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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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Positivism is the key to much of the social and politi-
cal as well as intellectual history of Latin America in
the second half of the nineteenth century. It flourished
there as nowhere else, not even in France. The Roman
Catholic form of society remained, but it was an empty
vessel, waiting for something to fill it. Positivism satis-
fied the needs of Latin American intellectuals who had
rejected Spanish and Portuguese culture and were
trying to prove their independence by almost slavishly
adopting French ideas. Catholicism, they maintained,
was a tool of Spanish imperialism, and it had kept Latin
America in a state of amoral, chaotic backwardness.
The positivism of Auguste Comte promised progress,
discipline, and morality, together with freedom from
the tyranny of theology. Positivism influenced every
country in Latin America, but none as much as Brazil;
it was the positivism of Comte rather than that of
Herbert Spencer.

In Brazil the positivist “Church and Apostolate”
became a reality unique in the world. The founders
were Miguel Lemos and Raimundo Teixeira Mendes,
but the apostolic succession goes right back to Comte;
a Brazilian professor of mathematics, Antônio Machado
Dias, studied in Paris under Comte in 1837-38. Other
Brazilians were students of Comte, but Machado Dias
was a prophet in that he wanted a republic based on
positivist ideals to replace the Empire of Pedro II—
something which did not happen until 1889. Since
Machado Dias lived thirty years in Paris—he took part
in the revolution of 1848—he was clearly more deeply
imbued with positivist ideas than Brazilians who stayed
only briefly in the French capital. However, the first
written manifestation of positivism in Brazil was a
thesis presented at the University of Bahia in 1844,
just two years after the publication of the sixth and
last volume of the Cours de philosophie positive. The
author, Justiniano de Silva Gomes, devoted his thesis
to a plan for a course on physiology following the ideas
of Comte, under whom he had studied in Paris.

One of the founders of the Brazilian positivist move-
ment was a woman, Nísia Floresta, whom the famous
scholar Manoel de Oliveira Lima considered to be “the
most notable woman in Brazilian letters.” Having won
fame as the founder and director of a school in Rio
de Janeiro, she and her daughter moved to Paris, where
they became close friends of Auguste Comte, who in
his “Twelfth Annual Confession” refers to “the noble
Brazilian widow” as a “precious pupil.” Seven letters,
with their replies, remain as a testimony to their
friendship. Comte hoped that the two Brazilian women
would settle in Paris permanently and found a “posi-
tivist salon.” In 1857 Nísia made a solemn visit to the


tomb of Clotilde de Vaux and wrote a romantic eulogy
of her which Comte kept as one of his most treasured
documents. Later that same year Comte fell mortally
ill. He rejected Nísia's suggestion that he should call
specialists and died on September 5. Nísia was one of
four women who accompanied his body to Père
Lachaise cemetery.

Nísia Floresta published in 1864 a fascinating two-
volume work entitled Trois ans en Italie, suivis d'un
voyage en Grèce,
in which she reveals the influence
of Comte. In view of the fact that positivism was to
provide the philosophical basis for dictatorships in
Latin America, it is interesting to note that she re-
peated Comte's condemnation of Bonaparte at a time
when Napoleon III was promoting his cult. In an
earlier book, Itinéraire d'un voyage en Allemagne
(1857), Nísia had denounced the failure of the sword
to regenerate humanity; such a regeneration, she said,
could be achieved only by the religion of humanity.
She died in Rouen in 1885 at the age of 76. In 1953
the Brazilian government brought her remains back
to Brazil. They were buried in the northeastern prov-
ince of Recife, in her native village, which was officially
renamed Nísia Floresta.

One of Comte's leading pupils, Louis Auguste
Segond, gave up his academic career to become an
operatic tenor, and in 1857 his company visited Brazil.
Segond wrote letters giving a graphic account of
Brazilian society. Although there was no clear color
line in Brazil, the proportion of Negro blood was
considerably higher than it is today. Positivism in Latin
America was essentially a white man's doctrine, and
in Brazil it was used as an intellectual weapon by those
who overthrew Emperor Pedro II; it is interesting to
note that Segond speaks with admiration and affection
of the Emperor and laments the ill treatment to which
the Negroes, for whom he felt a liking, were subjected.

