In the last centuries, Latin American thought has been fundamentally structured on the polarity of modernization and identity.
From the mid 19th century on, diverse groups of Latin American thinkers have opted for modernizing or identitarian propositions. In every historical period specificity has been attributed to each one of these two options. This means that the vision of modernity has changed, modeled in accordance to specific questions that seem to go to the forefront of progress, and have technology and the use of certain languages as symbols. The same happens with the focus on identity. The pre-eminence of one has meant the weakening, though never the disappearance, of the other. Latin American thought is played in the context of this polarity and in the search for a reconciliation of both.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a new wave of identitarianism crystallized in the works of José E. Rodó. Arielismo, a term of cultural recovery, had important expressions in Uruguay, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Cuba, and Argentina. It flourished as a nationalist movement that converged with the original arielismo of Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.
After the First World War, this identitarian desire became more social in content, and was centered on class struggles and on indigenous cultures. It is at this time when indigenous cultures flourish, including the Afro-American variety. After the Great Depression of 1929, the emphasis on protecting the autonomy of the economies marks a new form of identity where the cultural and social aspects join a new concept of economic identity. Since the late 1930s, and mainly in 1940s and 1950s, modernization is accentuated again by the CEPAL (ECLA) -Economic Commission for Latin America- in English), when it proposes an industrialization project for Latin America.
Cepalism and industrialist ideas begin to weaken during the 1960s, opening the way for a new and brief identitarian wave. This tendency reaches a strong impulse after the Cuban Revolution. The social sciences privilege the concept of “dependence.” Its main exponents are Fernando H. Cardoso, the libertarian educator Paulo Freire, Gustavo Gutiérrez with his theology of liberation, the Cuyo School with its philosophy of neo-liberal liberation, and Leopold Zea with his Latin Americanism. By the 1970s, the neo-liberal modernist option came back strong with a new modernization project.
Examples of this tendency are Chile”s Fernando Monckeberg and José Piñera, Peru”s Mario Vargas Llosa and Hernando de Soto, Venezuela”s Carlos Rangel, and the political writings of Octavio Paz. At the end of the 20th century, cultural studies programs made an appearance in opposition to neo-liberalism as a system. Once again it incorporated the indentitarian sensibility. Notable in this school of thought are Néstor García Canclini, Jesus Martin-Barbero, Beatriz Sarlo, and Hugo Achurar, among others.
More elaborate options have been ignored on too many occasions. On other occasions quality and honesty has been sacrificed. These seem obvious or unnecessary, but they are the foundations of any major ideological construction. The perversion of seeking democracy by means of corruption and economic development, without respecting the need of quality standards of ethical norms is an absurdity.
In Latin America, tensions due to this dilemma should not lead us to forget that carrying out one”s own choice, if it be the best choice, should be based on work of greater quality and honesty. These make us all better Latin Americans and better human beings. The importance of quality and honesty, which are two faces of the same coin, should be a consensual common task in a continent that is at a standstill precisely because it has not assumed them in the past.
Historian, Investigator and Profesor
Advanced Studies Institute
University of Santiago de Chile
Author: Proyectos FPH
Published: September 27, 2010.
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