One of the pillars of Latin America’s 19th-century intellectual thought, Andrés Bello is heir to the ideas of the Enlightenment in his rationalist struggle to reconcile national interests with universal good.
His essays on the conception of Latin America as a model society for all nations leading the way toward progress planted seeds among Latin American thinkers of the new generation. Bello was one of the first Latin American writers to articulate the ideology of a Latin American destiny, which would later find a resounding echo in the essayist Pedro Henríquez Ureña’s “La utopía americana” (1926; The American utopia).
Yet Bello’s dreams for Latin America were not mere utopian fabrications, as Adalbert Dessau explains in “Revista de crítica literaria latinoamericana” (1982): he proposed clear and specific goals to the emerging Latin American nations to achieve that objective.
This shared aspiration for a common good, Bello adds, calls for an alliance or “society of nations” that will insure a strong and united Latin America.
In many of his writings, but particularly in his Principios de derecho de gentes (1832; Principles of the rights of people), Bello argues for the need for a progressive development of the emerging nation-states toward the formation of civilized bourgeois societies. Keenly aware of the lack of solid economic foundations in Latin American societies to propel economic development, Bello designs a model structure that would function as a catalyst for economic growth in Latin America. Both his essays on theories of culture and literature as well as his treatises on education and international law delineate Bello’s proposed model for socioeconomic development that would bring Latin America to the forefront of Western civilization. Bello’s philosophical ideas lean toward what his critics have called an “objective idealism,” tempered by his scientific vision of the world. In his Filosofía del entendimiento (posthumously pub. 1881; Philosophy of the Understanding), Bello develops his theory of society based on knowledge of the laws of nature. The need to use common sense in our understanding of reality is another important premise in Bello’s philosophy. His contribution to Latin America’s intellectual history is his synthesis of the legacies of modern European philosophy combined with his own philosophical theories.
His views emerge from his desire to elaborate an ideology that addresses the needs and specific conditions of the newly independent Latin American countries, while at the same time keeping in mind universal values and principles.
In his essays on historiography, Bello discusses the need to distinguish between principles that are universally viable and those that can be applied only to particular situations. Bello’s essential methodology proposes the use of experience and reason in the application, in Latin America, of laws developed in other countries. If Latin Americans were directly to copy the lessons learned by European nations, he cautions his readers, they would be unfaithful to the very spirit of those lessons, which advocate free discussion, observation, and thorough convictions. This creative application of universal ideas calls for a clear understanding of the particular needs and goals of the Latin American people.
Bello’s familiarity with English philosophy—from Francis Bacon to David Hume— as well as his knowledge of Scottish thinkers such as Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart, informs his vision of humankind and constitutes a substantive presence in his theory of knowledge, as Fernando Murillo Rubiera discusses in Andrés Bello: Historia de una vida y de una obra (1986). Bello also translated some of Locke’s essays, and most critics indicate that Bello had knowledge of the works of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. On the other hand, Bello’s ties with the Latin American Enlightenment provide a clear basis for his Americanist thought, as seen in his defense of reason and virtue as essential components of the new Latin American societies.
Bello is considered the precursor of a Latin American school of thought which proposes the construction of a society that would benefit from the material progress achieved by European nations, while also avoiding the pitfalls already evident in the capitalist world.
Bello’s search for “human happiness” goes hand in hand with his notion of “progressive improvement.” His belief in the social need to promote progress for all is at the root of his Americanist thought. As a jurist he worked to build a society that would ensure all civil liberties and the enjoyment of progress and culture for its citizens, within a system based in the rightful administration of justice.
Bello was one of the most prolific and versatile writers of his time, and his intellectual curiosity was unbounded; his books and essays encompass such diverse topics as cosmography, philosophy, literature, education, science, politics, international law, and Spanish grammar. He is widely known as the poet who sang the beauty of the Americas and traced a social document for peace and creativity in the New World in his Silvas americanas (1823; Odes to America), and as the original author of Gramática de la lengua castellana (1847; A Spanish grammar), a pioneer work in the study of the structure of the Spanish language in Spanish America. His Philosophy of the Understanding has been acclaimed as the most mature expression of his philosophical ideas, and his Principios de derecho de gentes is considered the first work of its kind in the Americas.
Andrés Bartolomé Bello. Born 29 November 1781 in Caracas. Studied at the Royal and Pontifical University, Caracas, 1797–1800, B.A., 1800. Second official of the Captaincy General of Venezuela, 1802–10. Editor of the first Caracas newspaper, Gaceta de Caracas (Caracas gazette), 1808. Traveled to England on diplomatic service, as aide to Simón Bolívar and Luis López Méndez, 1810, but funding withdrawn because of civil strife in Venezuela, 1812. Lived in London, 1810–30. Married Ann Boyland, 1814 (died, 1821). Secretary, Chilean legation, 1822–24, and legation of Great Colombia, 1824–29, both London. Founding editor, Biblioteca Americana (American library), 1823, and El Repertorio Americano (The American repertoire), 1826–27, both London. Married Isabel Antonia Dunn, 1824. Elected to the Venezuelan National Academy, 1826. Moved to Santiago at the invitation of the Chilean government, 1829; named senior official, Chilean Ministry of Finance, and held post in the Foreign Ministry, from 1830. Editor, El Araucano, 1830–53. Senator of the Chilean Republic, 1837–55. Rector, University of Chile, Santiago, from 1843. Elected honorary member, Royal Spanish Academy, 1851.
