A popular freebie
Today I received this notice from Academia.edu: “Your most popular paper for the week was Liberty and People: Ideological Analysis of the Political Writings of Simón Bolívar, which had 8 views.”
Almost every week, someone — in some weeks, a dozen or more — consults this essay that I wrote in 1982 for the “PRIMERA BIENAL INTERNACIONAL DE ENSAYO “SIMON BOLIVAR” 1983,“ a contest celebrated in Caracas for the bicentennial of Bolívar’s birth. My essay is a close, critical examination of his political thought, so I was not surprised that it was never published nor even acknowledged after I submitted it to the judges — because even back then, before Hugo Chávez’ public adoration of the Liberator, he was a cult figure, not to be criticized. So why had I even bothered? Because Bolívar and his contradictions had fascinated me ever since I had worked in Venezuela and begun to investigate his complex history. And because I hoped to help free some Venezuelans (and others) from the stultifying cult of his personality.
The many hours I spent researching and writing this piece could be of use to anyone else only if it were published. But as an essay, it was not going to be an easy sell to US academic publishers, and I was not prepared to develop it into a whole book, either a biography or yet another history of the independence wars in South America to compete with all the others in the limited market. So it languished in my files, for years. Until it occurred to me scan my typescript and offer it to academics in H-LatAm, the Latin Americanist forum in H-Net. And I started receiving requests, until I simply posted it (for free access) in Scribd, and then in Academia.edu.
The irony is that this unpublished and rejected essay from 1982 has by now become one of my most sought-after pieces of writing, maybe equal to my 1997 book Hispanic Nation. It gets viewed so often, and from so many countries — often a bunch of views from the same city are reported in a week — that I suppose professors must be assigning it. I’m glad, and also curious what people get out of it (so far, I haven’t heard). It is even getting readers, or at least “viewers”, in Venezuela. I hope more of them read it: it may help them liberate themselves from ridiculous and superstitious adoration and to discover the true value of the extremely intelligent, highly energetic, sometimes courageous and always impetuous, but seldom loyal (to his one-time chief, Miranda, or his allies such as Piar or Santander) man who devised brilliant military strategies but fantastic and impossible political structures, tinged by racial and class prejudices, that have shaped the destiny of a continent until our days.