10.28.2016 Doc of the Day

“I AM indebted to many friends — old and new  British, American and Mexican — for their abundant kindness to me in London, New York,  Washington and Mexico. They provided me with a  sequence of delightful introductions, entertained me  in their homes, helped plan my journeys, talked to  me very freely of their particular problems; but this  is an occasion, I believe, where gratitude is best  expressed by silence. The appearance of their names  here could only be an embarrassment to them. I  formed my opinions in their company, but none  of them will agree with all I have written, some of  them with none of it. It would be idle to pretend  that a visit to Mexico, at the present moment,  can be wholly agreeable; the pervading atmosphere ranges from vexation to despair, and only  the most obtuse traveller could escape infection.  That, in spite of the present gloomy spectacle and  the still gloomier prospect of the future, there were  more good hours than bad for me in Mexico, is  entirely due to these friends. If they come to read  this I should like them to know that I am sincerely  grateful; in particular to two, an Englishman and  a Mexican, one of whom, harassed by personal  worries, took all mine into his charge; the other  who was my constant companion in all my movements. I remember with delight the days at Orizaba  and Cuernavaca, a bottle of magnificent claret in  Mexico City, the trip down the railway, away from  newspapers and wireless, during the European  September crisis, the good company in the Ritz  bar, the trust with which members of the Catholic  laity accepted me. I am sorry that these happy  episodes shall have so little reflection in the fol-  lowing pages, but, as my friends know better than  I, there is at the moment no opportunity for solid  happiness in Mexico.  Stinchcombe, 1939 .  E. W. Alamo_Entrance texas  CHAPTER ONE  rect3336 space INTRODUCTION  rect3336 space THIS is a political book ; the sketch of a  foreign country where I spent a day or so  under two months ; of a country which  has already provoked a huge number of books,  many of them by residents of life-long experience.  I do not see how it is possible to escape the imputation of presumption. ‘ The fellow mugs up a few  facts in the London Library, comes out here for a  week or two with a bare smattering of the language,  hangs about bothering us all with a lot of questions, and then proceeds to make money by telling  us all our own business.’ pens-keith-williamson-writing writer  It is a charge to which professional writers are  commonly exposed and I know no answer except  the truth : that this, in fact, is our professional  habit. Superficial acquaintance is one of the  materials of our trade. Other professions are  equally culpable ; the barrister spends an evening  or two studying his brief, pleads in court as though  he had never had any other interest in life than the  welfare of the litigants, and, over his luncheon,  forgets their names, their faces and everything  about them. The medical specialist gives his  diagnosis in an hour on a patient he has never  seen in health and of whose life history he knows no  more than a few routine questions will elicit. Compared with them a journalist is less presumptuous.  His trade is to observe, record and interpret. He  does not claim that in a month or two of sight- seeing he has made himself an expert on local  history and archaeology ; still less that he has  fitted himself for the post of benevolent dictator  who can put right troubles which perplex the  statesmen. His hope is to notice things which the  better experienced accept as commonplace and  to convey to a distant public some idea of the  aspect and feel of a place which hitherto has  been merely a geographical or political term, so  that subsequent events reported thence in the  newspapers — events which in the vagaries of contemporary history may quite suddenly have a  rude impact on their own livelihood and lives —  may have more interest and actuality. For this  purpose even a few weeks may sometimes be too  long. How many travel books open vividly and  end in a mere catalogue of transport difficulties!  The truthful travel book rarely works to a climax ;  the climax is sometimes the moment of disembarkation and everything beyond it an attempt to revive  artificially, under the iron lung of rhythmic, day  to day observations, the revelation of first acquaintance. Flag_of_Mexico_(reverse)  I went to Mexico in order to write a book about  it; in order to verify and reconsider impressions  formed at a distance. To have travelled a lot, to  have spent, as I had done, the first twelve years of  adult life intermittently on the move, is to this  extent a disadvantage that one’s mind falls into  the habit of recognizing similarities rather than  differences. At the age of thirty-five one needs to  go to the moon, or some such place, to recapture  the excitement with which one first landed at  Calais. For many people Mexico has, in the  past, had this lunar character. Lunar it still  remains, but in no poetic sense. It is waste land,  part of a dead or, at any rate, a dying planet.  