Spain In The Americas: A Conversation With Marcelo Gullo Omodeo

This wide-ranging conversation with Marcelo Gullo Omodeo, the Argentine academic, analyst and consultant in international relations, is a great pleasure and honor to bring to our readers. His most book, Madre Patria (Motherland), effectively analyses the devastating impact that the Black Legend has had on the great achievements of Spain in the Americas, a period now disparagingly known as “colonialism.” He discusses his book with Javier R. Portella, the publisher of the journal El Manifesto.


Javier R. Portella (JRP): “Motherland,” “Motherland”…. What memories the beautiful title of your wonderful book brings back. Memories of childhood, of school… Memories of youth… No, not of youth. Even then, the word was beginning to disappear from our heritage. Little by little, the very idea of homeland was wrapped in the rancid dust of contempt. Eventually motherland and fatherland disappeared from the map. No one in Spain today would utter these two words. And in that Hispanic America which, in order not to call it so, is called—or worse, we call it that—”Latin,” “motherland” it still uttered. Is Spain still thought of as the Motherland? I have heard the expression in Argentina and somewhere else, it is true. But I am afraid that…

Marcelo Gullo Omodeo (MGO): There was lots of talk about it, my dear Javier, and then there was even more talk. The homeland is always the “being” where “being” develops its existence. Our being is America; but our being was given to us by Spain. That Spain that had been for centuries—and is again today—a “being” that is in danger, always threatened by extinction—first against the subjugating Muslim imperialism and then against the Balkanizing Anglo-Saxon imperialism.

Numerous men of letters, such as the Uruguayan José Enrique Rodó, the Argentines Manuel Ugarte and Manuel Gálvez, the Mexican José Vasconcelos, the Peruvian Enrique Santos Chocano, numerous politicians, such as the Uruguayan Luis Alberto de Herrera, the Peruvians Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre and Luis Alberto Sánchez, the Colombian Eliecer Gaitan, the Argentines Roque Saenz Peña, Hipolito Yrigoyen, Juan Domingo Peron, the legendary Evita, but above all the vast majority of the Argentine and Latin American people, mainly its humblest sectors, felt Spain as our Motherland. I still remember Luzmila Méndez Ramírez, a humble and knowledgeable woman of Indian race whose mother-tongue was Quechua, born deep in the Peruvian highlands, who struggled all her life, being always a domestic servant, telling me, one October 12, while watching on television the demonstrations of the young people of Lima repudiating Spain: “Don Marcelo, they are wrong, Spain is our Motherland.”

Marcelo Gullo Omodeo.

Allow me to quote one of Eva Perón’s most moving speeches about Spain and the conquest of America:

“The epic of the discovery and conquest is, fundamentally, a popular epic. We are, then, not only legitimate children of the discoverers and conquerors, but direct heirs of their deeds and of the flame of eternity that they carried over the seas. October 12 is, for the same reason, a celebration of Hispanic culture, which touches Spain as well as its daughters in America. Let us fight as the men of Cortés, Mendoza, Balboa and Pizarro knew how to fight. This is my tribute to Columbus Day, the day of the people who gave us our being and bequeathed us their spirituality. May they be blessed!”

These words of Evita say it all.

In 1927, in the tango La gloria del águila, an emotional Carlos Gardel calls Spain “Madre Patria querida de mi amor” (Dear Motherland of my love). That was the feeling of the majority of the Argentine and Latin American population, before the “Black Legend” poison (through the cultural propaganda made by the “globalist left,” whose most important political expression today in Argentina is Kirchnerism) penetrated the spirit of the youth.

JRP: I am going to ask you something a little difficult perhaps, since there are many and substantial things in your book. I would like to ask you to summarize for me, concisely, the core, the essence of your defense of Spain and your plea against the Black Legend.

MGO: Spain’s defense can be summarized in a single sentence: Spain did not conquer America, Spain liberated America. In reality there was no conquest, but rather the liberation of America—as the Mexican Vasconcelos affirms—from “all that rank yerba of the soul which is the cannibalism of the Caribs, the human sacrifices of the Aztecs, the stultifying despotism of the Incas.”

In my work, Madre Patria (Motherland), making an objective analysis of history, I demonstrate in a simple but scientific way that Hernán Cortés did not conquer Mexico. It was the opposite of the story elaborated by the Black Legends because the political action of Cortes was oriented to help hundreds of nations to organize themselves, under his military and political leadership, most definitely, to stop being oppressed by the most bloodthirsty totalitarian state of all times.

The main dilemma was, for the nations dominated by the Aztecs, one of life or death. To continue under Aztec dependence would have meant, for the Tlaxcaltecs and Totonacs, for example, to continue being—literally—devoured by the Aztecs. Liberation meant ceasing to be the main food of the Aztecs. That said, the other contradictions were evidently secondary.

In addition, it is materially impossible to think that, with only three hundred men, four old arquebuses and some horses, Hernán Cortés could defeat Moctezuma’s army of three hundred thousand fierce, disciplined and brave soldiers. It would have been impossible, even if the three hundred Spaniards had had automatic rifles like those used today by the Spanish army. Thousands of Indians from the oppressed nations fought, together with Cortés, against the Aztecs. That is why the Mexican José Vasconcelos affirms that “the conquest was made by the natives.”

As I prove in my book Madre Patria (Motherland), Aztec imperialism was the most atrocious in the history of mankind: thousands and thousands of people from the subjugated peoples were sacrificed every day; a domination that demanded tribute—but tribute in blood. In what we now call Mexico, there was an oppressor nation and hundreds of oppressed nations, from which the Aztecs not only took away raw materials—as all imperialisms have done throughout history—but they also took away their children, their brothers, to sacrifice them in their temples and then distribute the dismembered bodies of the victims in their butcher shops as if they were pork chops or chicken legs—so that these dismembered human beings served as substantial food for the Aztec population.

The scientific evidence we have today leaves no room for doubt in this regard. Such was the quantity of human sacrifices made by the Aztecs of the people enslaved by them that, with the skulls, they built the walls of their buildings and temples. The main food of the Aztec nobility and priestly caste was human flesh of the oppressed peoples. The nobility reserved the thighs for themselves, and the entrails were left to the general public. This says it all—and that, precisely, is what the pseudo-thinkers and professors of the “globalist Left” hide, financed, until recently, by Baring or the Rockefellers, and, today, by Soros and company. If Hernán Cortés was successful, it was because he told those subjugated peoples that this was going to end: “…with us this will never happen again.”

In reality, for the inhabitants of what we now call Mexico, the conquest meant that 80 percent of the population was liberated from the most macabre and monstrous imperialism that the history of mankind has ever known. And something similar to what happened in Mexico happened in Peru and Colombia.

If Spain has to apologize for having defeated the anthropophagous Aztec imperialism and the stultifying imperialism of the Incas, both the United States and Russia would have to apologize for having defeated the genocidal Nazi imperialism. Of course, the battles for Tenochtitlan and Cuzco were bloody, but as bloody, by the way, as the landing in Normandy or the battle for Berlin that put an end to Nazi totalitarianism.

JRP: There are many questions that surprise and catch the reader’s attention in your book. For example, it is the first time—I don’t think I’m wrong—that someone has made the connection between the denigrations that are launched against Spain by the Black Legend and by the Catalan secessionists. What can you tell us about it?

MGO: When during the so-called Transition most Spanish politicians of the Left and Right assumed, by commission or omission, the Black Legend as something true, they gave rise to Catalan separatists, taking refuge in the Black Legend (now accepted by the Spanish Right who wanted to get democratic credentials) saying: “just as Spain conquered and plundered America, so it conquered and plundered Catalonia. Spain is a historical devouring monster of peoples.” Then, based on that false premise, they began to indoctrinate children in schools to hate Spain and its common language. And it worked, because if the children were told that just as Spain had gone to America to steal and rape women, it had penetrated Catalonia to carry out the same misdeeds. It was logical to expect that when those children became adults they would say, we want the independence of Catalonia because we do not want to be part dominated by the “vampire” of peoples that is Spain. This axial fact—the indoctrination of children in the Black Legend—plunges Spain, almost inexorably, into territorial fragmentation.

Out of political sympathy, “Catalan separatism” promotes today, in Latin America, with the money of all Spanish taxpayers, and counting on the sympathy of the international imperialism of money, the “fragmenting indigenist fundamentalism.” The Catalan separatists, impregnated with hatred for Spain, would love, for example, that in the Ecuadorian jungle all traces of Spanish were lost; that in Peru, in the region of Cuzco, the use of Spanish was abandoned and only Quechua was spoken; that in Puno the exclusive use of Aymara was imposed and Spanish was forgotten; that in the south of Chile and in the Argentine Patagonia, the Mapuche language was imposed with blood and fire and Spanish speakers were persecuted. Catalan separatist nationalism and balkanizing fundamentalist indigenism are twin brothers, since both share the same eagerness to erase everything Spanish; thus serving the interests of those who want to deconstruct Spain and fragment the Spanish-American republics.

Peoples who do not know where they come from do not know where they have to go; or rather, where they are being led by those who have falsified their history—towards the edge of the abyss; that is, towards their historical suicide.

JRP: And since we were talking about the Catalan secession, another novel element of Madre Patria is what you reveal about South American independence. One is astonished when one learns that the Indians, during the matricidal wars against the Motherland… What happened then to the Indians, “the original peoples?” They were supposed to fight against Spain as fiercely as the Creoles, weren’t they?

MGO: The history written by the Black-Legendarians has always hidden the fact that the native peoples in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Chile were against independence. They have hidden it because that fact, historically irrefutable, as I show in Madre Patria, makes the whole Black Legend of the Spanish conquest of America fall like a house of cards. Francisco de Miranda—who commanded an army formed by the sons of Spaniards who had enriched themselves through smuggling—was defeated by the Jirahara Indians whose language was Chibcha; and Simón Bolívar could only crush the Guajira Indians, the Pashto Indians and the mass of blacks and mulattoes who fought against him to their last breath; and he could only crush them with the help of the thousand British soldiers, veterans of the European war, sent to his aid by His Gracious British Majesty. In the mountains of Peru, the Indians opposed independence and fought, led by the cacique Antonio Huachaca, in a struggle that incredibly lasted until 1839. In Chile, the Mapuche people in their totality, commanded by the chiefs Nekulman, Mariwán, Mangín Weno and Ñgidol Toki Kilipán, remained loyal to Spain until Spain was defeated, on the dawn of January 14, 1832, at the battle of the lagoons of Epulafquenen, by the “very white” Chilean general Don Manuel Bulnes.

There is no doubt, as the Marxist historian Juan José Hernández Arregui dared to affirm, that “the emancipation from Spain was not desired at the time by the American peoples.” That is why, when General Don José de San Martín landed in Peru and realized, at that moment, that independence was not wanted by the indigenous masses and that they had all fallen into a British trap, he desperately sought an agreement to put an end to the fratricidal war, through the creation of a constitutional Empire with its capital in Madrid. Unfortunately, Spain was then ruled by one of the most inept kings in its history, who opposed any kind of negotiation that would put an end to what was in reality a civil war, to what was literally a painful family war.

JRP: And, to conclude, a question to reflect with you on something that emerges from your book: What is it, dear Marcelo, in the soul of Spaniards—on both sides of the Atlantic—that makes us so absurdly, so stubbornly masochistic? What is it that makes us detest to such an extent the greatest thing we have ever done in our history?

Because, of course, it is clear that the Black Legend is an extraordinary operation of “political marketing” (you nailed it with this formulation) that has been set in motion by our enemies. But none of that would have worked—at any rate, not in such a colossal way—without our kind and solicitous collaboration. Starting with the deceptions propagated by a Fray Bartolomé de las Casas and ending with the consent, active or silent, of so many of our thinkers and writers. Only now, with the publishing boom of María Elvira Roca Barea and with what, hopefully, will also be the publishing boom of Marcelo Gullo Omodeo (which, by the way, I see has been a best-seller on Amazon for three months now) is something like an awareness of the truth and the greatness of what we are, because of having been what we were, and are finally beginning to grasp. And this, despite the stones thrown by our enemies… and those that we ourselves throw on our own roof.

But why this mania for self-blame and self-attack, in a way that—as you yourself point out—no other people would ever have allowed themselves to be belittled, degraded and attacked?

MGO: It is a question, my dear Javier, that breaks my soul because I have no answer. It is an enigma of history.


Featured image: “Marriage of Martin de Loyola to Princess Dona Beatriz and Don Juan Borja to Lorenza,” Cusco School, 1718. [This interview comes through the courtesy of El Manifesto].

Inventing The Fantasy Of The Convivencia In Al-Andalus

1. Al-Andalus Propaganda

The notion of the Convivencia began with the studies of the philologist, Américo Castro, which he put into writing during his American exile. Contrary to the traditional, nationalist discourse of the eternal nature of Spain and the Spaniards, which marginalised the role of Islamic-Arab rule, Castro sought to ascribe a central role in the formation of the “homo hispanicus” to precisely this historical period.

In his first work on this subject, España en su historia. Christianos, moros y judíos which appeared in 1948 and was later reprinted in a revised edition in 1966 and also published in English translation, Américo Castro explained the “convivencia de christianos, moros y judíos” (“the Convivencia of Christians, Moors and Jews”) by way of “tolerancia islámica (“Islamic tolerance”). Castro explained that during the period of the caliphate, this led to a unique fusion of the three religious “castes.” The attitude of the subjugated population was characterised by submission and at the same time by admiration for the superiority of the conquerors; but then also by the endeavour to overcome the position of inferiority, whereby later military victories over the Muslims are said not to have changed their admiration for them.

Kenneth Baxter Wolf, Maya Soifer Irish, Bruna Soravia and especially Eduardo Manzano Moreno have all made insightful contributions to this concept of the Convivencia. Manzano Moreno’s studies show that Spanish al-Andalus experts are on the whole very critical of the Convivencia myth, and have been so since the 1960s. It was and is considered an ideological construct that has neither foundation in real history nor a basis upon the sources available to us.

According to the unanimous assessment of most Spanish historians, Américo Castro had mainly indulged his personal convictions, relying selectively on individual literary passages, while neglecting the available historical sources. Manzano Moreno lists in detail several points of criticism from a historian’s point of view: Castro’s scant interest in the chronological sequence of historical events; the mixing of data from numerous different and distinct periods; the search, taken to an extreme, for parallels, even the most far-fetched, in various literary texts; the far-reaching neglect of all economic factors; and finally, the idea that only native-born Spaniards could adequately understand their own history.

Postmodern and postcolonial humanities scholars, mostly in Anglo-American academia, took up this idea and went on to reinterpret the presumed utopia of the Convivencia as a kind of distribution station for the unimpeded flow of cultural and artistic paradigms from the Arab to the European worlds, as a symbol of a beneficial globalisation process that resisted the narrow-minded local interests of individual nations.

This glorification of al-Andalus goes hand-in-hand with a blatant misjudgment of the real circumstances and events, indeed with a general ignorance of the primary and secondary sources, unless they are available in English. In addition, the unscientific, anti-historical and anti-philological attitudes of many American postmodernists was spurred on by post-colonial studies, especially the completely baseless attacks on European Oriental studies by Edward Said. The most significant representative of such is the late María Rosa Menocal, formerly Sterling Professor of Spanish Studies at Yale.

Menocal used many of the arguments and some of the same examples that Jewish historians of science in the 19th and 20th centuries used to justify the concept of a “Golden Age” in al-Andalus. However, unlike the Jewish historians of science, she consciously employed anachronistic concepts. Thus, for example, when she defines the Middle Ages as being “postmodern” vis-à-vis Modernity, it fits very well with her desire to tell the story “in the lyric mode.” Naturally, this was very popularly received in the mass media and at university campuses, where departments of comparative literature, and especially those of cultural studies, enthusiastically embrace all new fads, such as, postmodernism and postcolonial studies, irrespective of their scientific merit.

Such utopian and idyllic views of Islamic rule in al-Andalus, propagated by Menocal and her followers, are further promoted by mass culture because of political demands for fruitful dialogues between cultures and by the culture industry’s need for simple models and solutions to complex problems. Such tendencies, however, naturally also have an impact on academic studies, as can be clearly seen in the section devoted to the literature of al-Andalus, edited by Menocal, in the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature.

According to Menocal, the resplendent culture of the Court of the Caliphs in 10th century Cordoba is linked to a great respect for the Other and a willingness to accept one’s own contradictions. This, she says, triggered a tremendous creative surge that manifested itself in significant intellectual, artistic and social achievements. The most positive thing about the Islamic tradition would thus have been a resultant attitude that accepted and integrated the most diverse world-views, religions and tendencies without renouncing the particularities of its own identity. One looks in vain in her essay in the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature for evidence that this narrative has any factual foundation in reality.

Unrealistic praise of Islamic Spain is, however, not limited to the academic world. This can also be found on the UNESCO website. Long before 9/11, UNESCO had already granted Convivencia propaganda a large international platform. Al-Andalus in particular was praised as a model of a society with free interreligious dialogue: The “fruitful dialectic between the three great monotheistic religions” led to the flourishing of a universalism in the light of which “the rationalist, philosophical and scientific thought of ancient Iran and Greece” was reformulated, wrote Haïm Zafrani, for example.

Under the auspices of UNESCO, Pierre Philippe Rey (“Al-Andalus: Scientific Heritage and European Thought”) underlines the importance of Andalusia as the crucible of European rationalism. According to him, no figure stands so clearly for this origin as “Ibn Rushd (Averroes) physician, jurist and philosopher;” and also his contemporary “Ibn Maimūn, a Jew by religion (known in mediaeval Europe as Maimonides).” Tolerance and inter-religious cooperation in al-Andalus are also highly praised on the UNESCO page. Mohamed Benchrifa, for example, says: “Throughout the period of Islamic rule, Andalusia… was home to forms of tolerance not observed until modern times. It was a genuine land of dialogue, a dialogue that was both serene and lively.”

A more differentiated view of the historical conditions in al-Andalus (a view certainly not very widespread among Anglo-American academics, such as the humanities scholars mentioned above) can hardly be expected from politicians or Muslim imams. First and foremost, the Islamic terrorist attacks of 9/11 strongly promoted political yearnings to see Islam as a peaceful and tolerant religion, and al-Andalus seemed to offer itself as a historical archetype, a legendary dream-destination of religious tolerance, at least according to academic propaganda.

Therefore, it was only logical for the New York Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to propose “Cordoba House” as the name for the Islamic centre planned near the destroyed New York towers (now Park51). In this city, after all, “Muslims, Christians and Jews would have co-existed in the Middle Ages, during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims.” He thus indirectly echoed a comparable assessment of Islamic Spain by then President Barack Obama in a speech at Cairo University, in the course of which he referred to the “proud” tradition of Islamic tolerance: “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance – as we see in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.” It was also Islam, Obama continued, that brought forward “the light of learning” and paved the way for the European Renaissance and Enlightenment.

The chronological reference “during the Inquisition” is, of course, nonsensical. The Christian Inquisition was not officially introduced until the end of the 15th century – but its critical mention here is probably intended to make the radiant splendour of a peaceful, tolerant and scientifically productive Islamic rule shine all the brighter in contrast to the Christianised West, which remains “ignorant” of the Islamic roots of its modernity!

2. Islamic Orthodoxy, Intolerance And Violence

However, as Manzano Moreno has already pointed out, the documented history of the period of Islamic rule does not confirm the aforementioned intellectual and political praise of the conditions in Córdoba, since most of the rulers of this period made a name for themselves primarily as strict guardians of intolerant Sunni Malikite orthodoxy. Mention should be made, for example, of the persecution of the followers of Ibn Masarra, the first independent thinker in al-Andalus, the suppression of all Shiite and Ismaili movements; or, in the case of Almanzor, the destruction of the philosophical and astrological books of the great library in Córdoba.Charges of heresy (zandaqa) were brought against theologians, philosophers, literary figures and poets. However, it is not known what the charges consisted of, in detail. In many cases, Muʿtazilite theorists, for example, but also scientists, such as, the Andalusian “Euclid” ʽAbd al-Raḥmān b. Ismāīl ibn Badr, who had made a name for himself in geometry and with a compendium of Aristotle’s Organon, fled to the seemingly more tolerant Orient.

If such violence could erupt within the ruling population group itself, it was all the more a permanent and imminent danger towards those of other faiths. The Arab sources, however, are generally rather silent about them. We learn about the situation of the Christians mainly thanks to the hagiographies of the “voluntary martyrs” of Córdoba, who caused a sensation in the 9th century and were executed during the time of the caliphate.

Violence though was generally nothing out of the ordinary in pre-modern times. This is why it is also to be expected in Islamic societies and hence its idealisation by the Convivencia propagandists is simply out of touch with history. First and foremost, of course, was politically motivated violence, which could also be directed inner-dynastically against one’s own children and family members. This was possible even among the Ṭāʾifa kings of Seville, who are viewed as having been particularly liberal and obsessed with poetry. Veritable orgies of violence and murder in the power struggles characterised the rule of the Naṣrids in the 14th century, who are praised in Convivencia propaganda above all as the builders of the Alhambra in Granada.

During periods of weakened central power, the administrators of the rulers, fighting for influence, then rampaged murderously against each other. In addition to the regular judiciary with its prisons, the Cordovan seat of power, set up its own penal regime which were not controlled by any Islamic judge, and in which, as a rule, no one was supposed to survive. And finally, there were murders not only of Christians but also of the Jewish population, often but not exclusively religiously motivated, especially in the 1066 Granada massacre, in which thousands of Jews perished.

3. Native Christians: From Participation In Public Governance To Oppression And Marginalisation

For several decades, autochthonous Christians and Saracens allegedly shared the church of San Vicente in Córdoba. If it were true, this would speak for tolerance in the context of a conflict-free coexistence in the early days of al-Andalus, i.e., at a time when Sunni Malikite law was not yet known. However, this claim is only found in later Arabic sources.

ʽAbd al-Raḥmān, the first Umayyad emir, is then said to have bought the church from the Christians in 785 and destroyed it in order to build a new house of prayer in its place. The third emir, al-Hakam I, had no confidence in his Arab palace guard in view of the unrest in Cordoba and bought slaves to make a new force, whose commander he appointed the leader of the Cordovan Christians, the Comes Rabiʽ, son of Theodulf of Orléans.

However, the Emir’s son, ʽAbd al-Raḥmān II, had the Christian count Rabiʽ crucified in order to secure the sympathies of at least parts of the Muslim population and the Islamic jurists. Rabīʾ had been accused of misconduct both towards the “faithful” and towards the Christian community. Above all, he was said to have been guilty of having set up a public granary where wine was sold and thus given cause to public transgression. The religiously and morally indignant emir, who was himself known for his dissolute and wine-fuelled festivities, had the granary razed to the ground. The judges, however, had disavowed Rabīʾ both his Christianity and his origin from the indigenous Visigothic population, for he was executed both as an “infidel” (kāfir) and as an ethnic or linguistic stranger (ʿağām).

In the mid ninth century, the famous protests of the Cordovan Christian martyrs occurred. By 858, almost 50 Christians publicly confessed Jesus Christ, rejected Islam as false doctrine and called Mohammed a false prophet. They were all executed. On the one hand, these Christians were monks, including those who had come to Spain from the Orient, that is, priests – but, on the other, also lay people, some of whom came from Christian families; others from mixed Christian-Muslim families. Since the fathers in these families were Muslims, the children were also legally Muslims. So, if they professed Christianity and insulted the Prophet, they had to be punished by death, not only for blasphemy but also for apostasy from the Muslim faith. At least, this is what the Malikite law (discussed below) unequivocally requires. In some cases, their bodies were crucified as a deterrent, and hung on the city gates. However, when it became known that their bones were collected and venerated as relics, the sentences of the executioners stipulated burning them and then scattering the ashes on the Guadalquivir.

John V. Tolan has justified the critical attitude of the voluntary martyrs towards Islam with the argument that they had countered the culture of the colonisers with their own culture of resistance. In doing so, they would have been doing exactly what Edward Saïd defined in Culture and Imperialism as the right of the oppressed to affirm their own oppressed values and culture. This right implied the right to attack the positions of the colonial masters. According to Tolan, the martyr Eulogius used hair-raising insinuations to this end, which could in no way be substantiated by Muslim tradition. As an example, he cited the accusation that Mohammed had announced that he would deflower the virgin Mary in the afterlife. However, this criticism should be countered by the fact that a hadith does indeed report an announcement by Muhammad that God would marry him to the virgin Mary in the hereafter.

Tolan’s justification of the Christian martyrs is an exception in recent historiography. Other, equally serious, historians are not afraid to take the executions of the martyrs as proof that the Muslim “authorities” behaved in a particularly tolerant and profoundly reasonable manner (“…the incident… does show the tolerance and essential reasonableness of the Muslim authorities”). For such friends of al-Andalus, anti-Muslim rebellion and criticism of Islam can apparently only be explained by blindness to reality and ingratitude towards their Muslim masters (For example, Georg Bossong’s Die christliche Märtyrerbewegung gefährdete das gute Zusammenleben zwischen den Religionen (“The Christian martyrdom movement endangered good coexistence between religions”). But on the basis of which set of values are the executioners of the critics of Mohammed to be regarded as particularly tolerant and peaceful?

During the period of the governors and emirs, Christians had long been able to play an increasingly important role in the administration of al-Andalus. This changed with the accession of Emir Muḥammad I (852-886). Even before that though, the ʽulamā had stirred up public resentment against Christians and Jews in high offices. These offices were henceforth finally to be entrusted to Muslims alone. Under Muḥammad I, his Christian secretary Qūmis b. Antunyān therefore converted to Islam. He aspired to the office of vizier and hoped to be able to accommodate this growing anti-Christian propaganda through his conversion, which, however, only affected himself, not his family. But his conversion was considered spurious. He was convicted of apostasy and the Emir therefore confiscated his not inconsiderable property.

Muḥammad I’s policy of weakening the Christians of Córdoba and al-Andalus in general by dividing the clergy bore its first visible fruit at the Synod of 862. Here, there was a split among the bishops, with the forces allied with the Emir initially gaining the upper hand. Bishop Hostegesis, who had been condemned by Abbot Samson (Sansón de Córdoba) for heretical theological teachings, succeeded on this occasion in having Samson himself expelled from the Christian community by the other bishops and barred from all offices when Samson refused to oppose a traditional Spanish antiphon.

Hostegesis had acquired the episcopate of Malaga by purchase at the age of 20. His father, who had previously held it, had converted to Islam in order to avoid conviction for serious fraud against Christians under Christian Visigothic law, which secured him immunity from prosecution. Hostegesis excelled in extreme tax extortion of Christians, which he had had authorised by Córdoba, and squandered the wealth he acquired in this way way, among other things, orgies with high Islamic dignitaries in the capital of al-Andalus. On behalf of the Emir, he worked closely with the head of the Cordovan Christians, Servandus, with whom he had agreed not only to fleece Christians for taxes, but also to spread heresies and propaganda for conversion to Islam.

Most of the bishops, at the insistence of Valentius, Bishop of Córdoba, later withdrew their condemnation of Samson, reinstating him in office. Nevertheless, the power of the Christian enemies Hostegesis and Servandus was not broken. Thanks to the authoritative intervention of Muḥammad I, they unceremoniously deposed Valentius as Bishop of Córdoba and appointed as his successor, supported by Muslim legal advisors, one Stephanus Flacco. A church assembly, to which all the Christians of Córdoba were invited, but most of whom did not appear out of fear and were replaced by Jews as well as Muslims, approved this procedure, which contradicted all canonical regulations.

Thus, Islamic rule, in cooperation with corrupt and heretical bishops, ensured that the organisational foundations of Christian life were increasingly destroyed. It was already being eroded by the pressure to conform and by excessive taxation, as well as by the legal discrimination, which corresponded with the enforcement of Malikite law.

4. Intolerance And Oppression Of Women In Sunni Malikite Law

I. The Introduction And Dominance Of Sunni Sharia Law

In almost all accounts of al-Andalus, the rule of Islam is seen to have lasted from 711 to 1495. However, such a sweeping view undercuts the fact that inscriptional evidence for terms such as “Islam” and “Muslim” from the first half of the 8th century is just as unattested as is the Sunni Malikite law that later shaped jurisprudence in al-Andalus. Contrary to traditional historiography, the latter was not already established by legendary companions of the Prophet or their descendants, nor, as is often reported, by the Syrian Muʿāwiya b. Ṣāliḥ al-Ḥaḍramī (d. 158/774), but only in the 9th century, primarily, though not exclusively, by Ibn Ḥabīb.