Segond's report that there was already in 1857 a
nucleus of positivists in the naval academy in Rio de
Janeiro changes the usual version that Brazilian posi-
tivism grew in the military academy. In any case the
“spontaneous growth” of the Brazilian positivist
movement “some years ago” was praised by Pierre
Laffitte, the French positivist, in his seventeenth circu-
lar (dated 1865). Laffitte saw in it the confirmation of
Comte's belief that the countries of the south, which
were still nominally Catholic, would be the most fruit-
ful ground for the positivist movement.

Where exactly the first positivist group in Brazil was
formed is not too important. In all the major scientific
centers of Rio de Janeiro—the Colégio Pedro II, the
military and naval academies, the school of medicine,
and the polytechnical school—the positivist approach
to science appeared frequently in the decade following
1850, but it was positivism in its stress on mathematics
and the exact sciences, technology, and medicine, with
no reference to the social and ethical aspects which
were to become so important later.

In the same year as Comte's death, 1857, Benjamin
Constant Botelho de Magalhães, who was later to be
Brazil's greatest positivist leader, joined the movement.
His father had named him after the French author who
at the time enjoyed great prestige because of his deter-
mined republicanism; following the Brazilian custom,
he is usually referred to by this given name, Benjamin
Constant. He became a professor at the military acad-
emy, which, because of him, came to be regarded as
the focus of Brazilian positivism. In 1868 he founded
a society for the study of positivism. In 1871, when
this same Benjamin Constant, who was also director
of the Institute for Blind Children, presented a report
in which he praised positivism, a conservative deputy
demanded that he be dismissed for promoting an
atheistic doctrine which had allegedly brought about
the horrors of the Paris Commune the previous year.
A government spokesman defended Benjamin Con-
stant, saying that one should not confuse positivism and
Marxism, “the new philosophy of German materi-
alism.” This is apparently the first reference to Marxism
in Brazil.

We must mention another woman who had an im-
portant role in the origins of Brazilian positivism:
Marie de Ribbentrop, the daughter of a Prussian baron
who was a German positivist leader. Born in Metz,
she traveled widely as a tutor and worked for a while
in Venezuela, but she was never in Brazil. However,
she was a tutor in a Brazilian family in Brussels, and
it was there that she influenced several young Bra-
zilians, especially Luis Pereira Barreto. He became an
enthusiastic positivist propagandist, as his corre-
spondence with Pierre Laffitte shows. He attributes his
lack of success in winning proselytes to the difficulty
of getting Brazilian youths to accept the strict posi-
tivist sexual morality. Yet he foresaw little real opposi-
tion, since the clergy were “ignorant, shameless, and
barely tolerated by the population.” Other Brazil-
ians had been married in Paris according to the positi-
vist rites. Pereira Barreto laments that on his father's
estate in Brazil he must be married in a Catholic

Pereira Barreto finished his medical studies in Rio
de Janeiro. His thesis, written according to the positiv-
ist concept of science, was dedicated to the memory
of Auguste Comte. However, the importance of Pereira
Barreto was that he regarded politics as the most
difficult of sciences—much more difficult than med-
icine or engineering—and one which must be devel-
oped in the framework of positivism. His two-volume


work, As tres filosofias (1874, 1876), had a great influ-
ence on the students of the period. Pereira Barreto
became a regular contributor to the republican news-
paper Província de São Paulo; through hundreds of
articles he was able to spread his positivist inter-
pretation of Brazilian problems. He got into noisy
arguments with intellectuals of other persuasions. This
led Pereira Barreto to incorporate into his philosophy
some of the latest scientific ideas and to abandon cer-
tain peculiarities of Comte's doctrine. Thus arose the
distinction between “Comtism,” which was “personal
and ephemeral,” and “positivism,” which grew with
the times. Some “pure” Comtists rejected this thesis,
and the result was a series of weird debates on Dr.
Edward Jenner and vaccination, which the “pure”
Comtists rejected, whereas the progressive positivists
merely rejected obligatory vaccination.

