THE ancient Chinese teacher Confucius laid it down in one of his books that the good ordering of a political community depends upon the proper maintenance of five kinds of relations : those between father and son; between the eldest and the younger brothers; between friend and friend; between husband and wife, and between master and servant. Any serious derangement of these, he held, would of necessity throw the entire organisation out of gear. Contemporary history con-firms the truth of the remark and extends its application. The anarchy which of late has thrown every nation of the globe into confusion is manifestly the result of a radical and, as many fear, permanent disturbance of all kinds of human relationship. Morality as a guide of conduct is persistently discarded in the mutual intercourse of nations, citizens, social classes, sexes, and of employers and employed. Every man’s hand is raised against every other man and each organised group is intent upon the furtherance of its own interests to the exclusion of all others while doing lip homage to altruism. [n a word, the cement which hitherto bound the elements of society together is fast losing its cohesiveness and civilisation in the forms in which it has progressed since the days of King Hamurabi and the builders of the Pyramids is seemingly doomed to undergo a radical change or vanish.
Sanguinary and decimating intestine feuds and warslargely the outcome of foreign machinationshad reduced Mexico to a like distressing plight before the rest of the world began to experience it, and now that internal conditions in that Republic are becoming exceptionally favourable to reconstruction and progress the world-wave of anarchy threatens to roll over it with elemental force and can be kept out only by drastic and well-timed measures, to which, if they are to become efficacious, her neighbours who are mainly answerable for her condition must also contribute wholeheartedly.
The bulk of the Mexican people are as God made and man marred them. Their inborn qualities, which are many and excellent, have never had a fair chance to develop. In shaking off the Spanish yoke they showed that they knew how to die, but their subsequent political experiments proved them to be imperfectly qualified to live in a progressive self-governing community. Nor was this either surprising or blameworthy. For their Spanish rulers had left them in a condition similar to that in which some haciendados keep their dependents to this day, benighted, squalid, listless and fatalistic. And one hesitates to affirm that any of the many changes brought about by foreign influence since then has raised them to a permanently higher level. Under the Spanish rule there was no political plan, no administrative machinery, nought in. the nature of self-government or of public opinion, to serve as models, nothing in short but a number of costly agencies organised to harvest in cheaply and despatch safely to foreign ports as much as possible of the wealth of the country, leaving the people indigent and desperate. And to-day the same process is going on under another name, American oil men occupying the place of the Spanish wealth-exporters. Ethnically the country has progressed perceptibly.
During the century which has elapsed since the declaration of independence Mexico has gone far towards producing a truly national typea blend of the various ethnic fragments, mostly Indian and Spanishto which immigration on a large scale is fast adding various European strains. To this phenomenon and its tangible results there is probably nothing comparable in any other part of the American Continent, nor indeed with the sole exception of Russia in any quarter of the globe to-day. Into its significance, which is likely to prove far reaching in the future struggle of races, neither American nor European statesmen have yet had the leisure or the desire to inquire. The fusion of the races, although still in flux, is visibly resulting in the rise of a wholly new people, whose temper, aptitudes, moral fibre and intellectual capacities differ considerably from those of the individual races of whose union they are the fruit. Unhappily, despite the absolute social and political equality of all the ethnic constituents of the population, the mestizos, now the most numerous element, has been as stunted in its mental and moral development as the Indian. The common people generally have had no fair chance to out-grow the superstitions, prejudices and narrow outlook upon the world with which the Spanish invasion found and the Carranza régime left them. Natural evolution has been checked among them systematically., Racial ties, instincts, temperament, use and wont, perpetuated by geographical isolation and artificial restrictions, kept them bound to a past which had little or nothing in common with the progressive aspirations and ideals of the great onward-moving world outside their own. And so they remained adult children incapable of using the many organs of knowledge and advancement with which other nations were so well equipped. And they were kept unconscious of their loss. The only seed that has been scattered among them since the roots of their religious faith were loosened is of foreign origin and nonconstructive tendency, and it is a matter of surprise that it has not perceptibly thriven and brought forth fruit, the conditions being so auspicious. t is not, however, the fault of the revolutionaries that, born to gloom and misery, they instinctively made for such stray gleams of light as happened to pierce through the murk around them, nor are they answerable for the quality of this light which is sometimes of the nether regions. Now suddenly to apply foreign political coercion to such a mass of impulsive and wrathful humans would be like setting a lighted torch to a heap of tinder in a powder magazine.
