“Cultures notoriously differ as to the content of their rules, but there is no culture without rules.” In the last half century, Mexico was propelled from a world of rules established from the helm of power and for the power -the important ones always being the “unwritten” rules and, among those, the first was that no one would dispute the authority and the legitimacy of the president- toward a system of rules codified and instituted in black and white. It was a praiseworthy attempt, but one undertaken without conviction further than some areas of the economy, especially those linked with investment and foreign trade, and in the electoral ambit. The remainder continued, and continues, the old pattern. Now Mexicans are witnessing the return to the reign of the supreme overlord. The key question is whether those two areas -the economy and the electoral system- will lose that unique quality that has made them pivotal and distinctive for the prosperity and democratization, respectively, of the country.
Rules, says Lorraine Daston,* are an inherent part of human nature, but not all rules are the same and each culture develops their own and modifies them to the extent possible in their evolutive process. Each society, writes the author, sets into motion two types of rules: those thick and those that are “thin.” The former are dispensed by judges or experts because they are accompanied by circumstantial exceptions, such as occurs with judicial processes, the game of chess or the leading of military operations. These cases require the interpretation or judgement of experts or individuals specialized in applying rules that, by nature, entail an elevated degree of discretionary latitude. Therefore, these are the type of rules that lofty politicians prefer because these confer on them extraordinary powers, with a heightened propensity toward arbitrariness.
The “thin” rules are explicit, precise and not subject to interpretation: writing (with its alphabet and grammatical rules), geometry, vehicular traffic and other similar rules that make possible coexistence and human interaction because they generate basic disciplines. All societies develop rules that are codified and published naturally. In serious countries, obtaining a driver’s license requires an examination of knowledge (of the rules) and of driving, both essential requisites for living together peacefully.
While there are always rules that stand in need of interpretation, the development of societies and the growing complexity of economic activity demand trustworthy rules (and laws) that are known by all, not subject to interpretation and applied in a uniform manner. An exporter counts on that the fiscal and customs rules of the country he sells to will be respected; an importer hopes that, on arriving at customs, his merchandise would pass through expeditiously, so long as all requirements have been complied with. In parallel form, an investor who attempts to manufacture goods in a certain country counts on the rules being applied equally to all, according to what is established in the respective codes or treaties.
One can easily imagine the process that led to the adoption of rules for driving automobiles: when only a few vehicles were in transit, especially in what today are city centers with narrow streets, each driver drove as they saw fit; the same for parking or the direction of the streets themselves. Little by little it was necessary to espouse rules so that the circulation of the traffic would flow. When these rules are invoked, they become social norms, with which they acquire permanence and legitimacy. This is what has happened in the electoral realm which, despite their complexity, became the norm that the citizenry recognizes as a distinctive and crucial characteristic for determining who will govern us.
The pretension of repelling this scaffolding is inborn in a government that prefers to impose its own rules, to interpret them and, along the way, maintain an ample margin of discretion. But there is no greater risk for an organized society than a governor who acts in that way, particularly when matters of enormous volatility are concerned. For example, the electoral reforms, from the end of the fifties but significantly from the nineties, were undertaken not by divine mandate but instead due to the imperious necessity of avoiding political violence. The Morena party would never have come into power without the existence of that normative framework. The same happened in Mexico’s relation with the U.S. and Canada: the treaty that binds us exists to render the flows of goods and investment in both directions predictable. The country would become paralyzed, politically and economically, on placing in doubt those two sources of peace and certainty.
Carl Schmitt, an enthusiastic promoter of the Nazi regime, defined sovereignty as “the power of deciding on the exception.” It is not by chance that he would detest the existence of laws and the due process of law because these limit the governmental powers. That is the type of company that Mexicans would be keeping if, rather than advancing toward civilization, they would proceed embracing this trail of destruction of everything that makes the country function, without contributing anything better to achieve it.
*Rules: A Short History of What We Live By