Introduction To South American Life

IT is a significant fact in the world’s civilization that the entire Western Hemisphere consists of a group of republics, twenty-one in number, the most important, of course, being our own United States of North America, the remaining twenty forming what is generally known as Latin America. Eleven of these twenty are South American republics, and it is with them that we shall directly deal in this volume, South American Life.

Discovered almost at the same time as its southern sister, in the last decade of the fifteenth century, the northern continent has progressed in many ways divergent with the progress of the southern continent. In all that has been written of the two continents, only one reason has been given for the great development of the one, and the retardation, in many ways, of the other, and it is this : “North America was settled by men who came to the New World seeking liberty ; South America was exploited by adventurers hunting for gold. Our colonists cleared land, planted fields, and established homes ; when the time came to separate from the Old Country, they had a stable society, an adequate political system spontaneously developed, and a familiarity with self-government that had been preparing from the time of the Magna Charta.

“South America was discovered and conquered by an unbridled lust for gold. Whether it was the aggressions of the English on the Spanish Main, or the Dutch and French near the Amazon, or of the Portuguese in Brazil, or of the Spanish on the Rio de la Plata, in Chile, Peru, or Panama, practically the only motive actuating the colonists was the desire to exploit or to despoil the territories they discovered, and with their booty to hurry back to Europe, there to enroll themselves among the rich and to become part of all idle aristocracy.

“The civilization of the Incas was destroyed, and this industrious, skilled people—adapted to their environment, capable of attaining a level we only can guess at, once acquainted with the civilization of Europe annihilated. All that they had done perished `with them, and the new owners of the land had to begin at the beginning. When Bolivar and San Martin followed the lead of Washington and Latin America threw off the yoke of Spain, its people had had no training in self-government, nor even in useful industry, and their ideal was still the antique and romantic one of the intrepid warrior and successful conqueror. This was the seed. The harvest has been reaped all these years in revolutions and more wonderful wars for independence than we ever dreamed of. A continent can not be plowed and resown like a cornfield. Education, immigration, the gradual infusion of saner ideals and more stable blood—it is a long, discouraging task that earnest Latin Americans of today are wrestling with, one in which they ought to have our appreciation’ and sympathy, and to be able to bestow these we must first have a knowledge of the situation.”

In no way can we better come to an understanding of our relations and cur duties to our sister country, and in no way can we have a better introduction to our study than by quoting the racial contrasts, the moral contrasts, the progress and the local differences that Mr. Albert Hale points out to us in the introduction to his recent, book, The South Americans.

Mr. Hale says that “we should not allow ourselves to think that we are altogether virtuous, nor that the Latin races are altogether vicious. If we are practical and progressive, if we recognize the gain to the human race by modern industry and commerce, if we have the skill and energy and knowledge to make two blades of grass grow where one grew before, they have a poetry, a sprightliness of imagination which we lack; if we are solid and rationally hospitable, they are cordial and spontaneously hospitable, and they have preserved a kindliness in their social intercourse which we might well emulate. If the Anglo-Saxon idea of the home is one that seems to come closest to the ideal, we should not forget that certain phases of the home life in southern Europe and South America are very sweet, commendable, and worthy of admiration and emulation. If our restlessness of spirit leads us to the assumption of new duties and to an expansion of interests which exhaust our energies and foster discontent with present conditions, their lack of it, which we are apt to call laziness or indolence, helps to preserve the poetry of life, and often tends to a peace and happiness for which we sigh.

“We have not much to boast of in the way of superiority, either morally or commercially. Although the average North American business man is faithful to his obligations, so also is the average South American, as the credit system of English and German exporters bears steady witness. In the main, our moral standards are higher, even if we do not live up to them, but their business dealings are honorable and fair. In the domestic virtues they are equal to us, and their sacredness of family ties is unsurpassed. The women of the upper classes are as good wives and mothers, according to their light, as women in other parts of the world; they have a horror of divorce, partly because it is anti-Catholic, and partly because it is contrary to their conception of the marriage sacrament. Among the lower classes illegitimacy is common; but if we give credence to the disclosures of the working-people in our large industrial centers, the lack of illegitimate children does not by any means imply purity. There is a vital distinction between morality and virtue, and the problem with us is the same as it is with them, except that the Latin American man has no conception of chastity.

“They are superior to us in one respect. Undoubtedly the sense of beauty, the appreciation of what is artistic, is far more highly developed with South Americans than with us. It is hard to find in their countries ugliness in extended form. Utilitarianism, such as characterizes our activities; is but a flickering factor in their life; admiration for northern ways and customs is spreading, but as a race or nation they can not sacrifice their artistic tastes to such an extent as to tolerate ugliness, even if thereby a material gain is effected. Growing out of this is another condition in which we must acknowledge our inferiority. I mean the admirable condition of their municipal affairs. Their cities, as instances of urban life, are much better than ours. The Spaniards and Portuguese, following their innate love of beauty, always selected for settlements sites that can not be surpassed for their natural attractions. The City of Mexico, Panama, Caracas, Rio de Janeiro, even Montevideo, bear witness to this ; but when their cities became more than mere temporary stations for shipment or commerce, when, within the last generation, a growing population demanded a municipal expansion, this popular love for harmony and beauty was never violated. Today the cities of South America are pleasing and inviting to the eye. The contrast between them and our own cities, both as to location, use of natural advantages and financial organization, shows against us very unfavorably.

