In This Review

Political Reformism in Mexico: An Overview of Contemporary Mexican Politics
Political Reformism in Mexico: An Overview of Contemporary Mexican Politics
By Stephen D. Morris
Lynn Rienner, 1995, 261 pp
Democratizing Mexico: Public Opinion and Electoral Choices
Democratizing Mexico: Public Opinion and Electoral Choices
By Jorge Domínguez and James A. McCann
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, 269 pp
Mexican Politics in Transition: The Breakdown of a One-Party-Dominant Regime
Mexican Politics in Transition: The Breakdown of a One-Party-Dominant Regime
By Wayne A. Cornelius
Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, 1996, 122 pp

De Tocqueville, Morris notes, observed that ‘the most perilous moment for a bad government is one when it begins to mend its ways.’ But in Mexico, the government has been constantly engaged in mending its ways, escaping rigidities, and avoiding the perilous moment. The question is whether that makes for a better government or merely sustains a bad one indefinitely. Morris is interested in the process of reform, particularly as it was implemented during the de la Madrid and Salinas administrations. ‘Under a veneer of ambiguity,’ he argues, ‘successful reformism combined change with continuity.’ For Mexico this involved a time-limited presidency, a degree of independence between the economic and political spheres, limited pluralism, and a strong but malleable state ideology. The United States, interested above all in sustaining stability in Mexico, provided economic, political, and financial support to the regime in times of crisis and did not push vigorously for democratic change.

Dominguez and McCann’s concern is with what polling data reveals about Mexican attitudes toward democracy. In this meticulous study, they find that ‘Mexican citizens are readier for democracy than are some of those who still seek to rule them.’ The attitudes of Mexican citizens have changed in important and consistent ways since the late 1950s. By the early 1990s Mexicans had become much more interested in politics, particularly compared to the citizens of advanced industrialized countries, and strongly in favor of democratization of the ruling party’s presidential nomination practices. The task of aligning citizens’ readiness for democracy and the institutions that would make it possible, however, remains.

Both volumes are written with fellow political scientists in mind and make few concessions to the general reader. In contrast, Wayne Cornelius, founder of the prestigious Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego, provides a short and accessible primer on the politics of the Mexican peso crisis, full of interesting information and analysis attractively presented. Yet like all these authors, he seems surprised and shaken by the meltdown of December 1994, and much less confident about the future. ‘In short,’ he concludes, ‘we may be witnessing the fragmentation of authoritarianism in Mexico, or the emergence of a more ‘crisis prone’ but still essentially stable authoritarian system.’ If this is indeed the question, it is a great pity that the leading analyst of Mexico in the United States does not venture to answer it.