The cultural dimension in the Atlantic thought: presences, absences and remains between centuries

di Sonia Valle de Frutos, Dora Armonía Bonardo


This essay attempts to look closer to understand the diverse and multicultural in the nations with liberal ideology, at the Atlantic area, between the eighteenth and nineteenth century. It will aid by the work and words of some Latin American thinkers. The paper will present a framework with theories that were implanted in the Latin American and a fundamental guide as an explanation of the meaning given to the terms of culture and civilization. Among them we will consider evolutionary ideas, Darwinists and positivists that emerged from the Atlantic area. We will include references of theories of progress and races, now we can also use them to make interpretation of cultural diversity through its re-conceptualization.

The present article forms a part of the Project of Investigation:”El pensamiento liberal atlántico, 1770-1880. Fiscalidad, recursos naturales, integración social y política exterior desde una perspectiva comparada”, directed by the Professor Pedro Pérez Herrero, Director of the Institute of Latin American Studies (IELAT), University of Alcala de Henares, Madrid, Spain


Fundamental questions that it will include the cultural dimension, not only in the Latin American area but also at international level, in the last three centuries with respect to the form to organize and to vehicular material their elements as much spiritual, have state marked by the evolutionary change of the concepts of culture and civilization. The passage of its singularity to its plurality presupposes interaction between different cultural areas. Their recognition has been developed through the improvement in the communications, which has allowed that every time has been possible a greater circulation of the political ideas and a greater flow of cultural contents. The differences in the perception and interpretation of the illustrated thoughts, and the 19th century thoughts and their transmission through time are in favor noticeable fundamentally, not only of the interpretation of the ideas, but also by policies that have presented/displayed different answers before same to problematic one. Different they are the political cultures that have been creating each Latin American country like the cultural policies and the cultural management that has been applying.

Although the concept of civilization has been of form very unfortunate formulated like equivalent to the concept of culture from century XVIII, it has gone of the hand of concepts like modernity, rationality, progress and universality during the following century. The civilization has been like the referring one of the material elements in the cultural dimension, and it has been developed like a concept in unique appropriate by Europe. It is not easy to make a pursuit of how this term has been emitted throughout centuries XVIII and XIX through the historiography of univocal form. The objective of this test is to present/display an approach through diverse maps from where to locate equivalences and correspondences to the concept of civilization and the cultures within the westernization process to finish with recoil on the cultural dimension in the liberal thought.

Starting off from the own European colonizing powers corresponds different meanings to him located from its relation with “one another”. There are differences of the concept “civilization” in its Atlantic version, from the French informed thought, passing through the differences between the colonization and independence of the English colonies and the colonization and independence of the Spanish colonies. The type of cultural relation among them allowed that different types from identities civilizing from a different form were constructed to manage the cultural diversity and that would form the creation of a nation-be different. The struggle between the ideology and liberal thought, centralized and federalist thinking set up one way or another to understand civilization as part of a process of interaction between different cultural areas, as a unitary civilization project, or as a civilizing project of barbarians under the banner of modernity and progress. Theories about the breeds will allow justify part of these ideological or cultural movements.

The concept of culture in the singular, understood during the 18th and 19th centuries as a construct belonging to the middle class or educated classes, will give rise to call the culture of elites or high culture, will essentially have their equivalence to the civilized classes, not just popular or indigenous. Thus understood culture in plural will be an afterthought of the 20th century as a fight for equality and freedom, where will take place the concept of culture from the anthropological point of view, that is, as way of life and at the same time, isolates its sociological meaning, focused on the evocation to art and letters of minorities.

Types of Atlantic identities of civilizations

There are several ways that facilitate us reflection on how cultural diversity was managed from the various empires based on their identities and relationships created with relations between the so-called “civilization” and “primitive societies”.

