Latin American Immigration Unlikely to Spark A New Renaissance


The recent movie

A Day Without A Mexican
asks the interesting
question: What would happen if California`s twelve
million Hispanics

suddenly disappeared?

Some slapstick satire ensues as the
state`s remaining whites, blacks, and Asians try (and
fail) to pick their own

oranges
,

wash their own cars
, and care for their

own children.

Yet the plot makes the unintended
point that Hispanics have contributed far more drudgery
than creativity to California. Although the media
regularly blither about the "vibrant
contributions
of Latin-American culture,"
the
plain truth is that California`s main creative
industries—Hollywood
and

Silicon Valley
—employ few Latinos above the
technician level.

But, then, has creativity ever been
the strong suit of the Hispanic world? Can we really
expect to find much scientific or artistic talent among
immigrants from Latin America?

To investigate these questions, I
crunched some numbers from

Charles Murray`s
recent gift to data nerds
everywhere, his

book


Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the
Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950
.

(Here`s my

interview
with Murray about his book and my

review
of it in

The American Conservative
.
)

Murray ranked objectively history`s most important
creators and discoverers based on their representation
in leading histories and encyclopedias.

For example, to determine the most significant Western
visual artists, Murray assembled 14 leading
comprehensive works by art historians such as

Gombrich
and

Janson
. For each name in each book`s index, he typed
into his computer basic measures of importance such as
the number of pages mentioning the artist. (No surprise:

Michelangelo
came out on top.) It`s important to
note that Murray`s own opinions played no role in his
process.

This sounds simple, perhaps even simple-minded. But
these kinds of metrics of eminence have been repeatedly
validated over a century of use,

beginning
with

Francis Galton.

The hundreds of scholars upon whom Murray relies have
their personal and professional biases. But, ultimately,
their need to create coherent narratives explaining who
influenced whom means that their books aren`t primarily
based on their own tastes, but instead on those of their
subjects.

For example, the best single confirmation of the
greatness of Beethoven (who ties with Mozart as the most
eminent composer in Murray`s tables) might be

Brahms`s explanation
of why he spent decades fussing
before finally unveiling his own First Symphony: “You
have no idea how it feels for someone like me to hear
behind him the tramp of a giant like Beethoven.”

Thus, no musical scholar could leave out Beethoven
without also

leaving out
Brahms, Schumann, Berlioz, Wagner,
Mahler, and other composers influenced by Beethoven.

Murray found 4,002 "significant figures" who
qualified for inclusion in his database because they
were mentioned in at least half the top reference books
in their field. He reserved eight of his
twenty categories for Asian subjects such as Japanese
Painting and Indian Philosophy. That leaves 3,404
significant figures in the twelve fields open to
Westerners.

So how did Latin Americans do?

Not terribly well at all: just half of one percent of
the most famous scientists and Western artists came from
Latin America.


Significant
Scientists and Artists: 800 BC to 1950 AD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Total

 

Latin Americans

 

Spaniards


Total

3404

 

18

0.5%

 

69

2.0%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Astronomy

124

 

 

1

0.8%


Biology

193

 

 

1

0.5%


Chemistry

204

 

 

1

0.5%


Earth Sciences

85

 

 


Physics

218

 

 


Mathematics

191

 

 


Medicine

160

 

 


Technology

239

 

 

1

0.4%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Western Art

479

 

3

0.6%

 

15

3.1%


Western Literature

835

 

13

1.6%

 

33

4.0%


Western Music

522

 

2

0.4%

 

13

2.5%


Western Philosophy

154

 

 

4

2.6%

None of the 1,414 scientists who made the cut was a
Latin American. That`s not too surprising because the
mother country,

Spain
, contributed only four scientists … and even
one of those four was the medieval Muslim astronomer

Al-Zarqali
!

Latin America did a little better in the sphere of high
culture, accounting for 18 (or 0.9%) of the 1,990 top
artists, composers, writers, and philosophers in the
history of Western Civilization. (I`m including among
the Latin Americans the only

Brazilian
in the database, composer

Villa-Lobos
.)

