Manuel González Prada (Perú: 1844-1918)1

By Harold Eugene Davis

     For years González Prada was the Peruvian conscience, denouncing the social and political errors of Peru which had produced the weakness and anarchy responsible for defeat by Chile in 1789, while leading a liberal intellectual and literary revival. Although in the general form of his thought he is a social evolutionist, similar to other writers of his day, contacts with anarchist thought seem to have made him a revolutionist in spite of Comte, Darwin, and Spencer.

     Born in Lima in 1844, he was the third son in a wealthy, conservative, and religious landowning family which had taken an active part in Peruvian affairs since long before independence. His education at the Colegio de San Carlos and in the law school of the National University exposed him to the scientific rationalism (positivism) of the day, and he came to be an admirer of the free-thinking director of the National Library, Francisco Vigil, to the great distress of his pious mother and conservative father. Later contact with Renan in France helped to make his anti-clerical pen one of the sharpest in all Spanish America. At first his activity centered in literary circles, but in 1891 he participated in organizing the Unión Nacional, a political party committed to Indian reforms, social legislation, and parliamentary government. After his return from France in 1898 his political writing and speaking increased, and his appointment as director of the National Library in 1912 was the occasion of political as well as religious controversy.

     While his social thought is basically that of scientific rationalism, he has combined with it a strong moral idealism having roots in the Liberal thought and utopian anarchism, as well as in the contemporary idealistic reaction against the materialistic determinism of Darwinian and Spencerian thought. "To one who says the school, reply the school and bread." The old Liberal anti-clericalism has been reinforced in González Prada by scientific free-thinking, and he retains the positivist's strong opposition to religious superstition.

     González Prada wrote with the pen of a journalist, with sharp cutting sarcasm and subtle satire which is difficult or even impossible to translate adequately. The essay on the Indian which follows is particularly interesting as one of the early statements of the present day Indianism of Peru. But it also reveals other aspects of the author's thought which have been mentioned, especially his revolutionary moral idealism. Written in 1904, it was a product of the years of political activity following his return from France. Never completed by the author, it was included only in the second edition of Horas de lucha, prepared by Adriana de González Prada.


1Harold Euguene Davis, "Manuel Gonzalez Prada", Latin American Social Thought (Washington: The University Press of Washington, 1961), pp. 195-196. Prepared for the WWW by Dawn DeLeonardis

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