The article focuses on the different effects the formation of national identity had on the development of political democracy in Uruguay and Argentina. Uruguay's process of state building after the civil wars relied on political consensus regarding the rules of the game: the concept of political democracy became an integral part of Uruguay's collective identity. In Argentina, political elites after the civil wars divided on the question of national identity and the substance of political democracy. Uruguay's political identity as a partidocracia [rule by parties] is not a guarantee against authoritarianism, but the country's democratic political culture is resilient, permeating even the armed forces. In Argentina, the exclusionist character of the political process invites authoritarianism, whether of the liberal or populist-democractic variety. This article focuses, first, on the different models of collective identity that developed after independence; second, on the distinct roles played by the two hegemonic parties in each nation - the Colorados under Batlle and the Radicals under Yrigoyen; and finally, on the authoritarian periods both countries experienced in the 1930s. (C) 2000 Society for Latin American Studies. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.