Politics, everywhere destructive, have here dried  up the place, frozen it, cracked it and powdered it  to dust. Is civilization, like a leper, beginning to  rot at its extremities? In the sixteenth century  human life was disordered and talent stultified  by the obsession of theology; today we are plague-  stricken by politics. It is a fact; distressing for us,  dull for our descendents, but inescapable. This is  a political book ; its aim, roughly, is to examine  a single problem ; why it was that last summer a  small and almost friendless republic jubilantly  recalled its Minister from London, and, more  important, why people in England thought about  this event as they did ; why, for instance, patriotic  feeling burst into indignation whenever a freight  ship — British only in name, trading in defiance of  official advice — was sunk in Spanish waters, and  remained indifferent when a rich and essential  British industry was openly stolen in time of peace.  If one could understand that problem one would  come very near to understanding all the problems  that vex us today, for it has at its origin the universal,  deliberately fostered anarchy of public relations  and private opinions that is rapidly making the  world uninhabitable. church mexico desert  The succeeding pages are notes on anarchy.  Travellers from New York to Mexico have a  choice of route ; they may take either the weekly  steamship for Vera Cruz or the faster, more costly,  daily train. The inexperienced and economical, of  whom I was one, prefer the former ; inexperienced,  for I was thinking of trains in un-American terms.  New York was in the depth of a heat-wave ; one  stepped right down into it, as into a bath, from the  gangway of the liner. Those who have been in  New York at such a time — if such a time has ever  occurred before, which the daily papers and one’s  own sense of probability made one doubt — will  understand what it means ; to those who have not,  words are useless. It is enough to say that it  seemed inconceivable that anyone could hesitate  between a week at sea, with fresh breezes and shady  decks, and four days cramped in a sleeper, rattling  into the tropics through the burning plains of  Texas and St. Luis Potosi. Now I know better.  There are a number of objections which the jealous  European may make to American trains — as that  they are slow, that one is knocked off one’s feet  whenever they stop and start, that one has no  assurance of fermented liquor with one’s food —  but, when all is said, it remains true that they are  the most comfortable means of getting across  country yet devised by man. I did not know that  at the time ; nor did I know what to expect on  board the steamship.  rect3336 space Half the polite letters of the world take the form  of contrasting expectation with realization. I  had formed an image of what the S.S. Siboney  would be like. I saw her — Heaven knows why,  except that the fare was cheap — as a cargo vessel  carrying a few heterogeneous passengers in rough  and homely comfort ; a ship something like the  coasters of the Gulf of Corinth, full of traders and  prospectors and nondescript adventurers whose  table talk would supplement my meagre and purely  academic acquaintance with the country to which  we were travelling. But the Siboney is purely and  simply a tourist service, gallantly attempting to  reproduce a luxury cruise at cut-price rates ;  admirable for its purpose, but no manner of use  to a writer in search of local colour. The ship was  fairly full, of women, mostly, who were on their  way to Mexico to have a good time.

CC BY by Coco Mault
CC BY by Coco Mault

Mexico is a long way from England, and you do  not meet a great many Englishmen who have been  there; it is next door to the U.S.A. and holiday-  makers swarm across the border like ants. Tourist  traffic was down last year, like every Mexican  business, but it is still large and the depreciation  of the peso has done a good deal to counteract the —  at the moment quite groundless — apprehensions  about personal safety. It is doubly important,  in Mexico because anything that brings foreign  currency into the republic is desperately needed ;  in U.S.A. because anything which helps to form  American public opinion about its dangerous little  neighbour, is, at the moment, of disproportionate  interest. rect3336 space  As far as Mexico is concerned the tourists are  not popular ; I doubt whether they are anywhere  in the world except at sea-side resorts and in  Norway. It is a long abandoned belief that  tourism, like competitive athletics, makes for international friendship. The three most hated peoples  in the world — Germans, Americans and British —  are the keenest sight-seers. There are very few  English villagers who have seen an Egyptian ;  very few Egyptian villagers who have not seen an  Englishman ; the result is that the English generally are well disposed towards Egypt, while the  Egyptians detest us. Sympathy for foreigners  varies directly with their remoteness. We were  prepared to love the Abyssinians ; Italians, for  most of us, meant a customs official we had fallen  out with, or an avaricious cab-driver. Moreover  