NATIONAL IDENTITY, NATIONHOOD,
AND IMMIGRATION IN ARGENTINA: 1810-19301
In recent years, some of the most interesting
literature on immigration has focused on the relationship between national identity and
attitudes toward immigrants in the host society.2 How members of the
receiving country construe nationhoodhow they imagine what nations are and what
holds them togethershapes how they understand the role of immigrants in the national
community. By establishing the criteria for membership, the definition of a nations
identity inevitably defines who can belong to the national community, on what terms, and
what meanings are attached to belonging. Such questions lie at the very heart of how
different societies receive immigrants and treat minority communities within their
William Rogers Brubakers recent comparative
study Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany is particularly helpful in
elucidating the links between national self-understanding and attitudes toward the
immigrant. Contrasting Frances traditionally open citizenship policies with
Germanys highly restrictive naturalization laws, Brubaker traces the roots of these
differences to distinctive understandings of the nation. Within the French tradition,
according to Brubaker, the nation is understood in predominantly political terms. That is,
it is conceived as an association of citizens who voluntarily embrace a common political
creed and participate in a wider French culture. "Frenchness," he notes,
"is acquired, not inherited."3 In Germany, in contrast, the
nation is conceived as an ethnocultural community, bound by blood ties rather than by
common political traditions. At a certain level, Germanness is based on descent rather
than voluntary participation, and is inherited rather than acquired. Both models of
nationhood invest immigrants with certain roles. The French model views immigrants as
individuals who will, almost inevitably, accept French political and cultural traditions
and seek to become naturalized. In Germany, in contrast, immigrants of non-Germanic
descent are not expected to seek naturalization, since their ancestry bars them from
membership in the larger ethnocultural body.
While the histories of both the French and German
ideals of nationhood have proved more complicated than this dichotomous schema suggests,
Brubakers models provide historians with a useful tool for understanding the links
between national identity and views of the immigrant. This essay draws upon his insights
in examining the relationship between changing ideas about nationhood and changes in
attitude toward the immigrant in Argentina during the period 18101930.4
It charts a shift, occurring at the turn of the century, not only in the way significant
numbers of Argentines began to think about the content of their own national culture and
traditions, but also in their more general understanding of what it meant to be a nation.
During much of the nineteenth century, educated Argentinesinspired by Frances
examplehad understood their nation to be a political association open to all who
embraced a common political creed and worked for the welfare of the nation. By the opening
decades of the twentieth century, however, a significant group of young intellectuals,
known in Argentine historiography as cultural nationalists, began to espouse a vision of
the nation that more closely resembled the ethnocultural conception of nationality common
Although the members of this movement were limited
to a small core of young intellectuals, cultural nationalists proved influential because
they most forcefully articulated ideas that were already gaining currency among educated
Argentines. In such diverse publications as the mainstream paper La Nación and cultural
journals such as Ideas, Nosotros, Hebe, Sagitario, Estudios, Renacimiento, Verbum,
Valoraciones, Revista argentina de ciencias politicas, El monitor de la educación, and
Revista de filosofía, contributors warned of the dangers of cosmopolitanism and discussed
the need to defend la raza argentina from the threat posed by massive European
immigration. Fears about the loss of national identity and the idea that Argentines formed
a distinctive ethnocultural group threatened by foreign influences were constant and
pervasive themes of the cultural debates of the period.
This shift in how growing numbers of educated
Argentines understood nationality inevitably brought with it new attitudes toward the
immigrant. At first blush, the implications seem obvious. When nationality is conflated
with ethnicity, all voluntaristic elements disappear, and membership in the national
community is a question of descent rather than assent or territorial residence. Within
this understanding of nationhood, people cannot choose or acquire their nationality: one
either is or is not an Italian, Spaniard, or Croat. Individuals who reside within national
borders, but who belong to other ethnic groups, can perhaps be tolerated, but can never be
full-fledged members of the nation.
The Argentine case, however, represents an
interesting contrast. Instead of serving as a means of excluding the immigrant from the
national community, Argentine cultural nationalism had a strong integrationist thrust. In
Argentina, the emergence of an ethnocultural understanding of nationhood coincided with,
and indeed was in large part precipitated by, a massive influx of European immigrants.
While deploring the newcomers as a threat to the collective Argentine race or personality,
cultural nationalists and their sympathizers accepted, albeit at timed begrudgingly, that
immigration was inevitable and believed that the incoming masses should be assimilated or
"Argentinized" as completely as possible. For these individualsand herein
lies much of their messages appealcultural nationalism represented a means of
integrating the immigrant into the national community without disrupting existing
political practices or social hierarchies. What cultural nationalism offered Argentines
was a nation-building project based on the evolution of a putative Argentine race, rather
than on political participation and the civic incorporation of immigrants.5
The essay is organized as follows. The first part
looks at nineteenth- century understandings of nationality in Argentina. Focusing on the
thought of prominent intellectuals and political leaders, it examines how the view of
Argentina as a political association meshed with Romantic notions of national character to
shape the nations notoriously liberal immigration and naturalization policies.
Section II traces the emergence of early twentieth-century cultural nationalism, looking
at ways in which massive immigration and the waning interest in democratic ideals
transformed traditional views of the immigrant. This section also discusses how cultural
nationalists attempted to square ethnic understandings of Argentine nationality with the
very real need to incorporate the immigrant, and considers the political implications of
the ethnocultural vision of Argentine nationhood. A final section extends the discussion
of cultural nationalisms political implications by looking at the ideas of the
movements harshest critics: the leaders of the Argentine Socialist Party.
Articulating an alternative vision of the nationone that harkened back to
nineteenth-century understandingsArgentine socialists challenged both the
assumptions underlying cultural nationalism and what they viewed as the movements
inherently anti-democratic thrust.
NATIONHOOD AND IMMIGRATION IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
If the leaders of Argentinas independence
movement could somehow have been transported to the early twentieth century, they
undoubtedly would have been bewildered by the manifestos of their descendants. The
cultural nationalists view of the Argentine nation as a unique ethnocultural
community was strikingly at odds with the ideas that informed the 1810 revolutionary
project. Inspired by the example of the French Revolution, Argentine revolutionaries
believed modern nations were first and foremost political associations, created by
individuals who were joined by a shared political vision, rather than a common language,
religion, or other ethnic traits.6 In breaking with Spain, they invoked
not the claims of any pre-existing "historicocultural nation" suppressed by a
colonial power, but the right to establish a new nation based on the principles of
equality, liberty, and popular sovereignty.7 As revolutionary leader
Mariano Moreno optimistically proclaimed, "The world has seldom seen a setting like
ours in which a constitution can be modeled that will give happiness to the people."8
Integral to the idea of Argentina as a political
entity was the concept of volitional allegiance. While membership in the national
community was, for practical reasons, granted to all individuals born within the national
territory, it was also open to those who demonstrated loyalty to the nation and its
principles.9 Despite the revolutionaries understandable suspicion
of native Spaniards, the idea that being an Argentine was a choice or act of will rather
than a set of ascriptive traits was well accepted. From the earliest years of the
Republic, foreign-born males were encouragedand indeed pressuredto declare
their allegiance to the new nation. Naturalization requirements were minimal, and these
newly minted citizens enjoyed the same rights as the native-born.10
Early immigration policy further reflected the
founders vision of Argentineness as a matter of choice rather than an immutable
condition. An official decree, published in 1812, offered the governments
immediate protection to individuals and their
families from all nations who wish to establish their domicile in the territory of the
State, assuring them the full enjoyment of the rights of man in society, insofar as they
do not disturb the public tranquillity and they respect the laws of the country.11
Indeed, Argentinas early leadership did more
than simply open the nation to immigrants. Anxious to settle the vast interior, these
leaders believed increasing the population was one of the new nations most urgent
tasks and actively sought to attract European immigrants.12
Yet the vision of Argentina as a nation comprised of
individuals "from all nations" who couldand were expected
tonaturalize, was not free of ambiguities. Despite the universalism implicit in this
understanding of nationality, the idea that nations possess distinctive characters and
that their people have different propensities quickly seeped into discourse about
immigration. In his 1818 diplomatic mission to Europe, independence leader Bernardino
Rivadavia described immigration as the
most efficient, and perhaps the only, means of
destroying the degrading Spanish habits and the fatal gradation of castes, in order to
create a homogenous, industrious and moral population, [which is] the only solid base for
Equality, Liberty and consequently, the Prosperity of a nation.13
The most desirable immigrant, he and his fellow
revolutionaries argued, came from Protestant Europe, for they believed the people of these
countries possessed the qualities necessary for constructing a prosperous, democratic
nation guided by Enlightenment principles.14
The idea of national character and the belief that
members of different nations were stamped with distinctive characteristics gained force in
later decades, as the following generation of Argentines grappled with, and attempted to
explain, the failure of Enlightenment ideas to take hold. In 1829, universal suffrage
brought to power the infamous caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas, who established one of Latin
Americas most enduring and brutal dictatorships. Seeking to understand Rosas
continued popularity among the lower classes, progressive intellectualsmany of whom
spent the Rosas years in exiledrew inspiration from German Romanticism with its
emphasis on immutable national character and distinctive national destinies.15
As Domingo F. Sarmiento, one of the foremost members of this generation put it, "We
... began to learn something of national inclinations, customs, and races, and of
The liberal project had sputtered, these thinkers
argued, because revolutionary leaders had underestimated the continued strength of the
Spanish colonial legacy.17 Criticizing their predecessors belief
that they could create a new nation ex nihlo, members of the Generation of 1837 argued
that the Argentine people, the raw material of the nation, had in a sense already existed
before the war of independence, having been formed (or deformed) during the long years of
colonial rule. Unfortunately for progressives, the character of this people was
fundamentally Spanish: prone to violence, despotism, and religious fanaticism, and thus
resistant to the Enlightenment ideals the founding fathers had so cherished. Argentine
geography, Sarmiento believed, had only exacerbated these negative tendencies. The harsh
conditions of the vast, empty pampas, combined with Spanish proclivities, had created a
national type and a style of life whose principal characteristics were impulsiveness,
violence, and sloth.18
What might be called the discovery of an Argentine
race or character rooted in history and shaped by geography, religion, and even language
had several implications.19 First, according to the members of this
generation, expunging the Hispanic legacy entailed much more than simply imposing liberal
democratic institutions on a backward society. It required, instead, a hardheaded
assessment of the Argentine character and a willingness to abandon abstract principles in
favor of more realistic policies.20 Romantic notions about national
character thus provided Argentine intellectuals with a way to justify a retreat from the
goal of participatory democracy.21 The belief that the Argentine people
were fundamentally unsuited to be participating citizens led intellectuals such as Juan
Bautista Alberdi to argue for an evolutionary model of Argentine politics. According to
Alberdi, whose famous Bases y puntos de partida para la organización política de la
República Argentina [Bases and Points of Departure for the Political Organization of the
Argentine Republic] provided a blueprint for the Argentine Constitution of 1853, Argentina
must first pass through what he called the "possible republic": a period
characterized by limited suffrage and rule by a progressive but essentially authoritarian
state. Only later, once Argentina developed social and economic structures comparable to
those of Western Europe, would the possible republic give way to the "true
republic," i.e., a fully functioning democracy.22
But while their analysis of Argentine ills drew
heavily from Romantic concepts of national character, how members of this generation
understood what modern nations were, or should be, remained firmly rooted in the French
tradition. In direct contrast to the Romantic view of nations as ethnocultural communities
existing prior to and independently of political institutions, these thinkers held fast to
the conviction that true nations must, as much as possible, approximate the model of
nationhood that had emerged from the French Revolution.23 In other
words, the modern nation was, in their view, a political association based on citizenship
rather than an ethnocultural community based on putative ethnic traits. Thus constructing
the Argentine nation, they believed, was not a matter of fortifying Argentine culture,
religion, language, or traditions, or of cultivating a mythic pastfar from it.