The lower orders of the Mexican people are not only unsophisticated and politically listless, but they are also poor, under-fed, improvident, and over large tracts of country, especially in the South, physically degenerating. Their huts are eyesores, little traps of infection, and so tiny and bare that, as the Russian peasants used to say of their own wretched abodes, the inmates “have neither the space in which to hang them-selves nor the wherewithal to cut their throats.” It can hardly appear surprising therefore that many of the wretches thus brought into the world only to pass through the slow-grinding mill of disease, misery and pain, have ,abandoned their belief in a hell to follow such a life of suffering. The happiest among them are the dead, could they but realise it. It is fair to add that the living seldom exaggerate the value of existence and answer the death-call as readily as did the ancient Greeks. In the streets of cities and villages lepers commingle freely with the population without a challenge from the authorities or a protest from their fellow townsmen. I have actually seen them stalking the streets and begging alms unchecked in more than one town. The main cause of this woeful neglect is lack of funds which the United States Government is perpetuating, with excellent intentions and these sinister effects.
It is obvious that abstract ideas, however respectable and attractive, can make but little impress on the minds of men and women so circumstanced. Only corporeal needs and material baits can goad or lure them to fitful action with the promise of immediate results. They rallied in their thousands around condottieri like Villa, Chavez, Pascual Orozco and others who could tempt them with loot and reward them with promotion, and they lavished their attachment and loyalty upon these chiefs with a rare degree of self-sacrifice. But like the average Russian of Tsarist days and not unlike some branches of the Latin race they entertain a distorted notion of liberty which they often confound with absolute license.
The political domain in the Republic throughout those years of rapid decay was monopolised by the semi-intellectuals–a dangerous class in any loosely cemented society men of narrow horizons, no special attainments, insatiable ambitions and egotistic instincts. They lived not in the future or the past but exclusively in the present. None of them, not even Carranza himself, was endowed with the vision, the sense of pro-portion or the serenity of mind necessary to survey a distant horizon. Many of the partisans of the Government were past or prospective rebels, and until Obregón gave a new meaning to the word “revolution” nearly every rebel was first cousin to a brigand. The unity of the army was riven by the spirit of pronunciamientos; the judicature was discredited by its abject dependence on the Executive; the State departments were marts for graft. Industry, trade and commerce oscillated in rhythm with the uncertainty respecting the financial burdens to which they were liable and with the fitfulness of the open and covert attacks to which they were subjected by bandits, rebels and dishonest rivals backed or connived at by the authorities. Hardly any of the principal dramatis personae of Mexican history has made lasting contributions to the social or moral advancement of the nation, and none but Benito Juarez ventured upon helpful experiments in the difficult art of governance. Most of them were deficient in disciplined intelligence and lacked a trained sense of measure. Nor did any of them except Juarez attempt systematically to combine humanitarian interests with the nation’s immediate requirements. Hence their influence, when beneficent, flitted swiftly like a lightning-flash, leaving the gloom through which it broke as dense and dreary as before.
The necessity of governing, if possible with, and in any case for, the people as a whole, was never thoroughly grasped by any of the former Presidents except Juarez. For most of the others the bulk of the population was merely a means, not an end. And as for those gifted individuals who under normal conditions might have made valuable contributions to the cause of progress they were but as foam on the revolutionary wave. During all this period of warfare and confusion the great mass of the nation yearned for peace. The various leaders were ready to die for it. But few of them were content to live and work for it.
One can readily understand the arduous nature of the task, and the slowness of the process, of transforming a people thus floundering in an ooze of political decomposition into an orderly, industrious, self-restrained and law-abiding society. Yet that is the concrete problem with which ‘General Obregón has now to cope at the end of a purifying revolution. The utmost a successful revolution can accomplish is to remove the obstacles to renovation. Only the liberators and the people in concert can displace the effects of these and begin to build.