Therefore only from the 9th century on could Islamic rulers gradually begin to enforce Malikite law. Then, however, it became binding for the Muslims of al-Andalus for centuries and in this respect became thereafter a defining feature of the Islam that prevailed there. That it would have encouraged tolerance, which is supposedly so characteristic of this Andalusian Islam, is certainly not justified by the code itself.

The most widespread legal treatise here was the Kitāb al-Tafrī (collection of Malikite legislation by the scholar al-Tafrī) from the 10th century, which was translated into an Aragonese-tinged Romanesque using the Arabic script in the 14th century. It retained validity for Muslims even under Christian rulers into the 16th century. The latest manuscript dates from 1585.

Similarly important were: the North African Mudawwana from the 9th century and its supplement, the ʿUtbiyya; the Risāla fī al-Fiqh (10th century); the Maḍāhib al-ḥukkām fī nawāzil al-aḥkām (12th century); Ibn Āṣim al-Andalusī’s (1357-1414) Tuh’fat al- ḥukām fī nukat al-ʿuqoūd wal-aḥkām; and Ibn Rushd’s (1126-1198) – known in the West as the great Aristotelian Averroes – Bidāyat al-Muğtahid wa-Nihāyat al-Muqtasid.

All the works listed refer primarily to the teachings (muwaṭṭa: “The Well-Paved Path”) attributed to Mālik ibn Anas (8th century), cited here according to the compilation transmitted by Yahya Ibn Kathīr al-Andalusī. More often than to Mālik ibn Anas himself, however, the ʿUtbiyya referred to the Malikite jurist Ibn al-Qāsim. In al-Andalus, Malikite law aspired to permeate all aspects of private and public life.

II. Jihad, Ğizya (“Poll Tax”) And Other Forms Of Discrimination Against Non-Muslims

The interpretation of jihad as war to be waged against all “infidels” for the purpose of spreading and defending Islam is often confronted with the objection that jihad first and foremost means, according to the Qur’an, the “inner struggle on the path of God,” i.e., as in an “effort for personal purification and avoidance of evil.” Those who understand this term in this way, however, overlook the fact that this spiritual understanding was a special feature of the Ṣūfīs, i.e., it did not apply to the Sunni world as a whole, in which, by the way, the Ṣūfīs were repeatedly subjected to persecution. This is also true of Muslim Spain.

The military significance of the jihad provision, according to which its aim is to fight the idolaters or the infidels (dār al-ḥarb), is completely undisputed in the literature. Armed struggle for the purpose of spreading Islam can only cease when the whole world is subjected to the rule of Islam (dār al-islam). This is how jihad is understood throughout the early literature from aṭ-Ṭabarī, al-Buḫārī or Ṣaḥīḥ Tirmiḏī to Ibn Saʾd or as-Suyūṭī. From the Sunni perspective, Muslims of other religious observances, such as Shiites or Kharijites, are also considered “infidels,” and thus are to be fought.

The bellicose meaning of jihad described above also existed in Muslim Spain, at least since the introduction of Sunni Malikite law. It unequivocally demands war against infidels unless they submit, and it promises paradise to those who wage this war.

The great Aristotelian Ibn Rushd (Averroes), who was also a jurist in the Malikite tradition, in his writing Bidayat al-Muğtahid also considered jihad as armed struggle, obligatory if the opposing infidels do not accept Islam after being asked to convert. If they do not convert, however, they can be left alive, provided they submit and pay the poll tax (ğizya). It is nevertheless permissible to enslave them, both men or women. But it is also permitted to kill them immediately. According to Mālik Ibn Anas, only the chronically ill, the blind, old people incapable of fighting, the feeble-minded and hermits were exempt. Scholars are not in complete agreement about these exceptions, however. If golden crosses were found in churches during the conquest, they were to be broken before being distributed to the soldiers as booty. The holy books of the Christians, however, should be made to disappear.

Such intolerant rules do not really need any further comment. They show manifestly enough that it was not “Islam” to which we owe the development of European rationalism, for which, according to the UNESCO website, Ibn Rushd/Averroes is a prime representative. For him, “Islam” is clearly defined by the deeply intolerant Malikite law.

The poll tax (ğizya) was not an invention of the Muslims. What distinguished the Muslim poll tax from the taxation practised in the Roman Empire, for example, was its religious discriminatory function. It did not exist for Muslims, but only for “protected” (better, “tolerated”) infidels or ḏhimmīs. Mālik ibn Anas’ Muwaṭṭa explained the difference between dues that a Muslim had to pay and those imposed on the ḏhimmī by saying that the zakat (“almsgiving”) was necessary for the purification of Muslims and brought them honour, while the ğizya served to humiliate the ḏhimmī.

Thus, the focus here was not on the idea of protection, which is always emphasised as central in the literature, but on humiliating the “unbelievers.” In addition to the poll tax, a tax was levied on income from agriculture (ḫarāğ). The “protection contract” (ḏhimma – much like a “protection racket”) was, of course, only valid if the “protected” also paid on time and meticulously fulfilled all other (unilateral) contractual obligations. Otherwise, they were deprived of their rights and could be killed without further ado.

Darío Fernández-Morera has compiled a whole series of further rules applied by Muslim al-Andalus to the ḏhimmī, at least some of which I will mention here with reference to the relevant sources:

  • A Muslim who raped a free Christian woman was whipped; a Christian who raped a free Muslim woman was killed.
  • A Muslim who slandered a Muslim was flogged; a Christian who slandered a Christian was not whipped. A Muslim who killed a Christian was not executed. Such a murder counted for half as much as the murder of a Muslim. A Christian, on the other hand, was to be executed whether his murder of a Muslim was insidious or not.
  • If a debtor converted to Islam before he had paid his debt to a member of his former religion, he was (according to the Mudawwana) immediately free of debt.
  • A Muslim could have a Christian slave, but a Christian could not have a Muslim slave.
  • A Muslim was allowed to have sex with a Christian slave, but a Christian was not allowed to have sex with a Muslim slave.
  • A Muslim was allowed to marry a free Christian woman, but a Christian was not allowed to marry or have sex with a Muslim woman. This was punishable by death. All children fathered by a Muslim were to be raised as Muslims themselves, even if their mother was not a Muslim. Since Muslims were allowed to have up to four wives and as many concubines as they could afford, this legal provision led to an inexorable shift in the demographic balance in favour of Muslims, who were already attracted by the other legal and above all fiscal privileges.

In disputes with Muslims over property, trade and market issues, Christians and Jews could appeal to Muslim judges or other officials, but they had to bring an officially recognised witness for their accusation. Whether this gave them equal legal rights, however, is not only uncertain, but actually unlikely because of the requirement for official recognition of such witnesses – for non-Muslims could not in principle be recognised as witnesses according to the Muwaṭṭaʾ and the Mudawwana, not even in disputes betwixt non-Muslims. Only if they were indispensable experts, such as in medical matters for example, was it permitted for their testimony to be taken into account.

Business relations with Muslims were encumbered for Jewish lenders or lessors by the general assumption that Jews would invariably try to cheat Muslims. Therefore, in legal disputes in which Jews sought to recover their loans or leased land from Muslims, an oath by the defendant Muslims that they owed nothing to the Jews was sufficient to leave the Jews empty-handed.

The primary concern of the Muslim jurists was and remained the possible defilement of Muslims by touching things and food that had previously been touched by impure non-Muslims. They were unclean mainly because they might have eaten forbidden food, such as, garlic or pork or even drunk wine. But this Islamic jurisprudence also made the ground unbelievers, i.e., Jews and Christians, walked on with their bare feet unclean. In order to avoid touching them, as early as the 9th century, Christians and Jews were supposed to wear a distinguishing piece of cloth or belt. Food bought from unbelievers could be eaten, but meat had to be slaughtered in accordance with Islamic rules, etc.

The demand for fundamental distancing from all non-Muslims, which contradicts all Convivencia myths, is also articulated in the fatwa issued more than a hundred years later by another respected jurist, who was able to refer directly to the Qur’an for this purpose: “It is better for you if you do not enter into any kind of association with anyone who adheres to a religion other than yours” (Sura 60: 13; 3: 118-119).

III. Oppression Of Women And Genital Mutilation

In depictions of al-Andalus, which are primarily concerned with promoting Muslim Spain as a model of a tolerant and open society, it is often emphasised that women in al-Andalus enjoyed a much higher degree of self-determined freedom than women in the Christian world of the Middle Ages. Such propaganda, however, is only possible if one closes one’s eyes to the evidence of Muslim legal decrees.

This, in the case of the Malikite regulations on female genital mutilation, is claimed, for example, even by researchers who have otherwise dealt with the situation of women in al-Andalus in an extremely learned and thorough manner, such as Manuela Marín, Janina Safran or Soha Abboud-Haggar.

How self-evident female circumcision was for the author of the Muwaṭṭa is shown by the fact that it is only mentioned in connexion with questions that were apparently considered more important, such as, when a great ritual ablution or the repetition of the pilgrimage was necessary. They are necessary when the circumcised genitals of sexual partners have met. The circumcision of women is explicitly discussed in later Muslim legal literature. Thus, the Risāla of al-Qayrawānī states: “Circumcision is an obligatory tradition (sunna) for men, and for women (clitoral) circumcision (khifaḍ) is a recommended practice;” “…male circumcision is a sacred duty (sunna), and for women (clitoral) circumcision is a recommended practice.” The work by al-Tafri, which was particularly important for Spanish Muslims until the 16th century, also states that circumcision is obligatory for men and honourable for women.

Incidentally, women were not allowed to go out in public alone, but only in the company of their husbands or a male relative with whom no sexual relationship was possible due to kinship. Otherwise, they were only allowed to go out in the street in the company of women; and even then, only for an important reason. And, of course, veiled.

Manuela Marín relates the following anecdote from 10th-century Umayyad Cordoba: A scholar takes his wife and son, who is still a child, to a jurist for a legal opinion concerning the wife and child. The woman is said to have been veiled when she left the house. The jurist, after the scholar had sat down, allowed the child to sit down as well. The mother, however, remained standing. The jurist pointed to her and asked the child who that was. The child replied that it was his mother. Although the legal issue related to her as well, she played no further role. Her husband spoke exclusively on her behalf and her identity was witnessed by the child. She was not permitted to speak for herself.

5. Discriminatory Sunni Malikite Regulations In The 12th Century

From the time of the Almoravid rule in al-Andalus, we have, for example, the anti-Christian and anti-Jewish statements of a legal scholar or market overseer from Seville, Ibn ʽAbdūn. The discourse found in chapter 169 of this treatise is particularly discriminatory:

“One must not allow any tax collector, policeman, Jew or Christian, to wear the splendid clothes of an honourable person, neither those of a lawyer, nor even those of a decent man; on the contrary, one must rather detest and shun them. Nor should they be greeted with the formula, ‘Peace be with you,’ for ‘Satan has taken complete possession of them and made them forget the name of God; they are the party of Satan, and, verily, the party of Satan is the party of those who lose.’ They must wear a badge that they may be recognisable and that they may be abased.”

The fact that splendid raiment is forbidden for Jews as well as Christians and that they are supposed to wear identifying insignia on their clothing could be suggestive that there may well have been “unbelievers” in splendid attire and without discriminatory insignia. However, whether this was actually the case can no longer be clarified today. Even from the following prohibitions or precepts, it is not easy to draw reverse conclusions:

“A Muslim must not massage a Jew or a Christian, nor take away their rubbish or clean their latrines, for the Jew and the Christian are better suited for these hard jobs, which are jobs for the inferior people. Nor must a Muslim take care of a Jew’s or a Christian’s mounts, nor serve them as a muleteer, nor hold their stirrups; and if one learns that someone does, then he should be rebuked for it. And Muslim women must be forbidden from entering the detestable churches, for priests are libertines, whoremongers and sodomites.”

The ban on ringing church bells (“The ringing of bells in Muslim territory must be forbidden, for they should only ring in the land of the infidels” ), which was also pronounced in this context, could indicate that such demonstrations of ecclesiastical presence, which had already been banned in the 9th century, were practised again during Ṭāʾifa rule and therefore now had to be banned again under Sunnite Almoravid rule.

6. Convivencia At The Caliphal Court?

In the Arabic sources dating to the period of the caliphate, the heyday of interreligious cooperation according to al-Andalus propaganda, only one Bishop Recemundus (or Bishop Rabīʾ ibn Sid al-Usquf or Bishop Ibn Zaīd) has attracted greater attention as a collaborative partner, namely, as translator and envoy (to the German emperor Otto I, to Byzantium and Jerusalem); and then also as co-author (the other author being the Arabic physician and historian ʽArīb b. Saʽīd) of the famous Calendar of Cordoba, in both Latin and Arabic. Particularly noteworthy are the notes on medicine attributed to him, which are inserted at the beginning of each month, as well as the details on agricultural questions and administrative matters that he provides.

The scientific traditions relevant to the explanations of astronomy in connection with meteorology are, on the one hand, of Latin-Mozarabic origin, insofar as they deal, for example, with the festal days of saints and their dates relevant to agriculture. In addition, pre-Islamic oriental traditions play a role, for example, in the area of meteorological predictions. Furthermore, we find Greek-Alexandrian traditions, which go back to the physicians Hippocrates and Galen. Finally, the Calendar also contains elements of the “new astronomy,” which hearkens back to Indo-Iranian and Ptolemaic investigations.

Bishop Recemundus, who operated in different cultures, also provides the template for the hero of a best-selling novel in modern Spain that is suitable for the prevailing propagandistic views. A voluntary Christian martyr would certainly not have been particularly suitable as a prototype.

Christians and ecclesiastical officials, such as Recemund, could be successful at the caliph’s court and be accepted as collaborative partners in important publications. Recemund’s student, Bishop Abū-l-Ḥārith al-Usquf, is also said to have belonged to a religiously mixed work group, which is said to have worked on philosophical writings concerning logic. However, nothing more specific is known about this bishop or the results of this working group.

Christian doctors also seem to have played a larger role. Ibn Juljul al-Andalusī (b. 943) mentions in his “Categories of Physicians and Scholars” (Kitāb ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbāʾ wa-l-ḥukammā) for the late 9th and early 10th centuries a total of six important physicians by name, five of whom were Christians. Even later in the 10th century, the caliph ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III still consulted a Christian physician (Yaḥyà b. Isḥāq).

However close the connection of these doctors may have been with the court, they can no more make us forget, as Recemundus did, that ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III enslaved thousands of Christians whom he was able to seize in his raids against Christian territories. Nor can they conceal how difficult the situation of Christians was, generally speaking, during this period. They were obliged to obediently submit to the will of the rulers, if they wanted to continue living at all in that society with the Muslims.

According to the Vita Johannis Gorziensis, written by John of St Arnulf in Metz, St John of Gorze rebuked Recemundus for the fact that the Cordovan Christians had made themselves subservient to the Muslims. They had adopted not only their eating habits but also their circumcision ritual (“et melius omnino fuerat, hominem christianum famis grave ferre dispendium, quam cibis ad destructionem aliorum consociari gentilium. …ad ritum eorum vos audio circumcisos” – “and it would have been better for a Christian man to bear the suffering of a grievous famine than to be associated with food for the destruction of other gentiles… I hear you circumcised according to their rite”).

Recemundus justified this behaviour with the coercion exercised by the rulers (“Atque ille, ‘Necessitas’, inquit, ‘nos constringit; nam aliter eis cohabitandi nobis copia non est’” – “And he said, ‘Necessity forces us; otherwise we would not be able to live together”). They would have to submit to the Caliph if they wanted to continue to be able to live in Muslim al-Andalus. But since the Christian faith itself was not affected by this, they could otherwise obey their Muslim masters (“…quia religionis nulla infertur iactura, cetera eis obsequamur, iussisque eorum in quantum fidem non impediunt obtemperamus.” – “because no loss of religion is inflicted, let us go along with them and the rest, as far obeying their orders, as much as they do not hinder the faith”). At any rate, this attests as much to a “tolerant” and “peaceful” attitude towards Christians and Jews, in a modern understanding of coexistence, at the time of the first caliph, as it does for a fruitful dialectic between the three religions.

7. Al-Andalus As The Cradle Of Modern Sciences?

The myth of “Islamic Spain as the birthplace of rational thought and the European sciences,” for which names, such as Averroes or Maimonides are repeatedly invoked, has, as was mentioned in the first section (“Al-Andalus Propaganda”), become conventional wisdom, not only of such honourable international institutions as UNESCO, but by politicians such as Barack Obama, as we have already noted. However, the fact that the great Aristotelian Averroes, not only in accordance with the Malikite legal tradition (see above on “Jihad”), called for jihadist enmity on all non-Muslims, and even all non-orthodox Sunni Muslims, but in addition also demanded submission to the rules of the Sharia even in questions of practical philosophy and jurisprudence, is regularly overlooked or suppressed.

Neither Averroes nor his predecessors ever considered addressing the question of whether the understanding of reason and rationality that applied to theoretical philosophy as a matter of course should not also apply to practical philosophy, as it did to Aristotle. For this reason, Franz Schupp, for example, thinks, or rather fears, that he must reproach the “commentator” Averroes, similar to Arnaldez, with a certain blindness in this philosophical question. At no point in the “decisive treatise” did Averroes consider it worthwhile to derive the rules of Islamic law from general theoretical principles. In his eyes, the law is sufficiently legitimised by the Prophet and the consensus of Muslims (§ 15). With regard to its interpretation, he also does not refer to theoretical principles, but solely to the customary procedures of Islamic jurists (§ 4). There are no dark passages in the law that would require scientific explication. Only in theoretical questions, but not in practical ones, is there room for philosophical interpretation. Practical science, as Averroes explains in § 38, only requires obedient observance of the rules, namely, the observance of jurisprudence (fiqh) for external actions, and the observance of “asceticism” (zuqd) for mental actions. Any justification of the revealed law by philosophy is out of the question.

In the case of Maimonides, on the other hand, whom UNESCO merely praises as evidence of the importance of Islamic Spain, as the fountainhead of European rationalism, no mention is made of the fact that he, the greatest Jewish scholar of the Middle Ages, had to flee from al-Andalus to North Africa and from there to Cairo because of religious persecution. In his letter to the Jews of Yemen, he described the Muslims at that time as the worst of all Jew-haters and persecutors. Never had a nation oppressed, humiliated, belittled and hated the Jews as much as the Muslims.

Incidentally, the myth of al-Andalus as a sanctuary of enlightened thought, science and philosophy was already dismissed by Ignaz Goldziher, well over a hundred years ago. Goldziher, one of the founding fathers of critical Oriental studies, who is still regarded as an internationally respected Islamologist, summarised the results of his research on this subject in 1877 to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as follows:

“The first Spanish caliph to promote and cultivate the sciences was al-Ḥakam II in the 4th/10th century; he himself was also a scholar of the first rank. But already under his successor, his majordomo, Ibn Abī ʽĀmir, had won the favour of the people and Islamic religious scholars by destroying al-Ḥakam’s library and all his scientific output. But since Andalusia had not yet produced any important and free-thinking philosophers at all in the 4th/10th and 5th/11th centuries, the fanaticism of Ibn Abī Amir destroyed only the Eastern philosophical literature. Then, in the 6th/12th century, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Bāǧǧa (Avempace), Ibn Ṭufaīl (Abubacer) and Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar), and Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar), a few philosophers emerged among the Spanish Arabs; for a short time, at least, their personal security was guaranteed by the Almoravid Caliph Yūsuf ibn Tāšfīn, who was himself a friend of scholarship. Later, however, after a “golden age” of a few decades, philosophers and scholars were forced to withdraw from public life or leave al-Andalus under pressure from the ʿUlamāʾ and the proletariat. Their persecution put an end to the entire philosophical movement in Islamic Spain. Averroes, who owed his fame in the history of Aristotelianism to his outstanding influence on Christian scholasticism and Jewish religious philosophy, was almost completely forgotten by the Arabs. His work was not continued; although it must be said that Averroes’ scholarship was neither dependent nor linked to Spanish Islam, but was rather a continuation of Eastern Islamic philosophy, where it had developed organically over centuries. These two circumstances clearly show that Arab Spain was not a suitable milieu for philosophy, a fact that the historian of Arab Spain, al-Maqqarī, also acknowledges when he writes: “Philosophy is a science hated in Spain, which can only be studied in secret…”

While numerous liberal movements, both relating to science and in everyday life, manifested themselves in Eastern Islam, we look for such in vain in Western (Spanish) Islam, which is because of the different circumstances and conditions in which these two branches of Islam emerged. The history of Arab sciences begins with their contact and intermingling with the Persians. And the initiators of this scientific movement, which later developed into a separate Islamic in its own right, were mostly non-Arab foreigners, especially Persians…”

Muslim authors of the Middle Ages such as Ibn Ḥazm (994-1064) or Ibn Ṭumlūs (1164-1223) also mentioned the limited interest in philosophy and the low currency of philosophical works in al-Andalus. Compared to North Africa, al-Andalus was renowned for its unusually rigorous suppression of philosophy and Greek science, which the orthodox religious teachers and judges there considered un-Islamic. The intellectuals affected by this suppression were Muslims, but their philosophical works oriented towards Greek philosophy were however not viewed as being “Islamic.”

Conclusion

Our criticism of the lack of seriousness with regard to the Convivencia-construct mentioned at the outset of this article has been elucidated in the preceding through the sketch of historical developments and the discriminatory, intolerant regulations of Islamic law, which we have proffered.

Furthermore, we have shown inter alia that the contemporary accolades for the purported promotion of science by Islamic rulers, and that of Averroes, for example, as the alleged founder of a European rationalism are in need of nuanced differentiation. At the very least, they need to be accompanied by an account of the oft anti-scientific, blind adherence to Islamic law. We must not forget that only this law was Islamic and binding, but not, however, e.g., Aristotle’s commentary on natural philosophy.

Of course, we are still a long way off from a representation of the real social conditions and the real forms of interreligious coexistence in al-Andalus, although not so distant as the portrayals of the Convivencia propaganda. Our insufficient knowledge of the real living conditions is primarily because of the fact that we hardly have any first-hand testimonies of the victims of Islamic rule, apart from those of the voluntary Christian martyrs touched upon in the preceding. It was all the more important for us to make critical distinctions between the otherwise mainly positive self-portrayal of Islamic rule itself, i.e., the narrative by perpetrators and their adherence to Islamic law which legalised their actions.


Johannes Thomas is a Classicist and Romanist at the University of Paderborn. He is also the founding senator of the University of Erfurt. He is the author of Engel und Leviathan, Logik des Zufalls. Kunstkritik im Kontext von Moderne, Postmoderne und Antike and many other articles and books. This article is translated from the German by Robert M. Kerr.


The featured image shows, “The Flagellation of St Engratia,” by Bartolomé Bermejo; painted ca. 1474-1478.

Al-Andalus: The Mirror Of Multiculturalism

Why is it difficult to consider the history of al-Andalus simply as a part of the history of the classical Islamic world, conditioned, to an extent that remains to be established, by its geographical and human context? Why is it common to interpret it, in a singularly acritical way, with the eyes of the present? This history has sometimes been presented as the prefiguration of a recovered national identity, as the prehistory of Hispanic consciousness, or as the “lost paradise of al-Andalus,” the “chronotope” of a lost identity, and an exile shared, from a different point of view, of course, by the Muslim world under colonial rule in the first half of the 20th century – which was undergoing the occupation of Palestine and the forced exodus of its Arab population – and by the Jewish intelligentsia of the 19th and 20th centuries, up to the birth of the State of Israel and even afterwards when Arab authors, after 1948, used it for propaganda purposes, until it became a commonplace denunciation of Israel.

In the following pages, I will examine how some contemporary American scholars have taken up all of these mythologies, inspired by nationalist sentiment, to make al-Andalus the Utopia of tolerant Convivencia (“coexistence”), the conduit of the fluid transmission of cultural and artistic motifs between the Arab and European worlds, the symbol of a beneficent globalization that opposes the petty localisms of national identities. I will consider the period I know best, that is, the political and intellectual history of the Andalusian emirates and caliphates, up to the end of the Taifa period, because it is quite possible – and I do not assert it – that it is different for other eras.

This idealized image goes hand-in-hand with a lack of knowledge of the milieu and the day-to-day, political, and social history of al-Andalus, of intellectual and religious figures and movements, of primary and secondary sources in languages other than English. From this situation comes the fact, for example, that studies of classical Arab-Islamic historiography, both older and newer, have neglected the work of Ibn Ḥayyān, as does Roger Allen’s recent history of Arabic literature – in the broadest sense; or that ʿAbd Allāh Ibn Buluggīn’s magnificent Memoir remains unrecognized and underutilized by North American scholars. While in the latter case the language barrier cannot be put forward – the primary translation being Tibi’s English translation – the argument of linguistic ignorance seems to hold elsewhere (with Anglo-American scholars often having little familiarity with French and Spanish bibliography).

Insufficient knowledge of Andalusian history and sources has reinforced the idea that al-Andalus was on the margins of the medieval Islamic world; and this has undoubtedly contributed to its idealization, making al-Andalus a tabula rasa on which to represent a number of more-or-less fictional narratives, the arena of ideological stakes derived from local academic discourse. Even a sensitive and attentive specialist like Julie Meisami affirms that “The Arabic literatures of Medieval Spain and Sicily do not occupy an important position in Arabic studies,” because they seem “peripheral to the tradition as a whole.”

The most influential of these narratives idealize the Convivencia of the three cultures – Arab, Christian and Jewish – in al-Andalus, during the period I have indicated, as well as the essential influence of the Andalusian civilization on the rise of European culture and its multiculturalism ante litteram. The apparatus of argumentation supporting these theses derives essentially from the antihistorical and anti-philological attitude advocated by the American postmodernist school, reinforced by the bellicose dialectic and axioms coming from the “postcolonial” studies launched after Edward Said’s famous denunciation of European Orientalism. The best-known representative of this trend, as far as al-Andalus is concerned, was [the late] María Rosa Menocal, Sterling Professor of Spanish Studies at Yale University.

The preliminary argument put forward by Menocal, in a posthumous polemic with the European Arabist school of the 20th century, is that the “Semitic” influence on medieval European culture has not been given the importance it deserves; not because it was difficult to prove this influence, according to an approach recognized by the academic community, but because of a bias, taken by this same school, which refused to recognize it in the name of a “myth of Western-ness,” of a colonialist mentality denying the obvious impact of the Arab-Islamic and Jewish civilizations on Europe. As in the famous quarrel between Américo Castro and Claudio Sánchez Albornoz, the central point of this opposition is not so much a question of method – how to prove the impact of the Arab literature of al-Andalus on the rise of European literature – but rather an ideological bias; the denunciation of the negative prejudice that has, until now, prevented this recognition.

Against the Eurocentric thesis attributed to the orientalist party defending identity politics, Menocal takes inspiration, in a generic and not very precise way, from the approach of Américo Castro to project onto the Iberian past a hypothesis of linguistic and cultural hybridization centered on the themes of “miscegenation” and “transculturation” in vogue among contemporary North American historians. There is, for example, the line of research by the dean of American modernist historians, Natalie Zemon Davis, on cultural “métissage” as a positive value, against the reductio ad unum of national identities – and its personification in the biography of Leo Africanus (Trickster Travels)

As for the general theory, one finds in it, sometimes deformed to the point of being unrecognizable, ideas that had often circulated, before being abandoned, within Orientalist scholarship itself, which itself is put on trial. The exaltation of tolerance and Convivencia derives from the belief in a golden age of Hebrew culture in Spain and in the myth of the Utopia of three faiths (the myth of interfaith Utopia), circulating among European Jewish intellectuals in the 19th and 20th centuries, as Mark Cohen has shown. While using the same arguments, and often the same examples, Menocal is nonetheless indifferent to the religious content of this conception – for not only does it deny the priority of the religious fact in the Middle Ages, but it also clearly disjoins what is “Arab” from what is “Islamic,” since both factors can hinder the cultural transmission between the Christian, Jewish and Islamic worlds. On several other points, which have been discussed at length without finding a solution, she makes sharp and peremptory judgments.

