Sheriffing The Sheriffs

In January 1992, I had the displeasure of meeting a German in Havana. Heinz Dietrich was his name, and he was a great friend of Chomsky’s, and an unswerving pawn in any anti-Spanish plot that was being hatched around the world. Dieterich along with a woman, a Catalan separatist, whose name I do not remember, had been commissioned by the liberal Naumann Foundation to collect signatures denouncing the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World. That woman (and what is there to say about her two traveling companions, Pedro and Pablo, that will not come across as nasty?) – that Catalan woman forgot, for example, that all of us Spaniards were footing the bill for their Olympics. But to expect nobility and gratitude from such people is just wishful thinking.

The conversation was brief and unpleasant and I will not waste time trying to remember it, except for one thing: They were trying to organize a landing in Barcelona of Canadian Indians in their canoes (the Catalan resided in Canada and was doing her best to stir up anti-Spanish sentiments among indigenous people who could not even tell you where Spain might actually be located). These Canadian Indians were going to come to “discover” Spain, as a slap-in-the-face to the feat of Columbus and his sailors, although these Indians would, of course, be transferring from a mother ship. I do not know what became of such antics for October 12 (Columbus Day), although I do know for sure that their water carnival was kept from going to Palos de la Frontera. Just in case.

I have referred to this trivial comedy, as it is part of a constellation of similar acts with which they stir up bad actors throughout the American continent, especially in those countries where the indigenous peoples are large in number, and precisely those countries which Anglo-Saxons did not colonize and settle. And how timely the reminder by ABC of the words of John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Colony: “For the natives, they are near all dead of the smallpox, so the Lord hath cleared our title to what we possess.”

Everywhere, insulting and ill-founded actions proliferate to achieve objective goals – against statues, names of institutions, streets, and so forth, of Columbus, Fray Junípero, Pizarro or anyone who has done something positive for the land: Founded a city, opened up a jungle trail to commerce and human interaction, inaugurated a trade route, introduced livestock or cereal species, drawn essential maps, studied the mammals or the botany of a region.

In short, anyone who has put the American continent within the general march forward of humanity, all fed by a lot of sweat and some blood of indigenous people, of Spaniards, or the Portuguese, and of black people who came as slaves and were eventually freed – sometimes a nice story and sometimes a hard one – but was there an alternative possibility in that time-period?

They certainly had a lot of fun in other latitudes making Spain a global laughingstock, especially thanks to our indifference or complicity. But now, after France (with Pierre Loti or Colbert), it’s Canada’s turn. Since last February 6, ecologists, indigenous activists and rabid decolonizers have been trying to block the railways in protest against the construction of a pipeline in the west of the country. The well-meaning, like Justin Trudeau, have seen their lure of “reconciliation” turn against them, and the rebels, whom he believed he could control, no longer settle for anything less than turning the country upside-down by delegitimizing the entirety of the colonization and construction of Canada.

The emergence of the politically correct reaches everyone; and the summary of such refinement of thought is, ”The West is bad,” and “This country should never have existed.” This is not the famous miscegenation of completing, or complementing, one culture with another. No, the objective is to destroy everything that exists and to replace it with an ideal and mythical transcript of the native past that, by definition, is perfect – like the imaginary return to the origins of Islam that the Islamists claim, even though both claims lack any factual basis.

In March 2018, in Montreal, there was a quarrel with such advancement. A plaque in memory of Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve’s victory over the Iroquois in 1644 was removed at the behest of a citizen, apparently greatly injured, because to this citizen the text on the plaque was not respectful and inclusive; and – ultimately – it was decolonized: “Near this square afterwards named la Place d’Armes the founders of Ville Marie first encountered the Iroquois whom they defeated in March 1644.” The Sieur de Maisonneuve killed the Indian chief with his own hands. But since the indigenous and decolonizing demagogues are, by definition, insatiable, now they are going after the monument to de Maisonneuve itself, erected in 1895. If their whim is catered to, the city will be left without its founder, just as in South America, the City of Kings, also called Lima, was left without its founder.

But, in a drugstore, everything is useful, and taking advantage of the fact that the coronavirus is already passing through the entire world, the epidemics that have taken place in America, indeed, since the arrival of the Europeans (smallpox, diphtheria, measles) that caused great deaths among the indigenous people, are now instrumentalized. Obviously, not for the profit of the Spaniards, who needed the population as a workforce, a detail that is often forgotten by those who cling to Cook’s spurious numerical speculations, in order to blame the conquerors for the demographic catastrophe that occurred after the Conquest – and who thus arrive at the magical number of one hundred million, as the number of Indians that perished at the hands of the Spanish – while ignoring the fact that the total number of the pre-Hispanic indigenous population is very unclear (Rosenblat sets it at 13 million for the entire continent, while the Berkeley gang raises it to 120 or 130.

The objective is clear: The more aborigines missing, the greater the fault of the Spaniards. But now – thanks to the fashionable issue of the coronavirus – it turns out that the Spaniards were just a little less evil than the North Americans in Vietnam, dumping thousands of tons of defoliants and poisoning the fields with bacteria.

And in the same order of things, a final memory, softened by the penultimate sheriff of sheriffs: The denouncers are getting their own dose of popular democracy, in the same classroom where they generously force-fed it to others. Those of the government who promoted pot-banging against the king, for the sake of freedom of expression, have now little moral authority to repress those who only ask for freedom – to get out, to move, to live. However, the Spanish Communists are, at last, happy. They already have the Spanish as they always wanted them: Unemployed, and queuing up to get food. Paradise has arrived.

Serafin Fanjul of the Royal Academy of History, and Professor Emeritus at CEU San Pablo University.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.

The image shows a 16th-century copper plate engraving of Christopher Columbus landing in the Caribbean by Theodore de Bry.

Indeed, Let Us Apologize

It is not a good argument (and if we cannot offer another) to simply reject the recurring and very dire accusations about the Conquest of the Americas, by saying that the current Hispanic Americans are the descendants of conquerors and settlers of the 16th- and 17th-centuries. It is escapist and leads to a contradiction: If we do not acknowledge the bad, we will not be able to fully claim the good. And, by way of global analysis, there was a lot of good.

Thus, assuming “the account of grievances,” as the grandson of a Santanderian likes to say, and if it is a matter of proven historical facts, rather than demagogic talking points, we would like to offer the Mexican president something to really chew on. Why scold him like any other father might when he hears a spoiled child let loose some impertinence. Therefore, let us accept that ours is a more moral than genetic responsibility, as successors to the nation called Spain.

Therefore:

We apologize that in 1536 Fr. Juan de Zumárraga founded the College for children of Aztec nobles, paid for by Viceroy Mendoza. The institution was known as Colegio Imperial de Sta. Cruz de Tlatelolco. In it, worked Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún and Fr. Andrés de Olmos, and this College was replicated in Tepozotlán, Puebla, Guadalajara, Valladolid (Morelia), Texcoco.

Also, we apologize because in 1536, Zumárraga established the first printing press on the continent, in a building that still exists, near the Zócalo.

Likewise, we apologize for founding the University of Mexico, in 1551, under Royal Patronage and which followed the model of Salamanca and Alcalá, with studies in Philosophy, the Arts, Theology, Law, Medicine.

And we apologize for giving you Fr. Cervantes de Salazar – professor of Rhetoric in Mexico and author of México en 1554. Crónica de la Nueva España. Túmulo imperial de la gran ciudad de México – in which he brought to you the thought of Luis Vives, the great humanist.

And we apologize for the very gracious attempt by Vasco de Quiroga, Bishop of Michoacán, to establish Thomas More’s utopia, which still survives, like the olive trees, now hundreds of years old, that he planted in Tzin-Tzun-Tzan; the towns he founded to welcome and promote the Indians; and that wonderful altarpiece in the church of Tupátaro, from the 18th-century, indigenous coffered ceiling, square. with ocher and white arcades.

And we apologize for developing livestock, agriculture and mining, which brought about the rise of urban classes that, together with the clergy and the vice-regal bureaucracy, promoted the great public works and construction. And these they are still there, despite the deterioration – Mexico, Morelia, Puebla, Pátzcuaro, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Querétaro, San Miguel Allende, Veracruz – and which surpass Toledo, Madrid or Seville. In the 17th-century, Mexico City, being now a great economic pole, was home to more inhabitants than Paris, London or Rome. And in Mexico are found four of the most important works of the Baroque: The tabernacle of the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Jesuit College of Tepozotlán, the convent of Santa Rosa in Querétaro, and the parish church of Sta. Prisca in Taxco.

And we apologize for the greatest work of ethnography and archaeology of our 16th-century, in three languages (Latin, Spanish and Nahuatl), La Historia Universal de las cosas de Nueva España by Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún.

We apologize for the great Mexican scholar, Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora; for Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz; for Juan Ruiz de Alarcón from Taxco; for the book-poem by Bernardo de Valbuena, Grandeza mexicana (1604), where he establishes the “Story” of art, letters and prosperity of the city, visible, for example, in the Casa de Comedias by D. Francisco León (from 1597) in which three companies operated.

And we apologize for the Mercurio Volante (1693), the first newspaper in Latin America, (in 1737 it would be followed by La Gaceta de México); and for the Mexican School of Mining (1792), where worked Fausto de Elhúyar, the discoverer of tungsten, and Andrés del Río, the discoverer of vanadium. And there is no space to “relate” the admiration that the country aroused in Humboldt at that time.

And we apologize because the population of the viceroyalty of New Spain (almost six million), in 1776, doubled that of the English colonies of North America because of the economic, technical and cultural development in New Spain exceeded that of the English in all these areas.

So, draw your conclusions about this past that you do not want to remember and which you so carefully hide. Otherwise, it would be necessary to take responsibility for what has happened since 1821, and not place blame on distant conquerors. For example, instead of crying for the umpteenth time over Cholula, call out by name, General Jesús González Ortega, a good liberal, who in 1857 plundered the cathedral of Zacatecas, or who in the same city (in 1862) handed over the convent of San Agustín to the Presbyterians, who razed it to the ground.

We apologize for having instituted Nahuatl and Otomi as common languages for evangelization, which enlarged their role and rank, as well as their extension to lands that were previously alien to them.

Also, we apologize for having had a king (Philip II) who, opposed the calls of advisors and viceroys to exclusively impose Castilian, and instead agreed with the friars (who wanted to limit contact with the indigenous people) and favored missionary work to be only in the local languages (Royal Cedula 1565 to the bishops of New Spain), and who even issued this command: “It does not seem advisable to urge them to leave their native language…. Do not provide the parishes with priests who do not know the language of the Indians” (1596). And this was the case until the end of the 18th-century, when in view of the notable problems that multilingualism presented (in the diocese of Oaxaca alone, there were sixteen aboriginal languages) that the Mexican bishops, Fabián and Fuero from Puebla, Alvarez Abreu from Oaxaca and Lorenzana from Mexico, obtained the Royal Cedula of Aranjuez (May 1770).

We apologize for having been the main players in the global knowledge of the planet, facilitating the interrelation between its various parts, with the Discovery of the New World and with the first circumnavigation of the Globe and establishing communication between the various empires and nations of America that were previously completely isolated.

And, finally, we apologize for enjoying a mole poblano, a pozole taxqueño, some chilaquiles and a chilpachole of crab, although afterwards, given our Spanish stomach – we have to head to the hospital.

But we do not apologize for the disasters in which the triumphant creoles, in their independence, immersed their countries, by breaking the entire vice-regal commercial and administrative systems, to become cacique-holders of millions of square kilometers.

That is enough apologizing for today.

Serafin Fanjul of the Royal Academy of History, and Professor Emeritus at CEU San Pablo University.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.

The image shows a portrait of Antonio Mendoza, Viceroy of New Spain, dated 1535, by an unknown painter.