And there is no grounded hope that a tidal wave of circumstance will roll in and bear the much suffering Mexican people to new and fruitful shores. There is but one road to reform and it is rugged and beset with natural hindrances. Unhappily in Mexico’s case foreign Governments have blocked it with artificial barriers, rendering it wholly impassable. And they intensify the injury by claiming credit for humanitarian motives.
General Obregón is confronted with perplexing problems drawn from every conceivable sphere : from the domains of foreign policy, internal legislation, constitutional law, national economy, railways and waterways, labour, finance, the army. And some of these are uncommonly delicate. True, the new President is gifted with an unusual stock of common or rather uncommon sense, with the rare quality of leadership, and, although still young, has vast stores of experience to draw upon. This is another striking instance of his personal luck. For “experience,” as the Turkish proverb puts it, “is usually a comb presented to us by destiny when our hair is all gone.” But while genius in a statesman can achieve much, it cannot achieve everything. The greatest kneader of human wills when charged with reconstructive work depends for results very largely upon those to whose lot it falls to translate his ideas into acts. Even an autocrat is to that extent restricted in the exercise of his power, just as a skilled artisan finds his natural limitations in the materials and the implements of which he disposes. And whether General Obregón will find enough coadjutors and subordinates of the right kind for a task of this magnitude remains to be seen.
One day when we were travelling through the Southern States and talking of the physical deterioration of the inhabitants which I ascribed primarily to deplorable foreign influences, I asked General Obregón what, in his opinion, was the first step towards reconstruction. He replied at once : “The people must be taught to eat, drink and house themselves properly. They have wrong notions on these subjects and the right ideas must be instilled into them methodically. This may sound fanciful but it is painfully true. They are chronically underfed, yet they do not realise it. They often receive food unfit for human consumption, but instead of spurning they partake of it and put up with the consequences, which are frequently disease and occasionally death. They are miserably lodged, yet make no exertion to acquire hygienic or comfort-able dwellings. They are among the most prolific people on the globe, yet the population remains almost stationary owing to the appalling death-rate among the children. Over vast stretches of the country the physical type has gone off to an alarming degree. The individual is listless, his initiative is atrophied, his activity fitful and unsustained. In a word he lacks enterprise and perseverance, and has hardly any grit. Now, as you know, the arts, the sciences, in fact all the cultural acquisitions which go with these, presuppose a certain standard of material well-being which our people are far from having reached. To help them attain that must be our fore-most care.”
On another occasion he said in reply to a kindred query : “The reforms which Mexico needs require at least four factors for their complete solution : time, capital, education and a directing hand. And I should like to add that the seemingly longest road to renovation is in truth the shortest, for in rebuilding a vast social organism one cannot improvise with safety.”
Of all the tasks awaiting General Obregón that which will most severely strain his ingenuity and resourcefulness is the transformation of the revolutionary Republic with which the world has so long been acquainted into a pacific and well ordered community. And it is by far the most urgent and momentous. Mexico must become an elective, law-abiding commonwealth on pain of extinction as a sovereign State. The alternatives are as certainly these as if fate had embodied them in a formal decree promulgated urbi et orbi.
The vices and propensities which years of savage warfare and unbridled license have engrafted on the soul of a section of the population cannot be eradicated in a few months, still less can they be displaced by a mere change of régime or the enactment of wise laws. This matter of converting the Republic from a revolutionary into a pacific State General Obregón is wont to refer to as the “suppression of lawless personal ambitions,” and from the very outset of his presidential career he set to work to deal with it energetically as occasion arose.
Many of the measures which he has adopted since his advent to power challenge the approbation of all who have Mexico’s well-being at heart. But they only touch the fringe of the corrosive evil which must be eradicated once for all if the Republic is to maintain its sovereignty intact. And the first step is a correct diagnosis. Arbitrary government is not the most potent dissolvent of a State; it is anarchy, which offers an almost irresistible temptation to an ambitious or an order-loving neighbour to intervene. t was anarchy that disintegrated the Polish Republic. It was anarchy and not despotism that destroyed the French monarchy and rendered the revolution at once possible and inevitable. And anarchy, political, social and moralfar more than the irresponsible rule of Carranza, Huerta or Diaz; is directly responsible for most of Mexico’s misfortunes. The appearance on the scene of a born leader of men like General Obregón, however genial he may be, will prove but a parenthesis in the annals of the anarchist state, unless he succeed in changing the system root and branch. And this is tantamount to saying that he must bring about a complete revolution in the disposition of that section of the population which has hitherto supplied the breakers of law and the disturbers of order. Here again his most artful thwarters are working in a friendly country under the aegis of a foreign flag.