Spain has given the world a fair-to-middling 65 cultural
creators—3.3% of all significant figures in the history
of Western arts and philosophy. But Spain has been in a
bit of a creative slump since its brilliant Golden Age
of

roughly
1550 to about 1660. There have been only 25
Spanish key creators since 1700. In contrast, the small
country of the Netherlands developed 46 significant
figures just during the 17th Century.

The Hispanic world`s strong suit has been literature,
with 13 significant Latin American writers (or 1.6% of
the 835 most eminent Western writers). Top Latin
American authors include

Borges
and

Neruda
. Among the 33 significant Spanish writers
(4.0%) are

Cervantes
,

Lope de Vega
, and

Garcia Lorca
.

Presumably individual genius is more likely to reach
fruition in the field of literature because in the
sciences or some of the other, more expensive arts, a
high degree of social support for achievement is a
precondition.

The three great Mexican muralists of the 20th Century,

Rivera
,

Siqueiros
, and

Orozco
, are the only Latin Americans (0.6%) among
the 479 most famous painters and sculptors.

In contrast, fifteen Spaniards (3.1%) made the list,
most coming from either Spain`s Golden Age (for
instance, Velasquez, Zubaran, de Ribera, and the
Crete-born

El Greco
) or from the 20th Century (such as Picasso,
Miro, and Dali). The titanic Goya was the only
significant Spanish painter to flourish between the
middle of the 17th Century and the beginning of the 20th
Century.

Of the 522 best-known classical composers, only two
(0.4%) were Latin Americans (Villa-Lobos and the Mexican
Carlos Chavez y Ramirez) and thirteen (2.5%) were
Spaniards, but most of them were late medieval figures.
De Falla is probably the best-known (and perhaps only
well-known) Spanish composer. (However, there have been
many great Spanish performers, such as Casals and
Segovia.)

Among the 154 significant Western philosophers, there
are no Latin Americans and four Spaniards. Of these
four, however, two were Muslim Moors (Averroes
and

Avicebron
), one the famous Jewish philosopher of the
Muslim world,

Maimonides
, and the fourth was Santayana, who

emigrated to the U.S. as a child
. On the other hand,
two well-known Spanish philosophers arguably should have
qualified:

Ortega y Gasset
and

Unamuno
(who showed up on the table of top writers
instead).

In summary, Spain was a leading European nation up until
the middle of the 17th Century, after which it fell into
the third rank.

Latin America has always been a backwater of Western
Civilization, except in literature.

Murray didn`t cover the last half of the 20th Century,
but the long-term trends seem to be continuing. Latin
Americans have won a grand total of only

three
Nobel Prizes in the sciences and Spain only
one. In contrast,

Denmark
has won eight, and the U.S. 206.

Latin America remains more productive in literature than
in other fields, with dazzling novelists such as Garcia
Marquez and Vargas Llosa. Over the last half century,
classical composition, art, and philosophy appear to
have been in general decline across the Western world,
so Latin America`s lack of innovation in those fields no
longer stands out as embarrassingly.

In the realm of popular culture, the last half of the
20th Century witnessed the overwhelming triumph of the
U.S.A. Latin American pop music was vastly outgunned by
American rock and roll. But even little English-speaking
Jamaica wound up having more

influence
on music than did Cuba, which had been the
most musically dynamic Spanish-speaking country. Perhaps
Castro`s (hopefully imminent) demise should free up

Cuba`s tremendous musical talent.

The more insidious

Mexican ruling party
bribed its artists into

comfortable submission,
which may account for the
lack of Mexican creativity over the last 50 years. As
the PRI fell apart over the last decade, several
exciting Mexican movie directors have emerged.

Nonetheless, the bottom line: Latin America has been the
least creative outpost of the West. And that probably
won`t change much.

America is unlikely to find many creative geniuses among
Hispanic immigrants—especially among illegal ones.


[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and


movie critic
for


The American Conservative
.
His website


www.iSteve.blogspot.com
features his daily
blog.]