a race who stay at home and are visited extensively  from abroad fall into the error of supposing all  foreigners to be very rich and very frivolous. Few  Mexicans ever saw a poor Englishman or American ;  it is not unnatural that they get an impression that  they are having the worst of the international deal  and are being mulcted. (Twenty years ago, of  course, the Monagasques had never seen a poor  Mexican, but that is distant history.) Not that  the American tourists are big spenders. Mexico  is for those who cannot afford the Grand Tour to  Europe. They buy round tickets and except for  getting a few execrable objects as presents for those  at home, they do not want to spend any more ;  tips and guides are included in their fare. They  have a national abhorrence of beggars. The  profits are carefully calculated and not much  slips into general circulation. It can well be argued,  in general terms, that a country is happier without  tourists, but Mexico is in no position to be fas-  tidious about its sources of revenue. It values the  tourist trade and would feel the loss if the frontier  were closed. It has laid out a lot of money in  roads and hotels and has even, in late years, modi-  fied some of its more conspicuous abuses in deference  to tourists’ protests ; in particular the loot and  destruction of Spanish-Colonial art treasures and  the persecution of the clergy. Some of the Mexicans  in the government party have realized that the  tourists do not come simply to exercise their motor  cars or, now that Prohibition is more or less over,  to drink imported whiskey ; that seventeenth  century silver-ware is more valuable in its existing  shape than melted into a lump ; that if you want  some proofed canvas to patch a roof it is cheaper  in the long run to buy a piece, than to clamber  onto the altar of the village church and cut a  Cabrera out of the reredos ; the enlightenment  comes late but it is something gained, and some-  thing for which, indirectly, we may thank the  jolly young women of the S.S. Siboney.   art south america latin spanish aztec mexico-Cortez_y_moctezumaAmericans undoubtedly feel a sense of responsibility towards Mexico. Later, on my homeward  journey, I fell into conversation with an insurance  agent returning across the border from a ‘ con-  vention ’ of fellow insurance men who were having  a corporate jaunt together twenty strong. He told  me in full detail about the prosperity of his business  and the terms of affectionate subservience on which  he lived with his wife. I asked him after a time if  he knew England. No, he said, he had never been  abroad.  rect3336 space After two months in Mexico that came as a  surprise, for I could conceive of no two countries  more foreign to one another than his and the one  he had just been visiting. It is true, of course, that  he had travelled in an American built, air-condi-  tioned coach, that he had found ice-water and  American cereals on the breakfast table at his  hotel, hall porters and barmen who understood his  English, and what was in intention and origin, if  not in effect, American plumbing, but he could not  long have been taken in by these things. It was  not so much kinship as proprietorship that he felt.  His was the attitude of the nineteenth century  Englishman towards Ireland. He saw Mexico as  backward and deficient in many of the advantages  of the northern system. In particular he was  impressed by the physical dirt ; food being exposed  for sale without its decent wrapping of cellophane  shocked his sense of propriety ; the place needed  taking in hand ; the people should be taught  industrious and hygienic habits. Labour had got  a bit out of hand lately ; well, they had had a raw  deal before, now they were getting a bit of their  own back ; it would all even up soon and better  relations be established. The Church had had too  much money and they spent it all on extravagant  building instead of teaching the people ; most of  those big buildings were schools ? He hadn’t  understood that from the guide — but, anyhow,  what did they teach ? Only a lot of Latin and stuff.  The landowners ill-treated the peasants and lived  in Biarritz ; pity the peasants were worse off now  than they were before, but that would come right  when they’d been taught modern methods ; pity  the Government took away Americans’ estates, too,  but they had said they would pay for them one  day. He knew that historically and economically  the Government was dependent on his ; he thought  it a pity that the frontier should have been drawn  where it had been ; Mexico was a projection of  California and Texas ; it needed no violent  imperialism ; clean it up a bit and it would come  into the Federation on its own account. Like  the nineteenth century Englishman in Ireland, he  overlooked the one vital difference — that Mexico  was a foreign country. His attitude, I think, is  still in the main that of the State Department at  Washington.  