A distinguished scholar charts the many contradictions that shape and afflict Mexico.
After 500 years of authoritarian rule, Mexico has a burgeoning middle class and a functioning, if creaky, representative democracy, but its civil society remains perilously weak. Indeed, Castañeda (Politics and Latin American Studies/New York Univ.; Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants, 2008, etc.) argues, the very cultural traits which may have permitted the people to survive their tortured history now serve to obstruct progress and stand in the way of Mexico’s full entry into modernity. He identifies a number of these characteristic features, explains their origins and the consequences they have wrought and discusses the hurdles they pose for the country’s future. Mexico, he argues, is plagued by a valorization of the individual and a persistent mistrust of collective action, a penchant for embracing victimhood, a tendency to avoid conflict and confrontation, a mistrust of competition, an obsession with past oppression and betrayals, a tolerance of corruption, an exaltation of ritual over reality and a xenophobia embedded even in law. As he takes the measure of his native land, Castañeda relies on three sources of information: “the classics”—the best that has been written by knowledgeable observers of Mexico—an abundance of statistical information, and his considerable personal experience. The delivery of so much political, economic and sociological data, while a necessary component of his analysis, can sometimes make for slow going, and he frequently assumes a greater understanding of Mexico’s recent politics than most Americans, at least, surely possess. Still, his anecdotes are lively, and he makes judicious use of the experts he frequently invokes. Perhaps Mexicans will heed Castañeda’s prescription for reform, including, for example, instituting a national police force and criminal code and his call for a new respect for the rule of law. There’s an underlying pessimism to his argument, but he can’t help offering reasons for hope.
An informed, persuasive analysis of the attitudinal adjustments and concrete changes required for Mexico to thrive in the 21st century.