Firstly, the concept of “pagan” that can be viewed in those empires come from societies whose cultural style presents religion as the distinctive element in the historical moment in which it is used. The pagan concept may be used to affirm religious annulment of primitive societies. According to one of the English historians, Toynbee, contemporary expert in relations with the civilizations, the type of relationship that is created in this case are considering the Spanish Empire and the Portuguese Empire. The identity type “dehumanised” the pagan that can become human or can humanize through the conversion: “the universality of the Church showed its sincerity in the provision of the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors to the ends of social exchange”, even to marriage, with converts to a Tridentine Roman Catholic Christianity, without paying attention to the “color”.

Second, the concept of “barbarian”, used by societies that proceeding as a religious society, moved its values to secular elements. The term “barbarian” is used by those representatives from companies whose cultural style is the “secular”, to assert a cultural void. It was first used to distinguish the “Hellenes” of the “barbarians” and then will be broadcast by the French and the Dutch Empire. As we shall see below, given the flow of ideas of the French enlightenment to the American continent, it is possible that this term appears in the works of Latin American thinkers in the 19th century in the company of the term civilization. This type of “dehumanised” identity of the barbarian can become human or can humanize through the imitation of the culture of the “other”. Contemporary authors such as Mignolo semi-double to “in” as in “civilization” served in Latin America as a category that denied to knowledge to “barbarism”. The incorporation of barbarism in the terms denied by civilization is what allows to transcend it, not claiming its opposite (barbarism) but claiming the strength of border that creates the possibility of the barbarism of refusing to itself as barbarism-in-la-otherness”. It reveal the barbarism-in-la-sameness that hid the category of civilization (Mignolo 1998).

In third place, the concept of “race” used by the British Empire to assert the nullity of being as human, this is, the creatures are considered as “subhuman”. Ultimately the use of concepts such as “heathen” or “barbarian” denying any human quality particular as either the religious or cultural, while “race” the human condition is to refuse. It will also be a concept that flow between the ideas of Latin American thinkers such as echo of the Atlantic thought.

Ways to articulate cultural diversity

One of the problematic issues in the management of configuration of the nation State, not only in the Latin American area but also in other areas civilizing, has been and still is the dichotomy between the homogeneity and heterogeneity of the population that lives in the borders of the nation-State. Paradigms developed by 19th century European authors such as John Stuart Mill, Massimo British d´Azeglio and the French Ernest Renan (Quijada 1994) made it clear that the borders of the Governments had to essentially match the Nations and therefore the population had to be ethnically and culturally homogeneous.

This thought collides head-on with the acceptance of the diversity of cultures or cultural groups, well in the form of ethnic group or in the form of community. It is however supported the ideas of 19th century Latin American thinkers.

There will be multiple addresses as a way of articulating and circular ideas about cultural diversity. Firstly, the racist paradigm that presents different positions (Thomson S). On the one hand, the notion of “race” modern did not emerge until the end of the 18th century, to break the feudal estates, the development of the classification of illustrated science or the expansion of Atlantic slavery. On the other hand, proposes that the modern notions of race emerged in the 19th century with the English theories of Darwin, the reconsolidation of social hierarchies within the nascent nation States and as a result of the abolition of slavery.

Of one or another way we see Latin American thinkers in the 19th century used the concept of race and that justifying with scientific theories will attempt to verify the superiority of the genotype of the white or the colonizer. Such is the case of the Mexican Vicente Riva Palacio (1832-1896) which proposes to scientifically founded “the law of the superiority of the white” in the transmission of the characters and where estimated that one or two centuries will be the time that takes Mexico to “whiten” (Favre 1998). In the case of Argentina, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, that considered in his Conflicts and harmonies of the races in America (1883) that the product of mixed population carried Argentina to failure so recommended sanitation with top European blood. In Brazil, Oliveira Lima bet because the blood Indian and black will dilute in white. Examples that will manifest in a concept of culture approached from the hierarchical approach in which the existence of some cultures over others under a genotypic point of view, arises a salvageable or not always surmountable hierarchy by religious conversion or cultural imitation or configuration of the social classes and that, therefore, not go to the consideration of equality between cultures.

