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Conservatism

Conservatism

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Published by modjeska
mexican encyclopedia
mexican encyclopedia

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Published by: modjeska on Jul 10, 2014
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CONSERVATISM
From "Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture"
 
Copyright © 1997 by FITZROY DEARBORN PUBLISHERS
Almost at the end of his life Lucas Alamán, the most organized intelligence behind Conservatism in Mexico,said of himself: “I am a dry leaf that the wind of adversity has driven to and fro.” Alamán never imagined thatthese same words he borrowed from the Book of Job would presage the oblivion into which his political workwould fall in the long term, as his “party,” the Conservatives, became labeled as reactionary. This was amisleading label, however, because in its origin, Conservatism was created in reaction to the destructive andwide-ranging effects of the French Revolution, whose Mexican variant was the War of Independence.Conservatism was not, as is commonly conceived, a negation of the idea of change or progress, nor did itdecry political freedom, republicanism, or the bases of elective representation. Conservative thought inMexico, as in other countries, was just another branch on the flourishing tree of modernity, taking the Englishversion and the writings of Edmund Burke as the best exemplar. The ancien régime (the political system inFrance before the Revolution) and Conservatism were terms that ended up being linked together, but theynever shared the same meaning.In Mexico a false dichotomy was soon established, with the Liberals as “the party of progress” and theConservatives as the “reactionary party.” Furthermore, a Manichean historiography soon predominated,which saw Liberalism as synonymous with federalism and Conservatism as synonymous with centralism.Nothing could have been further from reality of the Mexican historical process. Both Liberalism andfederalism and Conservatism and centralism have very different doctrinal and historical backgrounds. In thepost-Revolutionary France of 1789, for example, Liberalism was frequently compatible with centralism. InMexico at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a definite pragmatism distinguished the leaders of politicalgroups rather than a clear difference between the groups per se. Lucas Alamán was an enthusiastic Liberalin the Cortes de Cádiz (regent parliamentary council of the Spanish Empire) and secretary of foreign andstate affairs in the federalist administration of the 1820s. Valentín Goméz Farías, the radical Liberal vicepresident (1833-34) and president (1846), was one of the 46 deputies who initially encouraged theproclamation of Agustín de Iturbide’s First Mexican Empire (July 1822-March 1823). Servando Teresa deMier was the main leader of the American group of the Constitución de Cádiz and an unimpeachable Liberaland republican in the first independent Mexican Congresses; at the same time he never stopped beingeither doctrinally or in practice a fierce defender of centralism. Carlos María Bustamante, a zealous defenderof the heterogeneous insurgent movement and author of
Cuadro histórico,
 was pro-Iturbide and Liberal inthe 1820s, but by the next decade had become a partisan of centralist government and member of theSupremo Poder Conservador (Conservative Supreme Authority) of the centralist republic of 1836.Francisco Manuel Sánchez de Tagle, who along with José María Luis Mora was one of the founders of
ElObservador de la República Mexicana,
 had read the works of Jeremy Bentham, the baron ofMontesquieu, and Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos from an early age. Despite this record, he later was theprincipal coauthor of the centralist Constitution of 1836 and secretary of the Supremo Poder Conservador ofthe same government. José María Gutíerrez Estrada was a republican and a Liberal in the 1820s; twodecades later he had become the most obvious sponsor of a foreign constitutional monarchy. José JoaquínPesado, author of the novel
Año nuevo
 that criticized the Inquisition, a poet and government man, was alsocofounder of the federalist Liberal periodical
La Oposición
 (1833-34) and keen partisan of the suppressionof the monasteries and confiscation of possessions belonging to religious communities in Veracruz (1833-
 
