Charles de Gaulle, Mythologized, Yet Betrayed, Part I of III

The Military, Man Of Letters, Leader Of Free France

Since the start of the pandemic, essayists, journalists and politicians have kept repeating that “a new page in history has now been opened;” “that nothing will be the same as before;” and that “we must prepare the world for ‘after’.”

Minions and sycophants let the media believe that the crisis was most skillfully handled by the authorities, while heedless of the deluge of harsh criticism. Shortsightedness, irresponsibility, belated and erratic management of the health crisis have all been constantly pointed out. Many observers have announced the end of happy globalization and the dictatorship of the markets, the death of Maastricht, neoliberal Europe and globalization, the death knell of financial capitalism, the ecological collapse—worse, the signal of the “convergence of disasters.” Pessimists, such as the philosopher Marcel Gauchet or the writer Michel Houellebecq, predict that “nothing will change;” on the contrary, “we will not wake up, after confinement, in a new world, [but] it will be the same, even a little worse.”

“Official” personalities, hitherto reputedly well-meaning and among the most unexpected, seized the ideas of their adversaries whom earlier they crushed under the weight of contempt. Doing a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn, they proclaimed the urgent need to reconsolidate the nations, to relocate production, to recover the autonomy and independence of the strategic State in order to meet the needs of a world become multipolar.

Others, more irreducible, the convinced “globalizers,” the self-proclaimed “progressives” (in fact neoconservatives, neoliberals and neo-social democrats lost in past reveries), wanted to see in the crisis only the demonstration of the imperious need to relaunch as quickly as possible an updated, reformed version of global “governance” and the EU “big market.” Listening to them, the maintenance of the freedom of movement of capital and people, the defense of the euro, the regularization of the “undocumented” (illegal immigrants), and above all, the precept “do not close the borders,” key dogma of liberal-libertarian ideology, remain inescapable, irrefutable requirements.

In short, everyone went about their analyses and their predictions according to their ideological reading grid. With or without a “war on the epidemic.” the metapolitical and cultural struggle knew no truce. “When the crisis is over,” some imagine, “the upper portions of the state will be held accountable!” One can always dream about intentions. Was it not said in 1940, the day after the rout, and in 1945, after the Liberation, that those responsible were to be tried? And, finally, what did we see? Nothing, or almost nothing, except politicians and soldiers who invariably passed the buck—eighty years of debate and research on the causes and responsibilities of defeat, without a semblance of consensus among historians.

It is by chance that 2020, the year of disruption and the health debacle—which will come to shed more light on the extent of the general crisis (political, economic, cultural and moral)—coincides with the triple commemoration of General Charles de Gaulle: His birth on November 22, 1890; the Appeal on June 18, 1940, and his death on November 9, 1970. De Gaulle who is, with Napoleon, in France and outside France, the most famous of the French, even more so than Saint Louis, Louis XIV, Joan of Arc, Clémenceau, Molière, Racine, Pasteur and many others.

De Gaulle who, in public opinion in France, is a giant among the dwarfs, despite his often controversial choices and his sometimes Machiavellian methods. De Gaulle, whose qualities as a statesman cannot be disputed with regard to history, despite the age-old, litany and angry recriminations of the Gaullophobes, who are ever ready to rant against “ambition, presumption, vanity, arrogance, contempt, arrogance, self-centeredness, bitterness, resentment, ingratitude, meanness, the spirit of division, despotism, etc.” And against the “Grand Constable,” “the Idiot on High,” “the Two Meters Tall,” “the Big Asparagus.” And let us not forget of course the extravagant invectives against “the follower of totalitarianism,” the “anti-nationalist fanatic American,” the “Henchman of Communism,” the “Ally of the FLN,” the “Apprentice Dictator,” the “Fascist General,” and so on and so forth.

De Gaulle, who contrasts with the mediocrity of his successors by his actions, his charisma, his energy, his voluntarism, his rectitude, his honesty and his morals without reproach. De Gaulle the statesman with integrity, incorruptibility, who distrusted luxury and money, abhorred prejudices, privileges, the influence peddlers, and made it a point of honor to pay out of his pocket the electricity bills for his private apartments at the Élysée. The General wished to observe a strict separation between his private life and his function as president. As soon as he arrived at the Élysée Palace, he had a tiny chapel installed so that he could attend mass regularly. He had asked his aide-de-camp to find him all the objects necessary for religious service and had paid for them himself. We know that his wife had even bought an ordinary table service for private meals, and that De Gaulle scrupulously paid for guests during the few family meals.

De Gaulle, finally, the great unknown, the little known, the apostle of the Third Way between liberalism and socialism, whose political thought was shamefully distorted, basely betrayed, emptied of its ideological content, reduced to a conventional attitude (the so-called “love of France” and the “refusal of the inevitable” that only serve to camouflage abandonment and renunciation in everyday life). De Gaulle, reduced to a vulgar pragmatism or even opportunism, a mixture of neoliberalism (Balladur, Sarkozy) and neo-social-democratism (Chirac, Juppé), and as such has been praised, mythologized and instrumentalized by the whole of the political class.

Let us remember these few words from the General’s War Memoirs: “Since everything always starts over, all that I have done will, sooner or later, be a source of new ardor after I have disappeared.” On the occasion of the triple Gaullian commemoration, it may be useful to mention the main facts and dates that marked the life and action of Charles de Gaulle, and to recall the great contours of his political thought. Obviously, we must avoid the double pitfall of apology and rant, hagiography and denigration, even if that is not an easy task. So, let’s try to be, if not perfectly objective, at least rigorous, honest and sincere.

From 1962 to 1969, when I was a young ordinary citizen, I saw, heard and faithfully followed the first president of the Fifth French Republic. Almost all the students of my generation—at least activists and the most politicized—hated him. For my part, I was one of his devotees, in 1968. Since then, I have of course stepped back with age. I know the successes of Gaulle. I hold him to be “the last great figure in the history of France.” But I also recognize, without reservations, his dithering and his errors. One can be an admirer of the Great Charles, and/or a supporter of historical or philosophical Gaullism, and consider that De Gaulle was right and that he was visionary (to use the suggestive title of Gérard Bardy’s book), without being “Gaullite.”

If we want to take the measure of the unusual, exceptional character of the man, it is enough to refer to some major works. There are of course those by declared sympathizers, like Michel Tauriac, Arnaud Teyssier, Jean-Paul Bled, François Broche, Éric Branca, Chantal Morelle, Paul-Marie de la Gorce, Alain Peyrefitte or François-Georges Dreyfus. There are those by repented antigaullists, like the ex-communists and ex-socialists Marxists, Max Gallo and Régis Debray, the ex-admirer of the Khmer Rouge, Jean Lacouture, or the ex-president of the Institut Mendés France, Éric Roussel. There is also the biography of British historian Julian Jackson who, at the risk of straining credulity a little, says, “In France he is a figure even more revered than Churchill in Great Britain.” Finally, there are the very critical works, such as that of the ex-OAS activist, Dominique Venner, author of one of the most severe indictments, who nevertheless was forced to admit de gaulle’s “the stature” of a “special character.”

Military Man And A Man Of Letters

Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille, on November 22, 1890, into a family of petty nobles, or even the old French bourgeoisie, Catholic, monarchist-legitimist, which had recently joined the Republic. He was the son of Jeanne Maillot and Henri de Gaulle, a civil servant, a lawyer at the Paris Court of Appeal, a teacher of literature, history and mathematics at Stanislas High School. Charles, the third of the couple’s five children, went to primary and secondary school in Paris, at private Catholic institutions. In 1909, he was enrolled 119th at Saint Cyr Military Academy, from which he graduated 13th in his class, in 1912. The young second lieutenant was then assigned to the 33rd Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Philippe Pétain. For almost twenty years, the future Marshal, who made note of him favorably and even saw him as “the best hopes for the future,” became a role model for de Gaulle.

On August 15, 1914, less than a month after the declaration of war, the young lieutenant de Gaulle was wounded in Dinant. Decorated with the Croix de Guerre in January, he was again wounded in the hand, in the Somme, in March, and promoted to the rank of captain on September 3. On March 2, 1916, he was again injured, this time in the thigh, and taken prisoner in Douaumont. Despite five escape attempts, he remained detained in Germany until the end of the war on November 11, 1918.

In July 1920, de Gaulle was assigned to the staff of General Weygand, and participated in Polish army operations on the Vistula. The purpose was to contain the Red Army which had invaded Poland. Back in France, in February of 1921, he was responsible for giving history lessons at Saint-Cyr. On April 6 of the same year, he married Yvonne Vendroux, daughter of an industrialist from Calais, with whom he had three children (Philippe, Élizabeth and little Anne, who unfortunately remained mentally handicapped all her life and died of bronchopneumonia at the age of twenty).

At the École de Guerre, which he entered in 1921, his independence of mind soon attracted the enmity of a few professors, who wrote notes criticizing him severely when he left in 1924. Marshal Pétain, also known for similar independence, trait, was Marshal Pétain took umbrage at this and made it known. His intervention probably led to the correction of these critical notes.

1924 was the year when de Gaulle, an excellent connoisseur of the German language, published his first book, The Enemy’s House Divided. He explained the last months of the war and the causes of the enemy’s defeat. Among Pétain’s staff, Colonel Laure read the young captain’s writings. He knew that good writing was hardly a common trait in the army and therefore recommended de Gaulle’s name to the Marshal, who was vice president of the Supreme War Council. Invited to work on his staff, on July 1, 1925, de Gaulle was responsible for drafting articles and speeches and even writing a book on “the Soldier” that Pétain had been pondering for some time. Satisfied with the first drafts, the Marshal only asked for a few changes. Twelve years later, the project of this book would become the reason for a rupture between the two men.

During the summer of 1926, Marshal Pétain took de Gaulle on a tour to plot fortified sites in the East. “I will,” he wrote, “go over to front with the most intelligent officer in the French army, to find out what he would have done if, before me, he had been the Kronprinz.” In April 1927, at the request of Pétain, de Gaulle gave three lectures in the large amphitheater of the École Supérieure de Guerre. In the fall, he began again his lectures at the Sorbonne, at the invitation of the Cercle Fustel de Coulanges, a satellite organization of the Action Française. Promoted to the rank of Commandant in September, he then left to take command of the 19th Chasseurs Battalion, in Trier.

From 1929 to 1931, de Gaulle was assigned to Beirut in the intelligence service (2nd and 3rd Bureaus) of the army of the Levant. From his experience, he co-wrote with Commander Yvon, Histoire des troupes du Levant (A History of the Troops in the Levant), published in 1931.

Back in France, he was appointed to the 3rd Bureau of the Secretariat of the Superior Council of National Defense. In July 1932, de Gaulle published, The Edge of the Sword, in which he compiled and completed the lectures given at the École de Guerre. In his dedication, erased in 1945, he expressed his gratitude to Pétain: “This attempt, Monsieur le Maréchal, can only be dedicated to you, because nothing shows better than your glory what the virtues of action can draw from the light of thought.” On copy number one, he added in his own hand, “a tribute to a very respectful and very deep devotion.”

In 1934, a book appeared that became famous, Vers l’armée de métier (Towards the Professional Army, but strangely translated into English as The Army of the Future), in which de Gaulle defended the creation of a professionally powerful motorized and mechanical army. At the same time, he met the former vice-president of the Council of Ministers, Paul Reynaud, member of the Democratic Alliance, a moderate right-wing party, and gradually became his adviser on defense and strategy. Lecturer at the Center for Advanced Military Studies, from 1935 to 1936, de Gaulle was subsequently assigned to the command of the 507th tank destroyer regiment of Metz and promoted to colonel in December 1937.

In September 1938, de Gaulle published La France et son armée (France and Her Army), a work in which he traced the war episodes of France. We will return to the difficult and ambiguous circumstances of this publication. On September 2, 1939, the day before England and France declared war on the Third Reich (September 3), Colonel de Gaulle was appointed acting commander of the tanks of the Fifth Army in the Lorraine-Alsace region.

On May 10, 1940, after eight months of the Phoney War (the Sitzkrieg), the real war began. In less than five days, the 19th Army Corps, Panzer Group Guderian, crossed the Meuse out of the Ardennes (May 12) and broke through the French defenses in the Sedan sector (May 14). On May 19, faced with the magnitude of the disaster, Reynaud (chairman of the board since March 22) dismissed General-in-Chief Gamelin and appointed Generalissimo Maxime Weygand (73 years of age) in his place. Simultaneously, on May 18, he recalled, from his embassy in Madrid, the old Marshal Pétain (84 years old) and brought him into the government as vice-president of the council of ministers.

On May 17, 1939, de Gaulle launched the Montcornet counteroffensive near Laon, at the head of the 4th Armored Division, the best French armored unit. Facing the rear of the 2nd Panzer, it had to fall back with heavy losses, the enemy having decimated two thirds of its tanks. On May 25, Reynaud and General Weygand appointed de Gaulle brigadier general and acting commander of the Fourth Armored Reserve Division.

On May 28, de Gaulle launched a new offensive against the Abbeville communications node. But after an appreciable advance of its tanks, the Germans regrouped. In 10 days, the Fourth Armored Division lost 40% of its force and came to know the limits of exhaustion. In Dunkirk, British and Canadian troops were evacuated between May 24 and June 4. On June 6, Reynaud entrusted de Gaulle with the portfolio of Under-Secretary of State for War. Then, Reynaud de Gaulle went to London on June 9 to meet Churchill and obtain air reinforcements.

On June 10, 1939, stabbed in the back, Italy declared war on France. In the evening of the 13th, the Council of Ministers was told about a possible transfer of the government to North Africa, but the project was rejected, as had been the idea of a withdrawal to Brittany earlier, which was deemed unrealistic at the time, and where the French army was defeated. Pétain, vice-president of the council, categorically refused any government-in-exile project. For him, to abandon French territory, to go into exile was to desert.

Two cliques were formed; one, favorable to the departure to Africa and the Empire, around the radicals Édouard Daladier, Édouard Herriot and Jules Jeanneney; the other, for staying on in France, around Adrien Marquet, the radical-socialist, and Pierre Laval, the defector from the Socialist Party (SFIO) who went to the center-right.

On June 14, de Gaulle was again charged with the difficult mission of obtaining essential reinforcements from England, but his attempts in London remained unsuccessful. When he returned to Bordeaux, where the government of Paul Reynaud had withdrawn, he was the bearer of a surprising offer from Winston Churchill, an offer that seems to have originated with Jean Monnet, the future American agent. This was the political union of Great Britain and France. Arousing suspicion in the Council of Ministers, due to France’s catastrophic situation and its imbalance vis-à-vis Great Britain, the proposal to merge the two nations into a Franco-British nation was quickly dismissed.

At the front, the debacle was in full swing. Nine million civilians were scattered on the roads. Two million prisoners had already been captured. On June 14, 1940, the Germans entered Paris, an open city. On the 15th, Paul Reynaud expressed the possibility of putting an end to hostilities. He even mentioned for the first time in the Council of Ministers the word “armistice.”

The radical socialist, César Campinchi, Minister of the Navy (who was given this position by Léon Blum and Camille Chautemps), also expressed the opinion that it was advisable to start talks quickly with the Germans, and asked if a man, who had not been involved in the pre-war political struggles, would not be more likely to make this terrible solution accepted in the country. On that day, the idea of an armistice was put forward by two parliamentarians (one from the left, Campinchi, and one from the right, who would later reverse, Reynaud). The two designated the man who could do it best, the old Marshal Pétain, now eighty-four years old!

At the exit door, Reynaud went straight to Weygand: “General, as we agreed earlier, you are going to ask for the capitulation of the army.” Weygand, in agreement with Pétain, shouted, it was out of the question: Capitulation is a military act of surrender, while the armistice is a political act which puts an end to hostilities without definitively ending the state of war. Capitulation would allow the army to be defeated; it would be infamy, for it would place the country at the mercy of the winner. The armistice, on the other hand, a political ceasefire agreement resulting from negotiations, could help to protect the interests of the defeated.

Head Of Free France

On June 16, 1940, Paul Reynaud (now in favor of the continuation of the war in North Africa but now a minority view), tendered his resignation, after having advised the President of the Republic, Albert Lebrun, to get Marshal Pétain to constitute a government. According to Lebrun, it was with the agreement of the presidents of the chambers, Édouard Herriot (Chamber of Deputies) and Jules Jeanneney (Senate), that he appeal to the Marshal, who would agree to constitute a government of national unity ranging from conservatives to socialists.

The next day, through the Spanish ambassador to Paris, José Félix de Lequerica, Pétain ordered an armistice with Germany. At dawn on June 17, the French request for an armistice reached German headquarters. The same day, at nine in the morning, de Gaulle left Bordeaux for London, in the airplane of General Spears, personal representative of Churchill in France.

Also on June 17, 1940, Marshal Pétain addressed the French on the radio: “I give France the gift of my person.” The next day, June 18, the BBC opened its studios to de Gaulle who launched a first appeal to French soldiers, which has remained famous in history, even though few French have heard it: “Whatever happens, the flame of resistance must not go out and will not go out.”

The armistice was signed on June 22, 1940 with Germany (on the one hand, by General Charles Huntzinger and Ambassador Léon Noël, and on the other, by General Wilhelm Keitel), and on June 24, with Italy (by General Huntzinger, Marshal Pietro Badoglio and Minister Galeazzo Ciano).

On June 23, the appointment of Charles de Gaulle to the rank of general on a temporary basis was canceled for having left France without authorization and for having carried out a political act on London radio. Demoted to the rank of colonel, de Gaulle, was automatically retired by a decree signed by the President of the Republic, Albert Lebrun. But on June 28, 1940, Churchill’s British government recognized de Gaulle as “leader of the Free French.”

For de Gaulle, the armistice was dishonorable and unacceptable. Once the army was demobilized, the fleet, the planes, the tanks, all the weapons had to be delivered intact to the Nazi adversary, who would be able to use them against the allies of France. The homeland and its government would be reduced to servitude. This was cowardice. This was forfeiture. This was a crime. Creating the French National Committee, a government body in exile, Charles de Gaulle did not hesitate to challenge the legality and legitimacy of the government of Pétain, formed at the request of the President of the Republic and confirmed on July 10 by the vote of the two chambers (the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate) gathered in Vichy.

