“Of all of man’s instruments that is not an extension of the body but of the mind, the most wondrous, no doubt, is the book”
Jorge Luis Borges
There are few themes as culminating in public discussion, in Mexico and in the world, as the manner in which to conduct economic affairs. Trump, Brexit and AMLO personify the countercurrent in the era of trade liberation: the emphasis being not on what has been won and the benefits attained, but rather the losses, the losers and the resulting inequality. John Tomasi confronts the phenomenon directly, but with an exceptional focus: in Free Market Fairness he takes a philosophical approach arguing that it is indeed possible to achieve both things: the economic efficiency that supplies the markets with the justice for which the population clamors. His proposal is that it is feasible to couple the arguments of F.A. Hayek, hero of the liberals, with those of John Rawls, hero of those pursuing justice on the part of equality. For Tomasi, democratic legitimacy is only come by when achieved in the presence of social justice and rights to property, the mainstays of each of the philosophical currents.
Noah Rothman writes a text on social justice, entitled Unjust, in which he affirms that the emphasis on social justice in terms of political activity entails an “identitarian” victimhood view that does nothing other than undermine democracy and freedom of expression. Situated within the context of United States politics, in which the identity of persons or groups has become the central factor in question, Rothman advocates for a well-balanced vision in democracy and the search for equity that lead to social mobility. Read in the Mexican context, very distinct from that of the U.S., the book permits visualizing easily employable philosophical guidelines to improve our own domestic debates.
I came by chance upon a relatively old book, on the nature of the Mexican presidency. In “The Man Who Could Everything, Everything, Everything” Juan Espíndola Mata analyzes the myth of the all-powerful presidency. This is a retrospective analysis of the presidency of the PRI era seen from the dysfunctionality that took place in the Fox years. Instead of absolute powers, the author asserts, the president abides within a constant negotiation with interest groups that procured the advance of their objectives. The president, in the nucleus of the system, surely had more power than that which the author concedes, essentially due to the pairing of the party and the presidency itself, but the argument is implacable.
Victor Bulmer-Thomas* argues that the United States is an empire (a term harshly disputed in that country) and that it is on the way to becoming a “normal” nation, which will not be as powerful but that will be at peace with itself. This is a controversial argument but a powerful one because, in addition to its being sustained upon an thorough historical investigation, it responds to the logic that showed Trump the way to the government, positioning him as one additional symptom of the cause at the very bowels of the war that nation is experiencing with respect to its power, responsibility as a world power and the internal requirements for the solution to daily problems. Good read.
Everything Flows, by Vasily Grossman, was a revelation, thanks to Leonardo Curzio. A novelized chronicle of the Soviet Union’s Stalinist era, the content showcases human fallibility, the destructive capacity of an oppressive and incompetent system of government, human relationships subjected to the fears and manipulations of power and an unviable economy, social tragedy catapulted into broad daylight. Nothing like the absence of freedom to evidence human vitality.
Sophia Rosenfeld** attacks one of the most politicized matters of the moment, truth in political life. Conforming to an historical sequence, this author evaluates the statements in the sense that “fake news” is something novel and comes to a conclusion that is of utmost relevance for the world as polarized as that of today: truth does not exist: like democracy, truth is something that is forged consciously and collectively. Only thus will there be “facts” and perspectives that everyone shares and commends. An enormous challenge for modern society, bedazzled by ubiquitous information, instantaneous and always subject to discordant interpretations.
Peter Pomertansev published this year a sequel to his extraordinary book Nothing Is Certain: Everything Is Possible. In that volume, he described the absurdities of his work on Russian television and the manner in which reality was deformed to house the interests of power. In his new work, This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality, Pomerantsev goes beyond the world of Putin to that to which his first work referred for expanding reality toward the trend that has made the strategy of false news its own, the famous “fake news.” What is extraordinary about the book is that, on contrasting the structure of absolute control of communication in the era of the Soviet dictatorship with the media chaos of our times in which anything goes, the world of today lays itself bare, evidencing itself as something not very distinct from that of those former times: the potential for infinite manipulation to control did not change much, it only acquired other modalities.
*Empire in Retreat, **Democracy and Truth