restricted access 6. The Reaction to de Pauw in Spanish America
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The Reaction to de Pauw in Spanish America I. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE LATIN AMERICAN REACTION TO THE EUROPEAN SLANDERS 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, a dispute-which may suggest violent controversy, but does mean a colloquy too. It was a dispute that involved the exiled Jesuits and the American founding fathers. The Latin American authors, writing on the eve of and immediately after the liberation of their countries, react belligerently, angrily, and resentfully to Buffon's and de Pauw's notions, but without producing any organic corpus of argument and factual data to oppose them. They reply to the all-embracing condemnations with disjointed dithyrambs. To the serious problems raised by Buffon they make no reference at all, and de Pauw is only mentioned for his more scandalous aspects and wilder exaggerations. The "Prussian" was classed quite simply as an enemy of America and the Americans, an enemy to be showered with abuse whenever the occasion offered. If Voltaire accuses the Americans of being unindustrious, the fiery Vidaurre protests that "this is a greater insult than those thought up by the imbecile de Pauw."1 De Pauw had once been the focal point of so many of the discussions, but now these same conspicuous exaggerations of his relegate him to the rank of convenient and unmistakable target. The essence of his theories was not even examined, but the glories of America shone out more resplendent in contrast to his black insinuations. The fundamental question , so richly suggestive as originally formulated, faded and dwindled on reaching the cultural environment of the overseas colonies, so much I. Manuel de Vidaurre. Suplemento a las Cartas americanas (Lima. 1827). p. 13 (ibid.• p. 117. a dubious allusion to the second Recherches). 289 290 THE DIS PUT E 0 F THE NEW W 0 R L D poorer in scientific tradition and interest; but at the same time it became more bitter too, as the political aspect rose to preeminence. Sometimes its opponents are content to refer back to the defenses of America published in Europe, as more authoritative and "impartial." And usually, as we have seen, their susceptibilities seem more sensitive to the slanders on their intellectual capacities than the denigration of the Americans' physical prowess. But their logical pattern is still that of later rationalism and shows almost no trace of the new concepts elaborated by historical thought and romanticism. All one notes - and this confirms rather than invalidates these writers' immaturity - is an unsparing and disorganized use of the boasts of youth, newness, and vigor on the part of their lands and nations. In other words their replies are belated, often incidental, and for the most part no longer relevant, incapable of producing any useful result, and spoiled among other things by a characteristic limitation of outlook. And yet they are not by any means without interest, either in themselves , or in the history of the polemic: not in themselves, because they are almost always the work of men of wit, learning, and eloquence, men who were among the finest minds in their respective countries; and not in the history of the dispute because these replies brought about the acceptance throughout Latin America ofthe anti-Buffon anti-de Pauw thesis that is still valid and triumphant today- the thesis or rather article of faith establishing the excellence of the American continent and its mission in the vanguard of humanity. Each viceroyalty and captaincy general of the Spanish Empire, each of the future republics raises at least one voice to rebuff the "Prussian's" vituperation and to announce present and future glories, virtues of unimagined splendor and destinies of unmeasurable greatness. In the Old World, the Revolution's roar and shriek drowned out the erudite squabbles of abbes and adventurers, and two decades of war were refocusing the world's attention on the struggles and aspirations of fever-ridden Europe; Napoleon was selling Louisiana, and the whole continent, from California and Florida to the Straits of Magellan, was slipping from Spain's grip. But in America the accusations of inferiority were becoming ever more widely known, and matched by a growing patriotic anger that went hand in hand with the political revolt and merged with the resentment of the Creoles against the Godos. Up until...


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