De Gaulle, who had enjoyed an estimable military career until then, was to prove himself, as head of Free France an outstanding politician, to be the most gifted of all French politicians of the 20th century. “In times of revolutions,” writes Talleyrand, “one finds skill only in boldness, and greatness only in exaggeration.” His path was to be strewn with pitfalls and obstacles, for there are always more thistles and thorns than flowers.

But de Gaulle did win most of the political battles he waged. On July 3, 1940, without informing him, the British navy captured, in quick succession, the French fleet at harbor in Alexandria; then the marines of his Gracious Majesty seized French ships which had taken refuge in the English ports; and the English fleet, at the orders of Admiral James Somerville, sank unarmed French ships harbored at Mers el-Kébir (1300 French sailors were killed).

On August 2, de Gaulle was stripped of his rank and sentenced to death in absentia, by court martial, under General Aubert Frère (the future head of Organisation de résistance de l’armée, who died in deportation to Germany). September 23 saw the failure of the Franco-British landing operation in Dakar, which was repulsed by the troops of the Vichy government, under the command of Pierre-François Boisson, Governor of French West Africa (AOF).

A year later, in June 1941, when the Anglo-Gaullist forces entered Syria and Lebanon, they encountered the army of the Vichy government. An armistice was concluded, but only between the English and Vichy, which led to a serious crisis between Churchill and de Gaulle, the leader of Free France, when the latter was confronted with a fait accompli.

In July 1940, in the early days of Free France, the supporters of de Gaulle were only a handful of men. The 50,000 French people present in England were mostly repatriated. Only 1,200, mostly young nationalists or patriots on the far right, chose to stay with him. Ever careful, the General sadly admitted years later: “Out of 39 million inhabitants, this was very little.”

But three years later, in the summer of 1943, there were between 50,000 and 70,000 (including 32,000 AOF colonials, who were not French citizens). After the American landing in North Africa in November 1942, and the subsequent joining of the Vichy African Army (generals Jean De Lattre, Alphonse Juin, Henri Giraud), the headcount increased to more than 300,000 men.

De Gaulle’s authority was finally admitted, but not without numerous open conflicts and severe friction. In London, the first form of antigaullist opposition came, on the one hand, from intellectuals and journalists from the review, France-Libre, founded by André Labarthe and Raymond Aron; and, on the other hand, from certain hosts of Radio-London (Robert Mengin). These Free French, who had the ear of the American State Department, did not stop criticizing the “Bonapartism” of the General, even “the fascist tendencies” of “the apprentice dictator,” “the child of the Action Française,” and “la Cagoule.”

For their part, the Vichyssois of North Africa, who found also themselves in the fight against Germany, after putting up a limp resistance to the American landing (November 8, 1942), and blundering with the help of the German invasion of the Free Zone (November 11, 1942), were not very convinced either. Algiers was once a veritable nest of vipers. General Maxime Weygand, a supporter of the “National Revolution” and loyal to the Marshal, embodied an attempt at “Pétainist resistance.” He tried to strengthen the French Armistice Army, more particularly that of Africa, but arrested by the Gestapo, he was placed with Daladier, Reynaud and Gamelin under house arrest in the Austrian Tyrol (Itter Castle). Admiral François Darlan, ex-successor to Pétain, went to Algiers and joined the Americans in November 1942, after much hesitation and about-turns.

After the invasion of the Free Zone, the scuttling of the French fleet in the harbor of Toulon was ordered, on November 27, 1942, by the admiralty of Vichy in agreement with the instructions of 1940 (which had been ordered by Darlan himself, justified as a foreign power trying to seize French assets). A month later, Darlan was arrested and murdered in Algiers, on the orders of the royalist resistance fighter, fiercely anti-Vichyist, Henri d’Astier de la Vigerie.

General Giraud, who had escaped from Germany with the help of members of the 2nd Vichy office, came to embody the resistance of the traditional right. One time seen by the Americans and the English as a counter to de Gaulle, Giraud was definitively excluded from the French Committee of National Liberation (CFLN) in April 1944.

Two other generals, both ex-Vichysts, Juin and De Lattre, may serve as examples, one at the head of the French expeditionary force in Italy; the other, during the landing in Provence and during the Rhine and Danube campaigns. In fact, one of the few officers rallying from the very beginning to de Gaulle was Captain Philippe Leclerc, a former sympathizer of Action Française who became general in August 1944. His division (2nd Armored Division), landed in Normandy on August 1, 1944, a month after the Allies, and participated actively, with the Americans, in the liberation of Paris and Strasbourg.

De Gaulle’s authority over Free France had been debated among the Allies for a long time as well. The double game of the English and the Americans was almost permanent throughout the war. Roosevelt never stopped riling Marshal Pétain, not ruling out the idea of relying on him to rebuild France when liberation came. He won some time, hoping to find a more docile French representative, less irreducible than de Gaulle. There were the Vichysts, who rallied after 1942 to the Allies, such as, Generals Weygand and De Lattre, then Admiral Darlan, then General Giraud.

The Americans planned to administer France liberated by the armies, and they did not give up on this idea. In this regard, de Gaulle confided to his son: “Roosevelt only cares about occupying France as he will occupy Nazi Germany. He wants to transform our country into a condominium [a territory over which several sovereign states would exercise joint sovereignty, NDLA], and Churchill is not far from advocating the same thing.” In fact, Churchill seemed to agree with him when he said: “Whenever we have to choose between Europe and the open sea, we will always choose the open sea.”

During the landing in North Africa on November 1942, de Gaulle was kept away by the Americans. In May 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill demanded de Gaulle cooperate with General Giraud. In June, Vice-Admiral Émile Muselier, a free Frenchman from the outset, joined General Giraud’s camp.

The White House secretly conspired, until the very end, against de Gaulle. His only true ally, the only important American friend, seems to have been General Dwight Eisenhower. Ever the realist, de Gaulle noted: “Until the last day of the war, we should have fought on that front too. But it must be said that in a war of alliance, each ally is actually waging his own war and not that of others.” He added, without mincing words: “The English who died while liberating France, gave their lives for Great Britain and the king. The Americans who died in liberating France, died for the United States of America and for no one else. Just as all the French who died on the battlefield, including for the independence of the United States of America, died for France and the king who personified it.”

On June 6, 1944, on the eve of the Normandy landings, de Gaulle was still kept away by the Allies. On February 4, 1945, at the Yalta conference, France was absent. It was so also at the Potsdam conference in August 1945. But on May 8, 1945, in Berlin, during the German capitulation, de Gaulle, the French representative was a signatory and not just a witness, as in May 7 in Reims. De Lattre signed, along with the three Allied generals—A.W. Tedder for the British, G. Zhukov for the Soviets, and Carl Spaatz for the Americans. De Gaulle, who had always been aware of France’s weaknesses and the size of the armed forces mobilized during the Second World War, said to Georges Pompidou in 1950: “We just bluffed.” Be that as it may, in 1945, after eight months of tough negotiations, he managed to bring France’s voice into the United Nations. Thanks to him, France became one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Until 1943, the resistance fighters inside France were more or less unanimous far from unanimous supporters of General de Gaulle. In 1941, resistance, especially fueled by young patriotic and nationalist idealists, was relatively marginal. Then, after the German invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941, a first group of Communists joined the fight. Up till then, the French Communists fraternized with the occupier, in the name of the “struggle against the capitalist bourgeoisie.”

The PCF political bureau even wrote a letter to the German Kommandantur in Paris, on June 25, 1940, asking for authorization to publish the newspaper L’Humanité, in the name of the German-Soviet Pact (August 23, 1939). This did not prevent the PCF from presenting itself at the Liberation as the first resistant party in France, tirelessly promoting the myth of the 75,000 Communists shot by the Germans; while, in actuality, historians count less than 4,000.

Communist propaganda also claimed that the Secretary General of the PCF, Maurice Thorez, was the “first of the communist resisters,” when he had actually deserted on October 3, 1939 and had spent the entire duration of the war in the USSR (Pardoned by de Gaulle, in the name of realpolitik, he became minister of State with three other PCF ministers in the second provisional government of the head of Free France, from November 1945 to January 1946, then, vice-president of the council in 1947).

In reality, it was only after the invasion of the Free Zone in November 1942, and especially after the great German defeats on the Eastern Front, in 1943, that we can really speak of an anti-German and anti-Pétainist resistance. Many historians agree on this point: Pétain’s capital fault was not leaving France in November 1942. “If he had left,” said de Gaulle, “he would have returned on his white horse, winning as in 1918.” Until the end of 1942, you could be both Petainist and belong to the Resistance.

The Pétain doctrine was above all a wait-and-see attitude, which ulcerated, as happened with the Gaullists of London and the internal Resistance, and as happened with the authentic fascists, anti-Vichyssois and ultras of the collaborationists of Paris. As a stubborn old man, Pétain imagined that he would be able to allow France to rebuild its forces apart from its neutrality. He waited until the deals were made among the various belligerents, hoping to be able to reappear one day. A striking example of a Pétainist passing on Resistance, while also being anti-Gaullist was the future Minister of the Fourth Republic, and President of the Fifth Republic, François Mitterrand. In the spring of 1943, sponsored by two members of Marshal Pétain’s cabinet, Mitterrand was decorated with the Order of the Francisque, the highest distinction of the Vichy regime. But in November, he approached the ORA (Organization of Resistance of the Army which was Giraudist) and went into hiding.

At the beginning of 1943, the various Resistance organizations brought together 40,000 people, a number which soon rose to 100,000 and then to 300,000 at the time of the Liberation. Of course, as de Gaulle would say, of these 300,000 resistance fighters, “many resisted without having carried arms.” In addition, half fled the STO (Compulsory Labor Service), while 700,000 men went to work in German factories, either forced or voluntarily (like the future Secretary General of the PCF, Georges Marchais).

Against all odds, de Gaulle resisted. His tenacity, his perseverance, was ultimately crowned with success. In the difficult process of unification of the Resistance, two stages were essential: The creation of the National Council of the Resistance, on May 27, 1943, by Jean Moulin, the delegate of De Gaulle, and the creation of the French Forces of the Interior (FFI), on February 1, 1944, by his other delegate, Jacques Bingen. In Algiers, de Gaulle won over all of his competitors. On October 3, 1943, he became the only undisputed president of the French Committee for National Liberation (CFLN). A year later, on June 14, 1944, in Bayeux, he had the immense pleasure of delivering a first speech on the soil of liberated France. On August 26, de Gaulle triumphantly walked the Champs-Elysées.

On November 13, 1945, he was unanimously elected President of the provisional government by members of the Constituent Assembly. The General presided over two governments, from June 1944 to January 1946. Being a supporter of a regime with a strong executive, he soon ran up against socialists, communists and Christian Democrats who wanted nothing from the world. The old ruling caste of the Third Republic, once believed to be definitively discredited by defeat and occupation, resurfaced and once again took over the great levers of power of the state. De Gaulle, who denounced the exclusive party regime, was forced to resign on January 20, 1946.

The original version of this article appeared in Le Cercle Aristote. Translated by N. Dass.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

The image shows a portrait of Charles de Gaulle.

Miguel de Unamuno vs. Alejandro Amenábar

After two box office successes, The Sea Inside and The Others, followed by two commercial failures, Agora and Regression, and a series of advertising films, notably for La Loteria Nacional, the Spanish director of Chilean origin, Alejandro Amenábar, returns in cinematographic news with a feature film about the start of the Spanish Civil War. While at War (in French release, Letter to Franco), is a film well put together and remarkably well-served by the performance of the main actor, Karra Elejalde, but whose crippling defect is to claim to be based on works of serious historians when it is pure fiction.

Centered on the figure of Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), an illustrious Basque-Spanish philosopher, linguist, poet and playwright of the Generation of 98, whom some consider to be the most significant Spanish intellectual of the turn of the 20th century, the film strives to show that the rector of the University of Salamanca was unable to understand the military coup of July 18, 1936 correctly, that he lacked foresight, and that he did not understand the real intentions of the insurgents.

According to Amenábar, Unamuno was saved in extremis for posterity, thanks to his late realization and then enormous courage during the critical speech against the national camp given at the Paraninfo (large amphitheater) of the University of Salamanca, in front of Brigadier-General Millán-Astray, the famed founder of the Spanish Foreign Legion, a war cripple (one-eyed, one-armed and lame), and a luminary among university and military officials.

The incident occurred on October 12, 1936, Columbus Day, or Día de la Raza (a day marking “Hispanity”), a holiday that commemorates the discovery of America and the birth of the new cultural identity born from the fusion of indigenous peoples of the New World and peoples of Spain. Miguel de Unamuno was, it should be remembered, the first author to suggest using the word “Hispanity” (Hispanitatem) in an article entitled, “Sobre la argentinidad,” published by La Nación de Buenos Aires, March 11, 1910.

The highlight of the film is obviously the mythical version of the incident when the philosopher and the general met. Amenábar largely, if not almost exclusively, bases his view on the Biography of Miguel de Unamuno that the French Hispanists, Colette and Jean-Claude Rabaté, published in 2009 at Taurus (a publishing house which is part of the Santillana Group, itself close to the newspaper El País, one of the most loyal supporters of the PSOE governments).

From their account of Unamuno’s speech, Amenábar retains, adds or moves a few sentences, no doubt in the name of artistic freedom. According to the two French Hispanists on whose work the film is based, Unamuno declared on this occasion: “We talked about international war in defense of Western Christian civilization; a civilization that I have defended myself on many occasions. But today it is only an ‘uncivil’ war … (between the supporters of fascism and bolshevism, Amenábar here adds).”

Directly referring to the words of one of the speakers, the professor of literature, Francisco Maldonado, Unamuno also said: “I take it personally when it is assumed that the explosion against the Basque and Catalans qualifies as anti -Spain; with such reasoning they could also say the same thing about us… Spain is nothing more than a madhouse.”

Foaming with rage, in particular after Unamuno’s allusion to the Filipino national hero, José Rizal, against whom General Millán-Astray had fought in his youth, the founder of the Spanish Legion (Tercio de Extranjeros) got up, shouting “Long live death! Death to intellectuals!”

And, ever-unflappable, the old philosopher replied at once: “Here, it is the temple of intelligence and I am its high priest. You desecrate this sacred place. You may win because you have the necessary brute force, but you will not win. To convince, you have to persuade, and to persuade you need something you don’t have for the fight: reason and being right… I have said what I came to say!”

This admirable and courageous speech in the film, however, is pure literary invention. Obviously, Amenábar did not bother to read a small footnote included in the book by Rabatés, which says the following: “There is no written or engraved record of this famous exchange. We took the liberty of reconstructing Unamuno’s possible speech from notes scribbled by him.”

The primary source is about thirty words feverishly penciled by the philosopher on the back of an envelope: “international war; western Christian civilization, independence, overcoming and convincing, hatred and compassion, Rice Rizal, concave and convex, struggle, unity, Catalans and Basques, language imperialism, hate intelligence which is critical, which is examination and differentiation, investigative curiosity and not being inquisitive.”

If Amenábar had been more rigorous and better informed, he would have compared the mythical version with the most balanced testimonies of the academic personalities then present. There could also have been a warning before the credits. The personalities present in the audience, such as the writer, José Maria Pemán; the deputy of the Republic, future Minister of Education of Franco, Pedro Sainz Rodríguez; the jurist and political theorist, Eugenio Vegas Latapié; the psychiatrist, José Pérez-López Villamil; and the vice-rector, Esteban Madruga, along with the writers, journalists and historians, well-known throughout Spain, such as, Emilio Salcedo, Ximenéz de Sandoval, Víctor Ruiz de Albéniz, Alfonso Lazo, Luis E. Togores and Guillermo Rocafort, to name a few. All of them stressed the fallacious character of the remarks put in the mouth of Unamuno.

But it is even more regrettable that Amenábar did not deem it useful to refer to the final works of the librarian of the University of Salamanca, Severiano Delgado Cruz, published in 2019, under the title, Arqueología de un mito: el acto del 12 October in el paraninfo de la Universidad de Salamanca. And all the more so since the main Spanish media (including the newspapers ABC and El País in their editions of May 7-8 and May 27, 2018) have largely echoed the filmmaker.

At the end of a long and patient research, Severiano Delgado Cruz was able to clearly affirm that Millán-Astray never said, “Death to the intellectuals” – but rather, “Muera la intelectualidad traidora” (Death to traitorous intellectualism) and that Miguel de Unamuno, who focused his brief speech on compassion, did not answer him in such an indignant and haughty tone.

It was, according to Delgado, a mundane exchange, followed by the usual uproar that accompanied speeches of the 1930s during which people were easily fired up. There was no solemn retort or arms brandished to threaten the rector. “The meeting was dissolved in the midst of shouts and bluster.” Nor were there “the cries of harsh severity” of Francoism, such as, “Arriba España,” (“Spain over all”), “España, grande” (Greater Spain), and “España, libre” (Free Spain). Millán-Astray asked the old professor to go out on Madame Franco’s arm (and not by taking her hand as in the film).

The philosopher and Carmen Polo Franco, accompanied by Mgr Pla y Deniel, Bishop of Salamanca, and three soldiers from the general’s personal guard, then headed for the door. Before getting into the official car, in which Madame Franco was already seated, Unamuno shook hands with Millán-Astray and the two men took leave of one another. (A photo published in El Adelanto de Salamanca dated of October 13, 1936 attests to this fact).

It also appears that Unamuno did not attach any particular importance to this incident because he did not change his routine. As usual, after his meal, he went to the “Casino” for coffee. And it was then that members and adherents of this cultural club – civilians and not soldiers – insulted and booed him.

The legend of the “Paraninfo Incident” came into being, as Delgado demonstrates, in 1941, when Luis Portillo wrote a fictional narrative entitled, “Unamuno’s Last Lecture,” for the London magazine, Horizons. This young teacher from Salamanca, who was employed by the BBC, had worked in Valencia on behalf of the Information Office of the Government of the Spanish Republic.

In his literary recreation, Portillo voluntarily emphasized Millán-Astray’s brutality towards Unamuno, extolling the dignified and courageous attitude of the intellectual, who dared to oppose the infamous military leader. But the myth did not really take hold until later, when Portillo’s account was taken up, uncritically, by historian, Hugh Thomas, in his world-famous book, The Spanish Civil War / La guerre de Espagne (1961).

