February 13, 2008

Nobody Knows Nothin'

All these discussions of the important but mysterious topic of what kind of President Barack Obama would turn out to be remind me of how hard it is to forecast anything about the intersection of politics and personalities.

For example, I just stumbled upon this extraordinary example of how the leading men of the age can't see even months into the future. It's a 1910 book review from the New York Times of a biography of Porfirio Diaz, the 80-year-old dictator of Mexico, who had ruled it most of the time since the 1870s, during which period Mexico enjoyed civil stability and technological progress. It features a symposium of 200 leading men of America and Canada praising Diaz to the skies.
PORFIRIO DIAZ OF MEXICO; The Life and Work of the Master -- Builder of a Great Commonwealth Set Forth in an Entertaining New Volume by Jose F. Godoy.

March 19, 1910, Saturday

Section: The New York Times SATURDAY REVIEW OF BOOKS, Page BR1, 1504 words

PORFIRIO DIAZ, President of the Mexican Republic, should be a very happy man, for he not only enjoys the ardent admiration of the civilized world but knows he has fairly earned, it. No public servant ever had more perfect reward, than his, and no public servant ever was more deserving. It would be hard to exaggerate his deserts, so great and wonderful have been the results of his life's work for his country. ... The well-informed person knows that nobody can write about Diaz with praising him in generous phrases.

For example, Elihu Root, Teddy Roosevelt's Secretary of State and winner of the 1912 Nobel Peace Prize, said:
"It has seemed to me that of all the men now living, President Porfirio Diaz was best worth seeing ... I look to Porfirio Diaz, the President of Mexico, as one of the greatest men to be held up for the hero worship of mankind."

The book review continues:
That is the common view of those who have contributed to Mr. Godoy's symposium, and undoubtedly that is the view the world taes of the great Mexican. Mr [Andrew] Carnegie [steelman and philanthropist] thinks Diaz is perhaps the greatest of all those who stand as the heads of nations, 'for,' he remarks, 'he is at once the Moses and Joshua of his people.' ...

He has held the office continuously since [1884], and if nothing unforeseen takes place will be re-elected for a term of six years in the coming July. ... Mr. Godoy believes the republic is now in such a state of prosperity and enlightenment that there need to be no fear of its backsliding. He is confident the days of revolution and civil war will never return.

The punchline is that later that same year, 1910, the Mexican Revolution broke out after Diaz cheated to win re-election and jailed his opponent. The next year, Diaz fled to exile in France. The Revolution raged for most of the decade and killed between one and two million people.

Perhaps a general rule can be extracted from this, however: Presidents-for-Life should try not to live too long.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, you can cut that prose with a knife.


Hey, wonder if the media will describe the current Florida police state abuse as black(s)-on-white crime:


http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23144420

Dutch Boy said...

Sr. Diaz was a faithful servant of Yanqui capitalists. There was no surer way to get yourself lionized in the American press in those days.

Tripp said...

"It would be hard to exaggerate his deserts, so great and wonderful have been the results of his life's work for his country. ... The well-informed person knows that nobody can write about Diaz with praising him in generous phrases."

Wow, "great and wonderful". The striking thing about that is how unashamed people were about being positive in those days. As to the second sentence I quoted ... is there a typo in it?

JAN said...

I suspect a lot of Yanquis and Canadians were supportive of Diaz in 1910 for bringing long-term stability, progress and the perpetual *promise* of democracy to Mexico. Diaz was very pro-business and relatively welcolming and protective of foreign and US investments in particular (over 50% while Americans owned 27% of the land in Mexico).

This book (probably written before Diaz's 1910 election perfidity) and its reviews most likely didn't take into account Diaz's change of heart in giving potential presidential candidates posts abroad, jailing them and engaging in massive ballot fraud.

These things predictably led to the return of chaos in Mexico - what had been the historical norm.

Regarding Obama, yes he may be a pig in a poke and push some extreme and damaging agendas. Given his personality, history, rhetoric, aspirations and relatively uncompromising rise to power - he's probably a much higher risk than the steady image he projects.

You can trust Obama will bring "Change", but what kind and how much, I don't think anyone knows (not even Obama).

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Dutch Boy, Mexico was so much better off with Diaz overthrown and 1 million dead, and the PRI counting the votes. But I'm sure that, somehow, it was all America's fault...

And "Yanqui Capitalists"? Sheesh, do people still talk like that, or is this some of that there "irony" all the kids seem to like so much these days?

Anonymous said...

Anon -

Hey, unbunch your Depends old man and don't go shooting the messenger. That America has a tremendous economic influence in prerevolutionary Mexico which was one of the causes is a fact - I did not offer it as a justification.

Most Mexicans I've met in Mexico were far more proud of kicking out foreign, especially US, businesses and nationalizing key industries like oil than they are embarassed about the 1-2M killed in their civil war.

The "Captialist" thing is more mooted now but Yanqui or Americano is still a negative term from the Mexican political and historical context (not cultural).

anony-mouse said...

I wonder if Intrade gives awards? Maybe when we get the first Intrade millionaire then we can find somebody who really knows something.

Anonymous said...

"Most Mexicans I've met in Mexico were far more proud of kicking out foreign, especially US, businesses and nationalizing key industries like oil than they are embarassed about the 1-2M killed in their civil war"

I'm sure that this is true, and that tells you a lot about what is wrong with Mexico today...

Certainly Diaz was friendly with American business interests, but he was also a pretty good ruler, at least for that time and place. The U.S. has almost certainly has presidents worse than Diaz, although admittedly that may be a pretty low bar. I am just suggesting that there MIGHT have been more to some of the kudos Diaz got than just "Yanqui Imperialism".

Also, you may consider my Depends unbunched. Thank you for your concern, Sonny... :)