My post below mentioned Rousseau’s phrase “invincible indolence”; my previous post was about Spain’s economic crisis. Here’s Alexandre de Laborde combining the two, in his early-19th-century view of the flaws of Spanish culture:
the invincible indolence and hatred of labour which prevails in their national character, has at all times paralysed the government of their best princies, and impeded the success of their most brilliant enterprizes. All their own historians deplore the effects of this apathy, which has always kept them dependent on the industry of their neighbors, or at least behind them in improvement. The happiest ages of their monarchy have not been exempted from this evil, which seems to be at once the product of the climate and the administration.
There’s always a tendency to attribute the conditions of the moment to eternal, immutable characteristics. Presumably, folks wrote of the cultural and genetic supremacy of the Finns in the 1950s, when they dominated the marathon.