The concept of the generation has been widely used for several centuries in Western social analysis. Essentially, it is a means of classification, sufficiently fluid to allow the scholar to fit any group definition into it. The study of the shared experience of a generation might include a discussion of chronology, media, institutions, schooling, ideas, beliefs, social and economic status, political persuasion, goals, methods, purposes, and sense of mission.
In the twentieth century, Latin America has given much attention to the generation. Whole intellectual and political histories are construed as successions of generations. Argentina is especially generation conscious, perceiving its history from the independence May generation to today’s Destape generation of film makers. The first section of this book examines and compares European and Argentine concepts of the generation. The focus is on the ideas of José Ortega y Gasset, once a sojourner in Argentina.
The second section treats the history of ideas between the 1830s and 1910, and identifies trends, intellectuals, and institutions. The author’s framework of ideas includes romantic liberalism, native positivism, rationalism, spiritualism, Krausism, and scientific positivism. Omitted are socialism and anarchism. The author sees the strains of postindependence thought linked by the theme of progress. Ideas are traced primarily from the liberal and romantic generation of ’37 through the positivist generation of ’80 to the spiritualist generation of 1910.
Some of the earliest immigration to Argentina left its mark on the country’s thought. For example, between 1830 and 1851 French immigrant intellectuals, who went first to Montevideo and then to Argentina, founded or worked in the regional colegios and normal schools, propagating ideas the author calls eclectic, which leaned toward rationalism and liberalism. One such school was the Colegio de Concepción del Uruguay in the province of Entre Ríos, under the direction of Albert Larroque. This school educated some of the major leaders of the generation of ’80: Julio A. Roca, Eduardo Wilde, Olegario Andrade, Onésimo Leguizamón, and Victorino de la Plaza. The concluding section treats the economy and politics of the generation of ’80, and is straight from the standard text.
This book was poorly conceived. Over half of it is devoted to the idea of generations, although, ironically, the author ignores the Hispanic basis for them—i.e., demographic, centralizing, and elitist factors, plus friendship and networking. The work is abstract and rigid—in effect, too serious, where there should be some joy and play. Much Latin American intellectual history lies buried in wonderful ephemera and obscure archives, but the author barely tapped this research base. Nineteenth-century Argentine thought needs a new writing. The value of this book is to ask for that.