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In this essay, Waldo Frank examines the differences between “Anglo-Saxon” and “Hispanic” cultures in the Americas, arguing that these two “half-worlds” each possess the crucial qualities that the other lacks: the former lacks collective unity and the latter, social and political organization. He argues that the root cause of these differences is the radically contrasting Anglo-Saxon and Hispanic senses of “self” and in relationship to collective society. In the United States, individuals are atomized, self-contained, and alienated, and in Hispanic America, they enjoy a more collective relationship to the larger society. Frank traces these differences to contrasting histories of English and Spanish colonialism, arguing that English Protestantism’s emphasis on only individual grace, coupled with a weak native culture in North America, encouraged early colonizers to completely destroy the native cultures they encountered and to found completely new societies. Spanish colonizers, in contrast, blended with the native cultures they encountered in the Americas. This was, according to Frank, because the Spanish were motivated by Catholicism’s interest in saving the collective soul and by the fact that they encountered much stronger native cultures than existed in North America.
Waldo Frank (1889-1967) was a novelist, historian, and critic active during the 1920-1930s in New York. His growing interest in Latin America during the twenties coincided with his increasing political involvement. This text appeared in a collection of essays entitled America Hispana: A Portrait and a Prospect in 1931, which was published shortly after Frank’s 1929 tour of Latin America. In addition to the comparison between Anlgo-Saxon and Hispanic cultures that is the main subject of this text, it includes Frank’s sustained critique of the alienation of the individual in the United States under industrialized capitalism—what he ironically calls the “Jungle.” Lamenting how pragmatists such as John Dewey have justified the dominance of capitalism and what Frank calls the “machine culture” of the early twentieth-century United States, he argues that pragmatism destroys any true sense of “the self” by forcing individuals to refashion themselves according to the mechanics of capitalism. He clearly believes that this alienation of the individual in the United States could be alleviated by adopting some of the collectivism he sees in Latin American countries, but his outlook is clouded with romantic notions typical of writers of the United States at the time, such as a belief in Latin Americans’s close relationship to nature and their more heightened spirituality. And despite his intentions, he furthers the kind of paternalism, such as the belief that the nations of South America lack such values as “discipline, technique, and method,” that were used to justify United States’ domination in the region.