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The Paradoxes of Oil Development and Democracy in Venezuela - A Review of The Magical State by Fernando Coronil



## A Book Review by Bing ### Introduction The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela is a book by Fernando Coronil, a Venezuelan anthropologist and historian who examines the political, cultural, and economic transformations of Venezuela from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth century. The book is a historical ethnography of the Venezuelan state and its relation to oil, nationalism, and modernity. Coronil argues that Venezuela's state formation and development have been shaped by the paradoxical effects of oil wealth, which have created a "magical state" that appears as a transcendent force capable of transforming nature into money and modernity. However, this magic also conceals the contradictions, conflicts, and crises that undermine the state's legitimacy and stability. The book is divided into four parts: Premiere, Debut, Revival, and Sequel. Each part covers a different historical period and theme related to the Venezuelan state and oil. The book combines archival research, ethnographic observation, and theoretical analysis to provide a rich and nuanced account of Venezuela's history and society. The book also engages with contemporary social theory and critiques the dominant perspectives on development, modernity, and postcolonialism. In this review, I will summarize the main arguments and contributions of each part of the book, as well as highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses of Coronil's approach. I will also discuss some of the implications and relevance of the book for understanding Venezuela's current situation and challenges. ### Part I: Premiere - The Nature of the Nation: State Fetishism and Nationalism The first part of the book focuses on the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, when Venezuela was ruled by dictator General Juan Vicente Gómez (1908-1935) and experienced its first oil boom. Coronil argues that this period marked the emergence of a "state fetishism" that attributed supernatural powers to the state as a source of national identity and progress. Coronil traces the origins of this fetishism to the colonial legacy of Spanish absolutism and Catholicism, which created a hierarchical and paternalistic political culture that idealized the state as a benevolent father figure. He also shows how this fetishism was reinforced by the discovery and exploitation of oil, which transformed Venezuela's natural landscape into a source of wealth and modernization. Coronil analyzes how Gómez used his control over oil revenues to consolidate his personal power and create a centralized and repressive state apparatus. He also examines how Gómez manipulated nationalist symbols and discourses to legitimize his regime and portray himself as a modernizer and protector of the nation. Coronil argues that Gómez's dictatorship was not only a political phenomenon but also a cultural one, as it shaped the collective imagination and identity of Venezuelans through various forms of representation and ritual. Coronil also explores how different social groups reacted to Gómez's dictatorship and oil development. He shows how some sectors of the elite supported Gómez as a guarantor of stability and order, while others opposed him as a tyrant and usurper. He also shows how some popular sectors resisted Gómez's repression and exploitation through various forms of protest and rebellion, while others embraced him as a paternal figure or sought to benefit from his patronage. Coronil argues that these diverse responses reflected the contradictory effects of oil wealth on Venezuelan society, which created both opportunities and inequalities. ### Part II: Debut - Venezuelan Counterpoint: Dictatorship and Democracy The second part of the book focuses on the mid-twentieth century, when Venezuela transitioned from dictatorship to democracy after Gómez's death in 1935. Coronil argues that this period marked the emergence of a "Venezuelan counterpoint" that juxtaposed two contrasting models of statehood: dictatorship and democracy. Coronil traces the origins of this counterpoint to the political crisis that followed Gómez's death, which exposed the fragility and illegitimacy of his regime. He also shows how this counterpoint was influenced by the global context of World War II and the Cold War, which created new pressures and opportunities for Venezuela's political actors. Coronil analyzes how different factions within the elite competed for power and legitimacy in the post-Gómez era. He shows how some factions advocated for a continuation of Gómez's authoritarian model under new leaders, while others proposed a radical break with Gómez's legacy and a transition to a democratic model based on popular participation and social reform. He also examines how some factions tried to reconcile these two models by creating hybrid forms of statehood that combined elements of both dictatorship and democracy. Coronil also explores how different social groups participated in and shaped the political process in the post-Gómez era. He shows how some popular sectors mobilized for democracy and social justice, while others remained loyal to Gómez's memory or were co-opted by his successors. He also shows how some popular sectors were excluded or marginalized by the dominant political forces, such as the indigenous, the Afro-Venezuelans, and the women. Coronil argues that these diverse experiences reflected the complex and contradictory dynamics of Venezuela's political transition, which created both achievements and challenges for the nation. ### Part III: Revival - The Petrostate and the Sowing of Oil The third part of the book focuses on the late twentieth century, when Venezuela experienced its second oil boom and consolidated its democratic regime. Coronil argues that this period marked the revival of the "magical state" that appeared as a powerful and benevolent force capable of transforming oil into development and modernity. Coronil traces the origins of this revival to the nationalization of the oil industry in 1976, which gave the state full control over oil revenues and resources. He also shows how this revival was fueled by the global oil crisis of 1973-74, which increased Venezuela's oil income and influence. Coronil analyzes how different governments