Criticisms of the Modern State
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
Created on Thursday, July 7, 2016, 9:38
With the emergence of the bureaucracy of the Modern State, certain flaws began to appear in the political administration of societies, regardless of whether their style was liberal, democratic, socialist or communist, or had monarchical or independent foundations. So I will attempt to present the political analysis of this republican democratic model offered by the brilliant author, philosopher and Mexican critic Octavio Paz who, despite his unexpected repudiation of his leftist political history, was undoubtedly the most discerning critic of the bureaucratic system of the Modern State.
Paz said that “without politics there is no social organization, no social harmony, no culture: there is no society. If you want to know about a society you have to examine its culture, its laws, its monuments, its science, its economic structures, its beliefs … and its political institutions. Politics is part of culture, and understanding our world and our society is impossible without it.
According to Octavio Paz, twentieth-century political art spread many lies and worshiped idols covered with mud and blood. ‘It is impossible to forget the garbage, stupidity and nonsense that great poets wrote in honor of Stalin and Mao. It is a sad chapter in what Benjamin Peret called ‘the dishonor of poets.’ Political literature is something else: it is Voltaire and Marx and it is pamphlet and it is philosophical treatise, it is Machiavelli and it is Plato’
‘In every age politics has been part of philosophy: I think of Confucius, of Aristotle, of Thomas Aquinas. This is particularly true of the Modern Age. In my view, what distinguishes modernity from other historical periods is the primacy of criticism. We are the children – not always faithful – of the Enlightenment, of Hume and of Kant, of Rousseau and of Diderot. We are what we are thanks to those fathers of Modernity. Modern democracy was the child of criticism; criticism needs certain political and social conditions for its existence: freedom of expression and association, freedom to print and disseminate material, etc. Criticism contributed very significantly to the appreciation for democracy; without democracy there would be no criticism. Democracy is the creation of democracy and criticism is the creature of democracy. The subject of criticism – the defining feature of modern culture – leads us to the issue of democracy. Democracy without the freedom to criticize is not democracy.’
In 1993, towards the end of his life, writing in Proceso, Octavio Paz put forward a few ideas about democracy that should not be forgotten and that are relevant at this point in time:
‘Democracy is an idea, but also a culture and a learning practice. It prevails where it becomes a habit and second nature. And here is a warning: politics is the theater of mirages; only criticism can protect us from its evil and bloody spells. I have no illusions about democracy: it will bring us neither happiness nor virtue. Mexican democrats should look at themselves in the mirror of Western democracies. The image is not great: injustices and inequalities abound; there are many horrors and much stupidity. Just when Mexico seems to be making the leap towards Modernity, we find that this Modernity is in crisis and that the country is on pause, in a historical vacuum. The fate of Mexico is no different from the fate of the world; the question of modernity and its outcome in the 21st century is also of concern to us. I dared to say this more than fifty years ago: for the first time in history, we are the contemporaries of all men.’
Although the conduct of his personal political life was controversial for many fans – myself included – there is no doubt that Octavio Paz has been the most perceptive intellectual in Mexico’s political history and even now he is pointing the way forward. In his time he managed to exchange the spoken word for writing and now he is showing us that that the written word which controlled the Modern State will soon disappear in the digital age, but the bureaucracy will continue to govern.
Now that Octavio Paz as well as Carlos Fuentes are no longer around, we see the need for people who can view Mexican society and the world from a broader, more rational and honest perspective so that our nation in decline can endure with dignity the second-class colony status imposed on us by the US government and the oligarchy of horrible characters passed down to us by the old post-revolutionary family and the heirs of bank and corporate fortunes.
Addendum: The incompetence and corruption of Mexico’s current political leaders have led the country into one of the saddest moments in its history, with the number of people living in conditions of hardship now exceeding half the entire current population and indications of the situation becoming more acute in the coming years. It is the right time for the emergence of new political leaders of high moral conscience who are not part of the bunch of bunglers and scoundrels created by the current political parties and the Mexican bureaucratic system of the past fifty years.
Although all the members of this new generation of children of the politicians and millionaires who control the country have been shaped by the US view of the world, it will always be possible for rational, free-thinking individuals like Benito Juárez and Lázaro Cárdenas to emerge.