Latin American History Essay

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When Bello was installed as rector of the University of Chile in 1843, he gave an address praising the liberal, humanistic spirit of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Modernity and progress began when the "intellectual heritage of Greece and Rome" was "reclaimed by the human spirit after a long era of darkness" (Bello 53). After one thousand years of feudalism, science, morality and politics began to advance again, proving that humanistic learning and cultivated minds were essential for the progress and happiness of society. Although Bello strongly supported the provision of primary and elementary education to the lower classes, he did not believe it possible to educate the masses without first training an educated elite, because "where science and letters do not exist, elementary instruction cannot be suitably carried out" (Bello 56). Without enlightened teachers, clergy and public officials trained in universities, there would be no progress, economic development, improved public health, industry and agriculture. He also argued that Lastarria was too critical of the Spanish legacy even though he agreed that the conquest had been brutal and its crimes should not be ignored "just because they might not seem to honor the memory of Chile's founders." Although the Spanish had "abused their power, oppressed, offended humanity," their actions were no worse than those of other powerful empires in their mistreatment of the weak (Bello 66). Moreover, even though the weak always appealed for justice, they would be just as oppressive if they had the power.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Spain had plundered the Americas for gold and silver, but left its own economy and industry weakened in the process. It had hobbled science, philosophy and creativity, but no worse than other despotisms in history like the Roman Empire. In the Americas, the indigenous peoples were destroyed, and Bello believed that in the end they were bound to disappear and leave "no more traces than a few words adapted in the foreign languages and scattered monuments" (Bello 70). Nor did Spain leave any democratic or republican traditions in its American colonies, and these were very slow to take root, so that "Americans were much better prepared for political emancipation than for the liberty of the domestic hearth" (Bello 72). Not even Bolivar could escape the tradition of authoritarianism and dictatorship.

Lastarria's liberal philosophy held that history was always made by individuals, exercising their God-given free will and moral choice. Humanity has the capacity for perfection in spite of the crimes and follies of history, in which "liberty and justice maintain a perpetual struggle with despotism and iniquity and almost always succumb to the repeated blows of these adversaries" (Lastarria 78). All men in public positions had the duty to learn from the failed dogmas, errors and crimes of the past, in order to encourage further progress and prevent regression. Lastarria did not believe the early conquest history of Chile offered many lessons to modern, liberal intellectuals since a "barbarian people" fought to destroy their foreign oppressors" followed by "three centuries of a gloomy existence lacking movement" (Lastarria 81). Yet the revolution was the beginning of progress and the escape from despotism, bringing freedom from Spanish oppression whose main goal was to obtain as much wealth as possible with a minimum of effort. Spain imposed a feudal system in commerce and agriculture and transplanted "all the vices of its absurd system of government" to the colonies (Lastarria 82). Its rulers did not even do this in a planned and coordinated fashion, but only through a system of confused edicts from the absolute monarchs and the Council of the Indies, and a plethora of exclusive charters and privileges that should all be swept away. Their only real purpose was "to keep America blindly dependent on Spain, to extract from its possessions all possible profits" (Lastarria 85). They enslaved the indigenous in mines and plantations, blocked all trade with foreign countries, blocked the development of commerce, industry and transportation, and kept most of the population in ignorance without access to education or books. Even the very limited education system that Spain permitted was "a monument to imbecility" (Lastarria 86). Persons born in Spain controlled all the major civil and ecclesiastical offices, even if they were totally unqualified, while most of its civil servants were petty despots interested only in profiting as much as possible from their positions. High taxes and corruption were the norm and corruption was rampant, with officialdom completely unanswerable to the people.

