Early chapters represent an insightful tapestry interwoven with Octavio Paz’s trenchant explanations for the development of Western-based terrorism as the outgrowth of the student movements of the 1960’s. He blames the resort to violence rather than continued verbal criticism on the “extraordinary freedom of mores in the West” and also on a “progressive weakening of the notion of authority” (whether governmental or paternal). Subsequent chapters examine America’s succumbing to the allures of decadence as it chases the “elusive ghost” of progress. Paz argues that the American hegemony is dying as self-doubt and the hedonism of abundance reinvigorate traditional isolationism. His assessments of the Soviet Union are even less flattering, castigating the U.S.S.R. as a clumsy bureaucratic state that has stumbled not into socialism but a statocracy not radically unlike the pattern under the czars. In this system, people have no value except as servants to “ideological abstractions” such as socialism. How, Paz asks, can an industrial state be built upon the backs of workers who lack basic self-respect? The author also criticizes the Russians for exporting to Eastern Europe their neo-czarist system of repression.
Later sections examine, among other things, Latin military dictatorships and hopes for democracy, the Khomeini regime and the impact of Islam on the Iran-Iraq war, and warnings to Central Americans not to emulate the Cuban or Nicaraguan models of Soviet-styled statocracy. These essays are eloquent, refreshingly honest, and insightful, and they deserve a broad readership.