“Despite my inclinations to the contrary, I have racial sensitivities. I am Latin. I regard the civilised barbarian in the North with an inherited sense of mistrust. Today [the United States] has become a colossal society, and has adopted the goal of imposing its industry, its commerce, and its imperialism. Each citizen of the Union is a kind of stockholder… [upholding] an ideal of material perfection above moral perfection, and equating civilisation with the triumph of industry and commerce. We, by contrast, descendants of the Latins and educated by the Greeks, regard that person as most civilised who is most morally perfect. … I am proud to say I am bored with railroads and factory chimneys.” – Belisario J. Montero
ONE OF THE best aspects of Catholicism is the affirmation (for lack of a better word) of absolutely everything that is good throughout the world. All the peoples of the earth, each with their particular genius, eventually descend from the same parents. This gives one, I hope, a certain sympathy towards every nation and every people, and an anticipation that each one will eventually grow into the full flower of a Christian order appropriate to their particular characteristics and personality. Christianity is not oppressive and conformist in its universalism but instead all-embracing.
There is much to be admired in the sentiments expressed by Belisario Montero, an Argentine diplomat, in the comments cited above. To put them in context, they were made after the final collapse of the Spanish Empire following the Spanish-American War of 1898. Argentina, as you already know, is a place that excites me. In her is found so much of the idea of Europe, varyingly perfected and perverted, accidentally demolished in an attempt to save it and then put back together again not precisely as it was before. Marx “travelled” to Buenos Aires, but so did Maurras (and ultimately the Frenchman was more influential). For a time, photographs of Mussolini cut from the illustrated magazines were plastered onto the walls of aspirational working-class porteños trying to keep up with the latest European fad, and the military elite and social aristocracy combined to oppose the vulgar and destructive forces of liberal democracy and unbridled capitalism. Almost every coup in the nation’s history was received with a sigh of relief, especially (and ironically) the coups getting rid of whomever the previous welcome coup put in charge. Argentina has a long history of terrible success and beautiful failure. Perón himself is the very embodiment of this.
Of course, unlike Don Belisario, I am not a Latin. Celts are in some ways the distant cousins of the Anglo-Saxons (and not as distant as we like to pretend), who are cousins of the Germans and the Scandinavians and so on. Perhaps that makes us people of the North, though if so only tangentially. The United States, however, is undoubtedly a construct that is Northern and Protestant in its nature. This does not make it inherently bad, but it does mean it has inherent difficulties which must be overcome. Leo XIII put it very well, I think, when he wrote “We highly esteem and love exceedingly the young and vigorous American nation, in which We plainly discern latent forces for the advancement alike of civilisation and of Christianity”. The inherent difficulty is that the characteristics which can prove so conducive to spreading Christianity & civilisation are likewise capable of spreading godless materialism and consumerism.
“Despite my inclinations to the contrary” – that is the telling phrase. It is that typically Christian idea, to accept the limitations of race but restrain oneself from the errors of racism. (We must beware each and every -ism). And for every Americano sneering at the North, there is an Estadounidense who sneers at the laziness and corruption of the South. “Why don’t these people WORK?!?” (The answer: because there are more important things to do: namely, to live). Of course, both are right – and wrong.
And that is the frustration of reality: you will never find your Utopia to live in, except in the realm of the imagination, or – God willing – in the next life. You merely have to find the place where you are comfortable with the accommodations you’re forced to make.
Part of the fun of ‘New World’ places like the United States, Argentina, or South Africa is that you have that mix of different European cultural spirits. Who could doubt, for example, that, at the Cape of Good Hope, the commercial spirit of the Dutch was elevated by the civilisation of the Huguenots? But then the Dutch were already elevated themselves, as even the most cursory survey of that people must conclude. And again, for better or worse, a great deal of Prussia survives in South America. And Portugal, that tiny mother who gave birth to Brazil! A few weeks ago, the Lex column in the Financial Times suggested somewhat whimsically that a possible solution to Portugal’s financial woes would be for it to apply to become a Brazilian state – an idea charming in its idiosyncrasy.
What fun it would have been to be a fly on the wall in Victoria Ocampo’s villa in San Isidro, where Malraux, Stravinsky, Saint-Exupéry, Ortega y Gasset, and even Indira Gandhi were guests. And her journal, Sur, published all sorts of characters: Camus, Borges, even Pierre Drieu La Rochelle.
It’s telling that Doña Victoria studied at the Collège de France and attended lectures at the Sorbonne: Argentina (and America? South Africa? etc.?) is still dependent on a periodic influx from Europe, whether of blood or of intellect or of spirit – and those influxes have ceased because Europe has almost stopped producing any people or ideas or spirit.
But I expect this will change, and, God willing, things will improve for a time until the next great crisis is upon us.