Monday, June 27, 2016

Luis Villoro's The Challenges of the Coming Society

Luis Villoro (1922-2014) was a Mexican philosopher, historian, writer, diplomat and revolutionary who was born in Barcelona, Spain. His father was Spanish, and his mother was Mexican. He arrived in Mexico at the age of 17, and studied at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), where he obtained his master’s degree in philosophy in 1949 and his doctoral degree in 1963. He also did postgraduate study at the Sorbonne in Paris, and at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.
      In 1948, Villoro became a member of the Hyperion Group (el grupo Hiperión), a group of young Mexican philosophers who were students of José Gaos (1900-1969) at UNAM, and who were influenced by Gaos to explore phenomenology and existentialism. The Hyperion Group was mostly active from 1948-1952, and it included Ricardo Guerra (1927-2007), Jorge Portilla (1918-1963), Emilio Uranga (1921-1988), Salvador Reyes Neváres (1922-1993), Joaquín Sánchez Macgrégor (1925-2008), Fausto Vega (1922-2015), and Leopoldo Zea (1912-2006).
      From 1948, Villoro taught at UNAM, where he was named professor in 1954. From 1971, he was a researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Filosofícas. From 1974-1982, he was professor at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM), and from 1972-1982, he was a member of the Board of Governors of UNAM. From 1980-1981, he served as president of the Asociación Filosófica de México, and from 1983-1987, he served as permanent delegate of Mexico to UNESCO in Paris.
      Honors that he received included membership from 1978 onward in The National College (El Colegio Nacional). He also received the National Prize for Arts and Sciences (el Premio Nacional de Ciencias y Artes) in 1986, and the University National Prize (el Premio Universidad Nacional) in 1989. He also received honorary degrees from the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo in 2002 and the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) in 2004.
      In the 1990’s, Villoro secretly joined the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, Zapatista Army of National Liberation). The Zapatistas were, and are still, a leftist revolutionary group based in the southern state of Chiapas who advocate political and economic autonomy for indigenous peoples. They also oppose economic globalization, and they call for indigenous peoples to have greater control over their land and local natural resources.
      Villoro, who was in his 70’s when he joined the EZLN, adopted “Luis Villoro Toranzo” as his nom de guerre. He wore a black beret, and he acted as a sentinel at EZLN guard posts. He kept his membership in the group hidden from even his wife and children.1 He died in March 2014, at the age of 91, in Mexico City.
      In May 2015, a memorial gathering that was held in Oventic, Chiapas in honor of him and of the late Zapatista leader Galeano drew over 5,000 people. In accordance with his wishes, his family turned over a box containing his ashes to the Zapatistas, so that it could be buried at the foot of a tree in Oventic, Chiapas.
      Villoro’s work as a philosopher centered on such fields as the philosophy of history, political philosophy, social philosophy, ethics, and epistemology. His writings included Los grandes momentos del indigenismo en México (1950), El proceso ideológico de la revolución de independencia (1953), La idea y el ente en la filosofía de Descartes (1965), Estudios sobre Husserl (1975), Creer, saber, conocer (1982), El concepto de ideología y otros ensayos (1985), El poder y el valor: fundamentos de un ética política (1997), Estado plural, pluralidad de culturas (1998), De la libertad a la comunidad (2001), Los retos de la sociedad por venir (2007), and La significación del silencio y otros ensayos (2008).
      Los Retos de la Sociedad por Venir: Ensayos sobre Justicia, Democracia, y Multiculturalismo (The Challenges of the Coming Society: Essays on Justice, Democracy, and Multiculturalism) is concerned with such questions as: What is the relation between justice and power? How does justice promote the ability to resist oppressive power? How may society ensure that everyone’s basic rights are respected? How can society prevent the social, economic, or political marginalization of particular social, ethnic, or minority groups? What are the implications of tolerance as a principle of transcultural ethics? How is multiculturalism similar to, or different from, cultural relativism? How is a transcultural ethics similar to, or different from, a universal ethics of human rights? How does the unitary, homogeneous nation-state differ from the plural, multicultural nation-state?
      Villoro describes three main challenges for the society of the future: the promotion of justice, the promotion of democracy, and the promotion of interculturality (multiculturalism). Unless these three challenges are met, we will not be able to achieve social consensus and unity in the context of a plurality of conceptions of the common good.
      To understand the meaning of justice, we may start by trying to understand what justice is not (what injustice consists of). Injustice may be a wrongful harm or injury caused by others. It may also be an infringement of basic rights or a restriction of basic human freedoms, due to domination or oppression by those in power.
      In the face of oppressive power, a response may be to take the moral position of non-power (no-poder). The opposite of the person eager for power is not the powerless person, argues Socrates in Plato’s Republic, but the person who refuses to make the will to power his goal. To seek a life not marked by power, but free from all will to power—that is the aim that, in contradiction to Thrasymachus’s argument that “might makes right,” constitutes the life of the good person.2
      Escaping from power is not equivalent to accepting powerlessness, says Villoro. It is resisting powerlessness. It is not allowing oneself to be subjugated and dominated by those in power. To take a position of non-power may also be to confront power with an opposing counter-power (contrapoder). Counter-power may be a resistance to both powerlessness and the pursuit of power.3
      Counter-power may be exercised in a number of ways: as passive resistance, as non-collaboration, as refusal to comply with the norms established by those in power. It may be exercised by a single individual, by a group, or by a whole class of individuals.
      Injustice may take the form of exclusion of certain persons or groups from access to the social, economic, and political goods that are enjoyed by the rest of society. The experience of injustice by the excluded may lead to their dissent from, and opposition to, the viewpoints held by those who have excluded them. The excluded may proclaim to those who have excluded them, “We are subjects worthy of value. That value equalizes us with you. It transcends our differences.”4
      Thus could be described the situation of persons or social groups excluded from a community of communication by not being considered valid interlocutors in any possible dialogue that could lead to rational consensus.5 Villoro explains that the philosopher Enrique Dussel distinguishes an ideal community of communication from a real community in which there are no excluded members and all members can participate in a “community of justice.” In a real community, each member may have the right to situate himself or herself in a position of exteriority that recognizes his or her differences from the rest of the community, but also affirms the community as a convergence of free and equal members.6
