Eduardo Giannetti, an important Brazilian thinker launched his most recent book reflecting on Brazilian and Latin American perspectives regarding current civilization crisis. LAPE members received the extract below in order to start a discussion on links between New World (America) and their former colonizers (Europe). We have highlighted phrases which we felt were of particular significance and interest.
Parallel lives – In Eduardo Giannetti’s Trópicos Utópicos [Utopic Tropics] (2016)
The New World was the place of the most colossal and daring universal history experience of transculturation. Two peoples located in the far west of Europe – inhabitants of a peninsula and an island – lording overseas newly discovered lands and threw themselves into the adventure of occupation, land clearance and exploitation of the continent. Parallel biographies of the two Americas – the Iberian and Anglo-Saxon – have both similarities and differences.
In both cases the colonization involved the brutal conquest and subjugation – if not the extermination – of native peoples and cultures: the import on a large scale of millions of slaves who were transplanted against their will from the African continent to captive labour on farms and masters’ homes; attempts of invasion by European rival nations, especially France and the Netherlands, were repulsed successfully by the ruling metropolises; and both halves of the continent achieved their political independence between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, while Europe was living the traumas and turbulences of the “dual revolution” (industrial and French) and the Napoleonic wars. The various countries that emerged from this process have managed to preserve their formal sovereignty and create a strong sense of nationality.
However, the differences and contrasts are no less salient. Since colonial times, the economic, social and cultural trajectories of the two Americas diverged sharply. The roots of bifurcation back to the fantasies and myths that first encouraged the arrival of European immigrants to the continent are reported masterfully by Sergio Buarque de Holanda in Vision of Paradise: “If the first settlers of English America had been moved by desire of building, overcoming the wilderness, a Blessing community, free of religious and civil oppression that they endured in their homeland, and where they could finally realize the pure evangelical ideal, the Latin Americans were attracted by the hope of finding in his achievements a paradise made of mundane wealth and heavenly beatitude, offered to them without demanding higher labour, but as a free gift.”
The development of this plot in the history of the two Americas largely consolidated and amplified the original divergence. The Iberian-American and the Anglo-American are heirs of two distinct variants of European civilization: two polar and at some extent antagonistic cultures that competed for the geopolitical and spiritual supremacy of the dawn of the Renaissance and the age of discoveries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Generally speaking, one can say that the Southern and Northern Americas reflect and design, as in a large transatlantic mirror, religious, cultural and institutional differences between the Iberian and the Anglo-Saxon faces of the Old World. The contrast is not reduced to geopolitical and economic dimensions of the colonial adventure, but covers a clear and essential antagonism with respect to values and dominant beliefs – forms of life and sensitivity – of the rival metropolises. On the one hand, the Catholic Counter-Reformation, with a strong Jesuitical, missionary and inquisitorial accent; the attachment to medieval scholastic coupled with resistance to the winds, methods and ideals of Enlightenment; the centralized and bureaucratic absolutist Crown; and the parasite mercantilism of a rentier elite. And, on the other, the Protestant Reformation, with strong Puritan and Calvinist waves (“among the things of this life, the work is what most resembles the man to God”); vigorous adherence to the Enlightenment project of science and technology at service to rescuing the human condition through dominating nature and rational action; the institutional monarchy; and the primacy of competitive market and free enterprise as instruments of economic efficiency and capital accumulation.
Time, we know, was cruel to the pretensions of the Iberian world. Among the signs of peninsular decline and British rise, none is more emblematic perhaps than the improvised escape of the Portuguese crown to the Viceroyalty of Brazil, on the eve of the Napoleonic invasion, in 1808, under the protection and escort of the English navy.
The story, however, is ridiculing. In due time the British Pax gave way to global supremacy of its former colony overseas, and more: since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet empire, the torrent globalization originally from European colonial expansion in the Age of Discovery began to flow devastatingly in the opposite direction.
In the twenty-first century, it is the Old World that struggles to survive to the American way of life advancement, as warns, among others, the compared literature scholar George Steiner in The Idea of Europe: “Nothing threatens more radically Europe – ‘in its roots’ – than the exponential and detergent movement of Anglo-Americanism and of uniform values and image of the world that this devouring Esperanto brings with it; from Portuguese nightclubs to fast-food counters in Vladivostok, the computer and the culture of populism and mass-market speak Anglo-American. Europe will perish if she does not fight for her languages, local traditions and social autonomies.” The means employed are others, but the effects are equivalent. The transculturation flow turned and spilled. And so Cartoon Network arrived in Nepal.