rect3336 space In contrast to this type of transitory visitor there  are a large number of Americans who find, or  profess to find in Mexico a spiritual home. These  are the painters and writers who make such a large  and charming section of the English speaking  colony. Here in the hills they find an antidote for  all the ills of their native civilization. Although,  almost all of them, dependent on invested capital  for their livelihood, they express generous sympathy  with General Cardenas’s socialist regime. They  see Mexico as they were first taught to see it by the  travel-agencies’ folders, as a country of sunny,  indolent peasantry, ancient domes and patios,  local feasts that are spontaneous and traditional —  a happy change from the more organized junketings  of Elks and Shriners in their own home towns ;  they see a land where ambition, and particularly  financial ambition, is not the dominant passion.  Though they would vehemently disclaim it, the  truth is that they are in love with Europe ; they  are nostalgic for the Classical-Christian culture  from which they remotely spring, which they can  find transplanted, transformed in part, but still  recognizable in Mexico. They see it, as Dr.  Munthe saw San Michele, and it is largely due to  their sentimental vision, that the legend has spread  and earned credence, of the parasitic white tyrant  and the patient savage. The new mood in the  Mexican governing clique is destructive of all they  value but few of them seem to recognise this ;  quite soon they may have a rude shock but at the  moment they are happy with their tropical plants,  collections of bric-a-brac, and albums of Diego  Rivera. Their books are published in large quanti-  ties in the United States ; in England seekers of  the picturesque have a wider scope and the writer  who has given most people their ideas about Mexico  is D. H. Lawrence ; and he hated it. He was  taken in by a great many things, but never by the  San Michele view of Mexico. He came there  hoping for an antidote to the poison of industrialism  and he left in disgust ; he never forgot it. Every  traveller to Mexico must read the Plumed Serpent ;  at any rate the opening chapters. The early,  satirical passages about Mexico City — the bull  fight, the tea party … ‘ all jade is bright green ’  rect3336 space • • • — are superb. Then his loneliness and lack  of humour and his restless, neurotic imagination  combine to make one of the silliest stories in recent  literature. I defy anyone who has not been  hypnotised by Lawrence’s reputation to read the  account of Kate’s marriage — the corpulent, middle-  aged Irish woman waddling out into the rain in  her homespun shift ; the swarthy little bridegroom  trotting beside her in his bedraggled white pants ;  the words of the ceremony, ‘ This man is my rain  from heaven ’, the rubbing of the roots of her hair  and the soles of her feet with salad oil — without  being inevitably reminded of ‘ Beachcomber’s ’  column in the Daily Express and the account of  the bogus paganism is sillier, if less funny ; when  Lawrence describes the secession to it of many of  the local clergy — who have been unjustly accused  of many defects but never of lack of tenacity in their  faith — he passes beyond Mexico into a world of  stark nonsense. rect3336 space  Nevertheless, for all its folly, the Plumed Serpent  is a better guide to Mexico than Mr. Philip Terry.  His is the standard work ; it was on sale on board  the Siboney and in every bookshop in Mexico City.  In appearance it has some superficial likenesses to  the works of Baedeker … I could write at  length on my horror of Terry’s Guide ; enough  to say that it says nothing that could offend any  local sentiment, nor could interest any serious  traveller, but is well suited to the requirements of  most of the S.S. Siboney round-tour passengers,  who like their accommodation the better for  seeing it extravagantly praised in print and  have too much on their hands, anyway, to  mind missing the more unobtrusive sights which  it is the primary duty of a guide book to  mention. rect3336 space  Besides the holidaymakers and the sentimentalists there is a third rapidly increasing group of  foreign visitors to Mexico. These are the ideologues ; first in Moscow, then in Barcelona, now  in Mexico these credulous pilgrims pursue their  quest for the promised land ; constantly disap-  pointed, never disillusioned, ever thirsty for the  phrases in which they find refreshment. They  have flocked to Mexico in the last few months for  the present rulers have picked up a Marxist  vocabulary so that, from being proverbial for  misgovernment, the republic, now at its nadir of  internal happiness and external importance, greatly  to the surprise of its citizens, has achieved the oddest  of reputations — that of ‘ contemporary signi-  ficance ’. But there were no recognizable ideologues on board the Siboney — and they are usually  recognizable. rect3336 space  On the eve of our arrival in Mexican waters we  were summoned to the lounge to hear an address  from the purser on our behaviour in a foreign  country. Curiosity and the lack of alternative  occupation provided a large attendance. Just  outside the door was a tank of iced drinking-water  and a column of cardboard cups. As the passengers assembled they paused at this national  monument and drank ; it was like a congregation  coming into church passing the stoop of holy water.  