A Modest Utopia

I. Every quixotic idea has its origins in books of chivalry. Mine began in reading about English political history in the eighteenth century. From Macaulay and Namier, I learned how the Whig Party governed England for seventy years on the basis of a parliamentary majority secured through a corrupt system and fraudulent elections. This strange situation was most memorably portrayed by Hogarth, with his scathing paintings and engravings of rotten boroughs where even the dead were allowed a vote. But then a set of sudden reforms, allied with the emergence of a free press, ushered in genuine competition between parties. The story ended well. Reading this in Mexico, reflecting on this saga of political progress, an obvious thought immediately occurred to me: if this happened in England two centuries ago, why not in Mexico now? The result was an essay called “For a Democracy Without Adjectives,” which I published in 1984 in Vuelta, an extraordinary journal founded in 1976 by Octavio Paz, where I worked as deputy editor. In left-wing circles, it was common to degrade democracy by adding adjectives such as “bourgeois” and “formal.” What we needed, in my view, was democracy, period. Without adjectives, without condescension, without the fantasy that there is something better.  No sooner had my essay appeared than the government instructed its hired writers to attack my proposal as both senseless and dangerous. The journalistic, academic, and political Left, still wedded to the paradigm of the socialist revolution, came out against me as well, trotting out the old Marxist cliches about the falsity and inadequacy of democracy. The National Action Party (PAN), which since 1939 had gradually sought to construct a citizenry that recognized the worth of free elections, was at that time a center-right presence in Mexican politics, but it was weak. Nobody, or

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