The Roots of Conservatism in Mexico: Catholicism, Society, and Politics in the Mixteca Baja, 1750-1962

By Santoni, Pedro | The Historian, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

The Roots of Conservatism in Mexico: Catholicism, Society, and Politics in the Mixteca Baja, 1750-1962


Santoni, Pedro, The Historian


The Roots of Conservatism in Mexico: Catholicism, Society, and Politics in the Mixteca Baja, 1750-1962. By Benjamin T. Smith. (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2012. Pp. xi, 432. $34.95.)

This monograph adds a fresh perspective to recent studies of indigenous communities in nineteenth-century Mexico as it explains why peasants in Oaxaca's Mixteca Baja "repeatedly supported conservatism, despite the attraction of other reformist or radical ideological currents" for more than two centuries (6). Three reasons, Benjamin T. Smith argues, account for such behavior: 1) the survival of the moral economy forged during the colonial era; 2) constant negotiation between representatives of popular and institutional religion; and 3) the development of provincial conservatism--a more malleable variation of the national norm--intent on preserving order and security.

This reviewer particularly enjoyed Smith's analysis of General Antonio de Leon, the Mixteca Baja leader best known for his heroism against US forces at the September 1847 Battle of Molino del Rey. Smith sheds light on Leon's lesser-known side: that of a regional chieftain who promoted social and political order from the 1820s until 1847 by encouraging indigenous villages to purchase land, by treating military auxiliaries fairly, and by skillfully managing opposing political forces. Thereafter, the "incipient Catholic nationalism" that developed among the region's inhabitants during the war with the United States stimulated resistance to liberal anticlerical policies and attacks on community property through 1867, and in the process helped cement conservatism (141).

Smith next goes beyond conventional wisdom about the restored republic and Porfiriato to examine "the multiple ways in which local peasants, industrial workers, and regional chiefs experienced the period and, by extension, the myriad responses to the Revolution of 1910" (161). …

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