Probing Mexico's intellectual life
Intellectuals and the State in Twentieth-Century Mexico, by Roderic A. Camp. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. 279 pp. $25. In Latin America, the role of the intellectual has often been linked to that of thepolitical activist. Thus leading writers and artists have been perceived as part of a vanguard who seek to articulate the values of their evolving societies.
Roderic Camp has taken a fresh and dynamic look at intellectual life in a specific country over a specific period of time: Mexico, from the 1920s to the 1980s. This is post-revolutionary Mexico, making this a particularly interesting study: Mexico is one of the very few Western countries that experienced a major revolution in this century.
It is not Camp's intention to analyze the intellectual ideas that have shaped the ideology of Mexico's leading intellectuals. Instead, he deals with the structure of intellectual life.
The author formulates a series of questions and then answers them in this extensive and well-documented study. He explores, among other issues, the self-perception of the intellectual regarding his or her relationship to the state, and examines the educational and cultural backgrounds of the intellectuals. An interesting finding is that the background of the intellectuals and that of Mexico's leading politicians is similar in most respects.
Using extensive computerized biographical data, primary sources, and detailed interviews with approximately 500 Mexican intellectuals and their families, Camp analyzes with great insight the make-up of a Mexican intellectual and his or her relationship to politics.
The real object of this book is to attempt to determine the impact of Mexican intellectuals on the political life of the nation. Camp concludes that the intellectuals' involvement with politics reached its peak during the 1920s and '30s because the political circumstances at that period made their involvement possible. After the 1930s, however, Mexican intellectuals began hto have an influence on a more limited audience, and their involvement in public affairs became indirect in nature. This may be due to the clustering of Mexico's intellectual elite in the capital, which is a familiar phenomenon throughout Latin America. It is startling that so few Mexican women are included in Camp's study. Perhaps this is due to Mexico's traditional patriarchal society.
It is interesting to note that Mexico's intellectual life, according to Camp, is leaning more and more toward the North American model, with very little involvement in public life: It is confined more and more to the universities. Previously, Mexican intellectuals interacted with a wider range of public institutions.
Perhaps Camp's most interesting problem deals with the difficulty of measuring the Mexican intellectuals' influence on public policy, yet both politicians and intellectuals conclude that they have had an impact and still do today. The findings of this research indeed break new ground, since this is the first book to examine the overall question of intellectual life in a Latin American nation. It could serve as a model for other studies in the region.
The book is well written and precise and, despite some technical aspects of the study, is free of academic jargon. Anyone interested in how culture influences the state will enjoy it.