The American Idea
The notion of modernity is a concept that is employed to illustrate the state of being associated to modernism which, on the other hand, refers to a pattern of thought that confirms the influence of individuals to construct, enhance, and reform their environment. Further, the enlightenment project envisions the idea that new knowledge or understanding can be obtained which enables the clearness of perception.
Hence, taken altogether, modernity in the context of the enlightenment considers the capacity of human beings to establish or reestablish their environment through the development of new wisdom and, more importantly, through the use of their reason or rationality.
Jean Jacques Rousseau argued that the original state of man is one which is essentially free, or that freedom is originally humanity’s own. Moreover, he asserts that freedom has been lost but can yet be brought back through emancipation.
In terms of modernity and the enlightenment, this emancipation can be taken back by using man’s rationality in order to clearly perceive what must be done so that individuals can reform their environment and, in the end, reclaim the freedom that they originally have. All these notions can be seen in Jose Marti’s Nuestra America specifically in the context of how he suggests that the Americans should act in order to reshape their environment and to eventually build a government that is uniquely their own and one that is devoid of foreign ideas and forms.
There are quite several sharp notions in Nuestra America by Jose Marti, and all of these notions very well contribute to the revelation that with diversity comes the great possibility of acquiring an identity independent as it is from everything else outside. Although much of what is written verifies the idea that the creation of a government of the people surpasses that which is merely imitated, the role of the external elements can be argued as indispensable elements in the establishment of an identity.
One of the central themes in Nuestra America is the idea of the formation of the government that is distinctive and proper to the Americans. Marti’s argument is grounded on the premise that a government that is shaped according to other nations or that which resembles or at least partly incorporates external elements from foreign nations will not be suitable for the people and for the entire nation. It can be observed that Marti firmly adheres to the principle of having an identity that is solidly based on what is natural to the people and to the rest of the country.
What is natural supersedes those that are artificial. And what is essentially natural to America is ‘diversity’ in the truest sense of the word. Apparently, Marti makes it a point to bridge the issue with diversity to that of having a strong government structured according to the innate qualities of the American people. However, it fails to consider the fact that diversity also grants the substantial possibility of not actually unifying all the corners of the country into a single and identifiable sphere.
What Marti does is to transcend this ‘diversity’ and patch all the different—albeit intrinsic—‘American’ elements into a unified concept that virtually quells, at least in theory, the force of other external factors. He does this at least in the sense of proposing an ‘ideological’ battle, one that treats ideas far superior than brute or physical force. Although Marti argues that bloodshed is inevitable, he also suggests that the ideas of man will have to take the core of the movement towards the establishment of an independent and unique government and that these ideas should come from the American people themselves and not from anybody else.
In the opening parts of Marti’s work, it can be noted that he argues that men must unify themselves from the various ranks against the ‘seven-league giant’ through the force of their ideas since ideas cannot be physically destroyed. While it is remains feasible that ideas cannot be destroyed in the physical sense and that while they can significantly proliferate and claim the victory of an entire nation, the role of sheer physical force in propelling such ideas towards certain goals cannot be denied.
It should be noted that ideas have to be juxtaposed with physical and actual attempts of progressing towards a certain goal which, specifically in the context of Marti’s Nuestra America, is the creation of an American government in the strictest sense. By remaining as mere ideas contextualized solely on that rational or thinking part of human existence, ideas can hardly be a revolutionizing tool in altering the undesirable elements within the society.
In another sense, there should be the ‘correspondence’ between such ideas and their physical or actual manifestation (Glennon and Johnson 2006). The absence of such a correspondence may very well inhibit the ideas from ever reaching the desired outcomes, for what good is a prolific idea that is short of touching the actual existence of social problems and the reality of the clamoring for a physical government? Will ideas alone revolutionize a whole nation without even concretizing these ideas? Apparently, the answer to these questions is a resounding skepticism.
History, at the least, tells one that most, if not all, of the changes or alterations in the society have, in one way or another, physical and actual movements which are strongly fastened to certain beliefs and ideologies (Merrill 1948). For instance, the American Revolution is considered to be founded on political and social ideologies that greatly contribute to the social movement during those times where the metaphorical ammunitions for artilleries are ideas that define what is being aimed at (Nelson 1965).
Wars in Latin America are likewise strongly founded on the correspondence between ideologies and the actual manifestation or enacting of these ideas (Thies 2005). Nevertheless, Marti also recognizes the notion that bloodshed is a strong coefficient of his proposed ideas of the unification of the American people and the establishment of a government solely their own and from their own.
Marti strengthens to solidify his claim by suggesting that those who would seek the governance of America must focus on and attempt at identifying the reality of the nation and of the people—of the existing diversity that direly needs unification—in order to fulfill the idea that the spirit of the government is indeed the spirit that is truly derived from America and not from any other (Saldivar 1998).
Hence, for those people seeking to identify what is being suggested to be identified must necessarily have the keen perception to not only feel what is real but to notice and extract the solutions for the reality of the social problems or, at least, of what is intended to be addressed. Otherwise, those who seek to eliminate the external or foreign elements seeping into American thoughts will utterly fail for lack of the capacity to transcend the blurring of the mind and of critical thinking.