If Obregón were suddenly to pass away today, his work and the best fruits of the revolution would vanish with him. The men in whom down to a few months ago the spirit of rebellion, lawlessness and destruction was incarnate would once more unsheath their swords, mount their chargers and inaugurate anotherand this time the last and fatalperiod of civil strife in Mexican history. As long as Obregón continues to direct the affairs of his country peace and order may be deemed to be secure. That, however, is not long enough. The test of a great ruler is so to govern the State and educate its members as ultimately to enable it to dispense with his services. Unless he does this he has accomplished nothing durable. Only if General Obregón can transform the revolutionary Republic into a law-abiding state, in which the supreme power is transmitted by legal procedure, will he have achieved the most important part of his mission. And of this necessity he is perfectly aware. But the reforms which it entails not merely in the administration but in certain of the basic laws are so radical that one wonders whether under actual conditions they are likely to be realised.
I have often talked with him on this topic and his conceptions seemed to me on the whole perfectly sound. Although neither a historian nor a politician, his views of contemporary history and politics are those of a man who has deeply meditated on the course of human affairs and their larger aspects, and who firmly grasps the main factors in the politico-social currents of his time. He realisesmuch more fully than do most European statesmenthe interdependence of peoples and their unconscious but continuous approximation toward an informal community of the whole human race based on the highest interests of each. His own ideal is a universal civil society cemented by justice, and his belief in its ultimate establishment is unshaken by recent events. His active undersense and feeling of the whole, joined to a keen understanding of the integral parts, constantly impels him so to adjust the interests of his country to those of humanity that the two can be closely associated. This is the quality which distinguishes him from the best of his predecessors in the presidency, entitles him to a foremost place among the best statesmen of modern times and warrants the high hopes entertained of his work by those who know his views and appreciate his intentions. A subject on which I hold an opinion that may possibly provoke dissent among my Mexican friends is the federal State-system. With all the diffidence becoming a foreigner I venture to give it as my firm conviction that the maintenance of Mexico’s sovereignty will be found to be incompatible with the perpetuation of that clumsy arrangement.
Approaching the subject of reconstruction from a different and less ideal starting-point, General Obregon realises the imperative need of exceptional wariness and circumspection on the part of a weak and wealthy country whose neighbour is powerful, progressive, and enterprising. The motive is obvious. Unless the feebler nation contrive to conduct itself with passable seemliness at home and. with extreme consideration for its neighbour abroad, it is certain to end by being taken in hand and tutored by the latter. But even under the most favourable circumstances its troubles are likely to be so many and occasionally so distracting that the temptation is almost irresistible to seek an effective counterpoise to these drawbacks abroad. Such a courselegally open to every in-dependent nationmust appear especially attractive to Mexico. President Carranza was so enamoured of the idea that he seriously purposed realising it by acceding to the specious proposals laid before him by Germany during the war. And it is probable that he would have closed with them definitely had it not been for the vigorous opposition which he encountered from General Obregón whom he consulted as the des-tined commander-in-chief of the Mexican forces. Obregón’s view of the matter was at once realistic and sound. He characterised the suggested course of action as nationally suicidal and therefore refused to countenance it by word or deed. And when Carranza emphasised the promises made by the German Government and the benefits which it undertook to confer upon Mexico, he irreverently exclaimed : “Yes, ‘Germany will help us as the clergyman helps the agonising man by commending him to the protection of the Most High.”