Enlightenment In Spain: Development Of Philosophy, Part III

A General Ferment

One cannot reduce Spain’s contribution in the 18th-century to just fiction or the literature of ideas. The real intellectual ferment that characterized this era across the Pyrenees affected all areas in which the human spirit is illustrated, from poetry to fine arts, through music, science and architecture. Multiplying examples and names in all these disciplines would not, however, be of great help in understanding the general orientations of the Spanish Enlightenment, as well as the challenges of the period. This is why we will content ourselves with succinctly developing some fundamental aspects of this century.

The historiography of this Iberian nation generally divides the members of the Ilustración into four successive generations:

  • The critical generation, notably represented by Father Benito Jerónimo Feijoo (1676—1764), who analyzed the causes of the “decadence” of the country and proposed solutions to reform it, especially in educational matters;
  • The erudite generation, which sought to inventory the Spanish cultural heritage and laid the foundations for its conservation and study, while renewing the national historiography, as with the works of Gregorio Mayans (1699-1781) and Father Enrique Flórez (1702—1773);
  • The reformist generation, known for its political action and its theoretical treatises, like Pedro Rodríguez de Campomanes (1723-1802), author of Discurso sobre la educación popular de los artesanos (which advocated special instruction for artisans) and Tratado de la regalía de la amortización (which gave a critical view of the agrarian system at the time);
  • The neo-classical generation, which tried to incorporate French influence even more into Spanish thought and arts, but also noted its failure, with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic invasion of Spain (1808-1814), like Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1744-1811).

New Structures Of Thought

Ilustrada literature could not be conceived outside of places of sociability that nourished debate and creativity of artists. These places could be purely intellectual, like articles in the press, or very concrete, such as, academies, tertulias (places of meeting and discussion), saraos (dinners followed by animated conversations), parties, balls, invitations or even courtesy visits.

The eventual development of the publishing world, still very much oriented towards religious subjects, could not hide the growing circles of debate, such as, the Academy of Good Taste, created in 1749 in Madrid; the Auberge of Saint-Sebastian, in the capital; the Basque Economic Society, founded in 1764 in Vergara; the Royal Society of Madrid, opened in 1775; the Academy of Human Letters, established in 1793 in Seville; plus various associations in more or less important cities like Cadiz, Ciudad Rodrigo, Osuna, Vera de Bidasoa, Valladolid, Zaragoza, Chinchón, Valencia, Tarragona, etc. These clubs, inspired by salons that could be seen flourishing in France, England or in German areas, and especially attracting local and national elites (nobility, clergy, big bourgeoisie).

The eighteenth century was, in Spain, the century of academies, sponsored by the monarchy; in the forefront of which was the Royal Academy of Language (1713). It was followed by the creation of the Royal Academy of History (1738), the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Saint-Ferdinand (1744), and the Royal Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation (1763). Such organizations carried out the important task of rationally recording knowledge in dictionaries, such as, the Diccionario de autoridades of 1739, the Tratado de ortografía of 1742, the Gramática of 1771, the Diccionario manual of 1780, the Diccionario histórico-crítico universal de España in 1736, or the Diccionario de los literatos in 1751.

The royal officials were not outdone by systematic work in the field of bibliographies, such as, Ensayo de una biblioteca de los mejores escritores del reinado de Carlos III by Juan Sempere y Guarinos (in 1789); Memorias políticas y económicas sobre los frutos, fábricas, comercio y minas de España by Eugenio Larruga y Boneta (in 1800); or in the area of geography, such as, Viaje de España by Antonio Ponz (in 1794).

Some educational institutions, which existed on the fringes of the official university, seemed very open to new trends from the rest of Europe. This was particularly the case for pilot schools, the first chambers of commerce (Juntas de Comercio) and several private colleges. All these establishments were seconded in their efforts, not by a bourgeoisie which was still struggling to emerge in Spain, but by ecclesiastics, military officers, progressive aristocrats, or even officials of the monarchy.

Benito Jerónimo Feijoo, Spiritual Father Of The Spanish Enlightenment

If certain writers, such as Diego de Torres Villarroel (1694-1770), or José Francisco de Isla (1703-1781) are sometimes considered as precursors of the Ilustración, it is Benito Jerónimo Feijoo who seems to have initiated this new era by the original character of his work in Spanish literature.

He prefigured—by his simple and direct style, his spiritual preoccupations, his polemical tone, his will to educate, and his passion for science and ideas from the rest of Europe—polemists like Juan Pablo Forner (1756-1797), or fabulists like Félix María Samaniego (1745-1801) and Tomás de Iriarte (1750-1791).

Deeply anti-Aristotelian and opposed to scholasticism, Benito Jerónimo Feijoo became known in September 1726, when he began to sell copies of the first volume of his Teatro crítico universal. It was a collection of speeches aimed at combating the scientific, religious and ideological errors of the time. Between 1742 and 1760, he freed himself definitively from Baroque forms, whose survival was still attested at the beginning of the century, and published the Cartas eruditas y curiosas. In this work, he drew upon a wide range of European philosophers and scientists (Francis Bacon, Pierre Gassendi, Isaac Newton, etc.) and advocated the use of the analytical method, as opposed to syllogistics still in vogue at universities.

Defender of reason, but also of spontaneity in writing, rhetoric and artistic criticism (he introduced concepts like “je ne sais quoi” and “taste” in Spain), he also demonstrated his great scholarship. He graced his speeches with quotations and references to other thinkers on the continent, such as Pierre Bayle.

Common sense (sentido común) was one of the fundamental intellectual hallmarks of Father Feijoo, who, as a Benedictine, was also sensitive to the religious reform implemented by the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. A resolute opponent of a number of national traditions, which he considered absurd and without documentary basis, he facilitated the renewal of Spanish historiography. The latter took place under the impetus of José Manuel Miñana (1671—1730), Manuel Martí (1663—1737), Juan de Ferreras (1652—1735), Luis de Salazar y Castro (1658—1734), and Gaspar Ibáñez de Segovia, Marquis de Mondéjar (1628—1708).

The Controversy Of The Theater, Testimony To The Tensions Of The Ilustración

A great theater nation since the end of the Middle Ages, Spain had a tradition in this area very different from that of classical French dramaturgy and which one could compare to Shakespearean theater. It is to Lope de Vega (1562—1635) that we owe the establishment of special rules in his Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo. Characterized by the absence of unity of place, time and intrigue, the theater of the Lopesca school (whose disciples were Guillén de Castro, Juan Ruiz de Alarcón, and Luis Vélez de Guevara) was founded on the mixture of comedy and tragedy, and advocated a great freedom specific to the Baroque aesthetic. It was these precepts that dominated until the end of the Golden Age, especially among giants like Tirso de Molina (1579—1648) and Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600—1681).

With the change of dynasty and the new influences from France, the Spanish authorities sought to impose a radical metamorphosis of dramaturgy, in particular by promoting neoclassicism. This “official art”, which was difficult to promote because of public tastes and political and religious censorship, led to a controversy over the “xenomania” of national leaders and their rejection of tradition.

Very much inspired by Jean Racine and Voltaire, Spanish neoclassical tragedy followed the precepts of La poética by Ignacio de Luzán (1702—1754), while exploiting specific historical themes. Such was the case with pieces like Munuza, by Jovellanos (1769), Sancho García, by Cadalso (1771), or even Raquel, by Vicente García de la Huerta (1788). Criticism of Baroque theater, which in fact brought success to Spanish belles lettres, was obvious in a number of authors who deplored the heavy gaze of the Inquisition and the monarchy, namely, Agustín de Montiano (1697—1764), Nicolás Fernández de Moratín (1737—1780) and his son Leandro (1760—1828), Ignacio López de Ayala (1739—1789), and various others.

The passion of the Spanish (and in particular of the people of Madrid) for the theater and live performance led to numerous disputes among authors, actors, genres and poetics. In this context, the neoclassical comedy of Leandro Fernández de Moratín is the only one that posterity has truly retained, notably with The Maidens’ Consent (1806). The general public, for its part, preferred popular forms: magical comedies (which take place in a magical universe full of special effects), musical theater (especially with the emerging zarzuelas and tonadillas) and the theater of pathos (sentimental melodrama) whose intrigue often revolves around a marriage blocked and thwarted.

The success of sainetes (little one-act plays, often taken down, whose name is at the origin of the French saynète play) and entremeses (comic one-act theatrical plays, generally performed during the intermission) testified to the extent of the controversy among supporters of French aesthetics and advocates of the nation’s genius. Both sainetes and entremeses were indeed genres that grew out of the Golden Age which allowed playwrights, like Ramón de la Cruz (1731—1794), to satirize the neoclassical deemed pedantic.

We therefore see the emergence, behind these apparently literary discussions, of ideological oppositions, whose content was fully revealed at the time of the French Revolution.

Explorers and Scientists: Pioneers Of Progress In Spain And America

At the end of the 19th-century, the Spanish thinker Manuel de la Revilla provoked controversy around the contribution of Spain to Western scientific and technological progress. His thesis, that Spain was insignificant in both these areas compared to its neighbors, was supported by great intellectuals and researchers, like Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Miguel de Unamuno, Américo Castro, José Ortega y Gasset, Gregorio Marañón, or Julio Rey Pastor. In contrast, philosophers of stature, such as, Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo took issue with this theory, underlining the fecundity of the nation’s science.

This controversy about science was indicative of Spain’s inferiority complex, whose work in the technological field is still little known abroad. In fact, Iberian science was not outdone by its comparable European counterparts. Such was the case during the Golden Age, with a figure like Jerónimo de Ayanz (1553—1613), to whom we owe the first steam engine in history.

In the 18th-century, Spain participated in the race for science in Europe, for example, providing discoverers like Juan José and Fausto Delhuyar (who isolated tungsten), and Andrés Manuel del Río (who discovered vanadium). In the wake of the many learned societies formed all over Spain, scientists from across the Pyrenees sought to advance human knowledge.

The country was right at the forefront in this regard because of its colonial possessions in America and Asia-Pacific. This is why Iberian researchers were explorers and navigators, who theorized their empirical discoveries. Such was the case, for example, of one Jorge Juan (1713—1773), the reformer of the Spanish naval system, whose main contribution was to have measured the length of the terrestrial meridian and to have proved that the Earth was slightly flattened at the poles. He thus continued the long Spanish tradition of understanding the fundamental terrestrial mechanisms and mapping that can be observed from the end of the Middle Ages.

In the long list of explorer-scientists of the time, we can mention the case of Félix de Azara (1742—1821), soldier, engineer, cartographer, anthropologist and naturalist. He was intellectually responsible for very fruitful expeditions to the interior regions of Latin America, which were still poorly understood at the time. Cooperation with other countries, notably France, was regular in this context.

Indeed, from the reign of Philip V (1700-1746), Madrid participated in the expedition to the meridian by the Paris Academy of Sciences, under the direction of Charles Marie de La Condamine. Besides Jorge Juan, mentioned earlier, Antonio de Ulloa (1716-1795) was also on the trip. Important written impressions of this itinerary are recorded in the Relación histórica del viaje a la América Meridional (1748), and in the Noticias secretas de América (1772).

Such expeditions were a great way to study the flora and fauna of the New World, especially under royal patronage. In 1777, Charles III entrusted a five-year mission to Hipólito Ruiz (1754-1816), who identified and described with precision three thousand plants, and produced around a thousand drawings of these plants. Most of this unpublished work is now kept at the Museum of Natural Sciences and the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid.