Unamuno’s enormous international prestige protected him from any repressive or coercive measures. But the brief quarrel was not without consequences. The Municipal Corporation of Salamanca met the same day to propose that his duties as a municipal councillor be terminated. On October 16, the Governing Council of the University of Salamanca asked for his dismissal from the rectorate. General Franco announced his dismissal on October 22.

Ironically, Unamuno had also been successively dismissed from the vice-rectorate for antimonarchism and insults to the king in 1924, then appointed rector by the Republic, then dismissed again by the Popular Front government for joining the national uprising (this was the purge of university professors ordered by the decree of 23 August 1936 by Manuel Azaña) – and then finally he was quickly reappointed by the National Defense Committee, but again dismissed on October 16.

The institutional vacuum having been created around him, Unamuno, whose precarious health became increasingly shaky, then lived on as a recluse, until his death on December 31, 1936, at the age of 72.

At the end of the film, Amenábar suggests that after his acquiescence, even his “redemption,” the old philosopher at last and finally distanced himself from the National Movement, fiercely criticizing the actions of the military and their right-wing civilian supporters. But Amenábar’s expeditious conclusion has nothing to do with historical truth.

The initial enthusiasm of Unamuno for the insurgent camp clearly cooled in the light of information that reached him about the repression exerted in the rear-guard, which was ultimately quite similar to that which occurred in the camp of the Popular Front. Especially since close friends, like Casto Prieto, Republican mayor of Salamanca; José Manso, Socialist deputy; or Atilano Coco, Protestant pastor and mason, had been victims.

But that said, with a spirit that was free, independent, stubborn, rebellious, fond of justice and reason, eager to reconcile progress with the best of tradition, Unamuno continued to oppose, head-on, the government of the Popular Front (and not to the Republic). He criticized very severely the extrajudicial executions of the two camps, the curse of los (h)unos y los (h)otros (the Huns and the [H]others, i.e., both sides), the lack of compassion of the parties of the Right.

But, contrary to what Amenábar suggests, Unamuno supported, justified and legitimized the National uprising until his death. His interviews, letters and other documents after October 12, 1936 leave no room for doubt (see in particular the interviews with Jérôme Tharaud and Katzantzakis on October 20 and 21; then with Norenzo Giusso, on November 21; the letter to his translator, Maria Garelli, on November 21; the interview with Armando Boaventura at the end of December; or, the last lines of El resentimiento tragíco de la vida (the Tragic Bitterness of Life), written three days before his death, which are notes that should not be confused with his famous book, Tragic Sense of Life).

The press favorable to the Popular Front poured out torrents of insults against Unamuno. He was for them the “mad, bilious, cynical, inhuman, mean, impostor, and great traitor,” and even, the “spiritual inspirer of fascism.” The question was nevertheless perfectly clear to the old rector – it was “a struggle between civilization and anarchy… not a war between liberalism and fascism, but between Christian civilization and anarchy. What has to be saved in Spain is Western Christian civilization and national independence.”

Shortly before dying, he described “the red hordes” as “pathological phenomena, criminals and former criminals,” as “ferocious beasts,” who conspired “the barbarity of the Popular Front.” He said, “Franco is a good man and a great general.” He prophesied, “internal or external exile which awaited many intelligent and pure-hearted Spaniards.” And he admitted “his discouragement… I am disgusted with being a man.”

He went on to explain: “In this critical moment of suffering in Spain, I know that I must follow the soldiers. They are the only ones who will bring us order… I have not turned into a Rightist. Pay no attention to what is said. I have not betrayed the cause of freedom. But for the moment, it is absolutely essential that order be restored. After that, I can quickly rise up and get back into the fight for freedom. No, no, I am neither fascist nor Bolshevik. I am a loner.”

There are so many other errors or untruths in While at War, which deserve to be corrected. Here are some of the more egregious:

  1. The red and gold flag of the Spanish monarchy is associated with “fascism,” while the red, yellow and purple flag of the Republic is associated with “democracy.” In reality, in Salamanca, as in most regions of Spain, the insurgents left the barracks waving the tricolor of the Republic (except in Pamplona and Vitoria). The red and yellow flag became the official flag of the National zone only later, under decisive pressure from monarchical, Carlist and Alphonsine circles, and by decree of the National Defense Council of August 29, 1936.
  2. At the start of the film, an officer declares a state of war “with the help of God” which is quite incredible. In the National camp, the combat did not initially have its religious character of a crusade. That only happened after the failed military coup, when civilians mobilized on both sides, and transformed the into a civil war.
  3. Millán-Astray praises a Franco who is supposed to have had the luck to dodge all bullets during the African campaign. That is just ridiculous and grossly ignorant. Franco was seriously injured in the abdomen during a bayonet charge in June 1916. He was picked up from the ground and saved by a Moroccan soldier from corps of “regulars;” and for several days, his death was considered almost certain by his comrades in arms. Astray, who was a hothead and a fanatical patriot, was probably not as uneducated as they say. He wrote the prologue to the Spanish edition of Inazo Nitobé’s Bushido and collected most of the essential samurai precepts to write a code of the legionnaires.
  4. It is not clear if Unamuno gave 5,000 pesetas to finance the coup. The question is not clear.
  5. At Paraninfo, Unamuno was not seated at the far right of the conference table but in the center because he presided over the gathering as rector with Madame Franco and the Catalan bishop on his right and Pla y Deniel to his left.
  6. It was not the daughters of Unamuno who were present in the large amphitheater but his son, Rafael.
  7. The ambiguity of the connection between the Falangists and Unamuno is completely overlooked. The Falangists, rightly or wrongly, believed that the regenerationist theses of Unamuno were close to their own ideas. But the film prefers to emphasize the confrontations between members of the Falange and Unamuno, rather than to show the subtle connections that existed between them. Unamuno severely criticized the “fascism” of the National Trade Unionists or Falangistas and their repressive actions during the Spanish Civil War. Nevertheless, he always held in high esteem the head and founder of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who was then incarcerated in Alicante (whom he called “a privileged brain; may be the most promising in contemporary Europe,” in a letter to Lisandro de la Torre, August 1936). On February 10, 1935, Unamuno even received José Antonio at his home and went with him to that celebrated Falangist meeting held the same day in Salamanca. Some authors are also of the opinion that the controversies raised by this assistance caused him to be deprived of the Nobel Prize for literature the following year. On December 31, 1936, a young Falangist, Bartolomé Aragon, while visiting the old master, received his last words, his last sigh and who then informed the family of his death. It was also a Falangist intellectual, Victor de la Serna, who organized the funeral vigil at the University’s Paraninfo (because, despite his dismissal, Unamuno was considered by them to have died in the exercise of his office). Finally, during the burial, the coffin was carried by four Falangists.

I understand that these facts are embarrassing for the image of the philosopher that Amenábar wants to give. The filmmaker is convinced that the Spanish Civil War can be reduced to the Democrats’ struggle against fascism, to the people’s struggle against the army, the church and the bank – an interpretation which, after all, is not very different from that of the Komintern of the 1930s. Everyone is of course free to have their opinions.

But was the Spanish Popular Front really democratic? Therein lies the heart of the problem. In truth, in Spain in 1936, no one believed in liberal democracy. And certainly not the Lefts. The revolutionary myth, which was shared by the entire Left, was that of the armed struggle. Liberal democracy was seen by the Bolshevized Socialist Party (whose leader, Largo Caballero, was the “Spanish Lenin” for the socialist youth), by the Communist Party and by the Anarchists, only as a means to achieve their ends – “popular democracy,” or the socialist state. The liberal-Jacobin Left, secularist, dogmatic and sectarian, dominated by the personality of Manuel Azaña, had engaged in the Socialist uprising of October 1934 (against the government of the radical Alejandro Lerroux, whose moderate party was supported by the a large number of Freemasons) – and it did not believe in democracy either.

It is not surprising therefore that the most prestigious Spanish intellectuals of the time, liberals and democrats, such as, Gregorio Marañon, José Ortega y Gasset and Ramón Pérez de Ayala, the “founding fathers of the Republic,” who had founded, in 1931, the “Agrupación al servicio de la República” (a group of intellectuals who defended the Republic), rallied, like Unamuno, to the cause of the National camp.

In conclusion, being a supporter of a politically correct globalism, representative of a technically successful cinema but always more predictable and more conformist, Amenábar declared, during the presentation of his film, that he also wanted to refer to the present and call the attention of the viewers to the dangers of the resurgence of extremism, fascism and populism.

I bet that Miguel de Unamuno, both Basque and Spanish, a Christian philosopher, a liberal, democrat and a man with a big heart, would have called for more measure, nuance, rationality and mutual respect. He could thus have given Amenábar a few lines from his Tragic Sense of Life: “Every individual in a people who conspires to break the spiritual unity and continuity of that people tends to destroy it and to destroy himself as a part of that people… for me the becoming other than I am, the breaking of the unity and continuity of my life, is to cease to be he who I am—that is to say, it is simply to cease to be. And that—no! Anything rather than that!”

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The image shows, “Don Miguel de Unamuno (with a View of Salamanca), by J. Solana, painted ca. 1935-1936.

Under cover of Anti-Francoism, They Are Revising History

For the past fifteen years or so, the use of history for political ends has become the indelible mark of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the cryptocommunist far Left (today united under the acronym, Podemos Izquierda Unida). The same talking-points are always mentioned by the political authorities and the mainstream media: the Francoist repression” (or White Repression), and the repression of the Left during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. On the other hand, a careful examination reveals the repression of the Right by the Left. But for the Left – it is said – only “mourning” was done under the dictatorship.

Over the years, the memorialist ideology of the Spanish Left has steadily grown. History, which bizarrely, is said to be dominated by the Right, has become suspect. It has been replaced by “historical and democratic memory.” Based on individual and subjective memories, it is not concerned with explaining and understanding, but with selecting, condemning and denouncing.

Forgiveness and Dialogue – All That Is Finished

In the aftermath of the Franco dictatorship, from 1976 to 1982, two principles animated “the spirit of democratic transition:” Reciprocal forgiveness and dialogue between government and opposition. It was not a question of forgetting the past, but of overcoming it and looking resolutely to the future. There was then, as the authorities are pleased to say today, “no voluntary amnesia,” nor “a pact of silence.”

On the contrary, the democratic transition was based on a perfect awareness of the failures of the past and on the will to overcome them. It was not a question of imposing silence on historians and journalists, but of letting them debate, and refusing to allow politicians to take up the subject for their partisan struggles. There was therefore no oversight; but, on the contrary, a particular attention was paid to history, which led to an impressive number of publications, the likes of which doubtless had never been seen.

But from the 1990s onwards, and in particular after the 1993 election campaign, the attitude of the Socialist Party changed. A neo-Socialist and post-Marxist cultural tidal wave soon overwhelmed Spain. The Manichean history of the first years of Franco’s regime, which was believed to be permanently buried with him, has resurfaced, but in another form. With José Luis Zapatero’s Historical Memory Law of 2007, new impetus was given to the arguments of the “Memoria histórica” and a real atmosphere of pre-civil war gradually settled upon the country.

Memorial Amnesia

In December 2008, the Socialist parliamentary group presented to Parliament a new bill to reform and amplify the 2007 law. In its first draft, this bill provided for a Truth Commission (sic!), composed of eleven designated members by Parliament to tell the historical truth. It also provided for fines of up to 150,000 euros, prison terms for up to 4 years, destruction of published works and the dismissal of teachers found guilty for up to ten years. Luckily, this undemocratic monstrosity has been overhauled and to-date it is a new, “softer” draft that is waiting to be examined and voted on by parliamentarians.

Contrary to what the title of a Parisian evening newspaper recently asserted, it is not the ban on the cult of Franco that divides Spain, but the definition or the meaning that the new memorial bill gives to “the apology of Francoism.” It is indeed peculiar and disturbing to see parties of the Left, which have become amnesiac, presenting a supposedly democratic bill which is basically only a step towards the establishment of a kind of soft Sovietism. It is mind-boggling to see left-wing parties claiming to be part of the Second Republic and democracy also forgetting or camouflaging their own historical memory.

The Crimes Of The Left

How can we forget that portion of the Left’s responsibility in the origin of the Civil War, when the revolutionary myth of armed struggle was shared by all the Left?

How can we forget that liberal democracy was seen, by the Bolshevized Socialist Party, by the Communist Party and by the Anarchists, only as a means to achieve their ends: “Popular democracy” or the socialist state?

How can we forget the use of massive political violence by the Socialist Party during the October 1934 putsch, or coup d’état against the Liberal-Centrist government of the radical, Alejandro Lerroux, whose party was fueled by Freemasons?

How can we forget that during the elections of the Popular Front, in February 1936, 50 seats on the Right were invalidated and systematically granted to the Left, so that it could have a majority?

How can we forget that the President of the Republic, Niceto Alcalá Zamora, considered too conservative, was dismissed “in violation of the constitution,” after a real “parliamentary coup d’état,” according to his own words?

How can we forget the terror on the street (more than 300 dead in three months), the marginalization and exclusion of the parliamentary opposition in June?

Abuses In Both Camps

How can we forget that the atrocities and extrajudicial executions were as terrible and numerous in one camp as in the other? How can we forget that the founding fathers of the Republic, the intellectuals Marañon, Perez de Ayala, Ortega y Gasset, or even Unamuno – the evil that happened him, according to Alejandro Amenábar – the true liberals and democrats of the time, opposed the Popular Front and chose the National camp?

Why spread the idea that, since the beginning of the establishment of democracy, the Spaniards have been unable to overcome the past, that the Transition has been cowardice, and that the Right continues, for the most part, to be Francoist?

Why delegitimize the democratization of Spain and undermine the 1978 Constitution? Why not finally let the dead bury the dead permanently? In 1547, after having captured the city of Wittenberg, Charles V visited the tomb of the man who had been his harshest enemy, Martin Luther. Some advisers suggested that he burn the remains of the “heretic.” Magnanimously the emperor replied: “He found his judge. I make war on the living, not on the dead.”

The 1978 Constitution Flouted

The Civil War historian cannot subscribe to a litany of hate, revenge and demolition. He knows very well that we must not confuse the origins and antecedents of the Civil War with the coup d’état of July 18, 1936, nor the Civil War with Franco’s dictatorship; that all these are very different facts; and that, as such, they can be judged and interpreted in very different ways.

By confusing everything, mixing everything up, we condemn ourselves to not understanding anything. Suitably, article 16 of the 1978 Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, ideological freedom and freedom of worship and religious belief, without any other possible restrictions than those derived from the maintenance of public order, protected by law.

Hopefully, parliamentarians will remember it when examining and voting on this new bill, which is so anti-democratic and obscurantist, so radically incompatible with what the “values of the European Union” are or should be.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.

The image shows a child’s drawing, at the back of which is this inscription in the child’s own hand: “his scene shows a bombing in my town, Port-Bou. María Dolores Sanz, age 13.” Drawing ca. 1936-1938.



The Right-Left Divide: Does It Still Matter?

One of the most debated issues in recent years by European political observers (journalists and political scientists) has been the possibility, or the impossibility, of overcoming the right-left divide. This was particularly the case in the so-called “Latin” European countries of France and Italy, where the “old” dichotomy, established for over a century, seemed to be firmly and lastingly established.

In polls conducted at the end of the year 2000, in these countries, 60–70 percent of citizens stated unequivocally (at least when allowed to do so) that democracy had stopped working properly; that there no longer were substantial differences between right and left governments; and that the divide is no longer really relevant.

I myself contributed to the debate on the permanence or the end of this divide, its transformation or its decline, by publishing Droite/Gauche: pour sortir de l’équivoque. Histoire des idées et des valeurs non conformistes du XIXe au XXIe siècle (Right/Left: Getting Past the Ambiguity. A History of Non-Conformist Ideas and Values from the 19th to the 21st Centuries). What follows is a summary of the important points of this book.

To understand the radical and surprising recent socio-political change happening in European countries (the birth and development of many populist movements in much of the continent, governmental alliance between the League and the 5-Star Movement in Italy; popular rebellions/ insurrections, like the “Red Cap” and the “Yellow Vests” against the self-proclaimed progressive oligarchies or “elites” in France; the emergence of Vox in Spain; Brexit in the United Kingdom, etc.) – it is worth reflecting in depth and more specifically answering a few key questions: What is the Right? What is the Left? What are the arguments for and against the “inevitable” or “accidental” division that articulates the political life of modern representative democracies? Why is the Left-Right dichotomy more and more discredited in public opinion in European countries?

Beyond the multiplicity of definitions of the Right and the Left, two radically different approaches clash one with the other: One is philosophical and the other historical.

The philosophical approach seeks to define the essence, the intimate character of the two phenomena; the historical, empirical and relativistic approach denies that these are isolated absolutes, independent of contingent situations (local and temporal). The first approach leads to strengthening or consolidating of the traditional dichotomy, while the second leads to its criticism, its questioning, or its casting into doubt.

In the background, there is, of course, the triple divide among the major political parties of radical globalization carried out for over thirty years by the dominant oligarchy (political, economic, financial and cultural), whose positions are sometimes alter-globalists, internationalists and crypto-Marxists (Podemos, Syriza or La France insoumise), sometimes anti-globalists.

The latter dividing in their turn between, on the one hand, the liberal-conservatives who pursue the union or the alliance of the rights (like Marion Maréchal Le Pen in France, or the leaders of Vox in Spain), and, on the other hand, the republican and secular tendency “simultaneously of the right and the left” which embodies a line seeking to synthesize identity and sovereigntist aspirations, ideas of fatherland and social justice (like the National Front of yesteryear with Florian Philippot, or the National Rally of Marine Le Pen today).

How is the Left and the Right to be Defined? The Essentialist Point of View: The Divide is Not Over.

The essentialist view has been defended by many authors for more than half a century. From a right-wing position, we can cite, among others, the French Christian Democrat, René Rémond, the Hungarian-American traditionalist, Thomas Molnar, or the Spanish conservative, Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora.

