The Porfirian Mexican Military and National Hegemony

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:30 PM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Stephen Neufeld, California State University, Fullerton
Consolidation of the modern Mexican regime called for developed industries, liberal democracy, and perhaps above all, visible proof of order in the nation. The evident power of the Porfirian State apparatus to restrain internal opposition laid open the resources of the country to selective exploitation by capitalists—the armed forces created this illusion of potency in ways plausible, controllable, and seductive to elite actors. The vida militar (military life) constructed and reflected both the ideals and realities of this Mexican power. The military, as a metaphor for the nation more generally, described the limits and day-to-day experiences of entering into a condition of modernity typical of the late nineteenth-century. It reflected the core contradictions of building nationhood at the fringes of the globalizing neocolonial system. It shaped men and women as subjects, objects, and aggregates in an emerging power structure, but also offered them spaces as agents. The military entrenched traditions and assaulted naysayers. Yet it also embodied resistance to elite projects. These contradictions in the history of power teach the nature of flawed nation building, and reveal the fissures in the imagining of Mexico. The persistence of alternative visions of nation continued, in part due to the disparate experiences of warfare across the nineteenth-century. Enormous social divides of race and region, the perceived cultural gap between elites and subordinates, and the continued abuses within the army and its recruitment, ultimately undermined the military as a foundation for a unified imagining of the Mexican nation. Despite these limits, the discursive and ritual presence of the military provided an understood visual language upon which a national culture would eventually build. While the initial claims of the elite fell short, the lower and middle classes of the twentieth-century built their Mexico using the same cultural logic learned from these elite projects.
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