The Latin American mind, writes Professor Zea, is entirely a modern one. That is to say, ideas and views are so different from the colonial mind that the philosophical tradition of modern Latin America rejects the pre-national. Since this volume is a translation of Zea’s Dos etapas del pensamiento en Hispano-américa, it renews the belief in independence and nationalism as a great historical divide. Running from romanticism to positivism Zea has devoted almost all the book to the great pensadores of the 19th century. The point of view and arrangement of the illustrated authors serves excellently to round out the debate on a similar theme on colonial and/or modern at the Chicago (1963) meeting of the Conference of Latin American Studies. Zea and several of his authors, who illustrate those Latin Americans who know their own mind and civilization, believe that, in the history of ideas, the modern is different from the colonial.
One great difference, which also stands out in the book’s choice of content, is that Latin American thought has become more social, more political, more concerned with patria, than the colonial mind was. Modern thought, in its several expressions and national writers, has rejected metaphysics, other-worldliness. Sentiment as well as thought are devoted to the nation, to reform, to liberty and emancipation from Spain, Europe, and the “land of universal history.” Thought has also had to be freed from an Old World.
The Latin American Mind, as book and concept, has to be read after re-examining Gerbi, Picón-Salas, Crawford, Cruz Costa, and Romero, as commentators, and the pensadores themselves. In this way, the philosopher falls into line with the novelist, poet, essayist, and social writer, who also found their ideas only as the lovely blossoms growing from roots in a familiar soil. Ideas are closely connected to politics, education, patriotism, social change and immediate forces rather than abstract truths or doctrinaire principles.
As expected, the book is particularly strong on the debate and acceptance of positivism, excellently putting that 19th century dogma on the map of the whole continent, in Cuba, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina as well as Mexico. The sociology of Spencer and the positivism of Comte, usually identified, are here intelligently separated. While the sense of evolution and progress pervades both, they challenged Latin American thought to imitate either the English stress upon the individual or the Frenchman’s emphasis upon social group order.
The study ends with 1900, omitting what is a bias of this reviewer: belief in the return of European influence, the impact of the Spanish ‘Generation of ’98’ upon Latin America, and the ties of Latin America not only to nationalism, but to Pan Americanism and the world. The Latin American Mind does not move from the isolationist and nationalist struggles before 1900 to the broader, hemisphere and global stage of our times. Before this can be done however, Zea has had to make sure of the foundations. He has done so with a solid grasp and a good idea of what he wanted to do. Both history and literature, as humanities, and economics history and politics, as social sciences, will find their interpretative skills sharpened by contact with the Latin American Mind.