Facundo: Or, Civilization and Barbarism

Facundo: Or, Civilization and Barbarism Summary and Analysis of Chapters 6-8

Summary of Chapter 6

La Rioja is a province north of San Juan, separated by strips of desert. It is a lonely city with no suburbs; it contains the Llanos, a waste of hills. It is “desolate, its climate torrid, its soil parched and destitute of running streams” (87). It is like Palestine and its citizens are very patriarchal in their appearance.

Its history is characterized by the rivalry between the Ocampo and the Davila families. They are both rich, aristocratic, and old. When Facundo appeared, these competing families tried to seek his favor, which gave birth to Facundo’s public reputation.

At the time, San Juan experienced an insurrection in the first regiment of the Andes that had come back to Chile to reorganize. Ocampo was ready for battle but Facundo, who was with his Llanistas, waited for no order and attacked the regiment. He also criticized Ocampo and began to talk about how he was going to take over. Ocampo chose not to prosecute Facundo.

Ocampo decided to work with Aldao, one of the leaders of the insurrection, and let him return home. In the Llanos, Aldao spoke with Quiroga and offered him his own soldiers to make himself master of La Rioja. Quiroga accepted this and took the city, sending the officers of the government to death.

Sergeant Araya and Lorco headed Aldao’s force, but Quiroga negotiated with him and they took over Aldao’s forces.

In the city, the old laws of civilization prevailed. It was not the right time for the country to rule yet. Don Nicholas Davila ruled the government under Facundo, but along with Araya he decided to arrest Facundo. Facundo heard of their plans and had Araya killed and Davila deposed with the support of the Assembly.

Davila later attacked Facundo, but was surrounded and killed; this was the end of the rule of the two families and the beginning of Quiroga.

Now the leader of La Rioja, Facundo appointed Blanco, a low Spaniard, to actually carry out the business of governing for him. It is commonly known that when one government replaces another, old institutions can be strengthened or new ones made, but when Facundo came in it was apparent that the “traditions of government disappear, established forms deteriorate, the law is a plaything in vile hands; and nothing is maintained, nothing established” (95).

Facundo could not create a revenue system and his monopoly was violent and spoiled like Argentinian pastoral life.

Facundo instituted a tithing program that helped cover his own expenses for invading but was hard for the people. He began to destroy civilization and acted with hostility to the respectable classes. He diverted himself with cruelty and torture.

Buenos Ayres similarly oppressed its people to keep order; for a time it put almost every citizen in jail for no reason.

Around this time, England began to exhibit an inclination to invest in mines in South America. Speculators from Buenos Ayres gained the exclusive right to work these mines. These stockholders came to talk to Facundo and he mocked them by wearing ridiculous clothes.

His economy was characterized by exorbitant duties on exports of cattle that did not belong to him. He spent much of his time gambling. He did not cheat but had unlimited funds and thus played as long as he wanted. It was all plunder and amusement.

Now, Sarmiento writes, we enter a new phase of Facundo’s career – the battlefields.

Summary of Chapter 7

In La Rioja, Facundo held sway and all opposition was crushed. Outside, though, he became an object of attention and the people and press began to write and speak of him.

In the Argentinian Republic as a whole, there was a great deal of tumult due to conflicting ideas and passions. Sarmiento writes that he will lay out some of the ideas and interests, and how they are distributed geographically.


Cordova initially seems the most charming of all South American cities. It is symmetrical and beautiful with a stunning cathedral. The air is clear and the avenues broad. There are convents and monasteries, and the University of Cordova, a renowned center for learning. There is no theater, however, and also no journals. The people are learned but rarely look beyond their own borders. When a man walks in the afternoon, he walks in an artificial city and does not think of the world beyond. It is a sanctimonious place, previously the place of refuge for Spaniards during the Revolution. Revolutionary ideas would have a tough time spreading here because people do not want to embrace new ideas.

Around 1816, a few new disciplines were introduced to the ancient university and the youth began to direct their attention here and then outward. The Revolution of 1810, though, still saw the city closed and hostile. In 1828, Cordova and the country faced the embrace of the revolutionary system and the reorganization of the Republic.