The figure of Ruiz is however somewhat overshadowed by that of one of his contemporaries, José Celestino Mutis (1732—1808). The celebrity of the latter is such beyond the Pyrenees that an engraving depicting him adorned the two thousand pesetas banknote, in final issue of Spanish currency before the adoption of the euro, in 1992. It was at the request of Archbishop Antonio Caballero y Góngora, the viceroy of New Granada (which brought together the current countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Guyana), that Mutis surrounded himself with scholars from the Iberian Peninsula or America (Antonio Zea, Sinforoso Mutis, Francisco de Caldas, Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Salvador Rizo). This was the fruit of their labor: 7,000 color drawings and 4,000 descriptive plates of the Latin American flora preserved by the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid.

Charles III and Charles IV continued on this path, with the expedition of Martín Sessé (1751—1808) and especially that of the navigator of Tuscan origin, Alejandro Malaspina (1754-1809) (50). The latter gave his name to a vessel of the Spanish Navy.

At that time, however, it was the Royal Philanthropic Vaccine Expedition (1803-1806), led by Francisco Javier Balmis (1753-1819), that had the greatest impact. Following the work of the Englishman Edward Jenner, inventor of the smallpox vaccine, the Spanish monarchy promoted what is often considered the greatest humanitarian mission of all time. Most of Hispanic America is now immune to this endemic disease, thanks to the action and advice of Balmis and his second, José Salvany.

By Way Of Conclusion – A Rich Civilization Essential To Understanding The World

The murderous words of Nicolas Masson de Morvilliers, which we reproduced at the beginning of this investigation, take on a completely different meaning at the end of our study—which cannot be exhaustive. We can see how these words were the fruit of ignorance, prejudice and bad faith of an era, but also of a form of Hispanophobia which spread throughout the Western world, from the Renaissance down to our own times.

Spain has been an integral part of the progress of the human mind since its existence as a nation. Even in times of extreme difficulty and isolation on the international scene, as during the Franco dictatorship (1939—1975), this Iberian nation has never ceased to contribute to the improvement of knowledge of humanity and to the promotion of the arts and literature.

The rapid overview of the Ilustración (this Spanish variation of the Enlightenment) that I have just presented will show, I hope, that our Spanish friends were at the origin of a double civilization (both in Europe and in America), rich and essential to understanding the universe around us.

The French version of the article appeared in Revue Conflits. Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The image shows, “Saints Ippolito, Taurino, and Ercolano,” by Antonio González Velázquez, painted ca. 1740-1742.

The Roots And Branches Of Spanish Enlightenment Thought, Part Two

The Oldness of Spanish Reformist Thought

Spanish thought, whether of a theological, philosophical or political nature, is old since it dates back to the Middle Ages, where it flourished (among others) in the universities founded in this period: Palencia, Salamanca, Lérida, Valladolid, Huesca, Calatayud, Girona and Barcelona. The consolidation of the Spanish university system continued during the Renaissance and the Baroque era, with nearly thirty higher education establishments founded between 1483 and 1624 – not counting New World universities.

It is from these establishments (and in particular from the Colegios Mayores that we mentioned earlier) that the letrados, jurists and great administrators came first from the underprivileged classes, who then were intended for service within various national, regional and local bodies of government (Royal Councils, Provincial Audiences, Chancelleries, the post of corregidores, etc.).

If classical education (logic, rhetoric, theology, civil law, canon law, medicine) remained on the agenda, the renewal brought about by these prestigious letrados explains the superiority of the administration of the Habsburgs of Spain over that of the other European countries, in particular at the beginning of the reign of Philip II (1556-1598), the sovereign considered as the “inventor” of polysynodal governments.

The administrative and ideological revolution that early gave birth to Spanish absolute monarchy is also partly behind the origin of French absolutism, as recent historiographical research has clearly shown.

Salamanca, the Arbitrators and the Novatores

It is also in the shadow of the University of Salamanca that the second Spanish scholasticism is born, commonly known as the School of Salamanca. This group of thinkers, teachers, jurists and theologians (including Martín de Azpilicueta, Tomás de Mercado, Francisco de Vitoria, Martín Fernández de Navarrete, Miguel Caja de Leruela, Diego de Covarrubias, Juan de Mariana, Luis de Molina, Bartolomé de las Casas, Martín González de Cellorigo, Francisco Suárez or even Domingo de Soto) profoundly renews political and legal science. It transforms and indeed creates many concepts, even branches that did not exist until then: Property law, usury and interest, fair price, public finances and taxes, international law, etc.

From the end of the 16th century onwards, Spanish thought changed again with the appearance of arbitrism (arbitrismo), a pejorative term first created in 1613 by Miguel de Cervantes in the short story, The Dialogue of the of Dogs. Here, the masculine name arbitrio designates the “extraordinary means” that a sovereign can use to achieve a given end or resolve a complex situation. Thus, the arbitrators (arbitristas), like Cellorigo, Fernández de Navarrete, Sancho de Moncada, Luis Ortiz or Luis Valle de la Cerda, sought to influence the sovereign by offering him a primer on a given subject, generally of an economic nature (speculation, unfair tax treatment, excessive concentration of agricultural property, government debt, export of capital and raw materials, depopulation).

There was, therefore, among the arbitristas (many of whom come from the School of Salamanca), awareness of a series of concrete problems that the government of Spain must work to resolve for the sake the common good – a theme that was largely taken up. in the Age of Enlightenment.

Between the end of the reign of Charles II (1665-1700) and the beginning of that of Philip V (1700-1746), while Spain experienced a change of dynasty as part of a War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the arbitrators yielded to a new current of thought, that of the novatores, who in 1700, founded the Royal Society of Medicine and Sciences of Seville, responsible for disseminating their ideas, which were based on atomism. These researchers (represented by Diego Martínez Zapata, Luis de Losada, Alejandro Avendaño, Martín Martínez, Tomás Vicente Tosca, Juan Bautista Berni or Juan de Cabriada) advocated above all the reform of Spanish higher education which, in their eyes, would have to favor physical and natural sciences rather than abstract scholasticism. They blended a renewed arbitrismo with the gestating rationality of the Enlightenment.

This transition was not specific to Spain. Across the Pyrenees, it was Benito Jerónimo Feijoo (1676-1764), forerunner of the Ilustración, who spread the theories of Galileo, Isaac Newton, René Descartes, Wilhelm Leibniz, John Locke or Pierre Bayle to renew philosophy and the sciences. Feijoo advocated a greater opening of Spain to the rest of Europe. The clergyman was not the only one to support such theses, since he was preceded by Francisco Gutiérrez de los Ríos, author of a treatise entitled El hombre práctico o discursos sobre su conocimiento y enseñanza (1680).

Enduring Quarrels And An Ambiguous Legacy

If we can credit the Spanish Enlightenment, which fed on the above-mentioned currents, with a certain number of successful reforms (upgrading of work, trade, industry and agriculture; reorganization of the administration; metamorphosis education and university), it should also be noted that they also contributed to deepening old fractures between supporters of an Iberian way (especially turned towards America) and a European way.

This confrontation between the casticistas (partisans of the casta, that is to say, of the national tradition) and the extranjerizantes (which we may call hereafter the europeístas, that is, Europeanists) is illustrated by the opposition of a large part of the Spanish church to new ways of thinking introduced in the Iberian Peninsula. Resistance to the publication of works deemed contrary to religion was the work of the court of the Holy Office, but the latter censored almost as much the monarchy itself – behavior which was not abnormal in the Europe of the time.

In the 18th-century, the casticismo musical rebelled against the predominance of forms from the rest of the continent (in particular from France and Italy), and this attitude favored the popular success of Spanish genres, such as zarzuela or tonadilla.

The Italians Domenico Scarlatti and Luigi Boccherini, who both ended their days in Madrid, exercised a quasi-tyranny at the court of Ferdinand VI (1746-1759) and Charles III (1759-1788) (24), just like the castrato Farinelli had met with immense success with these kings’ father. The few Spaniards to break through, like the organist and harpsichordist Antonio Soler (1729-1783), were their pupils.

Literature also testifies to this European preponderance, notably French and English. We see this in Leandro Fernández de Moratín (1760-1828), nicknamed “the Spanish Molière”, or in José Cadalso (1741-1782), whose Cartas marruecas was inspired by Montesquieu and his Noches lúgubres by Edward Young.

It was around this time that the unflattering qualifier of afrancesado (“Frenchified”) arose, and which was revived with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic invasion (1808-1814). The demand for Spanish arts and literature served as a weapon for an ideological war against foreign influences, considered impious and harmful by certain sectors. The rise of the casticista movement was favored by the fate of Louis XVI, the “cousin” of Charles IV (1788-1808), who tried to save the French sovereign from the guillotine, and by the censorship of many foreign works.

During the occupation of the Iberian Peninsula by the First Empire, the opponents of Napoleon Bonaparte were not all adversaries of the new ideological currents – which explains the promulgation of the Constitution of 1812 (one of the first in Europe). The struggle between the Old Regime and liberalism continued for the next two centuries, with reformulations according to the times: Carlist reaction from 1833 to 1876, the difficulties in giving birth to a parliamentary regime from 1875 to 1931, then bloody civil war of 1936 in 1939, followed by a dictatorship which lasted until 1975.

It is through the bias of “two Spain” (dos Españas) that this age-old conflict is often addressed. Even if it is not for us now to discuss the relevance of this concept, we must nevertheless be careful when it comes to applying it to the Spanish Enlightenment.

Most of them were indeed moderate, deeply Christian and patriotic, even if they favored an evolution of religious doctrine. It is probably the painter Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), straddling two periods, who best illustrates these tensions inherent in the time. Favorite of the court, darling of the aristocracy, he did not hide his closeness to the most advanced ideas of his time. Nevertheless, disenchanted with the cruelty of the war unleashed by Napoleon, he found it difficult to progress in the absolutist Spain of Ferdinand VII (1808-1833) and chose exile in France in 1824.

The engraving, the Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, which is part of Los caprichos, has an ambiguous title in Spanish, where the term sueño designates both the sleep and the dream. Is it when he abandons reason, dear to the Enlightenment, that man drifts and gets lost in the horror of irrationality? Or does reason, pushed to the ultimate and imposed by force, end up producing horrors similar to those that Goya represents in the last years of his life? None of the Ilustración representatives could resolve this dichotomy.

The original, French version of this article appeared in Revue Conflits and was translated by N. Dass.

Nicolas Klein is Associate Professor of Spanish and a former student at ENS Lyon. He is a teacher in preparatory classes. He is the author of Rupture de ban – L’Espagne face à la crise and Comprendre l’Espagne d’aujourd’hui – Manuel de civilisation. He has also translated Al-Andalus: l’invention d’un mythe – La réalité historique de l’Espagne des trois cultures by Serafín Fanjul.

The image shows, “The sleep of reason produces monsters” (No. 43), from Los Caprichos, by Francisco Goya, a print from 1799.

The Enlightenment in Spain

Part One – The Historical, Political And Intellectual Context: Has Spain Contributed Anything To Western Civilization?

In 1782, as part of the Encyclopédie méthodique par ordre des matières, published in France by Charles-Joseph Panckoucke, the geographer Nicolas Masson de Morvilliers expressed himself in these terms regarding the country of Spain: “The Spanish […] exercised in Europe and in the Indies, cruelties which make one shudder and which have made them odious to the peoples of the two worlds. […] Spain is perhaps the most ignorant nation in Europe. All overseas work is at an end. The monks lay down the law… […] Today, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Poland itself, Germany, Italy, England and France, all these peoples, whether enemies, friends, or rivals, all burn with generous emulation for the advancement of science and the arts […]. Each of them, so far, has made some useful discovery, which has turned to the benefit of humanity! But what do we owe to Spain? And for two centuries, for four, for ten, what has it done for Europe?”

This judgment, brutal as it is, is far from isolated in pre-revolutionary Europe. Voltaire does not have a better opinion of the historical role of Spain. He sees Philippe II (1556-1598) as a kind of “demon of the south;” the perfect counterpoint to the good Henry IV so tolerant. At a time when modern nations were really starting to take shape and stereotypes were fundamental anchors to their perception, Montesquieu is not any kinder towards Spain.

