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New Left Review 46, July-August 2007


Alistair Hennessy on J. H. Elliott, Empires of the Atlantic World, 1492–1830. Conquistadors and indigenous peoples, colonists and slaves populate a continental canvas, in a magisterial comparison of British and Spanish imperialism in the Americas.

ALISTAIR HENNESSY

IN THE ATLANTIC MIRROR

Ever since Hector de Crèvecœur posed the question, ‘What then is this American, this new man?’ in 1782, North Americans have endlessly ruminated on their uniqueness. Yet they have rarely considered what they have in common with the ‘Other America’, the sister-continent to their south. Such has been the ingrained Protestant providentialism of Anglo-American thinking that Spain’s Atlantic empire has too often been consigned to the shadows of the Black Legend, according to which the greed and depravities of the Old World were visited on the New by Iberian conquistadors and viceroys. The same view is alive and flourishing: in his post-9/11 jeremiad Who Are We? (2004), Samuel Huntington deplores the erosion of America’s national identity by immigration, and the undermining of its culture of Protestant individualism by Hispanic bilingualism, multiculturalism and the denationalization of elites. ‘Fortress America’ is today symbolized by the iron curtain erected on the us–Mexican border to exclude illegal immigrants.

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