Professor Harold E. Davis of American University has put together a book of readings containing diverse samples of social thought in Latin America. Assigning them to a chronological period and giving them topical titles, he has opened another window on the Latin American scene. Translations of excerpts from the writings of many important Latin American figures appear. This is, however, a difficult book to describe. There is enough in it to satisfy many and enough missing to vex and annoy specialists in any one of the areas treated.
The format of the book consists of a general introduction and four separate sections. Part one is titled, “The Enlightenment and Independence”; Part two, “Liberalism and Utilitarianism”; Part three, “Positivism.” The last section, “Twentieth Century Trends,” is the biggest, containing examples of the social thought of 14 modern Latin Americans. There is a final short conclusion and a bibliography of general works. The book was printed in Mexico under the imprint of the University Press of Washington, D. C.
The editor states that the passages were chosen on a highly selective basis with preference being given to works which express a general social philosophy. Uruguay, listed as one of the countries not represented, does in fact appear with material from José Enrique Rodó.
Part one of the readings, “The Enlightenment and Independence,” contains four representative selections from Simón Bolívar, José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, Mariano Moreno, and José Cecilio del Valle. The greatest single influence on these early leaders, according to Professor Davis, was that of Jean Jacques Rousseau and Abbé Guillaume Raynal. Rousseau’s impact is seen in the acceptance of the idea of a natural order of freedom and progress in polities, economics, and morality.
In the second section, “Romantic Liberalism and Utilitarianism,” an interesting introduction presents other European influences on Latin American intellectuals. These include Saint Simon and Felicité de Lamannais, who were significant in shaping ideas that appeared in the Argentine Association of May of Esteban Echeverría. In Chile the impact of these French philosophers is seen in the writing of Francisco Bilbao.
Jeremy Bentham and James Mill influenced Andrés Bello, José María Luis Mora of Mexico, and Juan Bautista Alberdi of Argentina. Finally, Victor Cousins of France who, combining “the ideas of utilitarianism with the emerging German idealistic concept of the scientific philosophy of history,” had special impact on José Manuel Mestre of Cuba.
The third grouping, “Positivist and Evolutionary Thought” is introduced by Professor Davis, who states that Latin American leaders were preoccupied in the mid-nineteenth century with the social bases of the political, educational, and economic problems facing them. They turned to the positivism of Auguste Comte which seemed to provide the necessary answers to the problems of organizing the national life of their countries.
Intellectuals of the period included in the third section are: Manuel González Prada, Peru; Euclides da Cunha and Rui Barbosa, Brazil; Eugenio María de Hostos, Puerto Rico; José Martí, Cuba; Agustín Enrique Álvarez Suárez, Argentina; José Ingenieros, Argentina; José Enrique Rodó, Uruguay; Justo Sierra, Mexico; Valentín Letelier, Chile, Ramón Rosa, Guatemala; and Juan Montalvo, Ecuador.
The final section of the book is the most ambitious. Entitled “Twentieth Century Trends,” the introduction sets the scenes for fourteen representative authors. According to Davis the past fifty years in Latin America have witnessed an intellectual renaissance. Though there are many new trends there is a persistence of older structures illustrated by continuing positivist impact on the social sciences. Another of the older trends still existing in Latin America is early socialist thought which has developed into a form of criollo socialism.
More important are the new directions which according to Davis are demonstrated by the influence of Unamuno and Ortega y Gasset. Other new directions include personalism and humanism, while the neo-Thomist trend is illustrated by such intellectual leaders as Amoroso Lima of Brazil and Eduardo Frei of Chile. One of the most interesting new directions is an American philosophy which Davis feels can be seen in Indigenismo, Afro-Americanism, mystique of the land, and discussions over the existence of a unique American philosophy of history.
Among the many intellectuals contributing to this section are Haya de la Torre, José Vasconcelos, José Figueres, Juan José Arévalo, Rómulo Betancourt, Gilberto Freyre, José Carlos Mariátegui, and Ricardo Rojas.
For the student of Latin American civilization who cannot read Spanish or Portuguese, the selection of translations offer an interesting introduction to the area.