For example, “In Spain… Arabic was the lingua franca of the educated classes of the three religions, for several centuries.” A happy coincidence from which she launches her assumption that the Provençal word trobador “in fact has a perfectly plausible Arabic etymon, perhaps two,” an argument she considers definitive, but which, because of the hostility of the Eurocentric party, is supposedly not accepted. On issues that have proven to be unprovable, the logical leap is even bolder. This is particularly true of the vexata quaestio of the origins of the Divina Commedia for which she suggested that Dante may have read one of the translations of the Miʿrāj done when Brunetto Latini – the maestro and guardian of Dante – was in Toledo. The same the becomes true of the origins of the Divina Commedia.

The same then becomes true for the origins of Provençal poetry – the hybridization that would be at the root of the great season of courtly love would not have required knowledge of Arabic texts on the part of the troubadours, for they were “a bit more like rockstars than like scholars,” and that this knowledge was in the air. In fact, the so-called “Arabic thesis” concerning the birth of Romance literature had enjoyed a certain popularity, as Menocal reminds us, until the beginning of the 20th century – and this since the 16th century – only to be abandoned afterwards. The cause of this change of perspective appears in the rise of European colonialist imperialism, with its contempt for the cultures of dominated peoples, the Arabs in particular, coupled with the rise of the German philological method.

It is characteristic of the postmodernist approach to history to interpret events rooted in complex causes through conspiracy theories, deriving from the conception of a “master narrative” that organizes the whole of historical traditions, suppressing, at the same time, minority discourses. The master narrative of European orientalism and philology, the offspring of modern imperialism, follows the oblivion of the cultural contamination between the Judeo-Arabic and Romanic worlds, the memory of which was “purposely annihilated” when, during the 16th century, the Inquisition [she says] destroyed the great Arab libraries that represented the precious heritage of the three cultures.

This would have taken place in particular in Toledo, a city which, according to Menocal (and in contradiction to Jean-Pierre Molénat’s research on the real persistence of the Arab and Mozarabic communities in the new Castilian capital), would have hosted an enlightened cenacle of intellectuals, alien to ethnic prejudices, “a legendary mix of Christians, Jews and Muslims” at the center of a European network of scholars who competed for any work written in Arabic.

The transmission of the Judeo-Arabic heritage, as well as that of Arab-Andalusian lyricism (the minority discourse in the context of the Castilian conquest), would thus have become one of the best-kept secrets in the history of civilizations, having been interrupted by catastrophic events, such as the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula.

This rupture – coinciding significantly with August 2, 1492, the date of Columbus’ departure, the last medieval hero, for the Indies – was imposed by the proto-imperialist design of the rulers of Castile-Aragon. Definitively expelled from the medieval paradise – tolerating linguistic diversity and ethnic hybridization – the Spanish population and culture (for we are talking only about Spain) was then condemned to the obscurantism of the Enlightenment and to the hell of modernity. A modernity that discriminates between languages and diverse knowledge, introduces objectivity in sciences, generates the philological method (that atomizes and mutilates the unity of the literary phenomenon, demanding “proof of written texts” in order to justify its transmission) and the diachronic approach, “the most arbitrary and meaningless of ordering principles.” The discovery of the paths of this heritage is, on the other hand, made possible, in the absence of recognizable chains of transmission, by the post-modernist method that makes the “citationism” of rock music a true paradigm, ex post, of the medieval poetic approach, offering an obvious and convenient solution to the enigmas of intercultural transmission.

The opposition established between the Middle Ages and the modern era summarizes antinomies, which we have just seen: miscegenation/ discrimination, tolerance/intolerance, conquest/Convivencia. Similarly, the negative pole of philology is matched by the positive pole of lyricism in the strict sense – the “impure” lyricism of the muwaššaḥāt, whose descent from the classical tradition is ignored – and in the broader sense – post-modernist hermeneutics, steeped in musical and poetic references. This allows Menocal to argue – a daring anachronism – that “the medieval culture was postmodern” (because both periods shared the same feeling of distrust towards master narratives); or, conversely, that “the Reconquista… was anti-medieval,” because it reduced ad unum the cultural multiplicity of al-Andalus; and finally, to put forward the proposal of “telling History in the lyric mode,” this mode being that of the muwaššaḥāt, considered as the symbolic form of medieval cultural mixing.

Providing literal proof of T. F. Glick’s objective observation that “history seems scarcely distinguishable from myth,” history based on written sources and taken in a diachronic dimension gives way to fabled-seeming narratives, such as the one that opens Menocal’s more recent work, describing the arrival of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, the archetypal hero of that saga of fruitful miscegenation that would have been al-Andalus: “Once upon a time in the mid-eighth century, an intrepid young man named Abd al-Rahman abandoned his home in Damascus, the Near Eastern heartland of Islam, and set out across the North African desert in search of a place of refuge…”

One certainly finds in this melodrama, with its misleading simplicity, all the themes and materials commonly used in academic works – however, its fable-like quality, which finds an enthusiastic echo in accounts in the popular press, and which draws on the medieval conception of history as memory and myth, nevertheless signals its defiant entry into a field where the formal structures of historical narration – diachrony and causality in particular – are no longer valid. Historical philology is not the only polemical target of the neo-Romantic myth of a tolerant, multiculturalist and lyrical Middle Ages. Prose is also negatively affected, because it is associated with the rational and discriminatory approach that modernity has imposed on knowledge, which has deprived Romance literature of its lyrical component.

This same penchant for binary oppositions had already manifested itself in Menocal’s first book, The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary Theory. A Forgotten Heritage, written in the mode of pre-post-modernist American scholarship; and, as such, reviewed by the major Arabist journals. It contains, among other things, the denunciation of the politics of denial of the “Semitic” heritage in European literary culture, which is the author’s trademark, and the attack on the claim of philological hermeneutics that intercultural contacts are mainly textual, or the result of a series of historically documented (“genetic”) relationships. This criticism, in itself legitimate and fruitful, is not accompanied by the proposal of an alternative hermeneutic, indebted, for example, to the sociology of literature or to sociolinguistics, or of establishing a new archaeology of literary transmission and the creation of mixed forms. It limits itself to presenting a self-referential instance, that of the subject who, by observing the synchrony and/or the geographical proximity of two similar phenomena, even in the absence of a certain contact or transmission, can only deduce that there has been something more than a “parallel development.”

Among the paradoxical and perhaps unforeseen consequences of the approach I have just described is the fictional and novelistic character of the resulting image of al-Andalus, an image from which any reference to material history, or even micro-history, is absent, and which is assembled from a few current literary sources – when, in principle, it should show the unexplored or secret paths of this transmission. It is understood that the medieval Andalusian paradise coincides with the Umayyad period and the century of the taifas, and that the Andalusian emirs and caliphs are attributed a conscious political project, based on the tolerance of languages and cultures. From this peaceful world of princes, poets, merchants and rabbis, not only the specifically Islamic character of al-Andalus disappeared, but also the Islamic and non-Arab components, and in particular the Berber component of society.

The Arab heritage, within the limits I have indicated, is thus fully integrated into the genealogy of European identity, but on condition that it is “Europeanized” and stripped of everything that differs from it; and this limitation of the inextricably Arab-Islamic character of al-Andalus inevitably leads, as Julie Meisami has noted, to a subsequent marginalization of Andalusian studies from the mainstream of Islamic studies. Isolated from the cultural context of belonging, literary texts, and especially lyric poetry, are interpreted as if they were the immediate expression of a pop culture shared across linguistic, cultural and material barriers. If it is true, as Meisami again observes, that this position aspires to overcome the aporia of the philological method – which distances the pleasure of the text as it subjects it to multiple dissections on the diachronic and synchronic axis – it is also true that it opens the way to the subjective projections of the critic and readers; that is to say to frankly anachronistic interpretations of the past.

This is evidenced by the insistence on the paradoxical nature of Andalusian culture, described as “taking pleasure in contradiction within one’s own identity,” since it is the “possibility of contradiction” that guarantees “true religious tolerance” and “cultural vitality;” or, again, the fact that it is considered a culture in exile, even “a summary of the varieties of exile that explicitly leaves ‘nations’ by the wayside.” Exile is, moreover, the precondition for poetic creation, and all of these thematic-contradictions (exile, tolerance, lyricism) are found together in the idealized portrait of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān I, a true figura, in both the classical and postmodern senses, of the Andalusian utopia, and arguably of the author. For, if the theme of exile descends in direct line from Said – and Auerbach before him – it grows with the set of psychological projections and mythographies linked to Menocal’s biography, which in turn seem to find more intense echoes in an immigrant society like that of North America.

And, while Romanticist philologists can legitimately be blamed for neglecting the “Arabic thesis,” out of ignorance of its cultural and linguistic context, the affinity of the poetic and figurative forms developed in al-Andalus, Sicily, Provence and Persia, could have suggested to the scholar (it is Meisami again who proposes this) the more complex hypothesis of a common tendency: “Of the vernacular literatures to free themselves from canonical modes of discourse in favor of others more responsive to their particular cultural ambience.”

The polygenetic thesis was adopted, in particular, towards the end of his all-too-brief existence, by Samuel Stern, a pioneer in the scientific study of the Mozarabic kharja, as recalled by the late Dorothée Metlitzki, in her erudite essay on the a similar subject which, characteristically enough, had no continuators.

The distortion that the image of al-Andalus underwent through its multiculturalist interpretation was received very favorably by the non-specialist public, as evidenced by the reviews in the popular press of The Ornament of the World. No reviewer shied away from embroidering on the world described by Menocal, a world supposedly created by the far-sighted design of Abd al-Raḥmān I, where the Convivencia of the three cultures gave rise to a literate and polyglot society, whose radiance lent light to early Europe which threatened its borders. A researcher like Fouad Ajami himself has not questioned the historical reality of this amiable utopia, which, in its sparkling perfection, seems to dispel the darkness of the post-9/11 era, offering “thought-provoking lessons for today.” The ambition to reform the present through the lessons of the past is explicitly acknowledged by Menocal, who began an op-ed The New York Times (eloquently titled, “A Golden Reign of Tolerance”) with the following statement: “The lessons of history, like the lessons of religion, sometimes neglect examples of tolerance.” She also titled a lecture at Yale Law School, “Culture in the Time of Tolerance: al-Andalus as a Model for Our Time.”

At the beginning of this essay, I mentioned how al-Andalus, in its idealized image, could represent the mirror of identity in which Spanish scholarship from the end of the nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century prefigured the birth of the Spanish nation; its language and its culture, in opposition to the foreign and enemy-like Arab-Islamic entity. I also mentioned that the Arab culture, for similar and opposite reasons, erected al-Andalus as an “edifice for nostalgia,” a focus for the cult of a lost and coveted national primacy, which Jewish intellectuals in the diaspora saw as proof of a successful integration and as a counterpoint to the “maudlin conception of Jewish history” describing Christian oppression.

It thus becomes undoubtedly necessary to ask ourselves about the hidden agenda, that is, about the political motivations – in the broadest sense – implicit in the Andalusian mythographies elaborated by the American postmodernist school, and also about the reasons that can explain, more generally, the success of the image of al-Andalus as a “model for our time,” for the West in search of a new enlightenment. As for the latter, it is obvious that they owe much to the reassuring charm of the Andalusian melting pot, which, of course, knew, until the first three centuries of its history, neither the interethnic and intercultural conflicts that tore apart and still agitate, today, North American and European societies, nor the aggression of a hostile civilization. In the same way, by evoking the utopia of al-Andalus, one makes a negative judgment on Western modernity, which translates into a real political program, albeit largely abstract. For radical American intellectuals, as for Arab and Jewish intellectuals past and present, the Andalusian chronotope conjures up, in effect, “a sight of the present state of affairs, of colonialism, racism, sexism, political and intellectual repression, religious intolerance and militancy, class stratification and economic inequities that continue to plague the modern world.”

And, at the same time, al-Andalus calls for a hope of “social equality, economic progress, political liberation, religious tolerance and self-emancipation.” These two opposing visions feed the “countermyth” of the Andalusian Arcadia as a true ideal homeland forever lost: “A perfect place… where the religions of the children of Abraham all tolerate each other and where, in the peace of that tolerance, and in the shade and fragrance of the orange trees, we could all sit and talk about philosophy and poetry.”

This also explains, no doubt, why the only discordant voices in the chorus of Menocal’s supporters were those of intellectuals of the neo-conservative right, such as Robert Spencer, and above all Bat Ye’or, a polemicist of Egyptian origin and British nationality, who is very active on the North American scene as a spokesperson for the “countermyth” of the “neo-lachrymose conception of Jewish history,” referring to Jewish oppression in Islamic lands.

Beyond these general considerations, it is worth returning to the negative influence that this approach has had on Andalusian studies in the United States, as shown in the collective volume on the literature of al-Andalus, in the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature, of which Menocal was the editor. This book was intended to mark a clear break from the others that preceded it in the same series, which represented the culmination of the method of approaching texts that characterized post-war Western – and especially Anglo-American – Arabism. The introductory essay made it quite clear that this was a work with intentions, the main one of which was “cultivating the memory of al-Andalus,” which thus closely followed the aspiration of Arab and Jewish utopian nationalisms.

The revival of interest in al-Andalus is attributed neither to the process of recognizing and integrating the Arab-Islamic past into national history nor to the rise of academic studies – and those aimed at the general public – that have so profoundly changed the Spanish intellectual scene since the end of Francoism; but rather, vaguely, to “the explosion of international tourism” and the influence of writers as foreign to the Andalusian terrain as Salman Rushdie. The approach that is polemically taken is that of “cultivating the memory of al-Andalus.” The approach that is polemically announced does not aim at the interpretation, as exhaustive as possible, of the available historical and literary materials, but at the personal “vision” of the interpreters, which organizes and gives meaning to the subjects treated through an arbitrary game of inclusions and exclusions.

This methodological bias prescribes not only the treatment of non-Arabic literatures of al-Andalus (Mozarabic and Jewish, in particular) but also the maintenance of this tradition through, for example, the Jewish literature of the Balkans, the Near East and Morocco, after the diaspora of 1492, because, according to the author of this chapter, which is very interesting, it testifies to the famous tripartite culture which proves to be the main subject of this book. In the same way, and as an inverse corollary of the thesis of the inclusion of the Arabic tradition in the Romance tradition, it is accepted to deal with some authors born in Andalusian territory who knew Arabic, but whose surviving writings belong to the literary tradition in neo-Latin and the Romance languages. This is the case of Ramon Llull and Petrus Alphonsi, whose biographies stand alongside those of, among others, Ibn Quzmān, Ibn ʿArabī, and, curiously enough, Ibn al-Khaṭīb.

The emphasis on minority or peripheral traditions, in relation to the Arab-Islamic tradition, together with the denial of anything that would impede the thesis of uninterrupted circulation between the Arab and Christian worlds, intentionally obscures the Islamic character of literary production in Arabic. The Islamic sciences, religious as well as secular – all categories – are treated in some thirty pages of the chapter on “knowledge,” with vague and rhapsodic content, occasionally faulty. While the category of “literary text” manages to include artistic and architectural items, religious literature is virtually excluded from the literary forms (only mystical poetry is mentioned, under the heading of “Love,” with a few suggestive passages extracted from Ibn Ḥazm’s writings), as is the historiographical tradition.

More generally, the prose tradition and the Andalusian adab, in its varied forms, finds no formal definition – while poetry is given pride of place among the “forms of literature” (“Qasida” and “Muwashshaha“), thematic sections (“Love”), and biographical sketches of the authors, the very rich production of rasā’il (epistles) receives no special attention, and the maqāmāt are mostly considered within the framework of the Jewish literature of al-Andalus. Similarly, to conclude the list of what one expected to find – or not find – in a work devoted to the literature of al-Andalus, one must mention the Berbers – they are hardly distinguished here as bearers of an autonomous tradition, not even in the section on “Marriages,” which reports on inter-Andalusian cultural hybridizations, while an entire section is generously allocated to the Arab-Sicilian literary tradition, again in the broad sense that allows for the inclusion of architectural monuments and authors belonging to the Norman and Swabian eras.

The result of this radical effort to redefine the Arab-Andalusian literary canon – which goes so far as to include Cervantes and his Quixote – ends up being paradoxical, in a sense that is certainly foreign to the manifesto stated in the Introduction, as well as alien to the postmodern spirit. By making the literature of al-Andalus the precursor of European literature, it ends up confirming the prejudices of the Franco-Spanish Andalusian school, when it distinguished, especially in the society of the taifas, the Arab and Berber groups from the “Andalusians,” to whom the great intellectuals considered proto-humanists supposedly belonged. One inevitably finds this distinction in the book, in the section of the “Andalusians,” eminent individuals chosen according to mixed and rather unconstrained criteria, and treated in a heterogeneous way.

Despite the uneven value of the contributions and its obvious limitations (which others have pointed out long before me), the volume on al-Andalus literature today represents an indispensable reference for young American scholars, to whom it offers a simplified method of approaching the texts and their history, which requires neither precise knowledge of the historical context nor extensive linguistic skills. This is demonstrated by Cynthia Robinson’s book, In Praise of Song, which borrows from Menocal’s most outrageous theories of cultural hybridization and is its main reference.

In this book, often suggestive and supported by a relatively extensive secondary bibliography (albeit with significant gaps), Robinson, a specialist in the Andalusian art of the taifas, argues convincingly for the substantial unity of the artistic and literary manifestations of the taifas around the phenomenon of the court. Less solid, on the other hand, is not only the analysis of the internal dynamics of the life of the Arab-Andalusian courts – interpreted, in a way as ingenious and abstract, as the hermetic drama of the Fedeli d’amore that would have been the mulëk (rulers) and their entourages – but above all the demonstration of the main thesis which claims that the transmission of poetic themes and forms between the two worlds was carried out, not at the popular level and through occasional contacts, but thanks to the relations, above all diplomatic, between the Andalusian and Christian courts from the fifth to the eleventh century.

Accepting without reservation Menocal’s two main methodological postulates – that differences in religion and language cannot be an obstacle to the transmission of cultural themes, and that al-Andalus is simply part of the “cultural heritage of medieval Europe” – Robinson is content to define the paths of this presumed transmission through the arguments of “context,” “contact” and “the demonstrable chronological precedence of the Andalusian model of courtly culture.” In doing so, and in this case also following the precedent set by Menocal, she not only disregards philological arguments (scansions, meter or linguistic points), but also seems to overlook a possible polygenetic interpretation, indicating that the analogies found derive from the system of relations and semiotics characterizing the court as a sociological space common to different civilizations, even if they are distant in time and space. Ignorance of a substantial part of the recent bibliography on al-Andalus – especially the onomastic and documentary series published by CSIC in Madrid – also leads Robinson to frequent errors in the names of personalities, while insufficient familiarity with Andalusian sources seems to be responsible for the few important interpretative errors.

Finally, a further effect of the subjectivism that characterizes this approach, which might be called neo-orientalist, seems to be the projection onto al-Andalus of a vaguely literary quest for exotic and fabulous themes. A striking example of this appeared on the English-language Arabist information list H-Mideast Medieval, where a request for information was formulated thus: “I am urgently seeking medieval references to al-Andalus as an exotic/erotic place. I have a theory from my reading of medieval Islamic maps of the Maghrib. I am looking to see if there is any textual support for my theory. Poetry seems to be the most likely place to find what I am looking for… but I am open to any and all suggestions, even those that come from architecture for possible references to al-Andalus as a place of Muslim fantasy.”

These statements summarize, in an almost parodic way, the approach that I have tried to describe: The formulation of a problem, more or less vague, leads to the search for documentary evidence of indeterminate value, which amounts, in most cases, to employing poetry as the hermeneutic tool of choice, which can legitimize any interpretation.

In conclusion, I asked myself why this approach, and the theoretical perspective that inspires it, have become the majority in the United States today, when other directions had been given to research on al-Andalus: I am thinking, for example, for the period and the arguments in question, of the works of Glick and Metlitzki, or of a few essays by Wolfhart Heinrichs and his student Beatrice Gruendler, Arabists from Harvard and Yale respectively, placing Andalusian authors and works in the Arab-Islamic synchronic context and in the tradition of akin genres, as well as of the two essays devoted by Salma Khadra Jayyusi to the literature of al-Andalus, in The Legacy of Al-Andalus.

In an article written nearly forty years years ago, Menocal called for an end to both the “segregation” of the Romance literatures of Arabic literature and the academic distinction between “Near-Eastern” and “European Studies.” Today, one has the impression that her example has allowed the realization of this wish along with the caveat stated by Meisami. While in Europe there is an effort to place the history and culture of al-Andalus in the mainstream of medieval Arab-Islamic history, in the United States al-Andalus appears today to be marginalized from the departments of Near Eastern Studies – invariably considered from the perspective of “hybridity” and “transculturation,” it is found mostly in the departments of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies, or even Hispanic or Romance Studies.

This tendency is undoubtedly reinforced today, at the level of mass culture, by the importance of the theme of the dialogue – or clash – of civilizations, coupled with the preference given by the American cultural industry (as a pioneer of a trend that is also asserting itself in Europe) to simplistic messages on complex issues, and to immediate communicative and emotional impact. Finally, and to return to the question that opened these reflections, the transformation of al-Andalus into a normative model for a West that one would like to be less hegemonic, more tolerant of its own diversity, testifies to the persistent attraction that the Andalusian chronotope has on contemporary utopian nationalisms.


Bruna Soravia is an Italian scholar who studies Islamic Spain. This essay is excerpted from Manuela Marín, ed., Al-Andalus/España. Historiografías en contraste.


The featured image shows a leaf from the Maqamat of al-Hariri, Syria, 1237.

Ruthless Conquistadores And No Less Ruthless Indigenous People

In his well-written, and impressively documented book, Conquistadores: A New History of Spanish Discovery and Conquest, Mexican historian Fernando Cervantes (University of Bristol) tells us who these men were that beat the best warriors among the Indigenous People of the New World at their own war-making and conquering game—and how they did it. They certainly had diversity and inclusiveness. Christopher Columbus’ father was a Genoese wool-worker. Hernán Cortés came from a family of ancient lineage, though not wealthy. Most were of modest means. Cervantes does not mention that Francisco Pizarro is said to have been a swineherd as a boy.

The early chapters examine Columbus’ personality, his remarkable voyage, and the conquistadores’ Caribbean settlements. The later chapters focus on the conquests of Mesoamerica, the Inca Empire and adjacent lands, and the conquest of Florida. The final pages offer a thoughtful examination of the fate of the conquistadores’ descendants in the Americas, who were replaced in power and status by rulers and bureaucrats, sent from Spain by the Spanish Crown.

Cervantes minces no words describing the Spaniards’ exploitation of the Tainos with the system of encomiendas, which was designed to end slavery and facilitate evangelization, but turned into another form of slavery. Cervantes displays a deep knowledge of the religious context when telling us how Dominican priests in the Caribbean, inspired by the writings and life of Dominican lay sister, Saint Catherine of Siena, excoriated the conquistadores for their mistreatment of the Tainos.

The Tainos had been long preyed upon by their fellow Indigenous People, the Carib. The Encyclopaedia Britannica Online (as of October 23 2021) cautiously describes some of the Carib’s cultural practices:

“The Island Carib, who were warlike (and allegedly cannibalistic) were immigrants from the mainland who, after driving the Arawak from the Lesser Antilles, were expanding when the Spanish arrived. Peculiarly, the Carib language was spoken only by the men; women spoke Arawak. Raids upon other peoples provided women who were kept as slave-wives; the male captives were tortured and killed. The [Carib] men were individualistic warriors and boasted of their heroic exploits.”

Columbus ended the Carib’s terrorizing, enslaving, and (“allegedly”) eating of Indigenous People. Cervantes informs us that, when Columbus sent two Carib prisoners to the Catholic Monarchs, Queen Isabella ordered them freed because they were now her subjects and should not be mistreated.

Knowledge of the Spanish system of encomiendas and of their eventual abolition (new encomiendas were prohibited in 1721 but not abolished until the end of the eighteenth century), as well as knowledge of the conquistadores’ ruthlessness, should be placed in the historical context of the cultural practices of Indigenous People prior to the Europeans’ arrival. Cervantes’ book gives us this context.

The Indigenous People’s Cultural Practices

Cervantes’ book shows that Indigenous People in Mesoamerica and South America practiced slavery and were ruthless in their treatment of other Indigenous People. But also throughout North America Indigenous People practiced slavery of one kind or another, and were ruthless against other Indigenous People. As historian Francis Parkman observed in The Oregon Trail and The Conspiracy of Pontiac,captured enemy warriors in North America were sometimes tortured and mutilated: one of their feet might be cut to prevent escape.

A more recent book, edited by Richard Chacón and Rubén Mendoza, North American Indigenous Warfare and Ritual Violence, presents further evidence. In its press release, the University of Arizona Press laments the all-too-familiar academic opposition to ideologically inconvenient facts:

“Despite evidence of warfare and violent conflict in pre-Columbian North America, scholars argue that the scale and scope of Native American violence is exaggerated. They contend that scholarly misrepresentation has denigrated indigenous peoples when in fact they lived together in peace and harmony. In rebutting that contention, this groundbreaking book presents clear evidence—from multiple academic disciplines—that indigenous populations engaged in warfare and ritual violence long before European contact.”

For a succinct popular account of violence among North American Indigenous People, see Bill Donohue, “The Dark Side of Indigenous People.”

In Mesoamerica, among the Mexica (“the Aztecs”) and other Indigenous People, war captives were sacrificed to the gods and/or eaten.

We learn in Cervantes’s book that Cortés admonished the cacique of Zautla, a town loyal to the Mexica ruler, Moctezuma, to desist from their practice of sacrificing humans and eating them. But the cacique, “who had no qualms about sacrificing fifty men at a festival,” responded that he would not do anything without Moctezuma’s consent and that Moctezuma had 100,000 warriors and sacrificed 20,000 men every year.”

The Mexica use of atrocities and terror as tools of war and politics, and not just as “religious practices,” as they are usually explained by academics, is exemplified by the Mexica ruler Cuauhtemoc’s treatment of his Spanish prisoners: Cervantes tells us that, after Cuauhtemoc had them sacrificed, he “sent their limbs “to be distributed to the nearby towns as a portent of Mexica supremacy.” What the nearby towns did with those limbs is left to the reader’s imagination.

The Mexica made a yearly war, poetically called “war of the flowers,” upon other Indigenous People, to capture them alive and sacrifice thousands of them to the god Huitzilopotchli on top of their impressive pyramid-temples, where a priest ripped out the palpitating heart and kicked the body down the pyramid.

As anthropologist Michael Harner explains, the body was then “carried off to be butchered.” Harner complained that

“These enormous numbers [of killed humans] call for consideration of what the Aztecs did with the bodies after the sacrifices. Evidence of Aztec cannibalism has been largely ignored or consciously or unconsciously covered up…. The major twentieth-century books on the Aztecs barely mention it; others bypass the subject completely. Probably some modern Mexicans and anthropologists have been embarrassed by the topic: the former partly for nationalistic reasons; the latter partly out of a desire to portray native peoples in the best possible light. Ironically, both these attitudes may represent European ethnocentrism regarding cannibalism.… A search of the sixteenth-century literature, however, leaves no doubt as to the prevalence of cannibalism among the central Mexicans. The Spanish conquistadores wrote amply about it, as did several Spanish priests who engaged in ethnological research on Aztec culture shortly after the conquest. Among the latter, [Franciscan priest] Bernardino de Sahagún is of particular interest because his informants were former Aztec nobles, who supplied dictated or written information in the Aztec language, Nahuatl” (“The Enigma of Aztec Sacrifice,” Natural History, April 1977).

During his examination of the evidence of cannibalism in the remains of Indigenous People in the American Southwest, anthropologist Christy G. Turner concluded (Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest) that cannibalism was introduced among the Anasazi by Mexica immigrants, and he complained that research on cannibalism has been censored and demonized. An analogous complaint is eloquently articulated by Nirmal Dass (“Cannibalism And Child Sacrifice Are Obvious Evils. Why Can’t Cultural Relativists Admit That?”).

Slaves were also given as presents. Sexual slavery was part of the culture. Doña Marina, Cortés’ interpreter and mistress, was sold as a girl by her Mexica family to Maya slave traders. She was later given as a present to Cortés. Today she is widely regarded as a “traitor” to her Indigenous People. But what kind of allegiance should Marina have felt towards the Mexica, who sold her to the Maya? With Cortés, Marina attained a position she never had, and was unlikely to have, among the Indigenous People. She was admired by the Spaniards for her intelligence and knowledge of the land, its people, and Maya, Nahuatl, and Spanish languages. Perhaps Marina should be praised as a remarkable woman who paid back with interest the Indigenous People who mistreated her.

