“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. CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION 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.’ 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. Americans 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. 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. 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 ’ • • • — 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 . . .” 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. 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 ? No, we must leave our superiority in bond when we cross the frontier ; it is no longer for importation to foreign countries. And 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. 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. 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. … 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 ? 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. 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. 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.
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. It is in small countries, not in large ones, that world wars start ; particularly in heterogeneous states like Mexico. 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. And 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. 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. 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 ’.
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. 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. 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