In his response to my article, "Mexico's Perfect Dictatorship," Enrique Krauze misquotes me as saying that a delegate assembly passed a liberal constitution "in 1910." I said a delegate assembly passed a liberal constitution “during the 1910 Mexican Revolution.” I might have worded that phrase more precisely, but I well know that the revolution lasted a decade.

It would be strange to argue that the 1917 Constitution is not liberal—on paper. For example, the distinguished Mexican sociologist Pablo González Casanova wrote in Democracy in Mexico that its attempt to specify a separation of powers among executive, legislative, and judicial branches and to create checks and balances derive from ideas of the U.S. founding fathers, the French enlightenment, and the Federalist Papers. In practice, of course, in the context of a “semi-feudal society” (González Casanova's phrase) and a state powerfully dominated by one ruling party, the government proved anything but liberal. As I say in my Foreign Affairs piece, "liberalism didn’t work."

Contrary Krauze, the United States did support Juárez, seeing the French invasion of Mexico as an affront to the Monroe Doctrine. In 1866-67, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward successfully pressured Napoleon III to withdraw his troops from Mexico, leaving Maximilian to the mercy of Mexican liberals. The Office of the Historian of the U.S. State Department calls this one of Seward’s two “major” achievements after the Civil War. And how could Mexican liberals’ 1867 victory over Maximilian “forestall possible future support from the Confederacy for the Conservative cause”? The Confederacy was defeated in 1865.

Further, I disagree with Krauze that Thomist political philosophy “relates specifically to the State and not the Church.” After all, Thomas Aquinas was a great apologist for the medieval Catholic Church. Of course, he adapted his ideas from the essentially secular philosopher Aristotle, and secular thinkers in turn adapted ideas from him. As Sheldon Wolin, author of Politics and Vision, and many others have pointed out, the Middle Ages and Renaissance saw a powerful flow of ideas from ecclesiastic to secular political philosophy.

In my article, I tried to dissect how the Mexican state can be so successful in some dimensions and so troubled in others, with an aim toward suggesting a way to a better future. That, rather than nit picking, should be the pursuit of all observers of Mexico.

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  • JONATHAN SCHLEFER is author of Palace Politics: How the Ruling Party Brought Crisis to Mexico and The Assumptions Economists Make.
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