Facundo: Or, Civilization and Barbarism

Facundo: Or, Civilization and Barbarism Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3-5

Summary of Chapter 3

The gaucho is a man who brooks no control and acts completely independent. These are his fundamental characteristics (even though there may be other modifications).

The men who engage in agriculture do not have the leisure to idle, but the gaucho certainly does. The horse is integral to the gaucho; he spends his days on his steed traveling places. Since his life has little emotion, he invests much of it in gambling and liquor. He meets with other gauchos and fights; the knife is his weapon and tool. He does have an honor code, in that he kills men of other lands but the men of his own he only slashes and scars. Homicide is rare and considered a misfortune.

There have been many of these men in history, but only the most memorable rise up the ladder. They end up “malefactors or military chiefs” (51) because this is a society “where mental culture is useless or impossible, where no municipal affairs exist, where, as there is no public, the public is a meaningless word” (51).

There are judges in this land who exercise power, but their word is arbitrary and determined by conscience and mood. The judge becomes popular due to his boldness; he could change the religion if he wanted to and has substantial power.

The country commandant is even more important. The city's ruler confers his title, but since there are few good men, the ones chosen for this position are men the ruler fears.

All of these form the natural order of things for the Argentinian people and can help explain the revolution. Before 1810 there was both a Spanish, European, and civilized society, as well as a native and barbarous one. The latter met in taverns and gave rise to montoneras – provincial, warlike associations. The provinces’ chiefs head the montoneras; Facundo Quiroga is the epitome of one of these chiefs. The country triumphs over the city, and now Don Juan Manuel Rosas becomes the epitome of the end of civilization and freedom.

Summary of Chapter 4

Most nations around the world were pursuing revolution by 1810. South America also joined in, but outside the cities it was much more problematic. The provinces only liked revolution to rid themselves of judicial authority, but had no familiarity with liberty, responsibility, or governance. They only knew “the excess of vital force” (57).

The revolutionary movements began in Buenos Ayres, and pastoral districts soon became unsettled and joined in. In Montevideo, General Rondeau laid siege to the Spanish, and Artigas, a well-known outlaw and classic example of a baqueano, joined in.

Revolutions always begin with a conservative and a revolutionary side, but can occasionally prompt the formation of a third, heterogeneous entity. Artigas forms this “blind tool,” “a tool full of life and of instincts hostile to European civilization and to all other regular organization” (58).

The pastoral districts were spontaneous in their revolutions at first, and had a high degree of genius and spirit. However, the montonera already showed its brutality and terror. Rosas clearly did not learn any of his monstrousness because he had many examples to follow. New ways of barbarous execution were created.

Sarmiento claims we can see the development of the montonera from its society.

Civil war lasted until one side was victorious. The Argentine Revolutionary War was the first example of civilized warfare against Spain, and then the country chieftains against the cities. When these chiefs triumphed, all civil order was lost. There are four cities already annihilated by Rosas’s partisan supporters: Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero, San Luis, and La Rioja.

Looking closer at La Rioja, it is terrible to see how the city once contained many eminent men but now no longer does. Sarmiento writes that he interviewed a reliable person about the condition of La Rioja and discovered, in a series of questions and answers, that there are few eminent men, no schools, most churches in ruin, the people impoverished, a pervading feeling of terror, and a debased currency. The only similar example of rapid decline is the Mohammaden conquests of Greece.

As for San Juan, the city has escaped destruction but barbarism increases. It is not a province of open country, which helps it remain relatively free from the rule of chieftains. It is currently ruled by General Benavides, whose “despotism… is mild and pacific, so that men’s minds are kept quiet and calm. He is the only subordinate of Rosas who has not reveled in blood” (65).

Here, all the courts are seen as worthless. The city also lost over two hundred of its most eminent families and personages. There are still a few libraries, but some are partially destroyed. There is elegance of manner and custom, an interest in literature and commerce, and a public spirit. The place also has excellent education, which leads to less crime.

Thus, Argentine cities can all claim past glory, but now most are turned to barbarism – even Buenos Ayres. The provinces destroyed the work of the Revolution, and “ignorance and its consequence, poverty, are waiting like carrion birds for the last gasp of the cities of the interior to devour their prey, and to convert them into fields and pastures” (69).

What must be sought is the improvement of the cities and the restoration of their former civilized state.

Summary of Chapter 5

Between San Juan and San Luis is the traversia, a huge desert. Conditions are harsh there; a bloodthirsty tiger even stalks men. The story of this tiger’s death is one told to men by Don Juan Facundo Quiroga.

