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For All Nails, no. 170:  For All Time

May 1974

>From the New York Herald Monthly Review of Books


... state-sponsored cannibalism.  It is, in short, a dark  vision
intended to make us realize how lucky we are.

This dark vision does, in fact, stem directly from the author's view
of the ideology behind the men who organized the North American
Rebellion.  If there is a theme to Sobel's horrorific dystopia, it
could be summed as "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

The rebels in North America were the most idealistic and utopian of
men.  Formed by the Enlightenment, they believed in the perfectability
of the human condition.  With the right institutions, designed by
rational men according to scientific precepts, utopia could be
obtained.  In the words of Frank Dana, they "believed in free will,
held that man could be the master of his fate, rule himself, and wash
away the abuses of centuries in a generation."

In the real world, this utopianism soon came into contact with
Mexico's reality:  a impoverished land, riven by race and religion. 
The difficulties of governing a country that was more a geographic
expression than a nation led the former rebels to abandon much of
their utopianism.  What emerged instead was a rough and ready
pragmatism.

In Sobel's fictional history, however, the utopians are triumphant in
North America, and unrestrained by the reality of Hispanic Mexico. 
The horrors of Sobel's imaginary "Communism" is the direct result of
this triumph.  He does not, obviously, attempt to argue that Benjamin
Franklin or Thomas Jefferson advocated the violent extermination of
entire ethnic groups or social classes.  He does, however, argue that
the radical utopianism of his "totalitarians" and the idealism of the
North American Rebellion have the same philosophical roots in the
Enlightenment.  In a world where the Rebellion succeeded, yet still
failed to bring the millenium, the rational humanists are pushed in an
ever-more radical direction in their pursuit of perfection.  "Washing
away the abuses of centuries" requires an ever harder scrubbing. 
Everything becomes justifiable, for how can utopia be denied?

For every reaction, of course, there is an equal and opposite
reaction.  The reaction culminates in the nightmare racialism of
Sobel's imaginary "Nazis."  In short, Sobel links the rise of
horrifying inhuman ideologies in the Old World with the triumph of
their warm and humanistic, but ultimately failed, predecessor in the
New.

Many critics have taken _For All Time_ as an indictment of the Mexican
national character.  This reviewer disagrees.  Rather, _For All Time_
implicitly argues that the real United States of Mexico, unlike the
fictional United States of America, has been able to put aside
ideology and solve its problems pragmatically.  In fact, the last two
chapters of Sobel's book read like a apologia for the Mercator
dictatorship.  When consumed by racial strife and torn apart by
corrupt politicians in the 1940s, the real Mexico puts ideology aside
and does what is needed to return to peace and stability.  When
similar strife hits the imaginary USA, the nation refuses to
compromise its principles, and the violence escalates with no end in
sight.

Sobel's book, for all its faults and its highly unorthodox premise, is
a worthy attempt to explore the philosophical roots of political
ideologies.  It is also, in this author's opinion, a back-handed
complement towards Mexico; a country which has taken a far more
difficult starting position than Sobel's fictional United States and
done far more with it.  Perhaps fiction can provide a mirror through
which more North Americans can appreciate their western neighbor.