The distinct features of our current moment in politics have left many grasping for analogies. Are we living in the second iteration of the Weimar Republic? A new Cold War? The return of high-imperial great power competition?
The problem with this is that it often represents more an exasperated flailing for solid guidance about what to do next than an authentic assessment of historical similarities and differences.
If there is a consensus on anything, though, it is that the pronouncements made in the immediate post-Cold War period about the “end of history” having been decided in a definitive fashion were simply wrong. The socioeconomic form of what was once called “democratic capitalism” has not definitively triumphed over all others, with many who live under it now questioning its systemic legitimacy.
The key indicator of a crumbling socioeconomic form is whether certain questions, which were previously not politically operative, now are. In this respect, the doors have been thrown open to radical solutions to systemic problems that were previously not even considered as such. For instance, in recent years, income inequality has been defined as an issue worthy of political concern such that even United Nations bodies now consider it a global challenge.
Another time when a seemingly unquestioned set of sociopolitical assumptions started to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions led to one of the strongest flourishings of democratic participatory politics in the early 20th century: that period in Mexican history from 1876 to 1911 usually referred to as the “Porfiriato.“
This period is named for its defining figure, President Porfirio Díaz, perhaps best known outside of Mexico for his oft-quoted remark, “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States.” The context of this comment was a lament to what he felt was the inevitability of Mexican society falling under the…