“Their two great points of inferiority are material development and public education. Where they have vast unexplored tracts of land, fertile and fat, waiting only for human activity to produce food for millions, they have neglected their duty to mankind and left the soil untouched; whereas we, with restless energy and even extravagance, have eagerly utilized our open spaces, and have so yielded to this impulse that we have pushed ourselves into the position of one of the fore-most nations of the earth, and occupied, within little more than a century, an area equal to that of Brazil. The development of our educational system is the result of our intellectual and moral ambitions, and while it may not be perfect, it arouses the admiration of the world and is undoubtedly the foundation-stone of our democracy. Education in South America means al-most entirely culture for the upper, the aristocratic class, and superficially imparted elements for the lower laboring class.

“And lastly, where we often come together is on the plane of political corruption comprised in the shameful but expressive term of graft. That we are better than our ancestors is possibly true, but that we are better than our neighbors will be a difficult task to prove. Corruption has been the birth-mark of Latin politics since the Christian era ; it is nearly as prevalent today as it was when Ferdinand drove out the Moor, but it is not worse today than it is with us. The saving factor in our government is our natural morality—the simple honesty among the people, and our genuine, deep-rooted, but sometimes forgotten respect for the law. Crimes we commit with startling frequency, but we are glad when the law is enforced and we hope to see it obeyed. In South America there is the redeeming fact that political graft satisfies itself by a charge of two or twenty times the cost of the work done, but they usually insist that the work be done honestly and according to the best obtainable specifications. The codified laws are, however, far above the heads of the common people; they may be afraid of the law, but they do not understand it; it is artificial and often transgresses their instincts. And, moreover, they have not what I have called a moral sense. Yet any accusations of corruption which may be laid at their doors can, with equal justice, in the light of our recent investigations, be laid at ours. A few offices in our own national government—president, cabinet members, and supreme court judges—are surely impeccable, but the same can not be said of every country in South America.

“Are there, then, any factors which are tending to modify these evident differences? I am sure there are. The adoption of steam and electricity is generalizing ideas and habits, so that an improvement in one part of the world is soon appreciated, understood and adopted in another part. We accept European advances in physical and mental comforts and luxuries, and the South American, with increasing momentum, is accepting those which come both from Europe and from us. Even the lower classes are no longer isolated. But beyond that is the newer fact that they are absorbing some of the same blood that we have, and that onto their Latin stock is engrafting a vigorous branch of Northernism. They are no longer purely Iberian or Lusitanian. The invasion of outsiders is not going on so rapidly as it did with us, but it is undeniably evident, and not many generations will be needed before a vigorous mixed race will push into the background the pure-blooded Latin who can not stand the pace. This migration and intermingling has two great causes : the desire to escape into a republican form of government, and the age-old impulse to make use of virgin land.

“There are three principles of government polity : The completely republican, such as we represent and such as is, constitutionally at least, represented by the independent nations of the Western Hemisphere; the limited monarchy, of which Great Britain is the constitutional type and Germany the military and bureaucratic type; and the autocratic monarchy, of which Russia is the chief example. And the genius of each of these principles is at work constructing South America, as we shall see before we have finished this volume.

“Of equal importance is that phase of modern expansion in which the land question plays an all-powerful part. With the areas of China, Japan, and India overcrowded; with the mutterings of what we call the Eastern peril, it is easy to observe that, besides Africa, uncertain areas of Australia, and the newer fields of western Canada, there is no other continent capable of offering virgin soils to the exuberant and rapidly growing discontented dwellers of the Old World, except South America.”

On the western slope of the Andes are Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia, which may be called the mountain republics. Their chief industries will be those, such as mining, in which is demanded a minimum of human and a maximum of machine labor. They have untilled fertile land, but not enough to draw great immigration, and it is to a noticeable ex-tent already occupied by native races who were impressed by the stamp of the Spanish conqueror, although there is so much original blood that they can by no means be compared to an Old World peasantry. These countries on the Pacific Ocean offer no attraction for the European statesman who dreams of an American sphere of influence ; they are isolated by the lofty Andes, by thousands of miles of water; but they will soon be made easily approachable to us by the completion of the Panama Canal, so that they will develop along American lines with eagerness if we treat them fairly.

For three-quarters of a century we have led this victorious army of republics, and for even a longer time than that our influence has been felt. But it is evident that there are to be new and closer relations between the two continents of the Western Hemisphere, and in order to make the most of these relations we must learn more about our southern neighbors; we must study their ambitions and their prospects and put much of the leaven of brotherhood into our dealings with them. We must give a more vital interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, that we may be enabled to stand more firmly between the South American Republics and the unscrupulous aggressions of Europe.