restricted access 8. The Dispute's Trivialization and Obstinate Vitality
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The Dispute's Trivialization and Obstinate Vitality I. DISLOCATION OF THE TERMS OF THE POLEMIC AFTER HEGEL 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 the natural sciences had broken free from the volumetric schemes and the rigid limitations of the climatic theories, and on the other the political and social development of the United States and the turbulent vitality of the Latin American countries quickly obliterated the memory of their colonial past, recent as it was, and contradicted the usual characterizations of the Creole as sleepy and spineless and the North American as physically decadent and barbarously uncouth. So Hegel finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. He struggles conscientiously to provide a coherent picture of the two worlds and their ideal relationship, but the harder he tries, the more he exasperates and confuses their intrinsic and reciprocal antinomies. America is physically and morally impotent, but it is also the Future, or "potency" by definition . Europe is the perfection ofthe Absolute, it is the west that cannot be overcome by another west more western still (nor is Asia, which is the essential east, allowed to be America's west!), but it is also an ancient armory, a "cage," a prison where boredom reigns and where the lofty strains of the epic will never again be heard.! Universal history reached its peak in the Germanic and reformed world; but its center of gravity, attracted by a new polarity, between North and South America, shifts toward the point where a new fatal conflict may flare up. After Hegel, then, the dispute could not have and did not have any further developments of interest; and this chapter is more in the way of I. cr. above. p. 435; Hegel. Philosophie der Geschichte. Lasson ed.• I. 225. 232-33. and Gollwitzer. op. cit.• pp. 262-65 and notes. 442 The Dispute's Trivialization and Obstinate Vitality 443 an appendix. The knowledge of the new continent, and particularly ofthe United States and the pre-Columbian civilizations, went steadily forward , and the names of Michel Chevalier, Tocqueville, Prescott, and hundreds of travelers and archeologists became deservedly famous on both sides ofthe Atlantic; but the specific themes ofthe polemic provoked by Buft"on disappear, and the name de Pauw falls into the most complete oblivion. America, however, both as land and people, continued to occupy the European mind, and from time to time became the embodiment of political, technical, economic, religious, and generally human ideas deriving from the heart of the Western tradition; and also occasionally served as target for Europe's intolerance toward certain ways of life and customs, toward the boastful ignorance and commercial sharp practices, that were certainly common enough in the whole world and at all times, but which toward the middle of the nineteenth century were particularly conspicuous in the transatlantic states. The nations of America in their tum, and the United States in particular , sought to legitimize their existence, their recent admission into the community of nations, with claims of special missions and manifest destinies, with talk of their function as place of refuge or field of experiment , of their physical or spiritual supremacy and portentous privileges of ethical purity or literary virginity. Thus the European criticism shifts rapidly from the physical nature of the continent to the society formed therein. A t;hange of target, but not always of method and arguments. In fact the verdict pronounced on the new American nations and their "civilization" often takes on the tone and coloring of the diatribes on the animals and natives. The new scientific concepts show their strength in the way they sweep aside dozens of misstated problems, and reveal their fecundity in their acute and impartial explanations of the phenomena and creatures of the five continents and other places. But they were inapplicable, or at least not yet applied, to historical concepts such as nations, popular mentalities, political institutions , and the ideologies and ideals that had emerged so rapidly and were now fermenting and bubbling in the Americas. It came about in this way that at a time when the soil and skies of the New World had already been redeemed by Science, its people and states were still measured with the yardstick of simplistic comparisons, contests ofmerit, polarizing parallels. Typical in the admiration of America...


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