When they were all refreshed and settled the purser  entered. He was a personable, rather grim fellow  in whom the distaste for passengers, endemic in  all good seamen, seemed tempered by compassion.  His speech, presumably, was the same every  sailing ; I wish I had been able to record it verbatim for it was a model of what such speeches  should be. rect3336 space  First he explained the arrangements for disembarkation and the requirements of customs and  immigration officials ; he told them to us succinctly, in detail, more than once, with a tolerant  acceptance of our intellectual limitations, like a  very patient and experienced schoolmaster. One  would have thought he had made himself plain ;  one would have been wrong as was evident, at  the end, when he invited questions . . . “ We  have to take charge of our own tourist cards ? ” ;  “ Yes ” ; “ You mean when we go ashore we   carry them with us ? ” ; “ Yes ” ; “ Is this what  you call a tourist card ? ” ; “ Yes ” ; “ We can’t  leave them on the ship ? ” ; “ No ” ; “ Which of  these is my tourist card ? ” ; “ Is this my tourist  card ? ” ; “ Is this my tourist card ? ” ; “ Is this  my tourist card?” . . . When that was over he  admonished us about our behaviour . . . Most  of you have never been out of your own country  before,” he said. “Well, you mustn’t expect to  find things exactly the same as they are back  home.” The Mexican, he said, was a charming  fellow if you treated him right. He was out to  give us a good time ; we must do our share too.  We wanted a good time ; the company wanted  us to have a good time ; he spoke for the officers,  the crew and the staff when he said we ought to  have a good time. Well the secret of that was to  make up our minds to have a good time. If we  didn’t complain of the Mexican, he wouldn’t get  sore with us and then we should not have so much  to complain of. The Mexican was very proud.  We must remember it was his country. If we had  any criticisms we had better wait till we were back  home and make them there. We might see a lot  of things in Mexico that seemed strange to us. We  mustn’t expect things to be the same as they were  back home. “ Don’t go taking pictures of the  poor.” There were plenty of things to take pic-  tures of if we wanted to take pictures ; but not the  poor. “ We’ve got our breadlines back home. We  shouldn’t like it if anyone took pictures of them  . . . Don’t start any arguments about religion or  politics. The Mexicans are doing their best and  they like to think they are being appreciated,  same as we do . . .” rect3336 space  It was very sound advice, and it provoked  reflection. What exactly is the proper mood in  which to approach a foreign country in these  days? It is an important point, particularly to  Americans and English for we are the great travel-  ling race in whose interest all the tourist bureaux  of the world are organized.  rect3336 space It is interesting to read the travel books of fifty  years ago and notice their air of tolerant or intolerant superiority. Perhaps at the time there  was some justification for it ; now there is very  little. The words progressive and backward have  become confused in their meanings. The old idea  was of universal, inevitable progress ; the nations  were like horses at ‘ Minaroo ’, moving at varying  speeds towards the same object ; sometimes one nation would have a run of luck, sometimes another. Britain at the moment was leading ; other races, like us in ambition, but lacking our courage, integrity and good sense, were just behind ; others, such as the hottentots, had barely started ; others, such as the Spanish and Chinese, had made fly-away starts but failed to hold the pace. Certain defects, in particular, held people back from success — aristocratic or autocratic forms of government, the Church of Rome, etc. All that they needed was revolution, capitalization and education. It was the duty of the more prosperous nations to lead and to lend . . . Alas, recent history has made it impossible for a thoughtful European to view the world with the same easy assurance. We have seen devils driven out and replaced by worse. Free Trade and the system of mobile financial credits scarcely exist ; representative institutions survive precariously only in the countries of their origin. And as for moral superiority . . . how about ourselves? What were the grounds on which we were used to censure the backward Latin-American republics? They neglected to pay their public debts; what European country can afford to be censorious about that today? A political career, in those dissolute communities, more often ended in murder than in a peerage and a pension; Dollfuss? Sotelo? Matteotti? the Romanoffs? Schleicher? the early Bolshevists and the early Nazis? Did a British Prime-Minister not win an election with the promise to hang the Kaiser? They neglected their legacy of art and archi- tecture ; how about England? Which is worse, the destruction that comes of poverty, or of riches? Bandits were still at large ; St. Valentine’s day in Chicago? The people were credulous and superstitious; what popular English paper can dispense with its astrological column? Education was a monopoly of the Church; which is the sounder, the catechism, or the race-mythology taught in half the schools of Europe today ?  