Not too many years ago the intellectual history of the Porfiriato seemed deceptively simple. The prevailing, if not official, philosophy of the government was thought to be Positivism as interpreted and diffused by Díaz’ famed circle of advisers, the científicos. With the coming of the Revolution, Positivism, along with everything else associated with the regime’s centralist, technocratic, European-oriented policies was displaced by newer, fresher intellectual currents. As students of Mexican intellectual history are well aware, these views were most clearly articulated by Leopoldo Zea whose pioneering studies El positivismo en México and Apogeo y decadencia del positivismo en México appeared in 1943 and 1944 respectively.
William D. Raat’s El positivismo durante el porfiriato represents one aspect of an important trend among Mexicanists toward the redefinition, if not the revision, of these ideas. Professor Raat is especially concerned about the loose manner in which the term “positivism” has been used synonymously with “scientism.” He believes that the definition of the former term should be restricted to ideas derived directly from August Comte’s thought and that other intellectual currents of the period—the generalized cult of science, Social Darwinism, etc.— should be considered apart. It is on this issue that his criticism of Zea is most pointed:
. . . el lector queda confuso al analizar la obras de Zea. En su primer libro Zea equipara al positivismo con las actitudes de los científicos, refiriéndose a la filosofía de Comte; pero posteriormente, al hacer la misma equiparación se refiere en realidad a la evolución social al modo en que la concibió Spencer o a una forma popular del darwinismo social. En otro escrito, Zea trata nuevamente de la continuidad del pensamiento positivista y señala, más tarde, que Spencer había desplazado a Comte. La única continuidad es un invento de Zea para abarcar todos los matices de pensamiento bajo el término positivismo, o positivista; y sin darse cuenta de la confusión, otros historiadores han seguido ciegamente los postulados de Zea (p. 126).
Some of the most interesting pages of El positivismo durante el porfiriato deal with the development of the Mexican Liberal Party in the context of changing ideologies—the Reforma, early Comtian thought, and the later infusion of social Darwinism. Professor Raat’s careful examination of the various publications which served as the vehicles for the diffusion of Positivist thought, his analysis of ideological influences on educational institutions, and his discussion of the anti-positivist forces at work before the Revolution itself are other aspects of his study which serve to make it an invaluable contribution toward a clearer understanding of the Porfiriato.