His conception of the line of action imposed by present world conditions upon his country is this: “Mexico is the neighbour of the United States, whose Government rendered her precious helpnow too readily forgottenin the revolt against the Spanish dominion. It is our imperative duty and, therefore, our interest to cultivate neighbourly relations with her Government and people and to show them every sort of consideration compatible with the independence, dignity and interests of the nation. Consequently, the notion of seeking in foreign alliances or in military conventions an arm of defence against future contingencies from that quarter, contingencies which should never be allowed to arise, would be not merely bootless but provocative and ultimately disastrous. Military force at home directed to this end is equally out of the question. And yet it is certain that we need some kind of neutralising agency. To my thinking the one sheet-anchor of defence for a country situated as is ours must be sought and will be found in the esteem and good will of our next-door neighbour and of the entire civilised world. There is and can be none other. And to win this by her exemplary conduct should be Mexico’s first care. Morality and might are now contending for the mastery of the globe. The struggle is desperate and its outcome will affect us, together with all the lesser nations. If morality prevail, as we hope and desire, all will be well with Mexico, seeing that that is, and will continue to be, the key-stone of her own policy in the new era. But if force should win the palm, nothing can save the weaker peoples and we shall go under together with these. Switzerland offers a useful object-lesson in the difficult art of making friends and conciliating potential enemies. During the World War she was beset with tremendous perils and strong temptations but by dint of endeavouring honestly to discharge her duties towards each of her neighbours she compelled the respect of all. Mexico is in like manner wholly dependent upon the moral sympathy and support of the civilised world and must, therefore, bend her efforts to acquire them. Consequently, it behooves her to see that the epoch of revolutionary changes passes into history, and to inaugurate an era of well established order and law.”
No Mexican whom I have met or heard of has discerned so clearly or defined so precisely the only helpful course of action open to his country. One of the aids to this discernment is the accurate perspective in which the new President visualises the history of his native land and foreshadows its potential future. He is wont as we saw to contemplate Mexico as a part of the great human family which, although still in process of formation, may be looked upon already as a reality for all the purposes of a far-sighted national and international policy. His mental picture of the country is not marred by the slightest tinge of that chauvinism whcih inspires the writings and discourses of some of his countrymen. There is neither mistiness in his perception nor vacillation in his action. Thus he is keenly mindful of the noteworthy part played by the United States in supporting the Mexicans against their Spanish masters and likewise of the undeniable boons bestowed upon his fellow countrymen by the band of enterprising pioneers from the great northern Republic and from European lands who discovered and developed Mexico’s mineral and agricultural resources. Of these services he always speaks with gratitude, the sincerity of which is vouched for by his earnest desire to secure the friendly co-operation of those same foreign peoples in the coming work of reorganisation. For he regards Mexico, the wealth of its lands and the still undeveloped energies of its population as a trust for humanity. Nor does he ever fail, when discussing these matters with his countrymen, to emphasise the deciding fact that unless those material and spiritual resources are rationally exploited and made available so that they may be duly shared with humanity at large, they are certain to be fructified by others who have the will and the power to make prompt and proper use of them. And it is not only the riches of the soil and subsoil that must thus be developed and turned into the common stock,the energies of the people, their mental and moral capacities which have for ages been artificially checked and dwarfed must likewise be cultivated, disciplined and fitted for their part in the task of national reconstruction and international rearrangement.
In a word, General Obregón keeps a death grip on a political faith calculated to awaken a response from spiritual depths never reached by any of his predecessors. His detestation of war as a satisfactory method of settling disputes is worthy of the most enthusiastic pacifist and comes with immense force from the successful military leader who put down anarchy and is thoroughly conversant with the generous selflessness and lofty altruism which so often characterise the soldier in the field,. Force, bloodshed and every kind of destructiveness are abominations to him. He sees in them the fetters that have kept his country from moving forward with the progressive races and these from reaching still distant goals, And the lesson drawn from his own experience which he yearns to impress upon his fellow countrymen is that respect for law, a certain degree of self-abnegation for the common good, and the substitution of moral relationship in the dealings of man with man and nation with nation for the savage state of nature, constitute the only solid basis for that process of renovation which is Mexico’s last hope. On this foundation President Obregón is minded to build up his policy. But unless he is ably seconded by men of his own stamp and by the people at large he may not succeed. In any and every case, however, he will play his part worthily to the end. To employ another Turkish saying, if he must drown it will be in clear water.