More recently, we can cite in France the former adviser to former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Patrick Buisson (and his biographer, close collaborator of the philosopher Alain de Benoist, the journalist François Bousquet), the political scientist Guillaume Bernard, or professor of constitutional law, Jean-Louis Harouel. And we include another of the founders of the New Right, the journalist Michel Marmin.

On the Left, we have to mention, among the best known, the Italian Norberto Bobbio, the Englishman Ted Honderich, the Frenchman Jacques Julliard, and the Spaniard, Esperanza Guisán.

The Right, in the most conventional and the most common sense of the term, would be synonymous with stability, authority, hierarchy, conservatism, loyalty to traditions, respect for public order and religious convictions, protection of family and the protection of private property. Conversely, the Left would embody dissatisfaction, demand, movement, a sense of justice, donation and generosity.

Neo-Marxist, neo-social-democratic and sometimes neoliberal propaganda, which claims to be “progressive,” sees in the Right the reaction against the Enlightenment, against Progress, Science, Equality, Humanism (their deities always written in capital letters).

The Right and the Left would, after all, reflect only the eternal conflict between the rich and the poor, the dominant and the dominated, the oppressors and the oppressed. But when the subject is the object of a slightly more serious investigation, we quickly realize that this identification of the political Right with the economic Right, or the Right of conviction with the Right of interest or money (so widespread in the mainstream media) is just one more myth, more ideological smoke, a propaganda lie.

The readers of Vilfredo Pareto, familiar with his famous thesis on the collusion between plutocrats and revolutionaries, know this well. Examples that lend nuance to, or invalidate, the myth abound – from the bourgeois actors and heirs of the French Revolution, to today’s billionaire magnates and financial speculators, like George Soros.

In reality, there has always been in Europe, at least since the end of the 19th-century, an anti-liberal or “illiberal” (as we say today), traditional, social and anti-capitalist Right, which not only affirms its commitment to the national community, but also defends social justice. And there has always been a socialist or socializing Left which defends, at the same time, republicanism, secularism, the fatherland and the nation.

The essentialist point of view always privileges the “idea” over “existence,” reality or facts. It is developed at different, more or less sophisticated, levels of analysis. Let us recall here the oppositions that this view exhibits:

1) First of all, there is the pessimism of the Right against the optimism of the Left. There is the realism and the tragic sense of life against idealism, against sentimentalism, the triumph of good conscience and naïve optimism. According to this premise, there are ultimately two temperaments which always oppose one another. There is always the same antagonism: The reactionaries/conservatives versus the reformist or revolutionary progressives.

2) At a second level of analysis, there are the two metaphysical positions: Transcendence and immanence. On the one hand, there are those who defend God, and on the other, those who deify man.

Here Christian metaphysics and the correct reading of the Gospels are opposed to the great heresies and falsifying utopias of Christianity, to millenarianism, to Gnosticism (the God of evil against the God of good), or even to belief in the religions of politics with their secularized version of apocatastasis. In the background, there is a kind of eternal fight of light against darkness, of good against evil (each one being of course interpreted and defined differently according to whether one belongs to one of the two poles of the Right or Left).

3) Other authors oppose the Right which believes in human nature without change with the Left which believes in infinite perfectibility of man (a man, of course, not soiled by original sin, as Christianity teaches).

There is thus the Right which believes in the natural order, as opposed to the Left which believes in universal reason; the Right which has a holistic vision of society as opposed to the individualist approach of the Left (this radical individualism which appeared with the French Revolution also explains the subsequent collectivist and totalitarian reaction of Marxist socialism).

Therefore, there exists the right-wing organism (that is to say, the society which develops like a tree, with roots and branches, which cannot be changed with impunity, according to everyone’s will) – which would oppose the left-wing mechanism (i.e. the society that operates like a clock, with the possibility of changing and modifying each part, without limits).

4) A fourth difference would be the importance of family and community ethics, defended by the Right, in the face of the obsession of the Left for the liberation from mores and customs.

5) Another frequently cited antinomy is that between, on the one hand, spiritual aristocratism (not to be confused with social or material aristocratism) and the feeling of freedom, typical of the Right, and, on the other hand, the leveling and materialist egalitarianism, characteristic of the Left. In other words, quality versus quantity.

The main idea of the Left, then, becomes the search for equality which in turn becomes its driving force, while the message of the Right becomes the belief in emulation. The Left is thus a kind of slope towards material equality, and the Right a kind of slope towards spiritual aristocracy.

6) Another significant dissimilarity is also of note: The passion for the unity of the Right (with the usual call for the union of the national community) against the spirit or the will to divide the Left (with the reactivation of the class struggle).

7) Two other major principles are often opposed and declared to be irreducible. There is the conflictual or polemological vision of the world, characteristic of the Right, which opposes the dream of the bright future of humanity, the utopia of the “New Man” obsession of the Left.

It is obviously not a question here of the New Man wanted by the Christian God, but of the New Man desired by modern totalitarianisms – in their Marxist-Leninist, National Socialist, and neoliberal, or neo-social-democratic versions, while not forgetting the recent ideological variant of “anthropological justice,” which is itself intensified by bio-ideologies, delusional ideologies, the strangest seeds of which are almost all found in National Socialism, as noted by the Spanish political scientist, Dalmacio Negro Pavón.

8) Last but not least, there is the eternal struggle between the old and the new, the trendy and the old-fashioned, the current and the obsolete, the old and the modern. Some even do not hesitate to see in the defense of language an authentic Right marker. But on this account, the teachers of the public schools of yesteryear (republicans, secularists, socialists, nationalists and other “progressives,” moderates or extremists, reformists or revolutionaries), would only be vulgar reactionaries or rightists who ignored each other.

In short, from the essentialist point of view, there is always a Right and a Left. Some, like Jacques Anisson du Perron, start from the premise or the intangible axiom that “the Right has always existed, since it merged with the political organization of traditional civilizations. In contrast, the Left only appeared in modern times.” Consequently, we would be eternally condemned to live and to know only two opposite conceptions of the world and life, and at a lower level, two morals, two forms of psychology, even two temperaments.

At this point, it is perhaps worth remembering that the Russian mathematician and dissident, Igor Shafarevich said that, from a philosophical point of view, socialism has always existed as a specific tendency of human societies (and that ‘it did not only appear historically in the 19th-century). Nor should we forget that Nicolai Berdyaev said the same thing about nationalism and/or patriotism (which have a lot of common history in their modern forms): Born on the Left, at the beginning of the 19th-century, they moved partially to the Right at the end of the 19th-century.

That said, there is still a key point to emphasize: Most “essentialist” authors insist on the diversity or the plural character of the Right and the Left. They rightly show that there is no Right and Left, but Right and Left, without however reaching a consensus, when it comes to defining or classifying them.

Thus, for example, the liberal René Rémond distinguished three Rights: Traditionalist, liberal and nationalist, and three Lefts: Libertarian, authoritarian and Marxist. But after him other authors (such as the Israeli socialist, Zeev Sternhell) distinguished two Rights: Radical/revolutionary and conservative, and two Lefts: Progressive and revolutionary. Still others (like the conservative, Stéphane Rials) see a single traditional Right and four Lefts: Authoritarian-nationalist, liberal-bourgeois, anarcho-libertarian and social-Marxist.

More recently, authors like, Marc Crapez (specialist in the nationalist Left or “reactionary”) have pointed out the existence of a good dozen tendencies of the Right and the Left and have discredited or withdrawn a lot of value and interest from educational and university classifications.

Criticism of the Left/Right Divide. The Historico-Relativist Point of View

Historically, the Right/Left divide is barely a century, perhaps a century-and-a-half, old. This is the prosaic reality. After the French Revolution and for decades, division or opposition was limited to a question of parliamentary language (the partisans of power occupied the seats on the right and the opposition those on the left). As the Spanish philosopher, Gustavo Bueno, said very well: “In the Cortes of Cadiz [the Constituent Assembly sitting from 1810 to 1814 during the war of independence against France], there was no Right and Left.” The mythical divide is indeed much more recent.

In common opinion, the birth of this divide hardly dates back to the 1870s and 1900s and perhaps even later, to the 1930s. Consequently, the great cyclical conflict between the eternal Right and the immortal Left has hardly been around for a century. In addition, as Julien Freund rightly noted in 1986, it is a divide “essentially European and even localized in the Latin countries, although it was taken up some time ago by the Anglo-Saxon countries.”

For the historian of political ideas, it is relatively easy to show that the values of the Right and the Left are not immutable, that the crossovers or the exchanges of ideas have been and remain constant. The Rights are diverse and plural like the Left, which explains their divides and permanent conflicts.

The Right and the Left are universalists or particularists; internationalists/globalists and supporters of free trade, or patriotic and anti-capitalist; centralists and Jacobins or regionalists, federalists and separatists; Atlanticists, Westernists and Europeanists (supporters of a federal Europe), or nationalists, Europeanists (defenders of a Europe of nations) and/or non-third-worldists; they may or may not be individualists, rationalists, positivists, organicists, mechanists, atheists, agnostics, spiritualists, theists or Christians.

There is no timeless definition of the Right or the Left that applies everywhere and at any time. The Right and the Left can only be defined historically, in relation to the periods and problems that arise at a given moment.

It is easy to show that the main political issues are constantly shifting from left to right and vice versa. I think I showed this in detail in my book, Droite/Gauche, pour sortir de l’équivoque, to which I refer the interested reader. This is the case with imperialism, colonialism, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, anti-Masonism, anti-Christianity, anti-Catholicism, of anti-parliamentarianism, of the criticism of the demo-liberal model, of technocratism and anti-technocratism, of Malthusianism and of Antimalthusianism, of federalism, of centralism, of anti-statism, of regionalism, of separatism, of ecology, human rights criticism and the right to interfere (let us remember the harsh criticisms of the Italian anti-fascist liberal, Benedetto Croce, the socialist Harold Laski or the nationalist Mahatma Gandhi against human rights).

And such is also the case with the denunciation of the Enlightenment, anti-capitalism, the defense of the sovereignty and identity of peoples, immigrationism and anti-immigrationism, national preference, islamophilia and islamophobia, arabophilia and arabophobia, patriotism, nationalism, sovereignism, europhilia and europhobia, russophilia and russophobia, the alliance with the third world, anti-Americanism or American anti-imperialism, etc. All, absolutely all these questions escape the obsessive debate between the Right and the Left.

Many continue to oppose and divide not only between parties, but also within parties. We can therefore better understand why unions or alliances on the Right or on the Left are, and have always been, fragile, volatile, ephemeral or temporary. Added to this is, of course, the weight of the generally oversized ego of political leaders, but also their conflicting interests and career plans, which are poorly masked by the alleged differences on the political lines or the programs to be adopted.

The questioning of the permanent validity of the Left/Right dichotomy is at the same time historical, philosophical and moral. It is by no means the monopoly of an author, an intellectual movement, or a political party. On the contrary, the political sensitivities and opinions of the authors who criticize the Left/Right divide are very diverse.

It is the liberal José Ortega y Gasset who said: “To be on the left or to be on the right is to choose one of the innumerable ways available to man to be a fool; both, in fact, are forms of moral hemiplegia “(La Révolte de masses, Preface for the French Reader, 1930).

It is the liberal Raymond Aron who declared: “We will bring some clarity, in the confrontation of French quarrels, only by rejecting these ambiguous concepts [of Right and Left].”

It is the liberal-conservative Julien Freund who wrote: “The distinction between Left and Right is in the order of a and local; it does not determine essential political categories… Philosophical correctness requires that one exceeds this circumstantial classification… The rivalry between the Right and the Left is not based on a judgment of morality, but it is one of the current forms of the fight for the power.”

It is the national-syndicalist José Antonio Primo de Rivera who invited the rejection of the annealed hatred of the Right and the Left, and who affirms: “To be on the right or to be on the left is always to exclude from the soul the half which it needs to feel. Sometimes, this means the exclusion of everything and to replace that with a caricature of the half” (Ha fenecido el segundo bienio, January 9, 1936).

It is the Marxologist, Costanzo Preve, a representative figure of Italian communism, who stated: “The Right/Left dichotomy is nothing other than an incapacitating residue, or an artificial prosthesis, perpetuated by the ruling class.”

It is the ex-militant soixante-huitard and leftist, Jean Baudrillard, who noted: “If one day political imagination, political requirement and political will may a chance to rebound, it can only be on the basis of the radical abolition of this fossil distinction which has been canceled and fully disowned over the decades, and which no longer holds except by complicity in corruption.”

It is the Greek libertarian socialist, Cornelius Castoriadis, who recognized this: “It has been a long time now that the Left-Right divide, in France as elsewhere, no longer corresponds either to the great problems of our time or to radically opposed political choices.”

In reality, countless authors with very diverse convictions, follow the “skeptical” or critical tradition of the Left/Right divide. Over the years, they have become legion. The names of the traditionalist Donoso Cortés, the liberals José Ortega y Gasset and Miguel de Unamuno, the heterodox socialist-Marxist Gustavo Bueno can be cited here as an example.

Among the French, there are Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Maurice Barrès, Charles Péguy, Simone Weil, Daniel-Rops, Jean Baudrillard, Jean-Claude Michéa, Christophe Guilluy, Vincent Coussedière, Alain De Benoist, Marcel Gauchet.

Among Americans, there are Christopher Lasch, Paul Piccone and Paul Gottfried.

Among Italians, Costanzo Preve, Augusto del Noce, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Marco Tarchi, Marco Revelli and many others.

The majority of political scientists and journalists agree that the neo-social-democrat Left (with its far-left allies) has stopped proclaiming its will to resolve the social question and to bring about social revolution (with the hope for the liberation of the proletariat), and has assumed the principles of the free market and now prefers to invoke societal and anthropological “values” (defense of the “world citizen,” integration of “victimized” minorities, such as, homosexuals, transsexuals, feminists, immigrants, genderism and multiculturalism).

As for the neoliberal Right (which rejects alliances with the traditional and radical Rights), it has abandoned the defense of the nation, morals, religion and family, to deal exclusively and cynically with the economy.

But what can it mean to be simultaneously of the Right and the Left? For Marxists, neo-social-democrat, Social Liberals and Conservative Liberals, denouncing the Right/Left opposition can only be an extremist and cynical attitude. Among them, many are the commentators who see in this criticism of the traditional dichotomy only the resurgence of fascism, if not to say of National Socialism or Nazism. But in reality, this view is invalidated by historical facts.

Fundamentally, to define oneself simultaneously of the Right and the Left is to express the conviction that a political community needs both justice and freedom, progress and conservation, patriotism and internationalism, personalism and solidarity, order and freedom, economic initiative and social guarantees, respect for human rights and the affirmation of the duties of men, equality and merit, fraternity and competitiveness, nothing more and nothing less.

All these concerns can be summed up in a few words: It is about the political will to defend spiritual, religious, patriotic or national values and, simultaneously, to pursue the common good, or to affirm the need for collective solidarity and social justice. This attempt at synthesis is found in the programs of many intellectual movements, which were born and developed in Europe, from the end of the 19th-century to the present day – movements that are radical, revolutionary and extremist, or moderate and reformist, depending on the place and time.

In my book, I refer to the twenty models or examples that are social-traditionalism (and according to the Italian economist Stefano Solari – Donoso Cortés is even the inventor of the Third Way).

These are:

The Left/Right divide was also often questioned by politicians from the center, by representatives of social liberalism, neo-social democracy and neoliberalism.

This is particularly the case with President Emmanuel Macron, or Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and various other political and intellectual figures. Paradoxically, they are also proven representatives of the globalist oligarchy who, as adept connoisseurs of the magic of words, presented – for electoral purposes – a centrist, watered-down and diluted version of the criticism of the Right/Left divide.

They know that this traditional divide is today widely discredited in public opinion and take this into account, at least verbally, to seduce their constituents.

But the policies of these leaders are nevertheless in line with those of social democratic or Christian democrat politicians, who distinguished themselves several decades ago, like Tony Blair, Schroeder or Clinton. The latter then called themselves the “Third Way,” as theorized by the Englishman Anthony Giddens and the North American Amitai Etzioni.

In Spain, Albert Rivera and his party Ciudadanos, who have embarked on the same path, have obtained significant support from the former French Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

We can summarize the success of this strategy and its positive result electorally (although not definitely, as demonstrated by the considerable difficulties faced by President Macron and his government) – by recalling the famous words of young Tancredi, a character in The Leopard: “If we want that everything stays as it is, everything has to change.”

So, what remains of the Left/Right divide and what is the new divide that seeks to replace it? The criticism of the Left/Right dichotomy consists above all in showing that there are neither “eternal values” on the Right, nor “immortal principles” on the Left. In other words, the Right and the Left are the result of certain opinions about facts and ideas, which do not come from an ideal model, an archetype, or an idea in the Platonic sense of the term.

It is not a question of denying that historically the Right/Left divide explains a large part of the political phenomena of the past, but only of denying that it explains them all. It is a question of showing that the allegedly immutable political debate, which opposes two “essentialized” categories (the eternal Right and the immortal Left) has become an artificial prosthesis that only serves to perpetuate the situation of the dominant oligarchy.

The Right/Left divide seems to be nothing more than a mask, which serves to hide another division, now much more decisive: That which opposes rooted peoples to the self-proclaimed elites, who are the very vectors of uprooting; that which opposes the defenders of sovereignty, identity and national cohesion with the partisans of “world governance.” And that which opposes the excluded from globalization and cast into the peripheral areas of the country (people or citizens who obviously have – or will have – their own leaders under the “iron law of the oligarchy”) with the privileged of the system, to the dominant oligarchy, to the globalized or hyperclass ruling class, which lives in the beautiful districts of the big cities, the most developed zones of the country and which, moreover, rubs shoulders, preferably or exclusively, with the privileged elite of globalism in other countries.

Today, there is clearly a new dualism which replaces the old Right/Left opposition (even the essentialist authors, who reject the possibility of an extinction or disappearance of the dichotomy, recognize that it has undergone profound alteration or modification). Populism versus oligarchy, roots against globalization, community and solidarity culture against liberal and progressive culture – reflect the new dividing line. Whatever the self-proclaimed “experts” and other “specialists” in the media say, these are two entirely new ways of interpreting the confronting reality, two rational but irreconcilable ways of viewing where the greatest danger comes from, of choosing our future and our commitment.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

The image shows, “Fillette de Concarneau à la miche de pain (Girl from Concarneau with a Loaf of Bread”), by Henri-Jules-Jean Geoffroy, painted in 1886.

