Philosopher of social causes
Luis Hernández Navarro
That night in 1996, while the cool of La Realidad fell on his shoulders, Luis Villoro tried to sleep in a makeshift cardboard bed his compañeros had made for him on the floor of the Zapatista school where they were spending the night. He covered the cold with the grey jacket which he invariably wore and took off the tennis shoes he wore regularly.
Luis Villoro was then 74 years old and was already one of the most recognized Mexican philosophers. However, he did not ask for any special treatment, in that corner of the Chiapas jungle. He slept, he cleaned himself up and he ate exactly as did the rest of his compañeros. He made no complaint. On the contrary, while he was waiting for the moment to meet with the rebel commanders, he confessed that he felt privileged to be there at that time.
His attitude that night was not exceptional. That was his way of being. Despite his wisdom and his dazzling academic credentials, he never asked for any privilege. When he participated in the dialogues of San Andrés on indigenous rights and culture as an advisor to the EZLN, he always asked to speak just like any other orator, he patiently listened to those who had something to say and adjusted his speech to the time limit: three minutes.
Luis Villoro won the confidence of the Zapatistas – usually suspicious – and retained it over nearly two decades. He saw the rebels “realising, here and now, today, a true utopia.” They chose him as one of their few permanent collaborators. Don Luis, doctor, teacher, the insurgents called him over the years. So did the independent indigenous organizations, community leaders and intellectuals who frequented his company.
Between the philosopher and the EZLN a close relationship of complicity and discussion ensued. One of the high points of this conversation was the exchange of letters on ethics and politics that he and Subcomandante Marcos maintained between 2011 and 2012. A dialogue with the Indian world that theoretically started in 1950 with the publication of his extraordinary book The great moments of indigenismo in Mexico, and in another demonstration of the circular march of the eternal recurrence of time, he found in the indigenous Zapatista uprising and construction of autonomy his encounter with the historical subject in flesh and bone.
Don Luis was born in Barcelona in 1922. With the influence of a doctor father behind him, he studied medicine for three years. However, his passion for philosophy grew so much that he abandoned his studies to become a physician; he did a doctorate in this discipline at the UNAM and later did graduate studies at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, in the old Federal Republic of Germany.
Disciple of José Gaos, member of the Hyperion group – which made being Mexican the centre of his reflection -, Villoro was always concerned to analyse the reality of the country. He understood philosophy not as a set of doctrines and ideologies alone, but as a series of questions arising from human perplexity. Distanced from analytical philosophy and metaphysics, he claimed – on the lines of the existentialists – a reflection in situation, being in the world.
During an interview with La Jornada in July 2007 about his book: The societal challenges ahead - Photo José Antonio López
Luis Villoro was not always a man of the left. He became one, through a basically ethical consideration: after travelling different paths, he concluded that he needed to take a stand against the injustice that exists in the country and change it. In his way, he made his own the famous Thesis XI on Feuerbach of Karl Marx, which states that, so far, philosophers have only interpreted the world, but that what matters is to change it.
For Luis Villoro the left is an attitude which rejects domination and oppression, which challenges all forms of imposition, making changes and not allowing things to remain as they are. An attitude which seeks “to walk into a different world order, and remains opposed to global capitalism.”
A lover of classical literature and of the music of Mozart and Beethoven, Don Luis claimed another vision of the world. One which re-evaluated our thinking about Latin America. In Indian America – he argued in a series of articles published in La Jornada - there is another way of seeing and experiencing the world: the thought of the native peoples of America.
According to him, in order to achieve this other vision of the world, it is necessary first to awaken from an illusion: the fiction of the hegemony of Western modernity, which has caused the greatest evils facing humanity today.
The thought of the original peoples, he wrote, collides with that of the West on several points: faced with Western individualism, the indigenous cosmovision approaches experiencing life as being part of the whole, and the practice of communitarianism. In the Indian communities the centre is not the individual ‘I’, but the communitarian ‘we’. At the same time, he argued, in communitarian societies the relationship to power is different. While in Western society representative democracy is vindicated, in Indian villages another democracy is exercised: participatory.
This other vision of the world already exists, the teacher pointed out at different times – in the Zapatista Juntas of Good Government.
Simultaneously atheist and religious, Luis Villoro believed in the divinity of the cosmos but not in God, the resurrection or the soul. He thought of death as a union with the whole. Today, after teaching us to dream for years more and better with other possible worlds, he has departed to merge with that whole. For many, this critic of power, who never asked for any privilege, who knew the value of saying no, a decent, caring, intelligent man, he always was and will be simply Don Luis.
PS. A big hug to Fernanda Navarro and Juan Villoro