The illusions of patriotism are limitless. In the first century of our era Plutarch ridiculed those who declared that the moon of Athens was better than the moon of Corinth; in the seventeenth century Milton observed that God usually revealed Himself first to His Englishmen; at the beginning of the nineteenth, Fichte declared that to have character and to be German were, obviously, the same thing. Here in Argentina, nationalists are much in evidence; they tell us they are motivated by the worthy or innocent desire to foment the best Argentine traits. But they do not really know the Argentine people; in speeches they prefer to define them in terms of some external fact - the Spanish conquistadores, say, or an imaginary Catholic tradition of “Saxon imperialism.”
Unlike North Americans and almost all Europerans, the Argentine does not identify himself with the State. That can be explained by the fact that, in this country, the governments are usually exceedingly bad, or the State is an inconceivable abstraction; the truth is that the Argentine is an individual, not a citizen. Aphorisms like Hegel’s - “The State is the reality of the moral idea” - seem like a vicious joke. Films made in Hollywood repeatedly portray as admirable the man (generally a reporter) who tries to make friends with a criminal so he can turn him over to the police later; the Argentine, for whom friendship is a passion and the police something like a mafia, feels that this “hero” is an incomprehensible cad. He agrees with Don Quixote that “no one is without sin” and that “good men should not be the executioners of the others” (Don Quixote, I, XXII). More than once, as I confronted the vain symmetries of Spanish style, I have suspected that we differ irrevocably from Spain; but those two lines from the Quixote have sufficed to convince me of my error; they are like the calm and secret symbol of our affinity. One night of Argentine literature is enough to confirm this: that desperate night when a rural police sergeant, shouting that he would not condone the crime of killing a brave man, began to fight on the side of the deserter Martin Fierro against his own men.
For the European the world is a cosmos where each person corresponds intimately to the function he performs; for the Argentine it is a chaos. The European and the North American believe that a book which has been awarded any sort of prize must be good; the Argentine acknowledges the possibility that it may not be bad, in spite of the prize. In general, the Argentine is a skeptic. He may not know about the fable that says humanity always includes thirty-six hyst men - the Lamed Vovniks - who do not know each other but secretly sustain the universe; if he heard that fable, he will not be surprised that those worthies are obscure and anonymous. His popular hero is the man who fights the multitude alone, either in action (Fierro, Moriera, Hormiga Negra), or in the mind or the past (Segundo Sombra). Other literatures do not record anything quite like that. For example, consider the case of two great European writers, Kipling and Franz Kafka. At first glance the two have nothing in common, but the principal theme of one is the vindication of order - of one order (the highway in Kim, the bridge in The Bridge Builders, the Roman wall in Puck of Pook’s Hill); the principal theme of the other is the insupportable and tragic solitude of the person who lacks a place, even a most humble one, in the order of the universe.
Perhaps someone with say that the qualities I have mentioned are merely negative or anarchical ones, and will add that they are not capable of political application. I venture to usggest that the opposite is true. The most urgent problem of our time (already proclaimed with prophetical clarity by the almost forgotten Spencer) is the gradual interference of the State in the acts of the individual; in the struggle against this evil - called communism and fascism - Argentine individualism, which has perhaps been useless or even harmful up to now, would find justification and passive value.
Without hope and nostalgia, I think of the abstract possibility of a political party that has some affinity with the Argentine character; a party that would promise us, say, a rigorous minimum of government.
Nationalism seeks to charm us, but the vision it presents is that of an infinitely importunate State; if that utopia were established on earth, it would have the providential virtu of making everyone desire, and finally achieve, its antithesis.
- Jorge Luis Borges, “Our Poor Individualism”
Buenos Aires, 1946