You are on page 1of 3

The Revolution in Intellectual Life

By PEDRO HENRIQUEZ URENA

Q

I

N O T H E R aspect of the intellectual awakening is that O one denies the revolution's influence, but Mexico, like Latin America, is acquiring self-reliance very f e w have attempted to determine the manifold ways in which the intellectual life in the affairs of the mind. She has decided to take foreign of Mexico has been affected by it. T h e out- intellectual and artistic achievements critically, and to expect standing trait: of the new situation is, how- in the native creations the distinctive qualities which should ever, evident. T h e belief is now general be the basis of an original culture. that the whole population of the country must go to school, A prelude to this liberation from the foreign intellectual even if this ideal is not to be achieved in a few years, nor dominance is the period between 1906 and 1911. A t that even perhaps in a generation. time Mexican intellectual life had advanced somewhat f r o m was W h e n I say t h a t this belief implies a new attitude, I do its former medieval character, O u r Weltansclmuung predetermined, no longer by the theology of Aquinas or not mean that the theory of popular education was unknown before. F a r f r o m it: as soon as Mexico began to emerge, Scotus, but by the system of the modern sciences as interover a century ago, f r o m the medieval atmosphere of the preted by Comte, M i l l and Spencer; positivism had replaced Spanish colonial regime, the theory of popular education scholasticism in the official schools, and t r u t h did not exist as fundamental to a democracy began to appear in print. outside of it. For political theory and economics, eighteenth Fernandez de Lizardi, the famous Pensador Mexicano, who century liberalism was accepted as final. In literature, the died in 1827, was an ardent advocate of the idea, and even tyranny of the classics had been replaced by the domination expected his many publications, in the form of novels, plays, of modern France. In painting, in sculpture, in architecture, pamphlets,-magazines and calendars, to stimulate in the "the admirable Mexican traditions~had~~been~forgotten~and~ the right thing was to play the sedulous ape to Europe. In people the desire to read. A f t e r the struggle for independence was over in 1821, the number of schools grew music, where there was no national tradition except in folk song, salvation was thought to lie the way of Leipzig. steadily; every man w h o could afford it attended school, and it became indispensable for ladies not to be illiterate But in the group with which I affiliated myself soon a f t e r ( d u r i n g the colonial period, up to the end of the-eighteenth I came from my native Santo Domingo we were very young, century, there were men who thought it dangerous for some of us not out of our 'teens, when the need of change women to read and w r i t e ) . B u t for a hundred years popular began to be felt. A m o n g others less well known, our group education existed mainly as a theory. In practice, school included Antonio Caso, Jose Vasconcelos, Alfonso Reyes, attendance was limited to the minority whose family income Acevedo, the architect, and Rivera, the painter. T h e r e was allowed them freedom f r o m w o r k in childhood; among the in us a feeling, of intellectual oppression, added to the sense really poor, few crossed the barrier of illiteracy. T h e of political and economic restriction which we shared with believers in popular education (such men, for instance, as much larger groups. W e felt that the official philosophy Justo Sierra, w h o became Secretario de Instruction Publico was too systematic, too final, not to be wrong. W e read towards the end of the D i a z regime) never succeeded in the earlier thinkers, whose work the positivists had concommunicating their faith to the man in the street, no, not demned as useless, from P l a t o to K a n t and Schopenhauer. even to the government. W e took Niet/sche seriously—utter blasphemy! W e discovered Bergson, Boutroux, James, Croce. A n d in literature we did not confine ourselves within modern Paris. W e read T should be borne in mind that, in spite of its printing the ( Jreeks. \ V e went back, in our own way, to Spanish shops, Latin America, up to 1800, lived under a medieval literature, which had been left to provincial academic gentleorganization of society and a medieval concept of culture. men. W e tried English literature. W e attacked and disN o t h i n g could be more medieval than its great universities, where Latin was the language of the classroom, theology credited the pompier tendencies in art. And nothing more natural for us than to look for new lights in political and was the main subject, law was either Roman or ecclesiastical, economic doctrinc. instead of the living statutes of the country; and medicine W e soon appealed to the public in lectures, articles, books and art exhibitions. O u r youthful revolt succeeded f a r beyond our expectations. O u r elders, after so many years of quiet rule, had forgotten h o w to fight. In 1909, before Diaz fell, Antonio Caso was called to teach in w h a t is n o w the National University, and,his entrance meant the beginning of the end. W h e n M a d e r o came into power, in 1911, the leading representatives of the old official thought retired from the University, and their influence vanished. . . . T h i s does not mean that the school world, and the intellectual life of Mexico in general, became entirely modern. W e had

