The need to create internal cohesion within the new republics was incorporated into the institutional process of nation building, by defining these new national identities as different from those of their sister republics. The fact that the territoriality of the new states was not arbitrary had to be adopted, knowing that it was not an accidental or circumstantial event. Here, the process became more complicated than it had in the United States due to the interest of highlighting cultural differences, not only before the old empire and the rest of the European nations, but also before neighboring republics that had share their historical experience for centuries. The political, social, economic, religious and linguistic unity of the Spanish empire was now broken into separate sovereign States.
Therefore, during the 19th and 20th centuries, there is a plentiful supply of historical, theoretical, artistic and critical literary works in Latin America, determined to discover the particular characteristics of each nationality. The 19th and 20th centuries are very aggressive when it comes to the production of literature about identity. Examples such as Civilización y barbarie (Civilization and Brutality), Ariel, Doña Bárbara (Mrs. Bárbara), La raza cósmica (The Cosmic Race), El laberinto de la soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude), Radiografía de la Pampa (X-ray of the Pampa), Calibán (Caliban), Contrapunto del tabaco y de la caña (The counterpoint of tobacco and sugarcane), Nuestra América (Our America), Siete ensayos para una interpretación de la realidad peruana (Seven essays on the Interpretation of the Peruvian reality), provide us with just a taste of this fixation with identity.
14 A clear glance at modern-day nationalism reveals cases of abnormal violence and destruction. There is a superfluity of examples where the perpetration of crimes against humanity challenges the imagination. Nazi Germany and Franco's National Catholicism in Spain are two examples which illustrate the consequences of brutality when the national identity does not halt at the recognition of shared characteristics as a justification for unity (both cultural and political), but transcends and perceives the other as an enemy that must be displaced, annihilated and conquered. But such pathological deviations do not necessarily go hand in hand with nationalism. It is also possible to use the cohesion provided by the concept of national identity for nation building and liberation purposes, not in opposition to others but in solidarity with them. The destruction of the old empires at the end of World War II was possible because of the resurgence of national liberation movements riding on ideas of identity. The liberation of the Eastern European countries, Singapore, India, The Philippines, many English-speaking Caribbean islands, and later Vietnam, would not have been possible without a nationalistic beginning. In Ireland, cultural identity was central in the creation of political projects and fight strategies, which resulted in its independence from England and the creation of the Republic of Ireland.
15 It is worth adding a comment about a possible confusion. We previously mentioned that the problem of identity is an invention of modernity, but this assertion does not invalidate what some historians of ideas, like the Chilean historian, Eduardo Devés, have observed. We refer to the fact that, beyond a binomial, a kind of identity-modernity antinomy has also been identified, which has critically led Latin American thinking since mid-19th century. According to Devés, various groups of Latin American thinkers in each historical period (i.e. fashion, generations, schools, etc…) have stressed either modernity or identity. Modernity has evolved from period to period, shaped according to specific and usually foreign issues, perceived as strange, that come from those countries that seem to be at the forefront of progress and have some type of technology as a symbol. On the other hand, although the issue of identity also changes in accordance with each period, it sticks to what is native, which is not understood as a limitation but as the recognition of a particular reality that allows us to think in more realistic and consistent futures. The alternative: the adoption of philosophies originating from other environments, from the center of the modern world, which lean toward alienation and uselessness. At the present time, Latin American thinking, concludes Devés, continues to have this dilemma and is in search of conciliation.
Epilogue Globalization's leading project, of the political economy of uncertainty, focuses on the destruction of the ability of Nation States to limit the behavior of capital. Said condition sans frontières, promoted by media companies that are also global in structure and vision, have had dramatic effects on the social reality of the world. Let us mention the production of unthinkable wealth; the unequal distribution of resources; the impoverishment of the marginalized populations and the middle class; the brutal influx of immigrants; the instability of labor markets; the escalation of corruption in government (recently nicknamed "cleptocracy"); political uncertainty and tensions among sectors; the appropriation of environmental resources by the market; the proliferation of penal institutions; the decrease of public spending on education; the hegemony of the neoliberal canon that interprets globalization as inevitable, and last but not least, a never-ending state of powerful cultural changes that influence the general levels of trust and hope, among others.
In view of this worldwide crisis, flags of criticism have been raised. We condemn the state of economic deception and of reemerging authoritarianism that regulate traditional liberties. We regret that men and women prefer short-term objectives, lack life plans and abandon themselves to the banality and selfishness of hedonism, above all of consumerism, without measuring the personal and collective consequences. The search for options to take the place of skepticism and institutional deterioration is seen everywhere nowadays, while we lament the proliferation of cynical and negative attitudes. Critics of this expansive cultural decadence feel that this anemic condition is a reasonable response when faced with the real circumstances of a world where the future is perceived as more of a threat than a promised land.
However, many of these critics refuse to find solutions in the Nation State structure, in spite of its historical success and proven statutory and benefactor ability. It seems there is little hope in the protection that could be offered by the discredited bureaucracies of the mega-States, what we call "governments". And there is also a call-to-action to create new identities that supplant the traditional notions of nationality.
Nevertheless, the world where we have to live (in short, as all the rest) is a temporary state of humanity. And, as a result of history, it is intended to be transformed. The current institutional order, far from reacting to natural laws, nourishes itself with interests and ideological notions that are, by nature, transitory. Right before dying, Pierre Bourdieu wrote that the Nation State, regardless if it does not deserve much enthusiasm and loyalty, continues to be the only legal and political mechanism to control the expansion of global economic interests. In other words, it seems that the world agenda shall be centered in the transformation of the Nation State, not its destruction.
The vital task of developing new political projects is just beginning. But let us not overlook the fact that thinking in valid options and organizing transforming corrective actions, by means of the State or not, inevitably requires the nourishment of a feeling of identity that establishes us in the reality and future. Enabling political projects with transformational value does not require the exaltation of the historical and collective identity, but it recognizes that we cannot avoid its claims. The fundamental need to rescue illusion, to allow us to shelter the daring of hope, as stated by Barack Obama, forces us to question who we are and where we are, without giving up on the unattainable.
Autor: Roberto Gándara Sánchez
Published: September 28, 2010.
Version: 09021103 Rev. 1