paris france europe eiffelNo, we must leave our superiority in bond when we cross the frontier ; it is no longer for importation to foreign countries.  rect3336 spaceAnd there is another form of priggishness, too, with which we can dispense — the humbug of being unbiased. No one can grow to adult age without forming a set of opinions ; heredity, environment, education and experience all condition us ; the happiest are those who have allowed their opinions and beliefs to grow naturally ; the unhappy are those who accept intellectually a system with which they are out of sympathy. When we go abroad we take our opinions with us ; it is useless to pretend, as many writers do, that they arrive with minds wholly innocent of other experience ; are born anew into each new world. Nor do our readers desire it. There is nothing more repugnant to the English reader than to be obliged to form his own judgment afresh with each book he takes up. Indeed readers, bored with the privilege of a free press, have lately imposed on themselves a voluntary censorship ; they have banded themselves into Book Clubs so that they may be perfectly confident that whatever they read will be written with the intention of confirming their existing opinions. rect3336 space Let me, then, warn the reader that I was a Conservative when I went to Mexico and that everything I saw there strengthened my opinions. I believe that man is, by nature, an exile and will never be self-sufficient or complete on this earth ; that his chances of happiness and virtue, here, remain more or less constant through the centuries and, generally speaking, are not much affected by the political and economic conditions in which he lives ; that the balance of good and ill tends to revert to a norm ; that sudden changes of physical condition are usually ill, and are advocated by the wrong people for the wrong reasons ; that the intellectual communists of today have personal, irrelevant grounds for their antagonism to society, which they are trying to exploit. I believe in government ; that men cannot live together with- out rules but that these should be kept at the bare minimum of safety ; that there is no form of government ordained from God as being better than any other ; that the anarchic elements in society are so strong that it is a whole-time task to keep the peace. I believe that inequalities of wealth and position are inevitable and that it is therefore meaningless to discuss the advantages of their elimination ; that men naturally arrange themselves in a system of classes ; that such a system is necessary for any form of co-operative work, more particularly the work of keeping a nation together. I believe in nationality ; not in terms of race or of divine commissions for world conquest, but simply this : mankind inevitably organises itself into communities according to its geographical distribution ; these communities by sharing a common history develop common characteristics and inspire a local loyalty ; the individual family develops most happily and fully when it accepts these natural limits. I do not think that British prosperity must necessarily be inimical to anyone else, but if, on occasions, it is, I want Britain to prosper and not her rivals. I believe that war and conquest are inevitable ; that is how history has been made and that is how it will develop. I believe that Art is a natural function of man ; it so happens that most of the greatest art has appeared under systems of political tyranny, but I do not think it has a connection with any particular system, least of all with repre- sentative government, as nowadays in England, America and France it seems popular to believe ; artists have always spent some of their spare time in flattering the governments under whom they live, so it is natural that, at the moment, English, American and French artists should be volubly democratic. typewriter writer write Having read this brief summary of the political opinions I took with me to Mexico, the reader who finds it unsympathetic may send the book back to her library and apply for something more soothing. Heaven knows, she will find plenty there. … rect3336 space WE are justly suspicious of people who see  the world in terms of the single problem  in which they have a personal interest and  specialized knowledge. We saw too many of them  in the post-Versailles period, people who espoused  the cause of neglected minorities or became obsessed  by cartographical slips. Their foibles seemed  innocent enough, but the result of them has been a  series of incongruous alliances which has aggravated  every political situation. Thus Catholic anti-  semites in France have found themselves defying  the Pope and pleading the cause of Semitic Arabs  against Christian rule, liberal Parliamentarians  found themselves identifying the autocratic-  imperialist rule of the Amharas with the cause of  Democracy, champions of Basque nationalism were  allied with international communism. Such are  the confusions that arise through a piecemeal  view of politics. At the beginning of this book  I suggested that the present condition of  Mexico had a world wide significance. In sub-  sequent chapters I have tried to sketch the condi-  tions. So what ? Why should any ordinary  American, still less a European, be interested ?  