What Is Political Realism?

Well sourced and documented, but at the same time stripped of all concessions, and freed from all conventionalism, this book boldly departs from the beaten track of the history of political ideas. Its author, Dalmacio Negro Pavón, a renowned political scientist in the Hispanic world, is among those who best embodies the European academic tradition – that of an era when political correctness had not yet taken its toll, and when the majority of academics adhered with conviction – and not by opportunism as happens so often today – to the scientific values of rigor, probity and integrity.

What does this tell us? Let us demonstrate by drawing, largely, upon his analyses, his words, and his formulations.

Historically, the world has had no other form of government than that of the few (the ruling minority); and any government needs public support. There is no political community without hierarchy; no hierarchy without organization, no social organization which cannot materialize without the leadership of a small number. This is called the “iron law of oligarchy.”

Behind all known forms of government (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy – according to the classic classification; democracy and dictatorship – according to modern classification), there is only one minority which dominates the immense majority. The multiple possible variants of government depend on the type of makeover of this minority, and the limits and controls to which this minority submits in the exercise of power.

Oligarchic positions are never disputed by the masses; rather, it is the different factions of the political class which dispute them. The governed do not intervene in this permanent dispute, except as a breeding ground for new contenders for power, as a breeding ground for new elites. The governed are spectators; sometimes animators; rarely referees.

When an oligarchy is discredited, it is invariably replaced by another in search of prestige, that is to say, of exercising legitimacy, ready, if necessary, to use demagoguery. Popular sovereignty is a myth which allows the oligarchs all the abuses and all the scams imaginable. The Utopian who dreams that it is possible to eliminate selfishness in politics and to base a political system on morality alone does not hit the target, any more than the realist who believes that altruism is an illusion and that all political action is based on selfishness.

Apart from the eternally naïve, political consensus (a collective expression of the loyalty of the political class towards itself) only deceives those who want to deceive themselves, for personal convenience, or to obtain some favors. Political problems cannot be resolved definitively. In politics there is only room for compromise.

What about democracy in Europe? It is less a religion than a superstition, a substitute, a substitute or an appearance of faith, which was born from the religions of politics. It is “an organized hypocrisy,” said Schumpeter; it is reduced to the opportunity that the partitocratic oligarchies offer the governed to periodically decide on an option, generally limited, after having carried out a large operation of information or marketing to win public opinion.

That said, and despite everything, it seems that a large part of the people is more and more aware of the existence of the iron law of the oligarchy. On the other hand, and more and more fearful, the oligarchy tightens to the maximum the screws which subject the demos to the singular supermarket that is the State of the political parties. We know the reactions of hostility, contempt and fear that populist movements and popular rebellions like the “Yellow Vests” (in France) arouse in almost the entire European establishment.

A revolution needs leaders, but statism has infantilized the conscience of Europeans. It has undergone such a contagion that the emergence of real leaders has become almost impossible, and that when it occurs, mistrust prevents people from following them. It is therefore better, once you reach this stage, to trust chance, boredom or humor, all major historical forces, to which we do not pay enough attention because they are hidden behind the screen of progressive enthusiasm.

The analyses, questions and harsh remarks, often even very corrosive, of Negro Pavón are unlikely to make him friends among the small number of those in power, or among their often- servile supporters of the political, economic and media-cultural world. But he does not care. Former professor of the history of political ideas at the Complutense University of Madrid, currently professor emeritus of political science at the University San Pablo de Madrid, member of the Royal Academy of Moral Sciences and Politics, the author of over twenty books and several hundred articles, he has nothing left to prove.

A fine connoisseur of classical and modern European political thought, an excellent polyglot, an inveterate reader of all the great European and American authors, Pavón invites us on a remarkable journey through the history of Western politics while at the same time giving us a lucid and penetrating diagnosis of the reality of Europe and the West today.

Pavón is openly attached to the School of Political Realism. It is therefore not useless, before ceding to him the pen, to recall in broad outline why this School of thought is so often the object of misunderstandings, procrastination and caricatures. What do we mean by political realism, or by the tradition in politics of Machiavellianism, which yet does not become Machiavellian?

Before answering, we must mention the usual depreciative arguments of his opponents. Realism would be, according to them, the cult of the epoch, a Manichean, pragmatic, opportunistic, fatalistic and desperate ideology, an ideology of dominants, cantors of conformism, which makes the moment an end in itself, which considers the present to be unsurpassable, which refuses to think about change and the future.

But this indictment, now so widespread, is after all just one more illustration of the misdeeds of ideological fog. It is reminiscent of the enlightened (or benighted) Anti-Machiavelli despot, Frederick II, who wrote in order to seduce and abuse the Europe of philosophers. As the ad to the fiction films of my youth said: “any resemblance to real situations existing or having existed is only a coincidence.” As we will see, political realism is, on the contrary, a method of analysis and of complete, intense and radical criticism of all constituted power.

Strictly speaking, political realism is neither a homogeneous school nor a unitary intellectual family. It is only a habitus, a disposition of mind, a point of view of study or research which seeks to clarify the rules that policy follows. It is not the defense of the status quo, the defense of the established order, or the doctrine which justifies the position of men in power, as its adversaries claim falsely.

Political realism starts from the facts, but it does not go before them. It is not disinterested in the final ends and is distinguished in this from the cynical type of pseudo-realism which reduces politics to the will to power, to the reign and to the worship of force in its purest form. The authentic political realist is a man with principles, morals, and a deep awareness of the duties and responsibilities of political action. Prudence, wisdom, balance, a sense of responsibility and firmness of character are the keys to his thinking.

The precursors of this realistic school of thought are, for example: Thucydides, Aristotle, Ibn Khaldoun, Machiavelli, Gabriel Naudé, Hobbes, Tocqueville, and many others.

Among the contemporaries and the moderns we may cite: Moisey Ostrogorski, Vilfredo Pareto, Robert Michels, Gaetano Mosca, Carl Schmitt, Max Weber, Simone Weil, Raymond Aron, Gaston Bouthoul, James Burnham, Benedetto Croce, Maurice Duverger, Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora, Julien Freund, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Halford Mackinder, Harold Laski, Gianfranco Miglio, Jules Monnerot, Michael Oakeshott, Giovanni Sartori, Eric Voegelin, Jerónimo Molina Cano, Alessandro Campi, and many others, with often very different convictions (conservatives, liberals, socialists, etc.).

The authentic realist affirms that the finality proper to politics is the common good. But he recognizes the vital necessity of non-political ends (happiness and justice). According to him, politics is at the service of man.

The mission of politics is not to change man or make him better (which is the path of totalitarianism), but to organize the conditions of human coexistence, to shape the community, to ensure internal harmony and external security. That is why, in his view, conflicts must be channeled, regulated, institutionalized and, as far as possible, resolved without violence.

Dalmacio Negro Pavón rigorously addresses each of the ideas of political realism. The two main ones are found in the titles of the first two essays of his book, The Iron Law of the Oligarchy, namely, “Law Immanent in Politics,” and “Demystifying Democracy.”

He then completes these two essays with a shorter essay, “On the Dominant Political Theology,” which deals with the theological-political question; or, if one prefers – on the existential and spiritual causes of the current situation, especially on the importance of the influence of theological heresies on modern political thought and attitudes.

Thus, we may classify all of the ideas in his book in the following order:

First idea: The inevitability of oligarchy, and the governing–governed division. This is the famous law of bronze, the bronze or iron of oligarchy, formulated by Robert Michels. Depending on the regimes and the societies, as we have said, the circulation of elites may be more or less large, but in the last resort, it is always the small number, the minority that rules.

Second idea: Ideal democracy is unattainable and democratic symbols are fictions. The complexity of the problems, and above all the size of societies, constitute as many obstacles to self-government. In general, politicians know this, but everyone also knows the importance of speech-magic.

On the other hand, real democracies always tend to become oligarchies. The more democracy gets organized, the more it tends to decline. The more it is organized, the more the possibilities of coaction and manipulation of the masses increase. “Democracy, government of the people, by the people and for the people,” according to Lincoln’s famous phrase, is Utopian or religious. Democracy is a method. It cannot be an end, an absolute ideal, a moral imperative. Democratic ideology, democratic faith, is rhetoric. It only serves to evade responsibility and crush opposition in the name of the people.

Third idea: Politics cannot avoid a vision of man. The political realist may think that man is historic, or that there is a human nature. But in both cases, he considers that human impulses largely explain the unstable nature of political institutions and the conflictual nature of politics.

Fourth idea: Recognition of the inherently conflicting nature of politics. Life will always be the theater of conflicts and differences. Politics, in the traditional sense, is the great “neutralizer” of conflicts. This is why systematic and blind resistance to any form of power (the belief that “power is evil”) is an excellent method to accelerate the corruption of power and lead to its substitution by other forms of power, which are often much more problematic and more despotic.

Just because a people lose the strength or the will to survive or to assert themselves in the political sphere – does not mean that politics will disappear from the world. History is not tender – Woe to the strong who become weak!

Fifth idea: Skepticism about forms of government. It is impossible to scientifically make a categorical judgment on the suitability of any of the regimes in place. There is no optimal or perfect regime. Each political regime is a contingent and unique solution, a transitory response to the eternal problem of politics. All regimes are also subject to wear and tear and corruption.

Sixth idea: The rejection of all mono-causal interpretation of politics as biased and arbitrary. Mono-causal explanations “in the last instance” by economics, by politics, by culture, by morals, etc. are reductionist and make no sense.

The study of political parties and unions, carried out by Robert Michels at the beginning of the 20th-century, reveals particularly well the fundamental characteristic of societies: The tendency to oligarchy. A political party is no more and no less than a group of people who unite to conquer and retain power. Everything else (even the ideology) is secondary.

The parties are born as elitist groups and become organizations of notables; then, with universal suffrage, they are most often transformed into mass parties. But when they organize themselves strongly, they always obey the iron law of the oligarchy. The analysis of “mass parties” has laid bare some general principles which can be stated as follows.

  • The bulk of the population is struck with a kind of political incapacity. When they lose their leaders, they withdraw and abandon the political field.
  • Oligarchy is a social necessity. The principle of organization is an absolutely essential condition for political struggle.
  • It is the minorities and not the masses who vie for power. The leaders of all the camps present themselves as the spokespersons of the people – but, in reality, it is always the struggle between the old minority, which defends its hegemony, and the new ambitious minority which intends to conquer power.
  • Leadership is tendentially autocratic. Leaders do not just want to last, they always want more power. The alienation of the masses, the professionalization, the intellectual and cultural level of the leaders, the tendency to seek renewal by cooption, even nepotism, are powerful elements which contribute to the isolation of the leaders. Base rebellions have very little chance of success.
  • The party is an instrument of domination. Contrary to what they claim, the parties are organizations that want elected officials to dominate voters and are agents of dominating constituents.
  • The oligarchic tendency is consubstantial with the parties. Only a minority participate in party decisions, and often this minority is ridiculously small.

Conclusion: Real democracy is an oligarchy elected by the people. It excludes the use of physical violence but not moral violence (unfair, fraudulent or restricted competition). Two conditions may allow the reform in depth of current political democracy for the benefit of the people.

First, the represented should be able to regain the freedom to directly control the representatives or elected officials which ability has been improperly taken away from them. This would require the establishment of a majority electoral system with an imperative mandate. Representatives would thus be obliged to respect the imperative mandate of their respective voters.

Finally, for the people to be able, if not to direct and govern, then at least to integrate and participate durably in political life, the principle of direct democracy should be widely accepted, via the Popular Initiative Referendum (PIR), or the Citizen Initiated Referendum(CIR).

However, one can be a skeptic or a lucid pessimist but refuse to despair. We cannot eliminate oligarchies. So be it! But, as Dalmacio Negro Pavón tells us, there are political regimes that are more or less capable of mitigating and controlling their effects.

The crux of the matter is to prevent those in power from being mere conveyors of the interests, desires and feelings of the political, social, economic and cultural oligarchy. Men always fear the power to which they are subjected. But the power which makes them submit also fears the community over which it reigns. And there is an essential condition for political democracy to be possible and for its corruption to become much more difficult, if not impossible, as Dalmacio Negro Pavón further emphasizes.

Attitudes towards government must always be wary, even when it comes to friends or people for whom we voted. Bertrand de Jouvenel rightly said in this connection: “the government of friends is the barbaric way of governing.”

This extract constitutes the “Introduction” by Arnaud Imatz to La loi de fer de l’oligarchie. Pourquoi le gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple, pour le peuple est un leurre (The Iron Law of Oligarchy. Why Government of the People, by the People, for the People is a Decoy), by Dalmacio Negro Pavón (2019).

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The image shows, “The Continence of Scipio,” by Nicolas Poussin, painted in 1640.

Human Rights – Not All That Universal

The intellectual hegemony that the proponents of the human rights ideology claim to exert has made us somewhat forget that it was vigorously contested in 1948.

In the opinion of a good number of political commentators, the moralization and ideologization of human rights has led to formidable abuses. Contrary to the international diplomatic tradition of negotiation and dialogue, the concept of human rights is nowadays widely used to exclude, ostracize, or humiliate adversaries.

Since the 1990s, nothing has proven more dangerous to stability and world peace than the Manichaean precept of, “human rights or chaos.” A key element of the new globalist Bible (along with individualism, consumerism and multiculturalism), human rights have become a sort of Trojan horse for Western military interventionism.

This risk had been anticipated by the most prestigious intellectuals in the immediate post-war period. Gandhi, Harold Laski, Benedetto Croce, Emmanuel Mounier and many other thinkers from all walks of life, were severe, or at least reserved, when drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948. They did not question the uniqueness of human nature, but challenged the unreal or Utopian nature of the universality of human rights. A critical attitude, widespread at the time, is today ignored or overlooked by the mainstream media.

The profusion of texts published on the occasion of the preparation of the Universal Charter, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations – in Paris, at the Palais de Chaillot – on December 10, 1948, deserves an in-depth analysis. We will limit ourselves here to recalling the main philosophical and legal objections, which were made during the drafting project, before presenting a choice of edifying reflections and testimonies.

The first step is to destroy a myth. The French Revolution was not the “founding event” of democratic modernity on a planetary level; it was only a case in point. It takes gross ignorance or bad faith to identify the ideas of democracy, liberalism and human rights with those of 1789.

The liberal economist, Wilhelm Röpke, wrote precisely on this subject: “Democratic and liberal history can claim dates that are much more convincing than 1789.” To be convinced, in addition to evoking the role and place of local assemblies in the Middle Ages, we can list a host of dates that have been forgotten or passed over in silence.

We can indeed evoke the Cortes of Leon of 1188, the Catalan Cortes of 1192 (in the Iberian Peninsula); the Magna Carta of 1215 (in England); the Golden Bull of 1222 (in Hungary); the Swiss Federal Charter of 1291, the general Swedish code of King Magnus Erikson (around 1350); the Dutch Federation of 1579; the Petition of Right of 1628 (in England), the Mayflower Compact (of the Pilgrim Fathers of America) of 1620; the Bill of Rights of 1689 (in England); the Declaration of independence of 1776 (in the United States of America); the Constitution of the United States of 1789 with its famous amendments; the Swiss Federal Constitution of 1848 and 1874, and so on. Unlike the French Revolution of 1789, these dates do not mark breaks, but stages of a slow and progressive evolution.

A brief historical reminder helps to break a second myth. A certain French chauvinism leads to claim that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is directly inspired, on the initiative of René Cassin, by the Declaration of Human and Citizen Rights of 1789. A similar reading leads the Americans to claim the model of their own Declaration and the “motherhood” of Eleanor Roosevelt.

The reality is much more complex because the contributions are multiple. The history of this text teaches us that very many personalities from countries as different as Australia, Canada, Chile, China, the United States, France, India, Lebanon, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the USSR actively participated in its design. Among the eighteen members, who made up the Human Rights Commission, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, eight were on the Drafting Committee responsible for drafting the preliminary text.

Among them, the Canadian John P. Humphrey, the Chilean Hernán Santa Cruz, the Chinese Peng Chung Chang, the French René Cassin, the Indian Hansa Mehta, the Lebanese Charles Malik, and the Filipino Carlos Rómulo.

Debates in the Commission and in the Committee saw deep philosophical and ideological differences when the Cold War began. The rights of women and ethnic minorities, freedom of religion, the right to property, the importance of individual rights, the place that should be given to economic and social rights, the freedom to contest, the concepts of duty and of responsibility, and finally, the role of the State – all proved to be formidable stumbling blocks. In the compromise, finally adopted in 1948, it was the western, liberal and individualist conceptions which prevailed.

As the past few decades have shown, human rights are written in history and vary in time and space. Several international declarations have been adopted, emphasizing the relative and evolving nature of each. This was the case with the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950 and the Additional Protocol of 1953. In 1966, two international covenants supplemented and corrected the Declaration of 1948, introducing the rights of peoples, minorities, women, the concept of duty and the concept of cultural heritage of humanity.

Then, there were the Pacts and the Program of Action of the World Conferences in Vienna (1993) and Durban (2001), the Declarations of UNESCO (notably the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity of 2001), and the International Labor Organization (ILO), without forgetting the charters adopted at the regional level (Africa, Asia, Pacific, Latin America, Arab and Muslim world). Thus, a declaration of human rights in Islam, under the influence of sharia, was adopted in 1990 in Cairo by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

All of these texts have tried to take greater account of the diversity of cultures. All have rewritten, amended and outgrown the 1948 Universal Declaration, which can no longer be viewed as the sole reference.

Human rights are a concept according to which all human beings have universal and inalienable rights, whatever their nationality, ethnicity or religion. These rights, which aim to protect the dignity of the individual, are enforceable in all circumstances against society and the State.

But the origin, validity and content of human rights are a constant subject of debate. The most diverse personalities and authors, such as, Bentham, Burke, Marx, or the popes who preceded John XXIII and Paul VI, to name but a few, underscored these rights’ specious, impracticable, contradictory, ethnocentric and Utopian character.

