Read Redeemers Online

Authors: Enrique Krauze

Redeemers (6 page)


the book as an attempt to unite “the two segments of a great fatherland . . . that after the shattering of its political unity should always retain its spiritual unity.” It was greeted with enormous enthusiasm in Spain. The historian Rafael Altamira commented, when he published the text of
in his
La Revista Crítica
of 1901: “What Rodó asks of Latin Americans is that they always should be, or rather that they are, Spaniards, children of the classics and of Christianity.” Miguel de Unamuno was more skeptical. He saw the book as too derivative of Renan and refused to identify himself with the Catholic perspective of Rodó. (His preference was for cultural independence, as reflected by his own Basque people, and for the broader spiritual freedoms he saw in Protestantism.)

But the greatest impact of this small book was of course on the Latin American continent. In 1901 it was reprinted in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. In 1905 it appeared in Cuba. It was published in Mexico in 1908, an edition of five hundred copies edited by the progressive general Bernardo Reyes, governor of the state of Nuevo León, with a prologue by Pedro Henríquez Ureña, who was then living in Mexico and whose friends and disciples called him, still young, “el Sócrates.” Henríquez wrote in his prologue: “His intention is to make a contribution toward forming an ideal for the governing class, of which they are very much in need.” Alfonso Reyes, friend and disciple of Henríquez and the son of Governor Reyes, wrote of Rodó: “To him we owe an awakening of consciousness, the precise notion of American fraternity.” When Alfonso Reyes and José Vasconcelos became two of the most distinguished men of letters in the first half of the twentieth century—for Mexico and for Latin America—both would enthusiastically accept the message of aesthetic and cultural “salvation” expounded in

It was a message that did not conflict with the fashionable philosophy of positivism, another contribution of French (and Catholic) thought that had displaced classical liberalism in the intellectual circles of Latin America through the final decades of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Positivism was a “religion” of progress. It recognized the value of science but not of Anglo-Saxon “utilitarianism.” Actually
gave positivism new life in Latin America. Based on the racist theories current at the turn of the century, various positivist thinkers in Latin America (Carlos Octavio Bunge, Graça Aranha, Francisco Bulnes) had written works of gloomy pessimism about the future of the Latin American “race,” supposedly weighed down by the maleficent mixture of a genetic Indian spinelessness and the intolerant psychological legacy stemming from Spain.
offered a way out of this “dilemma.” Our apparent weakness was really our greatest strength.

Two primary emphases emerge from the arguments of
. First, the superiority of Latin culture over the mere utilitarianism espoused by the Caliban of the North. It was a claim that became a militant slogan for many. Latin Americanism, especially in the South, was also anti-Yankeeism. The other constant preoccupation was on the idea of youth as the strength of the fatherland and, therefore, the need for education as an indispensable tool for achieving the ideal. (The character who speaks for Rodó, all through
, is Prospero, who is essentially a teacher.)

The current of Latin American cultural superiority would have a long and powerful presence in twentieth-century literature. In 1904 Rubén Darío would publish his famous poem “To Roosevelt”:


Be careful. Long live Hispanic America!

A thousand cubs have issued from the Spanish Lion.

You would need to be, Roosevelt! the terrifying Rifleman

the powerful Hunter through the will of God himself,

to be able to retain us in the hold of your iron claws.

And, though you can count on everything, you lack one thing: God!


Darío would later moderate his position. Other partisans of
), like Pedro Henríquez Ureña and José Vasconcelos, would stress the affirmation of Spanish culture (and its roots in the Latin and Greek classics) rather than political and ideological harangues against the Yankees. But in Argentina, so close to France and so far from the United States,
would fuel a belligerent antagonism toward the Yankee Caliban.

Alfredo Palacios, the first socialist legislator in Latin America, would argue for (and achieve) considerable improvement in the condition of Argentine workers but (though he was essentially an
) his explicit criticism of the United States dealt with concrete political issues, especially (in the 1920s) his defense of President Plutarco Elías Calles of Mexico when the latter was threatened with the possibility of an American invasion to defend U.S. financial interests. But another Argentine socialist, Manuel Ugarte (1875–1951), was an early representative of

He came from a well-off family and so was able to study in Paris (in 1897 and, the critical year of 1898). He was deeply impressed by the pacifist socialist Jean Jaurès and his defense of Albert Dreyfus against the falsified anti-Semitic charges that split France between right and left during the Dreyfus Affair. (The effects of the Dreyfus Affair would soil French history all the way into World War II and Jaurès himself would be assassinated by a French nationalist in 1914.)

Ugarte, like so many others, was disgusted by the Spanish-American War. It would leave him not only pro-Spanish but fiercely antagonistic toward the United States. In 1901 he published an article titled “The Yankee Peril,” which echoed Groussac, Darío, and Rodó, as well as including a lament for the U.S. annexations of Mexican territory in the previous century. His prestige as a writer (and his personal inheritance) permitted him to travel as a representative of Argentine socialism. In 1907 he attended the proceedings of the Second International Congress in Stuttgart, where he met figures like Lenin, Karl Kautsky, Georgi Plekhanov, Jean Jaurès, who had so impressed him in Paris, and Rosa Luxemburg. All of them were militants and authors published much later in Mexico by another Argentine socialist, Arnaldo Orfila Reynal, who would live to be a hundred years old (1897–1997), was a key figure in the dissemination of Marxist literature throughout Latin America, and was incidentally an acquaintance of yet another fiercely anti-Yankee Argentine, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Between 1912 and 1914, Ugarte would tour Latin America, performing a series of widely acclaimed public presentations (orations, commemorative visits to important historical sites, etc.), continually inflaming Latin American political passions and warning against the Yankee peril. When Woodrow Wilson took office in 1913, Ugarte published his “Open Letter to the President of the United States,” which was in a sense a palimpsest of history, combining Latin America's longstanding liberal admiration for the achievements of the United States with apprehension and, in this case, restrained anger about its present and future course:


You represent a civilization that was born from a choice, that substituted, as a point of departure, moral law for brute force, that flowered in the warmth of our ideals, like a reaction against the old errors of the world; and it would not be logical that you should commit, against us, assaults as grievous as those that Europe has committed in Asia and in Africa, because if you behave in that way, you would declare that your greatest, most illustrious predecessors were mistaken when they claimed to establish a new nation based on justice, and you would instead proclaim the bankruptcy of human perfection and of God's will.


