WE NEED broad generalizations for our social and cultural thinking, as engineers need the formulae of physics. Both are working approximations, certain to shift with deepening awareness -- as, for example, Newton's mathematics was amended by the non-Euclideans, Einstein, the quantum theory. Man is an infinitely more complex field than physics. Therefore, our generalizations on man, compared to those of algebra or geometry, are at once more crude and more shifting, precisely because the human substance is more subtle and eternal. Thus, the generalization of the "three Americas." It ignores deep distinctions, in order to give us a conceptual tool for thinking America at all.

When I call the United States and Canada "one America," whose signature is Anglo-Saxon, I am not unaware of French Quebec. I know the weight and strength of non-Anglo-Saxon elements in the United States, the ever-widening and deepening contributions of Latin, Negro, Slav, Jew and Celt to our symphonic nation. Nevertheless, our dominant note -- political, psychological, cultural -- is an adaptation from British sources. Language has played a great rôle in this; for our words shape and limit the scope of our thinking. The Protestant religions have played a large part, even among those who have consciously abandoned the credos of their fathers. Most influential of all has been the excellent adaptability of British mores and values to the pioneer life of temperate North America and to the needs of a commercial-industrial civilization.

"The domain of Spanish" we may call a second America. It has far wider and subtler variations within it. Nations like Cuba have a strong Negro strain. Nations like Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, are profoundly determined by the high Indian cultures. Nations like Costa Rica are predominantly Spanish. Those like Argentina and Chile have strong European populations other than the Spanish. Yet they form one America, because of Spain and of the incidence with Spanish traits of the Indian cultures. Mexico, for instance, in which the inhabitants without Indian blood are a small minority, is a deeply Hispanic country, more Spanish in character than Argentina. And yet basic Hispanic elements persist in the Argentine transformation and converge with the primordial Indian traits of the gaucho. Even in a country where the Negro is strong, like Cuba, the African element has been Hispanicized. Cuba's music is close to Brazil's in idiom; but its accent, rhythm and meaning are closer to the Hispanic musics. Between all the American nations that speak Spanish there is a strong family resemblance which is determined not alone by language and the common heritage of history and religion, but more deeply by the selective convergence of Spanish and Indian traits upon a common American present.

The third America is Brazil. Brazil's racial elements are almost identical with those of Hispanic America; the man of Portugal is not far from the Spaniard; and the African and Indian components of Brazil are, of course, close to those of our second America. Yet Brazil is distinct -- as distinct, indeed, from the other great family of Ibero-America as she is from us. The Indian of the great tropical forest is at an adaptive disadvantage, compared to the Indian of Mexico or Peru. On the other hand, the African in Brazil's tropic forest is at an immense adaptive advantage. The Portuguese, moreover, since the earliest Christian centuries, has been a strong variant from the other "Spains" of Castile, Aragon, Andalusia, Catalonia. The resultant in Brazil of all these differently developed and selective strains is a people as distinct as we are from the passional and tragic America of Spain: a people in certain ways closer to us than to their Iberian brothers.

The three Americas vary in their understanding of each other. The weakest of them, economically and politically, because it is split into nearly 20 republics, the America that speaks Spanish,[i] understands itself and the other Americas best. The weak must understand the strong. And in the case of this America, political weakness is joined with cultural strength. Brazil has a slow cultural gait not unlike ours; a trait of a vast continental country which can take its time about making up its mind. Yet Brazil knows us far better than we know Brazil. Brazil's knowledge of the other Ibero-America is weaker. Perhaps one reason why we are better understood by them than they are by us is that we are more accessible to the Ibero-American understanding. There are, of course, hundreds of thousands of peasants from Mexico to Brazil who have scarcely heard of our existence, whereas any American is likely to have attended a balderdash movie "about" Rio. But large numbers of Ibero-Americans have in their past a strain of the European which makes the United States an open book, compared to what the Afro-Indian-Hispanic past is to most Americans.