Rather, since this past was seen as an obstacle to nation building, creating the nation
consisted of instilling in the Argentine people a common set of political beliefs that
would bind them together.24
What, then, was the role of immigration in this
project to transform Argentina into a modern nation of citizens? Quite simply, the
Generation of 1837 saw European immigration as the cornerstone upon which the new
Argentina would be built. Like Rivadavia before them, these intellectuals viewed Northern
European immigration as the remedy for Argentinas economic and political ills.
Accordingly, Alberdi believed, the government should encourage the immigration of
Anglo-Saxons in order to "fit the population to the political system we have
proclaimed." Anglo-Saxons, he proclaimed, "are identified with the steamship,
with commerce, and with liberty, and it will be impossible to establish these things among
us without the active cooperation of that progressive and cultivated race." Spanish
immigrants, in contrast, were unwelcome and would only compound Argentinas
difficulties. Stridently anti-Spanish, Alberdi argued that Spaniards were "incapable
of establishing a republic," either here in America or there in Spain.25
It is worth remembering here that the term
"race" as used in this context was cultural and historical, rather than
biological.26 Spaniards and Britons were different, these individuals
believed, not because of inherited or genetic qualities (scientific racism had yet to have
an impact in Argentina), but because they belonged to different cultural, linguistic, and
religious traditions. While birth determined key aspects of the individuals
personalitythe individual was inevitably shaped by the national group into which he
or she was bornnineteenth-century intellectuals remained optimistic that native
Argentines could acquire, through simple contact or more formal education, the desired
Anglo-Saxon traits. Thus liberal reformers such as Alberdi and Sarmiento desired
Anglo-Saxon immigration not to improve the genetic stock of the national population, but
to help transform the work habits and customs of this native population.27
The related beliefs that Argentina should strive to
construct a nation of citizens based upon Republican principles and that Northern European
immigration would play a key role in bringing about this transformation did not last. The
closing decades of the nineteenth century witnessed two transitions, one demographic and
the other political, that changed both how educated Argentines viewed the immigrant and
how they understood the Argentine nation. The first change, somewhat paradoxically, was
the onset of massive immigration. Despite the pro-immigration attitudes of the Generation
of 1837, (which came to power after the defeat of Rosas in 1852), few Europeans found
Argentina an attractive destination. After 1880, however, circumstances changed. New
political stability, technological advances, the end of the Indian wars, and surging
European demand for imported food combined to unleash an export boom of remarkable
intensity and duration. With this new prosperity, what had been a modest trickle of
immigrants became a cascade. Between 1857, when immigration statistics were first
recorded, and 1916, over 2.5 million immigrants permanently settled in Argentina.28 Significantly, however, the vast majority of these immigrants came not
from the Protestant nations of Northern Europe, but from Italy and Spain.
Contrary to the Generation of 1837s
expectations, native Argentines received these immigrants with great ambivalence and even
hostility. Indeed, this period witnessed a growing wave of anti-immigrant sentiment that
intensified with the turn of the century. As will be discussed below, the reasons for this
hostility varied, but what is important to note here is that most fin-de-siècle critics
of immigration were unconcerned by the fact that these newcomers were not the Northern
Europeans mid-nineteenth-century reformers had desired.29
The second important transition of the period
informing this loss of enthusiasm for Northern European immigrants was the weakening of
the democratic ideal. By the end of the century, very few Argentine leaders promoted the
notion that Argentines should strive to construct a nation of citizens along the lines of
the French Republican model.30 Inspired by European positivism,
Argentine political elites embraced the ideal of "scientific politics," meaning
that national leaders should eschew abstract political principles in order to develop,
through observation and experimentation, policies and institutions in tune with the
peculiarities of their societies.31 In practice, this meant the
establishment of a political system that was democratic in name only. From 1880 to 1916,
Argentina was ruled by the authoritarian Autonomous National Party or P.A.N., a party that
controlled elections through patronage, intimidation, and fraud, and dedicated itself to
the twin goals of "order and progress."
Argentina under the P.A.N. sounds much like
Alberdis possible republic, and indeed in Argentina the segue from
mid-nineteenth-century liberalism to fin-de-siècle positivism was unusually smooth. As
Noé Jitrik has noted, the positivist Generation of 1880 was the "organic
realization" of the previous generation.32 There were, however,
some important differences. Unlike the Generation of 1837s view that the Argentine
national character would eventually evolve to the point where leaders could establish a
state based on Republican principles, the positivist vision of Argentinas future was
drained of democratic possibilities. Arguing that the state should administer rather than
govern, positivist-inspired leaders such as P.A.N. founder Julio Roca envisioned a state
run by an enlightened elite whose citizens would contribute to the general welfare but
without challenging established political practices.
The anti-democratic character of the Argentine state
seems not to have bothered most immigrants. The popular stereotype of the immigrant as
coming to "hacer la América" (i.e., coming for the sole purpose of making a
fortune), was to a large extent accurate. Economically, immigrants proved quite
successful, inserting themselves in a position above the unskilled Argentine masses but
below the traditional landed elite. There, they formed both the core of Argentinas
urban working class and the emerging middle or entrepreneurial class.33
But while active in the economic sphere, few immigrants demonstrated any inclination to
integrate politically. Naturalization rates were extremely low: during this period, only
two to three percent of all immigrants to Argentina became citizens.34
The withering of the democratic ideal under the
positivist regime, coupled with the immigrants reluctance to naturalize, explains
why Argentine political leaders no longer viewed the immigrant as the essential element in
the project of transforming Argentina into a nation of participating citizens. But since
immigrants tendency to shun formal political participation dovetailed so well with
the P.A.N.s authoritarian vision, what accounts for the wave of anti-immigrant
sentiment sweeping Argentina at the turn of the century? What type of menace did
One fear frequently expressed in the anti-immigrant
literature of the period was that of social upheaval.35 Immigrants
formed the core of Argentinas new urban working class and played key roles in the
anarchist and syndicalist movements that began to organize by the 1890s. An alarmed
national elite blamed this new militancy on foreign agitators whose "imported
ideologies" had no place in Argentina. Legislative efforts to remedy the situation
resulted in the infamous Residence Law of 1902 and the 1910 Law of Social Defense, which
allowed the executive branch to deport undesirable foreigners.
Another source of anti-immigrant sentiment was
concern over the presumed problem of racial degeneration, which itself was tied to anxiety
over the social question.36 In Argentina, as in the rest of Latin
American, the final decades of the nineteenth century witnessed a growing interest in
racialist theories as a way of understanding the continents backwardness vis-à-vis
Europe. Scientific racism had special poignancy in countries such as Mexico and Brazil,
with large indigenous and African American populations, but Argentine intellectuals and
leaders across the political spectrum also embraced the goal of social reform through
racial improvement. Immigration policy, many believed, would be the key means of achieving
Fears about immigrants as avatars of radical,
foreign ideologies and as carriers of racially inferior genes were a large part of the
anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping Argentina during the turn of the century. But another
elementand from my reading of the evidence, the most important onefueling this
new anti-immigrant sentiment was the fear that the immigrant was undermining Argentine
THE RISE OF CULTURAL NATIONALISM AND THE IDEA OF AN
As noted above, one of the central preoccupations
among elites of this period was the threat of excessive cosmopolitanism and the weakening
of Argentine nationality due to massive immigration. In voicing these concerns, critics of
the immigrant often used the language of scientific racism, but with a very different
understanding of race. Writer Arturo OConnor provides a good example. In an essay
published in Ideas, a literary magazine widely identified with the new generation of
cultural nationalists, OConnor mourns the loss of "the Argentine race,"
which was "disappearing under the influx of immigrants." "Race," he
continues, "is nationality," and determines (or carries along with it) our
distinctive "political evolution, sociability, religion, philosophy, science, art,
morality, history and traditions."38 OConnor goes on to
describe how alien values of materialism have replaced the traditional spirituality of the
Argentine people. In a similar vein, Manuel Gálvez, one of key proponents of Argentine
cultural nationalism and a co-founder of Ideas, urged his fellow Argentines to return to
their Spanish roots in their struggle against cosmopolitanism. Calling Spain the
"ancestral dwelling [solar] of the race," Gálvez proclaimed it time to
"feel ourselves [to be] Americans and in the ultimate term, Spaniards, given that
this is the race to which we belong."39
Even intellectuals who believed that Gálvez and
others exaggerated the threat of cosmopolitanism often adopted the idiom of cultural
nationalism. In his review of El solar de la raza in the progressive literary journal
Nosotros, Alvaro Melián Lafinur noted approvingly the new tendency among writers to
promote ideals that would unify Argentines and promote a collective sense of an Argentine
nationality. These efforts stemmed, he continued, from the very real need to "define
our character and to affirm ourselves as a racial entity."40
The term "race" in this context clearly
carried a very different meaning than that intended by turn-of-the-century adherents of
scientific racism. Cultural nationalists, like their nineteenth-century predecessors,
understood race to be cultural and historical rather than biological. For these
individuals the term denoted a people bound together by common historical memory,
language, shared mental and emotional traits, andin the case of
Gálvezreligion, and had nothing to do with the emerging science of genetics and
heredity. Ricardo Rojas, who along with Gálvez is considered one of the founding fathers
of Argentine cultural nationalism, made this difference explicit when he proclaimed:
I use the term race not in the sense
used by materialistic anthropologists, but in the old, romantic sense [having to do with]
collective personality, historical group, cultural consciousness. Given this idealistic
criterion, racial entities defy objective definitions [and can only be grasped] ...
