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Feb. 28-29. Baltimore, MD (USA). The Second International Colloquium Manuel González Prada
Article published on 9 September 2007
last modification on 8 May 2017

by r-c.
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González Prada and Liberalism

Manuel González Prada was an important turn-of-the-nineteenth-century intellectual from Peru, an early proponent of liberal ideals including secularism, justice, and especially personal liberty. He is also the first Modernist poet from that country; a “moral conscience of the nation” after the disastrous Pacific war (1879-1883); and a leader in rebuilding the sacked National Library during the twentieth century. He called for economic and social progress; and provided ideological inspiration for the three branches of Peruvian radicalism that took shape during the early twentieth century. All three strands: working-class anarcho-syndicalism; the Socialist Party founded by José Carlos Mariátegui; and the APRA (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana) looked to González Prada’s thought, adapting and modulating it as they formed their individual paths for the twentieth century. Most famously, his political heritage was maligned when the Partido Socialista, after Mariátegui’s death, became Peru’s communist party (known on the international stage during the 1980s as Shining Path) committed to overthrowing the central government. In another perplexing turn of events, the APRA strand, in the form of a Peruvian political party, achieved institutional prominence during the last decades of the twentieth century when Alan García Pérez served as president (1985-1990). García Pérez and the APRA were recently elected to a second term in the year 2006, representing not a radical movement, but rather, a close ally of US president George Bush.

During the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s interest in González Prada continued as his son Alfredo and Luis Alberto Sánchez edited a substantial portion of González Prada’s poetry and prose writings. Sánchez would later serve as vice president during Alan García Pérez’s first term. This probably explains why during the first APRA administration, González Prada’s complete works were finally published (1985-1989). While there has also been sporadic academic interest in González Prada as well as the obligatory mention in literary, social and political histories of Peru, there has been no concerted effort to reevaluate his work and its meaning for Peru and its intellectual traditions until very recently.

In 2005, the First International Colloquium on Manuel González Prada took place in Bordeaux, France. This meeting brought together French and Peruvian scholars and took stock of some recent archival finds as well as contemporary literary approaches to the man and his influence. The colloquium also examined González Prada’s activities in Bordeaux, a city where he resided after rejecting his political party’s nomination for the presidency (due to the “cohabitation,” or sharing of political power, of some of its members with other political parties, an action González Prada deemed morally reprehensible).

The Second International Colloquium on Manuel González Prada will examine González Prada and his lofty goals in relation to doctrinaire liberalism and to accommodationist liberal political parties. Furthermore, the colloquium will examine seeming inconsistencies in his thought and activities. One example can be found in his political party, the National Union, which proposed increased European immigration to Peru with the unspoken goal of whitening the country while at the same time incongruously allowing for ethnic pluralism as long as it fell within liberal modes of living. Inherent in González Prada’s theoretical paradigm was a defense of indigenous peoples and a somewhat successful attempt at incorporating Peru’s other social strata into the Creole mainstream as long as they went to Creole schools, implying a stance that was at odds with notions of cultural difference. Hence, his “liberalism” could be categorized as radical from a European, Creole or coastal perspective, but authoritarian from an Andean or indigenista perspective. Consequently, universal education and the pedagogical reform that this implied were central to his intellectual program and suggest yet another area to investigate.

Conversely, when González Prada looked at traditional political parties, the Liberal Party included, he found that they lacked principles. His hard-hitting attacks against the Liberal Party took it to task precisely because it failed to take a clear liberal position. In his essay “Nuestros liberales,” he attacked liberals because their works were reactionary and backwards. In “Liberalismo peruano,” he proclaimed that if someone wanted to find true liberals in Peru, they would have to get out Diogenes’s lamp and look for them. Even if González Prada did not find adherence to liberal principles in the political parties of his time, he himself did hold true some liberal beliefs such the preeminence of liberty and equality, a concern for human rights and, toward the end of his life, the libertarian objective of a secular, stateless society. The Second International Colloquium on Manuel González Prada will try to sort out these issues, looking at the man for what he was, an early sociologist trying to understand a perplexing world, an unyielding ideologue in the solutions he proposed, and a tireless proponent of truth, freedom and equality in a society marked by its hegemonic relationships.

Themes of the Colloquium:

* González Prada’s thorny relationship with liberalism

* The liberal tradition and the Church in González Prada

* González Prada’s approach to race, ethnicity and gender

* González Prada and the birth of sociology in Peru

* La modernidad de González Prada, ¿cosmopolita, francófilo o pan-latinista?

* González Prada’s literary theory in relation to his political, social and economic proposals

* González Prada’s social and economic doctrine in relation to other intellectuals of his time

* The influence of anarchism on González Prada’s oeuvre

* González Prada’s views on women

For more information, Deborah Poole, PLAS, Johns Hopkins University; 3400 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21210; Thomas Ward, o Rosa Campos-Brito, Modern Languages and Literatures, Loyola College, 4501 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21210.

Manuel González Prada’s Webpage

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