I ended the year reading a book nearly unique in its genre, and extraordinary in its transcendence: the history of two revolutionaries as seen by their daughter. Daughter of Revolutionaries, by Laurence Debray, tells the story of her parents prior to her birth and throughout her life, and what she relates is not something about which her progenitors would be proud. When the priorities are war and lust, personal prestige and political influence, the daughter always remains marginalized. There is no more brutal, direct and indisputable –and agonizing – indictment than that of a daughter and the Debrays end up in a bad way. That said, the book imparts exceptional details of two extraordinary lives, from the incarceration of her father Regis in Bolivia when Che Guevara attempted to ignite the revolution, to the majesty of her grandparents and the equally fantastic story of her mother, Elizabeth Burgos, with glimpses into Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez and the goings-on of the French government.
One of the best books that I read this year was “The Conservative Sensibility,” by George F. Will, a commentator who has for decades written in newspapers and provided commentary for television. Historically conservative, this volume would appear to be his intellectual legacy in which he abandons a great part of the premises of U.S conservatism to confirm himself as an integral liberal, but not one, in the North-American libertarian fashion, in which one decides to distance oneself from civilization but rather, contrariwise, as one convinced of the importance of functioning in the real world, diagnosing problems, proposing solutions, criticizing governmental acts and being active in the central disputes of the ideas that characterize a society.
In Institutions, Inequity and Systems of Privilege in Mexico, Cuauhtémoc López Guzmán, an academician at the Autonomous University of Baja California, pens a splendid essay on the incomplete transition in which Mexico became mired. One paragraph sums up his argument: “Corrupt government, rent-seeking entrepreneurs, and violations of the Rule of Law in Mexico are the result of a predatory institutional order instituted from Colonial times for pillage. The existence today of rival substitutes for the leader should have ended the corruption, but everything seems to indicate that substitution of those in government (alternation of parties in the presidency) has not changed dishonest conduct, in that the opportunities for enrichment and privileges remain unaltered.” The book is especially relevant now that the three main political forces have occupied the presidency without it changing the system of privileges an iota. The problem lies elsewhere.
Christopher Caldwell* writes one of the best analyses that I have read on the political change that has portrayed the U.S. in recent decades. The heart of his line of reasoning is that the so duly celebrated legislation in matters of Civil Rights of 1964, which freed the Black people and opened a new era toward the equalities of opportunities, also planted the seeds of division and alienation that took place some decades later and that exerted an effect on marginalizing the White male in particular. A very sophisticated historical explanation of the gap thrown open by that legislation and that, half a century later, materialized in the form of Trump. A doubtlessly controversial analysis, but highly interesting and enlivened in the manner in which the politics of identity and the consecration of the rights of and budgets for the minorities created a new minority that ultimately rebelled in 2016 with the election of Trump.
Nadia Urbinati** asserts that populism is a new species of representative government, founded on a direct relationship between leaders and those who they define as good. In contrast with traditional representative democracy, where the winner of an election represented everyone across the board, the populist kingpin exists to ignore those they considered their adversaries, thus pressuring the entire existing constitutional structure, which opened the door to authoritarianism. The populism resulted from the growth of inequality, as well as the existence of a “rapacious oligarchy” that becomes an easy target in electoral terms. Its strength is that it breaks with the time-honored partitioning of social and ideological classes, but its weakness resides in that they end up plundering the same system that they attacked and that sustained them in power. Powerful polemic.
The New Class War*** by Michael Lind summarizes the perspective of the “forgotten” in the battle that has come to distinguish a good part of the world during the last decade. For Lind, the dispute is about the power of decision that has been concentrated in recent decades in a sector of society typified by their formal credentials (academic, bureaucratic or professional), which confers on their members an immoderate influence on the decisions. The solution lies in a pluralistic democracy, presumably one not impacted by professionals of any strain. A sentence sums up his practical proposal: the “four neoliberal freedoms” (the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital) should be replaced by the “four regulations.”
*The Age of Entitlement, ** Me the People, ***The New Class War