Yet the reasons for our ignorance lie deeper. The strong need not know the weak neighbor. And our mind, so long as it remains complacently rooted in the shallow empiricism of the eighteenth century, cannot know cultures whose chief expressions are religious and aesthetic. A dimension of reality is lacking from our common consciousness; that is why, when the average American looks south, he sees a distorted vision of "picturesqueness" or violent revolution. But the deeper, because more organic, consciousness of the Ibero-American can embrace at least the surfaces of our commercial civilization and of our culture of comfort, entertainment and fact-finding. The great, dissident voices of our culture -- Emerson, Poe, Whitman, Thoreau -- have always been recognized and respected in the Ibero-Americas. And our masters of technics, industrial or political, have always found Ibero-American disciples.

The relations of the United States with the other Americas have been elementary, calling for little penetration beyond the needs of buying and selling. (There have, of course, been exceptions: Mexican art, for instance, has influenced our recent art; American archeologists have done good work in Central America. But the exceptions have not gone deep.) Our diplomatic relations have on the whole been patterned after our rudimentary business intercourse: a combination of bargaining and bulldozing, with rhetorical appeals to our mutual democratic tradition.

The conscious relations between the two Ibero-Americas have not been much better. In Brazil, there is an oppressive silence about her neighbors, although Mexico enjoys a remote high esteem. In Argentina the silence is broken too often by shallow irrelevancies about Brazil. The Spanish-speaking republics have little sense of unity on the political plane; they are but vaguely aware of Brazil as a potential power from whose growth they may all profit. Lack of functional intercourse is the chief hindrance to good inter-Ibero-American relations. There is not trade enough, although it grows. Argentine wheat, for instance, goes increasingly to Brazil in exchange for coffee. Uruguay and Chile know far more sharply their need of relations with the United States than with Brazil or with each other. The pervasive inter-Ibero-American feeling is cultural. And it is likely to ignore the difference between Brazil and the other republics. To the poets and novelists of Spanish-speaking America, Brazil is "one of us" -- and to the social revolutionaries, also.


Variety, confused, is weakness; integrated, it is life. Rich as the experience of these three Americas has been, their future holds a vastly deeper promise. Said Alfonso Reyes, the great Mexican man of letters: "We have never been able to resign ourselves, from both sides of the linguistic frontier, to the proposition that the American world is a geographic and historic accident; we have ever understood America in the prophetic sense."[ii] Sociology, economics, all human history, have conspired to make the poets' dream into a necessity. The three Americas need one another to become themselves. The functioning principle of each of the three -- and of each political entity within each -- must be the One America. As one, they can best do business together. As one, they can stand firm in a dangerous world and conserve their independence. As one, most important of all, they can channel and energize their national powers in a dynamic direction which will ensure health within each frontier, and harmony together. Their need is manifest in what each of them has that the others lack. The relations between them of exchange and mutual nurture are organic; they are the relations of integral personalities, each sovereign, yet for the fulfillment of its independence demanding integration with the others.

The three Americas have a more immediate possession than a hemisphere, a possession without which the hemisphere could easily disintegrate, in political and cultural terms, like Africa or Asia. It is their common sense of democratic destiny, their dynamic will that the term New World shall have a meaning deeper than the geographic in which the discoverers used it. The Jesuits in Paraguay, the Puritans in New England, were remote yet strict collaborators in what became the American Commandment: to build in this hemisphere the new City of Man. The eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century statesmen who forged the Americas' political independence turned this early religious aspiration into a secular religion. What it lost in depth it gained in practicability. Men like Jefferson and Franklin and their southern disciples who founded the Hispanic republics were convinced that the New World would issue from properly drafted political constitutions. Their conception of democracy was naïve; but it served to put the vision of free men on the statute books from Canada to Chile.

