Despite its title, de Matteis’ book is not “analysis” in any form recognizable to the historian or social scientist. It is, rather, a work of speculative social psychology: “the purpose is that of elucidating the psychological characteristics of the mode of being of the Argentines, highlighting correctible defects, as well as missed opportunities for achieving the national goal” (p. 49). Of the many Hispanic practitioners of the genre, de Matteis most clearly models himself on Sarmiento and Ortega y Gasset; he is at considerable pains to dissociate himself from the “school” of his contemporary, Ezequiel Martínez Estrada.
Any evaluation of the work must necessarily be on its own terms. The method is deductive (a priori premises being citations from a curious miscellany of Argentine and European writers); the style, lyrical; the dimension, temporal (pre-Hispanic Argentina, the conquest, independence, the immigrants, etc., being dealt with in sequence); and the conclusions, commonplace when not downright bizarre. For the author, the formation (or deformation) of Argentine culture has had one overriding determinant: the Spanish language (to which there are numerous panegyrics throughout the book). That is, modern Argentina lacks an indigenous culture due to the failure or unwillingness of more than a cultivated minority (largely alienated anyway) to learn a proper, grammatical, castizo Spanish. The historical disasters of the Argentine nation can be explained in a similar way: e.g., the “most decisive determinant” of the anarchy of the post-independence years was the “murallón idiomático” between próceres and people (p. 79). The author, it must be said, is not afraid to ride his thesis at full gallop right up to the reductio ad absurdum: musing on the anomalous case of J. M. de Rosas, the caudillo who was also culto, de Matteis notes (p. 84) that it must be allowed, after all, that Rosas wrote his diplomatic notes in a cultivated and even baroque Spanish and possessed, besides, una hermosa caligrafía.
The argument for multiple causation has never been set out more effectively.