Such an attempt to identify the reality of the nation and of the people reinforces the idea that the better and fitting individuals to achieve such feat are those who are accustomed to America—and there can be no better person who does not only know much of America but acts and feels like America than the American. This goes to show that the foreigner cannot exactly feel the American reality, or that the foreign elements cannot entirely suffice to define the American experience although in some parts it may have something to do with it.
Nevertheless, Marti’s Nuestra America clearly emphasizes the author’s strong attachment, at least in terms of the content of the literature, with the clamoring for a ‘pure’ American nation, a nation that is founded on American elements. Yet what is striking about Marti’s Nuestra America is the fact that it proposes for a unified government able to identify the reality of the nation, a unified government that is nonetheless rooted on a wide array of individuals or on a, roughly speaking, diversified society.
It is indeed a widely held idea that the rest of America is diverse (Sullivan 1973), and that this entails the notion that a ‘unification’ of all the recognized and unrecognized sectors of the nations is a monumental task. While Marti champions his assertion that foreign ideas and forms have caused the delay in the rising of a logical structure of a government of America, he fails to note that the very diversity of America also has a role in such a delay.
What he does in the article is to espouse the idea that such diversity can be committed towards the creation of a unique government and a unified people and to set aside or, at least, subtly put his hands off the lingering argument that this diversity may in fact be the one which will hinder the creation of an American government bereft of imported ideas and forms.
Although native forces—‘forces’ not to be limited in the military sense—can keep at bay impending external or foreign forces from entering the layer that separates what is pure from what is alien, these same internal forces have a connection with the external forces in one way or another. Part of the evidence to this can be rooted from the argument that there is no such thing as a pure race that is distinct from the rest of the races since all of mankind emerged from a single ancestry otherwise known as Homo sapiens (McBrearty 1990).
With the idea that all of humanity came from a single line of ancestry, by definition there can be no such thing as ‘race’ and that the demarcation between the American race and the ‘other’ races is dissolved. Technically, it may be true that mankind belongs to the same ancestry. Practically, there are staggering realities that ultimately create a wide space between socially constructed ‘races’ or equivalents thereof.
Hence, although Jose Marti actually claims that there is no such thing as hatred for the other races because there are no races, he actually argues in Nuestra America that the people should consider the past, family and ancestral roots of the Americans and do away with what can be termed as ‘colonial inheritance’ for it entails things that are corrupt and defunct. By criticizing the ‘Parisians’ or ‘Madrileños’, Marti actually draws the line between what is American from what is not.
And in doing so, it cannot be avoided that Nuestra America in essence may contribute to the enlargement of the space that divides America from the imported ideas and forms and, thus, the treatment of these foreign entities as ‘others’. Marti’s work also appears to signify that America is indeed its own, and that what belongs to others is theirs as well which brings us back to what Marti’s work purports to address yet fails to meet—that there is no hatred among races because there is no such thing as ‘race’.
Ironically, while Nuestra America echoes the clamoring for a unique government that is purely American by vanquishing the foreign or imported ideas that are imbibed into the society, it also establishes the idea of separating what is American from what is not if indeed a separation can ever be achieved at all, if not physically, at least ideologically. The fact that America and its people are diverse is a compelling reason to push the idea that the rest of America can hardly a government molded into a single, unified entity where opposition is inexistent or kept at a manageable level.
Moreover, cultural relativism proclaims the idea that several values such as ethical values of rightness or wrongness may actually vary from culture to culture, and that cultural supremacy or the superiority of one culture from the other relatively varies as well on certain cultural perspectives (Schmidt 1955). From this, one can observe that Marti’s article conveys the idea that, by excluding anything that is foreign to the system of ideas of the American population, the American ideals are preferred over the foreign ones.
Although there is no explicit mentioning that American ideals are far off better than imported ideas, by embracing American ideas in the formation of a unique government one actually albeit subliminally pursues the underlying assumption that what is native is more preferred since it applies better and fitting to the contextual nature of America and, therefore, is superior over the rest at least when put into the context of the formation of a unique government.
Interestingly, cultural relativism tells us otherwise. The American attempt to furnish for themselves a unique government excludes the assumption that imported ideas may also serve a contributive purpose in meeting such an end in replacement for defunct native ideas.
While Nuestra America purports to assert for an American identity through its government and purely American ideas while straining foreign elements away from such a glaring feat, it also substantiates on the thesis of using the American diversity as a means towards unifying the whole, condensing them altogether into a single native label called ‘America’ without discussing much about the weakening force such a diversity may take with it.
Nevertheless, Jose Marti nails the crucial point in his work—the great significance of ideas in the advancement of an American identity—by taking consideration the role of ideas in revolutionizing a nation flustered with unfamiliar or imported ideas. While it may be the case that ideas without corresponding actions are like vehicles without wheels, it certainly is the case that actions without ideas are like violent storms which display their destructive might while leaving debris and rubbish after the winds and heavy rains abate.