rect3336 space First there is Mexico’s geographical position,  lying across the continent of North America  separating the United States from the Panama  Canal and sharing with her an immense, arbi-  trarily defined frontier which has been the scene,  on both sides of it, of a long succession of bloody  outrages. Internal disorder in Mexico has always  constituted, and will always constitute, a lively  physical danger to the United States citizens  living near the border. Hundreds of men are still  living who followed Villa in his raids into the  United States. rect3336 space  Secondly there is her financial position. She  bears debts of the New and Old world which she  will never be able to pay. She is feverishly aug-  menting them by confiscations. She has great  mineral wealth, notably in petroleum, for which  the world has a use and which it will use one way  or another.  rect3336 space Thirdly there is her political condition. For a  generation there has been anarchy which has made  it clear to herself and to outside observers that she  has not the aptitude for the particular kind of  individualist representative government which, it  was assumed, would afford an eventual solution to  her troubles. To President Wilson her only problem  was to elect good men ; at his time there seemed  only two kinds of government, one of which was  discredited in 1918 ; there was democracy, as it  was understood in France, England and the United  States — government by rich men competing against  one another for popular favour — and hereditary’  monarchy. Since then two forms of proletarian  rule have appeared, Nazism and Communism.  Mexico is at present enjoying an uneasy compromise between the two. Her adoption of either,  or the outbreak of a civil war between them, would  be an acute embarrassment to the United States.

CC BY-SA by joelogon
CC BY-SA by joelogon

Nor does the danger remain local. The Monroe  doctrine is being challenged by Germany all over  South America. Its peaceful acceptance in the  first place by Europe was due to two main con-  siderations. Communications across the Atlantic  made a campaign there intolerably expensive and  precarious, and, at the end of the last century,  Europe was too busy parcelling up Africa to think  about South and Central America. Since then an  American army has fought in France. South  America has become accessible as a battle-ground  while at every point the German-Japanese alliance  threatens vital American interests. An anti-  Cardenas coup, which his policy increasingly pro-  vokes, might well result in Mexico joining the  anti-Comintern Pact. She is exactly the kind of  country where Nazi methods of government and  industrial organization might be expected to bring  substantial results. Germany and Japan know  this ; so do the United States ; so do a few  Mexicans.  rect3336 space It is in small countries, not in large ones, that  world wars start ; particularly in heterogeneous  states like Mexico.  rect3336 space But, the reader may object, when there are so  many causes for alarm, everywhere, what is the  good of multiplying them with purely hypothetical  dangers? Because the ordinary news services of  paper and wireless bulletins have not the time to  keep the public informed of anything beyond day  to day news. When a crisis is announced we  hastily turn to our atlases and look out the new  danger spot. We feel that these sudden explosions  of international enmity, first in one part of the  world, then another, are as wantonly strewn about  the map as the bombs of the I.R.A. We have not  the time to watch them as historical events in a  series of cause and effect. If we have not heard  of the problem before, we see it as unimportant ;  the result of some purely irresponsible and malicious  agency. The truth is that, at this moment, when  the papers are full of other things, Mexico is as  dangerous to us as any part of the world.   rect3336 spaceAnd secondly, there is the simple cautionary  tale of the origin and consequences of Mexico’s  decadence. Every state has something to learn  from that. We were most of us brought up on the  historical theory of recurrent waves of civilization  which lasted a few centuries, built massive cities and  tombs and were literally buried in the sands ; an  ebbing and flowing tide, city-desert, city-desert, to  which, presumably, our own culture would one day  be subject, but at a date so distant that it need no  more be considered in practical calculation than the  Last Judgment. We were educated in the assump-  tion that things would not only remain satisfactory  without our effort but would with the very minimum  of exertion on our part become unrecognizably  better. The elimination of physical pain and  privation was assumed not only by buoyant  characters like Mr. H. G. Wells but by Mr. Aldous  Huxley, who limited his apprehensions to pointing  out that a life without pain and privation might  be compensatingly dreary. Even at the time of  writing when tempers are gloomier, the air is one  of nervous vexation that progress should be checked  by malicious intervention ; progress is still regarded  as normal, decay as abnormal. The history of  Mexico runs clean against these assumptions. We  see in it the story of a people whom no great  external disaster has overwhelmed. Things have  gone wrong with them, as they went right with us,  as though by a natural process. There is no  distress of theirs to which we might not be equally  subject.  