Legions of historians, theologians and philosophers of law have criticized their alleged universality and their ideological character. They have shown that, under the guise of granting infinite satisfaction to all, the system works exclusively for the benefit of the few.

Theologians regard these rights as a political instrument in the hands of the powerful. Marxists denounce class rights within them. Historians and geopoliticians commonly see them as a political weapon, a means for powerful nations to maintain their domination or the status quo. Jurists often argue that the law presupposes a relationship between men, an objective factor external to the person, while human rights derive only from man himself, from his nature.

Many, finally, denounce the erroneous vision of an individual barricaded in his sovereignty, when the person must be considered within the framework of a social group (family, ethnicity, nation, religion) strongly bound by social duties and ethical norms.

On a metaphysical and religious level, it has been possible to criticize human rights for being based only on man, instead of being founded first on the rights of God. This is how we usually oppose the American Declaration (1776), which intended to transcribe and proclaim the rights conferred by the creator and legislator God, to the French Declaration (1789), which founds human rights on human will and ignores God.

For sociologists, the ideology of human rights considers the sovereign individual, locked in his citadel of inalienable rights and more important than his community of belonging, as the ultimate goal of political association. Faced with the “natural” aspiration of men to obtain universal, absolute and abstract “rights,” cultural traditions are secondary, incidental, even illegitimate.

Moreover, these rights generally refer to the satisfaction of quantifiable needs. Finally, the ideology of human rights considers that a world organization, conceived as a last resort, is always preferable to sovereign nations. All these principles implicitly assume the existence of a universal reason common to all men, a reason which, because of its universality, must prevail over the cultural and historical specificities of peoples.

Law historian and philosopher, Michel Villey, notes that “respect for the human person is not the invention of Kant or even of Christianity. There was no more exalted virtue in Rome than humanitas, which is both the duty to perfect human nature in oneself and to respect it in others.” Christian revelation undoubtedly exalts human dignity more, but the expression “human rights” remains absent in Christian literature.

The Spanish thinkers of the School of Salamanca (1483-1617), at the origin of the great concepts of modern public international law, ignore it and prefer to draw from the natural law of duties, obligations borne by individuals, rather than rights.

All of them extol the community values of solidarity and cooperation between human beings and against the individualist values of selfishness and competition. “Catholicism is not the cradle of human rights,” insists Villey. The papacy, until John XXIII, remained constant in its attitude of hostility to human rights. In fact, “human rights originate in a deviated Christian theology… They are the product of modern philosophy, hatched in the 17th century,” with Hobbes and Locke playing the founding roles here.

Michel Villey, therefore, points out that “Each of the alleged human rights is the negation of other human rights, and practiced separately generates injustices.” And again, “We have never seen in history that human rights were exercised for the benefit of all. The problem with human rights is that no one can participate, except to the detriment of certain men.”

For his part, the Spanish philosopher, Raimon Panikkar, specialist in the comparative history of religions, stresses that “human rights are a Western intellectual construction.” He further adds that “It is clear that the Declaration (of 1948) was constructed according to the prevailing historical currents of Western thought over the past three centuries, and in accordance with a certain philosophical anthropology, or a certain individualist humanism, which helped provide a rationale.”

The political scientist, specialist in ethnic and linguistic minorities, Joseph Yacoub, also notes that human rights are eminently culturally dependent and that they are dependent on political manipulation and instrumentalization: “Human rights actually vary from place to place and from time to time. The underlying values, freedom, equality, tolerance, non-discrimination, etc., are historically relative and evolving.”

France has known a succession of declarations since 1789. The Constitution of the United States, the oldest in force, has been amended twenty-seven times. The 1948 Universal Declaration was supplemented by a series of subsequent texts. The various nations, conglomerates of nations and international organizations of Africa, Asia and America have adapted human rights to their worldviews, thus demonstrating that the human person is perceived and protected distinctly according to civilizations and cultures.

It is often unknown that a good number of intellectuals, in particular French, such as Emmanuel Mounier, Jacques Maritain, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, or Georges Gurvitch, in their time, severely criticized the excess of individualism and rationalism of rights human, their lack of reference to duties and obligations, their ignorance of the rights of natural communities born outside the State (the family, the nation, the economic and working communities, the international community), and finally, their silence on social and economic rights.

In 1947, UNESCO carried out an inquiry into “the theoretical problems raised by the drafting of an International Declaration of Human Rights.” A questionnaire was sent to various personalities from the member nations of the organization and a document was published on June 15, 1948, under the title, A Collective Approach to the Problems of Human Rights, preceded by a preface by Jacques Maritain. This “manuscript” contains the answers of Gandhi, Harold Laski, Teilhard de Chardin, Benedetto Croce, Aldous Huxley, Salvador de Madariaga, Emmanuel Mounier, Richard P. McKeon, E.H. Carr, Luc Somerhausen, and many others.

Among the responses published, many would today bring their authors the wrath of the censors of social welfare. Let us see what they say.

Mahatma Gandhi sneeringly objected: “I learned from my mother, illiterate but very wise, that all the rights worthy of being deserved and preserved are those which come from accomplished duty… One could show that any other right is only a usurpation for which it is not worth fighting for.”

The English historian of international relations, Edward Hallett Carr, said for his part that “No declaration of rights which does not also include a declaration of the corresponding obligations can have real meaning.”

Socialist theorist Harold Joseph Laski, former president of the British Labor Party (1945–1946), warned: “Any attempt by the United Nations to draw up a Declaration of Human Rights, based on individualist conceptions, would inevitably be doomed to failure… In fact, if a declaration of this kind does not take into account the important ideological differences which exist between political societies and their effects on individual and collective behavior, there will be nothing to gain and much to lose by formulating it… We do not have the right to awaken the hope of humanity, if we are not able to create the conditions without which this hope cannot be realized.”

The anti-fascist philosopher Benedetto Croce, founder of the Italian Liberal Party, was even more severe: “I do not even see how it could be possible to formulate a declaration which constitutes a compromise and that would not thus be meaningless or arbitrary. It may be that you and your colleagues, when you set to work, discover the futility and impossibility of this work, and even if I may say it, the danger of making readers smile at the naivety of men who have designed and formulated such a declaration.”

The Belgian lawyer, J. Haesaert, drove the point home: “The lawyers know very well that the laws are impotent without mores… In short, the essential is not the law, but the common conduct to which it is the adminicle… It is to prepare for new disappointments in seeking slogans rather than educating people: the spirit of good neighborliness would advantageously replace the most eloquent declarations of the world, and propagating it is a matter more of the educator than the lawyer.”

Cautious, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin declared that “the human races are not equal but different and complementary like the children of the same family.”

The Unitarian political scientist Quincy Wright, a professor at the University of Chicago, noted that human nature is the product of a particular culture. Consequently, “human rights must be stated taking into account their relativity.”

Censor of rationalism and individualism, Emanuel Mounier, suggested a “rectified draft declaration of human and community rights,” based on an investigation by the journal, Esprit, published in May 1945.

Philosopher Filmer Stuart C. Northrop, a professor at Yale University, warned: “A bill of rights for all countries cannot be based solely on the values and traditional ideological claims of one or the other.”

The Chinese philosopher, Chung-Shu Lo, developed the Confucian concept of human rights: “Man must fulfill his duties towards others rather than claiming rights. This is the moral foundation of social and political relations in China. The notion of mutual obligations is the essential teaching of Confucianism.”

The English journalist and novelist, Aldous Huxley, insisted on the importance of the economic rights of the most underprivileged.

The Bengali Muslim poet, philosopher and politician, Humayun Kabir, emphasized that “the Western conception of human rights has a fundamental flaw. Whatever these rights are, in theory, they are very often recognized, in practice, only by Europeans, and sometimes even by certain Europeans only.”

Indian thinker S.V. Puntambekar, professor at the University of Nagpur, warned: “Thinking only of liberties by neglecting the virtues which are their corollaries, would lead to an imbalance of life and to stagnation or even to degradation of personality as well as chaos and social conflicts.”

Neurophysiologist Ralph W. Gerard, President of the American Physiological Society, provided the biologist’s perspective: “Human rights and duties cannot be absolute, but always relate to the environment.” They are “a function of culture. Any doctrine which sees in man only the individual or the unit within the group, is necessarily false. The duality of man, both individual and element of society is inevitable.” Life evolves, and as a result “any declaration of rights will become imperfect at some point, and can only lose its value.”

The Australian anthropologist, Adolphus Peter Elkin, professor at the University of Sidney, points out: “Out of society, the individual would have no rights.” On the other hand, “all human rights are also relative, because they have for their origin and as a condition the necessities of common life, which shapes and nourishes personal life.”

In his preface to this survey, Jacques Maritain justified belief in human rights, but only as a “common ideology limited to the practical order.” He emphasized that “for peoples to agree on how to effectively enforce human rights, they should have in common… at least a practical conception of man and of life, a shared philosophy of life.”

And Maritain was forced to develop an absurd theory that in the area of human rights action precedes thought. Instead of trying to justify and define human rights, he said, “put them into practice and protect them.” As early as 1942, Maritain had published in New York a harsh criticism of the individualism of human rights, in which he said, “We ended up treating the individual as a god, and we gave him all the rights so that we might see him with absolute and unlimited rights of a god.”

In 1952, UNESCO published the famous brochure by Claude Lévi-Strauss, Race and History, which the latter finalized, almost twenty years later, with his conference, Race and Culture (1971), delivered at the headquarters of the same organization. On this double occasion, the famous anthropologist also manifested a singularly critical attitude towards the Western conception of human nature, “universalist and ethnocentric,” which is at the heart of the declaration of human rights.

There are so many texts, comments, reflections and arguments that are today “politically incorrect,” that the mainstream media has, for the long term or temporarily (?), swept under the rug.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The image shows, “Flachsscheuer in Laren (Flax Barn in Laren),” by Max Liebermann, painted in 1887.

The Siege Of The Alcazar: Myth And History

When Brigadier General Federico Fuentes Gomez de Salazar died on January 15, 2018, just before he could celebrate his 100th birthday, he was the last surviving defender of the Alcazar of Toledo. His remains were deposited, according to his will, in the crypt of the Alcazar, where he had been the director of the museum for nearly twenty years.

Who does not know the epic story of the defense of the Alcazar of Toledo? As soon as the uprising began, Colonel José Moscardó Ituarte, military commander of Toledo Square, joined the movement. On July 22, unable to confront the opposing troops that General Riquelme sent from Madrid, Moscardó and his men took refuge in the Alcazar.

They were joined by a group of civilian volunteers (including Federico Fuentes who was then seventeen years old), and by the families of many defenders. A total of 1203 combatants, including 107 volunteer civilians (60 young Falangist activists, 5 Carlists, 8 monarchists, 15 right-wing independents and 1 radical who would take on the most dangerous missions under Captain Vela and who would suffer the heaviest losses), along with 564 non-combatants (mostly women and children).

Very quickly, surrounded by much larger numbers, they were bombarded without respite by artillery and enemy airplanes. But all to no avail! The Alcazar resisted and did not surrender. One by one, the multiple assaults were driven back. Two powerful mines shattered most of the walls, but when the assailants jumped through, certain of victory, the survivors sprang from the ruins and repelled the onslaught again and again.

In two months of terrible fighting, from July 21 to September 27, 1936, only 35 men deserted, who were largely worried about the fate of their families, whom they wanted to join at all costs.

Of all the dramatic episodes of the siege of the Alcazar, the best known is that of the telephone conversation of Moscardó with his son, Luis. Arrested in Toledo on 23 July by far-left militiamen, Luis was threatened with being shot if his father and the Alcazar did not surrender. The few brief phrases the two men exchanged quickly go around the world:

Luis: Dad!
Moscardó: What’s going on with you, my son?
Luis: Nothing, at all… they say they will shoot me if the Alcazar does not surrender. But don’t worry about me.
Moscardó: If it is true commend your soul to God, shout Long live Spain, and you will be a hero who died for her. Goodbye my son, a big kiss, with much love!
Luis: Goodbye Dad, a big kiss, with much love!
Moscardó: You can all spare yourself the waiting for end of the deadline and start shooting, my son. The Alcazar will never surrender!

The threat would be carried out, not on the same day, as the ABC newspaper in Seville said at the time (a mistake reproduced in France by Henri Massis and Robert Brasillach, in the first version of their book The Cadets of the Alcazar, published in 1936), but actually a month later. Luis was shot in Toledo on August 23, along with eighty other inmates.

Taken with the other prisoners to the Puerta del Cambron, he was executed at the foot of the wall of the imperial city. All along the way, clutching his rosary, the condemned man prayed in a low voice. About his son, Moscardó later wrote: “He twice shouted, ‘Long live Spain! Long live Spain! Arise, Spain!’ and fell before the Marxist rifles, for God and for the Fatherland.”

The colonel learned of the tragic death of his two sons José and Luis (one in Barcelona, the other in Toledo), on the day of the liberation of the Alcazar (September 28, 1936). Asked years later, he said: “That moment was so hard and so cruel that I felt my legs crumble under me… this was the price of my glory. I will never be able to feel the slightest pride for an act that my children have paid so much for!”

Though well established, the facts have always and largely been disputed by the historiography favorable to the Popular Front. The “symbol of Francoist hagiography” could not fail to provoke controversy.

The first critical version was conceived by the American historian, Herbert Matthews. In his book, The Yoke and the Arrows (1957), based on various testimonies, including that of the painter, Quintanilla, Matthews questioned the essence of this episode, believing that “the story was too good to be true.” He claimed that Luis Moscardó was a 19-year-old soldier who died in Madrid, while defending the Montaña barracks; that telephone communication was impossible because the line was cut; and that finally the refugee women and children were just hostages.

Authors that came after him, claimed that Moscardó had not dared to surrender because his own comrades-in-arms would have shot him. Others added that under no circumstances did the Republicans intend to carry out their threat.

Finally, some authors went so far as to suggest that Luis was a coward and that his father would have liked to have him shot. These aspersions and slanders would have not deserved attention had the version imagined by Matthews not itself been taken up by historians and journalists, such as, Hugh Thomas (1961), Vilanova (1963), Southworth (1963), Cabanellas (1973), Nourry (1976), or more recently Preston (1994) and Herreros (1995).

But in 1997, in their book, El Alcázar de Toledo. Final de una polémica (Madrid, Actas, 1997), historians Alfonso Bullon de Mendoza and Luis Eugenio Togores, have gathered sufficient evidence to silence the controversy. Luis was actually 24-years old and not 19. He was not in the military, since he had done his military service four years earlier. He was not in Madrid, but in Toledo.

His mother had begged him not to join his father and not to leave her alone. He was arrested on July 23rd, imprisoned with his younger brother, Carmelo, and shot on August 23rd. The phone line was not cut. It was controlled by the militiamen who occupied the Toledo telephone exchange. They could connect or disconnect, as they pleased. Five officers, present in Moscardó’s office, had witnessed the scene. One of Colonel Moscardó’s officers, Commander Cirujano, immediately left the office to gather and inform all the defenders.

In a 2010 interview with ABC, General Fuentes said, “I can testify to the veracity of this conversation in which the colonel sent his son to his death. There is also the telephone operator, a young soldier, who listened in and later recounted the conversation. I was next to the office with several people – a cadet, my brother and my cousins. But we could of course hear that Moscardó…”

In the Toledo Provincial Deputation Building, where Luis Moscardó was being held, there was another prisoner who also testified. This was Luis Moreno Nieto, who was later a ABC correspondent for nearly fifty years. Moreno Nieto reported that he saw Luis come out really upset. His statement would be corroborated by two other people present in the presidential office of the deputation – the caretaker and the telephone operator.

In fact, Cándido Cabellos, lawyer, head of the Toledo militias, and the “republican” intermediary of the commander of the Alcazar, had several militiamen around him, four of whom testified after the Civil War. As to the possibility that non-combatant civilians were hostages, it is simply a non-starter. Of the 564, 16 were in fact prisoners who were never used as bargaining chips. We have the exact list of the names of the besieged, who were all decorated with the Laureate Cross of San Fernando.

In a recent biography of Franco, the historian and polemicist Paul Preston, close to the Spanish Socialist Party, also persists in denouncing the alleged hostage-taking and criticizing the “apocryphal legend” of the telephone conversation. No doubt he did not bother to read the few honest and edifying testimonies that appear in the archives of Moscardó, and which is given below:

Here is first an excerpt from Matthews’s letter to the widow of General Moscardó, dated September 20, 1960:

“Dear Madam, I am writing to you at the suggestion of some friends who informed me that the passage in my book, The Yoke and the Arrows, which refers to the Alcazar has pained you and your family. I regret this and I beg you and your family to accept my most sincere apologies… I am convinced, having read the arguments of Manuel Aznar and discussed this case with trustworthy people, that I was completely wrong. I am preparing a revised edition of my book … and I can assure you that the chapter on the Alcazar will no longer be included.”

On June 25, 1960, the historian, Hugh Thomas, who had also given credit to Matthews’s version, also retracted. He wrote a letter, published in The New Statements (then reproduced in the ABC of June 29, 1960), which read: “After a full search… I have come to the conclusion that I was wrong… I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to the members of the Moscardó family, in particular to the general’s widow, Doña Maria Moscardó.”

In another letter, dated June 15, 1983, the French journalist from Le Figaro, Philippe Nourry, also author of a book on Franco, wrote the following words: “I am sorry indeed to have made this mistake concerning the reality of the telephone conversation between Colonel Moscardó and his son Luis. I understand that it must be very painful for the Colonel’s family to find that doubt continues to hang over this glorious and dramatic episode of the Civil War. Certainly, the extract from the notebooks, which you have just sent me, obviously provides irrefutable proof of the truth of the facts.”

The author of the anti-Alcazar legend, Herbert Matthews, kept his word. In the revised edition of his book, he writes: “There is no doubt that the conversation took place, that the father had to suffer this agony and that his son bravely faced death.” Then he concluded bluntly: “Everything was really according to the best and worst of the Spanish tradition.”

In the new Alcazar Army Museum in Toledo, Colonel Moscardó’s office remains one of the main attractions, although one can no longer listen to the moving but fictive reproduction of the historical conversation between father and son. Interviewed by the ABC in 2010, at the inauguration of the museum, General Federico Fuentes concluded with a lump in his throat and wet eyes: “A civil war is the worst thing that can ever happen.”

