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A government for, of, and by, morality?

22 November 2019

Rebecca West, writing of the Conquest, famously said, “This is not a moral universe”, which has never stopped anyone from dreaming of the possibility of … if not universal morality, a moral society at least.

Alfonso Reyes, the son of the general originally tapped to replace Don Porfirio (and killed in the opening salvo of the “Ten Tragic Days”… the street battle that raged in 1913 when Huerta staged a coup against the democratically elected president Franciso Madero) who, despite his anti-revolutionary antecedents, went on to a distinguished career serving the Revolutionary republic as a diplomat, although he was primarily a philosopher.

Having witnessed, and as a survivor, of the fratricidal Revolution, and the violence that swept the country during and after, as well as, from his diplomatic posts, the horrors of the Second World War, he turned his attention to the problem of creating a just, equitable, and peaceful society, able to live with itself, and with humanity.

He presented his thoughts in a short (about 7500 words) document of 14 chapters, in the “Moral Primer”… Cartilla Moral… published in 1944.  Although clearly influenced by his own devotion to Roman Catholicism, he attempted in the first 12 chapters to outline a universal code for all peoples, at all times, everywhere.  The last two are a summary… the bullet points of his presentation (my translation below).

Next week López Obrador’s plan to work towards, if not a moral universe, or even a moral society, is being released next week.

Already a “best seller” (I already ordered my copy), Hacia una Economía Moral, looks to trying to work towards Reyes’ “The good” by way of, among others Marx and Engels.  Echoing Engels’ eulogy at Marx’s funeral, AMLO notes that until one’s need for food, clothing, shelter, and transportation are met, one cannot aspire to more cultural, ethical, educational development.  How then, to meet the economic needs that will allow for creating a moral society, one that, as Reyes hoped, led to a peaceful, just, and happy society?

Reyes was a theorist, not a policy maker.  That the president, elected on a promise to change government and radically redirect the state, is presenting an economic plan in the form of a moral text is, in itself, possibly unique.  Certainly, policy makers present their plans as being more ethical, or.. if you will… moral, than other plans, but usually just as an additional rationale to pursue policy X as opposed to policy Y.  Not as the most basic reason for the electorate to back what looks to be a much deeper and long-reaching change to a post neo-liberal economic and social system.

One expects the book will be endlessly reviewed in the Mexican media and parsed by both economists and the intellectuals.  I assume also, there will be discussion among both the foreigners here, and those with an interest in alternatives to the present political/economic systems.  AMLO’s several books have all been relatively short works, usually under 150 pages, but there is no way I can translate it myself.  If there is interest in “crowd-sourcing” a translation, we could have a PDF or e-book translation out within about two weeks of original publication. 

Cartilla Moral (Resumen)

SUMMARY: PART ONE (Chapter 13)


Man is superior to the animals because he has a conscience.

Good should not be confused with what suits our taste or is to our benefit. To the good we must sacrifice everything.


If men were not capable of the good there would be no human person, no family, no country, no society.


The good is the set of our moral duties. These duties are the obligation of all men and all peoples. Disregard for these duties is evil.


Evil carries its its own punishment in shame itself and in the dismissal of our fellow men. When the evil is serious, it is additionally punishable by laws with penalties ranging from compensation to death, through fines and imprisonment.


The satisfaction of doing well is the most firm and true happiness. That is why we speak of the “dream of the righteous.” He who has a clear conscience sleeps well.


In addition, he lives happy with himself who asks little of others.


Society is founded on the good. It is easier to live according to the laws than outside the laws. It is better business to be good than to be bad.


But society to function well, there is a sacrifice which we cannot avoid. For personal happiness, one must consider the common happiness of humanity in achieving the good.


The good forces us to act righteously, to tell the truth, to conduct ourselves with right intention. But it also forces us to be neat and decent, courteous and benevolent, industrious and accomplished at work, respectful of others, solicitous in the help we can give. The good also obliges us to be discreet, well mannered and educated as much as possible.


The best guide for the good is natural goodness. We all have the instinct for goodness. But this instinct must be completed with moral education and with the culture and acquisition of knowledge. Good intentions are not enough.


SUMMARY: PART TWO (Chapter 14)


Human morality is the code of the good. Morality forces us to a series of respects. These respects are contained within others. They range from respect to those closest to those furthest from us.


First, respect for our person, body and soul. Respect for our body teaches us to be clean and moderate in natural appetites. Respect for our soul summarizes all the virtues of spiritual order.


Second, respect for the family. This respect goes from the son to the father and from youngest to eldest. The child needs help and advice from the father and the elder. But also the father must respect the son, giving him only worthy examples. And the same must be done by the eldest with the youngest.


Third, respect for human society in general, and the particular society in which we live. This implies, of course, obedience to customs considered necessary. Do not be extravagant. You don’t have to do everything the other way around just because you want to annoy people.


Fourth, respect for the country. This does not need explanations. Patriotic love is not contrary to the feeling of solidarity among all peoples. It is the field of action in which our love for all humanity works. The ideal is to reach peace and harmony among all peoples. For this, we must fight against the imperialist and conquering peoples until they are defeated forever.


Fifth, respect for the humanity. Each person is like us. Let’s not do to others what we don’t want them to do to us. The highest manifestation of man is his work. We must respect the products of work. Breaking glass, dirtying walls, destroying gardens, throwing away things that are still usable are acts of savagery or evil. These acts also indicate stupidity and lack of imagination. Every object produced by man implies a series of respectable efforts.


Sixth, respect for the nature that surrounds us. Inanimate things, plants and animals deserve our intelligent attention. The earth and everything in it form the house of man. The sky, its clouds and its stars form our roof. We must observe all these things. We must try to understand them, and study for that purpose. We must take care of things, plants, pets. All this is the natural heritage of the human species. Learning to love and study it, we learn in passing to be happier and wiser.

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