Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Beneath the United States

Beneath the United States

A History of U.S. Policy toward Latin America

Lars Schoultz

ISBN 9780674922761

Publication date: 06/15/1998

Request exam copy

In this sweeping history of United States policy toward Latin America, Lars Schoultz shows that the United States has always perceived Latin America as a fundamentally inferior neighbor, unable to manage its affairs and stubbornly underdeveloped.

This perception of inferiority was apparent from the beginning. John Quincy Adams, who first established diplomatic relations with Latin America, believed that Hispanics were "lazy, dirty, nasty...a parcel of hogs." In the early nineteenth century, ex-President John Adams declared that any effort to implant democracy in Latin America was "as absurd as similar plans would be to establish democracies among the birds, beasts, and fishes."

Drawing on extraordinarily rich archival sources, Schoultz, one of the country's foremost Latin America scholars, shows how these core beliefs have not changed for two centuries. We have combined self-interest with a "civilizing mission"--a self-abnegating effort by a superior people to help a substandard civilization overcome its defects. William Howard Taft felt the way to accomplish this task was "to knock their heads together until they should maintain peace," while in 1959 CIA Director Allen Dulles warned that "the new Cuban officials had to be treated more or less like children." Schoultz shows that the policies pursued reflected these deeply held convictions.

While political correctness censors the expression of such sentiments today, the actions of the United States continue to assume the political and cultural inferiority of Latin America. Schoultz demonstrates that not until the United States perceives its southern neighbors as equals can it anticipate a constructive hemispheric alliance.


  • This excellent study breaks new ground in a field so cluttered that one usually harbours very low expectations of originality, style and fresh scholarship. Schoultz, a political scientist hitherto best known for his study of human rights, has written a lucid history that derives much of its strength precisely from its understanding of the conservative and expansionist presumptions of those who have formulated and implemented US policy towards the rest of the continent since independence. This, though, is not an understanding assumed with the ease that one generally finds in texts on this topic; here it is based on meticulous research of primary documentation...Schoultz's knowledge of the sources comes through in the excellent use of quotation within a briskly written and delightfully jargon-free prose. He is understandably interested in politics before all else, but there is enough economics here to satisfy the non-expert...Of the plethora of single-volume studies of this vital subject, Lars Schoultz's is easily the best.

    —James Dunkerley, History


  • Lars Schoultz is William Rand Kenan, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of five books on U.S. policy toward Latin America. Schoultz has been President of the Latin American Studies Association and has held research fellowships from the Ford Foundation, Fulbright-Hays Program, MacArthur Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Social Science Research Council, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and National Humanities Center.

Book Details

  • 496 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

From this author