Yellow fever was a scourge of Brazil at this time.
Pereira Barreto claimed that he had discovered before
the Cuban Carlos Finlay that it was transmitted by
the anopheles mosquito. Grapes do not grow in tropical
Brazil, but, applying Comtian principles, Pereira
Barreto succeeded in growing “excellent grapes” in São
Paulo. He claimed that Brazilian viticulture was now
superior to European, and a famous poet wrote verses
praising Pereira Barreto for having given Brazil its
wine independence. Something seems to have gone
wrong somewhere, since wine is now produced almost
exclusively in the temperate south of Brazil, but even
in France Pereira Barreto won fame as a wine
specialist. Applying positivist principles, he was devel-
oping a coffee plant which would grow in colder cli-
mates, but he abandoned this experiment when he
realized that Europeans might be able to grow their
own coffee.

Pereira Barreto's positivism, his dislike of Catholi-
cism, and above all his attacks on the Jesuits involved
him in a polemic with conservatives, Catholics, and
Monarchists. Miguel Lemos, who claimed to be the
head of the positivist apostolate in Brazil, joined the
fray and accused him of being a heretical positivist.
This dispute coincided with proposals to create a uni-
versity in Rio de Janeiro. Pereira Barreto took the
anti-university position which was common among
positivists in Latin America. He argued that the uni-
versity was a dead institution and that the positivist
creed demanded the creation of a new and strictly
scientific kind of institution. Brazil must put an end
to “the reign of law school graduates.” Medicine must
be encouraged, but to demand that doctors be
approved and registered by the state was an offense
to freedom. Pereira Barreto became an exponent of
the “positivist morality,” to which science is subordi-
nated. Like many Latin American positivists, he re
garded the people as ignorant and undisciplined and
was therefore contemptuous of universal suffrage.

Whereas most intellectual movements in Brazil were
largely confined to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo,
positivist groups sprang up throughout Brazil. In São
Luis do Maranhão a weekly, Ordem e Progresso, began
to appear in 1860. It may have been influenced by
the positivist magazine El Eco Hispano-Americano
published in Paris by José Segundo Flores, a disciple
of Comte. It was founded by Francisco Antônio
Brandão Júnior, who had lived with Pereira Barreto
in Brussels. In 1881 Pereira Barreto published in São
Luis a Portuguese edition of the positivist calendar.

In Fortaleza, capital of Ceará, a positivist group
formed around the writer Rocha Lima; it was known
popularly as “the French Academy.” Brazil's great
lawyer, Clóvis Bevilaqua, was a member of the group,
and he always acknowledged his indebtedness to posi-
tivism, although, like John Stuart Mill and Thomas
Huxley, he rejected the Comtian belief in the need for
positivist religious ceremonies, which were, despite
Clóvis Bevilaqua, to flourish in Brazil as nowhere else
in the world.

Slavery, which was not abolished in Brazil until
1888, was a burning issue, especially in the Northeast.
Pereira Barreto was opposed to immediate and com-
plete abolition. In line with Comte's thesis of social
dynamics, he preferred a gradual approach. This was
the attitude of most Brazilian positivists, but it was
sufficient to anger the landowners. One positivist, Celso
Magalhães, was a district attorney; his career was
ruined because he prosecuted, unsuccessfully, the wife
of a slaveowner who had stabbed a slave baby to death
because it was white and because she suspected her
husband was the father.

The Northeast around Bahia and Pernambuco is the
most colorful part of Brazil. It has the highest percent-
age of Negroes, a traditional Catholicism, and a variety
of cults. The anger of the positivists against universities
and the Roman Catholic Church can be understood
in the light of the experience of Domingos Guedes
Cabral, whose positivist-inspired thesis on The Func-
tions of the Brain
(1876) could not be presented at the
University of Bahia because of the opposition of the

The duel between positivists and Catholics was
equally marked in São Paulo, where a Thomist profes-
sor of law devoted most of his class time to attacking
positivism. He deprived a positivist student of two
years of academic credit for having spoken offensively
of the Catholic religion. In reply, positivists spread
their dogma through the newspapers A República, O
Federalista, A Evolução,
and A Luta. Many of the
leaders of the Republic belonged to the group who


had fought for positivism in Sāo Paulo around 1880.
Sāo Paulo remained an important positivist center until
1951, when the Positivist Society there was closed.
There was a quaint episode in 1931 when an inter-
(official appointed by the national government
to run the state) issued a long order saying that positiv-
ism demanded that beggars be treated with respect and
that no one should interfere with their freedom to beg.
This episode inspired one of Brazil's best-known plays,
Deus lhe pague (“God bless you”) by Joracy Camargo.

The southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, became
in a way the most important stronghold of positivism
in Brazil. A knowledge of Spanish was more wide-
spread there than in the rest of Brazil, and there were
a number of subscribers to the Spanish-language posi-
tivist review El Eco Hispano-Americano. It was proba-
bly because of the proximity of Buenos Aires and
Montevideo and because of the virtual absence of
slavery that republicanism was much stronger in Rio
Grande do Sul than in the rest of Brazil. The two
tendencies met and gave rise to the simple equation:
positivism equals republicanism. The leader of the
positivist elite was Júlio de Castilhos, who preceded
Miguel Lemos' apostolate, despite the latter's claim to

After the republic came in 1889, Júlio de Castilhos
prepared the 1891 constitution for the state of Rio
Grande do Sul; it survived until the revolution of 1930,
when Getúlio Vargas, of positivist background, seized
the national government and established his dictator-
ship, which, while it reflected fascist developments in
Europe, was a culmination of the dictatorial trend
within the political philosophy of Brazilian positivism.
The main feature of the Rio Grande do Sul constitution,
derived from positivist principles, was the division of
powers and the attempt to achieve a balance between
authority and freedom. In fact it was authoritarian, and
positivist republicanism in the New World was usually
somewhat dictatorial. At the same time it is claimed
that the constitution of the state of Rio Grande do Sul
was the first in the New World to embody articles
defending the rights of workers. For decades Borges
de Medeiros was the virtual dictator of the state. One
positivist peculiarity of the constitution was that uni-
versity degrees were not recognized, so that in the
name of freedom anyone could practice medicine. This
gave rise to a continuous battle between the medical
profession of Brazil and Borges de Medeiros. The
positivists, who promoted curious forms of social free-
dom, stressed the authority of the state. Borges claimed
that he was following Comte in giving the state unusual
power in the fields of finance and taxation. Comte was
opposed to laissez-faire and believed in state interven
tion in economic affairs, and Borges followed this line.
In his speeches Borges invoked the name of Comte
and positivist morality, and his administration won
widespread respect for its rectitude and justice.

Borges had scientific ideas about immigration and
held that only assimilable elements should be allowed
to enter Rio Grande do Sul. He opposed the immigra-
tion of Negroes and was especially hostile to the
proposal to allow U.S. Negroes to migrate to Brazil.
Positivism in Latin America mixed with Darwinism to
produce a “scientific” racial concept of society.

While there were positivist groups in all the states
of Brazil, the most important and the most influential
one was that in the capital, Rio de Janeiro. The
imperial court of Pedro II attracted the social and
intellectual elite of the country, and Rio de Janeiro
was the principal entry for European culture. The
influence of France was preponderant in all matters
except politics, a domain in which the Empire cultiva-
ted English ideals. However, French positivism was
destined to undermine the Empire politically. About
1870 four positivist magazines, A Idéia, O Debate, A
and A Crónica do Império, began to appear,
followed in 1876 by A Revista do Rio de Janeiro, an
important positivist organ. The positivists made no
secret of the fact that the Empire was incompatible
with positivist republicanism and told Pedro II so. He,
with characteristic broadmindedness, made no attempt
to repress the positivist movement. As elsewhere in
Brazil, positivism had first developed around 1860 in
medical research, especially in the field of cerebral
physiology, but it soon affected every phase of thought,
including political theory.

The leader of positivist republicanism in Rio de
Janeiro was the aforementioned Benjamin Constant
Botelho de Magalhāes. Positivist republicanism was
especially popular among students. Its most vehement
enemies were the clergy, but they had been discredited
by their long battle with the Freemasons. A major crisis
arose in 1874 when the imperial government con-
demned to four years in jail the bishops of Olinda
(Recife) and Belém do Pará because they had
attempted without government authorization to put
into effect a papal bull ordering Catholics to leave
Masonry. Although we have little detailed information
about Freemasonry because of its secrecy, there is no
doubt that many Brazilian republicans were both
positivists and Freemasons.