The distance between the nineteenth-century vision
of the immigrant as a source of democratic values and the early twentieth-century view of
the immigrant as an agent of national dissolution was great indeed. But clearly what had
changed was not simply the assessment of the immigrant, but the underlying understanding
of what nations were and what held them together. As noted above, nineteenth-century
leaders, while believing that the peoples of different nations possessed distinctive
cultural traits and propensities, did not see culture, language, religion, or common
ancestry as the very basis of nationhood. European immigrants were welcomed precisely
because they supposedly embodied the qualities deemed necessary to construct a modern
nation, i.e., a nation of participating citizens bound by their common belief in a
political creed. The Romantic vision of the nation embraced by early twentieth-century
Argentine cultural nationalists, in contrast, was completely devoid of any reference to
political institutions or practices.42 These thinkers considered the
nation to be a prepolitical essence, or in the words of Gálvez, to possess a
"historic personality" or psychological structure based on an "irreducible
nucleus."43 Rojas espoused the same view when he noted that the
older countries of Europe, such as Germany, France, Italy, and England, each possessed a
"spiritual nucleus" that was the consequence of a "homogeneous race"
emerging from the "remote past." These nations, he believed, "preexisted
spiritually" in the sense that the "people [pueblo] had formed before the
[political] nation had been established."44 As will be discussed
below, this detachment of nationality from political institutions or practices would have
important implications for how early twentieth-century Argentines viewed the immigrant.
From where did this new way of imagining the nation
come? Highly influential, of course, were European intellectual currents. As noted
earlier, the Romantic understanding of the nation as an ethnocultural community was first
elaborated in early nineteenth-century Germany. It was not until the closing decades of
the century, however, that this vision of nationhood swept the rest of Europe. Blending
with elements of Darwinism,45 German idealism helped produce what Eric
Hobsbawm has described as the second great wave of nationalism.46 Latin
American intellectuals proved receptive to these currents. Romantic idealism, in the words
of David Brading, "seeped into the Hispanic world in the 1880s, gathered force at the
turn of the century, and flowed at high tide after the First World War."47
In Argentina, intellectuals cited as influences French writers Hipolyte-Adolphe Taine,
Ernest Renan, Maurice Barrés, Charles Maurras, and León Daudet, as well as Germans J.G.
Fichte, Friedrich Schiller, J. W. Goethe, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Very often, however,
the ideas of these thinkers came to Argentines filtered through the writings of the
Spanish Generation of 1898, Angel Ganivet, Miguel Unamuno, and Ramiro de Maeztu, whose
writings expressed the need to recover Spains unique traditions and to bring about
the rebirth of the national soul.48
The new idealism and the concern with national
character appeared in Argentina (and in Hispanic America as a whole) under the guise of
the literary movement known as modernismo. Spearheaded by Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío
and Uruguayan essayist José Enrique Rodó, both of whom visited Argentina for extended
periods, this movement knitted together a rejection of positivism and materialism with the
Romantic quest for Latin American cultural autonomy and authenticity.49
In his extraordinarily influential essay Ariel, published in 1900, Rodó proclaimed the
primacy of intuition over the senses and juxtaposed the supposedly idealistic,
aesthetically-inclined Latin race with the utilitarianism and materialism he believed
characterized the Anglo-Saxon race of the United States. Rodós celebration of the
Latin spirit, and his belief that ethnicity provided the basis of solidarity and identity,
is made clear in his statement that "we Latin Americans have an inheritance, a great
ethnic tradition to maintain." A decade later he went on to identify the "idea
and sentiment of the race" with the "communal sense of ancestry."50
While outside intellectual currents clearly inspired
early twentieth-century Argentine intellectuals to reimagine what it meant to be a nation,
it is also true that concrete circumstances helped nourish this new understanding of
nationality. The mere presence of so many immigrants, most speaking foreign tongues,
wearing unusual clothes, eating different foods, and engaging in all sorts of novel (and
threatening) behavior such as labor organizing, brought large numbers of native Argentines
face-to-face with the "other," encouraging them to think about national
differences in terms of ethnicity. Modernity itself played a part, as native Argentines
often blamed the immigrant for what were in fact changes more generally associated with
modernization.51 Complaints about the new materialism, excessive
individualism, and the loss of traditional Argentine virtues such as honesty, desinterés
[selflessness], and spirituality abounded. Against the inevitable centrifugal forces of
modernity and the increasing complexity of everyday life, the ideal of the nation as a
cohesive, homogenous community bound together by history, shared values, and traditions
exercised enormous appeal.
Another source of the ethnocultural vision of the
nations appeal was the increasing anxiety over the weakening of old social and
political hierarchies. Elites of the period frequently complained that the lower classes
were no longer sufficiently deferential. In many ways, everyday experience and personal
anecdote reinforced the more abstract fear that working-class militancy had gotten out of
hand. Contributing to this fear about the impending collapse of the old order was the
desire, by a faction of the elite, to push the stalled project of democratization forward.
As early as 1890, a segment of the elite, led first by Leandro Alem and later by his
nephew Hipólito Yrigoyen, rejected the P.A.N.s fraudulent practices and called for
honest elections. Organized as the Unión Cívica Radical (U.C.R.), this party constantly
agitated for reforms.52 Finally in 1914, President Roque Sáenz Pena,
himself a member of the P.A.N., bowed to pressure and sponsored legislation that made
voting both secret and mandatory for all Argentine citizens. The reforms were effective.
In 1916, the U.C.R. gained control of the presidency which it held until a military coup
For those Argentines who feared democratization and
doubted the U.C.R.s ability to maintain order, the ethnocultural vision of
nationality was understandably attractive for two related reasons. First, in contrast to
the French model of nationhood, which conceives of the nation as a political association
formed by individuals who share equally in the rights and obligations of citizenship, the
ideal of the nation as an ethnocultural community can easily tolerate internal
hierarchies. As M. Rainer Lepsius has argued, the model of the ethnocultural nation
"is not the basis of pressure for an equal life situation ... [since] the idea of
historical uniqueness of a people is completely consistent with the differential
qualifications of members of the people."53 Put another way,
because the very identity of nations modeled along the lines of post- Revolutionary France
rests, in part, on the ideal of equality, these nations must to some degree promote
egalitarianism. But for nations whose identity rests on their supposedly unique ethnic
characteristics, there is no reason why social and political hierarchies cannot remain
Second, within the ethnocultural understanding of
nationhood, the rights of the individual are seen as secondary to those of the collective.
The nation, according to this model, is not formed by the conscious acts of individuals,
but instead emerges organically over time, unaided by human agency. As such, it stands
above the individual, enjoying a higher status. When the interests of individuals conflict
with those of the nation, the rights of the former are easily subordinated to the
collective interests of the nation.54 Thus Manuel Gálvez, who feared
that Argentinas Catholic character was being undermined by Protestant organizations
such as the Salvation Army, urged that "apostles of foreign religions" be
expelled, despite constitutional guarantees to the contrary. "The Constitution,"
he proclaimed, "is unquestionably a respectable document, but nationality should take
precedence over the Constitution; the salvation of the nation requires the violation of
Gálvezs intemperate comments, besides
highlighting some of the political implications of the ethnocultural understanding of
nationality, bring us to the obvious problem of the immigrant. If, during the early
decades of the twentieth century, growing numbers of native Argentines began to understand
their nation as a unique ethnocultural community and saw Argentines as forming a
distinctive race, what role did they envision for the millions of immigrants flooding onto
their shores? Could the immigrant become a member of the Argentine race, and if so, how
was this to be accomplished?
Common sense tells us that in societies formed by
immigration, ethnicity cannot possibly provide the basis of national identity. Countries
such as the United States must by necessity define nationality in political terms. That
is, membership in the national community cannot depend on the individuals origins or
ethnic qualities, but on his or her willingness to embrace a political creed and the
principles of citizenship. In situations where ethnicity does form the basis of a
nations identity and large-scale immigration occurs, the immigrant
populationas is the case in Germanydoes not enjoy full membership in the
national community. But Argentina, where the idea of the nation as a ethnocultural
community gained force at precisely the moment when the country was experiencing massive
immigration, represents a unique case. As argued above, in Argentina the ethnocultural
vision of the nation, rather than providing a rationale for marginalizing the immigrant
(as occurred in Germany), served as a means to integrate the foreigner.
How was this possible? The key lay in the widely
accepted view that in Argentina a new race was forming, one that would represent an
amalgam of the diverse racial groups that currently coexisted within national borders.
Although some pessimists such as Arturo OConnor saw the immigrant as the destroyer
of the putative Argentine race, much more common was the more optimistic view that the
newcomers would be a part of a new, emerging race.
Let us listen to the voices of the period.
"What we are seeing now," according to Dr. Salvador Debenedetti, a professor at
the University of Buenos Aires,
... is the soul of the future race, characterized by
common aspirations, and shaping itself [plasmandose] slowly and locally under the
influence of the social medium and the environment. Such manifestations are clear symptoms
of a nationality [already] defined or about to become defined....56
Juan Mas y Pi, a well-known writer and critic,
proclaimed that "Argentina has been, and continues to be, a country of great ethnic
confusion, [an] enormous conglomerate of all the races and castes...." From this
"confused conglomeration," he believed, "a great race ... would inevitably
emerge."57 And in the words of the poet Almafuerte:
The future great soul ... will appear ... when the
mind of the new race in gestation has formed, when the beautiful blond beast that
Nietzsche speaks of has been formed formed from this current Babel, [that will occur]
thanks to the fusion of the bloodlines, the atavisms, the degenerations, the histories,
the diverse origins that now clash ... and repel each other.... [The present situation] is
a frightful hurley-burley that will endure for ... generations until it constitutes an
organism [with a] clearly drawn body [and an] obvious, characteristic race....58
The emerging raza argentina, then, would include
rather than exclude the immigrant.
DEFINING THE ARGENTINE RACE
The idea of Argentina as a race-in-formation had
widespread appeal because it provided a framework for visualizing how to integrate the
immigrant into the national community. But these optimistic proclamations, inclusive
though they might be, tell us nothing about what role the immigrant would have in shaping
this new race. Like the term "nation" itself, the idea of Argentines as a
race-in-formation was an empty screen upon which any number of images could be projected.
Far from having a definitive shape or character, this notion formed an arena of
contestation in which some of the liveliest intellects of the period would clashed.
