Sarmiento on barbarism, race, and nation building

Janet Burke, Ted Humphrey

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    1 Scopus citations


    Three centuries and an entire continent separate Domingo Faustino Sarmiento's work and thought from that of Bartolomé de Las Casas, but an examination of their views on the indigenous peoples of the Americas opens an interesting window on the evolution of thinking about race in Latin America from the period of Spanish conquest and colonization to that of postindependence nation building. Las Casas, the sixteenth-century Dominican friar who came to understand his call as evangelizing the native peoples of New Spain, struggled, along with his contemporaries, to understand how these individuals and their cultures, so outwardly different from Europeans, were to be conceived and treated relative to the rest of the human family. Sarmiento, Argentine educator, writer, and president of his country, looked at America's native peoples with the eyes of one who was deeply involved in trying to understand where these and other peoples of color belonged within the emerging Argentine and other American nations. Although Las Casas and Sarmiento are separated by so much time, space, and history, a single term is central to their discourse regarding these New World native peoples, namely, barbarian/barbarism. Nonetheless, the most important fact about their discourses-and the moral, social, and political challenges they faced with respect to the American indigenous peoples- is that the significance and weight of the term had shifted during the three-hundred-year period separating them, yet the challenge to the governing assumption of their respective cultures remained largely the same. One can find a fundamental shift in the terms the two men believed contrasted with barbarian/barbarism, and that shift indicates differences in their assumptions about and projects in the New World. Thus, for Las Casas, the appropriate term is Christian, while for Sarmiento the relevant contrast is civilized.1 As one would expect, the shift in appropriate contrast indicates noteworthy changes in attitudes about what is most important to being regarded as fully human. In this chapter, then, we intend first to discuss the shifting sense of "barbarism" from Las Casas's to Sarmiento's time; second, to analyze the relationship between the concept of barbarism and that of race; and, third, to discuss what attitudes and actions Las Casas and Sarmiento, respectively, regarded as most appropriate relative to the "barbarian." The differences are dramatic between a thinker dealing with a new and unexplored reality and a man looking at the same reality when it has become familiar and relatively well known.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationForging People
    Subtitle of host publicationRace, Ethnicity, and Nationality in Hispanic American and Latino/a Thought
    PublisherUniversity of Notre Dame Press
    Number of pages25
    ISBN (Print)9780268029821
    StatePublished - 2011

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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