Secondly, in the Atlantic area, in the 18th century the term culture becomes equivalent to the civilization. In that way civilization or culture will come to constitute the parameter or criterion that measures the degree of civilization of a society. Thus, the culture becomes a set of practices that allows to evaluates and rank political regimes, according to a criterion of evolution. On the concept of culture introduces the idea of time, but continuous, linear and in evolution, in such a way that culture becomes a synonym for progress. The progress of a civilization is valued for its culture and culture measured by progress that brings to a civilization (Chaui 2008).

Evolutionary paradigm based on Atlantic thought with politicians such as Condorcet, important French thinker who popularized the ideals of the Enlightenment, as well as the French Revolution and the creation of the American republics, which in his work The progress of the human spirit “establishes a single scale of civilizations on top of which are more enlightened, the more free people, the most extensive of prejudices, the French and the access […] while a vast distance separates them from the servitude of Indians of the barbarism of the African peoples of the ignorance of the savages” (Valle 2008). Another French Joseph François Lafitau (1724) wrote Mouers des sauvages ameriquains, comparees aux moeurs des premiers temps. It is the story of the conversion of the “savages” and “cannibals” away in space (West Indies) to “primitive” away at the time. The paradigm to which contributes Lafitau, is the great paradigm of modernity in which the planet and universal history is intended in relation to a temporal progress of humanity from the primitive to the civilized.

From the British side, Herbert Spencer in his work The study of sociology raised a classification in humanity divided into three large groups: 1) uncivilized societies, 2) civilized, extinct or in decline and 3) civilized societies, of recent growth. And according to natural selection, every creature that was unable to cope with the rigors of the existence is destined to perish. As part of its tenets ethnic discrimination will not be on the same line as the positivist doctrines that tend more towards the protection of the human race.

This paradigm is not held as above that the Indians or Indians are lower in nature but are by product of its relation with the history. Thesis which will be held by the Mexican Francisco Pimentel (1864) in his Report on the causes that has led to the current situation of the indigenous race and means to remedy it.

Other Latin American thinkers used his ideas the positivist and evolutionist ideas using the dichotomy between civilization and barbarism, and in some cases referred to the wild. The most representative was Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who in his work Civilization and barbarism, life of Juan Facundo Quiroga (1845), the civilization is seen as the foreign model to follow, equivalent to the modernization and barbarism as representation of those ethnic groups, which must be absorbed by the civilization. Cultural diversity is seen negatively, this is, as an element not only to be denied but also destroyed. In the context in which the work is made with the struggle between unitary and federalist, Sarmiento established a model of strong unitary State that breaks with the leadership at the regionalisms (Alvarado Borgoño 2004). Sarmiento rejects rural populations because they represent the backwardness, primitivism and barbarism since they do not accept the “European civilization”, present in the cities modernity. These are his words:

 This is the story of Argentine cities. All of them have to claim glories, civilization and the past. Now the barbarization level weighs on all of them. The barbarism of the interior has come to penetrate to the streets of Buenos Aires. From 1810 until 1840, the provinces that encompass so much civilization in their cities were too barbaric, however, to destroy its momentum with colossal work of the revolution of independence. Now that nothing remains them than in men, lights and institutions had, what will become of them? Ignorance and poverty, which is the consequence, are as birds dying, waiting for the cities of the interior to give the last to devour its prey, to make them stay, field. Buenos Aires can again be what it was, because the European civilisation is so strong, that in spite of the brutalities of the Government has to hold. But in the provinces, what will you support? Two centuries they not be sufficient to return to the road that have been abandoned, since the present generation educates their children into barbarism that she has reached. Do ask us now why fight? We fight for a return to the cities his own life (Sarmiento 1845).

 Author critical of Sarmiento, Juan Bautista Alberdi (1810-1884) makes mention in his Bases and points of departure for the political organization of the Republic of Argentina (1853) that the civilising project that will be the need to populate Argentina, composed by a minority of Indians, should be civilized populations, in principle of modern society to which you aspire. However you will come to recognize that the dichotomy between civilized and savage is also present in Europe. We appreciate his political ideas:

To govern is to populate in the sense that populate is educate, improve, civilize, enrich and enlarge spontaneously and quickly, as happened in the United States.

More to civilize the population through you need to do with civilized peoples; to educate our American freedom and the industry need to populate it with more advanced Europe in freedom and in industry stocks, as in the United States. The United States can be very capable of making a good citizen free of abject and servile, Oleh by simple natural to exercise their freedom, so outspoken and strong pressure which is the law of the country, without anyone there thinks it may be otherwise.

But freedom that passes by American, is more European and foreign than it seems. The United States are American tradition of the three United Kingdom of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Free the United States citizen is often, the transformation of the subject free of free England, free Switzerland, free Belgium, free Holland, the wise and laborious Germany.

If the population of six million Anglo-Americans began the Republic of the United States, rather than increased with immigrants from Europe free and civilized, with that would have populated with Chinese or Asian Indians, with Africans, or Ottomans, would it be the same country of freemen who is today? […]. If Europe is the most civilized land of the ORB, in Europe and in the heart of their brilliant same capitals, there are millions more wild than in the America of the South. Everything is civilized is European, at least in origin, but not everything that is European is civilized; and more ignorant in industry and freedom than the hordes of la Pampa and Chaco is perfectly conceived the hypothesis of a new country populated with Europeans.

 We can see the equivalence of civilization to modernity, and the conquest of modernity is achieved through other high culture. However, in the case of Mexico, by contrast with the Argentina, the highest percentage of the population at the beginning of 19th century was from the Indians, who in turn did not speak Spanish most. The liberal intellectual, Ignacio Ramírez, stated in 1856 that the Mexican population was not homogeneous when he says: “lift up the light misting of the mixed-race that extends everywhere and will find one hundred Nations who vainly strive today confuse in a single […]”. Many of these peoples retain still traditions of diverse origin and nationality independent and glorious (tlascaltecas, Otomí, Yucatecan). […] These races preserved even their nationality protected by domestic households and marriages between them are very rare; between them and mixed races […] become less frequent every day. In the end, love retains the territorial division prior to the colony. This heterogeneity based in a lack of communication brings economic and political consequences. “Encourages the marginalization of the majority of the population of the country and the domination of a paternalistic minority more imbued with a colonial mentality” (Pérez Rivera 2007, 87).

Not all thinkers focus the problem of cultural diversity with the attention nor in the Indian and European, but “mestizo”. The influence of positivism of Comte (Valle de Frutos 2008), is clearly visible in Mexican thinkers where it is considered that the progress and modernity can reach claiming the role of the mestizo, coming out of the barbarism of the Indian. Although inline follow whereas the Indian not prepared to undertake the civilizing tasks that you can be in your mix with the Creoles. In the “cosmic race” Vasconcelos opts clearly in favour of miscegenation, even a way acquired by the colonisation type itself:

The Spanish colonization created miscegenation. This points to its character, sets its responsibility and defines its future. English continued crossing only white, and exterminated the indigenous; follows exterminating it in the deaf more efficient, economic struggle that Navy’s conquest. This proves its limitation and is an indication of its decline. Big, equals the incestuous marriage of the Pharaohs, which undermined the virtue of that race, and contradicts the further end of the story, which is to achieve the fusion of cultures and peoples (Vasconcelos 1925, 43).

But one of the crucial problems in the American continent was precisely the assign a social rank to “mixed race”, since both the whites and the Indians already enjoyed rights and duties that are differentiated by social order marked since the conquest. For this reason, according to Carmagnani (2004), aspiration of “mixed race” and mulattoes form part of a Guild is due to the conception of the hierarchical society that people exist only to the extent that they belong to a social group or a corporation. One of the mechanisms that favoured the entry of new ethnic groups to the hierarchical society was the Organization of urban and rural militias in the course of the second half of the 18th century (Carmagnani 2004, 85).