A

was taught from- the text of t h e A r a b masters, Hippocrates being brought back at times as a great improvement. As Charles Peguy remarks, the protestant peoples began to read after the Reformation, the catholic peoples after the French Revolution. T h u s one may understand why it could take a hundred years f o r a nation to discover that popular education is not a Utopian dream but an actual and pressing need. T h i s is w h a t Mexico n o w fully realizes, as a result of the insistent demands of the revolution. T h e program of work undertaken by Jose Vasconcelos as secretary of public education is an expression of these demands.

165

PRODUCED BY UNZ.ORG ELECTRONIC REPRODUCTION PROHIBITED

. T . as with music. results as the opera seasons of 1915 and 1916. however. we should have had such original books as Reyes' El sincida. for. such interpretations of the been lighted by hope. and at times two of them sang simulI n literature. but we were few and could not replace the old masters in all their fields. T h e i r traditional. H E next ten years were a time of political turmoil which might have put an end to intellectual life were it not for the persistence of love for culture inherent in the Latin tradition. a much greater originality than is generally that the social questions of Mexico. organized • national companies. Architecture does not lag behind.century dramatist. finally.••own devices. vast possibilities in the Mexican orchestra. T h e y are giving back t o the city its traditional character. O u r grouphad given to Mexico freedom in philosophy. but because literature had already achieved. dectual renewal. T h e revolution implied a renewal in political and ecosnomic doctrine. literature and art. a .peculiar non-European assembly of instruments of widely different origins.. T h i s was mainly due to men still younger than ourselves. Alfonso Caso (a brother of A n t o n i o ) . a prolific composer though a timid pioneer. T h i s is not because of any deficiency in the development of new. economics and law became ^evident in the National University. 'But there is not yet the same aptitude or discriminating taste.twilight. pottery. or the Russian Soviet. como desinteres y como caridad. W e may expect that they will begin the study of the folk music from the bottom by determining the tonal system which lies at the basis of it. Cosio Villegas. and not the contrary. the rural and literature and science. besides.' for music that there is. age-old sadness has Mexican ancient and popular a r t . the change of direc:tion in the teaching of sociology. Acevedo and Federico Mariscal.and legal problems. very little has been achieved. the efforts towards intel. who are very fond of opera. as well as by the glazed tile ornaments. J . T h e •effect of this isolation has been to prove that spiritually Mexico is able to support itself alone with such curious. T h e result was . and Mexico City now boasts of scores of new buildings of various excellence in which the old architecture is adapted to new ends.on the population of the T e o t i h u a c a n Valley or Adolfo Best numbers that they have rights and that one of them is the M a u g a r d ' s study of the lineal elements and the canons of right to education. political changes or whims of the men in power. T h e years f r o m 1913 to 1923 have •indeed been such that they might have taught self-reliance architecture or painting. with the nuances of phere. best symbol of the new Mexico is Diego Rivera's powerful T h e r e is. about 1920.a very imperfect adjustment. W PRODUCED BY UNZ." the revolution has brought not nationalistic research as M a n u e l Gamio's monumental work only the increase of educational facilities. . now at the mercy of . G o m e z M o r i n . who began to study the folk tunes of Mexico about 1910. are unique in character and not to be been nourished in the literatures of Spain and France. the great seventeenth • doubtful whether. or Vasconcelos' El monismo estetico.predominate except the stimulus given by Caso to phil. T h e r e are. although L a t i n American writers have always . in their lectures of 19x3. T h e n .. her only friends have been the Latin American nations. Even the essential distinction between the real folk song and the merely popular tune m a n u f a c t u r e d in the city is not yet commonly grasped. such F o r "the common people. such men as Daniel "Quiros. tendencies. which produced an impression of surprise and delight in Brazil and A r g e n t i n a in 1922 on its first presentation abroad. but were unable to • induce any group of foreign singers to come. the dark red tezontle and the bright gray chiluca. I have devoted more attention to the struggle towards freedom than to the constructive effort. since they are either too distant or too poor to give any practical assistance. the desire to use native material or fresco in which. For a rather long period. rto a nation much weaker in fiber than Mexico. and which would certainly be a surprise and a delight to Stravinski or to Falla. fbroken a long oppression. but eager with the iods prove insufficient for the hope of new things. Perhaps the Rivera and his followers. T h e y hold their heads high. Mexican literature has had a distinct note of its o w n — g r a y . a new understanding is dawning and new methsds of approach are being tried by younger men such as Antonio G o m e z a n d a and Carlos Chavez R a m i r e z . as poorly clad as traditional European methherself. melancholy. being left to her . L o m b a r d o Toledano. W h i l e w a r raged and the members of the "intelligensia" became soldiers. The interest in folk sbngs is n o w general. the ican that influences the Spanish poet. every one sings them. or the Fascisti. B u t through the useful work of Ponce. in which nothing seemed to* ^. Cbelief that the Mexican mind is as creative as any. before the H A T has been the outcome? First. These buildings are easy to recognize by the use they make of t w o typical stones. T h e y n o w play and laugh as they Mexican spirit as those disclosed in the frescoes of Diego never did before. let us say. I t is F r o m the time of R u i z de Alarcon. osophical freedom. it has taught large . T T h i s far. the realization revolution. when the Mexicans. or Caso's La ex. histencia como economia. school teacher is surrounded together with the decision by a few children and t o create new methods if the adults. M e x i c o stood alone. imita-solved by mere imitations of the methods of the United tion has played a limited role. started the movement in ' favor of the study of Mexico's colonial t r a d i t i o n . though disorganized. without a change of the spiritual atmos. at times it is the Latin AmerStates. her economic realized. either officially or privately. just as every one delights in the pottery and the carvings and the weaving of the I n d i a n s . then by the European w a r . and finally. first by such deliberate policies as " w a t c h f u l ' w a i t i n g " and non-recognition of governments. O n e great thing sis yet lacking to make these achievements permanent—a better organization of the universities. went on. for. while the armed revolutionist on horseback •native subjects in the arts stops to rest. the changes are much less striking than in taneously in the capital. and they are sung in official schools just as the system of drawing taught there is based on the study of Mexican native art. In music.ORG ELECTRONIC REPRODUCTION PROHIBITED . platonic friends so far.166 T H E REVOLUTION IN I N T E L L E C T U A L LIFE nevy problems. T h e Tightness of this decision has been demonstrated especially in painting and drawing.

