Vasconcelos Calderón, José (1882–1959)

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Vasconcelos Calderón, José (1882–1959)

José Vasconcelos Calderón (b. 28 February 1882; d. 30 June 1959), Mexican philosopher and politician. Vasconcelos, a multifaceted intellectual and political figure, had a significant impact on intellectual thought in Latin America and on higher education and political behavior in Mexico. Intellectually, his work on the "cosmic race" (1925), which maintained that the mestizo race combined the best of indigenous and European qualities, was a great contribution to the growing literature of the region. His multivolume autobiography (1935–1939) is a classic in acerbic, intellectual literature. During his tenure as education minister in Mexico in the 1920s, he provided an important refuge for many radical students from South America, exposing them to the dynamic undercurrents of Mexico in the post revolutionary era. At the same time he also attempted to bring art, music, and classical literature to the Mexican masses, fostering a flowering of the arts most notable for its painting, made world-famous by a generation of muralists that included Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco. And although he opposed political centralism, Vasconcelos helped to centralize the educational system as it is organized today.

As a moral leader of students and intellectuals, he ran against Pascual Ortiz Rubio, the first official party candidate for the presidency of Mexico, in 1929. His campaign was innovative in that it drew many young female activists into politics. Although he abandoned his supporters in defeat, his essays and articles, written in exile but published in El Universal, were among the most widely read in Mexico. He remained in Europe until 1940. While many of his supporters, embittered by the experience, rejected politics altogether after his defeat, others joined the government party, hoping to bring about change from within. These activists, among them Adolfo López Mateos (president 1958–1964), dominated Mexican politics for many years but ignored their original goals.

Vasconcelos was born in Oaxaca, the son of Ignacio Vasconcelos and Carmen Calderón. His grandparents had ties to Porfirio Díaz, whom Vasconcelos later opposed. After completing his education at the National Preparatory School and the National University in 1905, he joined the intellectual circle of the Ateneo de la Juventud. He became interested in political reform when Francisco I. Madero began his anti-reelectionist activity against Porfirio Díaz. He served as Madero's confidential agent in Washington, D.C., and became vice president of the Progressive Constitution Party. Although he never taught a single class, he became rector of the National University (1920–1921) and then secretary of public education (1921–1924). While in exile in Europe from 1924 to 1928, he founded Antorcha (1924–1925), an intellectual magazine he used to oppose the Calles regime. In later life, he lost touch with his generation and his disciples, becoming an apologist for fascism.

See alsoMexico: Since 1910; Philosophy: Overview.


Gabriella De Beer, José Vasconcelos and His World (1966).

John H. Haddox, Vasconcelos of Mexico (1967).

José Joaquín Blanco, Se llamaba Vasconcelos (1977).

Richard B. Phillips, "José Vasconcelos and the Mexican Revolution of 1910" (diss., Stanford University, 1953).

Hugo Pineda, José Vasconcelos, político mexicano, 1928–1929 (1975).

John Skirius, José Vasconcelos y la cruzada de 1929 (1978).

José Vasconcelos, Memorias, 2 vols. (1982–1983).

Additional Bibliography

Cárdenas N., Joaquín. José Vasconcelos: Caudillo cultural. Oaxaca, Mexico: Universidad José Vasconcelos de Oaxaca, 2002.

Marentes, Luis A., José Vasconcelos and the Writing of the Mexican Revolution. New York: Twayne Publishers, 2000.

Mares, Roberto, José Vasconcelos. México City: Grupo Editorial Tomo, 2004.

                                           Roderic Ai Camp