How individual thinkers defined the putatively
emerging race and what qualities they privilegedshared descent, language, religion,
personality traitsvaried enormously. How would this race form? Would it be a
spontaneous process occurring naturally over time? Or would it be guided by a native elite
who would determine what was and was not authentically Argentine? At stake here, of
course, was the question of who in Argentina would wield cultural authority. Also, what
was the role of descent? Could the foreign-born become real Argentines, or could only
their offspring born on national soil become real Argentines? How acquirable were the
traits that marked one as a true Argentine? Were these traits acquirable by all or limited
only to those of a certain ancestry?
A brief comparison of how Rojas and Gálvez
approached these questions is illustrative. Of the two thinkers, the latter had the more
restrictive notion of the developing Argentine race. According to Gálvez, the Argentine
race was fundamentally Latin, and within the greater racial grouping of Latins, Spanish.
Echoing Rodó, Gálvez argued that Latins constituted a unique race, sharing the special
traits of spirituality, warmth, and creativity that other races lacked.59
In contrast to the Uruguayan thinker, however, Gálvez believed the special
characteristics of Latins were inextricably bound to Catholicism, arguing that
"[r]eligion, like language, is one of the essential fundamentals in which resides
In keeping with his vision of Argentina as a
fundamentally Hispanic nation whose identity was intimately bound to Catholicism, it is
not surprising that Gálvez believed immigrants from Latin countries (and especially
Spain) were most desirable. Noting approvingly that the great majority of Argentinas
immigrants came from Spain and Italy, Gálvez argued that these newcomers brought with
them the "providential and invisible mission to conserve the qualities of latinidad
in the mixture of peoples [that had come to Argentina] and to guarantee, in the amalgam of
so many metals, the pure gold of latinidad."61 Despite the massive
influx of immigrants from all parts, Argentina was and would remain a Latin, and
especially a Hispanic, nation.
Gálvezs vision of the emerging Argentine
race, whose character is preserved because of the sheer number of Latins entering the
country, seems to privilege heredity or common descent as the basis of nationality.62 Yet elsewhere he appears to indicate that the qualities distinguishing
one people from another can both be acquired and lost. He complains, for example, that
immigrants (and here he fails to distinguish between Latin and non-Latin immigrants) had
come to Argentina only in search of wealth, thereby introducing natives to a "new
concept of life" and "infecting" them with the vice of materialism.63
The obverse side of this fear that Argentines could
become denationalized by contact with alien values is that immigrants could themselves be
transformed and thus nationalized. Despite his suggestion, noted above, that individuals
who promoted the spread of Protestantism should be deported, Gálvez does at times
indicate that it is indeed possible for the immigranteven the non-Latin,
non-Catholic immigrantto become a true Argentine. This occurred, he believed,
through a mysterious process of transubstantiation when the foreigner
"submerges" his soul in the "vastness of the national soul, and his heart
pulses to the rhythm of the national sentiment" [se templa en al pauta del
sentimiento nacional].64 Gálvezs deep friendship with fellow
writer Alberto Gerchunoff, a Russian-born Jew, is also revealing. Lauding his friend as
one of the great "attractions" of his generation and Gerchunoffs book, Los
gauchos judios [The Jewish Gauchos], as "one of the most beautiful of our narrative
literature," Gálvez apparently believed that even foreign-born Jews could become
By comparison, Rojass vision of the emerging
Argentine race was more expansive. Whereas Gálvez defined the Argentine race as
essentially Hispanic and one whose special character was intimately bound to Catholicism,
Rojas argued that Spain had provided only one element, albeit an important one, in the
emerging new Argentine race.66 One of the few thinkers of the period to
acknowledge the pre-Columbian past, Rojas believed the evolving Argentine race would
result from the fertile coupling of both indigenous and European elements.67
This new civilization, which Rojas termed "Eurindia," would be completely unique
and of "transcendental importance for humanity."68
When describing how this felicitous blend of the
foreign and the native would occur, Rojas thought takes on a decidedly mystical
cast. Each nations territory, he believed, possessed spiritual forces that,
emanating from the soil, stamped the territorys inhabitants with a particular set of
mental characteristics and thus gave the nation its distinctive personality or character.69 In Argentina, Rojas argued, these telluric forces also had a unifying
function, serving to transform or nationalize the millions of foreigners who continued to
pour onto national shores. The rural interior, then, would serve as the
"crucible" of the national race, "molding men into a race, and transforming
this race until it was a true nationality."70
Whatever we may think of Rojas fanciful vision
(which raised the eyebrows of more than a few of his contemporaries), it is important to
appreciate his mystical musings for what they are: an attempt to reconcile the
contradictions between the ethnocultural understanding of nationality he embraced and the
realities of early twentieth-century Argentina. By arguing that the telluric forces of the
Argentine soil would impose a common mental or spiritual matrix on the newcomers, Rojas is
able to stretch the parameters of the ethnic vision of nationality to make it capacious
enough to accommodate the immigrant. Thus, while he agreed with other cultural
nationalists that the current wave of immigrants had taxed the countrys capacity to
absorb or transform them, Rojas continued to argue that the "cosmopolitan
immigration" was a "key part of the ethnic development of our nationality."71
It would be erroneous, however, to conclude that
Rojas more inclusive vision of the emerging Argentine race provided the immigrant
with a greater role in shaping the character of that race. Closer inspection of his
understanding of the raza argentina reveals that his view is more similar to
Gálvezs than this brief comparison suggests. While Rojas believed that the emerging
Argentine race would be a mixture of diverse European and native elements, it is clear he
also believed the foreigners contribution to this developing national personality
should be tightly supervised.
Rojas well-known activities in the realm of
education amply reflect this conviction. In his 1909 work, La restauración nacionalista
(a project financed by the Ministry of Education), Rojas proclaimed the need to transform
the nations schools into the "hearth of citizenship."72
Chastising past governments for blindly following foreign educational models, Rojas called
for a complete reorganization of the national school curriculum. This new curriculum
should focus on Argentine history, the Spanish language, Argentine literature, Argentine
geography, and moral instruction, and should seek to inculcate in all immigrant children a
love for the nation and an understanding of Argentine traditions. The public schools,
Rojas believed, should be instrumental in the effort to "define the national
conscience" and bring about a "real and fecund patriotism."73
In other words, the emergence of the new Argentine race, while gradual, would not and
should not be allowed to occur naturally. Rather, to safeguard authentic Argentine values
and traditions, the artistic and intellectual elite, i.e., individuals such as Rojas,
should direct and shape the personality of this emerging race.74
Differences over the content of the emerging
national race or personality are also evident in the growing debate over the national
language. Central to the Romantic understanding of the nation was the belief that language
was an integral part of nationality, a view widely embraced by early twentieth-century
Argentine intellectuals.75 Language within the Romatic tradition served
to identify and unify members of the national "race" or community, to
differentiate them from nonmembers, and to express and record the historical memory of the
community. But while many intellectuals of the period embraced the identification of
language and nationality, it posed certain problems. To be a real nation did Argentina
need its own national language, or was Spanish the true national language? The dilemma for
cultural nationalists and their sympathizers was not merely theoretical, for many feared
that Argentine Spanish was indeed changing. During the early years of the century, two
distinct jergas or jargons, both associated with the working-class immigrant population,
emerged in Buenos Aires. Lunfardo, an urban street slang with heavy Italian influence, and
cocoliche, a kind of gaucho-talk associated with popular theater that featured dramatic
comedies about rural life, were very much in vogue among the immigrant working class.
While a few intellectuals applauded these new jargons as evidence that Argentina was at
last developing its own language (and thus its own distinctive national personality),
others ardently defended pure Spanish.76
Sparking the language/nationality controversy was
the 1900 publication of visiting Frenchman Luciano Abeilles Idioma nacional de los
argentinos. Abeille, clearly steeped in the ethnocultural nationalism sweeping Europe, saw
language as the expression of the national soul and argued that nations lacking their own
language were incomplete.77 Fortunately, he proclaimed approvingly,
Argentina was in the process of developing a distinctive language. "In the Argentine
Republic," Abeille argued, "a new race is forming. Consequently the Spanish
language will evolve until it forms a new language."78 Criticizing
Argentine schools for teaching "pure Castilian" devoid of local phrases or
neologisms, he warned that this effort to inhibit the evolution of Argentinas
national language would "perturb the national soul that is reflected in that
Abeilles book provoked an immediate response.
Ernesto Quesada, a prominent intellectual famous for his monumental tomes on history and
culture, soundly rejected Abeilles argument that a new Argentine language was
developing, while at the same time embracing the French writers premise that
language was constitutive of nationality. Calling language the "depository of the
[national] spirit, race and genius," he argued that Argentinas educated classes
had a duty to preserve Spanish in its pure form, which was genuinely Argentine.80 Writing later but expressing the same sentiment, playwright Enrique
García Velloso argued, "we are never more Argentine than when we speak and write
Gálvez and Rojas, not surprisingly, weighed in on
behalf of the purists. Ever the Hispanicist, Gálvez impatiently dismissed the idea that
Argentina would, or should, develop its own language. "The enmity against pure
Spanish," he contended, "is something which [is] more a defensive attitude
stemming from youthful ignorance than a true sentiment." Lunfardo, he maintained, was
a weak and unstable dialect destined to fade. More importantly, it was the educated upper
class, especially writers and teachers, who set the standards for the national language.
Since these individuals spoke pure Spanish, the rest of the nation should, too.82
Rojas agreed, and decried the "alarming
problems" cosmopolitanism posed for Argentine Spanish.83 Attacking
Abeilles theories as "unscientific and encouraging the most barbaric and vain
inclinations of creole (i.e., native) jingoism,"84 Rojas argued
that the Spanish language represented the "synthesis of our national personality and
race [and was part of] the collective memory of tradition and culture."85
Accordingly, he believed Argentines should strive to keep their Spanish as pure as
possible.86 At the same time, however, Rojas was careful to reject the
view that all immigrants represented a threat to Argentine Spanish. In his response to an
encuesta or survey on the language question published in the progressive newspaper
Crítica, he noted that children of immigrants easily learned to speak Spanish correctly.