Ugarte's activities were seminal in various ways. He was in constant written contact with two intellectual leaders of Peru in the twenties (Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre and José Carlos Mariátegui) and he directly influenced the Nicaraguan general Augusto César Sandino, leader of the first guerrilla uprising against a Yankee presence in Latin America.


on youth and education was in part a spiritual reaction to Manifest Destiny, although in reverse. Almost all the great European theories of history and politics (Hegel, Marx, Lenin, and, in practice, imperialism and colonialism) assumed as a given that the great European nations would end up absorbing the so-called backward countries. It was the inevitable march of civilization and was the reason Marx and Engels had written in favor of the U.S. war against Mexico. Annexationism was not only a North American ideology. The European world of the nineteenth century (and of the beginning of the twentieth until the Great War) shared it as well.

But in the political and social thought of Latin America, rightists and leftists, liberals and conservatives converged in a symmetrically opposed theory. These countries abusively termed backward should raise themselves up and stop being captives. The proper route was to climb toward higher intellectual heights. Education then became the major obsession of Latin American nationalisms (even more than its already elevated importance within the currents of liberalism and positivism). And the universities were the front lines for this historic advance. The universities were already staking out a position as the heirs to the hegemony of the church, the new source of legitimacy and of men trained for responsibility and power. Now they were to fill an even higher function. Education had to be the means for drawing people out of their lacerating poverty. Moreover, the consensus affirmed that the distance between our nations and those more powerful rested not so much on the quantity of resources as in the knowledge of how to use them. The university was the highway to progress. And so the nationalist idea had to include a politics of education at the very heart of the conception of the Nation.

All across the continent, new ministries of education surged into being. National educational policy was of vital concern everywhere. Many liberals, both classical and positivist, had already stressed the importance of education: Justo Sierra in Mexico; Manuel Montt, the president of Chile; and, above all, the Argentine Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who, during his presidency, had been swept into a succession of conflicts that made governing the country almost impossible but never slowed his commitment to opening schools and training teachers. With the turn of the century, the role of the teacher had taken on a new luster. The teacher began to be seen as the prototypical intellectual, the standard-bearer of moral and political redemption. But there was an even greater protagonist. The long-awaited savior of Latin America was to be the young university student.

The exhortation of Marx “Workers of the world, unite!” could well have had a new formulation to express a new reality. With its force due largely to Rodó, it could well have become “Students of all countries, unite!” The first great proof of its validity is the famous University Reform of 1918 in Córdoba, Argentina. The students went on strike in what was a conservative city. Their objective was nothing less than to dislodge the forms, hierarchies, and clerical content that dominated their instruction. They sought political autonomy for the university, for the first time in Latin America; the condition is now the norm in the public universities of Latin America (though not under dictatorships). Autonomy means among other things that the armed power of the state cannot blithely invade the precincts of the university. The students of Córdoba, powered by the new transnational respect for their status, were fighting for that goal, and they were also demanding the right to participate in the government of the university. They experienced those days of struggle as if they were living through the October Days of revolution in Russia in the previous year. The students of Córdoba were victorious, and their triumph accomplished even more, initiating a movement of university reform throughout the continent, spearheaded by students who were willing to take to the streets.

There were three major intellectual architects of the reform in Córdoba. The socialist politicians Alfredo Palacios and Manuel Ugarte and the student leader Deodoro Roca, who would later formulate his theory of the “complete man” (
hombre íntegro
), a conception of human improvement and possible perfection. They were all affected by the impulse of
. The countries of Latin America, though technologically backward, would not peacefully accept the role of mere material nourishment for the great powers. At least in this wave of student assertiveness that crossed national borders, the intellectual tide of anti-Yankeeism had succeeded in uniting liberals and conservatives, Catholics and freethinkers, and an incipient left of socialists, anarchists, and Marxists. Latin American nationalism was beginning to set its stakes down on the table of an entire continent. Shared race and culture were the motivating value it drew from Rodó's brief and thoughtful book. The conception was a hopeful, even glorious one: a brotherhood that could not be denied.


rhetorical pulse of some of his pages, José Enrique Rodó was certainly not an opponent of democracy. The tone of
is one of lofty, professorial reflection, not invective. Some of its passages can be read as eulogies of American democracy, seen as a form of progress that must be complemented, purified, elevated through culture. Moreover, Rodó, in his later parliamentary career (he was elected three times to the Uruguayan Congress), gave ample evidence of democratic coherence and social sensitivity. But an aristocratic sensibility dominates
. There is no political criticism of democracy. The criticism is more precisely aesthetic:


The opposition between the regime of democracy and the elevated life of the spirit is an unfortunate reality when that regime comes to mean a disregard of legitimate inequalities and the substitution of a mechanical conception of government for the faith in
—in the sense meant by Carlyle. Everything that is more than an element of material superiority and economic prosperity takes on, within civilization, a prominence which will not fail to be leveled when moral authority belongs to the spirit of mediocrity.

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