The Individualist Legacy in Latin America – The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty – Alvaro Vargas Llosa
Trigger warning: – la parte sana della tradizione latinoamericana – una una certa vocazione al commercio – scuola di Salamanca – spirito individualista – ribelli alla corona – municipalità – ripartire dalla cultura del nero –
It is often said that the root of Latin America’s underdevelopment lies in its statist tradition.1 That tradition goes as far back as the pre-Columbian states, under which masses of laborers toiled for the benefit of the ruling classes;
An individualist spirit has sought to manifest itself in Latin America in all historical periods. This legacy goes as far back as the family units that worked their own land and exchanged goods in ancient times, moving from them to the Jesuits of the School of Salamanca who discovered the monetary causes of inflation and the subjective nature of value at the very time when Spain colonized Latin America in the sixteenth century, and from them to the informal (black-market) economy that represents a contemporary and inventive response by the people to the state’s illegitimacy.
LO SPIRITO INDIVIDUALISTA
Trade and Property in Ancient Times
Despite the limits on communication imposed by the absence of pack animals and by the fact that the wheel had not yet been discovered in the area, trade occurred in all three of the great pre-Columbian civilizations—the Incas, the Aztecs, and the Mayas (who used the wheel only in toys).
Trade played an important part in making possible the loose confederate organization of the Maya culture that flourished in the Yucatán Peninsula and the surrounding areas,
A commercial tradition was also strong in Mexico. Before Tenochtitlán established itself as the undisputed capital of what is known as the Aztec Empire, that city-state coexisted with Tlatelolco, an entirely mercantile center.
The pochtecas specialized in long distance commerce and supervised markets in the Valley of Mexico.
Important cultures had surfaced in what is known today as Peru long before the Incas. The people of the Tiahuanaco culture, born around A.D. 500 in the mountains of southern Peru, traded intensely with the coast and even with Central America. Before the Inca Empire came into being, when the Inca kingdom was but one among many others, trade continued to be a part of life in the Andes.
Because the people had no written language, scant evidence exists of just how intense trade was before the Inca Empire and how much of it survived until Spain conquered South America, but notarial records of early colonial times attest to the Indians’ acquaintance with contract and commerce despite the stifling controls put in place by the Inca Empire.
Note:TANTO COMMERCIO PRIMA DELLA CONQUISTA
Another element of individualism, apart from commerce, also existed in the ancient Andes. Between the time of the Tiahuanaco culture’s decline and the emergence of the Inca Empire, a political eclipse occurred during which the people went back to their small land-based clans, which employed a form of private property. Each ayllu consisted of one or more families claiming to descend from some remote godlike ancestor.4 The families owned the land, which the chief distributed.
Anyone who visits a market fair among the Indian communities of the Andes, southern Mexico, or Guatemala will detect a powerful spirit of trade among peoples who in many ways remain remote from the mainstream of Western culture.
Note:FIERE E MERCATI
So among the Indians who came to be organized in vast empires under the Aztecs and the Incas, and in powerful city-states in the case of the Mayas, the spirit of the individual was not dead.
Rebellion and Sound Economics in Colonial Times
The conquest of South America was marked by tensions over property and autonomy between the conquerors and the Spanish monarchy that chartered them.
Note:SPAGNA E CONQISTADORES
In the mid-1540s, the Spanish monarchy established direct control over the colonies and enacted laws limiting the conquistadores’ estates (Muro Orejón 1945). The ensuing conflict in Peru saw the emergence of an ideologically motivated movement under Gonzalo Pizarro. Major intellectual voices justified their sedition against absolutism with ideas of government by consent and private property. The rebels based a good part of their claims on St. Thomas Aquinas’s natural-rights doctrine and on the medieval Spanish legal codes known as Las Siete Partidas,
Note:GONZALO PIZARRO… IL RIBELLE
In documents such as Representación de Huamanga, the manifesto of the rebellion, as well as in letters to the king, Gonzalo Pizarro and his men stated that defending property and questioning laws that had been passed without consultation was not tantamount to disloyalty (Lohmann Villena 1977).
Note:IL MANIFESTO DEI RIBELLI
A much more systematic and profound (if equally unheeded by the political authorities) contribution to the individualist spirit in the sixteenth century was the School of Salamanca, a group of Jesuit and Dominican scholastic thinkers now considered forerunners of the Austrian school of economics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Note:SCUOLA DI SALAMANCA
Although their teachings did not shape public policy in Spain or therefore in Latin America, where in practice scholasticism meant the theological justification of colonial oppression, the Salamancan scholars constitute a venerable legacy of sound economic thinking.