Cervantes explains that the Totonacs, a nation subjugated by the Mexica, sent envoys to Cortés to tell him that the Mexica were intolerable tyrants who oppressed them. This was one of the first indications Cortés had of the alliances he could establish with Indigenous People oppressed by the Mexica, which would help him conquer their empire with a few hundred Spaniards.

Smallpox, Cervantes writes, was “inadvertently introduced by Spanish explorers.” The narrative stating that the disease so decimated the Mexica that it made their conquest by Cortés possible was debunked (though to no avail because this debunking, as usual, has been largely ignored by academics) – by historian Francis J. Brooks. He concluded that “In the West Indies and Mexico, where smallpox was first carried from Euro-Asia-Africa to the rest of the world, a detailed examination of the historical sources calls into question the melodramatic stories of prairie-fire epidemics killing off the majority of the population in no more than a few years” (“Revising the Conquest of Mexico: Smallpox, Sources, and Populations,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Summer 1993).

Moreover, Cervantes reminds us that the conquistadores themselves got sick and died, unaccustomed as they were to their new environment. The hot and humid climate, the insalubrious air, the dysentery, the fatigue, and even hunger played havoc among the Spaniards. Barely eight months after the conquistador Ovando arrived in the New World, 1000 of his men had already died and 500 were sick. Hernando de Soto got ill and died in Florida at the age of 41. Pizarro’s men got sick with a strange disease that began with pain in the muscles and culminated with “large, disfiguring boils.” Several of his men died of this mysterious disease. But they soldiered on. The resilience of these tough Spaniards in the face of such physical adversity is remarkable.

Cervantes does not mention that the hot and humid climate also rendered their limited number of matchlock and powder arquebuses unreliable and their steel armor unwearable, so much so that, as conquistador Bernal Díaz tells us in his  Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España,they had to adopt the Indigenous People’s cotton armor.

In North America, the Mayflower Pilgrims, too, got sick and died from illnesses and malnutrition. Many of those who came in the Mayflower grew ill and died.

Cervantes gives numerous examples of the Mexica’s ruthlessness towards other Indigenous People and the conquistadores. But he also tells us that they were ruthless in the training of their own people, which made them the best fighters among the Indigenous People of Mesoamerica—no small feat since Indigenous People in Mesoamerica were warrior-nations.

For the Mexica, as for most Indigenous People, cowardice was the worst possible feature of a man’s character. Women did not enter into such considerations of character because they were not part of the warrior contingents. They engaged in domestic, agricultural and low-level commercial activities.

Cervantes explains this Mexica military superiority over other Indigenous People by calling attention to their formidable training of men as warriors from childhood: “Their toughness and discipline had been imposed from an early age through the education system of the calmecac (‘the house of lineage’), which put the sons of the nobility through a rigorously disciplined religious and military training and the telpochcalli (‘the house of youth”), in which the commoners and the younger or illegitimate sons of the nobility received theirs. A generation after the conquest, native nobles could still recall the stern words of their parents the day they were packed off to school at an early age, warning them that they would not be honored or esteemed, but ‘looked down upon, humiliated, and despised.’ This was a system designed ‘to harden your body, and, as parents warned their children, ‘you will cut agave thorns for penance, and you will draw blood with those spines.’” The Spartan mothers could not have been tougher when they would tell their sons to come back from battle with their shield or on top of their shield, but never without their shield.

Cervantes does not mention other punishments meted out to discipline Mexica children. A child who lied would have his tongue pricked with a maguey spine. If a child stole, his body was pierced with maguey spines. Spanking was done with nettle branches. Crying kids would have their mouths stuffed with bitter herbs. Misbehaving children could be tied up and left outside overnight lying on wet ground. Problematic children were held up over a fire where they would breathe the smoke of burning chili, which would also penetrate through their eyes and mouth. When nothing else worked, desperate parents would sell the child as a slave or give the child to the priests to be sacrificed. See the Codex Mendoza for the depictions of these usually glossed over Mexica cultural practices.

Children, usually taken from Indigenous People oppressed by the Mexica, were sacrificed to the god of rain, Tlaloc (also worshipped and sacrificed to by the Maya). Hundreds of skulls of men, women and children have been found in racks of skulls used by the Mexica for public display (tzompantli) in the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan. Many more are expected to be found as the excavations make progress. This finding confirms the truth of the conquistadores’ reports, long dismissed by academics as anti-native propaganda, of entire walls and towers made of human skulls in the big Mexica capital (“Tower of human skulls in Mexico casts new light on Aztecs”).

Cervantes reveals another reason for the Mexica toughness and ferocity as warriors: drugs. “As some Mexica noblemen recalled, those who ingested peyote, the hallucinogenic cactus, or sacred mushrooms, were filled with a drunkenness that lasted two or three days and which gave them courage for battle, destroyed fear, and kept them from thirst and hunger.” This the Spartans did not do.

The Maya And The Inca

The Maya are often referred to, accurately, as the most advanced pre-Columbian civilization. Yet their way of life featured such cultural practices as slavery, the subjugation of women, human sacrifice, and endemic wars among the various Maya nations—wars that even led to the sacrificial “killing of the nations,” told in the sacred book of the Quiché Maya, the Popol Vuh. In fact, one or more of these cultural features were normal in the way of life of the Indigenous People in the New World.

The conquistadores experienced several of these cultural practices. Cervantes explains that, before the conquest of Mexico, Gerónimo de Aguilar’s ship struck shoals and sank; the few survivors reached the Yucatan Maya coast. There, they were captured by one Maya nation. Five of the Spaniards “were sacrificed and eaten.” Aguilar and others were “put in cages to be fattened.” They managed to escape and were received“by a rival cacique…who enslaved them.” Eventually they joined the Maya. Aguilar’s friend had his face and hands tattooed, his ears and nose pierced, and he took a Maya wife. Aguilar claimed he had kept his chastity (he had taken minor orders in Spain), refusing the many women offered to him by his now fellow Indigenous People.

Academics who routinely write about the atrocities of evil white Europeans, who destroyed wonderful civilizations in the New World, and about the Indigenous People’s resistance, often avoid these central features of the Indigenous way of life–features which for us today are rather undesirable, and therefore glossed over or even denied in polite conversation, as well as in teaching and publishing, to avoid any accusation of “racism” (or, more recently, of “white supremacy”). But this avoidance and even opposition, to echo anthropologist Harner, may be yet another form of “European Ethnocentrism,” if not “paternalism,” because such rather unpleasant practices were perfectly normal in the Indigenous culture of the New World. And the inconvenient fact is that these rather unpleasant practices were only ended by the conquistadores.

Though not mentioned by Cervantes, in their vast empire, conquered through their superior capacity for organization, war making, and terrorizing, the Inca perfected the ethnic cleansing of rebellious Indigenous People. And they also practiced human sacrifice: archeologists have found the remains of young girls sacrificed on top of the Andes. The Inca rulers practiced sexual slavery methodically: they had the villages of their empire scoured for the best-looking girls to add to their harems. For all this, see Fernández-Morera, “Inca Garcilaso’s Comentarios Reales, Or Who Tells the Story of a Conquered Civilization?”

For an excellent examination of Inca culture from the debunking point of view of a great archeologist, see Albert Meyers, “Occidentalismo académico, lapsus americanus, y los Incas arqueológicos,” (Revista de Arqueologia Americana, 2017).

As Cervantes puts it, the Inca “concentrated power and wealth in the hands of an endogamous and exclusionary ruling oligarchy.”

The Inca’s terroristic approach to conquest is illustrated by their atrocious way of celebrating victories: Cervantes tells us that “they marked the occasion in a most dramatic manner, by flaying the defeated lords of the Altiplano and, after impaling their heads on poles, fashioning their skins into drums.”

Pizarro’s Conquest Of The Inca Empire

The war between two half-brothers, Inca rulers Atawallpa and Waskhar, was horrific. Cervantes illustrates the use of atrocities and other terror tactics as tools of politics and war among the Inca, with Atawallpa ordering “a sadistic spectacle of the slow torture and painful slaughter of… Waskhar’s wives and children, making sure that the defeated leader was forced to watch.” We learn that Pizarro later adopted some of these methods to punish Manco Capac’s Inca rebellion.

Atawallpa also had an entire squadron of his warriors executed because they flinched before the Spanish horses during Pizarro’s embassy’s visit. Atawallpa then also ordered the officers, their wives and children killed so that no one would dare run away when confronted by the strangers. When Atawallpa learned that Waskhar was coming to Cajamarca, “rather than agreeing with Pizarro that Waskhar should be allowed to arrive in safety, Atawallpa ordered his execution.”

Taking advantage of the scars of this war, and the resentment of Indigenous People oppressed by the Inca, Pizarro, like Cortés, established alliances with them. These alliances helped Pizarro, with a few hundred Spaniards, overcome the Inca. Pizarro also shrewdly handled a spy sent by Atawallpa, so that the spy told Atawallpa that the Spaniards were merely “bearded robbers who could be easily enslaved.”

Cervantes narrates vividly Pizarro’s difficult march towards Cajamarca, during which he fended off ambushes from some local chieftains who feigned friendship and then attacked. In Cajamarca, Pizarro succeeded in his own risky ambush of Atawallpa. Although Atawallpa’s warriors “outnumbered the Spaniards at least ten to one, they soon broke ranks and fled, pursued and cut down by the horsemen… In another echo of Cortes’s capture of Moctezuma, Pizarro seized Atawallpa…”

Repeatedly, Pizarro’s conquistadores’ lightning strikes of expert swordsmanship, on foot and on horse, cut to pieces and scattered the Indigenous battle formations, which always vastly outnumbered them. The Inca warriors’ pre-battle theater of threats against enemies, “which included looking forward with keen anticipation to drinking out of their skulls, adorning themselves ritually with necklaces made from their teeth, playing music with flutes constructed from their bones, and beating drums created from their flayed skins…was magnificent theater but totally ineffective against brutally pragmatic enemies.”

Though a captive, Atawallpa was treated with respect and allowed to meet with his subordinates and continued to give orders and rule his empire. But Pizarro’s plan was to go on to Cusco, where most of the Inca gold supposedly was, and he feared that carrying Atawallpa along would invite attacks to try to free the ruler. Eventually, he agreed with other conquistadores that it was best to kill Atawallpa. A court was set up and Atawallpa was found guilty of “fratricide, polygamy,” cruelty towards his people, and other charges taken from European law that made no sense within the context of Indigenous culture. He was garroted.

Pizarro then quickly installed as new ruler a surviving son of Waskhar, Thupa Wallpa, and convinced the Inca nobility, as well as Tupa Wallpa, to become vassals of Charles V, abandon their gods, and accept Christianity as the way to eternal life after death.

As Cervantes observes, this acquiescence was similar to the eventual acceptance by the Mexica and Maya nobility of vassalage and Christianity, and “Cortes’s admonitions about idolatry, human sacrifice and anthropophagy, and with the consequent need for them to abandon their idols and begin to venerate Christian images.” Put otherwise: in both cases, these great warriors reasoned that their gods obviously were inferior, since these bearded strangers, with their own God, had destroyed with impunity the statues of the gods and defeated the Indigenous People. From these warriors’ cultural point of view, might made right.

Moreover, as Cervantes points out, many Indigenous People, former followers of Waskhar or not, were relieved that Atawallpa was gone; and it was those bearded strangers who finished him off. We learn that, at Jauja, the Wanka received the conquistadores as liberators. Again, we have here echoes of the Indigenous People of Mesoamerica’s glad alliance with Cortés to end the rule of their oppressors, the Mexica. In the later defense of Jauja, in 1534, against a large Inca force, the Wanka were happy to fight alongside the conquistadores and were decisive in their victory. In the North, the Cañari also supported the Spaniards because “they had fresh and bitter memories of the violence with which the Inca had established themselves in the region.”

These alliances of Indigenous People with the conquistadores against other stronger Indigenous People anticipated analogous alliances in North America. Thus in the early 1600s the Algonquin nations (one of which was the Wampanoag, who signed a treaty with the Mayflower Pilgrims, remembered in the American holiday of Thanksgiving) allied themselves with European settlers as a counter to the ferocious Iroquois nations, with whom they had been at war for many years. Later, some North American Indian nations allied themselves with American settlers and with the British or the French in several wars. Some North American Indigenous People also owned and sold black slaves.

The Abolition Of Slavery

Cervantes explains that Pizarro’s execution of Atawallpa was not well received by Charles V and others around him. Cervantes cites the founder of International Law, the Dominican priest Francisco de Vitoria (University of Salamanca): “After a lifetime of studies and experience, no business shocks me more than the corrupt profits and affairs of the Indies. Their very mention freezes the blood in my veins… Neither Atawallpa nor any of his people had ever done the slightest injury to the Christians. Nor given them the slightest ground for making war on them.”

Cervantes points out that Vitoria’s arguments on law, politics, and economics found disciples in brilliant men such as “the Dominicans Domingo de Soto and Melchor Cano and the Jesuits Luis de Molina and Francisco Suárez.”

As Cervantes reminds us, Vitoria’s arguments against the conquistadores used ideas from a long Western tradition on the term “right” (ius in Latin, hence the term iustitia, justice)—from Socrates to Plato, to Aristotle to Roman Law, to Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Vitoria’s arguments on the concept of right addressed slavery, which Cervantes shows was practiced in one form or another by both Indigenous People and the European conquistadores. In his book  Esclavage, l’histoire à l’endroit (2020), Africanist Professor Bernard Lugan (University of Lyons) has observed that although all peoples have practiced slavery, it was the white Europeans who abolished slavery first. His observation has been echoed by African intellectuals like Ernst Tigori (R. Ibrahim, “’I ‘m Saddened by the White Man’s Emasculation’: An African Sets the Record Straight”).

Benin Professor Abiola Felix Iroko also has exposed the practice of slavery among black Africans long before the Transatlantic Slave Trade (“Historian: ‘Africans must be condemned for the slave trade’”). Ghana professor John Allenbillah Azumah’s book, The Legacy of Arab Islam in Africa, documents the slave trade of African Blacks by Muslim Arabs long before the Europeans’ arrival.

Some European countries even enforced abolition beyond their frontiers. Between 1807 and 1856, the British Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron, at the cost of the lives of British sailors, attacked the slave traders and liberated over a hundred thousand black Africans. For a succinct popular account of the practice of slavery by Black Africans in West Africa see, “A Brief History of West African Slavery for the Woke.” France abolished slavery in the late eighteenth century and later enforced abolition on its African colonies.

Nevertheless, perhaps the fundamental difference is that the Europeans based their pioneering abolition of slavery not on the decision of a particular “enlightened” ruler, but on religious and philosophical arguments on right and liberty that gradually spread among the culture of their people, eventually gathering enough strength to bring about political decisions; and that these religious and philosophical arguments were not part of the culture of the Indigenous People—or, for that matter, of the culture of other peoples in Africa and Asia. (Cf. Fernández Morera,  “Christian Slavery under Islam”).

Today, when politicians, professors, and mobs decry, remove, cover, or destroy the statues of Columbus, Franciscan priest Junípero Serra, and even Thomas Jefferson, and adopt a new version of Rousseau’s “Noble Savage” (replacing it with the Noble Indigenous People), Cervantes’ revealing and contextualizing account of the cultural practices of both Indigenous People and European conquistadores should contribute to a correction of the prevailing narrative—though this is unlikely because too many intereses creados, stake holder interests, now depend on that narrative. For a direct correction, see the open letters by Argentine political scientist and historian Marcelo Gullo Omodeo, and Spanish Arabist and historian Serafín Fanjul, in answer to the Mexican President’s demand for apologies from Spain for the conquest.


Darío Fernández-Morera is Associate Professor Emeritus of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University. He has published several books, and his more recent one, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain, has also been translated into French (with a Prologue by philosopher, Arabist, Hebraist and Hellenist Rémi Brague) and into Spanish. He has served in the United States National Council on the Humanities. For more about him, visit his pages here and here.


The featured image shows a Mexica child being punished for stealing or raising his voice against his parents by having his body pierced with maguey spines. Codex Mendoza, ca. 1541-1542.

Of History And Nations: A Conversation With Stanley G. Payne

It is a great privilege to have had a conversation with Professor Stanley Payne, the foremost Hispanologist of our time, which we are delighted to bring to our readers. Professor Payne is the Jaume Vicens Vives and Hilldale Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has authored several important books, including, A History of Fascism 1914-1945, The Spanish Civil War, Franco and Hitler: Spain, Germany, and World War II, and Franco: A Personal and Political Biography.


The Postil (TP): Please tell us a little about your own personal history. Was there a single event, or even a series of events, which shaped you and your career?

Stanley G. Payne.

Stanley Payne (SP): There was nothing distinctive, cosmopolitan or noteworthy about my early life. I was born in the small town of Denton, Texas (between Dallas and the Oklahoma border) in 1934, and I was what would later be called a “Depression baby.” We certainly lived in modest circumstances and in 1944 joined the wartime migration to California, where I finished growing up. I was given a Christian education, largely Seventh-Day Adventist, but left that faith while still a teenager, partly due to its fantastic interpretations of the Bible. I returned to Christianity only after my marriage at the age of twenty-six. My general upbringing, I would place within the broader context of Anglo-American Calvinism, and there was nothing in that to prepare me for a life dealing with the Hispano-Catholic world. This sectarian, non-conformist background did perhaps prepare me to be more independent rather than merely following the most conventional patterns.

TP: What brought about your life-long interest in Spain?

SP: There was almost no Hispanic influence at all in North Texas in those days, but in 1943 the Texas Board of Education ruled that all children should receive some sort of language instruction from the fifth grade on. I developed an interest in Spanish and later minored in the language as an undergraduate. Around the age of 19-20, however, my main focus lay on Russia, though I had no opportunity to study the Russian language. In 1955, when I entered graduate studies at Claremont University, Russian history was not an option. That summer I read The Spanish Temper, by the British literary critic and avocational Hispanist, V. S. Pritchett, a work that strongly appealed to my imagination and first gave me the idea that the history of Spain—then virtually unexplored outside that country—might be both interesting and important. Moreover, I had academic advisors—the Latin Americanist Hubert Herring at Claremont and the noted Franco-Italian specialist Shepard Clough at Columbia—who encouraged me to become in effect an autodidact in this new field.

The history of Spain is absolutely extraordinary and is generally misunderstood, more than that of any other Western country, but I have never considered myself a mere “Hispanophile,” despite my dedication to getting its history straight. Modern Spain has been unusually divided and conflictive. The Spanish are regularly misconceived as “individualists,” which is a misnomer. They are better described as factionalists who exhibit great loyalty to factions, local groups and regions, and often express limited individualism. One may speculate that this is due to a lesser impact in Spain of the medieval Roman Catholic insistence on exogamy, compared with other Western countries. If that were so, it would be an ironic commentary on “Catholic Spain.”

An important and attractive aspect of Spanish culture and society is the great value placed on friendship, a relationship especially cultivated in that country. My Spanish friends have been very generous and helpful, and I owe much to them, as does all my work. It is important to me always to acknowledge their assistance.

TP: As the foremost historian of twentieth-century Spain, where would you locate yourself within the tradition of historiography? Is there a school of history that you naturally align with?

SP: My work has followed the general methodology and style of Anglo-American empiricism, within the framework of national histories and comparative European history, but follows no special school or trend. My initial mentor in Spain was the great Catalan historian Jaume Vicens Vives, who was both Catholic and Catalanist but certainly not a mere “nationalist historian.” Vicens was a critical empiricist who was revisionist in the best sense of the phrase, and also came to emphasize the kind of social and economic history that previously had been largely ignored in Spain.

TP: We live in a time which has a rather fraught relationship with the past, a time which seems to want to overcome history. How do you respond to the current vogue of presentism? Is it a passing phase? Or, does it portend something darker?

SP: At the present time infinitely more is known about history than ever before, but contemporary culture and education devalue and ignore the study of history in a manner totally unprecedented in the history of Western civilization. Many factors contribute to this, one of them the quasi-religious character of contemporary progressivism, which seeks to annul comprehension of the past in favor of a timeless future utopia of pure virtue. This is the expression of a kind of millennialist attitude, which probably has some distance to go.

TP: Your many and magisterial books on Spanish history have analyzed the period from 1917 (when the constitutional monarchy collapsed) to the government of Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1930), and the Second Republic (1931-1939), during which was fought the Spanish Civil War. Why are these two decades in Spanish history so important?

SP: Modernization, particularly as economic transformation first became a major problem in seventeenth-century Spain, but the early transition to liberal politics in 1810 initiated a century and a quarter of intermittent political convulsion. Both dimensions merged to produce two decades of intense political and social conflict—paralleling the great European political Kampfzeit of the interwar period in the past century—that served as the conflictive climax to this era. No other country both achieved temporary democracy and also employed it to tear the country apart so thoroughly.

TP: Your profound work on fascism and Spain is certainly paradigmatic. What led you to focus on this aspect of Spanish history?

SP: The initial choice was almost serendipitous, in that it had nothing to do with “fascism.” I simply had to find a topic to initiate graduate research, and Hubert Herring suggested the figure of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, which struck my fancy. I had no intention at that moment of focusing on “fascism,” which I would scarcely have been able to define. But one thing led to another. I rather grandiosely subtitled the eventual book “A History of Spanish Fascism,” which it really was not.

TP: The term “fascism” is much bandied-about nowadays. Is there a proper way that we should understand it?

SP: In the 1950s, when I began, any concept of fascism was simplistic. All work was monographic or national in character, but failed to solve the greater issue of “fascism” in general, and that led to the international “fascism debate” of the 1960s and 70s.I participated in the latter, perplexed about the problem of how to define and analyze a “generic fascism,” if any such thing existed. I finally managed to work this out in my Fascism: Comparison and Definition, which appeared in 1980, the first book to present a systematic and detailed definition and analysis of the problem. This stemmed from my concern to make major Spanish developments—fascism or revolutionary civil war, for example– understandable within a broader comparative historical framework.

In the twenty-first century “fascism” has become a meaningless term, an “empty signifier” that serves as all-purpose pejorative and stigmatizer without serious cognitive content. Academic specialists, including myself, employ the term as an “ideal type” construct to refer exclusively to the revolutionary nationalist movements in interwar Europe, which had specific characteristics of their own that have not subsequently been repeated to any significant degree as composite features, and probably cannot be. Fascism was destroyed militarily in 1945 and then became subsequently superseded by massive historical change, which made it impossible to develop equivalent movements in radically differing contexts.

TP: Your first book, Falange: A History of Spanish Fascism, reads like a great Greek tragedy. Could you briefly describe the Falange and its spirited and tragic leader, José Antonio Primo de Rivera?

SP: Falange was the only true “fascist-type” movement in Spain, composed of young radical nationalist activists reacting to the anti-nationalist revolutionary process in Spain, where what passed for fascism was in consequence more clearly counterrevolutionary than in any other country. The Falangists were serious about their radical national syndicalist socioeconomic program, but in a country of secondary importance such as Spain, how this worked out was going to depend in large part on geopolitics.

I have said elsewhere that José Antonio Primo de Rivera has managed to become “everybody’s favorite fascist,” the least fascistic of all the European national fascist leaders and the one most nearly attractive as an individual. As observed by some of his rivals, such as the key Socialist chief Indalecio Prieto, his personality did not fit the fascist type. In the case of José Antonio, it was a matter of hereditary politics, since he was the eldest son of Gen. Miguel Primo de Rivera, the moderate dictator of the 1920s, virtually the only bloodless European dictator, who earned the grudging respect even of some of his enemies. José Antonio felt that he must vindicate authoritarian nationalist politics in Spain to complete his father’s work but did not fully understand the extent of the radicalization to which he himself was contributing. His own interests were more literary than political and he even considered resigning in favor of a leftist leader willing to adopt Spanish nationalism. So there are two schools of thought regarding the “good” and the “bad” José Antonio. The noted French intellectual Arnaud Imatz has written the best favorable account, and the Catalan historian Joan María Thomás the best critical biography.

TP: Looming behind all this, of course, is the Spanish Civil War, about which you have written extensively. Briefly, what led to this conflict? And how should we understand it?

SP: The Spanish war was the great European conflict of the years preceding World War II and often drew more comment than the rise of Nazi Germany. It became a mirror of current politics, in which different commentators found and emphasized the aspect most important to them, whether “democracy,” “revolution,” “fascism,” “antifascism,” “communism,” “anticommunism,” “defeat of clerical reaction” or “defense of Western civilization.” The Spanish conflict became a kind of “do it yourself” kit. To a certain extent, at least, each of these differing perceptions could be demonstrated to be partially—but no more than partially—correct.

The root cause of the Civil War was the revolutionary process of the Second Republic, inaugurated five years earlier in 1931. Though every political ideology of contemporary Europe was in play in Spain, the two basic alternatives under the Republic were whether the new regime was to be a constitutional democracy or give way to a violent mass revolution. After the failure of multiple armed revolutionary insurrections, adoption of the “evolutionary” fascist approach of forming a coalition and exploiting the system enabled the revolutionaries to gain dominance by 1936, initiating the revolution under the legal cover of the Republic. Though the left’s banner was “antifascism,” paradoxically they followed the pseudo-legalist tactics of Mussolini and Hitler, not the insurrectionary tactics of Lenin or the earlier Spanish extreme left. When that became clear by July 1936, moderates and conservatives felt they had no choice but to fight back.

The era 1905-49 was a time of civil war in Europe, the biggest revolutionary civil war that in Russia from 1917 to 1921, the most widely publicized that in Spain from 1936 to 1939. No one had ever tried to treat all this as a whole, so near the end of my career I wrote a brief account, Civil War in Europe, 1905-1949 (2011).

TP: We have all read of Hitler’s intervention in the Civil War, made famous by Picasso’s painting, Guernica. But the Soviet Union also intervened. Please tell us about the role of the Soviet Union in this conflict, which you also outline in your book, The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union, and Communism. How would you characterize the role played by communism in Spain from 1917 to 1939?

SP: Soviet intervention began in 1920, when Comintern representatives catalyzed organization of the Spanish Communist Party. For fifteen years this was inconsequential, Spain’s worker left being led instead by the Socialists and anarchists. In 1935, however, the Comintern switched from straight revolutionary tactics to a two-track policy, promoting the Popular Front and evolutionary politics to accompany a longer-term revolutionary strategy. This was very successful, to the extent that by the spring of 1936 Moscow was to some extent pulling back, trying to check explosive revolutionary energies from a premature outburst. Comintern policy posited a three-step long-term process: a) victory for an all-left Popular Front government, which would eliminate all centrist and rightist forces by pseudo-legal means; b) followed by formation of a Worker-Peasant government of communists and certain allies of the worker left, which would prosecute full revolution; c) followed by a final Communist regime that would consummate the process.

In the spring of 1936 Spain was the only country in Europe dominated by the illiberal, mostly revolutionary, left. Moscow saw clearly that the surest path to revolution lay in pseudo-legal evolution that avoided any complete blow-up until the left achieved total dominance of all institutions, but the extreme revolutionary left would not accept go-slow tactics. The Comintern sought to avoid civil war, which might ruin a sure thing, and its fears were justified.

When the right finally rebelled, Moscow tried to impose a politics of all-leftist “republican democracy” that averted and channeled revolution, but the anarchists and Socialists outflanked and massively outnumbered the Communists, launching the only violent mass revolution ever to occur in twentieth-century Western Europe. With Soviet assistance, Spanish Communism expanded greatly and eventually became a partially but not totally hegemonic force. Communist policy was to channel and control the revolution while concentrating on the war effort. This was by far the most rational policy adopted by any of the worker parties, but it never achieved full unity.

For the Soviet Union, the Civil War posed a great dilemma. It had been intervening in Spain politically for years, injecting considerable money into the revolutionary process, but direct military intervention was much more complicated and risky, and was harder for Moscow than for Rome and Berlin. Stalin did not decide on limited direct military intervention for two full months. He then sent much armament, but scarcely as many as 3,000 Soviet personnel ever set foot in Spain, concentrated in aviation and armor. There was never any Soviet infantry, though the Comintern organized the 35-40,000 men of the famous International Brigades (modeled on the Internatsionalisty who fought for the Bolsheviks in the Russian civil war). This was facilitated by the agreement of the irresponsible Republican government to ship most of Spain’s gold reserve (then the fourth largest in the world) to Moscow. The goal was to achieve leftist victory and also to counter the initiative of Germany, hopefully encouraging Britain and France at least indirectly to assist. By 1938 Stalin realized this was not likely to happen, and even offered to withdraw if Germany would do the same. That was impossible, so he strongly encouraged Republican resistance to the end, though the other leftist groups finally turned on the Communists, correctly accusing them of dominating their allies and falsely accusing them of abandoning the Republican cause.

