Week Seven

For this week’s theme, we discussed the idea of modernization, specifically in 18th century Mexico. Dawson lists the main features of modernity; innovation, emancipation, secularization, and universalism. Innovation entailed the push for new ideas and creativity to improve the quality of life. Emancipation encompassed the gaining of rights for different social groups (e.g. racial groups, women, or children). Secularization involved the separation from the state and religion, meaning that the church did not have any political power. Lastly, universalism was the idea that the recently created modern values were to be shared with everyone.

From Dawson’s description, it seemed that modernization in Mexico, and other Latin American countries, at the time solely concerned innovation. There was a huge push to revamp Mexican cities, railways, armies, government systems, financial regulation, among other things. This endeavour was successful and Mexico greatly improved its systems. However, all the other ideals of modernization, it seems, were ignored. According to Dawson, most Latin Americans, presumably the elites, did not believe that the liberal democratic values were appropriate for their countries and that chaos would ensue if they were implemented. Thus, they held that an “iron fist” should lead their countries until order was restored, before those values could be put in place. Though this seems like a sound argument, their real reasoning was more likely due to racism. Their countries prospered because of racial divides that enabled white Latin Americans to become rich while most of the work was delegate to mestizos, Africans, and indigenous peoples. The ideas of secularization, universalism, and emancipation would threaten their hold on power. Thus, the only way they could become more like their European counterparts would be to pursue innovation

In thinking about the idea of modernization the elites in 18th century Mexico had, I can’t help but see similarities with the ideas of modernity many hold now in relation to developing nations. By this, I mean that the ideal of modernity is greatly shaped by the desire to look more like western Europe. For example, we take dressing in western clothes, having international fast food restaurants, luxury European cars and European- or American-styled homes, as being evidence of development. But is there not a way to become modern without every country increasingly resembling the United States or Europe? This is my question for the week.

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