The Pan-American Dream: Do Latin America's Cultural Values Discourage True Partnership with the United States and Canada?

In This Review

The Pan-American Dream: Do Latin America's Cultural Values Discourage True Partnership with the United States and Canada?

By Lawrence E. Harrison
BasicBooks, 1997
288 pp. $25.00
Purchase

It is curious how culturalist interpretations of differential human development are back in vogue in the United States as the twentieth century ends, just as they were when the century began. The overt racism of the early years is absent in most of the discussions today, to be sure, but the overall interpretive thrust is old hat. The argument is that Anglo-Protestant culture encouraged thrift, education, merit, community, and work, whereas Catholic Iberian values and culture encouraged the opposite -- sloth, corruption, backwardness, all the bad things that made Latin America stagnate while Anglo America grew. In other words, the more "they" become like "us," the better pan-Americanism and regional integration will work; unless of course "we" become more like "them," hence Harrison's worry about immigration from Latin America. He argues that the "melting pot is not working efficiently for Hispanic immigrants, and the United States confronts a serious political, economic, and social problem in the rapid growth of its Hispanic population." The essence of Harrison's message is warmly and unsurprisingly recommended by Samuel Huntington, who finds the book "deeply researched and persuasive." Persuasive it may be to those already persuaded, but deeply researched it is not. Over the past 20 years Howard Wiarda has argued a somewhat similar line in many well- documented studies on Spain, Portugal, and Latin America, for instance, but is nowhere acknowledged. And the same general argument has been advanced recently with more elegance by Claudio Veliz.

Harrison's prose is combative and laced with ad hominem assertions against those who have crossed him, particularly intellectuals: "bright, affluent, guilt- ridden utopian elitists who never quite grew up" and whose "excesses reverberate . . . in the drug epidemic." This certainly makes for one of the more provocative and interesting books on the region in recent years. But Harrison's anger makes one think that directing five U.S. Agency for International Development missions in Latin America between 1965 and 1981 must have been excruciatingly frustrating, and wonder why he did not tell Congress earlier that they were wasting taxpayers' money on his salary.