The same rabid Hispanophobia is found in many authors of the time, from the Marquis d’Argens to Father Reynal and Madame d’Aulnoy. Though Portugal suffers more or less the same fate, it is not the same for Italy, the cradle of European civilization. In addition, a similar trend can easily be seen in the following century. All of Europe is concerned with this propensity to see in the Iberian Peninsula a sort of desert when it comes to civilization, the arts and the sciences.

This is why the decision of the French authorities to censor the Encyclopédie méthodique at the request of the Spanish Ambassador to Paris, Pedro de Bolea y Pons de Mendoza, Count of Aranda, did not convince anyone for too long. Everyone knew already that the author had only openly said what all the European elites muttered under their breath among themselves.

The Bourbons of Spain: Promoters Of Enlightenment Thought

It is not for us to settle this debate here-and-now, a debate which has animated Iberian historiography for more than two centuries; nor shall we even enumerate the multiple contributions of Spain to European and world culture. On the other hand, we may still be surprised at the virulence of the above-mentioned remarks. Was there not a philosophical light which, issuing from the European Enlightenment, shone across the Pyrenees and carried across the ideas then in vogue in the other nations of the continent (progress, science, rationality, reform, education, elevation of the spirit)?

Although much less known than their English, French or Germanic colleagues, the Enlightenment thinkers and writers, in Spain, were active and fruitful. They benefited from the accession to the throne of the Bourbons from France in the person of the Duke of Anjou, Philippe V (1700-1746), whose descendants still reign today. Until the Napoleonic invasion (1808-1814), his sons, Louis I (January-August 1724), Ferdinand VI (1746-1759) and Charles III (1759-1788), as well as his grandson Charles IV (1788-1808), succeeded one another as the heads of a country which they were trying to transform deeply, in particular from an economic and technological point of view. It is the Golden Age of what is called in Spain, the Ilustración, a term closer to the English “Enlightenment,” or the German Aufklärung than to the French Lumières (although we also find the expression, siglo de las Luces in the language of Cervantes).

It is indeed French influence that is decisive in the development of this particularly obvious intellectual movement during the reign of Charles III, the Spanish prototype of the déspota ilustrado (“enlightened despot”). Having gained experience as the King of Naples and Sicily, from 1734 to 1759, the eldest son of Philippe V and Elisabeth Farnese, was closest to the Hispanic reformist movements – even if his father, trained in full Grand Siècle style by Fénelon and the Duke of Beauvilliers, had a solid intellectual background. Throughout the period, there were an increasing number of bodies created, from academies (including that of the Spanish language) to learned societies and think tanks which enlivened the life of ideas beyond the Pyrenees and renewed scientific research and technology.

The ministers surrounding Charles III – whether Spanish, like the Count of Aranda, Pedro Rodríguez de Campomanes, José Moñino y Redondo, Count of Floridablanca, as well as Pablo de Olavide, or foreigners, like the Genoese Leopoldo de Gregorio, Marquis d’Esquilache – were all instrumental in the development of a progressive spirit within Spain.

However, it should not be forgotten that, as in France or England, these statesmen, philosophers and writers whom these learned bodies permitted to flourish were part of a minority (Spanish historiography speaks about them as the minoría selecta). In addition, the ministers of the “enlightened despot” did not arise from nothing, since they pursued their studies within traditional social structures (aristocracy, clergy, petty bourgeoisie), as well as in the Colegios Mayores, those universities of the Golden Age which for a long time were marked by scholasticism. Among them were a majority of golillas, jurists (letrados) trained in Salamanca, Valladolid or Alcalá de Henares, as well as their lifelong opponents, the manteístas, who came from less prestigious universities.

Controlled Ferment

It is therefore within an official and oft-controlled context (some historians speak of cultura tutelada) that the Spanish Enlightenment flourished. It owed its protection, as we have said, to Charles III and his advisers, but, more generally, to royal absolutism, which favored the implementation, throughout Europe, of a series of first-class modernizing measures; and Spain was no exception to this phenomenon.

But the monarch was not the only one to have a say in Spanish intellectual life. Works published in Spain had to obtain the imprimatur from the Council of Castile, and more particularly from the Printing Court (Juzgado de Imprentas), which could censor them. The procedure was identical for foreign publications and for well-informed periodicals, such as La gaceta de Madrid and El mercurio.

Internal Opposition To The Enlightenment

In general, opposition to what some pejoratively called filosofía, or even filosofismo, was not uncommon in Spain – any more than it was in the rest of the continent. The questioning of theology as the queen discipline of the intellect, the rejection of the worldview imposed by the Counter-Reformation, the surpassing of the baroque, and the analysis of the sensory universe beyond the Aristotelian categories, in force in medieval and modern scholasticism, were all factors that shook up a cultural and educational elite reluctant to give up its place.

The unpopularity of the reforms is reflected, for example, in the revolt against the Minister Esquilache (motín de Esquilache). In March 1766, a popular rebellion broke out in Madrid, and then in other Spanish cities, against the decompartmentalization of the internal market in the midst of the food crisis, but also, and above all else, against the ban on certain elements of traditional Spanish attire.

All this contributed to undermining the beginning of the reign of Charles III. The latter was forced to accept the resignation and exile of Leopoldo de Gregorio, whose downfall was less because of the prohibition against wearing the chambergo (a soft hat with a wide brim; very fashionable at the time) than on the intrinsic limits to Bourbon reformism.

The burdens of society were quickly attributed by the monarch and the “philosophers” to the influence of the Catholic religion, which must be limited, in particular the Inquisition (which was already only a shadow of itself); and by expelling the Jesuits from all Spanish possessions.

A Thirst For Reform In Madrid And In The Provinces

At the same time as the movement to construct nation-states (which started almost everywhere in Europe at this time) the modernization of Spain appeared as an absolute necessity in the eyes of the Enlightenment of the Pyrenees. The ministers and thinkers belonging to this idea were aware that the recovery of their country, after the difficult years of the reigns of Philippe IV (1621-1665) and Charles II (1665-1700), could only come about by the adoption of solutions already tested in France, in England or in certain German principalities.

As contemporary historians point out, it was more the theme of Spanish decadence, the (necessarily subjective) perception of a decadence, rather than the reality of such a phenomenon which pushed men of letters and the intellectuals to think about the causes of the malaise which affected their country.

The reasons put forward in the 18th-century (and then during the years that followed) were numerous, often imprecise and generally not very convincing (even grotesque): The Spanish disdain for technology and manual work; the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, and then the Moriscos (those Muslims who converted to Christianity as a facade) in 1613; the omnipotence of the Mesta, that association (it seems today more a lobby) of owners of nomadic sheep herds; the military drain that maintained the dominance of the Habsburgs in Europe; the constant drain of emigration to America; the deficient administration of the House of Austria, etc.

The abundant reflection generated by such considerations helped to create the feeling that it was not that Spain had problems, but that Spain was a problem in itself.

The economic and institutional obstacles to the development of Spain within the European context were real. In this sense, evoking the omnipotence of the Mesta (responsible, at least in part, for the agricultural backwardness from which the country suffered), or the dependence of royal finances on metals from the New World, or the French bank was certainly relevant. Nevertheless, the multiplication of the sources of complaints, and the obsession of some, both in Spain and abroad, with the idea of decadence, ultimately made any ilustrada philosophy sterile.

Fortunately, this was not the view of all representatives of the Spanish Enlightenment; quite the contrary. Often moderate and pragmatic thinkers and statesmen of the period proposed more or less ambitious reforms in all directions. It seemed indeed difficult that all could succeed and some were even horrendous failures – which fed, at regular intervals, the melancholy of Spanish intellectuals, who saw in the reign of Charles III a missed opportunity to transform their country in a fundamental way.

However, it must be said, many of these measures did bear fruit so that Spain has long lived “on” the legacy of the Ilustración. We can already cite a quite few:

  • The creation of learned societies, reflection clubs (the future Spanish casinos in the 19th-century). These were academies and gatherings whose aim was to work for the public good and were found throughout the breadth of Spain, and not only in Madrid;
  • The desire to better educate the people, in particular by suppressing certain entertainment of a religious nature, such as the sacramental autos (pieces of a hagiographic character, very popular in medieval and modern Spain), but also by attacking the ecclesiastical monopoly on universities;
  • Decisions aimed at improving the social situation of the poorest Spaniards, in particular by fighting begging and modernizing agriculture and irrigation, whether from a theoretical or practical point of view;
  • The reorganization of the state, the territorial administration, and the American colonies, in particular in order to derive greater economic profit;
  • The repopulation of certain demographic deserts, as in the Sierra Morena, north of Cordoba;
  • The stimulation of nascent industry, especially in Catalonia, and the foundation of royal factories on a more or less Colbertist model.

The real intellectual and political ferment that Spain experienced in the years 1760-1780 was not limited to the capital. Many thinkers and decision-makers were born and matured in Catalonia (Antoni de Capmany, Jaume Bonnels, Josep Climent), in Galicia (Benito Jerónimo Feijoo, Martín Sarmiento), in Aragon (the count of Aranda), in the old Kingdom from Murcia (Floridablanca), in the Principality of Asturias (Campomanes, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos), in Andalusia (José Cadalso), and even in the American colonies of Spain (like Olavide, who was born in Lima). It is therefore no coincidence that, in 1962, the Cuban writer, Alejo Carpentier, located the action of his novel, El siglo de las Luces, in Havana.

This ferment did not come about without a series of ideological clashes that drew upon rivalries from before the reign of Charles III. The Spanish Enlightenment was not born out of thin air and did not owe its success solely to French or English influence. It had its roots in an older reform movement that consisted in the stinging denial of all those who wanted to see in Spain a nation without thought of its own.

The original, French version of this article appeared in Revue Conflits and was translated by N. Dass.

Nicolas Klein is Associate Professor of Spanish and a former student at ENS Lyon. He is a teacher in preparatory classes. He is the author of Rupture de ban – L’Espagne face à la crise and Comprendre l’Espagne d’aujourd’hui – Manuel de civilisation. He has also translated Al-Andalus: l’invention d’un mythe – La réalité historique de l’Espagne des trois cultures by Serafín Fanjul.

The image shows, “Philip V in Hunting Costume,” by Miguel Jacinto Meléndez; painted in 1712.

A Nationalist Account Of The Spanish Civil War

Among the many tools of the superbly effective Left propaganda machine, is its able control of publishing. Leftists use this to ensure that innumerable books fitting the Left narrative stay in print indefinitely, primarily for use as indoctrination tools in schools, as a glance at any modern curriculum at any grade level will show you.

On the other hand, books not fitting the Left narrative disappear—never republished, expensive to buy used, and impossible to read online because of the stupidly long terms of modern copyright law. Thus, the reprinting, by Mystery Grove Publishing, of this excellent book, by an Englishman who volunteered to fight for the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, is a great service.

Peter Kemp was born in India in 1915; his father was a judge in what was then called Bombay. As I have covered at great length elsewhere, the Spanish situation deteriorated from 1933 through 1936 (really 1931 through 1936, as the Spanish Left attempted to consolidate permanent power).

During this time, Kemp was studying at Cambridge to be a lawyer. His politics appear to have been quite conservative, but he makes only passing reference to his own beliefs. Kemp’s main reason for going to Spain seems to have been a desire common among young men throughout history, to seek adventure through warfare, although he was also horrified at the widespread atrocities of the Spanish Left immediately prior to the Civil War.

He acknowledges his desire in the title, which comes from an A. E. Housman poem used as an epigraph: “The thoughts of others / Were light and fleeting, / Of lover’s meeting / Or luck, or fame / Mine were of trouble / And mine were steady, / So I was ready / When trouble came.” If he had been a man of the Left, no doubt he would have joined the International Brigades, the collective organization of those non-Spaniards who fought for the Spanish Communists, the Republicans.

