Latin American Intellectuals and Today’s Thinking

By Armando Chaguaceda

Photo: Patricio Fernandez

HAVANA TIMES – There seem to be some common denominators that mark Latin American intellectuals’ identity and public actions. I must stress the “Latin American” part, because these aren’t universal characteristics. In other parts of the world, where intellectual thought and politics have a tight-knit and agonistic relationship, this connection takes on different characteristics. It’s a subject that could be discussed at great length, and this debate could become richer with more permanent data and reflections.*

Our first problem relates back to our relationship with the region’s powerhouse. Ever since Arielismo, we have understood the US to be the primordial source of our misfortune and a threat to our identity. However, unlike Eastern European or South Asian intellectuals – threatened by Russian or Chinese tyrannies – we have a much more complex legacy here.

Our imperialist neighbor is also a thriving and age-old republic. Jose Marti understood this duality, like very few people have. His disciples not so much. Intellectuals in Latin America, seeing themselves as great and symbolic warriors against Yankee Imperialism, despise the passing of the torch of the US democratic revolution’s heirs. If we were suffering under Beijing or Moscow, we might have understood this vital difference. As well as the opportunity for emancipation that this dualism involves.

The second point for discussion is Latin American intellectuals’ hellbent vision and righteous tendencies. Latin America is the most unequal region in the world. And our intellectuals defend the great battle flag of social equality. However, the main focus around social equality tends to be an equality that is founded on absolute values. Such goes against political freedom.

It is reduced to the patronage of a compassionate and market-phobic state, that goes against redistributive justice upheld by complex rights and politics. Strangely enough, a lot of European right-wing populism defends similar ideas, in terms of ethnicity.

A third point is their over-representation in unions. In Latin America – and other parts of the Western World – universities and cultural institutions are overpopulated with a certain kind of individual. Hegemony there corresponds to the Left, in its many variants. Accompanied by an insipid and passive center, which lets fundamentalist groups of the Left impose their vocabulary and agenda. This in turn leads to conservative intellectuals, who are mostly sheltered in private institutions.

This ideological over-representation is far-removed from the real demographic correlatives in the country. The regional population can’t be reduced to an -ism, not even a prevailing one. Periodic surveys – Latinobarometro o LAPOP, including others – show an extremely divided citizenship in Latin America in terms of values, political affiliations and voting.

However, public over-representation presents all of the academic world as “progressive”. Meaning that regional intellectuals aren’t particularly democratic, because they aren’t in line with the heterogenous identities and interests of the people they speak for. Including population groups.

A last characteristic of Latin American intellectuals is their explicit commitment to some kind of social change. If you assume that you can measure intellectuals’ political loyalty by what they write, speak or articulate, it is hard to assume academia is loyal to the liberal people’s republic.

It’s true that the repression of gorilla dictatorships made educated people understand the advantages of a parliament compared to a dungeon or guerrilla. However, the systemic public behavior of most Latin American intellectuals reflects a preference for revolutionary politics, instead of reformist ones. Their criticism doesn’t target the oligarchic shortcomings of liberal democracy, but its very foundations.

When we look at these points – an obsessive anti-US attitude, dogmatic egalitarianism, ideological over-representation and an illiberal tendency – we can better understand the identity of most Latin American intellectual groups. Resilient characteristics that define their present and compromise their renewal in the future.

*Please read interpretations by F. Pedrosa, M. Tenorio, P. Guassens, F. Degiovanni, J.C. Castro and Magdalena Lopez, to name a few.

Read more from Armando Chaguaceda’s diary here.

Armando Chaguaceda

Armando Chaguaceda: My curriculum vitae presents me as a historian and political scientist. I'm from an unclassifiable generation who collected the achievements, frustrations and promises of the Cuban Revolution and now resists on the island or contributes through numerous websites, trying to remain human without dying in the attempt.