Indeed, he went on to argue, many fine writers were first-generation Argentines.87
Yet the growing debate over language did produce
some dissenting voices, as several intellectuals concerned about cultivating what was
original and authentic in Argentine culture embraced Abeilles work. Responding
directly to Quesadas attack on the French writer, elite writer Francisco Soto y
Calvo chastised his fellow intellectuals for their rigidity. In the past, Soto y Calvo
maintained, the great majority of Argentine writers had produced works that "could
just as well have been written in Paris as in Buenos Aires."88 Such
similarities meant not that Argentines were on par with the rest of the world, but that
they were mere imitators, and pale ones at that. The incorporation of popular expressions
into the emerging national literature would lend it originality and color. While
acknowledging that lunfardo did not fully express the Argentine spirit, Soto y Calvo
argued that this jargon represented an important stage in the development of a new
national language. Regarding the evolution of this language, he proclaimed that Argentine
writers should welcome these modifications instead of combating them. "We
complain," he wrote, "about how we are forming a nation without character, [yet]
we are wasting ... [the very qualities] which could give us that character." This new
jargon, Soto y Calvo continued, "is more genuinely Argentine, and as such gives us
more honor, than that which we [the elite writers] bring from abroad and learn like
Also supporting Abeilles thesis was a
respondent to the Crítica survey, writing under the English pseudonym "Last
Reason" and identified only as a master of creole theater. Embracing the
ethnolinguistic nationalism then in vogue, "Last Reason" maintained that the
formation of a distinctive language was central to the nations emerging identity.
Without this new language, the writer contended, "Buenos Aires would be merely a
cosmopolitan, European city that lacked its own personality." What now seemed a crude
slang, he believed, would form the basis of a new and ultimately rich national language.
Attacking the elitism of "doctors"90 who worried about the
vulgarity of this new language, he proclaimed:
[So you think] the language we use is barbaric and
phonetically incorrect? I agree ... the kid is so ugly its difficult to kiss him.
Nonetheless, the baby is ours.... But take note: one day the kid will grow and be
beautiful, he will be a man.... [O]ne day he will enter into the history of nations
through the front door, speaking in a loud voice a language which is beautiful, graphic,
musical and vibrant.... [T]his language will be the product of that rude and bastard
dialect which today burns the lips of the doctors.... [T]omorrow it will be the powerful
clarion that shouts to the decrepit and worm-eaten nations, the coming of a great and
Elite playwright and novelist José Antonio Saldías
also supported the notion of a new language. Co-founder of Crítica, Saldías argued that
such a language was becoming more and more necessary due to the greater diffusion of new
expressions into everyday speech. Moreover, like "Last Reason," he believed the
people themselves would produce it. "The national language," he claimed,
"like theater, like industry and all that is authentically ours, is rapidly forming
with the irrepressible contribution of popular [i.e., immigrant] expression."
Accusing those Argentines who opposed the formation of a national language of being overly
rigid, Saldías believed this new language would develop despite their disapproval.
"The people themselves," he argued, "needing to express themselves fully
and spontaneously, will, little by little, create and enrich this new language."92
Abeilles defenders represent an interesting
twist to the early twentieth-century debates over the Argentine national character. Like
the advocates of pure Spanish, they accepted the Romantic ideal of the nation as a
distinctive people evolving over time, marked by a common set of mental and emotional
qualities, and whose language somehow expressed or reflected the national soul. But
clearly this latter vision of the Argentine race or nation had a more popular,
pro-immigrant tincture. In contrast to purists such as Gálvez and Rojaswho, despite
their talk of Argentines as an emerging racebelieved immigrants must conform to a
pre-existing Argentine identity, intellectuals such as Soto y Calvo, Saldías, and
"Last Reason" argued the immigrant would help shape the character of the new
race. In their view, Argentine identity was still fluid, and it would be the contribution
of working-class immigrants that would provide the Argentine personality with its
The vision of Argentines as an emerging race, then,
was in many ways a neutral construct, lending itself to a variety of ways of imagining the
Argentine nation and the role of the immigrant within it. Regardless of whether it
reflected elitist or populist tendencies, it provided a way of envisioning the integration
of the immigrant into the national community. But despite this virtue, the limitations of
this vision should not be overlooked. What is absent, of course, is any reference to the
political integration of the immigrant. Missing from these debates over the
immigrants role in the emerging Argentine race is any expression of concern over the
newcomers failure to naturalize.
The peculiarity of this understanding of the process
of Argentinization, and the vision of the nation that gave rise to it, is clear when we
compare how the Argentine Socialist Party (PS) viewed the problem of the immigrant. In
contrast to cultural nationalists who remained indifferent to the idea of transforming
immigrants into participating citizens, the socialists were energetic advocates of
naturalization. The need to enlarge their electoral base was undoubtedly an important
motive, but so was their belief that nationality entailed some sort of participation in,
and contribution to, the political and economic destiny of the nation.
Founded in 1894, the party sought to establish
itself as the representative of Argentinas growing working class. Headed by Juan B.
Justo, a first-generation Argentine and a physician drawn to socialism through his work
with the poor, the PS pursued a reformist rather than a revolutionary strategy. While
advocating the eventual socialization of the Argentine economy, Justo was also a committed
democrat and believed that socialism could be achieved in Argentina through gradual
legislative reform. Under his leadership, socialist candidates vigorously sought elective
office, and by 1916 the PS had become Argentinas second-most powerful political
Socialists attacked the cultural nationalists both
for the content of their ideas and their motives. Justo, for example, rejected as
"mystical" the very idea that nations were "rigorously delimited
entities," with distinctive personalities and destinies.93 While
acknowledging that nations were indeed distinctive due to their different degrees of
development, the PS embraced the Enlightenment notion that human beings were fundamentally
similar and equal. Nations should, Justo argued, be evaluated and ranked not according to
inherent qualities such as race or ethnicity, but according to the
vital energy of the population as indicated by the
rate of population growth, the infant mortality rate ... the literacy rate, in the level
of freedom of thought, in the extension of political rights of the inhabitants and the
level participation in the electoral process.94
Attacking the motives of the cultural nationalists,
fellow socialist Augusto Bunge ridiculed the notion of racial or ethnic differences as a
"sophistry dreamed up by poets and politicians." In an obvious reference to
Rojas, Bunge argued that those who sought a "national restoration" were members
of the conservative class who wished simply to perpetuate the status quo.95
Argentine socialists ideas about nation and
nationality clearly harkened back to the political understanding of nationality espoused
by Rivadavia and other members of the revolutionary generation of 1810. For the
socialists, the nation was above all a political association: membership in the national
community had nothing to do with an individuals ethnic characteristics, language, or
even length of residence in Argentina, but rather ones willingness to participate in
the political system and to contribute to the general well-being and greatness of the
nation. This identification of citizenship and Argentineness, and the voluntaristic nature
of nationality, comes through clearly in Bunges claim that the naturalized citizen
who was loyal to his adoptive nation was more completely Argentine than the corrupt,
native-born politician who stole from the public till or the decadent society matron whose
only concern was to spend her husbands fortune on Parisian fashions.96
The Socialist Partys insistence that
immigrants should become naturalized citizens and the cultural nationalists belief
that the immigrant wouldin some fashionform part of an emerging Argentine
race, represent very different responses to the challenges massive immigration posed.
Proponents of both approaches recognized the need to integrate the newcomers and to make
them members of the national community. For socialist leaders, it was the political arena
that would provide the basis of national cohesion. Seeking to revive the ideals of
Argentinas revolutionary generation, socialist leaders viewed nations as human
creations: the result of conscious acts by like-minded individuals who together form a
political association based on the supposedly universal values of equality, liberty, and
popular sovereignty. These shared political beliefs and a common sense of
enterprisenot language, religion, or other ethnic traitswould bind the members
of the nation together.97 Accordingly, anyone who embraced these ideals
and publicly pledged loyalty to the nation could become a true Argentine. By the same
token, becoming an Argentine was inseparable from becoming a citizen.
For cultural nationalists and their supporters, in
contrast, integrating the immigrant into the national community was a lengthier and
murkier process. Because these individuals defined the nation as an ethnocultural
community and equated nationality with a bundle of cultural or ethnic characteristics
(defined differently by different individuals, and which might or might not be
acquirable), becoming an Argentine had nothing to do with obtaining formal citizenship or
embracing a political creed. Rather, Argentinization entailed a process more akin to a
spiritual transformation by which the immigrant becamethrough some mystical
processbound to the nation.
It is worth asking why so many prominent
intellectuals of the period completely ignored the naturalization issue and why they had
so little faith in the political arena as a source of national cohesion. For some
intellectuals such as Manuel Gálvez, whose authoritarian tendencies have already been
noted, the idea of popular sovereignty and uniform citizenship rights, integral to the
vision of the nation as an association of citizens, offended their belief in a natural
hierarchy. Additionally, such individuals also saw civil equality and democratic
institutions as being ill-suited to protect the higher interests of the nation. (Recall,
for example, Gálvezs insistence that Protestant preachers should be deported
despite constitutional guarantees to the contrary.) Not surprisingly, Gálvez supported
Argentinas first military coup, led by an ultra-nationalist military faction in
1930, that ended Argentinas experiment with democracy.98
But it would be false to portray all intellectuals
who embraced the ethnocultural understanding of nationality as anti-democratic. Although
their reaction is not known, it is doubtful that individuals such as Soto y Calvo,
"Last Reason," and Saldías sympathized with the 1930 coup. And Ricardo Rojas,
despite his obvious elitism, remained a supporter of democratic institutions. An
implacable critic of the military coup and the fraudulent government that followed, Rojas
endured two years of internal exile in Tierra del Fuego (Argentinas equivalent of
Siberia) for his beliefs.99
The question remains: Why then, did Rojas and others
with democratic inclinations not see formal citizenship as an essential component of
Argentineness? Why did they not see a common political life and uniform citizenship rights
as a basis of national solidarity and cohesion, or view bringing the immigrant into the
political process as a way to strengthen the nation? Part of the answer must lie in the
fact that early twentieth-century Argentines had had very little experience living in a
functioning democracy. Despite the ideals of nineteenth-century leaders and the 1914
electoral reforms, democracy had very shallow roots in Argentina, and the notion of
citizenship was extraordinarily weak.100 Politics had always served to
divide rather than unite the nation, with factional disputes all too often resolved with
bullets rather than ballots. Given this history, it was not surprising that few
intellectuals would see the political sphere as a source of cohesion, nor that many would
turn to cultural nationalism as a way of integrating a nation newly shaken by the
centrifugal forces of rapid modernization and massive immigration.
There is, of course, a certain irony in
Argentinas enduring preoccupation with immigration. In a century or so, the
immigrant passed from the status of nation-builder to that of a potential threat to the
national soul, as well as a potential element in the emerging national race. In many ways
the immigrant was the quintessential Other: his place and putative role in Argentina had
less to do with whatever qualities he might possess or bring to his adoptive nation, than
with the projections, anxieties, and desires of the Argentines themselves, and with their
understanding of what their nation was or should become.
1 A much earlier version of this essay was presented
at the 1995 meetings of the American Historical Association in Chicago under the title
"What does it Mean to be Argentine? Nation, Nationality and Immigration in
Argentina." I wish to thank Douglas Klusmeyer, Sophie Pirie, Dietham Prowe, Anne
Rodrick, and Bruce Thompson for their helpful comments, both substantive and stylistic, on
subsequent drafts. This essay is dedicated to the memory of Frederick Bowser, friend and
2 In addition to William Rogers Brubakers
Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992) discussed
in this essay, see Kay Hailbronner, "Citizenship and Nationhood in Germany,"
Immigration and the Politics of Citizenship in Europe and North America, ed. William
Rogers Brubaker (New York: UP of America, 1989) 67-79; Douglas B. Klusmeyer, "Aliens,
Immigrants, and Citizens: The Politics of Inclusion in the Federal Republic of
Germany," Daedalus 122.3 (1993): 81-114.
3 Brubaker 109.
4 This is the period during which Argentine
intellectuals and political leaders were centrally concerned with immigration and its role
in the nation building process. I have chosen 1930 as the end point because in Argentina,
massive immigration ended with the onset of the Great Depression. While immigration did
not halt altogether, the economic crisis of the 1930s meant that Argentina would no longer
be a principle destination of European emigrants, and from that time on ceased to be a
topic of sustained official and public debate.
5 To date, most scholarly treatments of this period
have emphasized the xenophobic nature of Argentine cultural nationalism, arguing that the
early twentieth-century movement represented an attempt by elites to control and distance
themselves from the masses. See for example Carl Solberg, Immigration and Nationalism in
Argentina and Chile (Austin: U. Texas P, 1970); Richard Slatta, "The Gaucho in
Argentinas Quest for Identity," Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism 12
(1985):98-122; and David Viñas, "Niños y "criados favoritos:
De Amalia a Beatriz Guido a través de La gran aldea," in his Literatura argentina y
realidad política, (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1982) 78-112, esp.
93-106. While not discounting the Argentine elites fear of social upheaval and its
distaste for the working class immigrant, this line of interpretation tells only part of
the story. As will be developed below, cultural nationalism was not so much an attempt to
reject the immigrant as it was a means of integrating the newcomer into the national
community, but on terms that marginalized him politically. This, it seems to me, is the
fundamental paradox of Argentine cultural nationalism.
6 Hans Vogel, "New Citizens for a New Nation:
Naturalization in Early Independent Argentina," Hispanic American Historical Review
71.1 (1991): 108. The influence of the French Revolution on nineteenth-century Argentine
political thought is treated exhaustively by various authors in Imagen y recepción de la
Revolución Francesa en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: Grupo Editor Latinoamericano, 1990).
On the idea of the nation as a political entity or association of citizens, see also
Michael Reikenberg, "El concepto de la nación en la región del Plata
(1810-1831)," Entrepasados 3.4-5 (1993): 89-102.
7 José Carlos Chiaramonte, "Formas de
identidad en el Rio de la Plata luego de 1810," Boletín del Instituto de Historia
Argentina y Americana Dr. E. Ravignani 3rd series, number 1, semester 1 (1989): 83. See
also Benedict Andersons comments on the Latin American independence movements in his
Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1991) 67, 81.
8 José Luis Romero, A History of Argentine
Political Thought, trans. Thomas McGann, 2nd ed. (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1968) 71.
9 Vogel 108. The idea of volitional allegiance was
apparently well accepted, as evidenced by an essay penned by an "adoptive son of the
new nation" and published in the highly regarded Gaceta de Buenos Aires. According to
the unnamed author, place of birth had little to do with ones loyalties: "the
word patricio [patriot] does not mean creole [i.e., native-born]: all those who make up
this community regard it as their patria [fatherland]." Those individuals who
"observe the laws and customs, respect its government, and serve it with their
persons, fortunes and talents are patricios. Those born here are patricios by nature,
those settled here from abroad are patriots by adoption." Gaceta de Buenos Aires 17
Sep. 1810. Cited in Vogel 111.
10 Vogel 108-17.
11 Jorge Carlos Mitre, "La inmigración en la
Argentina y la identidad nacional," Historia 7.26 (Jun.-Aug. 1987): 43-44. Mitre
cites the original quotation, which appeared in La Gaceta Ministerial on 4 Sep. 1812.
12 Tulio Halperin Donghi, "Para qué la
inmigración? Ideología y política inmigratoria y aceleración del proceso modernizador:
El caso Argentino (1810-1914)," Jahrbuch Für Geschichte Von Staat, Wirtschaft und
Gesellschaft Lateinamerikas (Band 13, Bohlau Verlag, Koln, Wien, 1976) 443.
13 Quoted in Halperin, "Para qué?" 443.
14 Halperin, "Para qué?" 443.
15 As Jorge Myers has noted, the ideas of Romantic
thinker Johann Gottlieb Herder were disseminated in Argentina during this period
principally through French translations (Jorge E. Myers, "Revoluciones
inacabadas: Hacia una noción de revolución en el imaginario histórico
de la nueva generación argentina: Alberdi y Echeverría, 1837-1850," Imagen y
recepción de la Revolución Francesa en la Argentina [Buenos Aires: Grupo Editor
Latinoamericano, 1990] 251). For more discussion of the impact of German Romanticism on
Argentine thought in the first half of the nineteenth century, see Fermin Chavez,
Historicismo e Iluminismo en la cultura argentina (Buenos Aires: Editora del País S.A.,
1977) especially 43-61; and Eduardo Segovia Guerrero, La historiografía argentina del
romanticismo, diss. Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 1980.
16 Charles Hale, "Political and Social Ideas
in Latin America, 1870-1930," Cambridge History of Latin America, ed. Leslie Bethell,
vol. 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986) 373.
17 In the words of Esteban Echeverría, one of the
most prominent members of this generation: "We are no longer oppressed by the arms of
Spain, but her traditions cast dark shadows among us" (quoted in Romero 139).
18 Domingo R. Sarmiento, Facundo, 8th ed. (Buenos
Aires: Editorial Losada, 1963) 28. As Halperin has put it "The colonial legacy was
for Sarmiento something more than a bundle of habits, intellectual tendencies or
ideological prejudices: it was an entire style of life, molded as much by great open
spaces of the American pampa as by the Hispanic and pre-Hispanic heritage; in the language
of Sarmiento, it was the fruit of colonization and the peculiarities of the
terrain" (Halperin, "Para qué?" 444).
19 In true Romantic fashion, members of the
Generation of 1837 believed the Spanish language was inextricably bound to the Spanish
character they deplored and urged their countrymen to develop distinctively American
spellings and pronunciations that would serve as the basis for a new national language.
Some, such as Juan Bautista Alberdi, urged Argentines to think in French, which would
enable them to think more "rapidly and directly" than was possible in Spanish
(quoted in Myers 256). For more on the Generation of 1837 and language, see David Viñas,
"La mirada a Europa: Del viaje colonial al viaje estético," Literatura
argentina y realidad política, 2nd ed. (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina)
13-77, especially 18-19.
20 Romero 149.
21 This retreat must, of course, also be seen as
part of the generalized European reaction against the philosophy of natural rights and the
excesses of the French Revolution. On this point, see Hale 375 and Tulio Halperin Donghl,
Proyecto y construcción de una nación: Argentina, 1846-1880 (Caracas, Venezuela:
Biblioteca Ayucucho, 1980) 45.
22 Halperin, Una nación para el desierto argentino
(Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1982) 39-41. Echeverría echoed
Alberdis belief that Argentina must pass through a stage of restricted democracy.
While proclaiming that "Democracy is ... the only regime that suits us," he also
cautioned that the time was not yet right for unrestricted suffrage (quoted in Myers 258).
23 Even Alberdi, probably the least democratic
member of this generation, continued to maintain that the Argentine Revolution "in
its ideas was no more than a phase of the great French Revolution" (Hale 369).
24 According to Echeverría, liberal reformers
should concentrate on promoting the symbols of "liberty," "equality,"
"fraternity," "progress," and "association," forging them
into a coherent doctrine to become the basis of a unified, national system of belief
(quoted in Myers 258).
25 Quoted in Romero 143-44.
26 On this point see Halperin, "Para
qué?" 463-64. For a useful general discussion of ideas about race in the nineteenth
century, see Nancy Stepan, The Hour of Eugenics: Race, Gender and Nation in Latin America
(Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991).
27 These newcomers, these reformers believed, would
somehow "infect" the native population with the values and attitudes necessary
for economic development and liberal democracy. Alberdi expressed a common sentiment when
he proclaimed that "each [non-Spanish] European who immigrates brings us more
civilization in his habits ... than the best philosophy book." If Latin American
leaders wanted "the habits of order and industry" to prevail, they had to
attract people who possessed these traits. The qualities, he believed, were contagious
[pegajosos]: "beside European industry, soon American industry will form"
(quoted in Gladys Onegas La inmigración en la literatura argentina (1880-1910), 2nd
ed. (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1982) 29-30.
28 Carl Solberg, Immigration and Nationalism in
Argentina and Chile, 1890-1914 (Austin: U of Texas P, 1970) 35.
29 Indeed, as will be discussed below, many
Argentines expressed relief that most immigrants came from Spain and Italy. Latins, they
believed, could more easily be assimilated into the national population.
30 This is not to argue that all Argentines
relinquished the ideal of Argentina as a nation of citizens. Key exceptions were Sarmiento
and political leader Juan A. Alsina. And, as noted below, a faction of the elite resisted
the P.A.N. and attempted to push the democratic project forward.
31 Positivism, developed by French philosopher
Auguste Comte, enjoyed enormous prestige throughout late nineteenth-century Latin America
and proved extremely influential in Argentina. In the Latin American context, positivism
became a heterodox and protean set of ideas adapted to the needs of local situations,
unified principally by an all-encompassing faith in the scientific method. While Comte
himself did not develop a theory of politics, the idea of "scientific politics"
gained common currency among elites throughout Latin America. For an excellent synthetic
treatment of Latin American positivism, see Hales "Political and Social
32 Noé Jitrik, El mundo del Ochenta (Buenos Aires:
Centro Editor de América Latina, 1982) 20. The similarities between the ideas of the
Generation of 1837 and later positivist thinkers led philosopher Alejandro Korn to argue
in 1927 that Argentine positivism was of "autochthonous origin." (Hale, note
33 Torcuato S. Di Tella, "El impacto
inmigratorio sobre el sistema político argentino," Estudios migratorios
latinoamericanos 4.2 (Aug. 1989): 212-13. Di Tella estimates that immigrants made up
between 60 to 70% of these two classes.
34 Di Tella 212. Scholars have disagreed over the
reasons for this low naturalization. See, for example, Halperin ("Para qué?"