But however comprehensive and statesmanlike Obregón’s programme of domestic reforms may be, the real work of re-construction can hardly even be started until and unless the misunderstandings between Mexico and the United States are cleared away. And in this process the next move depends upon the latter country, which has had all its grounded claims recognised and is now holding out for what can add nothing to its own legitimate satisfaction and would utterly ruin Mexico’s last hope of regeneration.
Justice is another of the public functions the administration of which the new President is intent on rendering simpler, speedier and sounder. The matter is fundamental. No State can thrive for long in which the tribunals and judges lack the confidence of the people. Destroy that confidence and you have struck a deadly blow at the very heart of the organism. And justice in Mexico has hitherto been open to grave charges. The Supreme Court itself has long been known to be swayed by the Executive. It was thus even in the time of Porfirio Diaz. He often influenced it in order to secure such decisions as seemed to him just and possibly were so. It is worth noting that the American press which has recently laid stress’ on the need for this reform had no complaints to make on the subject so long as the irregularities were committed in favour of their own countrymen. It is only the clamour of the latter that has called forth its scathing criticism and vehement condemnation. So long as the sufferers were merely the natives, justice found no champion outside their country. Its cause be-comes worthy of vindication only when bound up with the interests of foreign companies and influential individuals. Considering the moral, intellectual and political anarchy in which the population existed for so many years, one could not reasonably have expected the administration of justice to have escaped unscathed. One does not look for hot water under the ice. “Why is your neck crooked?” some one inquired of the camel. “What have I straight?” was the answer.
Judicial procedure too is antiquated, complex and abounds in delays,all drawbacks which favour the law-breaker and the wealthy and often defeat the ends of justice. It has also called into being a band of unscrupulous pettifogging lawyers whose principal function is to frustrate the intentions of the lawgivers. And they very often succeed.
The agrarian and labour ferment throughout the country could be satisfactorily disposed of were the demands of the discontented elements prompted by intelligent self-interest and moderated by a sense of equity. And in all cases in which they answer to this description they are being settled promptly and fairly. For General Obregón’s views on both subjects are eminently sane. He favours a just equilibrium of labour, capital and intelligence, three factors all equally indispensable to the success of industry and agriculture and none of which can be eliminated without serious damage to the community. But in many cases the demands spring from a different source and cannot be complied with economically, nor could they be settled with finality even were compliance possible. One branch of the movement is akin to bolshevism in its origin, subversive in its aims and disastrous in its methods. But like most of Mexico’s tribulations it hails from abroad. It was planned and is fostered mainly by foreigners who are neither workmen, artisans nor husbandmen but professional agitators, who scatter broadcast leaflets and booklets of the most seditious nature plausibly written and cleverly adapted to the comprehension of working men, peasants, soldiers and the semi-intellectual youth of the country.
By way of indulging my curiosity about the relation between elementary education and the working of universal suffrage I made inquiries in the most advanced State of the Re-public, Tamaulipas, which offers a fair test. Tamaulipas has more schools in proportion to its population and has had them for a longer period than any other State of the Union. As far back as the year 1884 an educational law was enacted there and is still in force which gave a considerable impetus to schools. Well, I ascertained that the effects of this praise-worthy initiative had been frustrated by the revolutionary excesses to such a degree that during the elections of 1920 no votes could be legally recorded in certain cantons for lack of overseers able to read and write. The law requires that two men who can read and write be appointed in every canton to preside at the voting. But in several of these cantons, for in-stance in that of Jaumave which is not far from the capital of the State, there were not two men to be found who could fulfil this condition. And in consequence polling booths could not be opened there. In other places where two citizens credited with these attainments were available, it happened that they did not understand what they read and fell into various irregularities which warranted the annulment of the elections. Owing to the frequent occurrence of similar illegalities, I am assured, many an election can be annulled at will, and as the re-turns are submitted to the Chamber itself for confirmation or invalidation, it is most often party interest that decides. It is affirmed that a formal compact exists between a party in one of the houses of the legislature and certain members of that body in virtue of which the latter are invariably declared legally elected no matter how few votes they may have received and that in consequence some of these privileged democrats spare themselves the trouble and expense of an electioneering campaign, content themselves with a minority of the votes how-ever small and get themselves elected by their friends in the legislature by having the votes given to their opponents nullified on technical grounds.