Long before the Austrians, the School of Salamanca discovered the subjective nature of value,
Note:IL VALORE SOGGETTIVO
Alejandro Chafuén (1986) has aptly described many other contributions made to the capitalist ethos by the School of Salamanca.
Francisco de Vitoria, a leading scholar, denounced the slavery of Indians as running contrary to natural law; Domingo de Soto and Tomás de Mercado criticized common ownership; Juan de Mariana justified killing tyrants because they violated law and consent, and he asked for both moderate taxes and a reduction of public spending; Martín de Azpilcueta, Luis de Molina, and Diego de Covarrubias y Leyva understood the monetary causes of inflation, a major topic at a time when the importation of Latin American bullion was affecting prices in Europe; and, finally, Fray Felipe de la Cruz and others, though not going so far as to accept the concept of interest, which was an anathema at the time, justified the discounting of bills of exchange.
Liberalism in Republican Times
The Spanish monopoly was an essential target of the Creole revolt. Being able to trade with England, France, Holland, and other places was a major aspiration. Additional forms of government intervention were also severely questioned. The ideas of Rousseau and other collectivists of the Enlightenment were not the only ones feeding Latin Americans’ imagination. The French Physiocrats, with their message of minimal government direction and their belief that progress came from the freedom of individuals to multiply the resources of nature, also had a strong impact, as did the American Founding Fathers, especially for leaders such as Francisco de Miranda.
Civic engagement at the local level during the independence struggle was symptomatic of grassroots efforts to decentralize power. These efforts were not like New England town-hall meetings, but the municipalities were focal points of citizen discussion and participation and of efforts at liberation from the centralized colonial structures.
The independence movement was a complex mix of liberal and conservative tendencies. The 1812 Constitution, signed by Spanish politicians and a number of Latin American delegates in the Spanish city of Cádiz under Napoleon’s occupation, became a symbol of liberalism for the independence movements. Yet this ideal on the part of some participants coexisted with a conservative distrust of liberalism on the part of many Creoles, for whom French influence in Spanish affairs actually became a reason for breaking ties with the metropolis.
Note:CONSERVATORI E LIBERALI
Amid the chaos and the furor of Latin America’s nineteenth century, one story speaks to us of a significant degree of civilization: Argentina’s relatively limited government under its 1853 Constitution, which laid the foundation for some seven decades of economic expansion. The name of Juan Bautista Alberdi, a leading member (together with Domingo Faustino Sarmiento) of the remarkable Argentine “generation of 1837,” has been lost amid the names of the more colorful, larger-than-life despots of his time (including that legendary tyrant José Manuel Rosas, who ruled from Buenos Aires until 1852). …Because of institutional reforms and no doubt also a cultural predisposition on the part of many European immigrants, the country experienced the second highest rate of economic growth and enjoyed the greatest rate of foreign investment …
Note:ARGENTINA 1853… UN ESEMPIO
Today’s Individualist Survivors
For proof that Latin Americans are the same as others in their instinctive pursuit of self-interest through enterprise and exchange, no contemporary phenomenon speaks more eloquently than the informal (“underground”) economy. It should be called the “survival economy” because it refers to the millions of people all over the world who carve out an existence for themselves
Note:IL SOMMERSO COME SEGNO DI VITALISMO
Housing, transport, manufacturing, retail commerce, and other activities to which informal producers devote their time represent approximately 60 percent of all hours worked in Peru (Ghersi 1997). Informal employment accounts for more than 50 percent of the working population in Mexico and for 40 percent of wage earners in Argentina (Ricci 2002), and it involves more Brazilians than the combined number of people in the public sector and in formal industry in that country (Neves 1999).
The informal economy has created not only a parallel economy but also a sort of parallel culture.
As early as 1971, anthropologist Keith Hart had delivered an address in which he spoke of the informal economy in some African nations as “a means of salvation” that allows people “denied success by the formal opportunity structure” to “increase their incomes” (Hart 1973, 67).
Note:NERO COME SALVEZZA
In Latin America, despite ritual gestures in favor of the informal economy, such as distributing property titles or deeds that signify “ownership,” but not real, fungible property in practice, the legal sector continues to exclude the “other” by imposing barrier after barrier to entry.
The individualist legacy is dual. One dimension is academic and intellectual, extending all the way from the School of Salamanca at the time when Latin America was an Iberian colony, to the handful of Latin American intellectuals who set out as early as the 1970s to debunk contemporary myths, among them Carlos Rangel in Venezuela and the pioneers of the Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala,