Kent L. Dickson

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference








Publication Date


First Page


Last Page



The literary record leaves little doubt that pro-social sentiments such as sympathy and compassion were key elements in the performance of citizenship for the Peruvian elites throughout the guano boom and the period of civilismo that followed the War of the Pacific. The sentimental novel in Peru, for instance, abounds with affective transactions in which bourgeois characters such as Clorinda Matto de Turner’s Lucía or Narciso Aréstegui’s Angélica, confronted with suffering, often racialized others, awaken to “la simpatía que brota sin sentirlo en los corazones nobles” or to “el ardiente deseo de emplearse siquiera en beneficio de un individuo” (Matto de Turner 55; Aréstegui 28). Scholars such as Ana Peluffo and Francesca Denegri have contextualized these developments in sentimental fiction compellingly within a feminist frame.1 But what of earlier periods? Similar elite performances of pro-social sentiment were a topic of hot debate and careful political maneuvering already by the 1790s, if we are to judge by evidence from the Mercurio Peruano. With some notable degree of caution, the mercuristas advanced an affective philosophy in which the social passions (emotions such as compassion and pity that were seen as innate) and the social virtues (practices based on these emotions such as charity, beneficence, philanthropy and particularly humanidad) became the primary agents guaranteeing a free citizen’s modernity vis-à-vis the royal subject of the ancien régime. As a force of cohesion tying the powerful to the weak and binding the members of a political body into a union, they were the civic emotions par excellence, curtailing the excesses of self-interest (amor propio, egoísmo, economic self-seeking) to which the powerful were prone, and guaranteeing the smooth circulation of goods— spoken of in explicitly economic terms, “tan maravillosa economía”—to the lower strata of society (Calatayud y Borda 127). The bodily performance of pro-social sentiment activated modernity and republicanism through a practice, and this practice was what came to be called citizenship.