Mexico: Preserving Medieval Spain
From Earl Shorris, The Life and Times of Mexico
"Carlos Fuentes wrote that 1588 [the defeat of the Spanish Armada] was the third important date in the history of Spain's absolutist monarchy. It marked the beginning of a national collapse, the end of the sixteenth-century glory of Spain.
"Two earlier dates Fuentes pointed out marked the arrogance and error of empire. In 1492, Spain made the fateful errors that would determine its future over many centuries. Fuentes wrote, "Expelling the Sephardic Jews was the worst wound that the Spanish monarchy inflicted upon itself. It compounded the wound by passing intolerant laws in favor of religious dogmatism and against so-called impurity of blood."
"In the same year the Catholic kings defeated the Moors at Granada, which was but prelude to their expulsion in 1502. Within the space of a few months Spain had stripped itself of most of its intellectual capability in matters of state, finance, commerce, philosophy, literature and got rid of the best of its artists and craftsmen. When Christopher Columbus made landfall in the Indies on October 12,1492, the government that had sent him to gain its fortune through the spice trade was already doomed.
"War, discovery, and expulsion in 1492 affected the administration of New Spain for more than three hundred years, but a single book by Antonio de Nebrija, a grammar of the Castillian language, was also to have enormous influence. When Queen Isabella asked what use there was in having such a grammar, Nebrija is said to have replied that the Castillian language was the ideal weapon of empire.
"The events of 1521, the third date, were to establish New Spain and set the pattern for its government. In that year the urban center of the Mexican world, Tenochtitlan, fell to the Spaniards and their Tiaxcalan allies, but of almost equal importance, the comuneros (townspeople) of Castille rose up in revolt. Fifteen Castillian towns gathered to petition the king for democratic reforms, perhaps a constitutional monarchy.
But there was to be no Spanish Magna Carta. The nobles joined their king in putting down the rebellion. The comunero leaders were executed, and as they died, the idea of democracy in Spain and its colonies died with them. There were no more democratic uprisings during the three centuries of Spanish Empire. The effective democratic movements of 1776 in the American colonies and 1789 in France did not spread to New Spain. The separate political paths of Mexico and its neighbor were set 250 years before Jefferson's Declaration. The deaths of the comuneros had ended the democratic rebellion, and the tightening of the connection between the king and his nobles had begun an absolutist and centralist tradition in Spain, old and new.
"There is a fourth set of dates that should be added to Fuentes's list. Spanish absolutism and orthodoxy were ratified in three meetings in Trent held between 1545 and 1563. The difference between the character and development of the United States and that of Mexico was determined by those three meetings. The Pope's most influential men at the meetings of the Council of Trent were Spaniards, proponents of the most severe forms of dogmatic control over religious thought, forms that furthered the control of the State and the State Church over the individual. Not for the Spaniards was Luther's idea of the "liberty of the Christian man." The Bible, tradition, and the world were to be as interpreted by the Pope.
The Spain of the Middle Ages had been preserved. A wall had been built against humanism and rebellion, the God of Thomas Aquinas had defeated the man of the coming Enlightenment, and democracy, the Athenian contribution to the politics of the modern world, had been shut out of the Spanish Empire. Religion and state had been interconnected, one dependent upon the other, in Spain as it had been in the pre-Columbian world of Mexico."
The transfer of Spanish conservatism, according to Shorris, has been the most dooming aspects of Mexican history. Not just locking it into nostalgic passivity, Mexico received the unreformable institutions of Spain that could neither displace indigenous culture, nor create a syncretic Mexican culture, or allow the native culture of Nahaus and Maya to flourish. The fight to preserve Medieval Spain was tranferred to New Spain, where it fell into an irreconcilable dualism with indigenous culture.