Freedom is infinitely more complex and tragic than these optimistic children of Rousseau and Locke conceived. The generations since they founded the American republics have had no greater, no more arduous task than to deepen the American religion of democracy. The United States played the leading rôle in its establishment, in the actual writing of it as the basis of all American law and in the development of social-political and mechanical technics for its propagation. The peoples of America Hispana, politically and economically our backward disciples, have played the leading rôle in the deepening of the democratic concept. This they have done, not by overt doctrine, but by their racially, aesthetically and intellectually more free and more organic ways of living.

The perils of the Americas, and their capacities, complement one another. In the Ibero-Americas there is danger that the released depths of emotional and aesthetic power, lacking order in political and economic forms, lacking communication, lacking industrial organization, may remain in flux and chaos. Our danger is that our stereotypes of economic and political forms, becoming ends and objects in themselves, may absorb our love, drain our energies, shallow and deplete our vision. Our life is perilously centrifugal. The life of the other Americas is perilously subjective. We save the lives of our children; through the schools and the mechanized arts of radio, newsprint, movie, we give them intellectual and aesthetic nurture. But we lack values for the substance of this nurture; we lack even the will and the "time" to criticize our lack of values. Our fellow-Americans, as superior to us in the substance of their values as we are to them in the matter of roads and the distribution of goods, let their children die; and those that survive, they permit to be exposed to alien, more efficient forms of communication.

The wondrous truth is that the three Americas have nurtured different aspects of the person, whose full growth in all dimensions is the heart of the common American religion of democracy. The person is not the mere individual. He is the individual aware of his organic and purposive part in the social group and in the cosmos. These two integrations are not divisible in life; only the needs of analysis may separate them. Integration in the group (which includes concentric bodies from family and labor union to sovereign state and international federation) requires social justice, race freedom, an ethic of mutual respect and service. Integration in the cosmos implies the experiences and activities of the arts and religion. And of course these activities cannot be dissolved from the individual's social and public conduct. Both integrations enlist all man's centers: his instinctive and emotional life, his will, his aesthetic and intellectual thinking. Only when the individual functions on all these planes and in all these directions is he a person. And democracy is the one principle of life which requires this wholeness of behavior; which, therefore, moves ineluctably toward the development of persons. In the totalitarian and aristocratic systems, for instance, the individual's responsibility toward public action is taken from him and vested in a leader or a caste. In the materialistic forms of Socialism and Communism that make an absolute of human society, the individual's direct conduit to the cosmos atrophies and disappears.

Democracy, in the complete sense that I have given it, must include not only all men, but the whole man. Freedom must mean growth not only for every man, but for every phase and dimension of the man. Short of this wholeness, as our modern history reveals, democracy develops the poisons to destroy itself; freedom employs its energies, privileges and genius, to abolish freedom.

In the United States, there is the will toward social justice. It remains shallow, fundamentally feeble; not only because our way of life fails to generate the capacity to confront the social injustice implicit in our economic institutions; even more because our blindness to the aesthetic and religious dimensions of man, our mute and deliberate contempt for the pre-rational and the organic, deprive us of the energy and insight for creative social action. In many of the Ibero-American countries the idea of the whole man has conspicuous acceptance, yet fails to flourish because of the lack of social-political technics without which man's social dimensions in our modern world cannot possibly develop.

Nevertheless, in the complete sense I have given it, democracy is the dominant will, the dominant intuition, of the three Americas. In this universal value, the American hemisphere is a new world; the concept of One America has meaning.


Now look at the map. You will see that Europe and Asia form one immense mass, with Africa -- a step below Gibraltar -- its appendage. Similarly, Australasia depends upon Eurasia and the masters of Eurasia. This is the eastern hemisphere. In area, it is seven-tenths of the terrestrial globe; in population, it is more than nine-tenths of mankind. Look again at the map. See how the vast arm of Asia thrusts from the west into the eye of our hemisphere at Alaska; see how, from the east, Africa looms upon us at the bulge of Brazil. The Americas are an island in this overwhelming land-mass; a minority island surrounded by the far greater lands and populations of the other hemisphere.

