Liberalism, Race, Nation, Modernity
This chapter lays out this book’s approach to the history of the human and social sciences and introduces a set of scholars who compared Mexico to the United States. Their comparisons, the chapter argues, hid from view the variety of peoples within each country, the transnational connections that bound the two nations, and the parallels between them. This book unearths those connections and suggests that expertise moved from South to North as well as from North to South. Intellectuals deployed a model of liberal modernity that characterized all humans as sharing a set of universal potentials. Liberal universalism spurred epistemologies and forms of social engineering that favoured generalizable knowledge. Yet experts were also inspired by eugenics and evolutionary ideas, and they ranked nation-states according to how closely they approximated universal criteria of progress. They thereby created exceptionalist national narratives, and those narratives grounded their comparisons. By revealing the shared paradigms that connected the United States and Mexico, this book calls into question those exceptionalist narratives and their racial underpinning.
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