It would have been far easier and socially acceptable for him to join the Republicans, too, since they had an active, successful, and extremely well-funded propaganda operation that blanketed Europe, while the Nationalists made almost no effort to persuade others, aside from occasionally arranging curated tours for newspapermen, incorrectly believing their cause was self-proving or that foreign opinion was unimportant.

Thus, polite opinion in England favored the Republicans, something that troubled Kemp not at all. His complete lack of Spanish did not deter him either. And in those days before the overweening state presumed to dictate to us the smallest details of our lives, it was easy enough to go fight in a foreign war. True, as today, the Left was better organized, and every country in Europe had official, open recruiting stations for the International Brigades. Kemp simply got a letter from a newspaper editor friend saying that he was authorized to send back wire copy, as a cover story, and off he went across the French frontier.

This was November 1936. Kemp offers a thumbnail sketch of the first four months of the Civil War, which had passed by the time he arrived. At this point, Francisco Franco had not yet assumed supreme command, nor had he amalgamated the different political factions of the Nationalists under his personal control. As a result, the Nationalist military was organized in a fragmented and ad hoc manner. (The Republican military was too, but the Nationalists were much better as the war progressed at welding together the disparate components of their forces, helped by not being subject to the Moscow-directed purging that bled the Republicans).

The core of the Nationalist fighting forces was the Army of Africa, consisting of most of Spain’s land forces that actually had experience fighting. One part of this was the Spanish Foreign Legion (which meant Spaniards fighting abroad, in Africa; it was not a collective of foreigners, like the French Foreign Legion). The other was native Moroccans, the Regulares.

Two political parties also raised separate forces. The first was the Carlists, one branch of the Spanish monarchists (favoring a king other than Alfonso XIII, who had resigned in 1931 to avoid the civil war being fomented by the Left). The Carlists were dominant in the north of Spain, in Navarre and the Basque provinces, and were old-fashioned, happy to die for King and country. The second was the Falange, the small Spanish fascist political party, who had little in common politically with the Carlists (and in fact in later years squabbled violently with the Carlists). Franco, of course, was not a fascist or a member of the Falange; most Nationalist military officers were not political.

Kemp joined the Carlist forces, the Requetés. The Falange Kemp treats with some disdain; he seems to regard them as less than competent, brave enough but prone to scheming in preference to honest fighting, and too often substituting ideology for honor. And he was warned away from joining the Legion, which was regarded as extremely tough and demanding, and less than welcoming to a foreigner who spoke no Spanish. So the Carlists it was, and they were very welcoming, if highly informal, bordering on lax, in their organization.

From here, Mine Were of Trouble is personal narrative of Kemp’s experiences. For the most part, the Spaniards were glad to have him fighting with them, though sometimes he was the target of suspicion from military bureaucrats. He fought with the Carlists in various skirmishes and battles, including the Battle of Jarama (February 1937) and the Battle of Santander (July 1937).

He very much enjoyed his time with the Carlists, and was quickly promoted to alférez, a junior officer rank, sometimes translated “sub-lieutenant,” meaning in practice he commanded part of a platoon, apparently ten to twenty men at a time. But he disliked the Carlists’ lack of discipline and technical training; they substituted suicidal courage for better entrenchments and the use of modern guns and gun techniques. Kemp wanted to learn “first-class soldiering.” So, late in 1937, he joined the Legion.

The Legion was divided into twenty banderas, and Kemp was assigned to the 14th, a new bandera composed of disparate parts. His welcome was frosty – he was viewed with suspicion, as a foreigner, and as a Protestant, something the Legionnaires associated with Freemasonry, one of the main avenues by which leftist poison had entered the Spanish body politic.

Still, using time-honored tools to overcome such military suspicion, hard work and bravery, Kemp soon enough became accepted by his men, and by most of the officers, even though some of the latter never warmed to him, less from suspicion and more because they felt he could never truly understand the existential evil of the Spanish Left, which drove many of them personally, since nearly all had had relatives murdered in Republican-held Spain.

Kemp led a machine-gun platoon, with four obsolete guns with zero spare parts as their only rapid-fire weapons, so soon enough, it was three guns, and then one. In November 1937, his unit moved southeast, to the Guadalajara front close to Madrid, as the Nationalists successfully liberated more and more of Spain.

The book’s narrative is compelling, and not just the battle scenes. Kemp does an excellent job of describing the landscape of the various areas in which he spent time, initially in the north, and later both west and east of Madrid. The reader gets a good feel, in particular, for the rugged nature of much of the terrain.

He also describes the towns and villages in which he was billeted (as with most wars, waiting occupied much of his time), as well as their inhabitants, nearly all of whom strongly supported the Nationalists, both in general and especially after roving bands of Republican militias had come through early in the war, tortured the local priest to death, killed other citizens, and moved on. At no point does the book drag. You might even call it a page-turner.

Occasionally Kemp diverges to discuss events to which he was not personally a witness. Notably, he discusses the April 1937 bombing of Guernica, which took place not far from where he was then stationed, and was the supreme propaganda triumph of the Communists and their international supporters during the entire war.

Kemp strongly believed that the Republicans burned the town themselves, as they had many other towns from which they had been expelled. That was the Nationalist line at the time, in opposition to the massive global campaign spreading the lie that the Nationalists, with the help of the Germans, had bombed a non-military target to terrorize the population.

No doubt Guernica was a wholly legitimate target, and the bombing wholly appropriate, if not executed entirely competently. (Bombing civilian towns without a military presence was actually a Republican specialty; Kemp notes that early in the war, Toledo, a Nationalist town, had been so attacked). But objective modern historians (as opposed to Communist mouthpieces like Paul Preston) generally conclude that the Nationalists were lying that the destruction was caused by the Republicans burning the town, in a crude and unsuccessful attempt to counter Republican propaganda.

Kemp offers all his experiences with no sugarcoating. In the Legion, there was extremely rigid discipline, with corporal punishment for minor infractions and the death penalty for any insubordination. The good result of this was that looting and rape, commonly committed by Republican forces, was nonexistent.

The bad result was that in Kemp’s bandera, though it was against Nationalist policy, many prisoners, and all of certain categories, were shot out of hand. Those categories included members of the International Brigades, blamed for prolonging the war by preventing the early liberation of Madrid. Of course, Kemp would have been shot too if captured; he knew that at the time, and he quotes a British captain in the International Brigades whom he talked to after the war who leaves no doubt.

Early in the war, both the Republicans and the Nationalists took few prisoners, but by this point the Nationalists had mostly stopped that practice, and the Republicans, consistently losing, didn’t capture that many fresh prisoners, having murdered most of them already, along with any Nationalists they could find in the cities, towns, and villages they controlled. (Kemp notes that when international bodies such as the Non-Intervention Committee began to organize prisoner exchanges, they found almost no Nationalist prisoners held by the Republicans, and large numbers of Republicans held by the Nationalists).

Tactically, of course, this is a poor decision—as Niall Ferguson wrote in The Pity of War, refusing to accept surrender needlessly prolongs wars. Regardless, Kemp thought that his own superior officers were perniciously fond of killing prisoners, and relates at horrified length how an Irish deserter from the International Brigades presented himself, claiming he had been impressed into the Brigades. Kemp got permission from his immediate superiors to send the Irishman away as a POW, but the colonel above them curtly ordered Kemp to shoot the prisoner, which he did (or rather he had two of his men do it), something he found extremely difficult.

Back at the front, the war ground on and the Nationalists implemented Franco’s slow strategy. (It was later called plodding and unimaginative, which perhaps it was, and also called an attempt to kill as many Communists as possible, which perhaps it also was. We’ll never know; Franco was famously taciturn).

Kemp fought in the Battle of Teruel, which was bitter and more of the same, featuring hand-to-hand fighting in olive groves and the intermittent appearance of light tanks, often turning the tide at the last minute, including once when Kemp’s unit was about to be overrun. Many of Kemp’s friends died; he gives full credit to his opponents for bravery and competence.

He was stationed for a few weeks in Belchite, a village that had been destroyed earlier, which was left destroyed after the war and was used as the backdrop for the BBC series, The Spanish Civil War. It is here, late in the book, where the most jarring passage of book occurs. Kemp relates how four Western journalist friends of his, two American and two British, were driving near the battle when a shell hit their car. Three were killed. The fourth, the survivor, he mentions only here: Kim Philby.

Of course, in 1957, when this book was published, Kemp could not have known that Philby, a traitor since the 1920s, was one of the most evil men of the twentieth century, responsible, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of millions. He was in Nationalist Spain masquerading as a journalist in order to spy for the Communists, and in fact this incident, since it brought him to the favorable attention of the Nationalist authorities, strengthened his ability to spy, bringing him into direct contact with Franco, with the goal of furthering Franco’s assassination by the Communists. But Kemp knew none of this. It is strange how history works, and how it could have been different had we been more lucky, and Philby killed in 1937.

Kemp was wounded several times, and had to recuperate, but was back in action by May 1938. Not for long, though. Fighting near Aragon in July, a mortar bomb exploded next to him, shattering his jaw and hand, burning his throat, and nearly killing him. Recuperating for months, he asked permission for leave to return to England to convalesce, which was granted.

First, however, Franco asked to see him, and he had a thirty-minute interview, consisting mostly of Franco talking about the dangers of Communism. Franco concluded by asking Kemp what he would do after the war, to which Kemp said presumably he would fight in the British military “in the coming war.” Franco responded, with a “wintry smile,” “I don’t think there will be a war,” to which Kemp’s response was, “I wonder what he really thought.”

By March 1939, the Spanish war was over, and Kemp did not return to Spain for some time, although he fought with great distinction in World War II and thereafter. But that is another story, told by Kemp in other books.

Today, of course, the modern successors of the Spanish Communists would ensure that a man like Kemp had no peace after the guns fell silent. Those who fought for the International Brigades received nothing but lionization, and to this day are unjustly and foolishly praised, but even in his time, Kemp was threatened by his local police chief in England that he “might find [himself] liable to prosecution under the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1880, or some such date.”

Kemp died in 1993, but we can be certain that if he had lived longer, the European Left, both in Spain and England, would have tried to prosecute him as a “war criminal,” by which they mean any person who opposed their totalitarian aims of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I often complain about this, that the Left ensures that its enemies are hounded to the grave and beyond, while the Right fails to do the same and, an equally great failing, fails to fight back adequately. Maybe this is a historical anomaly and in the decades to come the roles will be reversed; one can hope.

You will not find here new lessons on the Spanish Civil War, but you will find lessons that are not commonly known. This book is interesting in its own right, and a quick read. I highly recommend it. Most of all, it’s a vivid exposure to the reality that the side that deserved to win the Civil War, and fortunately did, was the Nationalists, who bore little resemblance to the caricature that nearly a century of Left lies has planted in the rest of the West. More people should know this, and Mine Were of Trouble is a good place to start.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows, “I will join up with my companions,” a poster by Carlos Saenz de Tejada, from 1940.

The Lopsided Spanish Civil War

Years ago, I lived in Budapest with an elderly Hungarian relative, my grandfather’s cousin. She had lived through World War II as a young woman. One day, as we were eating lunch, she reminisced about the Russian invasion and conquest of Hungary in 1945, which she survived.

She looked at me and said (in Hungarian), “Always remember, when you are grown and are a powerful man, that war is a terrible thing.” We all know this, but it is easy to forget the personal impact of war—both on soldiers and on everyone else in a society. This uneven book is a reminder of those costs, and an opportunity to ponder when they are worth paying, as civil war slouches ever closer to us.

