This week in my Mexican philosophy class, I am teaching Vasconcelos’s La raza cósmica (The Cosmic Race), a text in which Vasconcelos (not entirely unlike Du Bois in his “The Conservation of the Races”) argues that each race has a mission to fulfill, its own unique contribution to human civilization.
There’s a lot about this text to make one cringe or want to dismiss it outright. In it Vasconcelos traces the origin of the Latin American race back to the cradle of civilization (Atlantis), arguing that, contrary to someone’s opinion (not sure whose), the Latin race is ancient in origin (not sure why it matters). One might be quick to dismiss his philosophy of history, specifically the idea that there is a sweeping comprehensive theory that will explain the entire course of human history (really, all of it?). The whole project is grounded in an essentialist, as well as biological, conception of race, claiming that the Latin race will fulfill its mission of uniting all of humanity through zealous “crossbreeding” (I’ll assume the problem with this is self-evident). Oh, and its mission? To blend of all of humanity in a universal synthesis (clearly that ain’t working out so well a hundred years later)!
The thing about this text, though, is that crazy as its main theses sound on the surface, I realize that I don’t understand what Vasconcelos means or why he thinks they are true. I mean, he was pretty far out there, but he must have been thinking something. Yes, he was endorsing eugenics, but he calls it “aesthetic eugenics” or “spiritual eugenics”. What is that? Yes he believed that the ultimate aim of history is the fusion of all peoples and cultures, which sounds crazy to me (as does the idea that there is an ultimate aim of history). But what he was really after was the end of racial supremacy and hatred, which doesn’t sound so crazy.
I’m still far off from making enough sense of this text either to endorse it or forget about it altogether. But one cool thing happened this week. Toward the end of the chapter on mestizaje – really the only chapter anyone reads – I came across the following line. “This law of taste as a criterion for human relations is one that we have expounded more than once, calling it the law of three stages of society…” (Stavens, The Prophet of Race, 73). And I realized, “Wait a second, Vasconcelos is talking about his piece, “The New Law of Three Stages”; that’s the piece we just published in the Journal of Mexican Philosophy. And when I was reading Vasconcelos’s “New Law of Three Stages”, I began to realize that the third stage is “anti-intellectualist”, governed not by intelligence or calculation, but by spirit and taste. And then I realized, “Wait a second, in “Gabino Barreda and Contemporary Ideas”, Vasconcelos says that the “anti-intellectualism of Schopenhauer and the music of Wagner, two expressions of the unintelligible, are the fountains of wealth that exhibit the modern spirit and its wise liberty” (Mexican Philosophy in the 20th Century, 7).
So, like I said, I’m still far from understanding the “contemporary ideas” Vasconcelos is developing, what he means by “the law of taste”, or how racial hybridity is supposed to help us reach the third stage of civilization. But I thought it was cool that the JMxP is already starting to bear fruit, and I’m beginning to wonder what we’ll think about The Cosmic Race after we publish more Vasconcelos. It will probably be just as crazy, but at least I’ll know why I think so.