rect3336 space Some try to comfort themselves by supposing  that the difference of races put Mexico at an  initial disadvantage, but, in fact, it is difficult to  find any stage at which this was decisive. The  white Spaniards interbred freely with the Indians  and the prestige and advantages attaching to white  blood were little, if at all, more than those attaching  to noble and gentle blood in contemporary Europe.  As purely heraldic standards of eminence began to  decline in Europe, so did those of racial purity in  Spanish America. For the last hundred years  Mexican leaders of all opinions have been white,  Indian and mixed without distinction. Americans  and British who see the colour question as vital  to Mexico are arguing in terms of their own  country and colonies.rect3336 space   Nor has there been any lack of what are generally  spoken of as ‘ enlightened ideas ’. Almost ever)’  unhappy figure, from Iturbide to Cardenas, who  has appeared as a leader of the country, has spoken  in the phrases of contemporary advanced thought.  The country has known, in form at least, Napoleonic-masonic monarchy, liberal-representative  democracy, German-enlightened-constitutional  monarchy, international-individualist-capitalism,  socialism, dictatorship of the proletariat, and, it  seems probable, will shortly develop a species of  Hitlerism. There is no question of Mexico decaying, as have other civilizations, by reason of a  rigid system that has proved itself inadequate to  changing needs. Every marked step in her decline,  in fact, has corresponded with an experiment  towards * the Left ’.

Hitler & Mussolini - public domain
Hitler & Mussolini – public domain

The reasons for her decline have been primarily  moral ; the majority of her rulers have not been  men of goodwill and their aims have been purely  material ; if one starts by assuming that the only  real good of which man is capable is the enjoyment  of consumable goods — and that has been the  assumption of the ‘ Left ’ for a hundred years  it is a very easy step — logically an inevitable step —  to accumulate the goods exclusively for oneself.  Altruism does not flourish long without religion.  The rulers of Mexico have almost all started by  denying the primary hypothesis of just government. rect3336 space  Secondly, in the political sphere, there has been  no true conservatism in Mexico. There have been  rival politicians appealing to the interests of rival  groups.rect3336 space   A conservative is not merely an obstructionist  who wishes to resist the introduction of novelties ;  nor is he, as was assumed by most nineteenth  century parliamentarians, a brake to frivolous  experiment. He has positive work to do, whose  value is particularly emphasized by the plight of  Mexico. Civilization has no force of its own  beyond what is given it from within. It is under  constant assault and it takes most of the energies  of civilized man to keep going at all. There are  criminal ideas and a criminal class in every nation  and the first action of every revolution, figuratively  and literally, is to open the prisons. Barbarism is  never finally defeated ; given propitious circum-  stances, men and women who seem quite orderly,  will commit every conceivable atrocity. The  danger does not come merely from habitual  hooligans ; we are all potential recruits for anarchy.  Unremitting effort is needed to keep men living  together at peace ; there is only a margin of energy  left over for experiment however beneficent. Once  the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy  is on. There is no more agreeable position than  that of dissident from a stable society. Theirs are all  the solid advantages of other people’s creation and  preservation, and all the fun of detecting hypocrisies  and inconsistencies. There are times when dis-  sidents are not only enviable but valuable. The  work of preserving society is sometimes onerous,  sometimes almost effortless. The more elaborate  the society, the more vulnerable it is to attack,  and the more complete its collapse in case of defeat.  At a time like the present it is notably precarious.  If it falls we shall see not merely the dissolution of  a few joint-stock corporations, but of the spiritual  and material achievements of our history. There  is nothing, except ourselves, to stop our own  countries becoming like Mexico. That is the moral,  for us, of her decay. ”  Evelyn Waugh, Robbery Under Law: The Mexican Object Lesson; Preface, Introduction, & Postscript