I’ve been on a Spanish Civil War kick for some time now. No points for guessing why. This is the first book on modern Spain that I have read, however. Well, it’s half about modern Spain. It is an odd book, by an author apparently famous in Spain, Javier Cercas. Half of it is about Cercas, his family, his emotional states, and his quest to explore the brief life of his great uncle, Manuel Mena, a soldier who died in the Nationalist cause.

The other half is about Mena himself, where Cercas teases what little definite history exists into a narrative, and then extends the narrative to structural failure by wishful thinking that Mena was really not who he was. These two halves repeatedly cross over into each other, in a choppy narrative that contains entirely too much navel-gazing by Cercas about himself. But hey, it’s his book, and maybe this is what sells in Spain.

Lord of All the Dead is tightly focused on the village in which Mena lived and in which Cercas was born, and in which their extended family all lived, until mostly leaving in the 1960s, during the massive economic boom brought about by Francisco Franco in the third act of his life, as dictator of Spain for nearly forty years.

That village is called Ibahernando; it lies in the west of Spain, in Extremadura, always an impoverished, rural province. (Fleeing from there to places where one can make money has a long pedigree—many of the most famous conquerors of the New World came from Extremadura, including Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro). In Cercas’s description, it is today nearly empty and irrelevant to the nation as a whole, though I can’t tell if that’s true. It would certainly not be surprising, in these days of urbanization and plummeting populations.

We do not learn until near the end of the book why the title, though I should have caught it on my own. It comes from the famous response given by the shade of Achilles, asked by Odysseus how it goes in the afterlife. Achilles responds that he would rather be a penniless farmer than lord of all the dead. Although this book is framed as an exploration of the life of Mena, as the title shows it is really an attempt by Cercas to rewrite his sacrifice as a tragic waste, in contradiction to what Mena himself very obviously thought.

What Cercas is selling is that although Mena, and many of his relatives, saw Mena’s death as a kalos thanatos, a perfect death, really it was stupid, not just because it was a young man’s in war, but most of all because he was ignorant of his actual interests, which, Cercas lectures us over and over, as with everyone in Ibahernando, lay entirely with the Republicans, for whom they all would have been fighting if they had had any sense. Yes, this is really his claim.

We will get later to the interests of the villagers. I am not going to discuss the whys and wherefores of the Spanish Civil War; I have already done that elsewhere. What I’d like to explore is two things. First, what drives civil conflict in small polities far from the centers of power? Second, ignoring Cercas’s attempts to impose his own views on Manuel Mena, at what point should a society be willing to sacrifice its young men in battle, and its young women at home if they lose to the wrong adversary, along with much else, to a cause? Or, put another way, at what point should the costs my own aunt related be borne?

For the most part, I am therefore going to ignore that Cercas unreflectingly parrots standard left-wing propaganda about the war, which is doubtless the norm for his social class and standing in Spain today. In this view, the Spanish Republic brought low by Franco was a pure and wonderful democracy that came to power by democratic means. It represented all Spain. It committed no wrongs, except a few minor excesses in response to right-wing rebellion.

Cercas says nary a word about the massive violence and atrocities against conservatives and the Church that resulted in Franco’s entirely rational and moral rebellion against an illegitimate Communist-dominated regime. (Cercas delicately refers to violence and atrocities encouraged and permitted under the Republic as “confrontations produced by the Republic’s efforts to modernize the country”).

Words in this book are carefully chosen for propaganda effect; the name “Hitler” appears early and often attached to Franco; the names “Stalin” and “Soviet Union” do not appear a single time anywhere. I assume all this is mainline modern Spanish leftism. To be fair, it’s not over the top, not like Communist apologists, such as, Paul Preston. It’s more like Cercas has just absorbed the party line and regurgitates it as he goes along, focused primarily on creating an alternative history of his uncle that will be palatable to his social circle.

The story of Mena is fairly straightforward, though Cercas manages to make it somewhat difficult to follow by making the story not about Mena, but about his own gradual unearthing of facts about Mena. He couples this with endless maundering about his own emotions as they relate to Mena and to the rest of his family. Run-on sentences and the use of directly translated Spanish idioms making little sense in English do not contribute; nor does a lot of talk about his filmmaker friend whose wife left him for Viggo Mortensen, though that’s a little bit amusing. She probably left him because he had annoying friends like Cercas!

I will impose some order on the narrative. The core figure in Cercas’s exploration is his own mother, still alive and a major character in this book. She was eight years younger than her uncle, Mena, her father’s brother, to whom she was very close. In a village community of this type, large families were the norm at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the families tended to intermarry, with second cousins marrying each other.

We forget, in these days of sad wine aunts and atomization, that this kind of tangled, extended-family web used to be the norm for most people. Thus, through his mother Cercas is introduced to all those still alive who can shed light on Mena’s life. Other than in the village, where a main street is named after him, nobody at all remembers Mena.

Starting with his mother, Cercas gradually expands his circle of interlocutors. He does not talk to a single person who supported Franco or the Falange. Rather, he talks to elderly leftists, none his relatives, and to younger leftists who are all cousins of one type or another, most of all one who is today a socialist delegate to the European Parliament.

This is also bizarre, for in his own telling everyone was a Francoist until the 1970s, yet Cercas does not offer a single word from anyone in support of any Right political position. He talks of “Francoist families” and how they still remember Mena’s funeral, but does not talk to any of them. Rather, his project is to signal to his readership the illegitimacy of any support for Franco, so it is no surprise that he offers no Francoist perspectives. Instead, he offers the unconditional self-abasement of a Maoist struggle session.

I lost track of the innumerable times Cercas refers to Mena’s, and his extended family’s, “shame” and “dishonour,” while never once specifying in what way they were shamed and dishonored. (On one page the words show up eight times, along with an incomprehensible reference to the “defeats” of his shamed ancestors, who, after all, won the war).

I can only assume that in the left-wing circles in modern Spain in which Cercas lives and breathes, it is presumed that any connection, no matter how faint, to Francoism is somehow shameful and dishonorable. His social class, represented by his cuckold filmmaker friend, tells him as an established fact that opposing the Communists was “a mistaken cause” and “unjust.” None of this is true, and Cercas even tells us the cliché that victors write the histories, ignoring the obvious falsity of that here.

But let’s turn to Mena. It is a short enough story. When the time for political choosing came, Mena was, like many young men, attracted to the Falange, with its blend of traditionalism and modernism. Cercas unearths some speeches written by him for delivery to the local Falange youth group, which are standard boilerplate.

When the war broke out in 1936, Mena volunteered, at age seventeen. He was made a second lieutenant, in the Ifni Riflemen, a regiment of the Regulares (mainly Moroccan enlisted men with Spanish officers) and fought in several battles. He was killed in 1938, at age nineteen, at the Battle of the Ebro, in Catalonia, shot in the abdomen. His body was brought back to Ibahernando and buried, an event of great significance in the village, and one of the defining events of Mena’s mother’s life – although, strangely, Cercas never asks her any of her opinions, just for the facts.

Cercas is very focused on the political situation in Ibahernando, and as we will see, it is through this prism that he interprets the meaning of Mena’s life. I find this fascinating, because it says much about politics outside the centers of power, once you strip away the distortions Cercas creates while twisting history to fit into his frame.

The author views the politics of the 1920s and the 1930s in Ibahernando through a tired Marxist lens. In Cercas’s telling, most of the land in Ibahernando was owned by absentee landlords, nobles of one sort or another, who lived in Madrid. Until a few decades before the war, everyone was essentially a serf who worked the land. But at some point, enterprising farmers began renting land from the nobles, and even were able, after some time, to own a modest amount of land.

In other words, they became what Stalin called kulaks – farmers a little better off than their neighbors, as a result of their own initiative and hard work. Others remained landless farm laborers or tenant farmers. Cercas tells us this introduced class stratification into Ibahernando, and that rather than being united against their real oppressors, the absentee landlords, a type of local aristocracy, a very modest type, emerged. A key member of this aristocracy, he says, was his own family.

Whatever the accuracy of this history, which so far probably is pretty accurate, such stratification is completely unsurprising. In any human grouping, an aristocracy naturally arises, because people are not the same, and some people’s talents are better suited to any given situation, so rewards and leadership flow their way.

But Cercas obviously can’t accept that; it contradicts left-wing doctrine of emancipation and equality, and thus reality must be denied, or rather simply ignored. Still, he is puzzled, because he doesn’t have an alternative explanation for the development of this split. He didactically instructs us that “the interests of the community were the same,” without making any effort to demonstrate it. It’s obvious the villagers didn’t think so.

For example, Cercas talks several times about agricultural wage laborers forming “right-wing unions” early in the Republic, which would suggest that they didn’t see their interests as the same as everyone else’s, and he also talks briefly about how Ibahernando had a significant Protestant minority, although otherwise he ignores the importance of religion. Anybody but a Marxist can see that Ibahernando, like any other polity, had many competing interests, and only a few of them were economic ones.

That doesn’t mean his family was conservative in Spanish political terms. His grandfather, one of the most prominent men in the village, was a Socialist when he was mayor for a brief time in the early 1930s. What seems to have happened is that much of the village did in fact view politics, for a time, though the lens of class, and supported the ending of the monarchy and the establishment of a republican form of government.

But when it became evident what the real program of the Left was, agreed to at the infamous Pact of San Sebastien, most of the village rejected it, especially when the Left unleashed violent attacks across the land, whereupon most of the village, from the meanest laborer to Cercas’s grandfather, turned against the Left. Bizarrely, Cercas denies any of this leftist violence happened, at the same time he says that it caused a political earthquake in the village. “[T]he memory many elderly people in Ibahernando have of the Second Republic is a memory poisoned by confrontation, division, and violence. It is a false memory, a memory distorted or contaminated retrospectively by the memory of the Civil War that swept the Second Republic away.”

There is indeed a falsehood here, but we don’t need to go to the history books to see that Cercas is either lying or fooling himself, for his own history shows the lie.

Cercas narrates how in 1933 the local Communists demanded suppression of religious festivities and repeatedly tried to burn the local church; how they collected weapons and shot at their enemies; how in 1935 they put together a plan to take a list of “people on the Right” and “proposed taking them one by one from their houses and murdering them” (a plot only stopped by the mayor’s intervention); and how they tried to assassinate his maternal grandfather in 1934, by shotgunning him in the street. And when men on the Right asked for state protection, they were “advised to protect themselves.” So they bought guns – and immediately after the February 1936 elections, the new Left governor of the province put both of Cercas’s grandfathers in prison for “stockpiling weapons.”

No wonder there was “growing anxiety.” But there was only one source for that anxiety—the violence and hatred of the Left, and their open desire to exterminate their political opponents. Cercas, though, speaks constantly of “Francoist terror,” without naming a single example prior to the war. There was some, later – as in all these divided Spanish villages, when the war broke out, the Right punished those who had been attacking them for years, and often people took the opportunity to settle personal scores.

But Cercas, even though his own facts contradict him, treats Right violence as the only problem, when in reality it was purely reactive and defensive, and perhaps inevitable after years of Left threats and violence, and in an atmosphere where the town expected Republican army attack at any moment, such that the town square and the houses surrounding it were entrenched and sandbagged.

That doesn’t mean the villagers who rejected the Left became Falangists, or even Francoists. Outside the centers of power, most people aren’t driven by politics, or at least to the same degree, and this is a lesson for today. They just saw the Left as the greater evil, and they had to pick a side, because of what men of power far away had done.

Many of the men of the village, rich or poor, fought in volunteer militias for the Nationalists in the first few months of the war, including Cercas’s paternal grandfather, but they were sent home by the end of 1936, as the Nationalists consolidated and professionalized Franco’s initially ad hoc army. Cercas throws up chaff to obscure their choice, condescendingly claiming that the poor disliked “disorder.” They had a “superstitious love for order and tradition”; they were “addicted to order,” so they joined the Nationalists.

