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To Govern is to Populate

Or so said one of Argentina’s early Presidents. Another, the most famous son of Argentina’s 19th century, wrote the most maddening book ever. It is entitled FACUNDO: Civilization and Barbarism on the Argentine Pampas (1845). Civilization, in short, is cities, fashion, comerce, private property that is fenced-in and cultivated; barbarism its opposite. Civilization is Europe. Barbarism is not just America, but a certain way of life that the American expanse facilitates. The Indian and the Gaucho are barbarous; they are Mongols, Arabs, Africans (take your pick of European others, they are them and he calls them thus). And there is almost no escape. After all, the land and their way of life forces them to live a nomadic existence; they are cowboys and fences made of Devil’s Rope won’t come on to the scene until the late 1860s, early 1870s, making their way into Latin America by the 1880s.

But even more, General Rosas, the dictator at the time, fashioned himself a Gaucho. He was, of course, no such thing. He came from a very well-to-do, cattle-ranching family. He was landed gentry and colonial elite, definitely not a mixed-blood cowboy. Indeed, he didn’t ride the range at night singing “Old Chisolm Trail”

Come a-ti yi youpy youpy yea youpy yea
Come a-ti yi youpy youpy yea

On a ten dollar horse and a forty dollar saddle,
I was ridin’, and a punchin’ Texas cattle.
I’m up in the morning before daylight,
And before I sleep the moon shine bright.
It’s bacon and beans most every day,
I’d just as soon be eating prairie hay.

Still, he portrayed himself as a man of the people who could relate to the working class of gauchos and African Americans. And the people ate it up.

Sarmiento’s tirade against the Gaucho is at once the invectives of the political exile desiring freedom for his country as it is the expression of the farmer’s resentment towards the cowboy whose herd runs rough-shod over the vegetable gardens, the educated city man with educated city worries against the jingle-jangling spurs of the single cowboy.

Facundo is maddening in the way that only a 19th century political essay published as a serial in a Chilean newspaper can be maddening. He at once tries to be Alexis De Tocqueville, identifying the Argentine national spirit and project, and James Fenimore Cooper, creating the national myths of Argentina and turning the American landscape into art. His pseudo-biography of Facundo, a pre-Rosas caudillo, who is the figure for Rosas in the book, attempts to be both… with a difference. If De Tocqueville and Fenimore Cooper write paeans (albeit with a cautionary tone, in the case of the Frenchman), Sarmiento attempts to present the failings of the country’s current political trajectory and the inadequacy of its mythic hero, the gaucho. It’s long, repetitive, and it flogs the poor bloody pulp of the horse until there is nothing left but sun-bleached bones rattling in the Pampan wind.

Long story short… Sarmiento becomes president in 1868. And gets to implement his strategy for civilization, which is nothing more than an imitation of current U.S. practices of war-fare against, forced containment of and relocation of Indians. Argentina needs this land that belongs to no one for the hordes of Europeans it is actively courting.

Colonel Lucio V. Mansilla, a nephew of Rosas (though nothing like his uncle) is sent to the Indians by Sarmiento to broker a peace treatise. Upon his return he writes a series of 60+ newspaper essays recounting his time among them and advocating not for extermination and immigration but for an active project of assimilation. Educate these people, who already know how to manage the land; bring them into the polis and Argentina will be stronger. Consistently he portrays the Indians as gracious and as givers of gifts, rather than just thieves, though there’s that too. He takes every chance he can to show how they revere life and Christians, to the extent that they malign these people, do not; though he doesn’t cast them as the noble savage, nor does he vilify the Christians. He also fills his narration with stories of the run-away European outlaws among the Indians. Yes, they are out-laws, but they are Europeans. And, in an age that disbelieved that Indians felt family ties, he shows how they care for their own. In terms of Argentina’s love affair with the U.S. as a great civilized country, it’s model, in fact (this was a time when the U.S. imperial project wasn’t felt in Argentina the way it would be with the dawn of the 20th century) he even notes that one of the sons of the main chief with whom he goes to make peace is named Lincoln.

Colonel Mansilla is a wonderful racontuer and a great ironist. I reproduce two quotes from early on in the book:

All travelers ponder some wonder or another, whichever one most catches their eye. We all have a favorite anecdote, something to tell, even if only that we have been to Paris, which imparts a certain veneer, one you won’t find on every face. Don’t try to tell me this is not true. Take a topic: say, the pleasure of travel. You’ll find the opinion of tourists (not to mention those who have not traveled) divided on the subject, for not everyone travels the same way, or for the same reason, or with the same results.