The Escola Politécnica was a focal point of positiv-
ism. At least ten professors, including Benjamin Con-
stant, were positivist leaders. The students they imbued
with positivist ideas became teachers in many of the
leading schools of Brazil. Whereas earlier positivism


had had its most marked impact on medicine, now the
instrument of positivism was mathematics, the queen
of the sciences.

The positivists were the brains of the republican
movement which brought about the fall of the Empire
in 1889, and Benjamin Constant was its leading intel-
lectual figure. The peaceful transition from Empire to
Republic was facilitated by a mutual respect unique
in Latin American history. Despite Benjamin Con-
stant's declared republicanism, the imperial court not
only kept him as a royal preceptor, but also offered
him a title, which he refused. To Benjamin Constant's
dismay, for he openly preached the subordination of
the military to civilian authority, the republic was
dominated by the Army. The republic came into being
because the Army refused to continue capturing fugi-
tive slaves. Slavery thereby broke down, and in 1888,
in the absence of Pedro II, the government abolished
slavery. The Empire thus lost the support of the landed
aristocracy, and it collapsed in 1889. The republican
movement had won the decisive support of the Army
when Benjamin Constant persuaded Marshal Deodoro
da Fonseca to join its ranks. Deodoro da Fonseca
accepted the Presidency of the Republic, although he
had expected Benjamin Constant to take the post.
Benjamin Constant, acclaimed as the founder of the
Republic, was named Minister of War in the provisional
government, but when the Republic created the Min-
istry of Education, Postal Service and Telegraphs as
one bureau, he moved over to it. He died in 1891,
so his role as an active republican leader was cut short.

The oratory and journalism of the first years of the
Republic were marked by an abundant use of positivist
slogans and catchwords. The division between the
“apostolate” of Miguel Lemos and Teixeira Mendes and
the orthodox positivism of Pierre Laffitte, which
Benjamin Constant followed, continued to divide the
republicans. The latter group was more democratic,
but even it talked about the need for a “dictatorship,”
by which it meant a strong executive. There were many
young officers in the constituent assembly, all declared
positivists, and all in favor of an authoritarian regime.
The result was that the assembly adopted a presidential
form of government, whereas the Empire had been

The Church was separated from the State, and reli-
gious freedom proclaimed. Traditional militarism was
discouraged, and the Army became essentially an organ
for civic betterment, thus anticipating the “civic ac-
tion” roles of Latin American armies in the twentieth
century. By a curious quirk of ideology, because of
their belief in professional freedom, Brazilian positivists
abandoned their teaching positions, thus weakening
both Brazilian higher education and the positivist
movement. This did not prevent Cândido Mariano
Rondon, who had given up his chair in the military
school, from carrying on a splendid job opening up
the interior of Brazil. The Republic adopted as its flag
a representation of the firmament showing the position
of the stars, especially of the Southern Cross, at the
moment the Republic was proclaimed. Over it appears
the positivist motto “Order and Progress.” For decades
the positivist church in Rio de Janeiro was a gathering
place for national leaders. It continued to function long
after positivist churches had closed in France and
elsewhere. In the latter part of the twentieth century,
it leads a precarious existence, non-Catholic religious
activity having been diverted to spiritualism and neo-
African cults, both of which are booming.

Whereas positivism is the key to much of Brazilian
history in the nineteenth century, in Argentina it was
intellectually important but had only a vague impact
on the course of Argentine history. Because of the ties
between England and the River Plate countries,
Spencer had more influence in Argentina and Uruguay
than in the rest of Latin America, and political leaders
like Domingo Faustino Sarmiento proclaimed their
indebtedness to him, but the symbiosis between posi-
tivism and politics in no way resembles that of Brazil.
Carlos Octavio Bunge is credited with having intro-
duced the positivist science of sociology into Argentina,
and much of his writing is an unflattering analysis of
Argentine, indeed of all Hispanic-American society.
Argentine positivists were not dogmatically hostile to
the concept of a university, as were many positivists
in Brazil and Mexico, and Joaquín V. González was
the founder and president of the University of La Plata.
José Ingenieros was a psychologist and criminologist.
He founded the Revista de Filosofía, which served as
a mouthpiece for his positivist ideas even after the
idealist reaction had set in. Alejandro Korn represented
the reaction against positivism, which he criticized for
giving man a subordinate place in the universe.