Argentine liberal thinker, Bartolomé Mitre, historian and journalist, it refers to the civilization in his Soledad (1847) as equivalent to what is considered culture, not as a way of life, but understood as art and literature, gender to be developed by a minority circle of society. The message of the evolutionary development of peoples, which will be aimed at reaching civilization in the singular with its different historical stages and as a project, whose imitation has not allowed the art in your display with the literature has been created in a particular way without history, can be seen by positivist influence in their ideas:


Of South America is the part of the poor world of original novelists.” If we stand for investigating the causes of poverty, we would say that it seems that the novel is the highest expression of the civilization of a people, along the lines of those fruits that emerge only when the tree is full of their development. When society is complete, civilization develops, then widens the intellectual sphere, and a new form that concrete the various elements that make up the life of a people come to such a State of maturity […] is essential. This is why we would like the novel to take deep roots in the Virgin soil of America. The people ignored its history, barely formed habits have not been philosophically studied, and modified by the mode of being political and social ideas and feelings have not been presented under copied alive and animated forms of the society in which we live. “The novel popularized history throwing hand of the events of the conquest, colonial and memories of the war of independence (Mitre 1847).

On the other hand, not only allows the novel as part of and transmission of the cultural dimension of peoples fundamental element, but also poetry is seen as “a method of higher education”. In another his Rimas (1876) reflects the illustrated ideas of progress and experimentation by placing as models to England and United States both from the material and the spiritual plane. Their discernment on the differences between the French secularization, German philosophy and English evangelization, the latter as the element that can better create a moral society is priceless. With his words: the England and the United States, the most progressive peoples of the world, and the two that with more tenacity and courage have:

The ideal pursued in the area of the experiment. These two Nations working for a long time to improve social status through the partial improvement of individuals, to the inverse of the Germans, who aim to regenerate a whole humanity through these universal spells, which are called philosophical systems; and to the reverse also of the French, making sixty years are shaken in the vicious circle of the revolutions, seeking institutions appropriate to the man, before forming the instincts of man, or what is the same, the man to appropriate institutions. In England and in the United States, the issue is which relates to the souls and consciences. So V. sees them getting all its powers to the spread of moral societies that enhance Customs, to the development of the liberty of thinking, to the dissemination of the statement primary, improving the human condition, shedding profusely by the universe all the poetic word of the old and New Testament (Mitre 1876).

Another fundamental equivalences to the concept of civilization is without a doubt of modernity. According to Alejandro Sebazco (2003): “Modernity appears as the colonial territories of Spain and after the wars of independence, to the ‘flashing’ republics of Latin America, such as the summary of the ideological, economic, political and social values of the most industrialized and most technologically advanced countries that are presented as a paradigm for other countries”. In the Latin American case, “modernity” appears as the fruit of the “Protestant countries” that is erect as paradigms alien to the tradition of “Hispanic Catholic World”, which is explained by the so-called ethnic and ethical territorialisation: “For this reason explains that in 19th century Latin America as a synonym of “modernity” were used (and still use) the euphemisms of “progress” and “civilization” that are incorporated in the twentieth century other terms with equivalent in meaning as “europeanisation”, “norteamerication”, or simply “westernization” (Sebazco 2003, 367).

Critical thinkers to modernity in the nineteenth century as the Venezuelan Ramon Ramirez (1885) in his work Christianity and freedom. Essay on American civilization, criticizes the importation of European models and appeals to one higher native American values in trust. The author notes that “European civilization creates materialism and ignores the spirit” (Sebazco 2003, 368). A reference to the concept of civilization that from Germany which will be the orientation of the material civilization and the spiritual elements to culture.

In Ecuador, another thinker and historian of the independence and the early years of the Republic, founder of the Liberal Party, Pedro Fermín Cervallos Villacreses should be noted his Summary of the history of Ecuador (1870) from the source until 1845, which introduces the concept of race, the concept of “American race” and begins to express themselves universalist thinking on the subject also expressed by Martí (1891), but from an intercultural point of view, this is, with an exchange and transfer of cultural elements from an implied equality:

Fortunately, the current American breed, docile and communicative, race has received not only without revulsion, before with pleasure, how much comes from Europe, and this is reason, leveling our customs with the civilized peoples, with respect to many points of civil and social life, demotes we appear not extravagant or noted the lack of specialization in our habits.

