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  • Zapatismo, Luis Villoro, and American Pragmatism on Democracy, Power, and Injustice
  • Gregory Fernando Pappas

pragmatism has been appropriated and welcomed in Latin America because there is much prior practice and circumstance that makes for a good fit, and not simply because it was an external solution to local problems. In fact, many developments have already occurred in Latin America that, although not directly influenced by John Dewey, are better examples of his methods and ideas than what occurs north of the Rio Grande.1 Indeed, when Dewey was in Mexico, he was impressed with their educational reforms,2 while Sandinista Nicaragua, as Joe Betz has argued, exemplifies “the social experimentation Dewey called for in his 1935 ‘Liberalism and Social Action.’”3

This paper provides new evidence that the ideas and practices in the South support, complement, and may even improve some of the Classical Pragmatist’s insights on how we should do philosophy and approach concrete social-political problems. First, it introduces the philosophy of Luis Villoro (1922–2014) and his close relation with the Zapatista movement in Mexico. Second, it demonstrates the striking affinities of this philosopher and the Zapatistas’ practices with some of the best ideas found in John Dewey and Jane Addams. Third, it argues that there is much that Pragmatists today can learn from the further study of this important but neglected Mexican philosopher in the United States. Villoro’s reflections on power, experiences of injustice, revolutions, and the dynamics of power and domination are an excellent “American” resource to sharpen the critical and political teeth of Pragmatism.

Luis Villoro and Zapatismo

Villoro died recently, on 4 March 2014. He was the last living member of the 1948 Hyperion philosophical group in Mexico, one of the most distinguished groups in the history of Latin American philosophy.4 Villoro stood [End Page 85] out among them in combining a commitment to local social problems with great philosophical intellectual rigor.5 Villoro wrote on most areas of philosophy and studied the ways of life of indigenous people. For Guillermo Hurtado, Villoro was “one of the most important Mexican philosophers who has ventured deep into the study of indigenismo in Mexico, a topic which is closely linked to the Spanish conquest and domination in our country and the desire for freedom on the part of the Mexican people.”6

Villoro exemplifies the sort of public intellectual that American Pragmatism has praised and aspired to. This alone is the reason why there is much to learn from Villoro’s relation with the Zapatista movement.7 Latin American scholars have long known via Villoro’s writings that the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Mexico left a profound impression on him, but it was not until recently that the world discovered that Villoro was a member of the Zapatista group. This secret was disclosed on 2 May 2015, by Subcomandante Marcos, who after years in hiding, reappeared at a ceremony organized by the Zapatistas for the family of Luis Villoro in Chiapas in homage to his life.8 It was also not until recently that we had access to the correspondence between Villoro and Marcos. These letters, available online (Villoro, “First Letter”; “Second Letter”; “Third Letter”), are a treasure for scholars interested in the relation between Villoro’s philosophy and Zapatismo.

A predominant feature of Villoro’s letters to Marcos is his explicit statements about the things he admired and learned from being a Zapatista. Villoro is an exemplar of the view central to American Pragmatism, especially in Jane Addams, that a philosopher must continue to revise or refine his/her theories according to what he/she experiences and learns “on the ground” and in the struggle to ameliorate injustices.

Zapatismo and Direct Democracy

The most significant overlap between Villoro, Zapatismo, and the American Pragmatists is their shared commitment or faith in a radical conception of democracy. Villoro writes to Marcos about how the indigenous cultures are a much-needed resource for criticizing Western modern notions of the individual and the rights of the individual, assumed in the usual political view of democracy. The European modern conception of human rights (traditional liberalism) assumes a mistaken view of the individual and the freedom of...


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pp. 85-100
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