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

The image shows a scene from the siege and defense of the Alcazar.

This article was translated from the French by N. Dass.

Wilhelm Röpke And The Third “Neo-Liberal” Path

World history has not become a long, tranquil river as some had hoped. Various tragic events tell us otherwise – September 11, 2001, the economic crisis of 2008 and finally the identity crisis of the 2010s (crisis of conscience or perception of cultural and historical roots that affects the countries of Europe and, likely perhaps to a lesser extent, the rest of the West).

Since the 2008 crisis, many have expressed the strongest reservations about the evolution of Western economies and societies. Economic reductionism, the cult of the market, the capitalist logic of interest have never been so denounced in the media.

Combined with liberalization, deregulation (especially the financial markets), the withdrawal of the state, the disproportionate power of the “giants” of business and finance, the concentration of wealth, the explosion of inequality and wild competition, the word “neoliberalism,” ubiquitous in the vocabulary of the general public, has become a kind of synonym for “hypercapitalism,” “market fundamentalism,” an absolute repellent. A label so overused and depreciated in Europe that it can no longer be used openly by neo-liberal or social-liberal political leaders, but only surreptitiously, the French presidential election of 2017 being, in this respect, a real case in point.

A plethora of philosophers and ideologues, a minority of whom seem to want more or less consciously the return of wage and price control, state leadership, and even the resurgence of “sweet collectivism,” also support the thesis of the fundamental unity of liberalism. At the root of political and economic liberalism, they believe, there should be, above all, individualism and universalism.

The neo-liberalism of the turn of the 21st century would only be the logical and inevitable culmination of the individualistic and universalist philosophical project, defined since the 17th century in particular by the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Even the most radical of these philosophers and ideologues, risk prophesying that liberalism and neo-liberalism are coming to an end. But for the historian of ideas and facts things are not so simple.

Contrary to what some have suggested, liberalism and neo-liberalism are not univocal or monolithic currents. Their stories are diverse and plural, made up of ruptures and disagreements, as well as continuity and convergence. There is a political liberalism and an economic liberalism, with concomitances, and no doubt, simultaneity, but both of which are far from absolute and permanent.

On the political level alone, we can distinguish five liberalisms: first, a legal-economic liberalism based on a minimum state or “gendarme” (as per David Hume, Frédéric Bastiat, Friedrich Hayek, or even the Chicago School).

Second, there is libertarian liberalism, which regards the state or political power as useless (as per the Austrian School, Murray Rothbard, Walter Block, etc.).

Third, there is the liberalism which wants a state whose mission is to foster a level playing field, and which is close to redistributive and bureaucratic social democracy (as per John Stuart Mill, John Rawls, Keynes, etc.).

Fourthly, there is a Jacobin, centralist, egalitarian, statolatry, or even totalitarian liberalism (as per Jean-Jacques Rousseau).

And, finally, there is a realistic or skeptical liberalism, which recognizes the existence and necessity of power as the inevitable component of social and political life – in other words that which considers “the “political (i.e. the essence of politics and not the “policy that it is contingent,” to use Julien Freund’s distinction) as the sociological articulation of the “polemos,” that is, as the inevitable theatre of recurrent conflicts and struggles (as per Tocqueville, Isaiah Berlin, Mosca, Pareto, Ortega y Gasset, Unamuno, Max Weber, Croce, Wilhelm Röpke, Raymond Aron, Julien Freund, etc.).

With regard to economic liberalism, the differences between the Vienna School (Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek), or the Chicago School (Milton Friedman and George Stigler) at the Fribourg-en-Brisgau School (Walter Eucken and Wilhelm Röpke) are blatant and profound.

Forged to oppose the older liberalism (or paleo-liberalism), the term neo-liberalism is not new. It appeared in the late 1930s; the updated version of the book by the German economist Franz Oppenheimer, Der Staat (1929), undoubtedly played a pioneering role in this field. But at that time, the meaning of the word neo-liberalism was very different. It was almost the opposite of the one it took in the 1970s, following the experience of the “Chicago Boys,” Friedman’s ultra-liberal disciples, who were much under the influence of English and American think-tanks that supported a minimal state, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs (London), or the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education (Atlanta).

In the emergence of neo-liberal thought, an important first step must be pointed out: the Walter Lippmann Symposium, convened in Paris in 1938 at the initiative of Louis Rougier. For the twenty-six participants, it was a question of defining a neo-liberalism conceived as a third way between the “laisser-faire” of old liberalism (“the providentialism of the invisible hand”), and the dirigisme of Marxist communism, National socialism, fascism, and the various forms of Keynesianism, Planists and Neo-Socialists.

The economists, political scientists and sociologists of the time had largely aligned themselves with Lippmann, Rougier, Jacques Rueff, Alexander Rüstow or Wilhelm Röpke. The “old or paleo-liberals” such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek were in the minority at the time. For the majority of participants, it was clear that neo-liberalism had to accept a good deal of interventionism and integrate a political, social and moral dimension. Their neo-liberalism – ordo-liberalism or “rule liberalism” – was defined by four points: priority to the price mechanism, free enterprise, a competitive system, and a strong, impartial state.

The second major stage was the birth of the Mont Pèlerin Society (Vevey, Switzerland), in April 1947. Founded, among others, by Hayek, Albert Hunold and Röpke, this organization was to bring together, at its first conference, thirty-seven members, fifty percent of whom were American. Significantly, the final statement stressed the “need for a legal and institutional framework to preserve the proper functioning of competition” (point 5), and “the need and presupposition of a free society,” namely, “a moral code widely accepted which would govern public and private actions” (point 8). Hayek served as president from 1948 to 1960, and Wilhelm Röpke succeeded him from 1961 to 1962. But it is well known that there were significant disputes within the “Society” over how to understand liberalism.

At the first regular meeting, held in Seelisberg (Switzerland) in 1949, the ordo-liberal, Walter Eucken, opposed the utilitarian, Ludwig von Mises. Dissension broke out again at the Turin assembly in 1961, which saw Friedrich Hayek and Wilhelm Röpke oppose each other. Severe lamenting of the “tragedy and crisis of historical or Manchesterian capitalism,” German ordo-liberals and more generally European economists who favored third-way neoliberalism (such as, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Rueff, Rougier or Maurice Allais), were all-too-often considered “too socialist,” at times labeled as “reactionary utopians,” and even occasionally accused, perfidiously, of “hidden connivance with fascism.” They were soon relegated to the background by the supporters of the Austrian and Anglo-Saxon schools, all of which favored the return of classical liberalism.

The Mont Pèlerin Society evolved, got radicalized, and became, in the late 1970s, a kind of ultra-liberal think tank. In view of the history and political and economic debates of the turn of the 21st century, the thought of Wilhelm Röpke, a great rival and loser to Friedrich Hayek, takes on an unexpected dimension. Forgotten and unknown for nearly forty years, his intellectual figure deserves all the more to be rediscovered.

Röpke was born in Schwarmstedt, Lower Saxony (near Hanover) on October 10, 1899, and died on February 12, 1966 in Coligny (in the canton of Geneva). His thinking is an interesting synthesis of the defense of market economy and that of political-ethical-religious conservatism.

His respect for traditional life forms, his hostility to the gigantism and cult of the colossal, his denunciation of the consumer society and commercial advertising, his criticism of the catastrophic destruction of urban landscapes and the natural environment, his opposition to globalization and the homogenization of political communities that he considered incompatible with the cultural heterogeneity of European civilization, and finally, his deploring the loss of the sense of community, made him a leading neo-liberal economist who advocated the “third way,” beyond liberalism and socialism. Röpke also used the terms “constructive liberalism” and “economic humanism, but he preferred the designation the “third way” (der dritte Weg).

During his lifetime, Röpke held a prominent position. His prestige even eclipsed that of other ordo-liberal economists and political writers such as Walter Eucken, Franz Boehm, Alexander Rüstow or Alfred Müller-Armack.

Mobilized in September 1917, a year before the end of the First World War, he was wounded in 1918 at the Battle of Cambrai. Decorated with the Iron Cross Second-Class and demobilized, he resumed his studies in law and economics, which he had begun at the University of Göttingen. He then joined the University of Tübingen, and finally the University of Marburg, where he defended his doctoral thesis, under the direction of the economist, Walter Troeltsch, in January 1921.

He was not only a professor and an economic theorist, but also an advisor to the prince. He first worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin as a consultant in charge of payments for war reparations. Between 1924 and 1928, he taught at the University of Jena.

Then, on a Rockefeller Foundation grant, he visited the United States where he studied agrarian economics. In 1928, he gave courses in political economy at the University of Graz (Austria) and, barely a year later, obtained a chair at the University of Marburg. In 1930-31, he was part of a commission of experts charged with proposing counter-cyclical policies against unemployment to the government.

On the eve of the elections of September 14, 1930, which would see a breakthrough by the National Socialist Party, he clearly opposed the NSDAP. A controversy pitted him against the intellectuals of the Die Tat group, which was the emblematic reference-point of the Conservative Revolution up to 1937. He published three articles on anti-capitalism in the magazine, which he considered “catastrophic;” and, in particular, attacked Ferdinand Fried (Friedrich Zimmermann), the outspoken propagator of National Socialist theories about the end of capitalism and the need for autarky.

Once again, in a speech in Frankfurt on February 8, 1933, he criticized the demagoguery of National Socialist rhetoric. His university career ended three weeks later, on February 27, 1933, the day of the Reichstag fire. As Dean of the faculty, and given the responsibility of giving the funeral oration for his teacher, Walter Troeltsch, at the cemetery of Ockershauser (Marburg), Röpke denounced: “an era that likes to convert the garden of civilization into a primitive forest.”

Declared an enemy of the people and expelled from the university on April 25, 1933, he refused to publicly recant and join the NSDAP. He had to leave Germany with his wife, son and two daughters. After a brief exile in England and Holland, the family sailed for Turkey, where the regime of President Ataturk, then considered in the West to be “a good dictator,” welcomed university exiles of the Reich.

At the University of Istanbul, he was reunited with his colleague and friend, Professor Alexander Rüstow. He held the chair of political economy until September 1937, when he joined the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. During the war, he wrote a famous trilogy: Die Gesellschaftskrisis der Gegenwart, 1942 (The Social Crisis of Our Time), Civitas Humana, 1944 (Civitas Humana or the fundamental questions of economic and social reform), and International Ordnung, (The International Community). This trilogy was translated into several languages and helped establish his reputation.

At the end of the Second World War, he published a more polemical essay, Die deutsche Frage, 1945 (The German Question), which earned him the hatred of both the right and the left, because for Röpke the tragedy of Germany was a consequence of the Prussian spirit, romanticism, and a certain fundamentalism in the realization of ideas.

According to him, the solution for Germany could only come from a moral revolution, a re-education of the values of Western civilization, a deproletarization, and a confederation of autonomous states. More specifically, he wanted the absolute prevention of Russian collectivism, which also explained his desire for Germany to join the Atlantic community.

His thinking and rhetoric very soon informed the speeches of Minister Ludwig Erhard, who had obtained allies as early as 1945 to be appointed Economic Minister in the Bavarian government. Röpke was a first-time ministerial and then presidential adviser in Konrad Adenauer’s government. He defended the “social market economy,” a term already used by Muller-Armack and supported in France, Italy and Spain by Jacques Rueff, Luigi Einaudi and Alberto Ullastres.

But he eventually broke with the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) because of his opposition to German integration into the European Communities. The supranational path, which opened in the 1950s, seemed dangerous to the future of the homelands and cultures, spiritually, and damaging to the market, economically.

Röpke’s thinking is marked by the doctrinal criticism of totalitarianism, the welfare state, and Keynesian policies, but also by a stated sympathy for political-moral neo-conservatism. He drew the various strands of his doctrine from Sismondi, Proudhon, Le Play, Kropotkin, Chesterton or Belloc, but his school of thought is that of Ortega y Gasset, Lippmann, Johan Huizinga, Guglielmo Ferrero, Jouvenel, Halévy, Benda or Hazard.

The experience of the crisis of the late 1920s was proof to him that the economy cannot organize itself. Collectivist responses to capitalism are reactions he regarded as understandable in the face of misery, but he also thought that they reinforced the miserable condition of the proletariat and that they inevitably lead to tyranny.

Just as forcefully he rejected the welfare state as “an expression of the emotion and passion of the masses,” which “institutionalizes the proletariat and disempowers the citizen.” But he nevertheless very harshly denounced the blindness of classical liberalism, the so-called liberal apoliticism, which he considered a mystification. His economic liberalism was associated with political realism.

He recognized the social irrationality of capitalism, in particular the inevitable concentration of ownership, the expansion of wage-earning and proletarianization, which were fatal steps on the path of collectivism, and proposed ways to avoid them, in order to restore the entrepreneurial vitality of workers.

The real cause of the discontent of the working class was the devitalization of existence which could not be cured by higher wages, holidays or games. Instead of locking workers in the Welfare State, he said that it was necessary to promote their freedom and responsibility, to make them want to be owner-occupiers.

The ordo-liberalism of Röpke held that markets need an ethico-legal-political framework to ensure the survival of liberal values. For him, competition was essential and the deproletarization of social relations, such as the fight against capitalist concentration and in favor of the promotion of free enterprise, were the duties of the state.

The neo-liberalism of Röpke did not identify with a weak state, at the mercy of economic forces, but rather with a strong state; a state capable of restricting competition and ensuring the social and ideological conditions of a free economy. Economic freedom and political authority are two sides of the same coin for him. There is interdependence of the two; the economy does not have an independent existence.

The free market is unable to provide an integrated society on its own. The tendency towards proletarianization is inherent in capitalist social relations; and when it is not controlled, it results in social crises and disorder. This containment is the responsibility of the state; so, it is a political responsibility.

The market economy cannot survive without moral capital, without the support of tradition, religion and civic sense. The state must intervene in the economic and non-economic spheres to ensure the ethical and social conditions on which effective competition is based.

Röpke wanted economic activity on a human scale, based on the social fabric of small and medium-sized enterprises. He wanted legislation against monopolies, the widest possible dissemination of ownership, market control to ensure healthy competition, state intervention limited to indispensable sectors only, and strict application of the principle of subsidiarity.

Warning of the danger of extreme inequality, he accepted income redistribution and subsidies when they did not interfere with the market economy. He refused to exalt the private sector at the expense of legitimate functions of the state. He deplored the uncritical adoption of all technological advances and concerns, the consequences of the destruction of the traditional family, demographic decline and unlimited immigration.

Hedonism, selfishness, idol pleasure, psychological atomism, naturalism and determinism were values and ideas that were entirely foreign to him. The quarrels over the comparative importance of identity and sovereignty were, in his view, specious, illusory and dissolving.

Identity (linked to the historical-cultural community) and sovereignty (the political power associated with the consent community) could not be opposed. They are two complementary and inseparable aspects of the unity of destiny in the universal. Demassification, deproletarization, decollectivization and social decentralization are the key words of his thinking.

He was a Protestant, but he held in high esteem the social doctrine of the Church with which he sought to build a bridge from liberalism. His concern for the deterioration of the Western Christian tradition and the irreligiousness of contemporary man continued to grow during his life. “Europe’s decadence is not only moral or political,” he wrote, “it is also religious.” And again: “Everything is held together and toppled by religion” (Civitas Humana).

The neo-liberalism of Röpke is, in fact, the perfect alternative to the neo-liberalism of the turn of the 21st century. While the latter defends capitalism against the state, the neo-liberalism of Röpke defends the state against capitalism. The theorist of American conservatism, Russell Kirk, bête noire of present-day neoconservatives and neo-liberals but a fine connoisseur of the disagreements between the utilitarian Mises and the ordo-liberal Röpke, liked to tell the following anecdote.

A professor at the University Institute of Advanced International Studies, Röpke welcomed the success of the workers’ gardens, the plots of land made available to the inhabitants by the municipality of Geneva.

One day he showed Mises, workers digging away in their plots. At this sight, Mises pouted, sadly shook his head and lamented, “A really very inefficient way of producing food.” To which Röpke replied, “Perhaps, yes, but perhaps not, because it is also a very effective way of producing human happiness.”

A pioneer, though pessimistic, as were his most prestigious ordo-liberal and neo-liberal colleagues of the 1930s and 1970s, Röpke had the reasoned conviction that a society obsessed with GNP, exclusively concerned with so-called efficiency and profitability, regardless of the consequences on human beings, inevitably runs out of steam.

Having said that, it is clear that at the beginning of the 21st century the conditions of a democratic, entrenched community, respectful of the human freedom of civic sense and of small and medium-sized property, are no longer compatible with the requirements of a model grossly disfigured free trade economy.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

This article was translated from the original French by N. Dass.

The image shows Wilhelm Röpke, ca. 1951.

A Child Of The Spanish Civil War

Understanding the Spanish Civil War means knowing that it was “a mixture of vanity and sacrifice, clownery and heroism,” wrote Arthur Koestler in his autobiography, The Invisible Writing. It was a fratricidal war between fellow citizens and friends, between parents and children, between brothers and sisters. The examples speak for themselves. Thus, the brothers Manuel and Antonio Machado, whose literary output had previously been joint, clashed over ideological reasons – one was in the anti-communist, pro-national camp, the other was a member of the Association of Friends of the Soviet Union and sympathized with the United Socialist Youth.

Buenaventura Durruti, the anarchist leader who died under obscure circumstances, most likely a victim of the Communists, opposed his younger brother Marciano Pedro Durruti, who was a Falangist. Constancia de la Mora Maura, aristocrat and member of the Communist Party, whose husband, Ignacio Hidalgo de Cisneros, was the commander-in-chief of the Republican Air Force, clashed with her sister, Marichu de la Mora, writer, journalist, personal friend of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, and one of the founders of the Women’s Section. It was a total war, in fact, between left-wing totalitarians and right-wing authoritarians.

In the Spain of 1936, there were no more democrats. Hatred and bigotry infected both sides. But respect for others, nobility and generosity sometimes transcended divisions.