His argument is that if the Left had simply been more communicative about the reasons they were killing people the village would have supported them. But the truth is pretty obvious, if wholly unpalatable to Cercas—his village was mostly, or nearly all, Franco supporters, including his great uncle, and presumably including his mother, about whose political beliefs Cercas says nothing. But, as I say, we never get any detail or discussion about Right political views, in fact, other than the bare narration that many of the author’s relatives fought for the Nationalists.

Cercas marches on, though, trapped in his own frame. He quotes his socialist cousin at length, that it is incomprehensible that villagers didn’t unite with the Left to fight their “true enemies,” the landowners. He studiously ignores the complexities of the Spanish Right, such as that the Falange’s philosophy actually had many left-wing, populist elements, and, as Cercas himself discusses in the context of Mena’s pro-Falange writings, “preached the harmony of classes.”

Cercas has to do this, because he is aiming at his main goal, to “prove” that Mena, a vigorous Falangist, was self-deluded, but he couldn’t help it. He was just a kid “intoxicated by pernicious idealism”; all that he believed was merely an “ideological concoction devised by the oligarchy to halt socialist and democratic equality.” “He had lost everything fighting for a cause that was not his but that of others.” No doubt Cercas buys into Marxist delusions like “false consciousness,” though that phrase doesn’t appear here.

And, finally, desperate for an arc to his story that contradicts the story of a young hero who died for his ideals, Cercas constructs a fantasy in which Mena became wholly disillusioned by the war. No doubt, after much direct experience with war, he was disillusioned – only some men, a minority, enjoy war, although for many it is a mixed bag, never all bad or all good.

Cercas builds up to what he thinks is the culmination of his book – an elderly uncle suddenly remembers, although he never told anyone before, was not there, and cannot remember who told him, that in his last visit to the village Mena told someone that the war was hard and that he had done his duty; that he didn’t want to go back to the front, but was going to anyway, because if he didn’t, another uncle would have had to go to war. Cercas responds “Are you saying that Manuel Mena was fed up with the war?” To which the old man replies, “Exactly. Fed up.” This is what is called in law the rankest hearsay, along with leading the witness. It’s meaningless.

But not in the context of Cercas’s project, which seems to be primarily to exonerate himself to his social peers today for the fact that his family was Francoist, and Cercas treats the old man’s words as a revelation comparable to Prometheus bringing fire to Man. Oh, it’s probably true. I bet Manuel Mena was fed up with the war. I bet most soldiers in his position were fed up with the war and would far prefer it be over. This is a commonplace throughout history. But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t also know that the only way home was to win against the Communists, or that he had changed his mind about what was necessary for Spain to flourish and thrive.

So what does this say about our own political divisions? Less than one might think. In Spain, there were clear and unbridgeable political divisions among the ruling classes, which inevitably led to war. Here, there are no such divisions – our ruling classes, Democrat and Republican, are united in their contempt for the deplorables, many of whom bear a suspicious resemblance to the poor citizenry of Ibahernando. Trump may talk about fighting the ruling classes, and they do hate him because he threatens their cushy position by the chaos he creates and the positions he theoretically espouses, which if unchecked might empower the deplorables, but Jared and Ivanka, and the rest of those who influence and limit Trump, aren’t really opposed to George Soros and Gavin Newsom politically.

All these people are just fighting over the spoils, not fighting about principles with each other. Their collective vision is a continuation of the neoliberal atomized hell with leftist social policies in which we live (which, to be fair, has been very, very good to me, but I am a traitor to my class).

To the extent there are real divisions outside the ruling class, Americans, with their comfortable lifestyles, addiction to safety, and facing the overwhelming power and reach of the government, aren’t going to fight for anything, among themselves or against the government. Claims otherwise, anywhere on the political spectrum, are all LARPing for the social media cameras. People on the Right point to Antifa as a budding locus of violence, but that’s not true in any meaningful way. Antifa is a clown show, performance theater.

They only engage in violence because they are protected by the police and judges in the places they do it; if they showed up any other place but a few friendly urban locales, they would regret it, and quickly. Look at them. They are fat losers. In a real civil war they would run and hide as fast as their tubby little legs could carry them. No, like most people in Ibahernando, the average American just wants to get by, and enjoy life, and isn’t, for better or worse, going to actually fight about politics.

At least they’re not going to fight yet. The Wuhan Plague, and more the government overreaction to it, has turned the ratchet a few more turns. Someday the ruling classes are no longer going to be able to print money and make promises to keep the peasants from becoming restless, and they will be thrust to the side as the political currents of Left and Right rear their heads and assume shape under leaders yet to be named. Or perhaps we will have a tripartite split, with the ruling classes fighting simultaneously against a newly organized, competent, and risk-taking Left and Right. We will then see, in every locale, what Ibahernando did—that no, we can’t all just get along, because one vision of the good must rule, and incompatible visions are, well, incompatible.

And, finally, back to my great aunt, who told me that war is a terrible thing. This same sentiment runs throughout this book, although without nuance or understanding, since Cercas has apparently taken no risks in his life, and he cannot escape his ideological prison when viewing the past. He seems to want to think that war can both be brutal and evil, and noble and necessary, but cannot bear to apply that principle to his great uncle.

Cercas would do well to read Sebastian Junger’s Tribe, which lays out what war really means for modern men, and explains, aside from politics, why, perhaps, Manuel Mena fought and died. I think that the idea of a kalos thanatos should not be encouraged; it is a pagan ideal, after all, and as the father of three young sons it does not appeal to me. But sacrifice combined with seeking a transcendent goal has a key place in any society that is going anywhere.

What is true for a man is true for a society—there are worse things than war, as terrible as war is. Far worse for Spain, for example, to have been ruled by the Communists, both in terms of the number of dead and in the ruination of the nation. Sometimes, often, we must choose between two unpalatable choices.

My own aunt was not saying that Hungary was wrong to fight in the war; given history and circumstance, it was both necessary and inevitable. Rather, her point was to remember, when and if a man of power, I should count the cost, and not idly or blindly feed the little people into the maw of the machine. This is a universal truth, untied to ideology. But Cercas’s book fails because he views everything through ideology. Lord of All the Dead could have been a fascinating exploration of the Spanish conflict on a local level, but instead, it’s just claptrap.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows, “A Nationalist Soldier on the Santander Front in a Captured Concrete Dug-Out with ‘Marxist’ Inscriptions – ’Death to Spain!’ and ‘Long Live Russia”, by Carlos Saenz de Tejada, Illustrated London News, 20 Nov. 1937.

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.



José Ortega y Gasset And The Masses

Oh, but this is a fascinating book. Written in 1930 by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, it is one of those books that is occasionally mentioned, especially recently, but rarely actually read. 1930, in Spain, was the hinge of fate, and it has been nearly a hundred years since Ortega wrote. That means we can see where he was wrong, and where he was right, and what he wrote says to us today.

First, though, we have to hack our way through two misconceptions that both seem to attend any modern mention of The Revolt of the Masses. The first, simpler, misconception is that this is a book about class, about how Ortega favors the bourgeois, or the rich, over the working class, or at least that it is an analysis of their conflicts.

Given that class was a hot topic in 1930, this is a reasonable guess from the title, but it is totally wrong. This misconception cropped up repeatedly after Trump’s election, and, for example, the review by David Brooks in the New York Times of J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy was titled “The Revolt of the Masses.” But Ortega was a political moderate, and seems to not have been exercised by questions of class at all. Rather, this is a book about human excellence, what it can accomplish, and how it can be destroyed.

The subtler, more pernicious, misconception is that Ortega’s call for excellence is a call for masses to defer to experts—supposedly, according to various chatterers, Ortega’s main point is that experts are ignored. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, Ortega thinks all, or almost all, modern experts are the definition of mediocrity, and the masses deferring to them is like deferring to a mirror.

Instead, people should defer to a natural aristocracy, not of blood, but of focus and accomplishment. Those people are not experts, who are narrow, but are instead broad people of taste, judgment, and discipline. We will return to this misconception later, with specific recent examples, but now that we are past the reef, we can sail into the open ocean of Ortega’s thought.

So, if this is not a book about class, who are the “masses”? Ortega divides every society into “minorities,” a small set of people who are “specially qualified,” and the “masses,” everyone not specially qualified. The key question is who is average and who is not. A mass person feels as if he is “just like everybody,” that he is not particularly special, and not only does this not concern him, he celebrates the fact. (Thus, someone who examines his talents and concludes he is mediocre, and feels that is a problem, is not a mass man).

But this, of course, begs the question—what makes a person above average or, in Ortega’s term, “specially qualified”? They are those who make personal demands for excellence upon themselves, and live in that way. This makes them the minority, by definition. They may not fulfill those demands; it is the demand being made, that alone, which makes the person a minority. In contrast, mass men “demand nothing special of themselves, but […] to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort toward perfection.”

The minority, the elite, are thus not coterminous with traditional aristocracy or a ruling class. Ortega acknowledges that in traditional social elites excellence is more likely to be found, but mere heredity does not make a person place demands on himself, so an aristocrat by blood can be a mass man just like a peasant or a steelworker—and a peasant or a steelworker can be a member of the minority.

The class of intellectuals, in particular, fancy themselves to be above the masses, but are often vulgar pseudo-intellectuals, swept along by lazy, commonplace thinking, and therefore mass men. Children of the excellent frequently ride on their parents’ accomplishments; they thereby become mass men themselves.

Ortega wants “nobility” to mean not nobility of blood, but to restore the meaning of “noble” as “well-known, that is, known by everyone, famous, he who has made himself known by excelling the anonymous mass.” Anyone can do this, from any walk of life, but few do, human nature being what it is.

Having gotten definitions out of the way, Ortega’s first substantive point is that in the past, the mass was content to exist in the background, ceding to the minority such higher-level societal functions as art, government and political judgment. No more. Now, the mass assert their right to dictate in all such areas, without having to demand from themselves, much less achieve, excellence.

In politics, this is “hyperdemocracy,” and Ortega thinks it a degradation. In other areas, such as philosophy (Ortega’s specialty), it means that readers (and, today, listeners and YouTube watchers), do so “with the view, not of learning from the writer, but rather, of pronouncing judgment on him when he is not in agreement with the commonplaces that the said reader carries in his head.”

It’s not that the mass man thinks he’s an expert. “The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them wherever it will. . . . . The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.” Mediocrity rules, and does not care that it is mediocre.

All this is a new thing in our history, but not in world history. It can be found in the declining years of Rome, among other places. Ortega ascribes its modern growth, though, not to decline, but to liberal democracy, to the discovery of the abstract sovereignty of the individual.

He doesn’t dislike liberal democracy—quite the contrary, he thinks both that it’s great, and that it’s inevitable and broadly irreversible, as I discuss further below. But if the individual is sovereign, we should not be surprised if each man treats himself as if he is indeed sovereign.

None of this implies decadence—contra Spengler, Ortega thinks that relative to the nineteenth century, which viewed itself as a time of “plenitude” when the destination of society had been reached, the twentieth century, viewing the future as open-ended and in flux, is in many ways superior. (At this point, you have to remember, it’s 1930; look around you at the world of 2018, as well as the past hundred years, then chuckle grimly and draw your own conclusions).

But the twentieth century takes it too far, because the mass men dominate, and they have “lost all respect, all consideration for the past.” Thus, the mass men both see the future as open, but assured, and themselves as perfect and satisfied. That’s a dangerous combination, for it leads to a world “empty of purposes, anticipations, ideals.”

It was those things the minority supplied, and it was those things that drove the world forward. Now, with the triumph of the masses, nobody supplies those things. So the twentieth century is an apogee—but the nature of apogees is there is nowhere to go but down.