One travels to spend money, acquire a chic look and a chic air, and eat and drink well. One travels to display one’s own woman, sometimes someone else’s woman.

One travels to educate oneself.
One travels to gain notoriety.
One travels for financial reasons.
One travels to flee one’s creditors.
One travels to forget.
One travels for the lack of a better idea.

You get the picture. It would take forever to list all the deepest reasons for traveling. The same goes for all the actual results of travel.

For example:
Is it not common to go to Europe to broaden our minds, only to forget what little we have learned on this earth?
Do we not journey to find a cure only to die along the way?
Do we not go out in search of wool only to come back fleeced?

And the other quote, which is just one of many of his ironic stabs at civilization…

Civilization, if I have an exact idea of it, consists of several things. It means using high stiff collars, patent leather boots, and kid gloves. It means that there will be many doctors and many patients, many lawyers and many lawsuits, many soldiers and many wars, many rich and many poor. It means many newspapers in print and many lies in circulation; many houses built with many rooms and very few comforts. It means a government composed of many people such as a president, ministers, and a congress and which governs as little as possible. It means a great many hotels, all of them very bad, all of them very expensive.

Take, for instance, the one I stayed in the last night I slept, or tried to sleep, in Rosario. It is the beds of that hotel, precisely those beds, which have prompted these rather commonplace reflections.

Good Lord! There was one of everything God made on the fifth day in those beds. As I recall, that was the day for “domestic animales, each to its own kind, and the reptiles of the earth, each to its own kind.” The Supreme Maker, according to Genesis, saw that all of this was good, though I can’t for the life of me see how the household creatures at that hotel have ever been in any sense good; least of all the night I spent there, in which I would swear on a Christian bible that they weren’t just bad, they were horrid…

 

Comments

Wow. You’re right: he’s funny, forthright, and thoughtful about ways of living modern life. The kind of connective, sympathetic, assimilative, and dialogic life that he advocates is of a sort rarely championed by military professionals or rank capital/industrialists of the mid nineteenth century. (And, if memory serves me, by Mary Louise Pratt’s reckoning, is of the order that only women could write about. But that’s a different question, I know.)

Did Argentina develop a graduated race/class system like Brasil? If I remember correctly (from the essays about Brasil I’ve edited) in Brasil it was worse to be a native indian than to be of African descent, and all were worse than of European descent. There, race and class were regimented on the order of New Orleans, which was famously for marking people’s blood to their great-great-great grandparents. (In NO, people knew there was a difference between a quadroon and an octoroon; anywhere else, and it was possible to pass.) I think of Brasil as like NO, and I was just curious whether other SA countries developed along the same lines?

And Mansilla’s book is available for $0.83 at Amazon!

yes, and this was the case throughout latin america.

in the 18th century this kind of painting was extremely popular… this being just one of the examples

spanish names, though, were much more colorful than simply refering to the degree of their purity

(the above link has different images of a whole series of castas)

e.g. the child of a spaniard and an albino is a black-return-backwards (an albino is a spaniard and a morisca, a morisca is a mulatto and a spaniard, so called because of a certain “arab” quality)

they’ve also got hold-yourself-in-the-air and others… and you knew who and what you were and always tried to pass for the more genteel of the gradations

in Argentina, though, the differentiation was much more between indians and Europeans… there were africans, but not in the same quantity as the carribean basin, the coast of peru, and brasil.

more on blacks in argentina

however, despite the 5:1 ratio this article claims… that would’ve only been in Buenos Aires and surrounding area. Rural Argentina has almost always been white, indian or mestizo.

Blacks came to Argentina during the late, late 17th and early to mid 18th century. they were part of the silver smuggling ring that made buenos aires into a real city, until then it was nothing but a village.

silver, gold and mercury made their way over the andes to BA and English, Dutch and French ships sold contraband for contraband silver and mercury… slaves were a central part of the transaction.

This is brief, but just a quick question (with more to ask later, assuming my headache goes away): by contraband, you don’t mean this contraband, I assume?