The Comintern’s only success lay in gaining broad Western intelligentsia acceptance of its preferred narrative—supposed “republican democracy” against fascism, the dominant myth of the Civil War, which survives to this day.

This whole topic is one on whose study I embarked rather adventitiously. In the late 1960s Jack Greene began to direct a series for W. W. Norton on ten “Revolutions in the Modern World,” and asked me to undertake a study of the Spanish case. This intrigued me, since theretofore my two main research projects had dealt with the Spanish right. I was then a young professor at UCLA and had the advantage that two of the main collections of documents on the Spanish left were found in the Bolloten Collection at the Hoover Institution and the Southworth Collection at UC-San Diego. My resulting The Spanish Revolution (1970) attracted some attention at the time, named one of fifty “books of the year” by “Book World” of the Washington Post, but was the first of my books to be criticized by the left. The latter had received very favorably my critical treatment of two major aspects of the right, but could not tolerate the same treatment accorded the left. After more than 50 years, this now dated study still remains the only general account of the entire Spanish revolution in any language. The subject remains a virtual taboo in a field dominated by political correctness.

Thirty years later, after the Soviet archives had opened, I was able to return to this area and develop a much more authoritative and documented study, The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union and Communism (2003), which won the American Association of Slavic Studies’ Marshall Shulman Book Prize awarded for “an outstanding monograph on the international behaviour of the countries of the former Soviet bloc,” an unusual prize for a Hispanist to receive.

TP: Does the Civil War still matter for Spain?

SP: By the time of Franco’s death in 1975, a new generation of Spaniards had put the Civil War behind it. Leaders of the developed and modernized society left by Franco carried out a bloodless and peaceful transition to democratic constitutional monarchy, all national parties agreeing on complete amnesty for the past. At the same time, the history of the Civil War was researched and publicized at great length, leaving few stones unturned. There was general agreement not to employ the past in present political disputes. The Democratic Transition of 1975-79 was a remarkable civic achievement, imperfect like all human enterprises but nonetheless impressive.

In the twenty-first century, however, leftist parties in Spain have returned to their vomit, reverting to radical politics, adopting post-Marxist American-style doctrines that seek to control all culture and selectively demonize the past. Thus, the Civil War has been resurrected as a political banner and new legislation is pending to impose doctrinaire censorship and teaching content for historical discourse in Spain regarding the years 1931 to 1975. As has occurred on several earlier occasions in contemporary history, the Spanish left has adopted the most radical position on such matters to be found in any Western country.

TP: The man that emerged triumphant was Francisco Franco. Your own work on the Caudillo has been vast, to say the least. What is your view of Franco?

SP: Like all major historical figures, Franco was complicated, and he had a chameleon-like career. From the 1920s, however, he maintained three basic principles: a) loyalty to traditional Spanish Catholic culture; b) Spanish nationalism; c) preference for authoritarian government (with the exception of his relative loyalty to the Republican regime from 1931 to 1936). His dictatorship was quite liberal in its final years but Franco was never a liberal. Even in his final phase he believed that democratic government in the Western world was doomed.

TP: Has Franco been largely misunderstood or mis-characterized?

SP: Many historical figures have been demonized inaccurately, and to some extent that is true of Franco. He did not approve of the democratic Republic but did not join any of the military plots until the very last minute in July 1936, when the situation was sliding into chaos, if not worse.

Franco was a cold man and sometimes harsh, though the left somewhat exaggerates the character of his repression during and immediately after the Civil War. The revolutionaries had executed more than 50,000 people, while the rightist repression during the conflict had been equally brutal. Some months after first taking over, Franco ended summary executions but his regular military tribunals were quite punitive. The Francoist repression was no more deadly than that following other all-out revolutionary European civil wars, but that is a very low standard.

The three basic charges against Franco are accurate, namely, that a) he maintained a personal dictatorship for nearly four decades; b) politically, though never officially, he aligned himself with Hitler; and c) he presided over an extensive repression during and after the Civil War. You would not want all that on your conscience.

TP: In your book, Franco and Hitler. Spain, Germany, and World War II, you examine the balancing act that Franco undertook to thwart Hitler’s demands and Allied pressure. How did Franco manage to do that successfully?

SP: The first thing to understand is that Franco and most of his government definitely favored the Germans, convinced from 1940 to 1943 that theirs was the winning side, and this was added to gratitude for German help in the Civil War. A second thing to keep in mind is that the very early Franco regime had big ideas about expanding Spain’s role in the world, without thinking the matter through very seriously.

Franco was somewhat taken aback by the suddenness of the European war in 1939 and understood that at first Spain would have to be neutral. That changed with the fall of France in 1940, prompting great concern to profit from the German hegemony. Yet Spain was so weak after the Civil War that it would have required massive German military and economic assistance. Hitler literally could not afford that, and was particularly resistant to Franco’s insistence on taking over all Morocco, since that would have alienated Vichy France, at that point a German satellite. So Franco hesitated, demanding very favorable terms that were too steep to be met.

The point of inflexion came at the end of 1942, when it became clear that Germany might well not win the war. The Spanish regime had collaborated with the Reich in many policies but at that point began to draw off. Distancing was increased by the fall of Mussolini in July 1943, prompting the first limited “defascistization” of the Spanish regime the following month, a process that would slowly continue for many years. By the summer of 1944 Franco had to concede that Germany would almost inevitably lose, and began to draw nearer the Allies, who took a tougher line on Spain from May 1944. Franco was no genius here and made several basic mistakes, but avoided the direct plunge into war and successfully played off Spain’s unique geostrategic position, though the outcome for his regime was a near-run thing.

TP: Can we speak of a “Franco legacy?”

SP: Franco had three goals: to create a new, enduring political system; to revive neotraditional Spanish Catholic culture and to create a strong, prosperous, economically developed Spain. In the first enterprise he failed completely. The second succeeded for twenty-years, then began to fall apart. His legacy is the transformation of the Spanish economy, which largely took place under his rule. This fact greatly annoys the Spanish left, who continue to insist that this was a mere mirage, and that Spanish society failed to advance until after Franco died. This effort to extend Civil War propaganda nearly four centuries is contradicted by all the evidence

TP: You have also written about Basque nationalism. Could you tell us a little about nationalism in general, and then in the context of the Basque country?

SP: Nationalism has been the most dominant “political religion” of modern times, even more than socialism, but has taken many different forms. It is variably based on different combinations of history, ethnicity, political doctrine and language. Though it purports to be “natural,” it is a modern creation of varying combinations of these things. Whereas patriotism is often defensive and may be conservative, nationalism usually involves a project and is change-oriented. It was the dominant revolutionary force of the nineteenth century, and may be so again.

The three Basque provinces have formed part of the Spanish political system for more than a millennium, but Basque nationalism is a typically modern creation that was only invented at the close of the nineteenth century. It stemmed partly from the trauma of modernization in a conservative Catholic society with a strong sense of local identity, compounded by the dissolution of traditional structures.

The Basque provinces long enjoyed a series of provincial rights or fueros, but these had been greatly diminished. Their language consisted of a multiplicity of varying dialects which were disappearing, since most people spoke Spanish. Under the trauma of rapid modernization, regional identity or pride eventually morphed into a radical modern nationalism, partly in response to the general political crises of twentieth-century Spain.

Basque Catholicism began as traditionally ultra-Catholic, yet rapid secularization after 1960 encouraged rapid transformation. This produced an increasingly secular nationalism that took the form of a radical new messianism whose nationalist “martyrs” functioned as redemptive victims. Creation of a broadly autonomous Basque state within Spain did not satisfy but only exacerbated nationalism, which generated a massive wave of terrorism, though that has finally subsided. The latest success of nationalism has been politically to take over much of neighboring Navarre.

TP: Your book, A History of Spain and Portugal, is a comprehensive work of national history. Is there a characteristic relationship between these two countries that we must bear in mind?

SP: Portugal began as part of the kingdom of Leon-Castile, with parallel institutions, and these historical parallels have persisted, though with very distinct national personalities and cultures. Yet until recently, Portugal and Spain often excelled at avoiding and ignoring each other, despite proximity and similarities. Portugal is much smaller and much less complicated, and also less conflictive. It developed a very distinctive personality, yet, mutatis mutandis, the two countries have gone through parallel crises and developments throughout their histories.

TP: Does national history still matter?

SP: Yes, national history still matters, for countries nowadays continue to function primarily as national units, despite the European Union and contemporary globalization. Spanish historiography, for example, remains largely self-absorbed and strongly national, and that is true of most countries.

TP: Are there other projects that you are researching?

SP: Sixty-five years of major projects and book-writing did it for me. I no longer have the strength or energy for significant new projects.

TP: Any words of advice for younger scholars doing history today?

SP: The outlook is grim. Any young scholar interested in a career in history must undertake a sober assessment of the costs and stresses of trying to develop a professional life in the current environment of highly politicized institutions and an increasingly coercive culture. Employment prospects for the independent-minded scholar are meager. If I were young, I doubt that I would be able to get a job in most American universities nowadays.

TP: Professor Payne, thank you so much for the generosity of your time. It has been a great pleasure speaking with you.


The featured image shows, “The Muse Clio [the Muse of History],” by Pierre Mignard; painted in 1689.

A New Historical-Political Debate: Greatness And Miseries Of The Spanish Empire

In recent years we have witnessed a very unusual publishing phenomenon. María Elvira Roca Barea, a high school teacher from Malaga, published in 2016 a historical essay, entitled, Imperiofobia y leyenda negra. Roma, Rusia, Estados Unidos y el Imperio español (Imperphobia and the Black Legend. Rome, Russia, the United States and the Spanish Empire). Despite its title, the book met with great success, ending up selling more than 100,000 copies.

The fact that a book whose subject matter revolves around the Black Legend reached such a number means that people without specific training in the field of history are interested in this topic, and that is precisely where the interest in imperiophobia (“the fear of empire”) lies, not only from a historiographical point of view, but also from a sociological, political or ideological point of view.

History is not a static science, but something that often acts as a pendulum swing that oscillates amidst the topics that generate interest and about which it is written. The fact that historiography does not cease to be a reflection of the concerns and interests of society is a recurring theme in historiographical treatises.

As Gonzalo Pasamar has pointed out as an example of the first steps of Contemporary History, these are inseparable from the political and social changes of the 19th century. In the same way, we see the death and birth of new historiographical trends, in step with the times, as when, from the second half of the 1960s, among the background factors that led to the decline of historicism we can cite the disappearance of the main historians of the generation that developed their careers during the Weimar Republic and Nazism, the student mobilization, or the end of the political hegemony of conservative governments.

In the same way, Charles-Olivier Carbonell surmised that in the 1930s an economic history, oriented more towards exchanges, prices or currency, and not towards the modes or processes of production, as well as a social history that was not limited exclusively to the question of classes, but to that of groups and their form of interaction, such as rural and urban communities, minorities or the marginalized, was constituted.

The Annales school itself is the child of a very specific political and historiographical conjuncture without which neither its genesis nor its consolidation can be understood. It was a period between two world wars, when the process of progressive decline and the end of the historiographical hegemony that had been typical of the Germanic world since about 1870, and which would enter into crisis with the First World War and then with the political rise of the Nazi party, took place.

It is pertinent to frame the publication of Roca Barea’s work within a very specific context, which is related to the image of Spain, both within Spain’s own borders, especially in Catalonia, and at the European level. It is a portrait that has become, if possible, less favorable since the massive Diada of September 11, 2012, the beginning, as Enric Ucelay-Da Cal has pointed out, of the so-called “pro-independence process” that became more radical as the “molt honorabilidad” [“great honor”] of former President Jordi Pujol was called into question, for his undeclared fortune abroad, in what can be understood as an attempt to distract attention, and which has ended with some Catalan politicians convicted by the Supreme Court for the crime of sedition.

In reality, the origin of this situation, at least in the Catalan context, should not be sought from the time Carles Puigdemont was elected president of the Generalitat, nor since the ruling of the Constitutional Court on the Statute of 2010, but from the time Jordi Pujol became president of the Generalitat in 1980, with a mandate that, as is well known, would last until 2003, when he was relieved by the socialist leader, Pasqual Maragall.

The feeling of belonging to a wider community, the Spanish one, seems to have been diluted in Catalonia, a society that shows a great polarization between a countryside with a pro-independence majority and a more cosmopolitan and integrated urban centers. At the same time, the decades-long indifference of the hegemonic Spanish parties, the PP and PSOE, captive to the need for votes that the party dominated by Pujol could provide them, led to a tacit agreement – that some would receive support in Madrid, in exchange for “Pujolism” being imposed in Catalonia without too many obstacles.

As a result, the concept of “Spain” was erased from politically correct language, as if it were a cursed word with Francoist reminiscences, and was replaced by the term the “Spanish State,” which seemed innocuous and neutral. All this was due, to a large extent, to the influence of the media as well as to essential elements in the process of building any nationalism, such as education, language or history, always manipulated from a prism aimed at satisfying nationalist anxieties. It is in these circumstances that Imperiofobia appeared as a kind of counterattack that seeks to vindicate the Spanish past, sometimes considered as a taboo, or perhaps as a counterweight that tries to balance the image of Spain.

Of course, the manipulation of history by nationalism is by no means a new element. J.T. Delos drew attention several decades ago to the national sentiment influenced by Germanic thought, whose peak was experienced in the 20th century and according to which, through the invocation of historical rights, blood and soil, there was belief in the “collective soul, in the dark and instinctive forces that prevail in the life of peoples and in the development of their institutions over the decisions of individual freedom,” thus being closer to nature and the physical conditions of life, and less to rationality, and ultimately oriented towards racism, since the principle of their unity was concentrated around race. Delos felt that, in Germany, the language community provided great arguments for national claims, and the poets seized on this argument from the beginning of the 19th century, while politics turned it into a weapon of war.

During the second half of the 20th century, interest in studying the concepts of nation and nationalism increased notably, which led to the publication of numerous works that made this subject one of the historiographical favorites and on which it is very difficult, given the abundant bibliography that continues to be published today, to undertake a detailed study. Ernest Renan, with his work entitled, What is A Nation? gave the initial indication signal for the defense of linguistic and consensualist theories about the nation.

Contrary to what was advocated by the essentialist theses, which served as theoretical support for the Galicia of Manuel Murguía, the Spain of Modesto Lafuente or the France of Jules Michelet, the nation is not in this case something immutable and eternal, but a reality dependent on external instruments, which make up the nation-state, and internal instruments, mainly language and national education, as analyzed by José Carlos Bermejo. This group of theorists also included Anthony Smith, Ernest Gellner, Eric Hobsbawm and Benedict Anderson, who in 1983 coined the famous term “imagined communities,” in one of his books which marked a turning point in the debate that had been taking place on nationalism in recent decades.

In Spanish history we find several examples that show the need for nations to connect themselves with prestigious ancestors. The authors of the great narrative constructions, Juan de Mariana at the end of the 16th century, or the aforementioned Lafuente in the mid-19th century, emphasized the need to remember, for example, the main heroic deeds of Antiquity, which although they did not end in victory, as in the case of the sieges of Saguntum and Numantia, or in the biographies of Viriatus and Sertorius, were nevertheless heroic episodes. Both their memory and the bravery and courage shown in those resistances against the invader were to be internalized by the students who filled the classrooms in order to create citizens committed to the nation and the patriotic values it defended.

This yearning led in most cases to elaborate racist doctrines whose objective was to define “us” very well, since “we” were pure and uncontaminated by the rest of the races, which in most occasions were considered inferior. The case of the Basque Country is very curious, because during the 16th and 17th centuries the Cantabrians stood out as the first representatives of the Basques, a situation that remained more or less stable until the first decades of the 19th century, when this reference was still hegemonic among its cultural and political elites, when referring to the most remote past of Biscay, Gipuzkoa and Álava.

However, from the 1870s, we witness the emergence of the Iberians as the ancestral referent of the Basques, and by the end of the century, Sabino Arana formulated the first Basque national identity, completely separate and exclusive of the Spanish identity, based, as is well known, on race as the nuclear principle of his doctrine. And all this, as is natural, with the aim that the nation would sink its roots in the oldest and most glorious soils possible; or, in Fernando Wulff‘s expression, would be the depository of the “patriotic essences.”

But, as J.T. Delos observed, the nation is a product of social life and nationalism, that complex mixture of doctrines, political claims and passions. This same author, as Anderson would later do in Imagined Communities, stressed that aspects such as national sentiment are nothing more than manifestations of a collective conscience linked to historical conditions and a given environment, in such a way that the community exists insofar as there is a common state of conscience; that is, the awareness of “us” is given by the belief of forming an original entity that is constituted by opposing third parties, who are usually the enemies that all nationalism needs; and, secondly, by the will to perpetuate common life.

On this path, of which all the elements that make up the nation are part, the nation tries to generate a series of differentiating features that make up the identity of that people, since, as David Lowenthal has pointed out in a classic book, the ability to evoke the past and identify with it, both collectively and personally, offers meaning, purpose and value to our existence.

The Imperiophobia-Imperiophilia Debate

The purpose of Roca Barea’s book is, as she states in the Introduction, “to understand why [black legends] arise, what clichés shape them and how they expand until they become public opinion and a substitute for history.” The book, whose subject matter is one of the most controversial in the history of Spain and on which there is an enormous amount of bibliography, is divided into three parts.

The first, entitled “Empires and Black Legends: The Inseparable Couple”, begins with a review of the origin and meaning of the expression, “black legend,” including authors, such as, Arthur Lévy, Cayetano Soler and Emilia Pardo Bazán, who, according to Roca Barea, was the first author to use the expression, in April 1899 in the Salle Charras, in Paris, to refer to anti-Spanish propaganda. The analysis continues with Julián Juderías, who used the expression “black legend” as a title to his well-known book, in 1914.

However, according to Roca Barea, in recent decades there has been a tendency to deny the existence of the Black Legend. To justify this, she mentions a travel documentary broadcast on Spanish Television eight years ago where, under the theme of the discoveries carried out by the Portuguese, English, Turks or Spaniards in the 15th and 16th centuries, only unedifying facts were mentioned in the case of the latter.

On the other hand, there were a number of authors concerned with concealing, if not denying, that the Black Legend had existed or, in the best of cases, that it disappeared a long time ago. Among them, Henry Kamen and his book, Empire, where the British author defends the idea of Spain as a poor country, stand out. Roca Barea, with a certain ironic tone that she does not abandon throughout her book, concludes that Spain only “became an empire by a stroke of a pen; or, in other words, Spain did not build an empire but, let us say, fell upon it by chance.”

Next, and still within this first part of the book, Roca Barea begins to analyze the respective black legends of Rome, Russia and the United States, leaving the Spanish Empire aside, for the moment, since being the most abused, it will need a much larger space than the rest. Roca Barea states that the racist prejudices that affected the United States and Russia were born in France. The first author responsible for this was Arthur de Gobineau, author of the well-known Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines, when he stated that the mixture that was taking place in the United States would end up provoking “a race without beauty or intelligence,” which would result in “the end of the different races,” and would also put an end to “the clear supremacy of the white race.” Whereas, in the Russian case, the French Enlightenment would be directly responsible; Russia went from being an example worthy of imitation, before the Treaty of Paris, to becoming a historical reality doomed to failure after the signing of the same.

After reviewing the three cases cited, Roca Barea finds a common thread that binds these three examples, which consist of the “mixture of admiration and envy.” In this way, she establishes “a fairly solid model of what we have been calling imperiophobia”. Roca Barea goes on to say that this would be “a particular kind of prejudice of racist etiology that can be defined as the indiscriminate aversion towards the people who become the backbone of an empire.”

She concludes the first part of the book by completing this definition a little more, in order to maintain that imperiophobia is particularized by two basic features. Firstly, that it does not go from a more powerful people against a weaker one, but the other way around. Secondly, by its intellectual immunity, given that, in Roca Barea’s opinion, “it is a prejudice of good tone, that is, it is not considered a prejudice but a completely justified and reasonable opinion,” and even finds “its most perfect accommodation among the literate classes, “which is logical “since it owes to them if not its birth, then certainly its development and spread until it became public opinion.”

The second part of the book, dedicated to the study of imperiophobia against the Spanish Empire, which, in her words, would not differ in essence from the cases previously analyzed, doubles the length of the other chapters because it is the paradigmatic example. Some of the episodes, characters and institutions that have traditionally contributed to forge a certain negative image of Spain that is associated with the Black Legend are touched upon. Thus, she reviews the major highlights, starting with the imperial military expeditions carried out by Charles V in Italy, and continuing with the conflict in the Netherlands during the reign of Philip II; Germany and Protestantism; Great Britain; as well, decisive and controversial episodes such as the Inquisition or the conquest of America and the work of Fray Bartolomé Las Casas, to cite some of the most relevant examples.

The fact that Roca Barea begins the epigraph dedicated to the Netherlands with the anthem of the Netherlands is noteworthy, since it highlights some clichés that are recurrent in the image projected both of the Spanish and the Spanish, as we will see. the image projected both of the Spanish and of what is Spanish, as we will have occasion to see later on. The lyrics read:

O that the Spaniards rape thee,
My Netherlands so sweet,
The thought of that does grip me
Causing my heart to bleed.

This question is interesting because it puts us before the mirror of the foreign vision of Spain and the Spaniards. In this sense, José Varela Ortega has just published a fundamental book. It is about how Spaniards have defined themselves and how they have been seen from the outside in a pendular movement that has oscillated between contempt and exaltation, between misery and exaltation.

Stereotypes, as Varela Ortega points out, although imprecise and inaccurate, have the virtue of being very effective. Vague or unproven assertions are the ideal breeding ground for these types of ideas to be successful. It is not only the merit of those publicists who, from the end of the 15th century to the present day, the period analyzed in this book, have proposed a distorted vision of our history, but also of Spain itself because many Spaniards were incapable of articulating a discourse that would counteract these stereotypes, a discourse that could mix both self-criticism and self-esteem about the image that was being projected from the outside, along the lines that Roca Barea also defends in Imperiofobia.

In fact, Varela Ortega gives an example of the prejudices that would continue to plague Spain, not only from the historical point of view but also from the judicial one, and that would translate into a double yardstick, depending on whether the events took place in Spain or in another country.

According to Varela, it is curious “that the U.S. press pontificates about the little left hand of Spanish politicians,” in a country where not two years ago the Supreme Court “unanimously rejected as unconstitutional a petition for the right to secession, signed by a hundred thousand plus citizens of Texas, who harbored desires and pretensions very similar to those of the Catalan nationalists.” Not to mention the German Constitution, which would expressly prohibit the secession of a federated state, so that the territorial unity of the Republic might remain “inviolable;” or, in other words, a case similar “to the secessionist process [which] would force any government of the Federal Republic to intervene in any land”.

The persistence of certain clichés about the history of Spain is a fact that both Roca Barea and Varela Ortega analyze in their respective texts. If we focus on the profile of Philip II and the Duke of Alba, we will see that their reputation in Europe is far from positive, even today.

Roca Barea mentions that a professor at the University of Ghent, named Lieve Behiels, examined, in the 1980s, textbooks used in Belgian education from 1843 to 1986. Behiels concluded that the Duke of Alba was described in most of them “with negative or very negative adjectives:” nineteen times he was called “cruel” and only five times a positive appellative, “brave,” was applied to him.

In the same vein, José Varela warns that, today, in a recently published and infantile Histoire de la Belgique (History of Belgium), the image presented of Philip II and Alba is that they tried to introduce the Spanish Inquisition in Flanders, an extreme event that is uncertain; and about the duke it is stated that he was “little less than a psychopathic butcher even by [the assessment of] current professional historians, such as Robert Goodwin.” A little further on, Varela argues that the Duke of Alba “came to represent the image of violence and cruelty, associated, from then on, with Spaniards in general,” making the Duke the “bogeyman” of Dutch children to this day.

It is true that both Philip II and the Duke of Alba are true protagonists in the Black Legend. Not in vain, for it was William of Orange who wrote his Apologie in 1581 as a rebuttal to the Edict of Proscription, under Margaret of Parma, which had been made public in August of the previous year, where he was accused of treason, rebellion and disloyalty, with the aim of developing a story or an alibi to justify the crime of lèse majesté that he had carried out against his king, a crime we must not forget was one of the worst that could be committed.

Some of these characters who contributed to the origin and consolidation of the Black Legend have been marked by the taint of treason. Indeed, there were active traitors because they wrote slogans, pamphlets or texts denouncing the alleged abuses perpetrated by Philip II and his administration, such as, William of Orange himself or Antonio Perez and his Relaciones, who perhaps perfectly represents the prototype of the traitor in the history of Spain. However, we also find other traitors who are passive, such as Don Carlos, a young prince who left no testimonies to incriminate his father but was nevertheless used and exploited with the aim of showing the ruthless behavior of his father, the king, and who ended up being associated with the “Demon of the South.”

In the eyes of Spanish historiography, Don Carlos was understood as someone dominated by a lust for power, to the point of wanting to overthrow his father with the help of some Flemish subjects who were very unhappy with the treatment meted out by Philip II; he would end his days without his father’s pardon, in a prison cell at the age of barely twenty. Don Carlos went beyond the limits of history, literature and his time; and proof of this is that Friedrich Schiller was inspired by him to compose his drama, Dom Karlos, Infant von Spanien, and of course Giuseppe Verdi and his work, Don Carlo, which premiered in Paris in March 1867, and which definitively consecrated the image of a despotic and cruel Philip II, even to his own son.

Imperiofobia then turns to two fundamental elements of the Black Legend, the Inquisition and the conquest of America, which are the themes with which Roca Barea closes the second part of the book.

In regards to the Holy Office, Roca Barea devotes herself to demonstrating that from “Frenchified literature to the theater of Martínez de la Rosa,” there has been “what we could call a complete normalization of the myth of the Inquisition in Spain itself within the political-literary world of the 19th century.” Her aim is to demonstrate how that myth was created, and she begins by stating that the identification of the Holy Office “with the Antichrist is already found in some texts from the 1530s; that is, at a surprisingly early date, and not only in Germany.” The procedure, in the author’s opinion, was always the same: “a small part of truth served to raise up a big lie that justified a prejudice of racist etiology that so far refuses to recognize what it really is.”

She then cites some of the testimonies that came to justify this thesis of the myth of the Inquisition. Among the authors she mentions are Reginaldo González Montano, author of the Sanctae Inquisitionis Hispaniae Artes, whom she suspects was a Spanish apostate; Francisco de Enzinas, another apostate of Burgos origins, who wrote, with the help of his brothers Jaime and Juan, a Historia de Statu Belgico deque Religione Hispanica, under the name of Franciscus Dryander; or Matthias Flacius Illyricus, who wrote a complete history of the Protestant Church and its martyrs, Catalogus testium veritatis (Catalogue of Witnesses to the Truth), dated 1556.

Again, as had happened with the Black Legend, “the myth of the Inquisition passed unshaken to the Enlightenment, and then to Romanticism and liberalism, and from there to the present day.” And not only that, but, in Roca Barea’s opinion, the acceptance of this myth is also influenced by the laziness of Spanish society, incapable of counteracting centuries of insults against the Holy Office.

She cites a report broadcast by La 2 of Televisión Española, entitled “The Inquisition: A Spanish Tragedy,” which was aired on May 22, 2013; also the fact that by typing into Google, “tortures of the Inquisition,” “you will find 171,000 results; and these only in Spanish;” or that in a survey carried out by the Council of Europe in 2009 on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the telescope, among students of the European Union, “30 percent of students think that Galileo was burned at the stake by the Inquisition, 97 percent are convinced that before that, he was tortured” and that almost one hundred percent believe that the phrase, “Eppur si muove” (“and yet it moves”) was in reality said by Galileo.

Authors such as Varela Ortega have called attention to the fact that the Holy Office does not need a special appellation. Therefore, it is revealing that not even in English do they refer to the Inquisition as just the “Inquisition,” but rather the allusion is made through the formula “the Spanish Inquisition,” even though the Spanish Inquisition was by no means the pioneer, although it was the one that obtained the most fame or repercussions.

