Domingo Sarmiento, José Hernandez, and the Role of the Gaucho
The views of Domingo Sarmiento and José Hernandez were the same in that they both espoused freedom for Argentina but different in how they saw their people’s future. Both men wanted a free Argentina. Beyond that their views differed widely. Sarmiento was progressive while Hernandez was regressive. Their concepts about barbarism and civilization were in contrast as well; Sarmiento saw the gauchos as a lingering reminder of a barbaric past and Hernandez understood them to be the epitome of Argentinian civilization. Their opposing philosophies, set against a recent history of Simón Bolívar’s revolutionary South America, suggests a country still trying to establish its identity.
Both Sarmiento and Hernandez agreed and disagreed in their views about Argentina’s future. They were agreed in calling General Juan Manuel de Rosas a tyrant and thought that education was necessary to maintain a free government (Chasteen, 169). Beyond that their views differed widely. Sarmiento was progressive in his outlook about culture and government. He believed that education was the foundation for a strong and centralized government and saw gauchos as a breed that had to die out (Chasteen, 171). This was because the country at that time was largely owned by native-owned plantations. Gauchos worked for these plantations. Sarmiento’s goal was to dismantle the large farms and replace them with smaller farms run by European immigrants that would have little or no need for gauchos. Hernandez looked backwards, seeing education as important only for keeping tyrants like General Rosas out of power. He wanted to maintain the gaucho existence of the people and live in a decentralized Argentina.
Their writings were probably the best expressions of their thoughts. In Life in the Argentine Republic in the Days of the Tyrants, Sarmiento argued for progress and pointed to Europe as the best place to obtain better civilization (126-7). He saw his country moving from a barbaric past toward a civilized future. Hernandez, on the other hand, saw the gauchos as living an heroic lifestyle that should be preserved. His The Gaucho Martín Fierro is an epic poem that celebrates the gauchos as the ideal of civilization (128-130). While he did not consider technology barbaric, he did not consider it civilized either.
The Latin America of the mid-nineteenth century was chaotic. Simón Bolívar had liberated it as George Washington had liberated the United States, but the former South American colonies had not united into a single country under Bolívar or any other leader. Latin America had no group of founding fathers willing to work together to help frame a Latin American government and so each former colony was left to its own devices. Add to that the Industrial Revolution was making headway throughout the world in the 1800s (Chasteen, 150). As a result of these changes Argentina floundered politically. Men held power over regions within Argentina, defeating rivals to temporarily control regions and occasionally, as in the case of General Rosas, gaining temporary power over the whole country. Meanwhile, the developing intelligentsia argued over which direction the country should go. People like Sarmiento looked toward Ancient Rome, modern Europe, and even the fledgling U.S. for answers and others, like Hernandez, seeking comfort in the country’s past.
Sarmiento and Hernandez were two sides of the same coin. They lived in an era where the political situation was in flux. Both men hoped to stabilize their country, but they wanted to accomplish that goal using two different approaches. Sarmiento thought that centralization, technology, and European influence was the best course of action, while Hernandez believed that the only stability was to be found in Argentina’s traditions. Their writings point this out with Sarmiento arguing for progress and Hernandez idolizing the gauchos and the life they led.
Chasteen, John Charles. Born in Blood and Fire. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. Print.
Hernandez, José. The Gaucho Martín Fierro. Ed. Catherine E. Ward. New York: State University of New York, 1967.
Sarmiento, Domingo F. Life in the Argentine Republic in the Days of the Tyrants. Trans. Horace Mann. Ed. Burns, E. Bradford and Julie A. Charlip. Latin America: A Concise Interpretive History.