Thus, the nineteenth-century, for all its accomplishments, also gave us the rise of the mass man, and the mass man will, unless his rise is constrained, within thirty years, “send our continent back to barbarism.” (This is a book quite explicitly about Europe. America is treated as close to a non-entity, with thinly veiled contempt. And Europe is defined as France, Germany, and England—it does not, for these purposes, really even include Spain).

The mass man, for example, feels that he himself is qualified to decide, and should decide, political matters, rather than his vote “supporting the decision of one minority or another.”

That will lead to the disappearance of liberal democracy, which Ortega regards as man’s highest political achievement (“legislative technique”), but it will also lead to the end of “industrial technique,” since the pursuit of technical excellence by minorities drives industry forward, just like other pursuit of excellence drives political organization forward.

It is this latter “industrial technique,” this combination of “scientific experiment and industrialism,” that Ortega names “technism.” Technism has allowed the mass man to escape the feeling that dominated all prior societies, that of material scarcity and restrictions. At the same time, liberal democracy makes the mass man believe that he is master of his psychic and political destiny.

Thus, the mass man feels in his bones that life is now “exempt from restrictions” on every level. That is to say, in modern parlance, he is emancipated. “The world which surrounds the new man from his birth does not compel him to limit himself in any fashion, it sets up no veto in opposition to him; on the contrary, it incites his appetite, which in principle can increase indefinitely.”

Ortega’s objection is not that appetites increasing is bad; he did not foresee the logical endpoint of total emancipation, which is total autonomy combined with total tyranny and a denial of basic reality. Instead, his objection is that the mass man fails to appreciate that all this, that benefits him, was created with great toil by the excellence of minorities; he thinks it manna from heaven.

What characterizes the mass man is inertia—the opposite of the ceaseless, self-generated search for excellence that characterizes the truly noble. And this failure to understand the sources of the bounty that blesses him, his “radical ingratitude,” combined with the new dominance of the mass man over society, means it will all disappear, and barbarism will return, as excellence flees.

For Ortega, such barbarism isn’t of the type that, looking backward, the twentieth century actually delivered. Rather, “barbarism is the absence of standards to which appeal can be made.” That seems like not a fatal problem, but it is. No standards, no progress, only regress. Certainly, mass men are the creators of such tripe as Syndicalism, Fascism (explicitly in the Mussolini sense) and, Communism (“a monotonous repetition of the eternal revolution,” oblivious to history, like all these movements).

They are created by “the type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions. This is the new thing: the right not to be reasonable, the ‘reason of unreason.’ . . . Hence his ideas are in effect nothing more than appetites in words. . . .” (Ortega would not have enjoyed spending time on Facebook, much less Twitter).

When mass men of politics say they are “done with discussions,” this is what they mean. It implies also that “direct action,” that is, violence, becomes not the ultima ratio, the final argument when all others are through, but the prima ratio, the first argument. This is always true, “at every epoch when the mass, for one purpose or another, has taken a part in public life.”

In all areas, what is recognized by the excellent, the minorities, in all times as “civilized,” from literature, to sexual relations, to art, to manners, to justice, decays. It is those standards for those things that make “the community, common life” possible. Result of their end: barbarism, if we don’t change course.

We can certainly see this degradation of all standards today, to a degree that makes Ortega’s prescience startling (although he was far off the mark on one matter, which I talk about last). Not only is the mass man as Ortega defines him far more dominant, over the whole Western world, than in Ortega’s time, but we see the barbarism Ortega identifies has long since arrived. Certainly almost nobody demands excellence in any field; instead, the mass men who rule demand such rubbish as “diversity and inclusion,” the wholesale granting of unearned benefits on the basis of (preferred) immutable characteristics.

The very idea that there is such a thing as excellence is denied as a matter of course. Similarly with the political processes Ortega identifies. We hear all the time, mostly from the Left but also from the Right, that the time for discussion is over, and the time for action is here, by which the speaker means “conform to my unreasoned and emotion-driven demands or be crushed.” (Such language is all over the latest push to confiscate firearms, for example, along with other forms of knuckle-dragging political behavior that would have horrified Ortega, with his focus on high rationality and political liberty).

And, more broadly, what characterizes everything in the West is a call for total autonomy implemented, if necessary, by government tyranny, and a rejection of any standards as an offense against emancipation.

Ortega believed that as long as the minority of the excellent dominates, progress is inevitable. And the reverse is also true. Therefore, Ortega would, perhaps, not be surprised by the situation today. Moreover, since barbarism has arrived in the form of the domination of mass men, it is natural that a portion of those mass men hold themselves out as the minority, as the elites.

But, of course, they are merely the rulers—they do not actually demand of themselves any pursuit of excellence at all. The names of categories are maintained, in art, politics, and culture, but they are hollow, for the standards are set by mass men clothed in false skins. So, it is entirely possible, if standards have decayed and barbarism returned, for there to be nobody at all to whom the masses can turn for guidance. The polestar may simply have winked out, to, perhaps, be restored at a time to be announced, when the world is remade.

Thus, The Revolt of the Masses feels surprisingly fresh, given not only its age but all the water that has passed under the bridge since it was written. Yes, Ortega does display a simplistic, if touching, faith, in liberal democracy, which has since his time shown its deficiency.

The Europe of 1930 is the triumph of “liberal democracy and technical knowledge,” shown by, among other things, a tripling of the population of Europe. (Ortega is wrong here, of course—there is no necessary, or actual historical, linkage of liberal democracy with the rise of technical knowledge or its impacts in the Industrial Revolution).

He concludes that “liberal democracy based on technical knowledge is the highest type of public life hitherto known,” and though it might be possible to imagine a better, anything better must continue to embody both liberal democracy and technical knowledge, and that it would be “suicidal” to return to any pre-nineteenth-century form. It is the “truth of destiny.”

That was a supportable argument, maybe, in 1930, but not now. True, the term no longer means what it meant for Ortega. For him, it meant political liberty, “consideration for one’s neighbor,” “indirect action” (i.e., a rejection of violence), and, explicitly, universal suffrage where the mass of voters chose among programs offered by their betters.

Today, it means, as Ryszard Legutko says, “coercion to freedom,” where no political liberty is offered to those opposed to unbridled autonomy, and democracy means only being allowed to vote for what today’s elites, who are not Ortega’s minority, allow.

Ortega thought liberal democracy “announces the determination to share existence with the enemy.” Those who today howl “I can tolerate anything but intolerance” can have nothing in common with this sentiment. So perhaps we can say that Ortega may have been right, but liberal democracy as he used the term is dead, a casualty of the barbarism he feared, replaced by its zombie equivalent (although probably such zombification was inevitable, in the nature of liberal democracy, as several recent writers have claimed).

As I promised, let’s turn back to the second misconception about Ortega’s thoughts, regarding “experts.” In the past few years, there have been minor outbreaks of renewed interest in Ortega’s thoughts, always facile. For example, in the Atlantic, a colloquy recently appeared between a staff writer and a reader, where the statement was endorsed by both, that Ortega “describes a movement that appeals to a cross-section of non-intellectual people across class lines that seems to parallel Donald Trump’s cross-cultural appeal. There it seemed to lead to Fascism.” Ortega would have a conniption.

His objection is not that the mass man fails to be intellectual; it is that the mass man does not pursue excellence. For the most part, Ortega loathes modern intellectuals as the very worst type of mass man. Nor does he make any suggestion at all that mass men lead to Fascism; rather, he says that the domination of mass men leads to regression in political organization, one possible end of which is Fascism.

The Atlantic colloquy continues, with such gems as “[T]he digital age seems to have trouble accepting ‘elite’ consensus regarding complex topics such as climate change (and gun control, evolution and tax policy, among many other subjects where the vast majority of scientists, economists, etc., accept certain basic facts that are rejected by large swaths of the public).”

Ortega did not care about what scientists and economists had to say. At all. He would call them ignoramuses, narrow men whose narrow learning did not qualify them to say anything at all to society at large, especially about topics not subject to rigid calculation. His “elites” were men of excellence and broad learning, not sophists and calculators.

To Ortega, “special qualifications” are not those of experts. Our experts are scientists and similar types who are narrow and ignorant outside of a tiny area, yet presume to think otherwise. His leaders, to whom the mass should defer, are men of great mind, not technicians. They are aristocrats.

In fact, Ortega despises the “ ‘man of science,’ the high-point of European humanity,” as being actually “the prototype of the mass man.” This is because the days of scientific discoveries by generalists, like Newton, are over, and the days of narrow specialization by each scientist are here. Science itself is not specialized, and in fact must be informed by areas outside science—but scientific work, today, must be specialized.

The days of encyclopedic minds are gone, and what we have are specialists, each only knowledgeable in “the small corner of which he is an active investigator.” Given this hyper-specialization, men who are overall mediocre, rather than excellent, can actually keep science advancing (this is today called the “Ortega Hypothesis”), because “a fair amount of the things that have to be done in physics or biology is mechanical work of the mind which can be done by anyone, or almost anyone.”

But such men think they are excellent, even though each “knows very well his own tiny corner of the universe; [but] he is radically ignorant of all the rest.” He is a “learned ignoramus,” which is bad enough, but worse is in store, for “By specializing him, civilization has made him hermetic and self-satisfied within his limitations; but this very inner feeling of dominance and worth will induce him to wish to predominate outside his specialty. The result is . . . that he will behave in almost all spheres of life as does the unqualified, the mass-man.”

This is what we see, most of the time, when people demand that the public listen to “experts”—that we listen to specialists in one area who are thereby presumed to be competent to lecture us in areas either only loosely related, or, more often, wholly unrelated.

The names are endless, but include everyone from Bill Nye to Stephen Hawking. It is these specialists, Ortega says, who exist in a state of “ ‘not-listening,’ of not submitting to higher courts of appeal,” a characteristic of the mass man. That is, the experts we are told today we must listen to are, for Ortega, the archetypal mass men, whom we should ignore, and to whom we listen to at our peril.

Finally, Ortega veers off the mark in his last chapter, which covers a third of the book. Here, he extols the need for a European superstate. This chapter has various insights, including that force follows public opinion, and that if Europe does not rule the world, it is not clear that anyone will or can, leading inevitably to “universal barbarism.”

His analysis of nationalism is interesting (“In defending the nation we are defending our tomorrows, not our yesterdays”), but his idea that all states proceed to fusion of social classes (which seems in contradiction to the rest of his book) is demonstrably false. The biggest problem, though, is that he extends this idea of fusion, or consolidation, to extend beyond the nations of Europe, to a true fusion of Europe.

We have seen the zenith of this idea in our lifetimes, and it was not a very high zenith. It has been falsified that “The more faithful the national State of the West remains to its genuine inspiration, the more surely will it perfect itself in a gigantic continental state.” Nor is it true that “Only the determination to construct a great nation from the group of peoples of the Continent [will] give new life to the pulses of Europe.”

Quite the contrary, in fact, as we have seen. The so-called great nation is about to be no nation at all, as all can clearly see. It is not the failure of prediction that bothers me, but that the reasoning and analysis on which it is based, which is conclusory and fantastical, is far inferior to that in the rest of the book.

Despite the last chapter’s failings, this book is very much worth reading and pondering. (I read it because my mother asked me to, on the grounds that she would likely never get around to it herself, and I would do her a service by reviewing it). It does not offer a program to fix the problems identified—that is something we will have to come up with for ourselves.

I don’t know if Ortega had anything to say about that in his other writings. My guess is that he would not be surprised by Europe’s terminal decline, or by that America was able to extend his thirty-year deadline for the West by a few decades, yet is now in the same leaky boat of the Europe of 1930, but with more holes and more fat people in the boat.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows, “De landverhuizers” (the Emigrants), by Eugène Laermans, painted in 1894.