According to José Martínez Millán, the episcopal Inquisition, administered by local bishops, was born with Lucius III. From 1231, with the bull, Excommunicamus of Gregory IX, it became known as the Papal Inquisition, already subordinated to pontifical power. Even within the borders of the Iberian Peninsula, as García Cárcel wrote in a short article, the Castilian Inquisition had antecedents in Aragon. In the words of Varela Ortega, the polemic could be summarized, not without a certain irony, as follows: “It is already known that it [the Inquisition] is Spanish; that of other countries, does not count (the fact that it came from France and that it acted there until almost the French Revolution hardly anyone knows about or is interested in knowing, outside of the odd expert).”

Roca Barea’s next objective is to list data that demonstrate that the Inquisition was not as savage, bloodthirsty and arbitrary as it has been made out to be, adjectives that, incidentally, respond either to the difficulty that often exists with certain institutions, battles or characters when it comes to distinguishing between reality, myth and prejudice, or directly to ignorance. Perhaps, in the history of Spain, one of the best examples of this sense is offered, as we are seeing, by the Inquisition itself.

Furthermore, she establishes a comparison with the rest of the European countries to prove that their legal system was more severe than that of the Inquisition. As an example, she mentions that studies, such as those of Henningsen and Contreras, bring the number of people condemned to death by the Holy Office, between 1550 and 1700, to a total of 1346, while Henry Kamen‘s estimates amount to 3,000 victims. In contrast, Sir James Stephen calculated that “the number condemned to death in England in three centuries reached the chilling figure of 264,000 people,” adding that some convictions “were for crimes as serious as stealing a sheep.”

This series of clues leads Roca Barea to conclude that, in reality, the Inquisition “was never a shadow power, nor did it have the capacity to control society,” since the inquisitors, in general, “worked under difficult conditions and their work was quite routine and bureaucratic. ” Consequently, the Holy Office is for the author “an icon, and its mental representation belongs more to the world of symbolic realities than to that of historical truth.”

From 1480, the Catholic Monarchs, in possession of the functions they had acquired by virtue of a papal bull signed by Sixtus IV in 1478, appointed Juan de San Martín and Miguel de Morillo as inquisitors, and the first act of faith took place in February 1481, in which six people were killed. This is the beginning of a period that Joseph Pérez defines as one of “terror” and about which Modesto Lafuente declares in his Historia general de España: “It was the first step, product of an error of understanding of the enlightened and kind Isabel, whose consequences she did not foresee, and whose results were to be fatal for Spain.”

A chronicler of the time, Andrés Bernáldez, considered that between 1480 and 1488 “they burned more than seven hundred people, and reconciled more than five thousand and threw them into perpetual prisons, where there were such prisons, where they were kept for four or five years or more.” This is perhaps the harshest period of the Holy Office, although the one chosen by Roca Barea to establish her estimates, on the other hand, begins in 1550, some twenty or thirty years after this brutal stage of the Inquisition took place.

Equally problematic are the figures offered by Sir James Stephen, among other reasons because, first of all, Roca Barea does not indicate in which three centuries these hundreds of thousands of murders were committed. Sir James Stephen, who, let us remember, lived in the 19th century, states in his book, A History of the Criminal Law of England, originally published in 1883, that, if the average number of executions in each county was 20 per year, the total would be 800 per year in the 40 English counties, data that Julián Juderías also cites, following Stephen: “And following the same author with his calculations, he arrives at 264,000 executions in three hundred and thirty years.” Naturally these are unrealistic figures which, moreover, would have us to believe, without evidence, that the intensity was always uniform over more than three centuries. In any case, it is difficult to maintain, as Roca Barea does, that the Inquisition belonged more “to the world of symbolic realities than to that of historical truth,” or that it did not have “the capacity to control society.”

The other extreme that attracts Roca Barea’s attention in the construction and maintenance of the Black Legend is the conquest of America, to which she devotes the final pages of the second part of Imperiofobia. The hypotheses she maintains with respect to the Conquest are similar to those defended for the Holy Office: “In the case of America, the deformations reached such a point that it has been impossible to try to make history without adopting a belligerent defensive attitude.”

Under this premise, Roca Barea sets out to bring to light the efforts of the Spanish Empire to provide what was necessary to accommodate life in the Americas. She mentions that between 1500 and 1550 “some twenty-five large hospitals were built in the Indies, in the style of St. Nicholas of Bari, and a much larger number of small hospitals with fewer beds,” to the point that in Lima, she tells us, there was one bed for every 101 inhabitants, which we should not expect in each of the cities of the Americas, although she does think that “this pyramid has a broad base of support, as evidenced by the fact that few of these institutions failed.”

If in the field of health this is just some of the data she brings to bear, in the case of education she offers much more that ranges from the creation of higher education centers, which she estimates at more than twenty, and the number of graduates that came out of them, which she estimates, until independence, at “approximately 150,000… of all colors, castes and mixtures.” Likewise, she does not miss the opportunity to establish a favorable comparison, indicating that one must add “the totality of the universities created by Belgium, England, Germany, France and Italy in the colonial expansion of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to approach the number of Spanish-American universities during the imperial era.”

In relation to the conquest of Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolco, José Varela indicates that, as in all American conquests, it was indispensable to collaborate with other indigenous ethnic groups subjugated by the Aztecs “who forced them to a very demanding regime of tribute and decimated them, imposing on them macabre human sacrifices and systematic and very numerous ritual cannibalism.”

In this sense, Varela Ortega argues that it might even be legitimate to question the term conquest because “in most places there was no conquest at all,” to such an extent that the characteristic feature was “the scarcity of warlike acts and the abundance of negotiations.” In this respect, it cannot be denied that, in the conquest of America, which extended beyond the 16th century, there were new formulas for convivencia or coexistence. However, it is quite a different matter to suggest that the military conquest and political, economic or religious subjugation were not the basic pillars of the process, so it does not seem important to argue that these events did not respond, in effect, to a conquest.

However, the main protagonist in the entire chapter dedicated by Roca Barea to the conquest of America has a name of his own: Fray Bartolomé Las Casas and his Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indias). Roca Barea dismisses this work as an unreliable historical source; she discredits it because simply, “it produces astonishment and pity,” so no one “with a little intellectual serenity or common sense defends a cause, however noble it may be, as the Dominican did.”

To some extent the life of Las Casas, the Spanish religious, was overshadowed by this work, of which there were many negative comments by prominent authors. But what is certain is that Las Casas had a very broad and systematic bibliographical production, covering several volumes, ranging from the political to the religious, passing through the social and the legal.

In fact, the protective legislation passed in 1542 was inspired by the reflections of the friar. To understand the historical transcendence of Las Casas, it is necessary, on the one hand, to take into account all his work and not only the Brevísima, and, on the other hand, to draw attention to the context in which he lived and avoid the great myths that surrounded him and contributed to create a distorted profile of him. In this way, it is possible to reach a broader understanding of his real persona, a task to which Bernat Hernández devoted himself in his most recent biography.

One of the lasting consequences of Las Casas’ book was, in Roca Barea’s view, to have facilitated “the birth of the myth of the indigenous Eden crushed by the evil white man,” arguing that it did not matter “whether the native is anthropophagous or head-shrinking,” but that “his state of nature makes him intrinsically good.” Subsequent translations into English, French or German, along with the famous engravings of Théodor de Bry in which sadistic, bloodthirsty and brutal scenes, such as that of the natives being devoured by dogs, can be seen, helped to spread and sustain the Black Legend.

Throughout the third and last part that integrates Imperiofobia, Roca Barea links, as she did already in the first part, the French Enlightenment with the creation of Hispanophobic prejudices, to the point of affirming that “Hispanophobia in France does not occupy an eccentric and marginal place, but is part of the central body of ideas of the Enlightenment.” She cites in this sense those authors responsible, among whom she highlights, Pierre Bayle, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Guillaume-Thomas Raynal, the Encyclopédie or the articles published therein by Louis de Jaucourt.

The essential summary drawn from the French cultural environment about the Spanish is, as the author summarizes, the following: “Spain is a country of ignorant and uneducated people; Spain is backward; the Inquisition and, therefore, Catholicism are to blame for the backwardness and uneducatedness of Spain, and in general of any place in contact with it; Spain is not part of civilization.” And again, Roca Barea again draws the comparison with the political, economic and social situation of France at that time, marked by a deficit that it is unable to control, by successive cholera epidemics, by a backward banking system or by the fact that “there is no running water or sanitation in Paris, and it was the most malodorous capital in Europe.”

But the basic idea with which the book ends and which we have already stressed throughout this discussion is the assumption about the Black Legend by the Spaniards themselves, who are responsible, in the final analysis, for not creating a narrative to counteract the accusations and falsehoods heaped on the national past. In the first place, Roca Barea blames Spanish liberalism, saying that all the clichés of Hispanophobia “rejuvenated by the Enlightenment are already assumed with perfect naturalness, as an unappealable and self-evident truth, in El fanatismo” (Fanaticism by Meléndez Valdés).

Regarding Valdés’ book, an author who, according to her, naturally assumes the clichés of the Black Legend, she mentions that during the reigns of Charles III and Charles IV there were four death sentences handed down by the Inquisition, the last one in 1781. A year later, Anna Göldi became the last witch burned by Calvinism, which leads Roca Barea to argue that “the bonfires go out in Europe almost at the same time from coast to coast,” in an attempt to play down the importance of the Spanish case.

According to the scheme proposed by Roca Barea, the relationship of the Spaniards and their elites with the clichés of the Black Legend were structured as follows. During the “golden centuries,” the Spaniards, although aware of the Black Legend, did not take much interest in it, and when they did, it was in a tone of “cheerful contempt.” In the eighteenth century, part of the elites began to take on certain clichés of the Black Legend. And from the middle of the 19th century onwards it became a natural part of Spanish life because society needed these prejudices to explain its own situation and, at the same time, with reasons admitted by all, to evade its responsibility.

In conclusion, Roca Barea suggests the need, on the one hand, to admit that the Black Legend and its consequences are still alive, and, on the other, to create an alternative discourse that combats the inaccuracies and insults perniciously maintained about the history of Spain. As an example of the former, the author delves in the last pages into the cinematographic sphere to note that, in most of the films analyzed, especially those that deal with the prevailing historical themes, the image of a Spain dominated by fanaticism, backwardness, tyranny and cruelty prevails. With respect to the second point, and in the words of the author, the book was written “to help clarify not the past, but the future.”

It is pertinent to mention at this time that with Imperiofobia Roca Barea completes her views of the Black Legend, and which she leaves off in the Enlightenment. The basic thesis she defended in Fracasología. España y sus élites: de los afrancesados a nuestros días (Failurology. Spain and its Elites: From the Frenchification to the Present Day), is made clear in the Introduction when she says, “There is a moment from which a significant part of the Spanish elites assume the discourse of the Black Legend because it is the winning discourse of the eighteenth century.” Under this premise, Roca Barea sets out to follow the path that takes her from the time the Bourbons acceded to the throne down to the present, with the aim of demonstrating that the prejudices associated with the Black Legend still survive in Spanish society.

Continuing her account near the end of Imperiofobia, Roca Barea maintains that it was in the century of the Enlightenment when a series of problems were born that Spain still suffers from today, such as, the rejection and moral condemnation of the Habsburg period, for which the Spanish elites were responsible because of the influence of Frenchification. Of course, and in line with her previous book, the source of the necessary breeding ground for the clichés to survive was France, especially with regard to Spain’s responsibility for the Inquisition and the destruction of the Indies. The Spanish inferiority complex would explain not only why these prejudices were present in the 18th century, but also why, by the 19th century, the intellectual and political elites cared little about the dismemberment of the empire and its eventual decomposition.

The Black Legend is, in the end, and in Roca Barea’s opinion, “the hanger from which hangs northern supremacism,” made possible because “not only has the Roman Church been completely defeated, but also because the Spaniard, the last of the sons of Rome to rule in the West, has been defeated.” The essential conclusion that this whole series of arguments brings forward for Roca Barea, what she wishes to emphasize, is that “from the situation of cultural subordination there is no way out without the assistance of the elites.”

She concludes Fracasología by arguing that the weakening of Spain can be seen in how the Fifth Centenary of the Discovery of America was celebrated and how the Fifth Centenary of Elcano’s and Magellan’s Round the World Tour is being celebrated. If Portugal, “with eight million inhabitants, is in a position to impose its presence on an equal footing in the celebration of a historic event, a milestone in the history of mankind,” that means that “our country has reached a state of extreme weakness,” to the point that “Portugal is right now capable of imposing its will on Spain, which has five times its inhabitants.”

The truth is that the theses defended by Roca Barea have raised debates, if not very heated controversies, which have gone beyond, in something that is rarely seen, the scope of academic discussion. This can be seen very well when in the newspaper El Mundo, in its edition of December 26, 2019, a heterogeneous group formed by journalists, lawyers, writers, academics or university professors signed a manifesto “In defense of Elvira Roca,” whose purpose was to reject the information given by the newspaper El País on December 20, 2019, according to which Imperiofobia gave, in at least about thirty instances of incorrect or even non-existent references. Among the signatories in support of Roca Barea were personalities, such as, Carmen Iglesias, Director of the Royal Academy of History, the playwright Albert Boadella, and the philosopher Fernando Savater.

The response published by El Mundo revealed “an astonishing campaign of public vilification directed at the researcher Elvira Roca Barea,” a harassment that had its origin in the pages “of the newspaper El País, with no holds barred,” but which “was taken up by other media.”

The final paragraph of the manifesto closes by linking it with one of the clearest argumentative lines of Roca Barea’s book, that is, the assumption of the prejudices about the Legend believed by Spaniards themselves, who also do nothing to remedy it – an idea which yet persists, although this time in journalism, since as one reads, “the very article in El País, in its efforts to disavow the book, Imperiofobia, does nothing more than confirm one of the theses that its author defends;” and this is, as we have just pointed out, “the resistance of a part of present-day Spanish intelligentsia to admit the survival of the Black Legend among us.”

However, perhaps the most forceful response to Imperiofobia has been the book by José Luis Villacañas, professor of philosophy at the Complutense University, Imperiofilia y el populismo nacional-católico (Imperiophilia and National-Catholic Populism), which is another history of the Spanish Empire.

There were two motivations, according to Villacañas in the Prologue, which prompted him to write this book. In the first place, because he considers Imperiofobia a “harmful and dangerous” book; and in his opinion, it is “an ideological artifact that has initiated the offensive of a reactionary thinking whose effects we are now clearly observing.” And secondly, because Roca Barea’s book attacks “in an insidious and grotesque way” everything that this author defends in his work, to the point of qualifying what Roca Barea does in her book as “reactionary intellectual populism.”

Imperiofilia is an amendment to the entirety of Roca Barea’s book. For Villacañas, both Imperiofobia and the reception it has received are the reflection of something he defines as follows: “The success of the book reveals the limited cultural demands of certain elites of the country, who, faced with a world they no longer understand nor know how to lead, need a legitimacy that Imperiofobia offers them in a brutal way.”

Thus, in the first part of Imperiofilia, he sets out to dismantle the theoretical scheme on which the work he intends to refute is based, by questioning aspects, such as, the distinction he makes between the “superiors” and the “inferiors,” the relationship between intellectuals and the maintenance of imperiophobia or the use he makes of the term “empire.”

According to Villacañas, the essential point in Roca Barea’s book is when she suggests that in order to analyze such complex phenomena, “the variable is still the difference between Catholics and Protestants;” so that “if you go against a Lutheran empire, then you are neither anti-Semitic nor racist.” On the other hand, “if you go, for example, against the Spanish Empire, which expelled the Jews in tragic conditions and exterminated them as a very ancient peninsular people, then, by a strange rule of three, you are anti-Semitic.” In his opinion, this type of approach meets not only with the approval, but also with the complicity, of “famous film directors, influential journalists and far-sighted editors,” who applaud without hesitation Roca Barea’s hypotheses.

In the second part of Imperiofilia, Villacañas exposes what he considers to be the two fundamental categories that constitute Imperiofobia, following the case studies chosen by Roca Barea: Imperial victims and the victimizers. Within the first group we find Rome, Russia and the United States, while in the second group we find Italy, German Protestants, England and Holland.

Villacañas understands that, in the epigraph dedicated to the imperial victims, Roca Barea’s objective is none other than to defend the idea that the use of the power of empires does not produce a bad conscience, which is why she presents a precursor, Rome, in the process of forming Black Legends. From his point of view, she is only interested in proving Rome’s innocence: “At last the eternal city finds its advocate before history. Now its ghost can rise again and put on the white robe of the innocents of history.”

On the contrary, regarding the victimizers, Villacañas thinks that what Roca Barea wants to demonstrate above all is that Protestant Germany is the true enemy of Spain; or, in other words, the precursor and forger of the Black Legend, an opinion that he does not share, since he believes that the beginning should be placed in the wars of the Netherlands. Furthermore, he does not accept Roca Barea’s interpretation of Luther’s or Calvin’s behavior when he says that the latter, in a period of four years, had fifty-four people burned, alleging that Calvin “may be an unsympathetic character, but to turn him into a pathetic criminal is unfounded.”

Villacañas also says that, in general, Roca Barea’s description of Italy, Germany and England is “superficial and inconsistent,” and adds that in the case of Holland it borders on “delirium.” And, finally, he recalls that the entirety of Imperiofobia is riddled with messages that lead to Catalonia, which is why he wonders if, in reality, there is the possibility that Roca Barea “wants to send the tercios to Brussels, to extradite Puigdemont, or to continue celebrating autos de fe, and force the good people to roar after the inauguration of the inquisitor of the day.”

At the part dedicated to Spain, Villacañas simply dismisses Roca Barea’s argument regarding the Holy Office and the conquest of America. At the heart of the matter is his own deficient methodological apparatus. In relation to the Inquisition, he maintains that the sources most used by the author of Imperiofobia to document her assertions are “comics” or “television documentaries;” or what amounts to the same thing, “the sources of the new populist science.” Again, he insists that it is Roca Barea’s intention to compare the Inquisition with the way the French courts used torture, for example, in order to demonstrate in this way, in a view clearly favorable to the Spanish Inquisition, that it was more regimented.

Villacañas summarizes Roca Barea’s view of the American issue as an attempt to limit everything to a battle between the Catholic world and the Protestant world, which prevents the observation of reality with the necessary clarity to understand it. All of this is clothed by the tendency to use “populist anachronisms,” since anachronism is the method most loved by what he calls “intellectual populists.” From Roca Barea’s treatment of Las Casas, valuable because it can thus be demonstrated that a Spaniard initiated the Black Legend, perhaps making good the idea of that negative community which evolves directly towards a lack of community, and to other aspects, such as, the fact that in America, in the 18th century, “the most audacious theories of the Enlightenment were arriving and being studied,” which he regards simply as exaggerations.

Villacañas devotes the end of the book to two other topics to which Roca Barea does not pay as much attention as to the previous ones: the Enlightenment and liberalism. In both cases Villacañas’ opinion is similar. On the one hand, when analyzing the Enlightenment, he says that Roca Barea “is not interested in the movement of ideas nor in understanding them,” but only in “counting the Catholic embassies that were set on fire by the English and pursuing this cosmic battle of which she is the last champion, the last crusade, the Spanish Joan of Arc.” When time comes to say something about liberalism, she does it to point out that “what interests the author of liberalism itself is the will to put into circulation the concept of Latin America as opposed to that of Hispano-America, which affects the Spanish Empire and constitutes the last sign of imperiophobia.”

Imperiofilia closes by recalling that Roca Barea’s success is based on the need that, in the absence of a Spanish nationalist response to the excesses of Catalan nationalism, there is compensation “in a work that calms many insecurities, generates absolute loyalty and attends to the unhappy conscience of many of those who see themselves endangered as a people.” Imperiofobia, he concludes, is ultimately “a product of Steve Bannon’s factory, mixed with the castizo heart of Gustavo Bueno’s imperial melancholy, used by the founding fathers of the Association in Defense of the Spanish Nation in its inaugural proclamation, and current inspirers of the VOX political party.”

The historiographical debate between María Elvira Roca Barea and José Luis Villacañas is nothing more than a reflection of the polarization suffered by Spanish society at present, since it has also had its manifestation in the media. It is not a question of reiterating here the fundamental role that historical knowledge plays in any democratic society, but of vindicating the need not to trivialize it in order to obtain political, economic or ideological advantages.

This becomes even more pertinent in a society dominated by immediacy, where slow and original thinking seems to be disappearing and history tends to satisfy old longings for grandeur. Otherwise, we will continue to be prisoners of a historical narrative riddled with inaccuracies, which refuses to debate with researchers and specialists and which finds in anachronism its best ally; or perhaps this is just a symbol of our own curse, and therefore we are condemned to be haunted by it throughout our history.


Bruno Padín Portela is a historian, with a Masters in Archaeology and Ancient Sciences and a PhD in History from the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). He has published articles in Spanish and has written international reviews analyzing topics related to Spanish historiography, especially the role of traitors in the accounts of the histories of Spain. He is also the author of the book, La traición en la historia de España.


The featured image shows, “The Conquest of Tenochtitlán in 1521,” an anonymous work, painted ca. 17th century.

The Banality Of The Humanities In Spain

Lucian of Samosata says in his treatise, How to Write History, that one can only be a good historian if one can tell the truth; that is, if one wanted to tell it; and if one did not wish to flatter the powerful. That is why many times the great historians have swum against the current; and when the data are systematized and the usual interpretations are dismantled, a history book can seem impertinent. Such was the case of the book by Darío Fernández-Morera, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain. It is a work based on overwhelming evidence, which puts facts before prejudice and goes against the political and academic clichés in force in Spain, which make the image of the past, which is often offered, an inversion of what the past actually was. An example of this is the book by Jorge Elices Ocón, Respeto o barbarie: el islam ante la Antigüedad. De al-Andalus a DAESH (Respect or barbarism: Islam in the face of Antiquity. From al-Andalus to DAESH), which is a faithful portrait, not of the past, but of the political and academic world of Spain today.

In present-day politics of Spain, ideas, controversies and political debate have almost disappeared. Ideas have been replaced by easy-to-use labels, which lack content and are nothing more than a series of words, which fabricate a world parallel to the real world; and the course of this fabricated world is then followed. This is the world of so-called political correctness. And the natural niche in which its slogans are generated in Spain is the academic world.

It is a world of armchair tolerant people, who pretend to redeem the world with their studies, almost always opportunistic and of low academic level, in which they make anachronistic arguments about tolerance in the past.

Such is the case of J. Elices Ocón, who is a perfect example of politically correct opportunism. His book is a doctoral thesis, which is not a guarantee of academic rigor, which was done under the auspices of a project financed with public money, and which shows that getting public money is not a guarantee of anything either. Elices Ocón establishes a continuity between al-Andalus, that is, the Muslim kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula (and his focus is solely on the 10th century), and Daesh, born in Syria ten centuries later, and not in Cordoba, where an important caliphate existed. If he wanted to talk about intolerance in Hispanic Islam, then he would have to examine how the Umayyads had already implanted religious rigorism and oppressed the Christians, and then deal with the Almoravid and Almohad invasions, which took religious rigorism to extreme limits at that time. But that is of no interest to him. In Islam, as in other religions, the demon of hatred, fanaticism and violence always nests in a corner of the soul, which the author seems to want to incarnate exclusively into Christianity.

To demonstrate respect for classical antiquity in Islam, the author limits himself to collecting scattered data on the reuse of capitals, ashlars, and even sarcophagi used as containers for liquids, without realizing that such reuse was common since antiquity, because it takes a lot of work to carve a pillar, let alone make a capital. To be surprised, as Elices Ocón is, that Muslims appreciated the value of the Hispanic Roman aqueducts and bridges, or that Ibn Khaldun, a Muslim historian who believed that history begins with Mohammed, said that the pyramids of Egypt were built by the men of the past and not by mythological beings, can only be explained by his intention to defend, in a wrong way, that there can also be tolerance in Islam, and to confuse tolerance with common sense. Curiously, he hides the fact that, as can be seen in the book by Darío Fernández-Morera, the Muslims destroyed buildings and churches in order to reuse their materials, for example, in the construction of the mosque of Córdoba.

To the quotations of isolated materials, he adds the knowledge of classical texts. The author hides the fact that in the Hispanic Muslim world no one knew Greek, and that Aristotle was translated from Greek into Syriac and from Syriac into Arabic – and by Christian scholars under Muslim rule.

Since Elices Ocón focuses only on the 10th century in Andalusia, he forgets that the Byzantine Empire ended in the 15th century and that it was there that monks preserved classical texts unknown in the West, such as Plato. To maintain that St. Isidore of Seville had less knowledge of the classical world than the supposed Hellenistic scholars of the Caliphate of Cordoba, because Isidore was a Christian, makes no sense. Dioscorides’ book De materia medica, which Elices Ocón cites as an example of interest in the past, was translated into Arabic by a monk sent to Abderraman III by the emperor of Byzantium in order to teach Greek to the slaves in charge of the translation. It was translated for use in medicine, just as Dr. Andrés Laguna would do in the 16th century, when he translated it into Spanish for use as a vademecum. If to this we add that Elices Ocón does not mention that in the Toledo School of translators, promoted by a Christian king, Alfonso X, the translators of Arabic were basically Jews, then we will see how political correctness censors the past and stifles everything.

It is because of political correctness, sold as history and financed by public funds, that it is said that the actions of Daesh can make sense in the context of the struggle against imperialism, citing the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan (Afghanistan). It is true that the remains of the past have been destroyed at all times, but it is also true that Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan punishes, for example, apostasy from Islam with 20 years in prison, the burning of the Koran with public execution, by stoning in the case of women, and any public criticism of the religion with 8 years in prison, if there is a trial, or with execution by the free will of whoever is considered the just executioner.

Spanish humanists today live in a glass bubble. They write their books to win merit, which has nothing to do with knowledge, but everything to do with the standards that their colleagues create to evaluate and finance themselves with public money. They ignore much of the established knowledge, such as that collected by Darío Fernández-Morera in his systematic study, because they only work to accumulate a capital of minor publications, often in journals that they control or create. That is why they believe that to quote an author is to do him a favor. That is why, as J. Elices Ocón does, when there is a Greek author, such as the geographer Strabo, who has been studied from different perspectives in Spain and in Europe by numerous authors in different books, instead of referring to this whole tradition of studies, he limits himself to citing a minor article in a medium level journal, authored by a researcher – probably a friend – who will thus increase his capital of citations, within the networks of reciprocity and distribution of quantifiable honors that the humanities have become in Spain.

Are these new humanities, which ignore the value of systematic work, of the study of texts in their original languages, and which ignore the moral responsibility of the historian, described by Lucian, of any use? Well, no. The humanities thus understood serve no purpose, and nothing would be lost if they were no longer financed with public funds, because they contribute practically no new knowledge, nor do they have any capacity to take root in the concerns of citizens.

So increasingly, what readers demand from the humanities is offered to them by novels and all sorts of works of fiction, not by humanists. The new purple-prose humanists know that they are incapable of arousing interest beyond their academic bubble. They ask to be financed by the state – but as they know that their works can only be accepted, not read, in the field of propaganda and political correctness, they proclaim themselves prophets of a new banal world, which they call the “digital humanities” and emphasize the value of history as a resource to promote tourism. But then Medina Azahara, on whose door, by the way, the severed heads of the enemies of the caliph were hung as a lesson and warning to one and all – was also destroyed by the Muslims themselves.


José Carlos Bermejo Barrera is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). He has published numerous books in the fields of mythology and religions of classical antiquity and the philosophy of history. Among these are The Limits of Knowledge and the Limits of Science, Historia y Melancolía, El Gran Virus. Ensayo para una pandemia, and most recently, La política como impostura y las tinieblas de la información. He has published numerous works in academic journals, such as History and Theory; Quaderni di Storia, Dialogues d’Histoire Ancienne, Madrider Mitteilungen. He is a regular contributor to the daily press.


The featured image shows, “Moors in conversation,” a mural on the ceiling of the Sala de Los Reyes, at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, ca. 1375.

Open Letter To The President Of Mexico, On The Aztecs And Their Cannibalism

The Argentine political scientist and historian, Marcelo Gullo Omodeo, professor at the National University of Rosario, recently published an important book with the evocative title, Madre patria (Mother Country), dismantling the Spanish Black Legend from Bartolomé de las Casas until today.