The American religion of democracy as I have defined it -- this bone of our political structure, this blood of our intimate ways -- is not shared, and never has been shared, by the overwhelming majority of the human masses. The concept of the person as the fundamental integer of value was born in the Mediterranean world. It is not of the main fabric of the great cultures of India, China, Japan. The Hindu's belief in reincarnation radically limits the person to an ephemeral form, and personal action to an extrinsic value. The Chinese ancestor-worship shifts the focus of good to the family and, largely, to the past; in Japan there is a state-idolatry closely akin to the religion of the Fascists. Russia's Christian tradition brings her within the domain of the person; Russia's current religion of dialectical materialism definitely -- even if only shallowly and temporarily -- places her in another camp. In Western Europe, where the religion of democracy was nurtured through its hazardous childhood, it is today engaged in a great struggle for survival. In Germany, Italy, Fascized Spain -- in fact, on the whole Continent -- its very existence is threatened. And the threat will outlast Hitler, since Fascism itself is a mere end-product of deep-grained antidemocratic forces within the very texture of modern European thought, and of the whole industrial West: forces which have penetrated into the altars of democracy, Great Britain, France and the United States: forces which unconsciously corrupt in large measure the liberal and radical thought that today complacently "leads" the fight against Fascism.

The enemy surrounds us. The enemy is within us. It is the inward enemy that we must ultimately face. For if we overcome the enemy without, we may still break from within. But if we overcome the enemy within, we shall be sound, we shall be whole, and no outward enemy shall break us. The great Oriental cultures, such as the Hindu, have been based upon a sense of the individual very distinct from ours. These are not enemy but alien cultures. Our modern civilization of techniques, of empiricism and science-worship, by reducing the dimensions of man's reality, is a falling away from our own basic vision. Here is the essential enemy. Its alliance, as in the case of Germany, with the alien culture of Japan, points to our fragile position in an overwhelmingly hostile world. The war against the outward enemy cannot be successfully conducted unless it is understood as a phase of the deep war against the inward enemy, lodged at the very heart of our liberal and radical thought. In this aspect of the war for the survival and nurture of the person, Ibero-America has resources as much more developed than ours as our physical defenses and our organized social will against the outward enemy are more developed than Ibero-America's.

We cannot win the true sense of ourselves without a true awareness of our limits; which means, awareness of what lies physically beyond us. Our hemisphere, this minority island, has in the United States, Canada, and, incipiently, Brazil and Argentina, a continental psychology. It must be changed for an island psychology.

A continental vision, like Russia's, India's or China's, gives to the people a feeling of invulnerability; makes them strong in defense, lethargic in attack. The people that feels itself an island, because it is vulnerable, becomes aggressive. Greece, during its brief unity under Alexander, had the island feeling. Rome, a peninsula, had it, as did Spain, also a peninsula, and in modern times, Britain and Japan. These are all instances of island or "near-island" peoples whose aggressiveness was physical. Germany is only superficially an exception. Since the Thirty-Years War, the German people have felt themselves an island within the invading sea of France, Russia, Italy and Spain. At first their defensive aggressiveness took an idealistic form: German philosophy and German romanticism. Finally, under the impulse of Prussia, itself an island in the German sea, it became economic expansion and military aggression.

There is in history one case of a people, also surrounded by continental foes, which sublimated its aggressiveness into spiritual terms, and -- although by no means perfectly, with many lapses into materialistic aggression -- has sustained these terms for ages. I have named the Jewish people. They were a minority "island" within the threat of Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Egypt, Rome. They sent forth their vision through Alexandria to Rome, through Rome to Europe, through Europe to the West; and they conquered. Their victory has long outlived the physical victories of island empires like Greece, Rome and Spain.

That victory created Europe through the great tradition of the person -- heart of the Judeo-Christian religion. Europe did not discover America; it created our America -- the potential new world dedicated to the fulfillment of democracy, the world of persons. The sanctity of man has many premises; one is the overcoming of man's impotence before nature, the abolition of economic dearth. Pre-scientific Europe could not fulfill this premise. Its defeatism before unmastered nature moved the mediaeval fathers to project their democracy to Heaven. Our America was created by Europe as a first instinctive step in a transposition of democracy from Heaven to earth. This required not alone land, but tools. The same will that made Europe Christian created the machine. The American hemisphere must become an island dedicated to the democratic will of creating persons; implemented by the technics that alone can give to man the peace, leisure and knowledge to become a person.


