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This review is taken from PN Review 50, Volume 12 Number 6, July - August 1986.

THEORIES NOT MAPS Octavio Paz, One Earth, Four or Five Worlds, translated by Helen R. Lane (Carcanet) £12.95

Take a man of great intelligence (great enough to know its limits); give him the gift of poetry; send him abroad as a diplomat, then ask him for his 'Reflections on Contemporary History': with luck, this is the book you'll get. With luck, because Mexico is his home and we are his 'abroad'. Not many pages in, we find him saying 'communism is not really a political party but a religious order', and 'Marxism-Leninism is no longer a European ideology; it has become a . . . catechism of the revolutionary elite of the less developed countries'. You will not be surprised that he is the bête noire of his former Latin American socialist friends. But read on and you will find no stereotyped anti-red; his denunciations of the interventionist (not to say 'imperialist') activities of the United States to its southern neighbours are emphatic. Indeed his chapters on North America are striking.

He starts from the obvious fact that whereas other 'democratic' states have had to reach their present position by modifying a prior situation (e.g. a monarchy), America had to make an absolute beginning, to institute a new society. This meant that 'American society was founded by an act of abolition of the past': it has had to live towards the future. But whither? To what future? It was unique in that whereas Rousseau's contrat sociale was a pre-historic myth, the American social contract was 'not a fiction but a reality;' the social contract was ...

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