      Villoro says that the idea of justice, starting with the negative experience of exclusion, does not conceive justice as a definitive, final arrangement, but as a historical process that proceeds through various stages. In each stage, the historical meaning of social justice approaches a state in which exclusions and differences are overcome.7
      Justice therefore demands non-exclusion. In a just society, no one is excluded from participation in equal citizenship. A just society is one that permits and favors “the good life” (however that term may be defined) for all its members, and that makes “the good life” possible for all.
      Villoro describes two models of justice, the “deontological model” and the “teleological model.” According to the deontological model, priority is given to rules that are universally valid, and actions are just if they fulfill the rules or norms that govern them. According to the teleological model, priority is given to rules that are valid for the particular situation that individuals are confronted with, and actions are just if they fulfill a worthwhile end or result in something good.  
      According to Villoro, the way to arrive at knowledge of the content of justice differs in the two models. In both models, justice cannot have subjective validity for an individual without representing his or her own self-interest. Justice is seen as a general rule or objective value that is valid for every individual. But how can we attain knowledge of this general rule or objective value? If the measure of objective value is the universalizable character of the rule—as in the first model—then the way to attain knowledge of the content of justice will be the universal acceptance, by all individuals, of that rule.8 If, on the other hand, the measure of validity of the rule is the goodas in the second modelthen the way to arrive at knowledge of the content of justice will be recognition of the aims or ends that individuals actually pursue. Objective value will be seen in whatever is beneficial to, or is regarded as good by, all individuals in a socially determined whole. To know the just, we must therefore be able to determine what is good for all individuals in the context of their relations with one another.  Knowledge of the common good will not be derived from intersubjective consensus, but from discovery of the ends and values that unify society.9
      Villoro explains that the two models of justice are complementary, but that their difference is expressed as four antinomies: (1) the antinomy of the subject, (2) the antinomy of normative order, (3) the antinomy of the type of association, and (4) the antinomy of duty and ends.
      The antinomy of the subject is that, according to the deontological model, the moral subject is seen as an abstract subject who is not situated in a particular social context, and who is capable of impartial, universalizable judgments. According to the teleological model, however, the moral subject is seen as a concrete subject who is situated in a particular social context, and who acts to fulfill her own conception of the good.
      The antinomy of normative order is that, according to the deontological model, the rationality of universalizable norms as opposed to socially accepted modes of behavior may justify projects of change or reform of the existing social or political order. On the other hand, maintenance of existing norms may be favored over the claims of specific groups who have suffered from social inequality. According to the teleological model, however, projects of change or reform must be adequate to present circumstances, and they must respond to the distinct realities that constitute society. The durability of a just social order may depend as much on recognition of the specific needs of each social group as on continuation of existing political structures.10
      The antinomy of association is that, according to the individualistic conception of justice, corresponding to the deontological model, society is a means of realizing the aims of the individual. Political society fulfills this purpose by guaranteeing basic rights. The public space offers scope for the actualization of individual liberties. It is therefore a place of competition between individuals and groups. This competition must take place within the framework of tolerance and respect for basic rights, which permits cooperation for mutual benefit.11 According to the communitarian conception of justice, corresponding to the teleological model, however, the aims of the individual are realized within a community. The proper aims of the individual include the pursuit of the common good. Competition between individuals must be replaced by pursuit of the good of the whole community.12
      The antinomy of duty and ends is that, according to the deontological model, the morally right is given priority over the morally good. The universality of moral norms is given priority over the plurality of conceptions of the good. According to the teleological model, however, the idea of justice cannot be separated from the idea of the good. The fulfillment of individual rights cannot be separated from the fulfillment of the good of society as a whole.
      Villoro explains how each of these antinomies may be overcome. One strategy may be to consider how the idea of justice can change over the course of time. Another strategy may be to consider how we can respond to the negation or denial of justice, injustice.
      Thus, the antinomy of the subject, which reflects the difference between the abstract, universalizable subject and the concrete, situated subject, may be overcome by the situated subject who acts on the basis of universalizable principles to oppose injustice.
      The antinomy of normative order, which reflects the difference between universalizable norms and socially specific norms of behavior, may be overcome by the situated subject who responds to his or her own concrete situation by acting according to universalizable principles that he or she has abstracted from that situation.
      The antinomy of association, which reflects the difference between individualist and collectivist approaches to justice, may be overcome by the coexistence of individualist and collectivist principles in society, and by the freedom of individuals to pursue their own interests as well as the interests of society as a whole.
      The antinomy of duty and ends, which reflects the difference between the morally right and the morally good, may be overcome when the universality of a moral rule is seen as having a specific cultural and historical context. The universality of the moral rule is therefore seen as only one of a plurality of social, cultural, and historical conceptions of the good.
      Villoro describes the political right and the political left as moral postures or moral attitudes toward democracy, but he confines himself to discussing the political left. “¿Qué es la izquierda?” (“What is the left?”) he asks. His answer (translated) is that the left