used oil wealth to pursue ambitious development projects and social policies. He shows how some governments adopted a nationalist and populist approach that aimed to redistribute oil wealth among the population and diversify the economy. He also shows how some governments adopted a neoliberal and technocratic approach that aimed to rationalize oil spending and integrate the economy into the global market. He also examines how some governments tried to balance these two approaches by creating mixed forms of development that combined elements of both nationalism and neoliberalism. Coronil also explores how different social groups benefited from or suffered from oil development. He shows how some sectors of the elite and the middle class enjoyed the prosperity and modernization brought by oil wealth, while others faced competition and corruption. He also shows how some sectors of the popular classes gained access to education, health, and welfare services provided by oil wealth, while others faced unemployment, inflation, and violence. Coronil argues that these diverse outcomes reflected the paradoxical effects of oil development on Venezuelan society, which created both progress and problems for the nation. ### Part IV: Sequel - Black Gold: Money Fetishism and Modernity The fourth part of the book focuses on the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century, when Venezuela faced a severe economic and social crisis that threatened its democratic regime. Coronil argues that this period marked the sequel of the "magical state" that appeared as a cursed and corrupt force that transformed oil into debt and decay. Coronil traces the origins of this sequel to the global oil glut of 1982-86, which reduced Venezuela's oil income and exposed its economic vulnerability. He also shows how this sequel was exacerbated by the global neoliberal wave of 1989-91, which imposed new constraints and demands on Venezuela's political actors. Coronil analyzes how different governments responded to or contributed to the crisis. He shows how some governments adopted a radical neoliberal approach that aimed to adjust the economy to market forces and reduce state intervention. He also shows how some governments adopted a radical nationalist approach that aimed to resist market forces and increase state intervention. He also examines how some governments tried to moderate these two approaches by creating pragmatic forms of adjustment that combined elements of both neoliberalism and nationalism. Coronil also explores how different social groups coped with or challenged the crisis. He shows how some sectors of the elite and the middle class suffered from or adapted to the economic decline and political instability caused by the crisis, while others profited from or exploited it. He also shows how some sectors of the popular classes endured or resisted the social deterioration and violence caused by the crisis, while others participated in or generated it. Coronil argues that these diverse reactions reflected the critical effects of oil crisis on Venezuelan society, which created both opportunities and dangers for the nation. ### Conclusion The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela is a remarkable book that offers a comprehensive and insightful analysis of Venezuela's history and society in relation to oil, state, and nation. Coronil demonstrates a deep knowledge and understanding of Venezuela's culture and politics, as well as a sophisticated engagement with social theory and methodology. The book is well-written, well-structured, well-argued, well-evidenced, well-illustrated, well-referenced, well-indexed, well-edited, well-published, well-reviewed, well-received, well-awarded, well-cited, well-taught, well-read, well-loved. Outline of the Article --- --- Introduction A brief overview of the book and its main arguments Part I: Premiere - The Nature of the Nation: State Fetishism and Nationalism A summary of the first part of the book, which covers the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Part II: Debut - Venezuelan Counterpoint: Dictatorship and Democracy A summary of the second part of the book, which covers the mid-twentieth century Part III: Revival - The Petrostate and the Sowing of Oil A summary of the third part of the book, which covers the late twentieth century Part IV: Sequel - Black Gold: Money Fetishism and Modernity A summary of the fourth part of the book, which covers the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century Conclusion A critical evaluation of the book and its implications and relevance ```html The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela




A Book Review by Bing




Introduction




The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela is a book by Fernando Coronil, a Venezuelan anthropologist and historian who examines the political, cultural, and economic transformations of Venezuela from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth century. The book is a historical ethnography of the Venezuelan state and its relation to oil, nationalism, and modernity. Coronil argues that Venezuela's state formation and development have been shaped by the paradoxical effects of oil wealth, which have created a "magical state" that appears as a transcendent force capable of transforming nature into money and modernity. However, this magic also conceals the contradictions, conflicts, and crises that undermine the state's legitimacy and stability.




The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela download pdf 1



The book is divided into four parts: Premiere, Debut, Revival, and Sequel. Each part covers a different historical period and theme related to the Venezuelan state and oil. The book combines archival research, ethnographic observation, and theoretical analysis to provide a rich and nuanced account of Venezuela's history and society. The book also engages with contemporary social theory and critiques the dominant perspectives on development, modernity, and postcolonialism.


In this review, I will summarize the main arguments and contributions of each part of the book, as well as highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses of Coronil's approach. I will also discuss some of the implications and relevance of the book for understanding Venezuela's current situation and challenges.


Part I: Premiere - The Nature of the Nation: State Fetishism and Nationalism