34); nevertheless the same individual was later foreign secretary in the centralist administration of
Anastasio Bustamante
 (1837-39), and during the short-lived “promonarchist” government of MarianoParedes Arrillaga (1846) he was chief editor of the Catholic journal
La Cruz
 (1855-58) and member of thegoverning council in the Félix Zuloaga-Miguel Miramón administration (1858-60).The list could be enlarged further, but it is important to point out the lack of a simple dichotomy betweenfederalism-liberalism, on the one hand, and centralism-conservatism, on the other. If this is the case, and ifpragmatism or opportunism is evident, then why is there a problem discussing Conservatism in Mexico? Dida Conservative Party really even exist?The answer in general terms is yes. Nevertheless, the existence of a Conservative philosophy and aConservative political “protagonist” requires, in the first instance, temporal specificity. Conservatism inMexico, like Liberalism, did not always remain the same; it was characterized by various protagonists andvarious specific features that depended on the political circumstances of the time. The study ofConservatism also makes sense in the context of a political “protagonist,” rather than a political party, theformer made manifest by various generations, plural ways of thinking, and above all the promotion of anational political project different from that of other political “protagonists” in the Mexican historical process.On the other hand, the notion of Conservatism becomes fragile or useless when it is explained as amonolithic and immovable entity.
The First Stage of Centralist Government
Traditional historiography has qualified the centralist republic of 1836 to 1841 as the first stage inConservative government. The roots of this position can be found both in the automatic association betweencentralism and Conservatism that was assumed to counter the performance of the previous government, aswell as in the political group (the names of Alamán, Sánchez de Tagle, and Gutíerrez Estrada all appear inthis context) that encouraged a constitutionalism by the proclamation of the Siete Leyes (Seven Laws).Despite this theory, the events of the time indicated another course of action.At the end of 1834, Antonio López de Santa Anna made an alliance with the political forces of AnastasioBustamante. The reaction was basically against the structure of federalist government, but had no intentionof annulling republicanism. This reaction is registered in the “Bases” (charter) for the new government of1835, authored by Lucas Alamán. The new group in power proposed that the previous Congress took on thepowers of a constituent assembly. José Ignacio de Anzorena, José María Cuevas, Antonio Pacheco Leal,Francisco Manuel Sánchez de Tagle, and Miguel Valentín were put in charge of the ConstituentCommission. Even though it is evident that there was a clear relationship between the “Bases” of Alamánand the Siete Leyes, Sánchez de Tagle is recognized as being mainly responsible for drawing up the latter.The final result of the new Constitution was not Conservative; instead, it instituted a centralist republic withproportional and Liberal representation. The document opens with the first declaration of the rights andduties of the Mexican and foreign inhabitants of the Independent Republic of Mexico. This is in greatcontrast with the federalist constitution of 1824, which is more concerned with the kind of government thanthe preservation of the Rights of Man.Sánchez de Tagle started from the idea that these rights and obligations emerged from a rational and socialpact, in that these concrete rights of man were born in the moment that individuals associated within acollective identity. The essential point was to forge and protect through the Constitution and the relevantguarantees that which is known today as negative freedom, or the “freedom from,” given that the rights ofman did not need to be named. They were prescriptives, ahistorical, and inherent in man himself.As the preservation of the rights of the Mexican citizen was the most important concern, the ConstituentCommission did not eliminate the division of powers and instead modified the “classical” form. Inspired bythe constitutionalist treaties of Bentham, they established a fourth power, that of the Supremo PoderConservador (Conservative Supreme Authority). This body not only would limit the abuses of the executiveand legislative powers, but also provide security and guarantee the citizenry against sudden changes inauthority. The Constituent Commission also guaranteed the rights of the Mexican citizen by means of the
 
division of powers and a certain kind of limited right of
amparo
 (which loosely can be translated as a writ ofhabeas corpus from the executive branch).The most obvious breaks with the Constitution of 1824 were in the projection of a centralist Republic,evidenced by variations in the electoral system and public representation. The first issue in the newConstitution divided the states into political departments with the intention of putting an end to local rulethrough a delicate accommodation that would follow the natural divisions of the colonial past. In reality themove was not extremist, serving only to further concentrate the administrative functions and creategovernment councils within the political departments. In the second area the change was more radical. Thedemocratic Liberalism adopted by the Constitution of Cádiz since 1813 and adhered to with briefinterruptions ever since, was damaged gravely. An electoral system of proportional representation was setup that had not existed in the previous constitution. The number of inhabitants necessary to constitute amunicipality was increased from 1,000 to 8,000, and the vote was restricted, although not immediately, tothose citizens who could read and write. It was all very clear. Just like the English tradition of the eighteenthcentury and greater part of the nineteenth century, the constituents of 1835 to 1836 were “liberals” of theEnlightenment, not democrats.This brings to mind the idea that if there were differences of principle between the protagonists concerningthe structure of federalist and centralist government, then there also were elements of similarity between thepolitical groups of the 1820s and 1830s. Among these points of agreement were respect for individual rights,rejection of despotic government, the permanence of a representative system, the division of public power,written constitutionalism, republicanism (as opposed to any derivative of colonial monarchism), and thepragmatism or opportunism of the Mexican political class.Faced by this constellation of facts, the existence of a Conservative “party” in the 1830s is inconceivable inthe strict sense of the word. It is not, however, in doubt that the various members, writers, governors, orassessors of the Constituent Commission of 1836 would become the future founders of the Conservativegroup. Alamán himself in his
Historia de México
 confesses that links existed between the Conservativegroup of the period and the thinkers and politicians that adhered to the Scottish Masonic Rite of the 1820sand 1830s. Nevertheless, he decreed that they were not the same; these groups had gone through variousalterations and changes of thought, and in the Conservative epoch of the 1840s things did not workaccording to the logic of the old Masonic lodges.
The Alamán Period, Apogee of Conservatism
It must be emphasized that the Conservative political protagonist with a real identity, although it still was notblack-and-white, was a phenomenon of the late 1840s. If there were various thinkers of that group whocould be characterized for their support of Enlightenment concepts and practical governing ability, nonecould touch Lucas Alamán. Alamán was the only thinker and statesman that had conceived a political projectat the state level in the widest sense of the phrase. In economic matters Alamán placed his confidence in theshift from trade to manufacturing as the new basis of Mexican wealth. Government protectionism and theprivate industrial enterprise were the main means of generating social progress. Alamán considered thateducation was a basic condition for the social and political evolution of the Mexican people. His means ofachieving this was a “total education system” that would strategically place specialized colleges throughoutthe country.He regarded Catholicism as being the only unifying link in the structure of Mexican society. As a result theestablishment of the agreement on mutual respect between the state and the church was essential. FromAlamán’s perspective, this implied the protection of the privileges and economic corporativism of the churchhierarchy, the nonintervention of the state in matters connected with
patronato real
 (appointment of clericalpositions), and the maintenance of freedom of conscience.Alamán’s
Historia de México
 does not mention art and culture as a specific responsibility of government.Nevertheless Alamán the statesman was an assiduous promoter of theater groups and scientific magazines,and the founder of museums and national archives.

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