This book consists of 134 essays, written by Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the distinguished Mexican social scientist, for the newspaper Excelsior during the years 1973-76. Stavenhagen’s association with Excelsior ended when its editor, Julio Scherer, and his staff were ousted in a notorious golpe backed by the Echeverría government. These pieces constitute the entire opus of Stavenhagen’s Excelsior columns up until the Scherer ouster.
The essays are short, averaging two to three pages, and are grouped into sections according to their subject matter: social questions; agrarian questions; political questions; indigenismo; science, education, and culture; international politics; Latin America; the Third World; and problems of development. They are of course not scholarly in nature, but for the most part are thoughtful and serious discussions of important issues.
Stavenhagen’s prose is lucid and straightforward, and the content of his essays is analytical rather than polemical. He is critical of Mexican development policy and of the United States’ rôle in world affairs, but avoids an offensive tone. Most of the pieces go from the specific to the general, frequently starting with a discussion of some current event, in an effort to underscore the fundamental issues reflected in the news. Some of the essays are basically didactic, and a few are laced with Stavenhagen’s wicked humor.
It is hard to escape the comparison with Walter Lippman. The technique is similar: a careful marshalling of the salient facts, a thoughtful analysis of their significance, and an incisive conclusion that strikes at the heart of the matter. If the topic is too sensitive, Stavenhagen, like Lippman, ends with a question rather than a declaration. Also like Lippman, Stavenhagen has an eye for the larger importance of events and a gift for persuading his audience of that importance.
To read these essays is to reenter the intellectual world of Mexico in the mid-1970s. Criticism is tempered by caution, nationalism by urbanity, idealism by cynicism. Much of the art of these essays lies in Stavenhagen’s ability to develop his positions within the framework of Mexican political realities, while attempting to influence those realities. Despite the topical nature of the events that inspired Stavenhagen, little in this collection is dated. The underlying issues that confront Mexico, Stavenhagen’s real concern, remain unchanged.