5 December 2022

By Daniela Ramos Parra.

In the conference “Critique of the Conquest and Neo-Colonialism”, the professor Ambrosio Velasco Gómez of the Institute of Philosophical Research of the UNAM gave a tribute to the Centenary of the birth of Luis Villoro and Pablo González Casanova. Dr. Velasco Gómez presented in Spanish the intersection between Mexico, colonialism, and indigenous peoples, a historical voyage of the term “republican humanist” from the Spanish conquest in Mexico to the present day.

The conquest of Mexico was a violent clash of civilizations, changing the world forever. Although its importance is not questioned, there are several debated perspectives that appear opposite, and which Dr. Velasco Gómez explained. The three most common are also the most simplistic. First, the conquest is seen as the triumph of the civilized West over the American barbarians. Second is that the original peoples were complex civilizations but inferior to Spain, a perspective that originates in Hernán Cortés and other chroniclers. And the third perspective, the indigenista, argues against the genocide and ethnocide of the conquest. The three perspectives are simplistic because they tend to flatten such a complex history into simplistic rivals, when the Spanish conquistadors would not have overthrown the Mexica empire without the armies of the neighboring peoples just wanted liberation, not subjugation. The clearest example is Malintzi, one of Mexican history’s most debated character. Octavio Paz wrote the best-known version of her story, which presents her as the object of rape and the betrayer. Margo Glantz rewrites her story as the powerful linguistic bridge between cultures; she had her own agenda. The history of the Mexican conquest functions in the same way, since there were many debates and controversies as it was happening; the main themes of discussion were justice, war, and imperialism.

Dr. Velasco Gómez explained that there were two main polarizing opinions about the conquest. On one hand, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda is one of the main representatives of the imperial perspective with his “Treatise on the just causes of the war against the Indians”. His thesis is epistemocratic, paternalistic, and based on Aristotle: the indigenous are barbarians, whose function is to be servants of the Spaniards. On the other hand, Alonso de la Vera Cruz personified the perspective against the Spanish empire. He proposes that the inhabitants of the New World are not children, but capable despite not being Christians; self-governance is a divine right. Therefore, just governance must come from the will of the community, a thought that began the concept of republican humanism. This concept is part of the intellectual tradition which resulted in the formation of the Mexican state. Its main supporters were Francisco Quijano, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and Fray Servando Teresa de Mier, the most radical philosopher of Mexico’s independence movement. However, after the consummation of the independence, the concept faded until José Gaos took reexamined it in the 20th century through an Iberic perspective.

The conference continued with the works of Pablo González Casanova, with an emphasis on his books La democracia en México (Democracy in Mexico) (1965) and El misoneísmo y la modernidad cristiana en el siglo XVIII (Misoneism and Christian modernity in the 18th century) (1948). He is the most radical proponent of republican humanistic thought because he agrees with believed that the indigenous communities should have intellectual and political autonomy. He continued León Portilla’s thesis: since the independence of Mexico, the rights of the indigenous people have been lost in the homogenization of the Mexican population. That resulted in the gradual destruction of indigenous peoples and their autonomous legislation, in contrast with how they did have it through Mexico’s colonial people. Therefore, González Casanova agrees that the historical problem of indigenous peoples has only one solution: full recognition of their autonomy.

To end the conference, Dr. Velasco Gómez explained that the Mexican state has allowed internal colonization since its creation in the 19th century. The nation-state project led to a centralized state of dependent capitalism, as well as a lack of democracy in Mexico, and a homogenization of the population. The result was the loss of indigenous rights and autonomy, so that they became even more marginalized than in the colonial times (as González Casanova proposed). Therefore, there is an academic responsibility to rescue and cultivate the information and demands, especially in a world that devalues the social sciences.

In the Q&A, Dr. Velasco Gómez answered one complicated question from the attendees: “Should the indigenous communities of Mexico renounce a national state in favor instead to create fragmentary and independent states?” Since it was a complex and multifaceted question, Dr. Velasco Gómez reasserted that independent Mexico has indeed turned its back on the indigenous peoples even though without them, Mexico would not exist. However, he does not lean towards the separatist movement.