This book, with a preface by Alfonso Guerra, former vice-president of the Spanish government (1982-1991) and former vice-secretary of the PSOE (1979-1997), has not failed to raise some controversy.

The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (whose name clearly testifies to his Spanish origin), recently responded with disdain for the idea expressed by Gullo, according to which Spain, for the majority of the indigenous peoples, liberated Mesoamerica from the dreadful Aztec oppression.

It should be kept in mind that on March 1, 2019, López Obrador even sent a letter to the King of Spain, Philip VI, demanding an apology for the conquest of America.

In an uncompromising open letter, reproduced in the newspaper, El Mundo and the website ElManifiesto, Professor Gullo dispels doubts and sets the record straight. [Arnaud Imatz]


Mr. Andrés Manuel López Obrador,
President of the Republic of Mexico

Dear Mr. President:

On August 13, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the liberation – though for you, the fall – of Tenochtitlán, you quoted verbatim, without naming me, a paragraph from my interview that appeared in the newspaper, El Mundo, on Friday, July 23, following the publication in Spain of my book, Madre Patria. Desmontando la leyenda negra desde Bartolomé de las Casas hasta el separatismo catalán.

In your speech, you said, “There are issues that need to be clarified as much as possible. For example, a few days ago, a pro-monarchist writer from our continent claimed that Spain did not conquer America, but that Spain liberated America, because Hernán Cortés, and I quote, “gathered 110 Mexican nations that were oppressed by the anthropophagous tyranny of the Aztecs and fought with him.” You have also accused me without any evidence – and without even bothering to examine my academic background or gather information about my anti-imperialist political trajectory – of being a representative of colonialist thought.

Since I agree with you that some points need to be clarified, I would like to remind you that the Mexican archaeologist, Alfonso Caso, former rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, states that “human sacrifice was essential in the Aztec religion.” That is why in 1487, to celebrate the completion of the construction of the great temple of Tenochtitlán – of which you inaugurated a monumental model on August 13 – sacrificial victims were gathered in four rows that stretched along the causeway connecting the islands of Tenochtitlán. It is estimated that during these four days of celebration, the Aztecs killed between 20,000 and 24,000 people.

The North American historian, William H. Prescott, who can hardly be suspected of “Hispanophilia,” gives an even more frightening figure: “When the great temple of Mexico City was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli in 1486, the sacrifices lasted several days, and 70,000 victims perished.” In his book Historia de América, the Uruguayan, Juan Zorrilla de San Martín, explains that “When they took the children to kill them, if they cried and shed tears, they rejoiced more because it was for them the sign that they would have a lot of water in the year.” The number of victims sacrificed each year was immense,” Prescott admits, even though he is one of the most critical historians of the Spanish conquest and one of the most fervent defenders of Aztec civilization.

Hardly any author estimates it at less than 20,000 per year, and there are even some who raise it to 150,000. In his famous work Cannibals and Kings. Origins of Culture, the North American anthropologist, Marvin Harris, writes, ” The main source of food for the Aztec gods was prisoners of war, who were marched up the steps of the pyramids to the temples, seized by four priests, spread-eagled backward over the stone altar, and slit open from one side of the chest to the other with an obsidian knife wielded by a fifth priest. The victim’s heart—usually described as still beating—was then wrenched out and burned as an offering. The body was rolled down the pyramid steps, which were built deliberately steep to accommodate this function.”

What became of the sacrificed dead? Where were the bodies of those human beings whose hearts had been torn out at the top of the pyramids taken? What was done with the body of the victim? What was the fate of these bodies sacrificed to the gods day after day? Anthropologist Michael Harner, who has analyzed this question with more intelligence and courage than many other specialists, answers, “There is really no mystery about what happened to the corpses, since all the eyewitness accounts largely agree – the victims were eaten.”

The numerous scientific works – doctoral theses, books published by world-renowned researchers – that we have today leave no room for doubt that in Mesoamerica there was one oppressor nation, the Aztecs, and hundreds of oppressed nations, from whom the Aztecs not only took their raw materials – as all imperialism in history has done – but also their children, their brothers and sisters. … to sacrifice them in their temples and then distribute the dismembered bodies of the victims in their butcher shops, as if they were pork chops or chicken legs, so that these human beings could serve as substantial food for the Aztec population.

The nobility reserved the thighs, while the entrails were left for the general population. The scientific evidence we have today leaves no room for doubt. The number of human sacrifices practiced among the peoples enslaved by the Aztecs was such that they built the walls of their buildings and temples with skulls.

That is why, on August 13, 1521, the Indian peoples of Mesoamerica celebrated the fall of Tenochtitlan. You even had to acknowledge in your speech, Mr. President, even though you did so reluctantly and between the lines, that it is materially impossible that with only 300 men, four old arquebuses and a few horses, Hernán Cortés could have defeated Montezuma’s army of 300,000 disciplined and courageous soldiers. It would have been impossible even if the 300 Spaniards had had automatic rifles like those used by the Spanish army today.

Thousands of Indians from oppressed nations fought alongside Cortés against the Aztecs. That is why your compatriot José Vasconcelos says that “the conquest was made by the Indians.” And what happened after the conquest, after those first hours of blood, pain and death? It is precisely the opposite of what you say. Spain merged its blood with that of the defeated and with that of the liberated. And let us remember that there were more liberated than defeated. Mexico now teemed with hospitals, bilingual schools and universities. Spain sent its best teachers to America, and the best education was directed at the Indians and mestizos.

Let me remind you, Mr. President, that the Spanish liberators – sorry: the conquistadors – were so respectful of the culture of the so-called indigenous peoples that in 1571 the first grammar book in the Nahualt language was published in Mexico, that is to say, 15 years before the publication of the first grammar book in English, in Great Britain. All the facts show that when Mexico became independent from Spain, it was much richer and more powerful than the United States.

Forgive me, Mr. President, if I risk overstepping the mark, but I would like to suggest, with all due respect, that on February 2, the anniversary of the despicable Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo – by which the United States seized 2,378,539 square kilometers of Mexican territory – you organize a great event like the one you held on August 13.

May I also suggest that, in order to give more importance to this event, you invite the President of the United States, Joseph Biden, and that, in a great speech before the American President, you demand that he apologize to the Mexican people for stealing Texas, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Arizona, lands that were unquestionably part of Mexico.

Finally, dear President, I would like to tell you that since my childhood I have always felt a sentimental attachment to the oppressed peoples – perhaps because I was born in a humble house, in the city of Rosario, in the Republic of Argentina – and that if I could travel back in time, once or a thousand times, I would join the 300 soldiers of Hernán Cortés who, with the greatest courage known in history, freed the Indians of Mexico from the anthropophagous imperialism of the Aztecs.

Marcelo Gullo Omodeo,
August 27, 2021


The featured image shows a heart sacrifice, from the Tudela Codex, ca. 1540.

Fascism: History And Chimeric Reality

Everything about fascism and its opposite has been said for almost a century. Innumerable are the authors of studies, articles, books and documentaries, more or less serious or fanciful, devoted to the history of the fascist phenomenon and its historical significance. Singularly fewer, on the other hand, are interested in the controversies over the meaning of the word, “fascism” and its opposite, “anti-fascism,” and over the proper use of it. The immense merit of American political scientist Paul Gottfried is that he is one of the very few, if not the only one, to deal with all of these aspects. In this lies the interest and the importance of the vast and fascinating synthesis which he has published in Fascisme, histoire d’un concept (2021), a French translation of Fascism, The Career of a Concept (2017) , a study which the author has recently brought to completion with Antifascism. The Course of a Crusade (2021)]. In his Introduction to the French version, American historian Stanley Payne, a great scholar on the subject, aptly writes: “No other book in the recent scholarly literature treats these problems so comprehensively.” To take the measure of this glowing review, a brief perspective is here useful.

To hear what many politicians, writers and journalists have been telling us for decades, fascism should be a perpetually present, lurking danger, a monster, a hydra which can constantly rise from its ashes, despite all efforts to remove it. In the politico-media vocabulary, the term “fascist” is used constantly to denounce, abuse, denigrate, stigmatize the adversary, whose ideas or person we are supposed to hate. “Fascist” is synonymous with violent, fanatic, intolerant, perverse, macho, homophobic, reactionary, colonialist and racist. Fascism is always assimilated or amalgamated with Nazism; it therefore embodies absolute evil, the figure of the devil, the demon of the Bible in a sort of modernist or updated version. The word fascist has become an “empty signifier,” a truncated, trivialized portmanteau word; but nevertheless, because of its pejorative connotation and negative charge, there is not a single disparaging adjective that can compete with it. No leading or secondary political figure can escape the charge of fascism. Over the years, the most diverse regimes, social categories, cultural and religious communities, political parties and trade unions have all or almost all been denounced as fascists. The most contradictory philosophies and ideas have all, or nearly all, been similarly pilloried.

Fascists are therefore, or would have been, according to modern master-censors, jealous guardians of political correctness: Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Charlemagne, Dante, Isabella the Catholic, Philip II, Hegel, Nietzsche, Roosevelt, Churchill, Franco, Gandhi, Mao, Trotsky, Stalin, Tito, Solzhenitsyn, Erdogan, Netanyahu, Putin, Obama, Trump, Biden, Merkel, Orban, Kim-Jong-un, Xi Jinping. Or, to stick to France alone, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Pétain, de Gaulle, Mitterrand, Chirac, Sarkozy, Macron, Mélenchon, Le Pen, Zemmour, Onfray, Houellebecq and many others. Fascist would be, or would have been, Germany and Italy of course, but also Spain, Portugal, Cuba, the USSR, China, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, France, Chile, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, etc. Fascists would also be businessmen, bourgeois, bobos, workers, Catholics, priests, Jews, anti-Semites, Zionists, Islamophobes, Islamophiles, Islamo-leftists, sovereignists, populists, nationalists, globalists, feminists, chauvinists, homosexuals, pederasts, puritans, “pornocrats,” police officers. And I’ll pass over the rest and the best. Ultimately, we should all be, to varying degrees, hopelessly fascists! Tutti fascisti! Fascists All! That was the caustic title of the short political essay published long ago by Italian film critic, Claudio Quarantotto. Fascism has never been so topical. The great vanquished of the political-military history of the twentieth century, fascism seems to have become the absolute and omnipotent winner of Western political-cultural life at the turn of the twenty-first century.

More seriously or more rigorously, since the “march on Rome” of the Mussolini fascists in 1922 (at least, if one accepts to put aside the recent ideological drifts of American and European universities), academic circles have never ceased to try to formulate explanatory theories of the phenomenon. To this day, and despite the incongruous assertions of Roger Griffin and his followers, the debate remains open because there is no consensus. On the contrary, a whole series of interpretations, for the most part initially advanced in the 1920s and 1930s, occupy the field. Some combine and overlap; others, for the most part, contradict and exclude each other.

According to the tastes and convictions of exegetes, fascism is sometimes perceived as the violent and dictatorial instrument of bourgeois capitalism, the “armed wing of capital,” as the Comintern affirmed, in the year 1923. Sometimes, fascism is seen as the effect of irrational, extremist and violent nihilism, a consequence of the moral crisis and the corruption of morals. Sometimes, fascism is regarded as the deleterious result of capitalism and sexual repression, the outgrowth of an authoritarian and repressive society, with its inevitable neurotic and pathological impulses, as the ideologists of the Frankfurt School claimed in the 1930s.

The list of analyses, interpretations and explanations of the phenomenon does not stop there. About twenty specialists, internationally recognized as such, whose tedious enumeration I will spare the reader, identify other factors or characteristics which they deem more essential. The fascist phenomenon is, according to them, the product of the advent of the masses on the political scene; or, the expression of the exclusive radicalism of the middle classes; or, the response to a situation of distress in the face of a movement of social destruction, producing aversion to chaos among the most homogeneous social actors; or, the contemporary form of Bonapartism, independent of a specific class domination; or, the outlet for homosexuality; or, the product of late and atypical development processes; or, resistance to modernization; or, the prototype of the “developmentalist” and modernizing revolution; or, a form of populist and revolutionary ultra-nationalism; or, again, a “political religion,” the typical manifestation of 20th century totalitarianism, a collectivist and police-system specific to modernity, embodying the triumph of violence and terror, with the archetypal models of the Soviet-Communist and Nazi tyrannies, which have more in common with each other than with any other authoritarian form of government.

Let me stress, for the sake of being more complete, but without being exhaustive, that specialists also oppose the right, left or “right and left” nature of the phenomenon – some see fascism as the product of a revisionism of the left, socialist, statist, secularist, anti-traditional and anti-Christian. Others see it as a right-wing revolution, neither reactionary nor opportunist, based on the myth of renewal and regeneration. Still others see it as a revolutionary movement “neither on the right nor on the left;” or simultaneously on the right and the left, born from the synthesis of “revisionist” socialism, revolutionary syndicalism and a new community nationalism, organic and social.

However, fascism as a sociopolitical model of a general and transnational character (or if one prefers the categorization of “generic fascism”) raises more questions than it answers. How can one define fascism without sinking into interpretation-schematization or the reductionist cliché? Historians respond that defining “fascism” is above all about writing history, with the national characteristics linked to political, economic, social and cultural events of countries under consideration. There is not, according to these historians, a model of “one-size-fits-all fascism,” nor a universally valid definition. But on the other hand, one can note the existence of a basic minimal conception, common to the political movements and regimes which appeared in Europe at the beginning of the last century, in the midst of a cultural, economic and social crisis. A point of view a priori convincing but one which raises many questions.

The imperfect similarities which these historians point out constitute indeed a veritable jumble of ideas, values and principles; and there is of course no agreement on their comparative importance, frequency and significance. According to the convictions of the authors, there should be, at the heart of loose fascism, a mystical conception of life and politics; an irrational and voluntarist or idealistic or even spiritualist way of thinking; a cyclical view of history or a palingenesic view of history; the rejection of Marxist materialism; contempt for individualism, parliamentary democracy and the bourgeoisie, in the name of the organic, structured and hierarchical community; racism, anti-Semitism and hatred of others; the cult of the providential and charismatic leader; the call for a new elite, based on the virtue of example; the aspiration to a more mobile society; the desire to create a new ruling class from the middle classes and the working class; the exaltation of youth; the mobilization and integration of the masses through propaganda and the one party; realistic politics (Realpolitik) opposed to utopian politics (Phantasiepolitik); political-cultural imperialism; the heroic justification for war; the desire to reconcile technical modernity and the triumph of traditional values; the fusion of ideals common to traditionalism, nationalism, elitist liberalism, revolutionary socialism and anarcho-syndicalism; the assertion of the primacy of political sovereignty at the expense of any form of economism; the defense of the private economy but nevertheless the extension of public initiative; finally, and in order not to lengthen this list excessively, the will to transform society and the individual in a direction that has never yet been experienced or realized. In the end, a real intellectual patchwork that leaves one speechless.

In the face of these disagreements, many writers have come to deny that one can define a “generic fascist” phenomenon. Others take a less radical position, but nonetheless express the greatest doubt about its usefulness (see in particular: Gregor, Bracher, Allardyce, Muñoz Alonso, Fernández de la Mora, Arendt and De Felice, to name a few).

In reality, specialists of fascism fail to overcome the obstacle represented by the profound differences that exist between supposedly “fascist” movements or regimes, not only between fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany, but also between these two models and the other “nationalist-socialisms” that appeared in the years 1920-1940. To stick to the “state totalitarianism” of Italian fascism, and the “racial totalitarianism” of German National Socialism (and not to mention the “class totalitarianism” of the anticlerical and anti-religious Soviet-Communists), there is an immeasurable difference in the horror (the thesis of Emilio Gentile on “the Italian way of totalitarianism” has moreover been severely criticized by the disciples of Renzo de Felice). Before coming to power, between 1919 and 1922, the Italian fascists inflicted between 600 and 700 casualties among left and far-left activists, but also suffered roughly the same number of deaths in their own ranks. From 1922 to 1940, the Mussolini regime executed nine people (the majority of them Slovenian terrorists), and seventeen others in 1943 (date of the start of the civil war which claimed 50,000 victims, according to Claudio Pavone).

The number of political prisoners in fascist Italy never exceeded 2000. Italian fascism never had the intention or the possibility of developing a genuinely totalitarian system, based on the control of all state institutions and society, nor a fortiori a concentration camp system like those of National Socialist Germany and the USSR. The number of crimes, murders and executions, committed in the name of the “salvation” of Aryan humanity by National Socialist Germany or of the “happiness” of the proletariat, even of all humanity by the USSR and the other communist countries remains a subject of debate among historians; but in any case it is without comparison with that of the victims of fascist Italy (According to the methods, the criteria and the sources, the estimates vary by twice as much: They are from 8 to 15 million for National Socialist Germany, from 20 to 40 million for the USSR and from 60 to 120 million for all the Communist countries). Thus, with Italian fascism there is a difference, not only of degree but of nature.

All of these questions about the similarities and dissimilarities of the Nazi-German and Fascist-Italian models and many more are asked, examined and judiciously discussed by the author of Fascisme, histoire d’une concept (Fascism, History of a Concept). Free and independent of spirit, Paul Gottfried takes seriously the academic tradition of rigor and probity. In this he honors his profession, when a good number of his peers now wallow in ideology and intolerance. Gottfried is not one of those who claim to have the exclusive right to rational or “scientific” arguments, nor to have a monopoly on legitimate speech. He respects his opponents; presents their theses honestly; discusses their content, and presents his conclusions, always avoiding admonishment. If he accepts the categorization of “generic fascism,” he emphasizes, as other authors have done before him (such as Nolte, Arendt, Sternhell, de Felice, Payne, Del Noce or Gregor, to name but a few) that there are fundamental differences between German National Socialism on the one hand and Italian fascism and other “fascisms” on the other.

More seriously or more rigorously, since the “march on Rome” of the Mussolini fascists in 1922 (at least, if one accepts to put aside the recent ideological drifts of American and European universities), academic circles have never ceased to try to formulate explanatory theories of the phenomenon. To this day, and despite the incongruous assertions of Roger Griffin and his followers, the debate remains open because there is no consensus. On the contrary, a whole series of interpretations, for the most part initially advanced in the 1920s and 1930s, occupy the field. Some combine and overlap; others, for the most part, contradict and exclude each other.

According to the tastes and convictions of exegetes, fascism is sometimes perceived as the violent and dictatorial instrument of bourgeois capitalism, the “armed wing of capital,” as the Comintern affirmed, in the year 1923. Sometimes, fascism is seen as the effect of irrational, extremist and violent nihilism, a consequence of the moral crisis and the corruption of morals. Sometimes, fascism is regarded as the deleterious result of capitalism and sexual repression, the outgrowth of an authoritarian and repressive society, with its inevitable neurotic and pathological impulses, as the ideologists of the Frankfurt School claimed in the 1930s. The array of analyses, interpretations and explanations of the phenomenon does not stop there, however. About twenty specialists, internationally recognized as such, whose tedious enumeration I will spare the reader, identify other factors or characteristics which they deem more essential. The fascist phenomenon is, according to them, the product of the advent of the masses on the political scene; or, the expression of the exclusive radicalism of the middle classes; or, the response to a situation of distress in the face of a movement of social destruction, producing aversion to chaos among the most homogeneous social actors; or, the contemporary form of Bonapartism, independent of a specific class domination; or, the outlet for homosexuality; or, the product of late and atypical development processes; or, resistance to modernization; or, the prototype of the “developmentalist” and modernizing revolution; or, a form of populist and revolutionary ultra-nationalism; or, again, a “political religion,” the typical manifestation of 20th century totalitarianism, a collectivist and police-system specific to modernity, embodying the triumph of violence and terror, with the archetypal models of the Soviet-Communist and Nazi tyrannies, which have more in common with each other than with any other authoritarian form of government.

Let me stress, for the sake of being more complete, but without being exhaustive, that specialists also oppose the right, left or “right and left” nature of the phenomenon – some see fascism as the product of a revisionism of the left, socialist, statist, secularist, anti-traditional and anti-Christian. Others see it as a right-wing revolution, neither reactionary nor opportunist, based on the myth of renewal and regeneration. Still others see it as a revolutionary movement “neither on the right nor on the left;” or simultaneously on the right and the left, born from the synthesis of “revisionist” socialism, revolutionary syndicalism and a new community nationalism, organic and social.

However, fascism as a sociopolitical model of a general and transnational character (or if one prefers the categorization of “generic fascism”) raises more questions than it answers. How can one define fascism without sinking into interpretation-schematization or the reductionist cliché? Historians respond that defining “fascism” is above all about writing history, with the national characteristics linked to political, economic, social and cultural events of countries under consideration. There is not, according to these historians, a model of “one-size-fits-all fascism,” nor a universally valid definition. But on the other hand, one can note the existence of a basic minimal conception, common to the political movements and regimes which appeared in Europe at the beginning of the last century, in the midst of a cultural, economic and social crisis. A point of view a priori convincing, but one which raises many questions.

The imperfect similarities which these historians point out constitute indeed a veritable jumble of ideas, values and principles; and there is of course no agreement on their comparative importance, frequency and significance. According to the convictions of the authors, there should be, at the heart of loose fascism, a mystical conception of life and politics; an irrational and voluntarist or idealistic or even spiritualist way of thinking; a cyclical view of history or a palingenesic view of history; the rejection of Marxist materialism; contempt for individualism, parliamentary democracy and the bourgeoisie, in the name of the organic, structured and hierarchical community; racism, anti-Semitism and hatred of others; the cult of the providential and charismatic leader; the call for a new elite, based on the virtue of example; the aspiration to a more mobile society; the desire to create a new ruling class from the middle classes and the working class; the exaltation of youth; the mobilization and integration of the masses through propaganda and the one party; realistic politics (Realpolitik) opposed to utopian politics (Phantasiepolitik); political-cultural imperialism; the heroic justification for war; the desire to reconcile technical modernity and the triumph of traditional values; the fusion of ideals common to traditionalism, nationalism, elitist liberalism, revolutionary socialism and anarcho-syndicalism; the assertion of the primacy of political sovereignty at the expense of any form of economism; the defense of the private economy but nevertheless the extension of public initiative; finally, and in order not to lengthen this list excessively, the will to transform society and the individual in a direction that has never yet been experienced or realized. In the end, a real intellectual patchwork that leaves one speechless.

In the face of these disagreements, many writers have come to deny that one can define a “generic fascist” phenomenon. Others take a less radical position, but nonetheless express the greatest doubt about its usefulness (see in particular: Gregor, Bracher, Allardyce, Muñoz Alonso, Fernández de la Mora, Arendt and De Felice, to name a few).

In reality, specialists of fascism fail to overcome the obstacle represented by the profound differences that exist between supposedly “fascist” movements or regimes, not only between fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany, but also between these two models and the other “nationalist-socialisms” that appeared in the years 1920-1940. To stick to the “state totalitarianism” of Italian fascism, and the “racial totalitarianism” of German National Socialism (and not to mention the “class totalitarianism” of the anticlerical and anti-religious Soviet-Communists), there is an immeasurable difference in the horror (the thesis of Emilio Gentile on “the Italian way of totalitarianism” has moreover been severely criticized by the disciples of Renzo de Felice). Before coming to power, between 1919 and 1922, the Italian fascists inflicted between 600 and 700 casualties among left and far-left activists, but also suffered roughly the same number of deaths in their own ranks. From 1922 to 1940, the Mussolini regime executed nine people (the majority of them Slovenian terrorists), and seventeen others in 1943 (date of the start of the civil war which claimed 50,000 victims, according to Claudio Pavone).

The number of political prisoners in fascist Italy never exceeded 2000. Italian fascism never had the intention or the possibility of developing a genuinely totalitarian system, based on the control of all state institutions and society, nor a fortiori a concentration camp system like those of National Socialist Germany and the USSR. The number of crimes, murders and executions, committed in the name of the “salvation” of Aryan humanity by National Socialist Germany or of the “happiness” of the proletariat, even of all humanity by the USSR and the other communist countries remains a subject of debate among historians; but in any case it is without comparison with that of the victims of fascist Italy (According to the methods, the criteria and the sources, the estimates vary by twice as much: They are from 8 to 15 million for National Socialist Germany, from 20 to 40 million for the USSR and from 60 to 120 million for all the Communist countries). Thus, with Italian fascism there is a difference, not only of degree but of nature.

All of these questions about the similarities and dissimilarities of the Nazi-German and Fascist-Italian models and many more are asked, examined and judiciously discussed by the author of Fascisme, histoire d’une concept (Fascism, History of a Concept). Free and independent of spirit, Paul Gottfried takes seriously the academic tradition of rigor and probity. In this he honors his profession, when a good number of his peers now wallow in ideology and intolerance. Gottfried is not one of those who claim to have the exclusive right to rational or “scientific” arguments, nor to have a monopoly on legitimate speech. He respects his opponents; presents their theses honestly; discusses their content, and presents his conclusions, always avoiding admonishment. If he accepts the categorization of “generic fascism,” he emphasizes, as other authors have done before him (such as Nolte, Arendt, Sternhell, de Felice, Payne, Del Noce or Gregor, to name but a few) that there are fundamental differences between German National Socialism on the one hand and Italian fascism and other “fascisms” on the other.

That said, Gottfried prefers to reserve the term “fascism” for movements other than Nazism (which was a “borderline case,” marked by the totalizing and exterminating character of its dictatorship, and significantly opposed to any form of organic democracy) – and in the framework of “generic fascism” he distinguishes between and “Latin fascism” of Catholic countries from “North European fascism” of Protestant countries. He also agrees that the fascist phenomenon is revolutionary in nature and historically linked to interwar Europe. Furthermore, he also agrees that the traditional, nationalist and conservative rights of the authoritarian governments of Franco, Salazar or Dollfuss cannot be amalgamated with the only true model of “generic fascism” that is Italian fascism. On the other hand, considering that the dividing line between right and left rests on the principles of egalitarianism and hierarchy and on the acceptance or rejection of the myth of progress, Gottfried resolutely classifies fascism on the right, and opposes thus frontally authors who, like in his Preface to the French translation, Stanley Payne, believe that fascism constitutes, on the contrary, the only type of revolutionism beyond the classic forms of the left and the right.

One can however doubt that the categorization of “Latin fascism,” used by Paul Gottfried, is really of a nature to shed more light on the rather muddled question of “generic fascism.” For my part, I believe I know the life and political thought of José Antonio Primo de Rivera quite well, as well as the entire bibliography of his movement, the Spanish Phalange. The majority of specialists see in José Antonio the model of “Spanish fascism.” Defined as fascist, José Antonio is therefore necessarily anti-democratic, putschist, ultranationalist, imperialist, a warmonger, totalitarian, apologist of violence and dictatorship. The problem is that these opinions, accusations and value judgments are all questionable and easily overturned by the facts, life and writings of José Antonio. Let us pass over the annoyance and the legitimate sarcasm that the severity and the injustice of these judgments do not fail to arouse in Hispanic countries, when such judgments come from foreign authors who make sure to be much more careful, balanced and measured when the time comes to assess the immeasurably greater violence committed in the name of so-called peaceful democracy inside or outside the borders of their own countries.

But let us underline two points, often overlooked by those who approach the study of so-called “Spanish fascism.” It should first be remembered that over the past two centuries, both the Right and the Left have for the most part embraced their own forms of anti-democracy, authoritarianism, nationalism, imperialism, violence, warmongering, elitism, hierarchy, identity politics or particularism. It should then be noted that the José-Antonian Phalangist movement (1933-1936) has only very distant links with the Traditionalist Phalange movement, born of the merger of all the right-wing parties under the aegis of Franco, in 1937, and all the more so with the Caudillo regime from 1937 to 1975.

For the comparison with “Latin fascism,” let us stick here only with the Phalange of José Antonio. In reality, beyond the “revolutionary” or very reformist character of the economic and social program of the Spanish Phalange of the JONS, the elements which differentiate the José-Antonian ideal from fascism(s) are numerous: the conception of the subordinate state to moral principles and to the transcendent end of man, the sense of human dignity, consideration for the individual and social life, respect for freedom, the affirmation of man’s eternal value, and the Catholic inspiration of political philosophy and the structure of society. And this is not nothing. Anti-capitalist and anti-socialist-Marxist, José Antonio undoubtedly was. But was he anti-democratic? It is debatable: “The aspiration for a free and peaceful democratic life will always be the goal of political science beyond all fashions,” he said. Violence was not a postulate of its ideal, nor a condition of its objective, but a pragmatic necessity to avoid being annihilated (the José-Antonian Phalange suffered about fifteen fatal attacks the day after its foundation; after eight months of waiting, it launched into reprisals, leaving some sixty victims among its adversaries, a figure roughly equal to the total of its own losses. But throughout the duration of the Second Spanish Republic and until the outbreak of the Civil War there were nearly 2,500 dead).

