Elevate Difference

The Tyranny of Opinion: Honor in the Construction of the Mexican Public Sphere

A coworker who saw this book sitting on my desk commented, “The tyranny of opinion? Isn’t the whole point of an opinion that it’s free from tyranny?” Not quite. Even today, public opinion can make or break a celebrity’s or politician’s career. In The Tyranny of Opinion, Pablo Piccato weaves an intricate web connecting a variety of aspects of nineteenth century Mexican society, examining the notion of how honor was closely tied to one’s place in society and how public opinion affected people’s public and private lives.

Since honor was one of the most important—if not the most important—form of social capital one could have, people went to great lengths to maintain (or attain) it. Journalists at the time, for example, had a dualistic connection to public opinion. On one hand, they were responsible for publishing the material that helped create it. On the other, many journalists were underpaid and worked in poor conditions, and their upward mobility in society was closely tied to their success as writers. As such, establishing one’s reputation sometimes took precedence over objective reporting, which in turn had an impact on how public opinion was shaped.

Love affairs, student protests, public riots, and duels are also subjects of analysis in the book. Lest one think that he focused solely on the honor of the upper class, Piccato actually covers a broad spectrum of race and class. He is also careful to include a gender-based component in his analysis. Although the book focuses largely on the honor of men, Piccato examines the reasons why women—especially “respectable” women—were largely excluded from public life. In his conclusion, he notes how his analysis regarding women, domesticity, political narratives, and moral economy serve to contribute to a larger academic conversation about these subjects.

Piccato grounds his work in close readings of primary sources, interpreting everything from published newspaper stories to court documents. His knowledge of the historiography on the subject is evident, as is his knowledge of Mexican culture during the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. The strength of the book lies in Piccato’s ability to convey the context of his analysis. The Tyranny of Opinion will surely serve as an excellence resource for Mexican history scholars.

Written by: Melissa Arjona, July 12th 2010