How Many Americans Grasp Mexican Ideologies?
Mickey Kaus notes how Obama’s rhetoric on immigration is taking on an increasingly “corporatist” ideological tone:
… Obama certainly seems to be groping for a formal argument here that would set out the circumstances in which he is justified in bypassing the legislature described in the Constitution — Congress — and acting on his own. The argument would be: “Where the key interest groups of society — business, labor, religious organizations and the MSM (who else is going to anoint a bill “common sense … legislation”?) — are lined up behind a policy, then if Congress doesn’t act, the President can. In short, it’s an argument for bypassing archaic elected legacy institutions when they stand in the way of modern government by interest group elites.
Corporatism is kind of institutionalized caudilloism: when the hope and change man has been in power for a long, tiring time and knows he’s not as inspiring as he seemed when he first galloped into power, it makes sense to just try to get all the Big Boys to agree and not worry about constitutions and the public and the like.
Mexico in the 20th Century was a good example of corporatism under the PRI or Institutionalized Revolutionary Party that emerged over the course of the 1920s when the caudillos got tired of getting shot by each other and announced rules under which every organized power group in society would get a payout if they just waited their turn. Mexico had kind of a left-of-center non-charismatic fascism.
The PRI system started out left of center, but big business was added in the middle of the century. It proved pretty stable, not cracking up until the 1990s due to overwhelming corruption. And now the PRI has the presidency back again.
This wasn’t the worst system in the world (you’d rather be a Mexican than a Guatemalan), but it was a recipe for conformism and autocracy. If you didn’t belong to one of the recognized organized special interests, you were out of luck. Civil society barely existed.
America seems to be moving in that direction with Team Blue and Team Red to take care of our needs for tribal competition in the political sphere, and lotsa luck if you don’t fit in either one. But perhaps Americans have always been conformists by nurture, while Mexicans have always been anarchists by nature, which is why Americans have been able to afford more political liberty than Mexicans.
This discussion of corporatism reminds me of something I’ve never seen mentioned: here in America we are supposed to be becoming more multicultural and not so ethnocentric, more sensitive to the diversity of cultural traditions that the changing face of America brings to the national conversation, etc etc. There are now 35 million people of Mexican background in the United States. But how often do you read in the press a discussion of the political ideologies that Mexicans bring with them from Mexico?
Not very often. I read a lot in the media about political ideologies in Israel and Britain, and there’s some coverage of France, but even French ideological concepts, despite their immense fame, are hard for Americans to grapple with. Mexico elicits very little interest, despite being a country of 120 million with a 1,950 mile border with the U.S.
We hear an immense amount of chatter about what the “changing demographic face of America” means for the two parties, but almost none of it seems informed by any kind of awareness of the categories within which Mexicans tend to think about politics. The whole discussion is just carried on within American mental frameworks.
One general reason for this is because Americans are pretty parochial because we are the hyperpower, both hard and soft. Our media absorbs us so much that Americans devote little attention to what is being thought in other countries.
Another reason is that we are pretty disconnected from the ideological currents that flowed south from Paris to Southern Europe and then to Latin America. Americans are simply much more in touch with English concepts, most of all, and next with other Northern European ones.
For example, besides corporatism, one of the most important ideologies in the history of Mexico was positivism, which was the official ideology of the Mexican government under the long Porfirio Diaz dictatorship that ended in the Mexican Revolution a century ago. The term positivist goes back to the founding French sociologist Comte, but what it all means is difficult for an American like me to grasp.
Another crucial concept is anti-clericalism. For most of the 20th Century, no President of Mexico would dare be seen in a church. Being President of Mexico was a pretty powerful job, but there were certain lines a Mexican President did not cross, and being seen in a church was one of them. Republicans like to think of Mexicans as Catholic Reagan Democrats, so it’s pretty baffling to us Americans that anti-Catholicism long dominated Mexico’s official conception of itself.
In general, Mexico is from that part of the world, from Paris on south, where the fundamental ideological question was whether you were for or against the Roman Catholic Church. Outside of downtown Dublin and Montreal, that simply wasn’t a live question in the English-speaking world after 1688.
For Mexico, in particular, its reigning anti-Americanism of the last century has meant that American intellectuals haven’t felt very guilty over Mexico the way they felt guilty and angry over American influence in the Banana Republics to the south. For instance, Oliver Stone’s 1986 movie Salvador is a tendentious but definitely entertaining and memorable introduction for Americans to the politics of El Salvador. Similarly, the Batista-Mafioso era in Cuba has been much portrayed in American movies. But I can’t think of any major American movies that illuminate post-Mexican Revolution politics.
Another reason that Americans don’t pay any attention to Mexican ideologies is that they seem kind of futile. Mexicans have espoused a large number of ideologies since 1811 without any clear result.
Mexican immigrants seldom come from the educated sectors of society. Mexico hasn’t generated many political refugees since the Revolution (the PRI tended to make intellectuals into well-paid professors or even ambassadors), and those who do go into exile tend to go to Europe or other Latin American countries.
American artists used to go to Mexico to get away from American puritanism (e.g., William Burroughs shooting his wife in Mexico City in 1951), but that hasn’t been much of a motivation since the 1960s.
I spent a couple of hours thinking about it and made up a list of Mexican ideologies I could vaguely sense as having existed at some point. Some of these are real words and some are just my groping at a word.
La Raza Cosmicaism
I’m sure some of those are redundant (Liberalism [classical] and Anglophilism are pretty much the same in Latin American history, for instance), but no doubt I’m missing several as well.
But looking at the list, it seems rather alien. To return to the title question “How Many Americans Comprehend Mexican Ideologies?” I sure don’t.
But maybe we should know more about these various ideas that appealed at one time or another to Mexicans as palliatives for their manifold troubles. Perhaps as America becomes more like Mexico in terms of population, it will naturally tend to become more like Mexico in terms of political systems.