This documentary history of conservative thought helps to meet the need for a scholarly study of Mexican conservatism. García Cantú has sought to bring together about a hundred documents which best define conservative thought from the Independence period to the present, giving the work cohesion and placing the documents in historical context with frequent commentaries of his own. In García Cantú’s opinion conservative ideology has remained basically unchanged throughout Mexican history, although now legal action has replaced the use of force to achieve conservative ends. Also today’s ideology represents monied interests, rather than the landed aristocracy as before the 1910 Revolution. Among the outstanding selections are those that reveal the Church’s position during critical periods in its history, while other documents express the ideas of various conservative spokesmen and interests toward vital issues.
The work is weakened in this reviewer’s judgment by the failure to describe the main tenets of conservatism and of opposing doctrines clearly and concisely. The prologue does achieve this in part, though it is largely limited to emphasizing the importance of land tenure in Mexican history. García Cantú has actually complicated the problem of understanding by his indiscriminate use of “reactionary” and “conservative” without differentiating between the two terms. The reader might well infer from his comments that all who opposed Hidalgo, Morelos, Juárez, Cárdenas, and a few others were reactionaries; and that there were no conservatives sincerely devoted to the achievement of prosperity and progress for Mexico but only grasping clerics and latifundists. Perhaps the documents should speak for themselves, and indeed some do belie what seems too often to be the weight of García Cantú’s own comments.
As with any book of this type, the reviewer must resist the temptation to question the inclusion or exclusion of certain documents. Still, it may be pertinent to comment that García Cantú seems to have made his selections with the idea of condemning the “reactionaries” rather than to illuminate noteworthy conservative ideas and attitudes. Certainly more or better use could have been made of Lucas Alamán’s writings. On the other hand, it hardly seems productive to include decrees and statements of Santa Anna. There is little on the Porfirian age and nothing on positivism. Nevertheless, García Cantú does provide a real service in bringing together and making readily accessible many excellent documents representative of conservative and reactionary thought; his commentary too is often valuable. However, the field is still open for a scholarly history of Mexican conservatism.