How are we to be sure that if our hemisphere does achieve an island psychology it will not translate its defensive aggressiveness into physical terms and become another island empire in the bad way of Japan or Germany? The Jews were saved by their smallness; they could conquer only through the Word. Our hemisphere, as the democratic Island, will be saved only if it continues to be, progressively, three Americas -- by the variety and by the equal sovereignty of its components. If our island psychology generates an economic and military imperialism (there are threats of this, like the "American century" of certain journalists), there will be no hemisphere at all, beyond geography. For our aggressiveness will throw Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru into the hands of whatever power in Europe or Asia, or both, stands ready to counterpoise us. And in two more generations the immense resources of South America (Brazil alone would suffice) will have torn our hemisphere asunder into crippled fragments under whose shards democracy would stifle.

A program for hemisphere union must contain these basic propositions:

(1) The replacement of capitalism by a socialist system of production for use, owned and controlled by the producers.

(2) The return of Latin American public wealth, such as mines and oil, now in the hands of United States capital, to the peoples of the respective countries. This process may take the form of loans to the governments as the means for buying back the properties at values which should consider past profits as amortization.

(3) At least a negative guarantee of basic democratic governments for all the republics, in the form of a refusal to recognize obvious dictatorships. The time has surely passed when any people dares to say that the kind of government in a neighboring country is none of its business. Democracy is safe nowhere, so long as totalitarianism is rampant anywhere. The American republics, considering themselves a family, have the right to keep their democratic house in order. This is a proposition dangerous and difficult to enact. Its premise at least should be accepted as a beginning. Of course, enforcement should always be a joint, collective effort.

(4) We must face our failure in race democracy. We cannot expect confidence in the American republics, so long as we continue to discriminate against a minority as important as the Negro, and to make of him an inferior nation within our nation.

(5) Cultural and intellectual exchange between our America and the others will remain a frothy failure so long as it is left in the hands of benevolent committees and individuals without authority. It should begin in our schools. All American children should be required to study the comparative civilizations and cultures of the other Americas. The histories of African and of Amerindian cultures should become at least as important in our classrooms as the politics of the dynasties of Europe. Spanish or Portuguese should be a compulsory part of our primary education, as English should be a compulsory part of education in the other Americas.

These points suggest basic directions for American leadership. To undertake them seriously would be the demonstration of our democracy for which the Ibero-American peoples are looking. Such a demonstration would win them to work with us. Anything less fundamental will continue to invalidate the thousand and one minor good deeds and services of our committees. For although we have done much to overcome their distrust, we have not won the confidence of the Ibero-American peoples.

This is the challenge of our American world. We of the United States cannot fulfill our destiny of leadership unless we understand it. Destiny is character. The grammar of leadership is knowledge. The history of four centuries has led the United States to the threshold of leadership and knowledge.

The American hemisphere I envisage will be possible only by the coördination of its three great sovereign personalities, each with its language, each with its vast physical resources, each with its deep human genius. The common ground of this union is simple, single -- and deathless, if man is real. It is democracy as I have defined it. Democracy can never go on an imperial raid, like the old island aggressors. Democracy can proceed only on the mission which our religious fathers founded, who preached its essence: man's destiny to move forward toward the freedom that dwells in justice and toward the knowledge that is love.

[i] The reader will not forget that Indian languages are also spoken by millions, especially in Mexico, Paraguay and the Andes.

[ii] In his introduction to the new edition of "Virgin Spain," by Waldo Frank (New York: Duell, 1942).

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  • WALDO FRANK, author of many books of essays, travel and fiction; a frequent lecturer at universities in Mexico and various South American countries
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