Luis Rubio

What is the moment at which the social order breaks down?  When is it most probable for a society to enter processes of confrontation outside of the established institutional channels? Questions like these are the material of permanent discussion and analysis in academic as well as in governmental instances around the world. Some seek to explain the potential flareups, others attempt to prevent them.  What is interesting is that there is an increasingly greater coincidence in the criteria that these two so contrasting groups of professionals employ, and that coincidence intimates higher risks for Mexico.

The issue is not particularly new: the concern arose in the fifties, at a stage when coups d’ état, dictatorships, civil wars and other similar phenomena began in diverse nations worldwide. The moment when all this took place was not the product of chance: when WWII ended (1945), the United Nations as well as the winning powers devoted themselves to promote the development of nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Some of those countries had recently become independent, others had been defeated during the war and many more simply attempted to raise the growth rates of their economies. It soon resulted that these changes exerted destabilizing effects.

First the academic, and later the international and intelligence instances of the most powerful nations (of both sides of the barrier of the Cold War) dedicated themselves to try to understand and interpret the phenomenon. Thus was born the theory of modernization, whose initial objective was to comprehend the process of social and political change that ushered in industrialization.  Some argued that there were stages in the process of development, others observed the way the societies and their political systems evolved.

The focus changed when situations of conflict started to emerge, breaking social conflict and State coups d’état. Certain governments, especially those of United States and the Soviet Union, respectively, reacted in radical fashion, seeking to impose their law by means of force, frequently without success, or at least not without entailing long-term negative consequences. For their part, the scholars and analysts began to look for explanations for the phenomenon. The new era of interpretation, throughout the seventies, concluded that the problem was not one of underdevelopment nor of modernity (nor of development in itself) but instead one of a passageway between one and the other: on inducing economic processes of accelerated change the social order lost its natural equilibrium,  provoking conflict and, often, instability.

Fifty years later the matter has returned to the arena of discussion due to a new wave of situations of instability, but above all to a novel phenomenon. The characteristic of this period has been democratization in more and more nations. Some of these achieved a complete transition, accomplishing unusual stability (illustrated by cases such as Spain or South Korea). But, increasingly, the processes of democratization have undergone significant setbacks, which has led to the coining of terms such as “illiberal democracy,” “anocracy,” “ochlocracy” or, simply, autocracy. A Norwegian institution, the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), has committed itself to codifying events of that nature around the world to categoriz+e the conflicts.

The main conclusion of all these studies* is that the lack of consolidation of the democratic institutions is what leads to instability in this era. The nations more prone to conflict are those that remained in the stage of electoral democracy and/or that did not get as far as constituting themselves into true liberal democracies. The most delicate moment for those democracies is that at which the promises of democratization do not dovetail with the capacity of their governments and economies to satisfy them.  Which leads to the risk of instability or, more persistently in this era, to extremist leaders who arrive at power via the democratic route only to later consecrate themselves to dismantling the institutions that allowed them to ride the coattails to power.

Mexico is now at a crucial moment in these matters. The country was able to take a great leap forward during the nineties on creating exceptionally strong electoral institutions that facilitated equitable competition between the political parties and candidates, initiating a new political era. However, that enormous advance did not translate into improved well-being for the entirety of the population, in good measure because the governments that resulted from the democratic electoral processes did not always display the capacity to advance their projects or legislations   principally because the democratization was not accompanied by strong institutions that were effectively turned into effective counterweights.

That was the context in which there came into power in Mexico, via democratic means, a president who, from day zero, has applied himself to building a growing autocracy, without this representing a better conduit for the solution of the problems of the country. The risk of this evolution lies in the country’s mushrooming radicalization. The citizenry must respond to it in the face of so transcendental a challenge because the alternative is unacceptable and much more costly for all.

*A good summary is found in   Walter, Barbara F, How Civil Wars Start, Crown, 2022

a quick-translation of this article can be found at www.luisrubio.mx