Here is the moving testimony of José Ataz, a young “hijo de rojo” (Son of the Reds), who experienced the horrors of a fratricidal war and the terrible privations of the immediate post-war period. His is a very human true story, which alone allows us to understand the complexity of this terrible historical event, which was commemorated in 2006. A story that does not judge, that does not say good or bad, that does not pursue demonization, or discriminated between the pure and the impure – but which contributes honestly and modestly to the search for truth and sincere reconciliation.

In August 1936, José, an eight-year-old boy, witnessed an excruciating scene that marked him forever. His father, Joaquin Ataz Hernandez, Secretary of the UGT railwaymen’s union in Murcia, and provincial leader of the PSOE, had just been appointed by his party to sit on the Special People’s Court of Murcia. The People’s Courts were created at the end of August, 1936, by decree of the government. They were composed of seventeen judges, fourteen of whom were appointed by the parties and trade unions of the Popular Front (left-wing liberal-Jacobins, socialists, communists, Trotskyists and anarchists). On September 11, the People’s Court of Murcia sat for the first time.

Of the twenty-seven people tried that day, ten were sentenced to death, eight to life imprisonment; the others were given heavy prison sentences. Among those sentenced to death were the parish priest, Don Sotero Gonzalez Lerma and the Murcia’s provincial chief of the Falange, Federico Servet Clemencín.

Joaquin Ataz Hernandez voted the death penalty for the young Falangist leader. The order he received from his party could not be argued – the “fascist” had to be executed. “My father had known Federico since he was a child,” says José. “They were not friends, but they liked each other and respected each other. Also, just after the sentence, he approached to say: “Federico, I really regret …” but before he could add another word, Federico interrupted him: “Don’t worry about it, I would have done the same with you, give me a cigarette!”

Two days later, very early, on the morning of Sunday September 13, several trucks full of men and women awoke José. It was rumored that the Government wanted to pardon the condemned, and the crowd in turmoil, demanded “justice.” In a state of dismay, the civilian governor ordered the executions be hastily carried. The furious crowd soon entered the prison courtyard and came upon the corpses.

The bodies were desecrated and mutilated mercilessly. In the middle of the morning, little José, who played in the street, saw and heard the vociferous populace. Overexcited men and women seemed to be pulling a strange load with ropes. With all the curiosity and agility of his age, José got close – and he was seized with dread. In front of him law a bloodied body, which had been turned into shreds for being dragged along the pavement. None of the viragos present prevented him from witnessing the scene. No one came to his aid when he vomited and fell unconscious to the ground.

As soon as he recovered, he ran to his parents’ house crying. His mother consoled him. How can such acts of savagery be even tolerated, she asked her husband in disgust? The father could not answer as his shame was great. At this moment, they did not know that it was the body of the parish priest, Don Sotero Gonzalez Lerma, who had been horribly mutilated, dragged through the streets and hanged from a lamppost of the façade of his church, where a militiaman triumphantly cut off his ear and demanded that a tavern-keeper serve it well grilled with a glass of wine.

Soon thereafter, Joaquin Ataz Hernandez resigned from the People’s Court. At the end of April 1937, he was appointed head of the Prison Corps, and not long after he became head of the Totana labor camp (Murcia), where nearly two-thousand political prisoners (those sentenced to life imprisonment, or thirty years’ imprisonment) served their sentences in very difficult but nevertheless humane conditions. On April 1, 1939, bells rang and firecrackers burst. José and his two brothers saw their father, unflappable, calmly combing his hair, while their mother sobbed: “Don’t worry the children, the war is over, but I have to leave for a few days on the road.” The few days would turn into years.

Under the seal of secrecy, José learned from his mother that his father had managed to embark on a journey to Mexico. To survive, the little boy had to work. He was, by turns, a kitchen boy, and apprentice carpenter, storekeeper and baker. He finally and enthusiastically returned to school. In class, all children knew the political background of each family, but no one said a word.

In October, 1942, during a civics course, José by chance heard his teacher explain that José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the leader of the Falange, and sentenced to death by a People’s Court and executed in November 1936, “considered that the birth of socialism was right.” These words, in the mouth of an adversary, seemed so unusual that José immersed himself in reading the Complete Works of the founder of the Falange. When he finished, he was both excited and convinced.

José now faced a serious internal crisis. Was he betraying the ideals for which his father fought so honestly throughout his life? Luckily, José was able to discuss everything with his father. For some time now, he had known that his father was not exiled to Mexico but was living in hiding with his own parents.

Without further hesitation, José visited him and made him read the speeches and testament of José Antonio. “I was frankly asking him about the problem in my own conscience,” he said, “and he answered me with all the generosity and nobility I expected of him: “Listen, my son, I have no moral authority to advise you in a realm, where I have done things, rightly or wrongly, for which you must suffer all kinds of privations and know hunger. A single person can follow his ideals to the very end, without limits. But a man who has a wife and children has no right to compromise the survival of his family. Do what your heart dictates, but always make sure you don’t compromise others by your decisions. Hear me good, Pepe, always act with honesty and consistency!”

His conscience finally free, and “having obtained the permission of the only man whose authority I recognized over my own person,” added José, “I joined the Youth Front and I could finally wear my first blueshirt.” Head of Century of the Youth Front, he then began studying law and was appointed head of the SEU (official student union) of the university district of Murcia.

At the end of 1948, José’s father, who had lived cloistered for more than nine years, decided to leave his hiding place. He took the first train to Madrid. Thanks to the grateful friendship of people he helped during the war, he found work. For two and a half years, he was employed in an electric lamp shop in the Puerta del Sol, then in a canning factory, without ever being worried. But, one day in October 1951, his son José, then a candidate senior officer cadet in a regiment of Seville, learns that his father had been arrested, a victim of the denunciation of an employee dismissed for embezzlement.

José had to do everything possible to help his father. In the spring of 1952, a War Council was convened. Many witnesses took the stand. All pointed out that the conduct of the accused during the war was beyond reproach. Among them were some who even owed him their lives, as was the case with the professor of commercial law at the University of Murcia, Salvador Martinez-Moya, who was undersecretary of justice in the government of the radical Alejandro Lerroux. Unyielding, the prosecutor asked for the death penalty. The jury withdrew and deliberated for many long minutes. When they reconvened, the president pronounced the sentence: The accused was sentenced to thirty-years in prison – but because of the various remissions of sentence and pardons granted, he was immediately released.

After completing his studies, José joined the law firm of Don Salvador Martinez-Moya, who was a key witness in his father’s trial. As chance would have it, he was joined in the firm by the eldest son of Federico Servet, the provincial leader of the Falange whose death his own father had voted for. “I got along very well with Ramon,” José wrote. “We never talked about our fathers, but we knew the tragic relationship they had had. Ramon was very disappointed to see that Spain was moving away from what his father had dreamed of. Finally, he went to Mexico and we lost touch with each other.”

Intelligent and hard-working, José held various positions in the administration. It was the beginning of a meteoric rise. In 1964, the Under-Secretary of State for Finance called on him. Ten years later, he was Deputy Director General of the Department of Finance.

In 2006, at the age of eighty, José Ataz Hernandez (1927-2011) wanted to bear witness above all.

Here are his own words: “Neither I nor my brothers (one of whom is now a socialist), have ever had to reconcile with anyone because no one was ever against us. On the contrary, we have experienced in many cases, both discreet and anonymous, generosity and greatness of soul, which would be inconceivable today. An example: at my father’s funeral, Manolo Servet was present. Manolo was a friend of mine from the Youth Front, and my brother Joaquin’s workmate. He was the second son of Federico, the young provincial chief of the Falange of Murcia who had been sentenced to death with the participation of my father. When he approached me to offer his condolences and give me a hug, I had to make a superhuman effort not to start crying…”

[Testimony of José Ataz collected by Arnaud Imatz].

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

This article was translated from the original French by N. Dass.

The image shows a poster from the Spanish Civil War, with the famous slogan, “They Will Not Pass!”

Melchor Rodriguez: The Red Angel Of The Spanish Civil War

Relations between Anarchists and Marxist Socialists have always been marked by mistrust, suspicion, even hostility and hatred. In Spain, during the nearly three years of Civil War (1936-1939), they took a particularly dramatic turn. The rivalry between the two revolutionary currents quickly led to an open struggle that culminated in a small civil war within the Civil War.

In a somewhat schematic way, the choice between them may be summed up in this way. Either start the revolution right away, proceed immediately to collectivization, while making war. This solution was the preference of anarchists, Marxist-Leninists of the POUM and some of the trade unionists of the socialist UGT.

Or, on the contrary, temporarily favor the “sacred union” with the bourgeois left, so not to frighten the fellow-travelers, and especially the democracies, and first to win the war and postpone the social revolution. This a view was that of the Stalinist communists and their allies, the majority of the socialists.

This dispute, almost intractable, was temporarily settled by arms, to the advantage of the communists and their fellow-travelers. The bloody days of Barcelona (May 3-8, 1937) resulted in more than 500 deaths and 1,500 injuries.

But the anarchists never accepted communist rule. Nearly two years later, with the help of their social democratic, Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist allies, they took revenge in extremis. On the eve of the victory of the Francoist troops in March 1939, 150,000 soldiers, controlled by the CNT and led by Cipriano Mera, revolted and prevailed against the Communist Army Corps I, II and III.

After violent fighting, which claimed several thousand lives, the anarchists ensured the success of the coup against the pro-Stalinist government of the socialist Juan Negrín. Once the communists and their fellow-travelers were finally routed, and faced with increasing pressure from the National troops, the National Defense Council, composed of General Miaja, Colonel Casado, the Social Democrat Besteiro and seven other anarchist and anti-communist leaders, resolved to sign the surrender of the Republican camp.

One cannot understand the avatars of the Spanish People’s Front during the Civil War, without taking into account this fierce libertarian opposition to social-Marxist domination. In fact, once the republican, democratic and moderate left was completely whipped and marginalized, anarchists and anarcho-unionists were the only bulwark against despotism and Stalinist terror.

Examples of clashes and skirmishes between leaders, activists and sympathizers of the two major components of the revolutionary left abound. There is one, as emblematic as it is little known, which is particularly worth recalling. This is the conflict between the anarchist Melchor Rodriguez Garcia and the Secretary-General of the United Socialist Youth, responsible for public order in the Madrid Defence Committee (later secretary general of the PCE and co-founder of Eurocommunism), the Stalinist Santiago Carrillo.

Melchor Rodriguez Against Communist Terror

In early November 1936, in the midst of the civil war, Melchor Rodriguez was appointed Inspector General of Prisons by the People’s Front government. As such, he would work to prevent escapes but also prevent attacks and lynchings of detainees.

For some time now, communist militiamen and the Unified Socialist Youth (who were born on April 1, 1936, with the merger of the Communist Youth and the Socialist Youth) had made a habit of “visiting” Madrid’s jails. The pretext was to evacuate prisoners from the besieged capital to safety.

In reality, once the distant suburbs were reached, in the name of “popular justice: and “revolution,” the “fascist” enemies were ruthlessly liquidated. Faced with the indignant protests of foreign embassies, the authorities of the Popular Front finally got worried. This situation could no longer be tolerated.

Melchor Rodriguez was 43 years old when he took up his position as General Directorate of Prisons. A staunch anarcho-unionist, affiliated with the CNT and a member of the FAI, he was known for his courage, idealism and anti-communism. For three months, he successfully opposed the policy of terror, defended by communist leaders, and stopped the wave of crimes.

The Mass Graves of Santiago Carrillo

Melchor was born in Seville in 1893 to a working-class family of three children. He had been raised by his mother, an Andalusian woman who made a hard living as a cigar maker and seamstress. At the age of thirteen, he was already working as a boilermaker. Dreaming of becoming a bullfighter, he set out on an adventure on the roads of Spain as a teenager. Injured in the arena, in 1918, he had to give up his dream for good.

He was then found working as a metal worker in Madrid. Affiliated with the CNT, of which he was one of the representatives in the capital, his political and trade union activities were multiplying. From 1932, he was responsible for organizing aid to anarchist prisoners jailed by the Republic.

Appointed head of the prison administration in early November 1936, four months after the outbreak of the civil war, Melchor Rodriguez immediately saw his authority challenged by the Communists. Believing that he did not have the means to act, he resigned. Political assassinations then increased in intensity.

In Paracuellos, a village a few kilometers from Madrid, and in the surrounding area, in just over a month, nearly five thousand people were shot and buried in huge mass graves. All members and supporters of right-wing parties or “national forces” (radicals, Christian Democrats, Liberal-Conservatives, Agrarians, Nationalists, Monarchists and Falangists) were indiscriminately suspected of supporting the uprising.

Many victims had committed only one “crime” – attending a Catholic college, or belonging to a family of doctors or lawyers. The direct culprits of these appalling massacres are now known. They were the Socialist MP Margarita Nelken, the Director General of Security, the radical socialist, Manuel Muñoz, the Minister of the Interior, the socialist Angel Galarza, and, above all, the Secretary General of the Socialist and Communist Youth, Santiago Carrillo.

For decades, Santiago Carrillo vehemently denied any involvement in the Paracuellos massacre, systematically calling his accusers slanderers, fascist agents or Neo-Francoists historians. But his direct responsibility can no longer be seriously questioned. It was established by several irrefutable documents and testimonies: the statements of Melchor Rodriguez, the letter of July 30, 1937 from Dimitrov, head of the Komintern, to Voroshilov, informing him that Carrillo “gave the order to shoot,” the report of Dr. Henny, representative of the Red Cross, and the damning testimony of the Consul of Norway, Felix Schlayer, whose edifying memoir, which remained incomprehensibly in oblivion for sixty-ten years, was published under the title, Matanzas: en el Madrid republicano.

Santiago Carrillo, during the Civil War, was not the defender of democratic values, celebrated and honored today by the socialist media and much of the radical left. Santiago Carrillo was appointed Doctor Honoris Causa of the Autonomous University of Madrid on March 16, 2005, for his role in the Civil War and the democratic transition. To this day, Melchor Rodriguez’s life remains covered by the mantle of oblivion.

On the contrary, his Chekist methods and procedures make him one among those responsible for the most appalling populicide ever committed during the Spanish War. If there were a humanist and a true democrat at the time, it was certainly not the Stalinist in charge of the Public Order in Madrid – but, on the contrary, one of his fiercest opponents, strangely unknown and ignored, the anarchist, Melchor Rodriguez Garcia. A brief return to the facts makes this obvious.

On December 4, 1936, the government of the Popular Front confirmed the first appointment of Melchor Rodriguez. Full powers were granted to him by the Minister of Justice, Garcia Oliver, an anarchist like him.

Once appointed special delegate to the Directorate General of Prisons, neither Stalin’s envoys, General Gorev and diplomat Mikhail Kolstov, nor their allies, namely, the delegate to the Public Order, Santiago Carrillo or his collaborator, José Cazorla Maure, nor any other of their communist acolytes, could do anything against Melchor Rodriguez. In his eyes, there was no doubt that all these men “have disgraced the Republic.”

On 24 December, Carrillo lost his duties as a delegate to the Public Order. For three weeks, Melchor Rodriguez’s energetic action, often carried out at the risk of his own life, was decisive in stopping the massacres. Between December 4, 1936 and March 1, 1937, when the new government presided over by the pro-Stalinist socialist, Juan Negrín removed it, Madrid’s prisons were secured.

The most remarkable episode of Melchor Rodriguez’s life is undoubtedly the one that took place on December 8, 1936. After the bombing of Alcala airport, more than two hundred militiamen, furious, decided to take revenge on their hostages.

When the cells were forced, the “Red Angel,” a nickname he acquired on this occasion, intervened: “Before killing one of these prisoners, you will have to get past me!” He saved nearly 1000 people that day. The Member of Parliament for the CEDA (Confederation of Autonomous Rights), Alberto Martin Artajo, the Falangist leader, Raimundo Fernandez Cuesta and the future Commander-in-Chief of the Division Azul and Secretary-General of the Movimiento, Agustín Muñoz Grandes, owed him their lives.

Many would never forgive him for his humanist and generous attitude, which was unusual among his co-members of the FAI. For the communists, he was the “traitor,” “the agent of the fifth column,” the “cryptofascist.” In March 1939, in the capital besieged by Franco’s army, communist troops and those of their socialist allies were crushed by forces controlled by the CNT. Anarchists and Social Democrats prevailed just on the eve of the ceasefire.

The new National Defence Committee appointed Melchor Rodriguez as head of Madrid’s mayoralty. Faced with the advance of the national columns, there was a stampede. But the “Red Angel” refused to run away and remained at his post until the end. Judged and condemned by a Franco war council in November 1939, the numerous testimonies that were forthcoming, including that of General Muñoz Grandes, led to his release a year and a half later.

In the aftermath of the civil war, Melchor Rodriguez lived very modestly. An employee of an insurance company, he refused the economic aid offered to him. Intractable, he died true to his anarchist convictions. One day in 1973, he was found lying near his home, unconscious on the ground, with head injuries.

He was rushed to Francisco Franco Hospital. A friend, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alberto Martin Artajo, who had esteemed and admired him for more than thirty years, immediately went to his bedside. The two men, whom so many things separated, spoke one last time.

The funeral took place in the presence of Francoist ministers, anarchist activists and survivors of the November and December 1936 massacres. On the coffin an anarchist flag and a crucifix were placed. Prayers rang out, followed by the anarchist anthem: “Negras tormentas agitan los aires.” The “Red Angel,” a symbol of national reconciliation, now rests in peace.

Is Reconciliation Still On The Agenda?

Many are surprised that the memory of Melchor Rodriguez, “the Spanish Schindler,” as some say, has not yet been officially honoured by democratic Spain and even (why not?) by the European Parliament. After all, the representatives of the majority of the political groups of the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, who for the most part have no idea what happened in Spain for more than a century, had not approved the March 17, 2006 resolution, at the instigation of the PSOE and against the advice of the PP, condemning the “undemocratic nature of Franco’s coup,” and yet proposed July 18 as an “international date of condemnation of Francoism?”

But is full reconciliation really on the agenda, as the official media, resolutely breaking with the desire for “forgiveness without forgetting” of previous decades, advocate with obsession and exclusivism a “recovery of historical memory,” which is known to be a propagandistic and emotional evocation of the past, unrelated to rigorous and serious history?

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés

The image shows a plaque at the house where Melchor Rodriguez was born.

This article was translated from the original French by N. Dass.