Francisco Bilbao was another member of the younger post-revolutionary generation in Latin America who demanded a radical break with the legacy of the colonial period, and with the Catholic Church. Like other members of this generation, he studied in Europe and imbibed revolutionary romantic ideals, but he also visited Africa to investigate colonialism and the slave trade first hand. He returned to Chile after participating in the 1848 revolutions, and founded the Society of Equality in opposition to the conservative, Catholic government in Chile. After the regime declared this Society illegal, Bilbao led a revolt in 1851 and was then forced to flee the country. In Peru, the continued his opposition to the conservative, Catholic Church party there and again fled to Europe in 1855. Two years later, he was in Argentina, again supporting the liberal cause and lost his position as a newspaper editor. Bilbao is a fine example of the Latin American revolutionary tradition that knew no borders, and battled constantly against repressive church and state authorities in any country where he happened to find himself. In "Chilean Sociability" (1844), he pilloried his conservative opponents with merciless satire, writing "Our past is Spain. Spain is the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were made up, in soul and body, of Catholicism and feudalism" (Bilbao 104). Indeed, because of its isolation, Spain offered the purest ideal of the feudal state and mentality, and stood as a bulwark against freedom, innovation, novelty and rational thought. It was a society of prayers, incense, rigid prohibitions and taboos, corporal punishment, and a Latin-scholastic education system that was hardly aware that the earth moved around the sun. Its economic system was based on tithes, monopolies and closed trade, such that no liberal middle class existed to lead a revolution there, unlike Britain and France. Spain transplanted this system to Latin America, where feudal landowners acted like petty monarchs on their domains, lording over their serfs, slaves and peons. Only the French Revolution opened a new era of reason and progress, "greater, more majestic, worthy of God's being, of man's being, who appreciated recognizing absolute liberty of thought" (Bilbao 109). Bilbao's real revolution was against the entire Spanish colonial legacy, including religion, the Inquisition, the Jesuits and feudalism, and exalted individual freedom and equality, science and reason. Yet in Chile and other Latin American nations, the Catholic reactionary and counterrevolutionary remained powerful as well, with centralized, authoritarian power, 'monastic' education and state-supported religion. For Bilbao, this was "a despotic organization that had been built on top of the defeated republicanism" (Bilbao 117).

Given this new influence of romantic and social democratic ideas in the 1830s and 1840s, Bilbao and his generation were becoming more radical than the classical liberals and republicans like Bolivar and Mora. In fact, in their distrust of democracy and the common people -- and of human nature in general -- their version of liberalism would increasingly come to seem more conservative as the 19th Century wore on. Certainly all of Latin America's liberals, radicals and revolutionaries were well are that the Spanish colonial legacy was not propitious for the development of democracy or even capitalism, although by the 1840s they were already beginning to express doubt about the laissez faire/free trade ideas of Smith, Mill, Bentham and Ricardo. Latin America's colonial legacy seemed to have stunted the growth of the middle class, commerce and industry in any case, although all liberals, radicals and reformers understood that the abolition of feudalism and aristocracy were as essential as limited the powers of the Catholic Church. As it turned out, of course, the feudal, authoritarian traditions proved more durable than Bolivar and his successors had predicted, and the frustrations of liberals and democrats with the slow pace of change and progress was already quite clear even in the 1840s.


Bello, Andres. "Speech Delivered at the Installation of the University of Chile, September 17, 1843" in Humphrey, Ted and Janet Burke (Eds). Nineteenth-Century Nation Building and the Latin American Intellectual Tradition. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2007: 53-62.

Bello, Andres. "Response to Lastarria on the Influence of the Conquest" (1844) in Humphrey and Burke, 62-73.

Bilbao, Francisco. "Chilean Sociability" (1844) in Humphrey and Burke, 104-23.

Bolivar, Simon. "Address to the Angostura Congress, February 15, 1819" In Humphrey and Burke, 3-22.

Echeverria, Esteban. "The Socialist Doctrine of the Association of May" (1846), in Humphrey and Burke, 150-72.

Lastarria, Jose Victorino, "Investigation Regarding the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Latin American History.  (2011, April 25).  Retrieved July 6, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Latin American History."  25 April 2011.  Web.  6 July 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Latin American History."  April 25, 2011.  Accessed July 6, 2020.