Written in the tradition of Reyes Heroles, this is a history of Mexican liberal and republican polity from independence to the eve of the Revolution of 1910. Basing her work on a synthesis of secondary sources, her own research on Anenecuilco, and years of reflection, the author does a masterful job of integrating social themes with her political narrative. She includes some consideration of multivocality at the level of the pueblos and also deals with the driving political issues of the time.

The author’s central argument is carried throughout the essay with deliberate focus: the history of Mexican republicanism is the story of ever-increasing human rights that can ultimately overcome the tension that exists between the liberties of the citizenry and the power of the government. Indeed, those liberties have been strengthened by the evolution of a political regime founded on a social contract rather than a divine right. But the passage from the divine right of kings to a secular polity is only part of an ever-broadening political process that incorporates ever more people as it develops.

The Independencia brought this process into the open, but it was not an over-burdensome challenge because the pueblos, with their multiple layers of political and commercial elites, artisans, and humbler citizens, were already well versed in the arts of governance. Nineteenth-century liberalism grew out of this heritage. Its growth represented the increasing experience and confidence of the public at the grassroots. Mexico’s dramatic cultural and social transformation during the middle decades of the century brought the government and the people into greater cultural contact than ever before.

The authoritarian regime of Porfirio Díaz was an aberration in this irresistible flow of events toward democracy, largely because of its narrow base and its failure to use the legislative and juridical procedures at its disposal. This failure, the author argues, is the weakness of all state-oriented regimes. It temporarily divided the organic unity between the elites and the masses that had been so carefully nurtured for centuries in the pueblos and regions of Mexico. That rupture brought about the formation of opposing, community-based organizations, or the restoration of democratic development. The Mexican Revolution, while a discontinuity because of its violence, also brought popular organizations to the fore and impelled Mexico toward modernity at a more accelerated pace than had liberalism itself.

Democratic liberality has been the result, but it comes with the public recognition of responsibility and the need to maintain harmony. The democratic process is undercut by bossism, special interests, and patronage, but many versions of these distortions can be and have been defeated since independence. The democratic process is encouraged by the development of institutions capable of reconciling the divergent Mexican tendencies of anarcosyndicalism, Catholicism, and liberalism.