The Tyranny of Opinion

Honor in the Construction of the Mexican Public Sphere

The Tyranny of Opinion

Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: 24 illustrations, 7 tables, 1 figure Published: January 2010

Author: Pablo Piccato

Gender and Sexuality, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Mexico

In the mid-to-late nineteenth century, as Mexico emerged out of decades of civil war and foreign invasion, a modern notion of honor—of one’s reputation and self-worth—became the keystone in the construction of public culture. Mexicans gave great symbolic, social, and material value to honor. Only honorable men could speak in the name of the public. Honor earned these men, and a few women, support and credit, and gave civilian politicians a claim to authority after an era dominated by military heroism.

Tracing how notions of honor changed in nineteenth-century Mexico, Pablo Piccato examines legislation, journalism, parliamentary debates, criminal defamation cases, personal stories, urban protests, and the rise and decline of dueling in the 1890s. He highlights the centrality of notions of honor to debates over the nature of Mexican liberalism, describing how honor helped to define the boundaries between public and private life; balance competing claims of free speech, public opinion, and the protection of individual reputations; and motivate politicians, writers, and other men to enter public life. As Piccato explains, under the authoritarian rule of Porfirio Díaz, the state became more active in the protection of individual reputations. It implemented new restrictions on the press. This did not prevent people from all walks of life from defending their honor and reputations, whether in court or through violence. The Tyranny of Opinion is a major contribution to a new understanding of Mexican political history and the evolution of Mexican civil society.


The Tyranny of Opinion is an engaging and thorough historic study that manages to illuminate complex social and political phenomena through the careful research of an unexplored topic: honour and public opinion in late nineteenth-century Mexico. For this reason, not only historians interested on nineteenth-century Mexico, but also any social scientist concerned with social norms and practices and their relation with legal institutions, are likely to find this book truly stimulating.” — Andrea Pozas-Loyo, Bulletin of Latin American Research

The Tyranny of Opinion will surely serve as an excellence resource for Mexican history scholars.” — Melissa Arjona, Elevate Difference

“Long a crucial component of Latin American colonial historiography,
honor has only recently been taken up by scholars of the national era. Pablo
Piccato’s new book The Tyranny of Opinion sets a high standard for such
studies. . . . Engagingly written and cogently argued, this book is sure to become a foundational work for the study of honor in modern Latin America and Mexican political history.” — David Carey Jr., Ethnohistory

“Making highly adept use of memoirs, novels, and newspapers, among many other types of primary sources, and telling his story in a complex but stylishly wrought prose, Piccato has produced a study that is both a very good read and highly thought-provoking.” — Eric Van Young, Journal of Social History

“Piccato’s The Tyranny of Opinion is a scholarly masterpiece that chronicles
the rise and transformation of the public sphere in nineteenth- century Mexico and the role of masculine honor in its creation.” — Kathryn A. Sloan, Hispanic American Historical Review

“This book is an important investigation into the changing political world of Porfirian Mexico, and will prove a necessary resource for anyone interested in nineteenth-century Latin America. It is also one of the most fully realized portraits of life in a major Latin American city at the end of the nineteenth century to be published in English.” — Joshua M. Rosenthal, Canadian Journal of History

“With Tyranny of Opinion, Pablo Piccato has written a primer on the history of reason in Mexico. . . . [T]his assiduously researched and elegantly crafted monograph sets the stage for future research examining the multifaceted interaction between individuals and the state. . . . Tyranny of Opinion is an outstanding work that has broad application and interest well beyond its Mexican context, and it will be of relevance to studies of post-colonial societies, struggles over national membership and political formation the world round.” — Mark Overmyer-Velázquez, Social History

“Piccato has produced a first-rate monograph of the period he previously studied, and his analysis of the press at the end of the nineteenth century, the muzzling of the press by Diaz after 1885, and the legal shift in the definition of honor and defamation is first class. The book is engaging, well researched, and well written, and is an interesting read.” — Robert Jackson, H-Net Reviews

“Piccato’s work is an important contribution to our understanding of honor in nineteenth-century Mexico and how shifting conceptions of honor were tied to class, gender, and modernity. In particular, his discussion of honor as a commodity—as something that could be produced, accumulated, and exchanged—elucidates an understanding of how honor did not serve a merely ideological function; it also served as a way to re-create and reinforce class and gender behaviors during a period when Mexico was rapidly changing.” — Nicole Sanders, Mexican Studies

The Tyranny of Opinion will likely become the definitive historical work on republican honor in Mexico and one of the most important works on republican honor and the public sphere in Latin America. With chapters on everyone from elite public men to lower-class women, the book provides exceptionally broad coverage.” — Robert M. Buffington, author of Criminal and Citizen in Modern Mexico

“This masterful exploration of the constitution of the public sphere joins questions of gender, representational practices, class, and politics in a fascinating mosaic. It is a delightful read and an illuminating work of historical ethnography, which reveals much about the difficult century between 1810 and 1910. It will help set new research agendas for modern Mexican history.” — Eric Van Young, author of The Other Rebellion


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Price: $29.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Pablo Piccato is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at Columbia University. He is the author of City of Suspects: Crime in Mexico City, 1900–1931, also published by Duke University Press, and a co-editor of True Stories of Crime in Modern Mexico.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Introduction. Honor and the Public Sphere in the Republican Era 1

Part I. Travails of Opinion

1. Setting the Rules of Freedom: The Trajectory of the Press Jury 27

2. Representing Public Opinion: Combat Journalists and the Business of Honor 63

Part II. Tumultuous Opinion

3. "The Word of My Conscience": Eloquence and the Foreign Debt 100

4. Breaking Lamps and Expanding the Public Sphere: Students and Populacho against the Deuda Inglesa 129

Part III. Taming Opinion

5. Honor and the State: Reputation as a Juridical Good 159

6. "A Horrible Web of Insults": The Everyday Defense of Honor 188

7. "One Does Not Talk to the Dead": The Romero-Verástegui Affair and the Apogee of Dueling in Mexico 220

Conclusions 254

Notes 263

Sources Cited 337

Index 371
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4645-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4653-1
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