Died in Santiago, 15 October 1865.
Essays and Related Prose
Principios de derecho de gentes, 1832; as Principios de derecho internacional, 1844
Filosofía del entendimiento, in Obras completas, vol. 1, 1881; as Philosophy of the Understanding, translated by O.Carlos Stoetzer, 1984
Antología de discursos y escritos, edited by José Vila Selma, 1976
Anthology, edited by Pedro Grases, translated by Barbara D. Huntley and Pilar Liria, 1981
Other writings: poetry, a play, a guide to Castilian grammar (1847), and works on the Spanish epic, philology, civil law, astronomy, and education.
Collected works editions: Obras completas, 15 vols., 1881–93; Obras completas, 9
vols., 1930–35; Obras completas (Ministerio de Educación Edition), various editors, 22 vols., 1951–69.
Becco, Horacio Jorge, Bibliografía de Andrés Bello, Caracas: Fundación la Casa de Bello, 2 vols., 1987–89
Millares Carlo, Agustín, Bibliografía de Andrés Bello, Madrid: Fundación Universitaria Española, 1978
Alfonso, Paulino, “Don Andrés Bello: Antecedentes de influencias y rasgos íntimos,” in Estudios sobre Andrés Bello, vol. 1, edited by Guillermo Feliú Cruz, Santiago: Fondo Andrés Bello, 1966: 163–72
Amunátegui Aldunate, Miguel Luis, “De la influéncia de don Andrés Bello en los orígenes del movimiento intelectual de Chile de 1842,” in Estudios sobre Andrés Bello, vol. 1, edited by Guillermo Feliú Cruz, Santiago: Fondo Andrés Bello, 1966:13–60
Ardao, Arturo, “La etapa filosófica de Bello en Londres,” in Bello y Londres, vol. 1, Caracas: Fundación la Casa de Bello, 1981: 145–70
Ardao, Arturo, “La relación de Bello con Stuart Gill,” in Bello y Chile, vol. 1, Caracas: Fundación la Casa de Bello, 1981:317–38
Ardao, Arturo, “Bello y la filosofia latinoamericana,” in Bello y la America Latina, Caracas: Fundación la Casa de Bello, 1982: 179–92
Avila Martel, Alamiro de, “The Influence of Bentham in the Teaching of Penal Law in Chile,” Revista de Estudios HistoricoJuridicos 5 (1980):257–65
Brewer-Carías, Allan R., “La concepción del estado en la obra de Andrés Bello,” in Bello y la América Latina, Caracas: Fundación la Casa de Bello, 1982:99–154
Dessau, Adalbert, “La contribución de Andres Bello a la filosofía latinoamericana,” in Bello y la America Latina, Caracas: Fundación la Casa de Bello, 1982:165–78
Dinwiddy, John Rocoland, “Los círculos liberales y benthamistas en Londres, 1810– 1829,” in Bello y Londres, vol. 1, Caracas: Fundación la Casa de Bello, 1981:377–98
Fernández Larraín, Sergio, Cartas a Bello en Londres, 1810–1829, Santiago: Editorial Andrés Bello, 1968
Galoo, Angel C., “Filosofía de Andrés Bello,” in Estudios sobre Andrés Bello, vol. 2, Santiago: Fundación la Casa de Bello, 1971: 125–30
Gaos, José, Filosofía del Entendimiénto: Introducción, Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1948
Gazmuri, Cristián, “Algunas influencias europeas en el método historiográfico de Bello,” in Bello y Chile, vol. 2, Caracas: Fundación la Casa de Bello, 1981:325–38
Grases, Pedro, Tiempo de Bello en Londres, y otros ensayos, Caracas: Ministry of Education, 1962
Grases, Pedro, “Bello, humanista y universitario,” in Bello y la America Latina, Caracas: Fundación la Casa de Bello, 1982: 469–78
Herrera, Felipe, “Presencia de Bello en la integración cultural latinoamericana,” Atenea (1972):175–92
Kilgore, W.J., “Notes on the Philosophy of Education of Andrés Bello,” Journal of the History of Ideas 22, no. 4 (October-December 1961):550–60
Murillo Rubiera, Fernando, “Andrés Bello en Inglaterra,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos (1948):5–44
Murillo Rubiera, Fernando, Andrés Bello: Historia de una vida y de una obra, Caracas: Fundación la Casa de Bello, 1986
Peers, E.Allison, “The Literary Activities of the Spanish Emigrados in England,” Modern Language Review 19 (1924)
Rodriguez Monegal, Emir, “Bello y la inglesa en el primer tercio del siglo XIX,” in Bello y Londres, vol. 2, Caracas: Fundación la Casa de Bello, 1980:113–18
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