is not a system of beliefs or an ideology, but a collective attitude against domination…The disruptive attitude cannot be translated into collective action if it is not motivated by the interests of those who suffer under the domination of the system…However…in a complex society, the groups who suffer domination are various, and their interests may be dissimilar…A system of domination creates many diverse groups that have their own interests. The counter-power (contrapoder) facing this system must express the interests of all in their diversity. The actual left cannot be less than a multiple, heterogeneous movement. There is not a class or privileged sector of dissidence. There is no revolutionary vanguard. A dissident program cannot be reduced to a class ideology…All dominated groups share, in distinct ways, a common interest: to rightly liberate themselves from domination. They can therefore unify their voices in the same counter-power. This will be the task of a movement of the left.”13

      Principles of intercultural ethics, explains Villoro, include mutual tolerance, respect for cultural autonomy, respect for cultural authenticity, respect for cultural valuative rationality, and respect for cultural efficacy. Any system of intercultural ethics must also recognize that each culture is unique and not replaceable by others. It must recognize and appreciate the multiplicity and diversity of cultures.
      Tolerance, says Villoro, does not consist merely in accepting coexistence with other cultures and not interfering with them. Rather, it implies concern with the fortune (suerte) and destiny of other cultures, concern with sharing their aims and understanding their values, and concern with assisting them to satisfy their basic needs. It implies reciprocity.14
      Respect for cultural autonomy may be expressed as non-interference with, and non-domination of, other cultures.
      Respect for cultural authenticity may take the form of recognition of the true, as opposed to the misperceived or misappropriated, aspects of other cultures, as well as respect for the integrity of the customs, traditions, and value systems of other cultures.
      Respect for cultural valuative rationality may be expressed as recognition of the extent to which (or the efficacy with which) other cultures are able to integrate their proposed aims and preferred values into the lives of their members.
      Respect for cultural efficacy may be expressed as recognition of the capacity for other cultures to fulfill their roles and functions.
      Villoro argues that the aim of a participatory democracy in a pluralistic society should be the transition from a single, homogeneous state to a plural, heterogeneous state that respects its own internal diversity.15 More than tolerance is necessary to maintain the unity of the plural state. Cooperation is also necessary.16
      The traditional conception of the nation-state responds to the question of how to establish unity in a society in which there are varying conceptions of the common good by saying that unity is achieved by imposing a single historical conception of the common good on all members of society. Multiculturalist conceptions, however, provide a different response: unity is achieved by reciprocal recognition of social and cultural differences, and by acceptance of the plurality of existing conceptions of the common good. Unity results from freely made accords between various social and cultural groups who have different viewpoints.17
      Villoro explains that according to cultural relativism, the validity of a particular culture’s traditions depends on the viewpoint of the observer, and the traditions of any culture may be considered to be as valid as those of any other culture. Thus, cultural relativism calls into question the claim of any culture to be universal and to represent a model for all other cultures. Absolute relativism, however, holds that all cultural traditions are equally valid, no matter how oppressive or dominating they may be in relation to the traditions of other cultures. Absolute relativism is therefore incompatible with multiculturalism, since multiculturalism is opposed to any form of cultural oppression or domination.


1Ángeles Mariscal, “Philosopher-Historian Luis Villoro was Secret Zapatista Sentinel,” translated by Jane Brundage, CNN Mexico, May 3, 2015, translated May 7, 2015, at
2Luis Villoro, Los Retos de la Sociedad por Venir: Ensayos sobre Justicia, Democracia, y Multiculturalismo (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007), p. 18.
3Ibid., p. 18.
4Ibid., p. 24.
5Ibid., p. 26.
6Ibid., p. 27.
7Ibid., p. 35.
8Ibid., p. 48.
9Ibid., p. 49.
10Ibid., pp. 92-93.
11Ibid., pp. 94-95.
12Ibid., p. 95.
13Ibid., pp. 132-134.
14Ibid., p. 149.
15Ibid., p. 183.
16Ibid., p. 184.
17Ibid., pp. 198-199.


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