A Quick Thought on Individualism (and Mexican Philosophy)

We read the last few lines of El Plan de Ayala: “no somos personalistas, somos partidarios de los principios y no de los hombres.” Here, more than anywhere else, we read Zapata’s political philosophy wrapped up in an age-old spiritual anxiety. We who stake our lives care not about personalities; in staking our lives, we stand for principles, not for particular men. To stand for principles is to stand for ideas, for transcendental notions like respect, freedom and the right to live. It is to stand for common cause, for one another, for one’s community, and for one’s beliefs. It is not to stand for individuals, for leaders of “bad faith,” or for the spectacle of personality. What we read here is an anti-individualist political philosophy that values the eternal promise of el pueblo over the cunning [astucia] of the individual, that values truth over opinion.  

But why say that it’s “wrapped up in an age-old spiritual anxiety”? Because to place principles before personality is to place principles before oneself, to prioritize truth over ego–one’s ego and ego in general. It is to sacrifice oneself for the eternal rather than for the inconsequential–my death will be a sacrifice and will matter! 

This sort of thinking about our political commitments is not new. We are witnessing it now as half of our country falls victim to the kind of personalism against which Zapata staked his life and the destiny of his people. Principles be dammed!*

Jorge Portilla expressed a similar idea in the early 1960s. His, however, was influenced more by Marxism than by any Zapatismo.

Our time is no longer that of “personalities,” but rather, and this is much better, of “truth.” It is essential, in our time, not to flock to an exemplary personality. It is clear that our contemporary life is not oriented toward the cultivation of that illusion. Said in vulgar terms: the time of individualism has passed. No doubt that a creative individual expresses himself in his work, but what matters to us is not who expresses it but what is expressed. Jorge Portilla 1962 

Portilla didn’t live long enough to tells us what he meant by this, why he thought that the time of individualism had passed, or why it was important that it had. It is clear, however, that he shared with Zapata this fundamental political principle, namely, that the possibility of human flourishing lay in living a principled life with others sharing in those principles and not in the isolated falling victim to the spectacle of personalities.

*I think that a deep confusion exists regarding what principles are and what they are not. While they can represent principles, neither particular persons, dogmas, or nations are principles.

One response to “A Quick Thought on Individualism (and Mexican Philosophy)

  1. This is fascinating and leaves me wanting to read more. Those who are willing to die for something greater than themselves are often seen as saints or martyrs. It is interesting to me who we deem to give those titles, and who we (or those in power) deem not worthy.

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