- Mexico’s New Politics: The PAN and Democratic Change
David Shirk has produced a first-rate monograph on Mexico's National Action Party (PAN). He gives the reader a rich description of the party's founding, its slow and arduous development over half a century, and Vicente Fox's historic victory over the incumbent PRI in 2000. He also shows how the PAN's development affects its particular style in government. As the title promises, this is a broad treatment of the PAN as an organization, in the electorate, and in government. But it also delivers more than promised: as Shirk describes the party's history and struggles, he presents a surprisingly complete and extremely clear description of the old system under the PRI and Mexico's democratization process.
This book is well researched, and it benefits from substantial data on intraparty affairs. Obtaining this type of data in Mexico––and probably in much of the developing world––can be difficult, because party personnel often have chores more pressing than recordkeeping, and information may be tightly controlled. Shirk clearly got "inside" the PAN and opened what scholars have sometimes called the "black box" of intraparty affairs. The text glimmers with juicy detail as a result. His [End Page 208] success also owes a lot to the PAN's commitment to transparency, its investment in party organization, and its recognition of the value of analysis. Consequently, the PAN is quickly becoming the best-analyzed party in contemporary Mexico (see Arriola 1994; Loaeza 1999; Chand 2001; Middlebrook 2002; Reveles Vásquez 2002; Mizrahi 2003; Martínez Valle 2003) while works on the PRI and PRD are fewer and farther between.
Shirk makes extensive use of firsthand interviews and party documents. In the historical chapter, he carefully untangles myths about the PAN's ideology perpetrated by earlier studies and, unsurprisingly, by the PRI itself that sought to cast the PAN as more out of step with the public than in Shirk's depiction. The PAN was not "the kind of reactionary, antirevolutionary movement portrayed by its critics," nor was it like the "nefariously illiberal" right-wing parties found in other Latin American countries (p. 57). Instead, it was a much more centrist party of "progressive reformers" (p. x) and "compassionate conservatism" (p. 61). Like many conservative parties around the world, it combined two main tendencies: a socially conservative strain linked to the church and propelled by the ideal of "Catholic humanism," and a fiscally conservative thread associated with business interests that promoted free markets.
Conflicts between these two tendencies over questions of electoral participation and expansion determined the PAN's strategies. Both tendencies were represented at the party's founding in 1939. Social conservatives rose to dominance during the 1950s and 1960s, not only because business groups were reincorporated into a conservatizing PRI, as other studies have argued, but because Catholic activists became significantly more assertive and effective in winning leadership positions (pp. 69–70). Their strategy of "loyal opposition" led to a modest expansion at the polls; but when the go-slow style reached its limit, conflicting factions plunged the party into disarray. Ultimately, the PAN failed to produce a presidential candidate in 1976. Partly as a result of this failure, fiscal conservatives began to reassert themselves in the 1970s (notably earlier than the standard story that their rise was a reaction to the 1981 bank expropriation). Despite some setbacks, this tendency ultimately prevailed by the mid-1980s and put the PAN on the course of expansion over the next two decades that ultimately prepared it for victory in 2000.
After resolving to participate aggressively in elections, "the party's slow and painful trickle of victories during the preceding forty years gave way to a great blue tidal wave of successes in the 1990s" (p. 108). Success began in the provinces rather than in the national arena. More than other available work, Shirk's book incorporates a subnational focus and analysis of local-level politics to bring this out...