The evolution of the idea of social transformation in the essays of Manuel Gonz\'alez Prada (La evoluci\'on de la idea de transformaci\'on social en los ensayos de Manuel Gonz\'alez Prada)

Date of Completion

January 1988


Literature, Latin American




This study (written in Spanish) traces the intellectual development of Manuel Gonzalez Prada (1844-1918). Gonzalez Prada is important in the history of ideas in Latin America because his personal evolution parallels that of Peru. His development from positivism to anarchy represents the arrival of twentieth-century thought in Peru.^ Prada's early work reflects the positivist attitudes which characterized nineteenth-century Peru. The sources for this positivism can be found in Auguste Comte's Cours de philosophie positive. This influence in Gonzalez Prada was to provide a structure for his world view which embodied the three stages for humanity as devised by Comte. Prada would use this system to reject the first two stages, the theological and the metaphysical, in his struggle to achieve the third stage, the positive. However Gonzalez Prada would find Comte's model for the third stage restrictive. Consequently he would continue searching for answers.^ The solution would come during an extended visit to France when Gonzalez Prada studied under Ernest Renan. Of particular interest to Prada was Renan's Vie de Jesus. Prada used Renan's Jesus Christ as a model to reinterpret Comte's system. Prada's system came to view humanity as a struggle of the individual against the power of the State and of the Church. Prada's individual, based on the example of Christ, rejected all forms of government and religion which oppressed the individual. The parallel between Renan's Christ and Prada's individual is a high level of morality, more elevated than the one proposed by the Temple of Christ's time and the Catholic Church of nineteenth-century Latin America. This morality, characterized by an immanentist and scientific foundation, is the natural guide for humanity, not the State and the Church which are artificial and repressive. This final stage of thought in Gonzalez Prada's intellectual development must be characterized as theoretical anarchism.^ The passage from positivism to anarchism, two seemingly opposite concepts, demonstrates Gonzalez Prada's ability to synthesize and redefine diverse philosophical thought. It is this intellectual creativity that caused Gonzalez Prada's ideas to influence Peruvians and Latin Americans, from his time to present day, hence his importance in the history of ideas in Hispanic America. ^