together with other important reforms. Present day leaders are fond of claiming that M a d e r o was nothing but a d r e a m e r . in t r u t h he was f a r superior to. A f t e r the M a d e r o period came the triumph of a series of ignorant leaders w h o had no clear social conceptions of any kind but only a mad desire to destroy everything belonging to the past.. B u t as yet. T h e r e was first of all the hope. the Mexican masses have awakened and are so much in earnest about their economic betterment and spiritual development that a serious advance will have to come. to understand that the leaders from his day on have done n o t h i n g more than try to carry out his ideas—or misinterpret them. In fact. In the present period of definition I believe that the revolution has concentrated upon three main purposes: the breaking up of large land holdings. such-as land division. the organization of l a b o r . W e have been trying to work it out by partial and sporadic means—and some holdings have been given to Indian towns. O u r labor organizations are being corrupted by politicians. T h o u g h the practical outcome of the revolution may be small. and the education of the masses. Carranza was the shrewdest of this type of purposeless leader and he created and ended the blind period of the revolution.ORG ELECTRONIC REPRODUCTION PROHIBITED . etc. And the main danger of the present day. revolutionary principles have imposed themselves in such a definite way that even the reactionaries have to put into their political platform revolutionary formulas. the idealism of the M a d e r o period centered about the conquest of political freedom and social justice. W e are still lacking a man capable of comprehending and solving the agrarian question.SCHOOLBOYS F R O M THE COLONTA DE LA BOLSA The "Commissioner of Agriculture" making a speech before a convention of Mexican agriculturists Educational Aspirations By JOSE VASCONCELOS H E revolution of Mexico falls into three distinct phases. Louis where M a d e r o established his purpose of conquering political freedom. I t is enough to read the plan of St. any man that the revolution has produced a f t e r him. or the agrarian question . no one has dared to impose a good progressive land tax that would automatically force the break-up of the large estates. lies with the men who are arguing in favor of military dictatorship to carry out these 167 PRODUCED BY UNZ. political freedom. in my opinion. but still the workingmen at large have made some material and tremendous spiritual progress over their pre-revolutionary state ot mind. W i t h jObregon the revolution achieved maturity and has succeeded in defining itself.