restricted access 5. José Antonio Saco’s Antiannexationist Essays: Cuba, Hispanicism, and National Identity
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5 José Antonio Saco’s Antiannexationist Essays Cuba, Hispanicism, and National Identity In antebellum US culture, Anglo-­ American nationalists constructed US identity as devoted to the related ideals of cosmopolitanism and liberalism. They of­ten understood these qualities as white, US Ameri­ can ways of approaching the world, and they fig­ ured racial and national Others as constitutionally averse to cosmopolitanism and liberal democracy and thus as foils to US identity. Hispanicism provided such an Other, suggesting that Hispanophone ­ peoples were incapable of liberal-­ democratic self-­ government. US identity formation was an imperialist discourse. For expansionists who equated the right to territorial sovereignty with the ability to maintain liberal-­ democratic institutions, Hispanicism provided the evidence necessary to defend appropriating Hispanophone territories from ­peoples thought incapable of self-­ government. These discourses have been taken to task by traditionally canonical writers such as Cooper and Melville and, even more so, by writers from the margins who wrote in the name of dispossessed ­peoples. These writers critiqued the identity-­ fixated and imperialist strain of national identity construction, suggesting that cosmopolitan liberalism’s universalist foundations had become corrupted by their articulation to particular identities. Some such criticisms stress that resolving these problems requires rededication to universals and resistance to racialism and nationalism. In his Joaquín Murieta, for example , John Rollin Ridge demonstrates the incoherence of the Hispanicist-­ driven under­ stand­ ing of national identity by showing how Euro-­ American settlers use Hispanicism to deny Murieta’s right to become a self-­made man in California. The Cherokee Ridge analogizes Murieta’s plight to that of Ridge’s nation in the era of the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears. For Ridge, national identity was a means for taking what should be a universal in­ di­ vidual right and limiting it to particular identities in a conquered territory. He held that remedying these problems required returning to the universalist sensibilities supposedly at the liberal project’s heart. Through 148 / Chapter 5 his negative characterization of the Euro-­Ameri­can settlers’ inability to sympathize with Mexicans such as Murieta, Ridge calls for a cosmopolitan sensibility that enables cross-­ racial identification (Havard 2015, 333–43). Ridge would agree with Stephen Holmes that failures of liberal societies exhibit not liberalism’s philosophical infelicities but, rather, how particular societies fail to live up to liberal ideals (Holmes 1993, xiv–xv). The prevalence of this approach among writers contesting how Anglo-­ Americans tethered cosmopolitan-­liberal values to US identity attests to liberalism’s centrality to nineteenth-­century US emancipatory discourses. Certainly there was also a powerful tradition of conservative critique of imperialism. However, what came to be recognized as the reformist US thought of the period generally pushed for more universal extension of market-­ based in­ di­ vidual rights, although there was of­ten disagreement about just how universal those rights should be. Participants in the discussion did not so much question the liberal project’s validity but ask how best to complete it. In the Hispanophone world, though, the under­stand­ings of universal po­ liti­ cal self-­ determination and possessive individualism that formed US liberalism ’s core were less accepted. To be sure, a vibrant Enlightenment movement occurred in the Spanish-­ speaking world during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The movement saw the growth of what Raúl Coronado terms “disenchantment” regarding what had formerly been understood as the transcendental authority of the crown and church. It called for economic liberalization via reconsidering mercantile policies as well as some degree of po­liti­cal liberalization by establishing legislative branches and limiting monarchical and clerical power. However, these reformers generally defended their arguments not via the language of the rights of man and possessive individualism popu­ lar in Anglo-­ American discourse but rather via promotion of the good of the patria (homeland), nación ­ (nation), and pueblo (­ people) (Coronado 2013, 25, 106–7, 113–15, 124, 137–38). The thinkers rejected radical individualism, instead emphasizing that maintaining continuity with communally inherited norms is necessary to maintain the felici­dad pública (pub­ lic happiness). Many were skeptical of democracy and thought that the privileged classes knew best how to determine the felicidad pública, largely because the movement’s leaders were generally enlightened aristocrats or bureaucratic elites rather than mem­bers of the bourgeoisie (114–15). Their ideas exhibited the focus on traditionalism and organicism that I described as conservative in chapter 2. Spanish Enlightenment could be described as modernization with what would be considered in...


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- 18th century -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • National characteristics, American, in literature.
  • American literature -- Spanish influences.
  • American literature -- Latin American influences.
  • Latin America -- In literature.
  • Spain -- In literature.
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