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The Dispute of the New World

The History of a Polemic, 1750-1900

By Antonello Gerbi, translated by Jeremy Moyle

Publication Year: 2010

When Hegel described the Americas as an inferior continent, he was repeating a contention that inspired one of the most passionate debates of modern times. Originally formulated by the eminent natural scientist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon and expanded by the Prussian encyclopedist Cornelius de Pauw, this provocative thesis drew heated responses from politicians, philosophers, publicists, and patriots on both sides of the Atlantic. The ensuing polemic reached its apex in the latter decades of the eighteenth century and is far from extinct today. The Dispute of the New World is the definitive study of this debate. Antonello Gerbi scrutinizes each contribution to the debate, unravels the complex arguments, and reveals their inner motivations. As the story of the polemic unfolds, moving through many disciplines that include biology, economics, anthropology, theology, geophysics, and poetry, it becomes clear that the subject at issue is nothing less than the totality of the Old World versus the New, and how each viewed the other at a vital turning point in history.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Cover, Title Page

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pp. v-viii

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Translators Preface

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pp. ix-x

THIS English edition of Antonello Gerbi's masterpiece is the delayed sequel to suggestions that began to be heard as soon as the original version of the work was published in Italy in 1955. Reviewers and readers on both sides of the Atlantic expressed...

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pp. xi-xiii

THE author's preface, according to the most authoritative manuals of style, should begin by stating his reasons for undertaking the work. I once had such reasons, of course, but in the subsequent research and the actual process of drafting the work they were so superseded and absorbed...

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pp. xv-xviii

THERE are several places in Hegel's works where he describes the Americas as an immature or impotent continent, or one that is in some other way "inferior" to the Old World. In expounding these passages the exegetes, even someone like Croce, even...

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1. Buffon and the Inferiority of the Animal Species of America

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pp. 3-34

THE origins of the thesis of the "weakness" or "immaturity" of the Americas-if one discounts the occasional image in the Elizabethan poets, Donne's "that unripe side of earth,"1 or Samuel Daniel's "yet unformed Occident"2- can be traced back...

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2. Some Figures of the Enlightenment

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pp. 35-51

IT was unfortunate that out of the whole of Buffon's theory, so rich in motifs, so full of provocative suggestions and echoes of long-forgotten ideas, it should have been the very weakest part that his contemporaries chose to follow up, their appetite whetted...

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3. De Pauw and the Inferiority of the Men of America

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pp. 52-79

SOON after Buffon, these slanders on the whole of American nature reached a definitive climax with the appearance of the Recherches philosophiques sur les Americains ou M emoires interessants pour servir . a l'histoire de l'espece humaine by Mr. de...

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4. European Reactions to de Pauw

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pp. 80-156

DE PAUW'S paradoxical and outrageous theories rapidly produced an angry swarm of replies and counterreplies; he was criticized in general and in detail, obliquely and directly. In Europe the Prussian abbe found himself facing the defenders...

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5. The Second Phase of the Dispute

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pp. 157-288

WITH these refinements and modifications of Buffon's position the first phase of the polemic comes to a close. America and the Americans had found themselves sucked into a maelstrom of debate, trapped in the middle of its endless arguments...

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6. The Reaction to de Pauw in Spanish America

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pp. 289-324

THERE are several good reasons why we can speak of reaction to de Pauw in Latin America, rather than a "polemic" on his theses. Polemic implies a dialogue: maybe even with someone already dead, but still a dialogue, the opposition of two theories...

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7. Hegel and His Contemporaries

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pp. 325-441

AFTER Herder the dispute seems to lose emphasis and dramatic interest. The American revolution recedes into the past, the French revolution commands the attention and emotions of all Europe, the Latin American revolutions...

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8. The Dispute's Trivialization and Obstinate Vitality

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pp. 442-564

THE internal contradictions and fundamental hesitation in Hegel's ideas on America show how by this time the traditional terms of the dispute were no longer sufficient to contain the problems presented by the New World. On the one hand...

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9. Supplements and Digressions

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pp. 565-627

REFERRING to his "discovery" Buffon says that "the greatest fact, the most general, the least known to all naturalists before me ... is that the animals of the southern parts of the old continent are not found in the new, and that reciprocally...


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pp. 631-653

Suggestions for Further Research

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pp. 655-669


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pp. 671-700

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780822973829
E-ISBN-10: 0822973820
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822960812
Print-ISBN-10: 0822960818

Page Count: 720
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • America -- In literature.
  • America -- History -- Errors, inventions, etc.
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