The Problem of Democracy in Latin America

The Problem of Democracy in Latin America

The Problem of Democracy in Latin America

The Problem of Democracy in Latin America

Excerpt

Regrettably, there are fads and fashions in the acceptation of different explanatory perspectives in the study of Latin America. A substantial proportion of those professionally concerned with the interpretation of Latin American reality seem to become bored with an approach with which they have been for some time familiar and eagerly receive another made attractive by its apparent novelty.

One of the dominant strains of interpretation at present, accordingly, is a revival of the historical-cultural approach, which finds the explanation for authoritarian features of Latin American politics and society in attitudes and beliefs embodied in a Hispanic or Iberian culture that derives from the colonial period and before.While such attitudes and beliefs do of course have a certain measure of influence, I am disturbed, for reasons both extrinsic and intrinsic to the approach itself, to see them accepted as bearing the principal burden of social explanation. To some extent, as the stress on cultural explanation penetrates, through the teaching process, to students and the general public, it can become a genteel cover for racist arrogance. It can also become a pretext for acquiescing in situations which strenuous efforts should be made to change. If, because of long-ingrained attitudes and habits of mind, Latin Americans are more comfortable with authoritarian systems than with democracy, why should well-meaning Americans seek to exert their influence on the democratic side of the balance?

Apart from being pernicious in its effects, I also believe the cultural‐ historical approach to be quite wrong in its interpretation of Latin American reality.I strongly suspect that its premise is unsound; that in fact norms of hierarchy, inequality, and authoritarianism were no more prevalent in Hispanic culture of the colonial period than they were in contemporary Anglo-Saxon or other cultures; and that in fact, as survey results suggest, present-day attitudes in the Latin American countries are just as conducive to democratic systems as are attitudes in countries elsewhere in which such systems exist.More importantly, it seems to me that . . .

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