The creation of the University of Chile in 1842
crystalized the intellectual life of the country, and the
so-called “Generation of 1842” welcomed positivist
ideas along with other manifestations of French cul-
ture. José Victorino Lastarria believed that positivism
would provide the philosophical basis for the national
progress of Chile, although he had a greater faith in
political freedom than did many Latin American
positivists. Lastarria was not bold enough to reject
Christianity, but another positivist, Francisco Bilbao
did just that; it got him into trouble at the time, but
his radicalism has kept his name alive among twentieth-
century liberals. Valentín Letelier, on the contrary, was


a more typically Latin American positivist, believing
that authoritarianism could be justified if it were a
vehicle to bring about progress.

Comtian positivism was brought to Mexico by
Gabino Barreda, who spent the years 1847 to 1851
studying medicine in Paris and there met Auguste
Comte. Like other Latin Americans who had studied
medicine in Paris, on his return he combined the prac-
tice of medicine with the propagation of positivist
philosophy. In 1867 in Guanajuato, where he had set-
tled, he made a speech which caught the attention of
Benito Juárez who named Barreda chairman of a com-
mission to reorganize Mexican education. The educa-
tion reform law which he drafted was based on posi-
tivist ideas. Barreda was a liberal anticlerical, and his
positivism was marked by hostility to the Roman
Catholic Church as an institution which in the histori-
cal process had been superseded. Barreda viewed the
defeat of the army of Napoleon III in Mexico as a
triumph for liberal positivism, of which Mexico, he
thought, was the bulwark. Education would prepare
an elite which would bring order and progress to
Mexico and put an end to the power of the clergy.
However, Barreda changed the motto “love, order and
progress” to “liberty, order and progress.” A modus
vivendi was reached with the Church, which agreed
to stay out of politics if the formal cult of the “Religion
of Humanity,” which led to the founding of positivist
churches in Brazil and Chile, were not introduced into

It is ironical that positivism, which came to Mexico
as a liberal doctrine sponsored by Benito Juárez, should
have become an instrument of the dictatorship of
Porfirio Díaz, President of Mexico from 1876 to 1911
(except for four years). It should be noted that even
under Juárez the positivism of Barreda had defended
the concept of private property and was essentially
middle-class in its outlook. Indeed, Barreda was a bitter
enemy of the wildly liberal ideas of the “Jacobins.”

In 1877 Barreda and his disciples founded the
Asociación Metodófila “Gabino Barreda.” Most of the
members of the group were students of medicine.
These students were depressed by the condition of
Mexico and felt an acute need for a social hierarchy
which could impose order and further the progress of
the country. After Barreda's death in 1881, this
authoritarian tendency became more marked.

Positivism was to provide the dictatorship of Porfirio
Díaz with a philosophical garb which gave it respect-
ability. This is not what Mexican positivist writers had
intended. Francisco Bulnes was concerned with the
threat to Mexican independence presented by an
efficient and domineering United States next door. The
plight of Mexico and of the other Spanish American
countries, according to Bulnes, was due to the Spanish
heritage, the Catholic religion, and the aestheticism
of writers. Bulnes wanted a Mexico which was positiv-
ist in its philosophy, scientific in its intellectual life,
and progressive in politics. Bulnes was unusual in that
he buttressed his diagnoses of Mexican problems with
an array of statistics. He was one of the original
científicos, i.e., positivist thinkers who believed that
only science could bring progress to Mexico and who
regarded the Indians as an illiterate mass impeding
national progress. In 1892 the Partido de los Científicos
was founded, with Justo Sierra as its leading figure.
It provided Porfirio Díaz with a political ideology.

