From these characteristics arises in the life of the Argentine people the reign of brute force, the supremacy of the strongest, the absolute and irresponsible authority of rulers, the administration of justice without formalities or discussion.
Sarmiento takes for his subject Facundo Quiroga, a legendarily brutal gaucho ruler, but Facundo is not the sole focus. Sarmiento wants to look at the more universal characteristics of the Argentinian landscape and lifestyle, and discuss how they manifest themselves in many men like Facundo. In fact, Rosas, the Aldao brothers, Santos Perez, and more are also apposite examples of how nature shapes man. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but Sarmiento is concerned with generalities. He casts this as a much wider problem than a handful of men; he sees this as an intrinsic part of life in his country and believes acknowledging it will go a long way in facilitating change.
Everything civilized which the city contains is blockaded there, proscribed beyond its limits; and any one who should dare to appear in the rural districts in a frock-coat, for example, or mounted on an English saddle, would bring ridicule and brutal assaults upon himself.
There are a few things at play in this quote. First, the city and the provinces are absolute antinomies. The city is civilized, cultured, and progressive. The provinces hate refinement and are barbaric and backwards. Second, the city is conceived of in European terms - hence the comment about the English saddle. There are other references to Aristotle and elements of high Western culture, democracy, and industrialization. Sarmiento finds little to admire about the provinces because they are avowedly antagonistic to the civilized world of Europe. The change he hopes for will be along the lines of Europe, eschewing any indigenous Argentinian characteristics.
The Cantor is performing in his simple way the same labor of recording customs, history, and biography, which was performed by the medieval bard, and his verses would hereafter be collected as documents and authorities for the future historian, but that there stands beside him another more cultivated form of society with a knowledge of events superior to that displayed by this less favored chronicler in his artless rhapsodies.
One of the ways Sarmiento exposes the essentially backward nature of Argentinian society is through his comparison of it to medieval Europe, a time when progress and culture were stilted or nonexistent. The Cantor is an intrinsic part of medieval culture. His songs are a way to tell stories and convey history and narrative, but these oral tales lack the objectivity and foundational aspects of the written word - a hallmark of advanced society. Sarmiento is critical of the cantor's verse, seeing it as lackluster and wanting; this is no surprise since he is pushing for a move away from this premodern society.
This spontaneous movement of the pastoral districts was so ingenuous in its first manifestations, so full of genius and expression in its spirit and tendencies, that its adoption and baptism by the parties of the city, with the political names which divided them, makes the sincerity of the latter appear in most unfavorable light.
Sarmiento provides a fascinating insight. The provinces embraced the revolutionary spirit with genius and ardor in the initial stages of change, but then the cities adopted it and implemented a party system that corrupted its spirit. Then, the provinces moved away from anything that smacked of civilization while the cities in their own, slightly perverted way, desperately tried to hold onto it. The center was not holding and civil war wracked the land; this is ironic because, as Sarmiento points out, it started off so positively.
He too was called "The Tiger of the Llanos," a title which did not ill befit him.
Facundo is a work rife with the natural world - desolate plains, ravenous animals, torrential rain. Using the anecdote of the terrifying tiger to introduce Facundo is an excellent way to suggest the strong, monstrous, and rapacious nature of the man. Indeed, Facundo's nickname refers to this apt comparison. It is also significant that Facundo is associated with an animal because Sarmiento says several times that he was acting according to impulse, to something deep within him he could not control. There is little rationality about his actions; rather, his animalistic instincts propel him.
[He] exhibited in all his actions a low and brutal yet not a stupid nature, or one wholly without lofty aims. Incapable of commanding noble admiration, he delighted in exciting fear...
Facundo is certainly an atrocious figure in many respects: he is a terrible ruler, cares nothing for the people, acts prideful and arrogant, executes people capriciously, and has no education or civilized traits. However, Sarmiento grudgingly offers some halfhearted praise for his antihero. In this quote, he acknowledges that Facundo is actually not stupid; he is cunning and clever, and manages to make his way to the top via his own abilities. Later Sarmiento explains that he is a classic barbarian, molded by the pampas and not necessarily responsible for his actions. He sees a silver lining in even the most terrible figures, but still excoriates them for the horrors they bring to the populace.
The Revolution of 1810 found the ears of Cordova closed to it at the very time when all the provinces were at once responding to the cry of "Liberty! Liberty!"
Cordova is a fascinating case study. It is a city steeped in elegance and learning, but closed off to change and revolution. It seemingly only cares about learning for learning's sake, and even though it does bear this hallmark of civilization, it is an old-fashioned and stodgy place. Sarmiento praises its refined qualities but wants it to embrace modernity. He is committed to modeling Argentina's cities and provinces on Enlightened Europe; he wants to get away from the barbarisms of Asia, Africa, and the European Middle Ages.
I remember that travellers in the interior of Africa provide themselves with red cloth for the negro princes.
In this section of the text, Sarmiento explicates how the color red is identified with barbarism throughout history. It is a potent color that connotes violence, bloodshed, trauma, and fear. While the term "negro princes" is certainly not appropriate by today's standards, the phrase and the section are compelling because they demonstrate how symbols can be just as powerful as actions. Rosas' red ribbon is ubiquitous and inspires fear in the hearts of the people.
Was the least educated man most capable of judging of difficult political questions?
Sarmiento's most cherished focus is education. He lauds it as what will save a barbarous civilization from itself, and eventually transform it into something resembling the great Western nations. Education is important in order to make progress in science, letters, and economics; furthermore, it allows citizens to fully engage in politics and make rational decisions. Sarmiento sometimes comes across as an elitist though, jibing "the masses" and people from native areas. He favors the people of the cities and seems to suggest that only they should have the right to make decisions for the Republic.
I have now concluded my self-imposed task, with the fear of not having been sufficiently impartial; yet it is my misfortune if the facts are not strictly correct.
This last paragraph encapsulates one of the most appealing as well as most complicated aspects of the work. It is ostensibly a work of nonfiction, with Sarmiento endeavoring to paint a realistic picture of the horrors of Facundo, Rosas, and Felix Aldao. He claims he consulted legitimate sources, both friend and enemy, and as a journalist and historian his claims are no doubt mostly valid. However, there is an aspect of fiction about the work as well: myth-making, legend-fashioning, a subtle exaggeration and/or blurring. The work is a hybrid of genres, making it timeless and more impactful than a straightforward biography would have been.
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