In this brief but ambitious book Carl Solberg aims to examine and compare the responses to immigration and the rise of nationalism in Argentina and Chile during a 24-year period at the turn of the century. The author equates the two; he argues that the emergence of distinct types of nationalism in the two republics was largely a reaction to immigration. This thesis, particularly concerning Chile, is weak and contrived, since Solberg concedes that European capital and enterprise rather than an influx of immigrants, provoked the kind of economic nationalism which still holds strong there. Some elite Chileans opposed economic penetration by successful entrepreneurs, but it is misleading to confuse this reaction with Chilian hostility to European immigrants in general. The volume of immigrants was never large or threatening; therefore, it did not invite more than a modulated xenophobia predictable in most host countries. It was clearly not immigration in general that produced economic nationalism, but a particularized response by certain groups in Chilean society whose interests were endangered by the entry of a few highly competitive Europeans and the capital they represented.
This comparative study is disappointing on two counts. First, the two nations which the author chose to analyze are significantly dissimilar, as were the immigration movements which involved them. Uruguay instead of Chile might have supplied a more useful comparison with Argentina. Secondly, the selected period is excessively constrictive, thus making his book an excerpt from a larger study. The diagnosis of Chilean economic nationalism demands attention beyond 1914, while in the Argentine case the rise of “cultural and nostalgic” nationalism began considerably before 1890 and cannot be explained simply as a response to immigration by selfish elite interests.
The roots of Argentine nationalism are found in the post-Revolutionary era when liberals sought to transform the new state by Europeanizing it, a task interrupted by the Rosas regime and postponed until its collapse. Those who opposed change of this kind, conservatives wed to creole institutions, represented an incipient nationalism. The Europeanization of Argentina aimed to attract immigrants to the vast wilderness conquered from Indians and to change the ethnic composition of lower creole society, notably agrarian laborers. This enterprise was sparked by Enlightened thought and later fanned by Positivist socioeconomic theories which modernists of the governing class adopted. The author disregards their rationale and activities, for he tends to characterize all elites as sinister, antediluvian, even irrational oligarchs. The Argentine oligarchy was not a monolithic stereotype as this book suggests, for its ranks divided on many issues including immigration. This was true from the beginning of the Republic and made for protracted internal disputes. It is questionable to stress only the reactions of creole traditionalists at the expense of cosmopolitan innovators who continued to defend immigration into this century.
The oligarchs, conservative and liberal, were not alone in suffering the traumas and fears brought on by the avalanche of immigrants. To dismiss the oligarchy’s motives with moralistic denunciations may be tempting; but it is far more challenging to analyze them with empirical calm. Ironically, despite the ranting and militancy of reactionary elites, little was done to obstruct the entry of immigrants, largely because of war in Europe. What ensued, at any rate, was the creation of criollismo, long latent and indistinguishable from nationalism. It is similar to the cult of Americanism in the United States and like it apparently continues to thrive.
Solberg has performed a creditable service in combing abundant sources on the paranoiac response to Argentine immigration. Unfortunately, however, he lacks the clinical poise necessary for a balanced examination of what was at all levels an overwhelming social, economic, and political shock. To accept his argument is to validate a dubious theory concerning nationalism—that a privileged class alone can create a nationalist movement to defend its exclusive interests. Creoles of middling and humble standing throughout the Republic hardly remained neutral before the bloodless revolution consequent on immigration. Their views, as well as those of the immigrants, have yet to be clearly heard.