Whew. . . that picture and explanation are like a far more complicated version of how my friend in high school used to tell me I was “Jewish enough for Hitler.” (My maternal grandfather was Jewish by birth.)

right, no… i should’ve thought about that connotation or usage.

no, it’s literal contraband.
original Casa de contratación, which was destroyed
casa de contratacion en sevilla, designed by juan de herrera, famous architect, built in 1580

from the establishment of casa de contratacion de sevilla in 1503, which decreed that a full 20% of american goods should go to the crown, spain held a monopoly, or tried to hold one, on all american commerce. they taxed coming and going. 10%, the royal tenth, of everything coming out of the mines, and then taxed the sale and purchase of merchandise. thus, contraband, and contraband with nations that actually had industry was tempting and lucrative.

one of the side effects of american colonization and conquest was that it depopulated the spanish country side. add to this the nouveau riche wanted to be part of the aristocracy. the way they prooved this was by not working. this left spain without industry. spanish wool, until the 16th century was very much sought after, after the sixteenth century there was no one to tend the sheep. so, england, holland and france had goods and it sold very much more cheaply.

i hope your headache gets better

Thanks. It’s better, though not gone. K & I both started temping again today, and training was excruciating. Every time I start a new contract there, another part of my frontal cortext dies a slow, painful death.

oh by the way, the casa de contratación is the building on the left. the one on the right with the carillon is the church, which at one time was the largest church in the world, built as a lasting monument to how God had favored Spain.

it was built on the site of an old mosque and retains much of the arab influence

the courtyard is a beautiful orange groves on

for the curious

this is an early essay by the U.S. expert on casta painting.

they not only, of course, reproduce pictorially social heirarchies, predicated by blood-purity, thus representing “a typology of human races and their occupations,” they also “include a rich classificatory system within which objects, food products, flora, and fauna are clearly positioned and labeled”

spanish worries about limpieza de sangre, blood purity, whether or not you were of moorish or jewish decent (yes, they too would’ve held your grandfather against you Laura), was huge to the spaniards that came over.

when i was in colombia this summer, i heard a fascinating paper on this topic that looked at the language of 16-18th century spanish american writers as they discussed raza.

there is a change that moves from they are burnt by the sun (extrinsic causes) to a congenital burntness (intrinsic). this also moves the degeneracy (associated with color and the tropics) to a congenital degeneracy rather than a geographical one. the spanish claimed that the humid, oppressive airs of the torrid region retarded even spaniards born in america. well, this and the indian milk they were raised on as children. still, what we see is a movement from extrinsic to intrinsic causes… specifically, the seed of Ham is brought into the picture at this point, and the seed of Ham is burnt by his sin, thus the blackness of the children.

Climate-zones and their relations to human behavior were still popular into the late eighteenth century—a number of early national Americans (United Statesians like Jefferson, and Peale and others) worked tirelessly trying to show enough evidence that it wasn’t true. Here’s Charles Willson Peale in a self portrait, The Artist in His Museum. The just-covered mastadon skeleton was the museum’s centerpiece, and it was also deployed rhetorically by Jefferson to say to the Buffons of the world, “Look, big animals like Mastadons grow here. Your thesis is wrong.”

Peale, The Artist in His Museum, 1822

To debunk climate as an indicator of human behavior, however, usually ran secondary to their attempts to kill flora/fauna continentalism. Which is ssssooo 18th century.

right, and in france, spain and scotland (william robertson’s history of america, this was perpetuated by a nascent historicism. they started going back to the forgotten naturalists and historians of the 16th century. these guys, not having a vocabulary to describe the new world, appropriated old world terms. it’s a lion (for the bobcat), only much, much smaller and slower. among the many ironies is that few of these, if any, had really seen lions. they’re getting these descriptions from medieval bestiaries. so, everything in america was smaller, slower, less intelligent.

and to bring this full circle, sarmiento is getting his geographic determinism from 18th century and early 19th century french intellectuals.

And for a mental health angle, Benjamin Rush (the Wikipedia take; here’s the Princeton take, circa 1978) believed that black skin was an inherited moral disease. You could, by selective breeding, pass it on or diminish it.

Interestingly, on further perusal of my search results, I notice taht PBS views him as a champion of African-Americans. I’ll have to review my notes from college and get back to you. . . .

Benjamin Rush and Peale were in the same Philadelphian intellectual cohort; Jefferson followed them both avidly. Charles Brockden Brown’s novels, as well as a lot of his editorial essays, engage Rush’s theories at length—Arthur Mervyn most particularly.