In Mexico a smaller percentage of the population than in Belgium grasps the significance of the suffrage, knows how to exercise it or is willing to go to the polls. The remedy for this lies either in disfranchising illiterates or educating them at high pressure as ignorant immigrants are being instructed in the United States. The latter alternative is now being tried under adverse conditions but with energy and perseverence.
At the Constituent Assembly of Querétaro where the Constitution was drafted and adopted, one representative whose name deserves to be remembered, General Esteban Calderón, insisted on the necessity of restricting the suffrage to those who were qualified to exercise it and made a concrete proposal to this effect. But in that Assembly of enthusiasts the voice of this realist was drowned in dithyrambic phrases. It has since been affirmed that the millions of illiterate and listless voters constitute a grave peril to the State.’ They are said to be the unconscious tools of scheming agitators who foment local tumults and lawlessness in the intervals of revolutionary upheavals. It is argued that they are not only themselves in-capable of voting deliberately but are active in nullifying the suffrage of those who are fully qualified to exercise it. The little Republic of Guatemala was until recently face to face with the same problem. Of its two and a half million in-habitants some two millions are imperfectly civilised aborigines who are wanting in the most rudimentary notions about governance and policy. But the Guatemaltecans recently excluded all illiterates from the voting booths, on the principle that it is more democratic to prepare voters in advance for the exercise of their rights than to render those rights nugatory by bestowing them upon individuals who cannot comprehend them, still less exercise them rationally.
According to the Mexican Constitution, each of the federal entities is a sovereign State, with its legislature, elective Governor, Secretary and the usual host of employees who absorb the substance of the people and not only give nothing valuable in return but very often open the sluices for the revolutionary food to sweep away the produce of labour and thrift. Two of these sovereign States have an insignificant population of 78,000 and 85,000 souls respectively,’ four of them less than 200,000;6 nine have more than 200,000 but less than half a million. In five States the population exceeds 500,000 without totalling one million and in the whole Republic only four States can boast of a million inhabitants. Now if one deducts, as is meet, from these numbers the women, the numerous children, and the still more numerous illiterates, it will be seen that the dangerous instrumentin this case, weaponof power is in the hands of a few, often-times harebrained individuals who are lured by the two-fold prospect of lording it over their next-door neighbours and making a comfortable livelihood without having put forth any exertion to deserve a Government post or even qualified themselves to occupy it. Many of these State dignitaries are primitive beings in the full sense of the term who are incapable of perceiving either the fatuity of their aspirations or the tragi-comedy of their failure. Hardihood they possess in the superlative degree, the hardihood to trample under foot every law and to ride rough-shod over every right in maintaining their own privileges. Every one of these arbitrary dispensers of emoluments and offices is a sort of tsarlet at the head of a little army of State functionaries who in turn have their deputies and substitutes and occasionally their Pretorian guards. Thus Mexico is burdened with over thirty separate Governments and specifically political parliaments besides the various municipalities which are also centres of political and other machinations.
In Yucatan the recent elections let loose passions suggestive of prehistoric ages. The best organised and most resolute party there were the so-called Socialists and they distinguished themselves by mowing down their political adversaries with rifles, blowing them up with dynamite, hewing them with hatchets, clubbing them to death with sticks, carrying their dead bodies on poles, reducing their dwellings to ashes and sending disguised gendarmes to impersonate voters. General Calles himself exclaimed : “It looks as though the competitors in the struggle now going forward were not human beings but beasts, such is the wild fury with which they attack, maim and slaughter each other.”7 Yucatan, it is fair to add, is an exception. Its lamentable plight is the result of special conditions with which we are not now concerned. But the evils of the federal system are widespread and paralysing.