464-65), Oscár Cornblit, Ezequiel Gallo (h.); Afredo OConnell (Cornblit et al.,
"La generación del 80 y su proyecto," Argentina, sociedad de masas, eds.
Torcuato Di Tella, Gino Germani, and Jorge Graciarena, 3rd ed., [Buenos Aires: EUDEBA,
Buenos Aires, 1966] 48-51). Torcuato Di Tella (Di Tella "El impacto" 214); and
Hilda Sabato, "Citizenship, Political Participation and the Formation of the Public
Sphere in Buenos Aires, 1850s-1880s," Past and Present 136 (Aug. 1992): 139-63.
35 See for example, Zenón Bustos, "La
Revolución que nos amenaza," Revista de filosofía 5.9, 1st semester (1919) 145-56;
Manuel Carlés (founder of Argentine Patriotic League) interview, Buenos Aires Herald, 2
May 1919 n.p., and Definición de la Liga Patriótica (Guía del buen sentido social)
(Buenos Aires: privately published pamphlet, 1920); E. de. Cires, "La inmigración in
Buenos Aires," Revista Argentina de Ciencias Politicas 2.24 (24 Sep. 1912): 735-46.
This view of cultural nationalism as an elite response to fears of social upheaval
predominates in the historiography dealing with this period.
36 See for example, Francisco Stach, "La
defensa social y la inmigración," Boletín Mensual del Museo Social Argentino
5.55-56 (Jul.-Aug. 1916): 360-89; Lucas Ayarragaray, "Política Inmigratoria,"
9th Congreso Nacionalista (Buenos Aires: Imprenta Ventriglia, 1928) 469-79.
37 Influenced by the ideas of Gustav Le Bon,
Herbert Spencers Social Darwinism, and Italian criminologists, proponents of racial
improvement often pointed to social unrest, crime, disease, and delinquency as evidence of
racial degeneration, noting the "correlation between immigration and criminality as
proof of the connection between race and crime" (Eduardo Zimmermann, "Racial
Ideas and Social Reform: Argentina, 1890-1916," Hispanic American Historical Review
72.1 [Feb. 1992]: 36). Urging tighter controls over immigration, reformers hoped to halt
the further influx of inferior genetic stock. For a good introduction to the topic of
racial improvement in Latin America, see The Idea of Race in Latin America, 1870-1940, ed.
Richard Graham (Austin: U of Texas P, 1990); Nancy Stepan, "The Hour of
Eugenics": Latin America and the Movement for Racial Improvement, 1918-1940. For
Argentina specifically, see Zimmermann 23-46, and Diego Armus, "Mirando a los
Italianos: Algunos imagenes esbozadas por la elite en tiempos de la inmigración
masiva," La inmigración Italiano en la Argentina, eds. Fernando Devoto and
Gianfausto Rosoli (Buenos Aires: Editorial Biblos, 1985) 95-104.
38 Arturo Reynal OConnor, "Los poetas
argentinos," Ideas 3. 4-5 (Jul. 1904): 259. This essay later appeared as the preface
to OConnors book, Los poetas argentinos (Buenos Aires: Imprenta José Tragant,
39 Manuel Gálvez, El Solar de la Raza (Buenos
Aires: Editorial Tor, 1936) 37.
40 Alvaro Melián Lafinur, rev. of El solar de la
raza, by Manuel Gálvez, Nosotros (Nov. 1913): 202. See also Lafinurs comments about
French nationalist C. Maurras in the special Sunday supplement of La Nación, devoted to
the theme of Latinidad (4 Jul. 1926).
41 Ricardo Rojas, Silbarios de la decoración
americana (Buenos Aires: Editorial Losada, 1930) 151.
42 This tendency to ignore political institutions
reflects, of course, the cultural nationalists view of the nation as an ethnic
rather than a political entity. As John Hutchinson has noted, for cultural nationalists,
"the state is, at best, accidental, and is frequently regarded with
suspicion..."(John Hutchinson, "Moral Innovators and the Politics of
Regeneration: The Distinctive Role of Cultural Nationalists in Nation Building,"
Ethnicity and Nationalism, ed. Anthony Smith [New York: E.J. Brill, 1992] 103). This is
not to say, however, that this vision of nationhood had no political implications. On the
contrary, when a nations self-understanding is detached from political institutions
that guarantee citizens civil liberties and their right to participate in the
business of government, and when the interests of the nation are seen as taking precedence
over those of individuals, gross violations of the most basic human rights can result.
Twentieth-century Germany, of course provides a tragic example (M. Rainer Lepsius,
"The Nation and Nationalism in Germany," Social Research 52:1 [Spring 1985]:
49-50). In the case of Argentina, as will be discussed below, Manuel Gálvezs belief
that the collective interests of the nation should supersede those of the individual led
him to support the overthrow of a democratically elected government by a nationalistic,
fascist-type military faction. Further discussion of the political implications of the
ethnocultural vision follows.
43 Quoted in David Rocks Authoritarian
Argentina: The Nationalist Movement, Its History and Its Impact (Berkeley: U of California
P, 1993) 48.
44 Ricardo Rojas, La restauración nacionalista,
3rd ed. (Buenos Aires: A. Peña Lillo, 1971) 136. First published in 1909.
45 For a discussion of the relationship between
ethnocultural nationalism, Darwinism, and scientific racism, see Eric Hobsbawm, Nations
and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990)
107-8. For a very illuminating discussion of the relationship between scientific and
ethnocultural understandings of race in the Latin American context, see Hale 379-407.
46 Hobsbawm 102. The first great wave was, of
course, eighteenth-century political nationalism associated with the French Revolution. So
strong were these late nineteenth-century currents of ethnocultural nationalism that even
the French were not immune. See Brubaker 98.
47 David A. Brading, Prophecy and Myth in Mexican
History (Cambridge: Centre for Latin American Studies, U of Cambridge P, 1984) 73.
48 On the European roots of Argentine cultural
nationalism, see David Rock "Antecedents of the Argentine Right," The Argentine
Right: Its History and Intellectual Origins, 1910 to the Present, eds. Sandra McGee
Deutsch and Ronald Dolkart (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources Books, 1993) 1-34. See also
pages 74-75 of Carlos Altamirano and Beatriz Sarlo, "La Argentina del centenario:
Campo intellectual, vida literaria y temas ideológicos," Ensayos Argentinos 69-105.
For contemporary comments on German Romanticism in early twentieth-century Argentina, see
Roberto Vischer, "El sentimentalismo estético," Verbum 8.24 (Aug. 1914): 55-61.
49 In Europe, of course, the idea of national
character was also part of anti-positivist reaction. On this point see Mihály
Szegedy-Maszák, "The Idea of National Character: A Romantic Heritage," Concepts
of National Identity: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue, ed. Peter Boerner (Baden-Baden: Nomos
Verlagsgesellschaft, 1985) 45-61.
50 Quoted in Hale 416.
51 On this point, see my article "Making Sense
of Modernity: Changing Attitudes toward the Immigrant and the Gaucho in
Turn-of-the-Century Argentina," Comparative Studies in Society and History 38.3
52 Committed democrats, Yrigoyen and his followers
insisted that Argentina was ready for honest elections and a more open, participatory
system. In this regard they resembled the Socialist Party, which will be discussed below.
A significant difference, however, is that the Radicals rarely expressed interest in
courting immigrant support or encouraging naturalization. The obvious question, of course,
is what vision of nationality underlay the Radicals political program? Did they see
nations as being primarily political associations based on citizenship and the universal
values of equality and liberty? Or did they conceive of nations more as ethnocultural
communities? Space constraints prevent a full exploration of the U.C.R.s
understanding of nationhood, but much of language of Radicalism strongly resembled that of
cultural nationalists. See for example Radical activist and theorist Joaquín
Castellanos collection of essays published as Acción y Pensamiento (Buenos Aires:
J.A. Pellegrini, 1917), where he writes that the "yearnings" of the Radical
movement [agrupación] were in sync with and would help bring to fruition the
"complementary labors of the nationality... [these labors being] directed from the
depths of history by the living instinct of the race" [anhelos que tienden a cumplir
los labores complementarias de la nacionalidad, dirigidos desde el fondo de la historia
por el instinto vidente de la raza] (78). Yrigoyen himself was a fervent follower of the
German Karl Christian Krause, an early nineteenth-century disciple of Kant. For more on
the Radical vision of nationality, see as well Alberto M. Etkin, Bosquejo del al historia
y doctrina de la UCR (Buenos Aires: El Ateneo, 1928). It is also worth noting that both
Gálvez and Rojas eventually became strong supporters of Radicalism. On this point, see
David Rock, "Intellectual Precursors of Conservative Argentine Nationalism,"
Hispanic American Historical Review 67.2 (1987): 296.
53 Lepsius 57.
54 In Lepsiuss words: "In contrast [to
the model of the nation as an association of participating citizens], the idea of the folk
nation requires no dramatization of individual civil rights as the constitutive criterion
of the membership of an individual in a nation. The properties through which a people
becomes a nation concern a collectivity. The folk is conceived as a prepolitical essence;
the individual is subsumed under this collectivity.... The nation does not develop as a
politically constituted solidarity association of citizens. On the contrary, it appears as
a prepolitical essence which has a higher status than the individual" (49). This
vision of the nation as standing above the individual and the idea that national or
collective interests take precedence over those of the individual dovetailed with the
Spanish corporatist political traditions and Catholic social theory, both of which enjoyed
increasing popularity among certain sectors of the Argentine elite during this period. On
this point see Rock, "Intellectual Precursors."
55 Manuel Gálvez, El diario de Gabriel Quiroga:
Opiniones sobre la vida argentina (Buenos Aires: Arnoldo Möen, 1910) 68.
56 Salvador Debenedetti, "Sobre la formación
de una raza argentina," Revista de Filosofía 1, 2nd semester (1915): 416-17.
57 Juan Mas y Pi, "El arte en la
Argentina," Renacimiento 2.6 (Jan. 1911): 307.
58 Almafuerte (Pedro B. Palacios), "Discurso a
la juventud," Hebe 1 (1918): 18.
59 See for example Galvezs disparaging
remarks about Switzerland, which he believed lacked "spirit, grace and talent, and
was like one of those people, honest but vulgar, of an ordered life, who eat, work and
make love at fixed hours, incapable of committing a crime or dishonesty, certainly, but
also incapable of dreaming or creating" (Solar 56).
