With absolute certainty the decisive influence that Juan Bautista Alberdi has had in Argentine lands is widely considered due to his remarkable versatility in legal, philosophical, and economic subjects, but few have asked themselves where exactly did his interest begin regarding liberal traditions.
First discussed in the “Jabonería” of Vieytes, in Marcos Sastre’s bookstore, in the “Salón Literario” (of 1837, year for which his generation is baptized), in the “Asociación Joven Argentina”, in the “Asociación de Mayo”, then Alberdi continued the debate in his exile in Montevideo and, finally, in the “Club Constitucional” in his exile in Valparaíso where he gave birth to his most enlightening texts.
In this commentary, I would like to highlight the substantial aspects in the formation not only of Alberdi but of characters such as Juan María Gutiérrez, José Mármol, Félix Frías and Vicente Fidel López. That beginning was encouraged by Dr. Diego Alcorta in the Department of Jurisprudence of the University of Buenos Aires (later on, School of Law). Alcorta was a professor of philosophy and transmitted to his students of that time studies about authors, especially such as John Locke and Condillac.
Dr. Alcorta was expelled from his chair by Rosas who, as it is known, imposed the oath by decree on January 27, 1836 to all lawyers for “the national cause of the Federation” which, among others, did not accept Alberdi, reason why he was received in Uruguay and then revalued in Chile.
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José Mármol says in “Amalia” that “each young man of our friends, each man of the generation to which we belong and who has been educated at the University of Buenos Aires, is a living, pulsating, eloquent commitment to Dr. Alcorta. We his ideas are in action we are the multiplied reproduction of his patrician virtue, of his humanitarian conscience, of his philosophical thought. From his scholarly chair he ignited in our heart the enthusiasm for all that is great: for the good, for freedom, for justice”. Alberdi, for his part, mentions his chair in philosophy in his autobiographical notes.
It is really striking that Diego Alcorta was originally a Doctor of Medicine and then dedicated himself to the study of philosophy with special attention to the works of renowned liberals such as Montesquieu, Adam Smith, and Jovellanos and later Constant and Tocqueville; promoting debates with his disciples, not only in the classroom but also in parallel discussions with other professors bringing them together as well as other young people of the time where he also influenced decisively on medical colleagues such as the outstanding case of Juan José Montes de Oca, who directed the Faculty of Medicine, a doctor-surgeon very active in spreading the ideas of freedom for which he was imprisoned by Rosas and then also exiled to Montevideo.
Félix Weinberg in his excellent preliminary study of the book entitled El Salón Literario offers abundant bibliography of what I write in this journalistic note in which I emphasize the decisive participation of Dr. Alcorta in the fruitful teaching that he left behind.
In turn, this master became interested in liberal ideas when he tackled Algernon Sidney’s masterpiece “Discurses Concerning Government”, the formidable antecedent of Locke’s works, although less known because its author was executed for sedition due to his opposition to admitting the divine origin of the monarch and elaborating on the philosophical basis of individual rights.
In any case, the sense of this brief text is to pay homage to Diego Alcorta and to highlight his role in awakening interest in liberal ideas to a good part of the famous generation of 1937 in our country.
Alberto Benegas Lynch, Jr. is President of the Economic Sciences Section of the National Academy of Sciences of Buenos Aires