Facundo himself was deemed the “tiger of the Llanos”. He was stout and short with a well-shaped head and a huge, bristly black beard. His complexion was olive and his features proportioned. His visage made him seem born to rule.

He was the son of a man from San Juan sent to school in the province. His true nature was revealed very early on – he was haughty, cold, and antisocial. He tricked a master and ran away. As he grew older, he became ever more “gloomy, imperious, and wild” (76). After he had his first kill, he gambled copiously, and became a laborer. His work allowed him to make money quickly, importance since he’d cut ties with his family. He was prone to revenge and rage, and there are many examples of this.

By 1810, he was enrolled as a recruit in the regiment of Arribenos, commanded by General Ocampo in Buenos Ayres. Order and discipline did not appeal to him and he later joined the army of the Andes and the Mounted Grenadiers. He deserted with three comrades and went into the interior. He came back to his family’s house and was violently disposed towards them. A shaky peace was reestablished, but it did not preclude him from gambling, races, and expeditions into the country.

Not long after, he became determined to join the montonera of Ramirez, an offshoot of Artigas’s. First, though, he was thrown into and escaped prison. His name spread because of the murder of the man who released him. Back in La Rioja his name was tinged with glory and renown.

Other things Sarmiento notes are that Facundo never stole; he never drank; he had the gift of prophecy (or so he claimed); he was not religious and said he believed in nothing. He seemed a great man, akin to Caesar or Tamerlane.

He hated fetters above all else and preferred the equestrian life. He believed himself unconquerable and found no laws worth following. His rage “was like that of a wild beast” (83) and everything he did “exhibited… a low and brutal yet not a stupid nature, or one wholly without lofty aims. Incapable of commanding noble aspiration, he delighted in exciting fear” (83). Terror replaced self-sacrifice and patriotism where he ruled. His reputation grew; people imputed to him a Solomonic wisdom. His fame spread among the vulgar.


In these chapters, Sarmiento continues his discussion of the gaucho’s character, describes the revolutions and civil wars of the early 1800s, and introduces us to his protagonist/antagonist – Facundo Quiroga. In these chapters and the prior two, Sarmiento demonstrates a fluid familiarity with European authors and history. Facundo seems possessed by different layers of time and space; in particular, Sarmiento reaches to the Orient and the Middle Ages to develop his work. Scholar Erika Beckman probes this authorial choice, questioning what these citations mean.

Beckman begins by looking at the Middle Ages, seen as beginning in Latin America as it ended in Europe. Spain, though, was no France, and seemed stuck in this time period of no progress and no modernity. Spain might be in Europe but it is “in a state of suspension between the present and the medieval past”; thus, Argentina, controlled by Spain, is as well. Argentina inherits the Middle Ages, but does not desire it; in fact, Sarmiento views the Middle Ages as an “’incipient’ civilization that threatens to overtake modernity.” The countryside imitates the Middle Ages and the cities cannot stave off such barbarism. There is a descent into an inferior state of economic and political affairs. This is curious, though, in that the barbarism is European and medieval, not at all native or indigenous; it has elements of the outside that do not quite fit in Argentina.

The imposition of a medieval framework also allows Sarmiento to cast his country in a temporal state – it is in a narrative of progress that Europe already ended, and it must hurry to catch up or fail completely. This is the European linear model of history in its essence, and Sarmiento is unequivocally embracing it; “it seems preferable for Sarmiento for Argentina to be ‘medieval’ or even ‘Spanish’ (at a time when Spain had all but fallen off the map of Europe) than to be ‘Indian’.”

Sarmiento treats the Orient as his “paradigmatic trope of spatial otherness, located temporally inside and outside the Argentine nation” and the example he holds up “to translate Argentina’s barbarism into familiar terms.” The Middle Ages act as an anachronism, while the Orient is timeless and universally familiar to readers. Sarmiento, a voracious reader, would have been familiar with all of the Orientalist tropes of literature and art of the West. Beckman summarizes Edward Said’s point that “the fact that one did not have to visit the Orient to know the Orient was precisely the point: knowledge was produced in the imagination, and circulated through printed works.” He has no problem holding up this very familiar “Other” and using it as an example of the horrors that result from barbarism.

The final thing to note in this section is the introduction of Facundo. He is prefaced by the story of a rapacious and ravenous tiger and then described in vivid fashion. His visage, attitude, interests, and early life are indubitably shaped by the pampas. Sarmiento is fascinated and repelled by this man, and while he is painted in almost completely negative terms, there are a few times in which Sarmiento does admit a grudging respect for his valor and unambiguous pursuit of his aims. Sarmiento takes pains to give an authentic account of the man’s early life, but his account cannot escape taking on an almost mythological cast from the outset.