Luis Rubio

Mexico has undergone an underlying, albeit hidden, discord about its future for various decades. From a positive quasi-consensus -at least more or less generalized enthusiasm- with respect to the future that was born with the liberalization of the economy and, especially, with the successful negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) at the beginning of the nineties, Mexicans passed to an ever more acute dispute that arose from the severe recession of 1995. From that crisis, the “war cry” went up to today’s president, who from that point was convinced that reforms did nothing more than accentuate inequalities and give rise to poverty.

Fending off the reforms became his mantra and raison d’être. But his project transcends the economic content inherent in those reforms: his grievance is against the philosophical vision -the culture- innate to the change that came about from the mid-eighties, which he denominates, disparagingly, “neoliberalism.” Thus, his project of government would become less pragmatic than philosophical–ideological in nature and perhaps it was from whence derived his expectation (or ambition) of trans-sexennial transcendence.

His vision is made clear in the following lines: “In a short time… we have contributed to changing the mentality of broad sectors of the people of Mexico. We have exposed the system with all its forms of control and manipulation.” As with all political projects, the alternative he proposes is equally manipulative, but the approach entails a radically different vision from that which characterized the country in past decades and that extends beyond a difference with respect to the function of the government in the society or of how concentrated or decentralized the power should be.

Leaving the national context, the counter-project that the president embraces is similar, in fact it derives, in philosophical terms, from the European wars that emerged from the Lutheran rebellion. Europe was divided between the reform (Protestant) and the counter-reform (Catholic), a schism that rocked the world and from which there materialized very contrasting pathways and philosophical views. From Catholic and revolutionary France arose the notion that what exists can be destroyed and the new can be built again from ground zero, a view that ended with Robespierre at the guillotine. That same perspective was adopted by the Soviets to control their society in centralized fashion, leading to its end in the Gulag. Innumerable governments around the world, that of Mexico included, claimed that it was possible to control all the variables of economic functioning without any risk, ushering in the successive crises that the citizenry endured in decades past.

The other vision emanated from the Enlightenment with figures such as Adam Smith and David Hume, which were more modest in their viewpoints and pretensions. Their point of departure was that the world is complex and that no one can control it because it depends on numerous factors, not all of which are known. Therefore, the function of government is to create conditions that render it possible for individuals, families and businesses to find opportunities and exploit them for their benefit, consequently that of the community.

The contrast between the two visions is dramatic: the first induces to the building of an aggressive and intrusive government, dedicated to centralizing power, controlling the citizenry and imposing its preferences and prejudices on each member of society. From there arise the employment of conflict and confrontation as instruments to advance the cause.

The second vision is more unassuming and clashes directly with the arrogance of the first because it places the individual within the centrality of the development and rejects any pretension of being able to plan or manipulate history.

The more complex the world and the society becomes, the inevitable process of human development in general -and economic in particular- the less the viability acquired by the centralized systems because they only function with increasing levels of repression and control. The USSR collapsed because it could not deal with the complexity, China is unviable without its increasingly generalized and sophisticated systems of control.

President López Obrador’s project is extraordinarily ambitious in that it transcends the traditional measures of government. His aspiration is to change the country and to impose upon it his philosophy and cultural vision: ranging from his moral guidelines to bear hugs for Narcos. To achieve this, it is unavoidable to dismantle any and every source of resistance or opposition, whether the latter stems from a governmental entity (here the notion of “autonomy” becomes redundant) or from an educational institution. The change of culture is not to be negotiated but instead imposed. The risk of a vision of this nature is that it very rapidly moves from the “narrative” stage to outright confrontation and from there to repression -or collapse. Once initiated, the process is uncontainable.

Idi Amin, the brutal and despotic dictator who immersed Uganda into poverty, corruption and criminality, is (in)famous for his affirmation that “there is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech.” This is a phrase that sums up the concentrator vision of power and that is not disengaged -cannot be separated- from the concentration of power and the pretension of exacting a new culture as if recasting the country.