Why did Latin America lose faith in the law?

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Abstract / Description of output

Colonial Latin America had the fame of being a land where lower-class people were forever suing their betters. To Latin America's popular classes, the law was an indispensable instrument for claiming rights, solving conflicts, and advancing interests. Fast-forward to the middle of the twentieth century, however, and Latin American law held a very different fame. The law was now something to be shunned. It was seen as an instrument of power, manipulated by the rich and influential. Public trust in the law was low, and support for alternative forms of justice, high. In comparison with the colonial era, we are faced with a baffling reversal. This article seeks to explain that reversal by elaborating three propositions: (P1) popular trust in the law declined because of the law's increasing formalism, particularly evident in the codification of civil and criminal law over the course of the nineteenth century; (P2) popular trust in the law declined because of the rise of patrimonial capitalism over the period of study; and (P3) popular trust in the law declined because a new generation of social rights became politicized, first under populist, corporatist regimes that arose in the region in the early and mid-twentieth century and then under the region's Cold-War military dictatorships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)795-816
JournalLaw and History Review
Issue number4
Early online date27 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2023


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