The Matter of Power

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What is peace? Is it simply the absence of war? Kant thinks not. These are core questions that Kant analyzes in Perpetual Peace. Kant affirms that if peace is no more than a truce and is directed toward both parties regaining strength for their next attack, if peace is no more than the continuation of war through political means, if peace is no more than the successful subjugation of one party by another -then there is no real peace. Real peace, according to Kant, requires the rule of law within the state and among all contenders. That is, it requires that all who are in agreement with peace believe in it and assume it as theirs. In political terms, what is required for peace is legitimacy. If we translate this into Mexican politics, Kant would upbraid the political parties and the government because it is evident that they do not accept the rule of law, in that they see pacts and laws as a means of elimination of the contender in the next contest and not as competition in which all enjoy the same rights, independently of whether some win and others lose.

The problem of power in Mexico ascribes to two dynamics: the first refers to the relations between political parties and politicians. In this dimension, there is permanent conflict and, at the same time, functionality. Although it would appear paradoxical, the two planes are faithful components of the political life of the country: the last years have demonstrated the existence of capacity of negotiation, articulation of legislative bills and cooperation among political parties and politicians; on the other hand, there persists the propensity to delegitimize the rival, dispute the cleanliness of the electoral processes and assume that legitimacy is measured in terms of who wins and not whether everyone complies with the rules of the game. The tangible fact is that Mexican politics continues to be founded on corruption (but now extended to all parties, not exclusively to the PRI) and on the pursuit of power by any means, regardless of the cost.

The existence of game rules is one more inconvenience that the political class sees as a cost of being in the game and not as a guideline to which it must submit without further ado. The only thing that’s important is power and there’s no limit whatever in the fight to attain it, in good measure because power continues to be a zero-sum game: What one wins the other loses and that’s all there is to that. Another way of expressing this is that there is no worse enemy of the political class than the existence of checks and balances because these delimit its capacity for abuse. The latter derives from that there is no acknowledgment that Mexican society is a diverse, disperse and complex one in which no political party or person represents the whole. There is no acceptance that the political parties solely represent portions of the electorate and that their legitimacy emanates from the construction of governing coalitions and from respect for the rights of minorities. The power is not absolute; thus, it is indispensable to institutionalize effective mechanisms for the representation and distribution of power that confer legitimacy on the governor and on the exercise of power.

The other dynamic of the problematic of power is that it stems from the relationship between politicians and citizens. In contrast with relations among politicians, where the law of the jungle or that of the mightiest prevails, in our political structure the citizen rather represents a nuisance: in Mexico the political class is protected and isolated from the citizenry and enjoys mechanisms that permit it to disregard the latter. There is no better example of this circumstance than the way that the reelection of legislators was approved in the most recent electoral reform: while in democracies that respect themselves the objective of the reelection is to bring the representatives closer to those they represent, obliging them to respond to the demands and interests of the citizenry, the manner in which reelection will function in Mexico is by means of the approval of the respective political party. That is, the political bosses will have a veto over reelection, a factor that curtails the citizen-representative liaison: the nuance that renders reelection irrelevant.

Perhaps there is no better way to examine the distance existing between institutionalization of power in Mexico and consolidated democracies than the study of the origin of the latter, above all at this moment of the 800th Anniversary of the publication of the pillar of the Rule of Law in civilized and democratic countries. In its essence, the Magna Carta was the consecration on paper of that the law is above the ruler. It was at Runnymede on June 15, 1215, that the idea of the law standing above the government first acquired contractual form. On signing it, King John I accepted that he would no longer get to make the rules as he went along. From that acceptance flowed, ultimately, all the rights and freedoms that civilized nations take for granted: uncensored media, security of property, equality before the law, habeas corpus, regular elections, sanctity of contract, jury trials.

In 1215, England was an infinitely less developed country than the Mexico of today. It is time that we Mexicans recognize the costs of our permanent incivility, proclivity for conflict and poor economic results, all of which remit, directly or indirectly, to the absence of political legitimacy. That legitimacy was lost in the 70s due the abuse of power and the economic crises. Today it is time to construct a new legitimacy from the reform of power.

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Luis Rubio

Luis Rubio

He is a contributing editor of Reforma and his analyses and opinions often appear in major newspapers and journals in Mexico, the US and Europe (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio).