An article by Carroll Quigley in the
American Anthropologist, Volume 75, Number 1, February 1973, pp. 319-322:
Mexican National Character and
Circum-Mediterranean Personality Structure
Martin Needler's article on "Politics and
National Character: the Case of Mexico" (1971) is perfectly correct as far as it
goes, but it must be pointed out that the personality traits which he identifies
as Mexican are products of a considerably wider and much older cultural entity.
Mexico is a peripheral and very distinctive example of the Latin American
cultural area which is itself a peripheral and somewhat distinctive example of
the Mediterranean cultural area. Some time ago I identified the whole cultural
area and the personality structure it tended to produce as aspects of "the
Pakistani-Peruvian Axis" (1966:1112-1122, reprinted as 1968:452-463). If I am
correct in this, Needler is parochial in attributing "Mexican national
character" to a combination of "the Indian's fatalism and the proud
self-assertion of the Spaniard" (Needler 1971:757).
A broader view of this subject would show that Mexico is a peripheral
example of the "Pakistani-Peruvian cultural area" and that Mexican national
character is merely a local variant of the personality structure of this larger
area. That is why Silverman's picture of south Italian personality is so similar
to Needler's idea of Mexican character (Silverman 1968).
This Mediterranean personality type is marked by various traits mentioned
by Needler: low self-esteem, fatalism, defeatism, distrust of all persons
outside a narrow kin group, pessimism, preoccupation with death, self-assertion,
and machismo. These traits, however, should be associated in clusters and
correlated with other cultural manifestations such as: (1) low respect for
manual work, especially for agricultural work; (2) higher esteem for urban
residence than for rural living, associated with neglect of the countryside,
damage to natural vegetation, and much cruelty to animals, especially to
domestic animals; (3) emphasis on honor, both personal and family, as a chief
aim of life; (4) dietary customs which mix protein and vegetables within a nest
or container of starch, on the same plate and in the same mouthful, unlike the
core of Western civilization, which tends to segregate these three kinds of
food, on the same plate or even into separate dishes. The personality traits of
this larger area tend to cluster about two points: (1) The restriction of
personal trust and loyalty within the kinship group (usually the extended or
nuclear family) with a consequent inability to offer loyalty, trust, or personal
identification to residential groups (villages, neighborhoods, parishes),
voluntary associations, religious beliefs, or the secular state, resulting in
large-scale lack of "public spirit," combined with "corruption," and paralysis
of these other kinds of associations. (2) The combination of powerful
patriarchal social tendencies with female inferiority (except as a mechanism for
producing sons) leads to many psychological ambiguities: strong emphasis on
female premarital virginity (both as a symbol of family honor and as an economic
good), segregation of the sexes in social life, fear of women as a threat men's
virility (witches and belief in "the evil eye"), the need to demonstrate male
virility by social "touchiness" and other behavior, including fantasies of
demonstrations of male dominance over bulls, other men, and unattached women.
In the last generation or two, we have had numerous local studies of the
culture-and-personality type dealing with portions of this wide area
(Pitt-Rivers and Kenny on Spain; Banfield, Moss, Cancian, Silverman, and others
on Italy; Campbell, Kavadias, Kanelli. and others on Greece; and numerous
studies of the Near East or North Africa). Many of these consider the
personality types they observe as consequences of local conditions of economic,
national, religious, or historic origin. A few have seen the wider range of what
they observe. Thus Balikci (1966:164) wrote, "Behind obvious cultural
differences, many Mediterranean societies share certain basic cultural
patterns... [with] basic cross-cultural similarities in regard to sex behavior,
certain family roles, the position of the family in society, and the dichotomy
of kinsmen and strangers." Opler (1970:866) recognizes both the areal spread and
the deep historical roots of these traits when he writes, "The Southern Italian
family is in great measure understood if one considers it as a peasant society,
as a circum-Mediterranean type, as one influenced by Roman history or even by
the earlier pagan Classic Greek, or later Hellenistic traditions."
What I wish to emphasize is that this personality structure is
geographically wider than the Mediterranean, since it extends to Latin America,
and is the consequence of historical experience going back even earlier than the
ancient Greeks. There are works (Peristiany 1966) which see some of the
geographic range, but from both points of view, the most suggestive work is
Raphael Patai's Golden River to Golden Road (1962), whose original title (now
abandoned in a 1971 edition) shows that his attention extends from Rio de Oro to
The Pakistani-Peruvian axis does not now demark the area of a
functioning society or civilization. This is one of the chief keys to its
personality types. It is now largely an area of debris of traits and peoples
surviving from the wreckage of deceased civilizations. The existing traits have
historical origins covering thousands of years. For example, the diet, sexual
symbolism of bull and "eye," architecture, and other traits come from the
archaic cultures before 600 B.C., including Minoan Crete; the urbanism and low
esteem for manual labor derive from Classical Mediterranean society; while the
emphasis on honor, female inferiority, and kinship groups flow from pastoral
invaders, both from the northern grasslands (Indo-European) and the southern
Other traits, such as fatalism, distrust of strangers, cynicism toward the
state or the local community, come from the difficulties of farming in the
Mediterranean environment or from Mediterranean history. Historically the
Mediterranean has passed through three distinct experiences: (1) as a frontier
area of cultural diffusion from Western Asia during the Archaic period (4500-600
B.C.); (2) as the central backbone of Mediterranean civilization in the
Classical period (600 B.C.-A.D. 600), and (3) as a boundary conflict area
between the three post-Classical civilizations (Byzantine, Western, and Islamic)
since A.D. 600. T he shift from the second to the third of these was so
disruptive of community life in the area from the Golden River to the Golden
Road that its problems have not been solved since, especially in view of the
social and ethical failures of the two post-Classical religions, Christianity
and Islam, on either side of the line from Tangier to Batum. These failures of
religion, whose consequences were clearly seen by Christ and Mohomet, made it
impossible to create any religious, territorial, or social community, and forced
living patterns back toward the "amoral familism" of the extended family. In
extreme cases this broke down further to amoral nuclear familism or even to
amoral individualism. This basic outlook and personality type was given a
distinctive twist in the Iberian peninsula, from Saracen and anti-lslamic
influences. The export of this distinctive type to America and the changes made
in it by the shattering of American Indian cultures gives us the distinctive
Latin American personality patterns which Needler (1971) sees as "Mexican
national character." These patterns have been modified in various circumstances
by the "culture of poverty ," by modem industrialism and nationalism, by various
nineteenth century ideologies such as Marxism, and by other influences, but the
basic Pakistani-Peruvian outlook is still identifiable. What is distinctly
Mexican, and potentially revolutionary, is the new political ideology which
Needler reports thus: "the cynicism and alienation of Mexican respondents. . .
did not extend to two elements of the political system: the president himself
and the idea of the Mexican Revolution" (1971:760). Any discussion of Mexican
national character should recognize the revolutionary implications of these
exceptions and the remote sources of the other aspects of Mexican personality.
Silverman, who has a good appreciation of this Pakistani-Peruvian cultural
area, has also glimpsed the nature of its northern boundary. This boundary,
which roughly follows the lines of the Highland Zone of the Old World, is marked
by the southern limits of the archaic peasant cultures, in which rural life was
valued higher than urbanism, the land was loved (as a female entity), pride in
skillful tillage was evident, fertility was prized over virility, and the cow
was more valuable than the bull (whose usefulness was increased by castration).
In this peasant culture the southern concept of honor was non-existent, female
virginity or chastity were considered unnatural, pre-marital sexual relations
were practiced (often condoned by a betrothal ceremony), and marriage often
followed pregnancy, rather than preceding coition as in the south. This peasant
culture accepted a female centered house-hold and tended to revere local,
semi-pagan, female saints (or Mary seen as a Mother rather than as a Virgin)
instead of the rather war-like male saints popular farther south. Above all, in
the north the basic social units were territorial (villages or parishes), not
kinship groups, and functioned as communities.
Studies of these distinctions are frustrated today by academic
specialization, both areal and chronological, so that students attribute cause
to whatever social feature strikes them as significant. This includes ethos (Banfield
1958), agricultural organization (Silverman 1968), transhumance pastoralism
(Campbell 1964), Bedouin Arabism (Carmichael 1967), urbanism (Pitkin
1963:123.129), social hopelessness (Cancian 1961), and many others. A comparison
of the similarities of values and personality between a rural pastoral people
like the Saracatsan (Campbell 1964) and a modern, professional, urban Greek
family (Kanelli 1963) will show the need to seek explanation on a wider and
deeper areal and historical foundation.
This foundation must be a historical-cultural framework similar to that
used in historical geology, so that local outcroppings of earlier cultural
strata can be identified and coordinated. I gave a brief outline of such a
framework for the Old World in 1961, but other historians have rather scorned
any efforts at establishing a matrix of macro-history. Feeble efforts are now
being made to remedy this lack in other disciplines, including anthropology and
sociology, but these attempts will find almost insurmountable difficulties so
long as historians do not do their part of the task.
1966 Review of Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society.
J. G. Peristiany, Ed. Science 153:164.
1958 The Moral Basis of a Backward Society.
Chicago: Free Press.
1964 Honour, Family, and Patronage. A Study of Institutions and Moral Values
in a Greek Mountain Community.
London: Oxford University Press.
1961 The South Italian Peasant: World View and Political Behavior.
Anthropological Quarterly 34:1-18.
1967 The Shaping of the Arabs; a Study in Ethnic Identity.
New York: Macmillan.
1965 Earth and Water: A Marriage into Greece.
New York: Coward-McCann.
1965 Pasteur-nomades mediterranees: Les Saracatsans de Grece.
Paris: Gauthier- Villars.
1960 Patterns of Patronage in Spain.
Anthropological Quarterly 33:14-22.
1960 Patterns of Kinship, Comparaggio, and Community in a Southern Italian
Anthropological Quarterly 33:24-32.
1971 Politics and National Character - The Case of Mexico.
American Anthropologist 73:757-761.
1970 Review of Belief, Magic, and Anomie: Essays in Psychosocial Anthropology,
by Anne Parsons.
American Anthropologist 72:865-867.
1962 Golden River to Golden Road: Society, Culture, and Change in the Middle
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
1971 Society, Culture, and Change in the Middle East. Revised edition.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Jean G., Ed.
1966 Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
1963 Mediterranean Europe.
Anthropological Quarterly 36:120.129.
1971 The People of the Sierra. Revised edition.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (First published in 1954.)
1961 The Evolution of Civilizations.
New York: Macmillan.
1966 Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time.
New York: Macmillan.
1968 The World Since 1939: A History.
New York: Collier Books.
1968 Agricultural Organization, Social Structure, and Values in Italy:
Amoral Familism Reconsidered.
American Anthropologist 70:1.20.