60 Gálvez, Diario 67.
61 Gálvez, Solar 58-59.
62 Gálvezs tendency to attribute personality
traits to heredity comes through elsewhere. In his discussion of the Argentine aristocracy
(which he claims was distinguished by its delicacy of feeling rather than its wealth), he
argues that the formation of an aristocracy is a "process of [biological]
selection." See "El espíritu de la aristocracia," published in a
collection of essays under the same title, (Buenos Aires: Agencia General de Libreria y
Publicaciones, 1924) 10.
63 Gálvez, Solar 14.
64 Gálvez, Diario 68.
65 Manuel Gálvez, Amigos y maestros de mi
juventud: Recuerdos de una vida literaria, 2nd ed., vol. 1 of 4 vols. (Buenos Aires:
Hachette, 1961) 44, 46.
66 Indeed, Rojas was at times extremely critical of
Spanish traditions. See for example, his discussion of the importance of non-Spanish
European influences in Argentina, without which "our education would have remained
[centered] in anagoge and the catechism, our politics in demagoguery and despotism, and
our economy in routine and monopoly" (Ricardo Rojas, Eurindia, 2nd ed., vol. 5 of his
Obras Completas (Buenos Aires: Juan Roldán, 1924) 197.
67 Rojas, Eurindia 170.
68 Ricardo Rojas, "Los gauchescos," La
literatura Argentina: Ensayo filósofico sobre la evolución de la cultura en el Plata,
2nd ed., vol. 1 of 4 vols. (Buenos Aires: Juan Roldán y C., 1924) 510. (This edition of
Los gauchescos is published as vols. 8 and 9 of Rojass Obras Completas.)
69 Rojas, Eurindia 161, 169.
70 Rojas, Los gauchescos 58, 74.
71 Rojas, Eurindia 134.
72 Rojas, Restauración 135.
73 Rojas, Restauración 48. These proposals
(similar to those enacted in France after 1880) suggest that Rojas believed it possible
for the state to teach immigrant children to be Argentines, and that Argentineness was
acquirable, that is, more a matter of conscious choice that an immutable state of being.
Yet despite his appeals for educational reforms geared toward instilling patriotism in the
school-age population, Rojas never strayed far from the Romantic vision of nationality.
For him, becoming an Argentine was always much more than simply embracing a political
creed, gaining knowledge of Argentine culture and traditions, or speaking Spanish. Even in
La restauración nacionalista, where he outlined his educational proposals, he suggests
that civic instruction had its limits. The true nationalizing force, he seemed to believe,
was the telluric power of the Argentine territory. The immigrant, he argued, could never
become a true Argentine, since he was "like the original immigrant of the colonial
period; he returns to his native country or dies in ours; he is insignificant [es algo que
pasa]. What will endure is the child of the immigrant and the descendants of his children
... for these have the common matrix imposed on them by the American environment"
74 This idea of the artist as the midwife of the
new Argentina was a recurring theme during this period. See, for example, Carlos
Altamirano and Beatriz Sarlo, "La Argentina del centenario: Campo intellectual, vida
literaria y temas ideológicos," Ensayos argentinos: De Sarmiento a la vanguardia
(Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1983) 69-105.
75 For a full discussion of the linguistic
component of the ethnocultural vision of the nation, see Hobsbawm 101-30.
76 The definitive history of the early
twentieth-century language debate in Argentina has yet to be written. For a useful
introduction to the topic, along with relevant texts from the period, see Alfredo V. E.
Rubione, En torno al criollismo: Textos y polémica (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de
América Latina, 1983).
77 Luciano Abeille, Idioma nacional de los
argentinos (Paris: Librairie Emile Bouillon, 1900) 5.
78 Abeille 35.
79 Abeille 424.
80 Ernesto Quesada, "El criollismo,"
Estudios, vol. 3 (Jun.-Jul. 1902): 251-453.
81 Enrique García Velloso. Response to Crítica
opinion survey "Llegarémos a Tener un Idioma Propio?" Crítica 21 Jun. 1927.
82 Gálvez. Response to Crítica opinion survey
"Llegarémos a Tener un Idioma Propio?" Crítica 20 Jun. 1927.
83 Ricardo Rojas, "Discurso del Decano Ricardo
Rojas, Inaugaración del Instituto de Filología," Verbum 17.61 (Sep. 1923): 36.
84 Rojas, Los gauchescos 866-67.
85 Ricardo Rojas, Alocución dirigido a los
bachilleres del Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires (12 Aug. 1928) 13. Pamphlet, privately
published, n.p. Located in archives of Museo Ricardo Rojas, Buenos Aires.
86 There is, to be sure, a certain defensive
quality about many of Rojass writings on the language question. In Eurindia, for
example, he argues that while the literature of each nation will develop a distinctive
content, this does not mean that the each nation will develop a unique language (74-78).
Yet elsewhere in the same work, where he compares language to "docile clay upon which
the poet or the people [pueblo] imprint the movements of their soul" (46), he seems
to suggest that language does indeed reflect the uniqueness of a people. Its unclear
whether Rojas ever resolved the contradictions in his position; the fact that his personal
copy of Abeilles book (located in the Ricardo Rojas Museum) is heavily underlined
and full of marginal notes suggests he struggled with the language issue.
87 Rojas. Response to Crítica opinion survey
"Llegarémos a Tener un Idioma Propio?" Crítica 13 Jun. 1927.
88 Francisco Soto y Calvo, "De la falta de
carácter en la literatura argentina," Estudios 2, vol. 4 (1903): 300.
89 Soto y Calvo 303.
90 Here "Last Reason" specifically
mentions Rojas. Response to Crítica opinion survey "Llegarémos a Tener un Idioma
Propio?" Crítica 16 Jun. 1927.
91 "Last Reason."
92 José Antonio Saldías. Response to Crítica
opinion survey "Llegarémos a Tener un Idioma Propio?" Crítica 12 Jun. 1927.
93 Quoted in Adolfo Dickmann, "El Socialismo y
el Principio de Nacionalidad," Nacionalismo y Socialismo (Buenos Aires: n.p., 1933)
29. It should be noted that while Justo attacked idea of race promoted by cultural
nationalists, he himself used their terminology. See for example, his comment that
"the Argentine race, the old, autochthonous race, is fatally condemned to
disappear" (quoted in Dickmann 29). It is also interesting to note that prominent
members of the Socialist Party also subscribed to some of the tenets of scientific racism
then widely accepted in Argentina. For a discussion, see Zimmermann.
94 Juan B. Justo, "Cimentar la paz," La
Vanguardia 9 Dec. 1918.
95 Augusto Bunge, El ideal argentino y el
socialismo (Buenos Aires: Libreria La Vanguardia, 1918) 41.
96 Bunge 53. Perhaps the most impassioned statement
of the idea that Argentineness was based not on descent or ethnicity but on a common
political creed came from socialist leader Enrique Dickmann. Dickmann, a Russian-born Jew
who immigrated to Argentina at the age of sixteen, became one of the first members of the
party to be elected to Congress. In a somewhat melodramatic speech to that body, Dickmann
related his reactions to a festival he had attended at his childrens elementary
school in Buenos Aires. Viewing the scores of youngsters assembled for the ceremony,
Dickmann said, he was struck by the diversity of the student body. Before him stood
"blondes, brunettes, whites, a few blacks, one or two mulattos, children of all races
... and all nations." His initial reaction, he told his fellow members of Congress,
was one of concern over the excessive cosmopolitanism of Argentine society and the
difficulty of creating a unified nation from such disparate elements. These fears,
however, were dispelled when the children rose together to sing the national anthem. So
moved was he, Dickmann confessed to his colleagues, that "I felt a real and
democratic unction. My eyes filled with tears, my heart compressed with happiness [as I]
reflected that up to now the cry of liberty contained in our anthem has been but a vague
aspiration, a far-off ideal, that now is being realized by the new political forces and
the new Argentine democracy.... [T]his cry of liberty will be real the day [we achieve]
true political liberty for the people, authentic economic liberty for the working class
and the freedom of conscience for all the men of the world who wish to inhabit the blessed
and fertile soil of Argentina!" (quoted in Dickmann 50).
97 It should be noted here that the Socialist Party
was not immune to Romantic influences. Indeed, one of the most divisive events during this
period was the 1913 crisis precipitated by a proposed duel between two prominent party
members, Alfredo Palacios and Manuel Ugarte. Ugarte, an intellectual internationally known
for his promotion of the idea of a pan-American Hispanic race, challenged Palacios to a
duel over a perceived insult. Palacios accepted. Although the duel was never fought, the
rest of the party leadership was incensed, since PS statutes expressly prohibited dueling.
After much debate, the executive committee voted to expel Ugarte, citing his "Latin
American obsession" and his excessive "patriotic atavism." (Minutes of
Meeting of Circunscripción 20a of Socialist Party, published in La Nación, Nov. 11-12
and reprinted in Manuel Ugarte y el Partido Socialista: Documentos recopilado por un
argentino (Buenos Aires: Union Editorial Hispano-Americana, 1914) 95-97. Palacios, a
dashing figure, famous for his sweeping mustache, wide-brim hats, and romantic exploits,
was only censored. He suffered expulsion two years later, however, when he accepted
another challenge for a duel. At that time serving as a representative of his party in the
Argentine National Congress, he was forced to resign when his party expelled him. In a
emotional resignation speech, he professed his continued support for socialist ideals, but
explained that as a man of Hispanic descent, he was simply unable to "tear from my
soul" his sense of traditional Spanish honor [perjucio caballeresco], because "I
am of the race, because I have it in my ... [Argentine] and Spanish blood!" (Diario
de Sesiones, vol. 1 [12 Jul. 1915]: 662.
98 Only a few years later, however, Galvez seemed
somewhat ambivalent about the coup that had deposed the aging President Yrigoyen. Indeed,
in 1933 he published a highly laudatory biography of the Radical leader.
99 The question of the relationship between the
ethnocultural understanding of nationhood and anti-democratic, authoritarian states is a
tricky one. As noted earlier, Lepsius has argued that the nation conceived as an
ethnocultural community (i.e., the folk nation) is "constitutionally
indifferent" (49). In contrast to the political understanding of nationhood that
emerged from the French Revolution, the ethnocultural vision of the nation can lend itself
to "the most different internal orders and constitutions imaginable [which] can be
justified through the sovereignty of the people [or folk]" (49-50). Thus
people who are drawn to such a vision of the nation can (and do) exhibit a wide variety of
political inclinations. Such was the case in Argentine, where the two founding fathers of
cultural nationalism, Gálvez and Rojas, followed very different political paths: in the
late 1920s and early 30s, Gálvez flirted with fascism while Rojas suffered internal
exile for his democratic views.
100 See note 44, especially the discussion of
Hilda Sabatos "Citizenship, Political Participation and the Formation of the
Public Sphere in Buenos Aires, 1850-1880s."