Buenos Ayres

In 1806, English speculators turned to this city for its river and sources of wealth. In 1810, Buenos Ayres was filled with partisans of the revolution who hated anything from Spain and Europe as a whole. However, commercial activity accelerated and ideas of Europe began to permeate the city. They felt themselves important because of the war with England; “Buenos Ayres was like a child, when, having conquered a giant, fondly deems itself a hero, and is ready to undertake greater adventures” (113). The city believed itself a continuation of Europe and disseminated revolutionary ideas like the social compact. Revolutionists were everywhere.

This movement continued and Rivadavia, coming from Europe, assumed the head of the government. There was respect for private property, civil liberties, public education, and the separation and balance of powers. The city was what France could not even achieve and what the rest of Europe did not even want yet. It progressed in civilization; it “confessed and believed all that the learned world of Europe believed and confessed” (115).

European books flooded in. Buenos Ayres decided to make a constitution for itself and the Republic. Rivadavia was the personification of this moment in time and seemed to make the city a second Europe. He did not shed blood or destroy property; thus, he was one extreme and Rosas another.

Rivadavia was then one of the Unitarios (as deemed by Rosas). These men could be identified by their manners, tone of voice, and opinions. They were intelligent and haughty; there was never a generation “so enterprising, so gifted with reasoning and deductive powers, and so wanting in practical common sense” (118). A Unitario could not see his enemies’ success and only believed in the power of his cause.

Argentine Republic

At this point, Sarmiento leaves Buenos Ayres and says he will give a background to the period of the Republic’s formation. There are two elements – one Cordova, Spanish, conservative; one Buenos Ayres, revolutionary, progressive. Each city has these two parties. After freedom from Spain, it was difficult to find a national bond. The government became a confederation.

Sarmiento starts his history lesson with Ferdinand VII being driven from Spain and that government collapsing. The resulting provincial assemblies denied authority in a king and created the Spanish Confederation. Hearing this in America, the provinces revolted from Spain and formed the South American Confederation. Four states – Bolivia Paraguay, Banda Oriental, Argentine Republic – formed the Confederation of the Viceroyalty. The Argentine Republic was then divided by its cities, making it a confederation of cities.

Sarmiento notes, “it is not that the word confederation signifies separation, but that when separation has already taken place, it expresses the union of the different parts” (120).

There is now the Federal Party and the Unitario Party. The former is represented by Facundo, and is barbarous, South American, and of the provinces. The latter is liberal, represented by Rivadavia, civilized and constitutional, European, and of Buenos Ayres.

Summary of Chapter 8

In 1825, the governor of Buenos Ayres decided to have the provinces unite in a congress and general government. This eventually became problematic because every commander assumed he would be governor of his own province. Facundo became governor of his.

Each province was to raise a regiment for the army that would go to war against the Brazilians. One leader, Colonel Madrid, tried to expedite the process and Facundo exploited this to try and take him down. The Colonel was an energetic and passionate Argentine, a singer and a man renowned for bravery if not for his balance. When he and his men were attacked, he refused to surrender even though he was wounded. This fight of Tala helped form the legend of Facundo.

Facundo rose a flag of his own invention: black with skull and crossbones. The flag embodied terror and death. At this time, the color red began to appear everywhere as well. Sarmiento explores the significance and symbolism of the color, revealing how it was in the flag of tyrants, of Negro princes, in the robes of Europe’s barbarian kings, and in the garb of executioners. It symbolized violence, blood, and barbarism, he notes. The flag of the Argentine revolution of independence was blue and white in contrast.

Every civilization has a characteristic sartorial style that can indicate its proclivities toward civilization or barbarism. Rosas and Facundo tried to limit the fashion of Europe in Argentina because they knew what it implied.

The incident of the red ribbon is a telling one. When in power, Rosas started placing red all over the city and eventually consecrated the color. Red ribbons were to be displayed by everyone; if the ribbon was not displayed, too short, or tied too carelessly, the person was assumed to be a Unitario and was punished. Uniformity of opinion was forcibly secured. Sarmiento writes, “terror is a mental disease which attacks people like cholera, small-pox, or scarlet fever” (130).

Facundo entered Tucuman in triumph and then returned to Rioja. He had no concern for politics, turning against the government that sent him there in the first place.

