Felipe Fernández-Armesto likes to turn received opinion on its head and expose the succulent underbelly of history. One of his conceits in this sparkling extended essay is to dismiss the idea that the North American way of life is based on fierce individualism. Rather, he argues that it draws its strength from the civic-mindedness of the small town - from bonds forged in church and baseball park, at clambakes and summer camp. Its tradition is one of mutual support rather than self-help, conformity more than self-assertion.
By the same token, Latin America's woes can be attributed to a surfeit of individualism. That, he suggests, is at least a plausible explanation for the violence and anarchy associated with a continent where resistance to centdsm is always fierce. As he reminds us, the word 'liberal' owes its political