In This Review

The Soul of Latin America: The Cultural and Political Tradition
The Soul of Latin America: The Cultural and Political Tradition
By Howard J. Wiarda
Yale University Press, 2001, 432 pp

Wiarda looks beyond the stereotypes that prevent North Americans from seeing Latin America on its own terms. He charges that the United States too often assumes that it is a superior model for others to emulate -- and he indicts American politicians of all political stripes (including Woodrow Wilson, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan) for practicing ethnocentrism. Wiarda then provides a wide-ranging history of ideas and political culture to show how class relations, institutions, and international affairs affected Latin American political and social development. Latin America's lack of robust egalitarian, pluralist, and democratic traditions, he believes, is in fact a problem that stems from the "Iberian" legacies of the Counterreformation, medieval scholasticism, Catholicism, and the Inquisition. In turn, the United States must be ready for compromises with Latin America and accept solutions that are not fully democratic in the American sense -- if only to stave off the worse alternatives of authoritarianism or chaos. His provocative synthesis will add to the ongoing debate about democracy's prospects in Latin America and the limits on what outsiders can do to promote it.