At this time, Buenos Ayres allowed foreigners living there the liberty of conscience, and the clergy approved; even Rosas did not undermine this. However, the provinces were much more dogmatic and sectarian, and insurrections occurred with some frequency. Facundo was involved in San Juan, which is ironic since he was not religious at all. In terms of religion more generally, Sarmiento does not think the people of the country are as passionate as those in other countries; when the Catholic Party triumphed in Argentina, it did not do much of anything except carry out violent actions and expel the Jesuits.

In San Juan, Facundo spent most of his time gambling and ordering his authorities to find ways to pay for his gambling. He also attacked General Madrid at Tucuman and crushed the rebellion there.

The legitimate government in Rioja existed only nominally. Facundo did all he could to inspire terror. He persecuted people who showed contempt for him, even venturing to arrest and sentence to death the popular Gutierrez, an ex-governor of Catamarca who lived in Rioja. He also insulted religion and the clergy.

These are examples of what Facundo did in his attempt to unify the Republic. Rosas was in Buenos Ayres at this time, but had no titles yet. Rivadavia resigned the presidency because the provinces were against him. Sarmiento heavily criticizes him for this, noting “there is neither charity nor compassion in abandoning a nation for thirty years to the devastation of the first ruthless sword that offers” (137).


In these chapters, Sarmiento delves further into the biography of his antihero, chronicling his journey to La Rioja and San Juan. He also gives a history and character study of two major cities – Cordova and Buenos Ayres – to show how they were affected by the barbarism of the men who sought to conquer them. When Facundo took over La Rioja, the currency diminished in value, the law was devalued, cruelty and torture were ubiquitous, and fear and terror pervaded the populace. It fell into complete barbarism.

Sarmiento introduces two men in this work to contrast with Facundo (and to a lesser extent, Rosas): Rivadavia and General Paz. Rivadavia was the governor of Buenos Ayres and the president of the Republic; his goal was to unify, civilize, and encourage progress. He was the complete opposite of Facundo, but in terms of Rivadavia’s ultimate resignation and defeatism in the face of provincial discontent, Sarmiento finds him wanting, while he ironically believes Facundo’s ambition and stubbornness were more laudable.

One of the most fascinating, almost tangential, moments in the text is the discussion of the color red. Obviously it is problematic in its derogatory comments about “negro princes” whom Sarmiento and contemporary readers no doubt blithely assumed to be inherently barbarous, but the poetic weaving of various exemplars of red used as symbols by tyrants reads like a scholarly essay. Modern readers might add to this list the Cold War Communists in the Soviet Union and China (Mao’s Little Red Book); Americans whipped themselves into frenzied “Red Scares” on account of the perceived menace of their bloodthirsty, godless enemies.

As this work is intended to be political, it is necessary to analyze how it was received in its day. Indeed, the subject of its reception is a popular one among literary critics. Diana Goodrich, a prominent Facundo scholar, has written two articles on the text and its circulation, critiques, and importance. She acknowledges the hybridity of the text and one of the main criticisms levied that it “has been aligned… with the forces of modernization that have betrayed the quest for a native identity.” She then looks at the ease with which it “crossed boundaries… eliciting the interpretive paradigms of a travel book” in its early days. As all texts’ meanings are essentially unfixed, “its meanings are in part determined by the situation of its interpreters.”

The book became popular in America during the Civil War and was used to “bolster America’s sense of nationhood by setting it off against the upheaval; that still held many of the South American republics in its grip.” It also, unsurprisingly, became popular in post-revolutionary France. In Latin America, the book was often “manipulated as a power-gaining tool.” Sarmiento’s reputation made this easy since he was very well-known, and he wrote fluently and often about the book and engaged with critics of it. There are many letters and texts about the book, and as Goodrich writes, “as Foucault has so eloquently argued, power circulates, [and] it functions in the form of a chain, and the production and circulation of discourse embodied in the letters and journalistic pieces connected with Facundo are defined by the ever-changing choreography of power.” Writing brought community to Sarmiento and his other allies in exile. People were aware of his attempts to create a truly American cultural discourse; they also started to see pieces in one of the main newspapers of the time that were celebratory of his work.