Indeed, since the Ecuador conquered its independence and put in communication and trade with the other peoples of the earth, has been gradually losing the specialty of certain habits and accommodating to foreigners. Luxury for plenty of vanity on, lacking in poise and decorum due to lack of civility or rubbing of the world, are ailments rather belonging to the individual to society, and rather common to all peoples that none in particular. “Thus, our tastes, food and clothing are more or less the same as the cultured peoples, without another difference that the inequality of wealth and needs from (Cervallos 1870, 874).

But no doubt one of the great Latin American thinkers that will attempt to implement an alternative to the project of modernizing of the West is the thought of Martí (1891) with his project of modernity. His criticism of civilization calling it “devastating civilization”, his denial of the existence of “races”, the characterization of America through his key work “Our América” that will be different from what is “alien” from its conceptualization from what is “typical” of America. “Our America” will be a decisive word in Latin American thought as part of the Americas geo-cultural configuration. On the one hand our America on the other hand the Anglo-Saxon America. Career identity from the concept of “West Indies” through the concept of the “new world”, and then “América” will be marked by Martí in “Our America”.

Our America, as part of a process of westernization, will be marked at the same time by the cultural elements that the universalism of rationalistic civilization influenced through the liberal thought.

They fit to point out some features of the cultural dimension view from the ideology of Western liberalism, according to Ramon Soriano (2004), from the point of view of the rights of the cultures where you can see differences between classic and modern liberalism. Classical liberalism denies the rights of cultures to be unnecessary and create discrimination on the principle of equal rights. They are unnecessary, because simply the recognition of the rights of individuals as such, which includes individuals who form the cultures. On the other hand, the specialty of rights for cultures would break the liberal principle of equal rights. If we defend special rights for some sectors, people are not equal in rights, because some would have more rights than others.

The liberalism of the 17th and 18th centuries that is defending the person with respect to the law of the State, therefore there is no raised a problem of personal identities, but control of the State protection.

However, while classical liberalism maintains exclusivity of freedoms as unique rights protected by the State, modern liberalism denies this exclusivity and advocates the inclusion under the protective mantle of the status of certain collective, complementary rights of freedoms. Modern liberalism does not reject, but it tolerates a conditional rights of cultures. Individual freedoms are limits to the action of the State and also to the granting of rights of cultures. The liberalism of the 19th and 20th centuries marks the personal boundary on the collective, opting for the freedoms of the individual social rights. The problem of the identities of the collective and consequential rights to its development opens in this stage of liberalism. “The prevailing doctrine insists that the rights belong to individuals, who are part of the collectivities, and not to groups as such […]. In a last stage in which a contemporary liberalism already provides options that the conflict between the individual and society are not inevitable” (Soriano 2004, 149).

We have to ask ourselves if liberalism with his blindness to the collective rights of the cultures now presents the liberalization sign of liberalism of the eighteenth century. Soriano (2004) says verbatim: “I am afraid it will not be so while Liberals do not accept the equal value of cultures and not change the magic wand of liberal education towards the “coming-out” of lower cultures by a real intercultural dialogue of zero point”.


Dr. Sonia Valle de Frutos, Lecture at the Department of Communication Sciences I, Faculty of Communication Sciences, University of Rey Juan Carlos. Degree and PhD in Journalism (International Relations), University of Complutense de Madrid.

Co-autor: Mgter. Dora Armonía Bonardo. Research-Lecture in the Program on Science and Technology of the Republic of Argentina. Master of Public Administration and Ph.D. in Public Administration and Policy. Degree in Public Administration. Department of Public Administration. Regional University Center Atlantic Zone. National University of Comahue. Viedma. Río Negro, Argentina.


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