It is easy to see how the term científico came to
be used to describe government leaders who used these
ideas to justify the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz and
its harsh attempts to bring material progress to an
apathetic nation. This was, however, sufficient to dis-
credit positivism, and when Porfirio Díaz fell, positiv-
ism ceased to be virtually the official philosophy of
the government and indeed of the nation. The positiv-
ists refuted the attacks of men like Antonio Caso, who
accused them of guilt by association with the Díaz
regime, but their protests were lost in the noise of the
Revolution. The ideologues of the Revolution were
“the generation of the Ateneo,” i.e., the Ateneo de la
Juventud, a group of youths separated by a generation
gap from the positivists.

Enrique José Varona y Pera is usually regarded as
the founder of the Cuban school of positivists. His early
writings reveal the influence of Comte, but in his
middle years Spencer became the dominant influence
and later John Stuart Mill. The best-known figure in
Cuban history, José Martí followed Victor Hugo's con-
cept of inspired rather than scientific leadership of
humanity. The references to positivist writers in his
works are scant, but unwittingly he owed a great deal
to the positivist ideas of a regenerated Latin America.
The Cuban struggle for freedom, of which Martí was
the apostle and which culminated in the war of 1898,
caught the imagination of Americans North and South,
somewhat as did later the struggle of Fidel Castro
against Batista. The interpreter of the Cuban revolu-
tionary movement to the rest of Latin America was
the positivist Eugenio María de Hostos y Bonilla, a
Puerto Rican who traveled widely throughout Spanish
America but who strangely enough never visited Cuba.
He became a sociology teacher, one of the first in Latin
America, and showed he was ahead of his time by
inventing the most unpalatable neologisms.

It is not possible in a brief survey to discuss the rise
and fall of positivism in all the republics of Latin


America. The end of the great positivist phase came
in the first decade of the twentieth century. The
Uruguayan José Enrique Rodó denounced in his famous
little book Ariel (1900) the whole concept of material
progress as exemplified by the United States and pro-
claimed that man lives by the spirit. Francisco Madero,
who led the Mexican Revolution of 1910, was a
spiritualist, and the leading writer of the movement,
José Vasconcelos, (1882-1959), was philosophically a
disciple of Bergson and an idealist. Since the tendency
in Latin America has been to follow the latest French
intellectual fashion, when Comte's star waned in
France it disappeared from the ideological sky of much
of Latin America. Only in Brazil was there no sharp
reaction against positivism. It was associated with the
founding of the Republic and its motto was emblazoned
on the Brazilian flag. Some of the grand old men of
the Republic, like Marshal Cândido Rondon (1865-
1957), were positivists. Unlike Spanish America, with
its sharp dichotomies, Brazil is a country where reli-
gions and philosophies coexist. While the “Religion of
Humanity” was too cerebral and disciplined to survive
as a flourishing cult in the tropics, the Brazilian military
dictatorship of the 1960's developed out of the
“Sorbonne,” the intellectuals of the war college in Rio
de Janeiro whose historic roots are in positivism.
Although they may not regard themselves as practicing
positivists, the military leaders of Brazil justify their
intervention into politics in terms of the positivist
belief in the role of the army as an instrument of
“Order and Progress.”


Arturo Ardao, Espiritualismo y positivismo en el Uruguay
(Mexico City, 1950), Vol. 49 in series “Tierra Firme.”
Comité Positivista Argentino, Iniciación positivista (Buenos
Aires, 1938). W. Rex Crawford, A Century of Latin-American
(Cambridge, Mass., 1961). João Cruz Costa,
Augusto Comte e as origens do positivismo (São Paulo, 1959);
idem, A History of Ideas in Brazil (Berkeley, 1964); idem,
O Positivismo na República (São Paulo, 1956), Vol. 291 in
series “Brasiliana.” Harold Eugene Davis, Latin American
Social Thought.
The History of Its Development since Inde-
pendence, with Selected Readings (Washington, D.C., 1963).
Luis Beltrán Guerrero, Introducción al positivismo venezo-
(Caracas, 1956). Ivan Lins, História do positivismo no
(São Paulo, 1967), Vol. 322 in series “Brasiliana.”
Ricaurte Soler, El Positivismo argentino (Panama City,
1959). Raimundo Teixeira Mendes, Benjamin Constant (Rio
de Janeiro, 1937). Leopoldo Zea, El Positivismo en México
(Mexico City, 1953).


[See also Church, Modernism in; Positivism in Europe.]