necessary Strongman, it is mandatory to place it in its proper historical context. First, to try and understand the motivations and the place of enunciation of the author, and also, because Laureano Vallenilla Lanz would not have intended to construct a meta-story that could serve as a definitive guide for Venezuelan society at all given times. In our view, he attempted the humblest, but equally ambitious, action of demystifying the past in order to understand the causes of the current existing order after the breakdown of the colonial nexus.

In this regard, it is important to highlight that although Laureano Vallenilla Lanz’s work can be considered conservative, for its adherence to the positivist tradition and its rejection of the “revolutionary” advances of society, is not a reactionary work; understanding that his analysis of the “disintegrating anarchy” that occurred after the breakdown of the colonial order did not propose to rebuild that link with Spain, but rather to identify the motivations for such breakdown and the consequences inherited from it.

Overcoming “positivism” or intentionally forgetting?

Although the first political hypotheses of Saint Simon and Comte have been considered conservative and in the end surpassed or denied with the advancement of history, no one has dared to deny them the title of being the “founding fathers” of modern sociology. Why, then, is it that Venezuelan positivist authors of the early 20th century tend to be considered as simple salaried appendages of the Gomez regime, denying their theoretical contributions in the construction of our history and national identity? In this regard, it is worth asking another question: Does the rejection – sometimes the simple invisibility – of the work of Laureano Vallenilla Lanz correspond to the reasoned overcoming of his postulates or to and intentional forgetting of his writings?

The truth is that, as researchers Arturo Sosa Abascal and Nikita Harwich Vallenilla warned in the 80s and 90s of the 20th century, after the fall of Gomecism, there was a certain ideological veil in the Venezuelan political class and academia that could have deliberately avoided studying this period in depth. Reserving their words to the analysis of the “shadows” of the dictatorship; denying or simply making the “lights” of the theoretical-intellectual development of this period almost invisible.

Now, is it possible to separate intellectual activity from public life? It is a tricky question. However, even if it were solved with a negative answer, it would be dishonest to dispatch a priori the rich theoretical contributions towards the construction of history and national identity made by Laureano Vallenilla Lanz, based on an ad- hominen argumentation, more or less interested and more or less misinformed than the author intended.

What does Laureano Vallenilla Lanz have to offer us today?

In our view, the work of Laureano Vallenilla Lanz is a very important historical and sociological treatise to understand the national context of Venezuela at the beginning of the 20th century. Thus, approaching it devoid of the sanctioning ideological veils against the Gomez regime can lead us to understand the concerns of an elite that viewed with worry its own inability to stabilize the Republic after the breakdown of the colonial nexus.

Also, in addition to helping us to understand in greater depth the motivations behind the creation of the thesis of the Necessary Strongman, which would end up feeding the hypothesis for the need for the Gomez dictatorship; From the work of Laureano Vallenilla Lanz it is paramount to rescue an element that, because it is found only indirectly, is usually ignored: of course we are referring to his contributions in the construction of national identity in a still early stage of the Republic that was barely creating its foundations as a Modern State.

In this sense, although the political theses of Laureano Vallenilla Lanz could only serve to analyze the historical context in which they view conceived; his hypotheses on the expressions of national identity seem, on the other hand, to continue to be valid as one of the existing stories on the Venezuelan identity.

[1] In this regard, the following text can be reviewed: Sosa, A. (1983). El pensamiento político positivista y el gomecismo. Congreso de la República.

[2] To delve into the concepts of “management” and “organization” we recommend Manuel García-Pelayo’s notebook (2011) entitled Orden, Ordenación y Organización.

Guido Revete

Co-founder Revista Florencia. Sociologist (Central University of Venezuela, 2017). Advanced Studies in Governance and Political Management (Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, 2019). Candidate for Msc. in Political and Government Studies (Metropolitan University). He is currently developing studies on "Venezuelanity."

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