Two Constitutional reforms then are peremptorily called for: the qualification of the citizen for the franchise, and the strengthening and tightening of the bonds between the people and the Government by the abolition of the sovereignty of the federal units and the substitution of ,Municipalities which, if they are first adequately reformed, can discharge many of the State functions much more satisfactorily and with a great deal less friction.
In the Republic there cannot be a smoothly working State so long as the provinces continue to enjoy the rights of sovereign communities. The sovereignty of these different centres pro-motes regionalism, fosters distracting feuds, hinders the growth of common interests and the pursuit of common purposes and may, at any of the critical conjunctures in which Mexican history abounds, lead to separatism and disintegration. In favour of the autonomy of a number of petty States each containing only the population of a European parish, composed largely of poverty-stricken individuals dispersed over a vast territory, devoid of political knowledge and training and even of elementary instruction, the grounds adduced were never convincing. And they are so weak to-day as hardly to need refutation. For the federal units are admittedly the germ centres of the revolutionary fever which has for long been consuming the energies of the population.
During the brief period that has passed since his inauguration the new President has swept away some of the worst abuses, drafted a series of excellent schemes which are gradually being inscribed on the statute book and accomplished more in the direction of reforms than was done by the best of his predecessors during their whole term of office. The masterly way in which he checkmated the railway strikers won for him a high tribute of universal praise. He has closed gambling houses and other haunts of vice, has begun to purge the prisons which were seminaries of crime and has adopted a series of measures for the reformation of criminals. Further, he has issued a number of hygienic regulations in various parts of the Republic and has put disinfecting apparatus in forty towns and the principal ports. He has begun the irrigation of vast tracts of land in Guanajuato, framed a law for disposing of the agrarian movement, given orders for the preservation and expansion of ancient crafts and industries, laid extensive plans for improving communications by land and water, bettered the railway services and laid a bill for the creation of a merchant marine before Congress. The problems of colonisation by foreign immigrants has also received careful attention and comprehensive arrangements have already been made for the sifting, classification and reception of many thousands of husbandmen from Canada, Italy, Germany, Austria and other countries, to whom considerable inducements are being offered during the first years of their residence in the Republic. The army is being rapidly demobilised and has already been reduced to fifty thousand men, the strength adequate for a minor State whose sheet-anchor of safety is henceforward to be the moral support of the civilised world.
The numerous misunderstandings with foreign governments, corporations and citizens have likewise been closely studied in a spirit of equity and with a sincere desire to deal fairly by all. The national debt has been recognised and means considered for resuming payment of the interest. A plan for meeting the demands of foreign residents who sustained losses during the Revolution has also been formulated and will be duly acted upon.
This list of tasks achieved or undertaken in the brief span of two months might be further expanded, but it is sufficient to indicate the sincerity of purpose, the intenseness of the labour and the rapidity of method which the new President has displayed. He is evidently conscious that the events of his first year of office will impart its definite cast to the con-juncture which will make the Mexican Republic or unmake it. If, as one ardently hopes, his quickness of political intuition match his popularity and be equalled by his power, the country will be saved from within and may look forward to a period of material prosperity and cultural progress. He is working with the knowledge that there is no time to be lost. The march of events is uncommonly swift. The Mexican Government can no more be slow and sure than can a watch. This is well understood by the President but not by the bulk of Mexican demagogues who have yet to exchange the temper and the dialect of parochial politics for the classic language of constructive statesmanship. Delay or vacillation may spell disaster, and when Fate arrives on the scene the most genial states-man becomes a mere puppet.
On one of our journeys I remarked to General Obregón that an idealist who is this and nothing more can afford to dispense with concrete success and content himself with sowing that others may reap, but that a reforming statesman must necessarily be able to point to tangible results. Soon after-wards he was publicly congratulated by an orator on his electoral triumph, whereupon he replied : “For the people it is indeed a triumph to have cast off the shackles of the dictatorship and I am happy to have had a hand in bringing that about. My election, however, does not give me the feeling of being in a triumphal chariot but rather that of being harnessed to the wagon of the nation. I am on probation. For my triumph I must look not to the day on which I was chosen but to the hour when I lay down office and then only if I am able to ask the people without misgivings as to their answer : Have I done my duty and served you faithfully according to my lights and possibilities ?’ “