José Antonio wanted to be a patriot much more than a nationalist. “We are not nationalists,” he said, “because being a nationalist is nonsense; it is to base the deepest springs of the nation on a physical factor, on a simple physical circumstance. We are not nationalists because nationalism is the individualism of peoples.” We do not find the slightest territorial claim in his Complete Works either. According to him, the Spanish Empire in the 20th century could only be spiritual and cultural in nature. One would look in vain for anti-Semitic or racist overtones in his remarks. No doubt he clumsily used the term totalitarian or totalitarian state five times, but he did so clearly to signify his desire to create a “state for all,” “without divisions,” “integrating all Spaniards,” and “An instrument at the service of national unity.” Equally surprising is his point of view on fascism expressed in his 1936 declaration: “Fascism is fundamentally wrong: it is right in sensing that it is a religious phenomenon, but it wants to replace religion with idolatry;” and “it leads to the absorption of the individual into the collective.” As for his Catholic convictions, they cannot be questioned. We find the ultimate and clear manifestation of this in the will he wrote on November 18, 1936, the day after a parody of a trial, two days before his execution: “I forgive with all my heart all those, without exception, who may have harmed or offended me, and I ask all those to forgive me to whom I may owe the reparation of some wrong, be it great or small.”

One can of course think that there exists between the agnostic Mussolini, the secularist Giovanni Gentile (official philosopher of fascism), the neo-pagan Julius Evola, the Romanian orthodox, very anti-Semitic, Codreanu, and the Catholic, national-syndicalist, José Antonio, a kind of lowest common denominator. But the link that would constitute “Latin fascism” is at the very least tenuous and questionable. The comparison of the young leader of the Phalange with the non-conformists or French personalists of the 1930s, or with the founder of Fianna Fail, President of the Irish Republic, Éamon de Valera, however seems much more convincing. It is telling that, somewhat embarrassed by the José Antonio case, most historians resort to a series of euphemisms. Joséantonian fascism would be, they say, “intellectual,” “rational,” “moderate,” “civilized.” “idealist,” “naïve,” or “poetic”. Perhaps! But these attributes are not among the commonly accepted characteristics of fascism.

With this reservation on “Latin fascism” made, I cannot say enough how much Gottfried’s book deserves to be read. Having appreciated the English version in its time, I was fortunate to be associated with the French edition project. In his beautiful Introduction for the French-speaking public, Stanley Payne writes: “Paul Gottfried’s book is the best and most comprehensive interpretive study of fascism that has emerged in the last decade of this century.” Allow me to correct just a few words to say in a way that I believe is even more precise: “which has been in existence for a quarter of a century.”

Note: A word on the Franco-French polemics around the “French origins” of fascism. According to the thesis developed over more than forty years ago, by the Israeli historian, Zeev Sternhell (who was a Zionist-socialist in his youth and then a social-democratic activist influenced by Habermas), France was the laboratory of proto-fascism and of fascism at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It then had a real “fascist impregnation” in the 1930s, which finally led to the Vichy regime, the perfect realization of fascism. Obsessed with a view of the history of binary ideas pitting the heirs of the Enlightenment against their opponents, Sternhell exaggeratedly magnified the influence of a few political-cultural movements and a handful of famous intellectual figures. Contrary to what he suggests, there is a considerable difference between nationalist and authoritarian movements, which advocate state reform in the sense of strengthening the executive, and a fascist organization which pursues its revolutionary overthrow, or which aspires to a profound upheaval of social structures. Raymond Aron, Michel Winock, Serge Berstein and many other historians and political scientists, have demonstrated the amalgamations and the Manichean character of Sternhell’s work, which, despite very stimulating early intuitions, is more of a form of anti-fascist activism than a rigorous history of ideas.


Arnaud Imatz is a French historian and political scientist, and a great connoisseur of Spain. His notable publications include José Antonio et la Phalange espagnole and La Guerre d’Espagne revisitée. His lates book is Droite/gauche, pour sortir de l’équivoque.

This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef. Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The featured image shows a poster for the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI), by Gino Boccasile, ca. 1944.

The Second Vatican Council In Spain: Effects, Answers And Advice

1. The Second Vatican Council As An Event

The French philosopher Alain Badiou defines an event not merely as something important or significant that can occur in any of the different areas of social, political, artistic or scientific life. It is, rather, about a bankruptcy in the field of knowledge or politics, because with the event in question a new situation emerges. In the Catholic world, in general, and in Spain in particular, we can consider the Second Vatican Council as an authentic event. And, as such, as Michel Onfray has maintained, the Second Vatican Council was “the Christian May ’68.”

And, in this event, the new conciliar political theology, as it emerged from the dominant hermeneutic in the Vatican, turned out to be antithetical to the previously dominant one. It signified the triumph of ecumenism; the opening to the left, communism and Marxism included; the final acceptance of liberal democracy as a legitimate political framework for Catholics; the experience of worker-priests; the pacifist option and non-violence; the sweeping aggiornamento; ecumenism; cosmopolitanism; the radical modification of the liturgy; the new scenography of the Eucharistic process, and so and so forth. Commenting on these changes, Onfray, a militant atheist, pointed out that “the Church precipitated the forward movement that heralded its downfall.”

Likewise, at that time, fundamental principles of the Catholic creed were being questioned, such as, the principle of authority, the dogma of the Eucharist, celibacy, divorce, preconjugal sexual relations, orthodoxy itself; and, on a speculative level, the demystification of biblical texts, the appearance of theology without God, the “textual” exegesis of biblical texts, and so on.

However, it does not seem that the agnostic and left-wing intellectuals were very impressed by the new Vaticanist theology. In a profile of the famous Maurrasian traditional Catholic historian, Philippe Ariés, his friend Michel Foucault made reference to “the antics of the Second Vatican Council.”

In few societies like the Spanish one, the repercussions of the new Council were more decisive, especially in conservative and traditionalist sectors, but also for the progressivists and the left opposed to the political regime born of the Civil War. Because traditional Catholicism had been in a country that did not experience the Lutheran Reformation or the separation between Church and State, it was much more than a religion; it was a system of beliefs and morals that had marked the whole of society—its ideas, its mentalities, its politics, its habits of life, etc. For all these reasons, the crisis of traditional Catholicism was a truly national and, above all, a social and political crisis—a fact that also coincided with a decisive change in the economic and social structures of the country.

Under the aegis of the so-called “technocrats,” Spanish society underwent qualitative changes in its social and economic structures. As in the case of the productive structure, there was an incessant and contradictory process of “creative destruction” in the areas of morals, social values and mentalities. The doors were opened to cultural secularization. Tradition was losing its plausibility in the process, in which industrial society was consolidated and stripped of its paradigmatic character for today. As the theologian Olegario González de Cardedal pointed out: “Thus began a process of immanentization of reality with the resultant closure to the transcendent order and eschatological promises.”

“A poor Church, a poor Spain!” Exclaimed the priest, Aniceto de Castro Albarrán, a former contributor to Acción Española, in one of his writings. For the political regime born of the Civil War, the situation was enormously problematic. Its institutions and its civic culture clearly depended on the social doctrine of the Church, a doctrine that came from the era of Pius XI and even from Pius IX, a supporter of the confessional State, of the condemnation of liberalism that starting with the Syllabus and of social and political corporatism. In 1953, the Spanish State had signed a Concordat with the Vatican, which granted multiple privileges to the Catholic Church in educational, moral, social and political matters.

However, the regime tried to convert itself, under the new political and social contexts, into what the liberal philosopher John Rawls has called a “decent hierarchical political system,” which progressively accepted the principles of religious freedom, economics, equality before the law, etc. As the historian Juan Pablo Fusi has pointed out, from the 1960s Spanish society began to enjoy numerous “spaces of freedom,” especially at the level of intellectual debate and the possibility of founding new publishing houses, newspapers and media. In fact, the religious freedom projects promoted by Minister Fernando María Castiella were formulated before the convocation of the Council. In the Organic Law of the State, Spain continued to be confessionally Catholic. The new Spanish legislation was presented to the Pontiff, but its fundamental demands, such as the renunciation of the participation of the government in the appointment of bishops, the privilege of the Fuero, the presence of bishops and priests in official bodies and political institutions, were ignored by Franco.

In any case, for the most conscientious intellectuals and politicians of the regime, the new strategy of the Vatican and of the new pontiff, Giovanni Battista Montini, Paul VI, was clear – for he was a man trained in the doctrines of Jacques Maritain, devoted to the thesis of the “new Christianity,” son of a deputy of the People’s Party of Luigi Sturzo, secretary of the FUCI (Federazione Universitari Cattolici Italiana), supporter of the Christian Democracy, and one of whose teachers had been Father Giulio Bevilacqua, a prominent antifascist priest. Furthermore, the beginning of his pontificate had coincided with the shift to the left of the Christian Democrats, a prelude to the historic compromise. When he was Archbishop of Milan, Montini sent a letter to Franco, on behalf of Jorge Conill, an anarchist sentenced to death for his terrorist activities.

According to some testimonies, Montini had been in favor, after the end of World War II, of the restoration of the Monarchy and the elimination of Franco. Very controversial was the content of the pontifical address of June 24, 1969, in which Montini compared the situation in Spain with that of Vietnam, the Middle East and Nigeria; which caused a harsh reply from Emilio Romero, in the columns of the official Pueblo newspaper. The philosopher Leopoldo-Eulogio Palacios, formerly of Acción Española and author of El mito de la Nueva Cristiandad (The Myth of the New Christianity), a famous criticism of the doctrines of Jacques Maritain, argued that Paul VI was the one who had put into practice the project defended by the French philosopher in his writings. Upon being elected Pontiff, Franco welcomed him like “a bucket of cold water.” However, Franco added with his usual political realism: “He is no longer Cardinal Montini. Now he is Pope Paul VI.”

There could, therefore, not be the slightest doubt that Montini and his acolytes had as their project the end of the Spanish regime, in favor of a Spanish Catholic Church incardinated in the context of European liberal democracies. Actually, there was nothing strange about that attitude. The Vatican is a state with its own political interests, which it tries to impose on the nations of Catholic roots. And, in that sense, the Vatican hierarchy had long considered an authoritarian and confessional system, such as the Spanish one, to be dysfunctional. As Carl Schmitt pointed out, the political activity of the Catholic Church is characterized by “astonishing elasticity;” it is “a complexio oppositorum.” “There does not seem to be any contradiction that she is not able to encompass.” A clear example of this was its strategy throughout the twenties and thirties of the last century.

On the one hand, the condemnation of L’Action française, in 1926, accusing it of exacerbated nationalism, to reach a pact with the Third Republic; on the other, the Lateran Pacts with Mussolini’s fascist Italy. And, as Antonio Gramsci pointed out, “the Vatican is more realistic than Maurras and better conceives the formula of politique d’abord.” It was not, of course, a disruptive strategy at the social level; quite the opposite. To employ again a Gramscian conceptualization, it was a project of “passive revolution,” and the guarantor of a balance between the new social, political and religious forces. Or, what comes to the same thing – a guarantee, in a new political context, of the privileges of the Catholic Church, in social and educational matters, achieved throughout the Franco regime: Change what was considered an accessory, for what the ecclesiastical apparatus considered essential.

Although the Vatican’s project was objectively reformist, it received, as we will see, the help, sometimes direct and at other times indirect, from the emerging sectors of progressive and even revolutionary Spanish Catholicism and against the representatives of conservatism and traditionalism—and ultimately against the regime of General Franco.

Faced with these offensives, there was no unitary or common strategy, tactic or response on the part of the political and intellectual forces affected by the regime, or simply conservatives. And thus it is that considering the Franco regime as a homogeneous whole is wrong. Undoubtedly, there was a reaction that we could call traditionalist, which was the loudest; but it was not, nor could it be, the most effective. Likewise, there was an alternative, from the positions of a new positivist conservatism, consisting of assuming the secularizing process with all its consequences. And another, apart from the Vatican project overseen in Spain by Vicente Enrique y Tarancón, that was assumed from Catholic-conservative positions, namely, the principle of religious freedom.

2. The Progressive Offensive

Years later, the philosopher and theologian Adolfo Muñoz Alonso lamented, anticipating not the decline of the Falange as an effective political force, but that of the regime born of the Civil War: “…the political mistake of the confessional organizations that have shunned the clarity and the distinction of ideas and aspirations in the field of the specific apostolate ‘and’ the politicization of the Second Vatican Council combining heterogeneous factors.”

The progressive hermeneutics of the new papal encyclicals and of the theological-political content of the Second Vatican Council was, at least in certain political and intellectual spheres, decisive. Very significant, in this regard, was the interpretation of the content of the encyclical Pacem in Terris, by John XXIII, which was made by certain liberal, Christian Democrat and socialist sectors. The Taurus publishing house brought out, in 1963, a book entitled, Comentarios a la Pacem in Terris (Comments to the Pacem in Terris), in which Mariano Aguilar Navarro, José María Díez Alegría, Manuel Giménez Fernández, Eduardo García de Enterría, Lorenzo Martín Retortillo and others collaborated.

Giménez Fernández highlighted the eagerness of Juan XXIII for renewal. García de Enterría pointed out that the Catholic Church had abandoned “indifference to the forms of government” to explicitly embrace “the democratic principle” and with the definitive “abandonment of what the ancient doctrine called monarchy,” and of “political paternalism.” For his part, Martín Retortillo pointed out “the happy coincidence that exists in many of its points” between the pontifical doctrine and that of the French politician Pierre Mendès France in his book, A Modern French Republic, which was translated into Spanish by the Aguilar publishing house; and he concluded that in the encyclical the fundamental rights were not limited to the negative ones of a liberal nature, but also to the positive ones, such as, that of social security.

The doctrinal and intellectual offensive of the self-proclaimed progressive or conciliar Catholicism was decisive, especially in the university and intellectual fields and among the youth. Its main champions were theologians, such as, José María Díez Alegría and José María González Ruíz, and intellectuals, such as, José Luis López Aranguren. Its ideas were disseminated by prestigious publishers, such as, Taurus, Edicusa, Alianza, Peninsula and Guadarrama; and it was highlighted in magazines, such as, Cuadernos para el Diálogo (which was edited by Franco’s former minister Joaquín Ruíz Giménez), Triunfo and El Ciervo. There were some popularizers of Catholic progressivism, or of the so-called Liberation Theology, such as, Enrique Miret Magdalena. Significant was the publication by the Taurus publishing house of the complete works of the heterodox Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who had been accused of being a modernist by many Catholic theologians and by official science, but whose ideas were well received by progressive Catholic sectors.

Among Taurus’s first books was the work of José María Díez Alegría, who reinterpreted natural law, in which he showed himself to be a revisionist of Catholic natural law. In this respect, he understood that the norms of natural law were susceptible not only to exceptional variation, but to some historical variability, and thus the norms were limited by circumstantial determinations, and, in any case, subject to the double effect moral principle. Furthermore, natural law evolved historically in the ever more perfect knowledge of this principle and in its progressive application to social life.

The introducer in Spain of certain aspects of what would later be called Liberation Theology was Canon José María González Ruíz, by way of his book, El cristianismo no es un humanismo (Is Not Christianity A Humanism?), in whose pages he defended a “theology of the world.” It was an attempt to reconcile Christianity with worldly, social reality. His objective was dialogue with Marxism, especially for its criticism of religion as a system of alienation or “estrangement.” Faced with this interpretation, González Ruíz argued that Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, were “essentially materialistic;” that the Christian ethic was “primarily projected toward man rather than toward God;” and that the Catholic Church had to “make concrete and committed decisions in the face of individual and collective human situations.” In that sense, he mentioned “our Marxist brothers.” He interpreted the Second Vatican Council as a “monumental self-review.” And he advocated the encounter with Marxism on a “common ground.”

However, the most charismatic representative of Catholic progressivism was José Luis López Aranguren, who in his book, El marxismo como moral (Marxism as Moral) advocated, like González Ruíz, a dialogue between Christians and Marxists. For López Aranguren, Marxism was not a scientific doctrine, but “moral voluntarism,” which coincided with Christianity in its criticisms of capitalism, propitiating a “reaction to previous religious individualism.”

At the same time, López Aranguren was very critical of the reality of official Catholicism. In his understanding, a point of “total secularization” had been reached; that is, the destruction of the distinction between the sacred and the profane. A phenomenon that had had a powerful impact on the reality of the Catholic Church. Such a crisis had manifested itself in the pontificate of John XXIII and in the Second Vatican Council, and had an impact on theology itself, on the discussions around dogmas, on the very notion of orthodoxy, on biblical hermeneutics and of revelation, and so on. The social and political phenomenon par excellence was the “contest.” The paradox of a “theology without God” had even been reached. López Aranguren rejected the existence of religious orders and considered secular institutes “spiritually poor.” His pessimism about the future of Catholicism was very remarkable, because the Second Vatican Council had unleashed “forces that were very difficult to contain,” so that “humanly speaking, I cannot expect much from Catholicism.”

Along with these charismatic leaders of progressive or oppositional Catholicism, there were a series of epigones among which were the young theologians Enrique Miret Magdalena, Casiano Floristán, Enrique Iniesta, Antonio Aradillas, José María Llanos, Tomás Malagón, and José Luis Martín Vigil (author of a significant novel entitled, Los curas comunistas (The Communist Priests). Synthesizing the approaches of these priests, Miret Magdalena highlighted his animosity towards the idea of religious unity, which, in his view, was of “pagan and non-Christian origin;” the commitment to the working class; the defense of the fundamental values of Christianity, that is, just peace, social love, real freedom and respect for personal conscience. “And whoever does not accept these values, no matter how much he says he believes in all dogmas, he is not a Christian and, therefore, he cannot be a Catholic.”

In the same way, we must highlight the influence of the Instituto Fe y Secularidad, organized by Jesuits, such as, Alfonso Álvarez Bolado and José Gómez Caffarena, whose objective was to raise the dialogue between Christians and Marxists.

The phenomenon of worker priests was generalized in Spain in the 1960s. A pioneer was Father José María Llanos, who in 1955 settled in the neighborhood of El Pozo del Tío Raimundo, and later was a member of the PCE. Perhaps this phenomenon’s most charismatic representative was Francisco García Salve, a militant Jesuit of the Workers’ Commissions and the PCE.

In 1973 the group, Cristianos por el Socialismo (Christians for Socialism) appeared in Spain, founded by Juan N. García Nieto, Alfonso Carlos Comín, Pedro Ribera, Juan Pujades, Father José María Llanos and the historian, María del Carmen García Nieto. The most charismatic militant of this group was, without a doubt, José Carlos Comín, of Carlist descent, who managed to give a supposedly messianic image, with an eloquent and prophetic oratory, not exempt at times from a certain exhibitionism. His own face, that of a contemporary Jesus Christ, sought to give a new image of committed and revolutionary Christianity.

At the same time, new Christian-inspired unions appeared, such as, the Unión Sindical Obrera, which emerged from the Catholic Workers’ Youth. Likewise, emerged the first Workers’ Commissions, whose members came, generally, from Catholic sectors; and many Catholics were part of the Maoist Revolutionary Workers’ Organization. And the deeds of the revolutionary priest, Camilo Torres, those of Che Guevara, the new Christ resurrected, or the Chilean experiment in socialism, promoted by Salvador Allende, with the support of some left-wing Catholics, were glorified as examples. In this context, the homilies that were fined were abundant, the difficulties of the self-proclaimed grassroots Catholic movements were many, and the priestly fitting out of jails in Zamora significant.

Naturally, this process had to generate its own dialectic; and generate it did. Conservative and traditional groups had to seek an answer to the new context; but, as we have already pointed out, it was not a common answer, but a diverse one.

3. The Traditional Reaction

Previous to the Council, the traditional Spanish Catholic sectors had focused their attention on the criticism of figures, such as, Miguel de Unamuno and, above all, José Ortega y Gasset, prototypes of heterodoxy. Good proof of this was the content of magazines such as Arbor, in the 1940s, and then in the mid-1950s Punta Europa, financially supported by the Oriol family and edited by the traditionalist writer, Vicente Marrero Suárez.

Then, in the conciliar context, Verbo magazine came to existence, which gradually became the intellectual organ of Spanish traditionalist Catholicism. The new magazine was considered heir to Acción Española, although its model was La Cité Catholique, edited by the former Maurrasian, Jean Ousset. Among its founders were Eugenio Vegas Latapié, Juan Vallet de Goytisolo and Estanislao Cantero. Its most common contributors were Rafael Gambra, Álvaro D´Ors, Vicente Marrero, Francisco Javier Fernández de la Cigoña, Francisco Elías de Tejada, Blas Piñar López, Gabriel de Armas, Francisco Canals Vidal, Bernardo Monsegú, Julián Gil de Sagredo, Eustaquio Guerrero , Gabriel Alferez Callejón, José Guerra Campos, Jerónimo Cerdá Bañuls, and so forth; as well as French traditionalists, such as, Jean Madiran, Marcel Clement, Marcel de Corte, Michel Creuzet, Jean Ousset, or the Brazilian Plinio Correa de Oliveira.

Significantly, numerous writings of the Archbishop of Dakar, Marcel Lefebvre, known for his criticism of the doctrinal development of the Second Vatican Council, were published in the magazine. However, it never intended to break from the Vatican, so Verbo also published writings of the doubting Montini, in which the continuity between the doctrine of Vatican II and Catholic tradition was defended. Although, in one of its first issues, the Syllabus of Pius IX also appeared.

Verbo was always marked by nostalgia for past times. It was and still is a traditionalist, Thomistic magazine. Its political model was the traditional, Catholic and corporate monarchy of Acción Española. Eugenio Vegas Latapié rejected, following Charles Maurras, the concept of “organic democracy.” And Vallet de Goytisolo published numerous writings subjecting to criticism the doctrinal foundations of the technocracy, which he accused of being an ideology heir to the Enlightenment, secularizing, mechanistic and atheistic. In his works, Vallet de Goytisolo rejected mass society, which he reproached for its lack of its own hierarchical structure, which implied “the disappearance of intermediate bodies, the extension of functions, the progress of the technology of propaganda,” “religious uprooting,” “the destruction of traditions,” “dialectical materialism,” and the “elimination of the transcendent.” As an alternative, Vallet de Goytisolo advocated a return to classical natural law and traditional society; what he called “the natural legal order” and the “pluralism of natural or intermediate societies within which the State must limit itself to complying with the principle of subsidiarity.”

In 1965, Editorial Católica Española (the Spanish Catholic Publishing House) created the Vedruna Prize, endowed with 100,000 pesetas, “to promote the study of Catholic Unity as the political-social foundation of Spain, regardless of the theological order that exceeded that purpose.” The award jury was made up of Juan Iglesias Santos, Blas Piñar López, Raimundo de Miguel, Jesús María Liaño Pacheco and Jaime de Carlos and Gómez Rodulfo. The prize was awarded to the traditionalist philosopher, Rafael Gambra, author of the famous, Historia sencilla de la Filosofía (Simple History of Philosophy), for his book, La unidad religiosa y el derrotismo católico (Religious unity and Catholic Defeatism), published by Editorial Católica Española, with a foreword by Juan Vallet de Goytisolo. In the work, Gambra limited himself to defending the topics of traditionalism, with abundant quotations from Joseph de Maistre, Donoso Cortés and Menéndez Pelayo, whose foundation was the defense of Spanish Catholic unity as a platform for political, social and moral cohesion. For Gambra, a Catholic could not accept the separation of political power from the moral and religious order. The “regime of neutral coexistence” was an inheritor of the Lutheran Reformation and of “rationalism” and “statism,” which “are areligious and agnostic plants in the soil.” Secularism was synonymous with “apostasy.”

Some theologians collaborating with the Punta Europa magazine expressed themselves in identical terms when criticizing the exegesis of liberal or left-wing intellectuals and theologians. In an editorial, the magazine endeavored to demonstrate that the concept of freedom defended in Pacem in Terris was the same as that coined by Leo XIII in Libertas. Luis Vitoria denounced the confusion of some theologians, in particular, Enrique Miret Magdalena, with respect to pontifical innovations, because “only fidelity to the traditional makes true progress possible.”

However, the main issues were those of religious freedom and the confessional state. From his natural law perspective, Father Vitorino Rodríguez argued that under the concept of religious freedom very different meanings could be understood. In this regard, he denied that “false religions were assisted by a natural right to public profession and proselytism, because a religious attitude due to error…is incompatible with the hallmarks of natural law: universal, inviolable, printed in the nature of every man.”

At best, what a Catholic state could do was “tolerate,” for reasons of political prudence, the public presence of other religions. Along the same lines, the Jesuit Eustaquio Guerrero affirmed that there was no reason why, after the Council, Spanish society should abandon the confessional state and the principle of Catholic unity; there was only “the prejudice and passion of progress that seeks to reconcile the Church with the world through the burial of Constantinian Catholicism and the delivery, in the press, of Spain to the liberal and Protestant world.”

The Spanish Church was experiencing profound disagreements within itself. Between 1966 and 1968, the crisis of Acción Católica (Catholic Action) took place, which practically led to its disappearance. Meanwhile, on March 1, 1966, with the presence of the nuncio Riberi and the attendance of seventy bishops, the Spanish Episcopal Conference was established. Its first president was Cardinal Quiroga Palacios, with Morcillo as more or less its vice-president, and José Guerra Campos, its general secretary. All of them were faithful to Franco and traditional orthodoxy. However, the strategy of the Vatican soon became noticeable. From 1969 to 1971, the presidency fell to Casimiro Morcillo. But on his death, Vicente Enrique y Tarancón, Montini’s man in Spain, took office. During the Civil War, the Levantine priest had been a fervent champion of the “Crusade.” Later, he was appointed bishop of Solsona. Franco himself, as Tarancón recognized in his Confesiones (Confessions), wanted him to occupy the headquarters at Oviedo, Toledo and Madrid.

Then Tarancón was appointed secretary of the Conference of Metropolitans, predecessor of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, and rapporteur of the Synod of Bishops in Rome. He participated in the Second Vatican Council, where he met Montini. His pastoral work continued in Oviedo, where he was coadjutor archbishop. He acceded to the archbishopric of Burgos and later that of Toledo as Primate of Spain. Paul VI gave him the cardinal’s hat in 1969. Until then, he had not shown any progressive fickleness. At all times, he was a typical man of the ecclesiastical apparatus. In the context of the time, he managed to embody, at a strategic level, a relative “center” between progressives and traditionalists, to carry out Paul VI’s project of “passive revolution.” In public, he portrayed himself as a pragmatic and worldly man. His opinion of General Franco was always positive; he described him as “a nice man, very talkative… He spoke of Spain with passion and of the Church as if he were party to all her secrets.” He reproached Franco, however, for “not having understood the Council.”

Tarancón’s antagonistic opposite was the ascetic, José Guerra Campos, who soon became known, in traditional circles as, “The Bishop of Spain.” Tarancón was aware of this antagonism when, in an interview, he described Guerra Campos as “a deep man, a great researcher, somewhat extreme.” Guerra Campos showed himself above all be an intellectual, a theologian and a philosopher. He was not a pragmatist like Tarancón. Unlike other members of the clergy, he became familiar with Marxist philosophy, Kantism, and the evolutionism of Teilhard de Chardin. In a conference at the University of Santiago de Compostela, he lectured on Marx. This was positively valued by the Italian communist newspaper, L’Unitá. The Galician priest participated in the famous Gredos Talks. And he was a consultant to the Spanish Episcopate at the Council. Shortly after, he was appointed titular bishop of Mustia and auxiliary of Madrid-Alcalá in June 1964 and 1965. He participated in the sessions of the Council of 1964 and 1965, with a special intervention on Marxist atheism.

Guerra Campos always denied that Vatican II represented a break with traditional Catholic doctrine. His criticism focused on what he called the “noisy manipulation of the Council,” in clerical circles, with a “disregard for the basic texts,” and “with the interpretation of others in the light of some future, imaginary Vatican Councils II.” The very term aggiornamento did not mean revision according to the dominant spirit of the time, but within tradition, a “wise interpretation of the spirit of the Council that we have celebrated, and the final application of its norms.” For this reason, he rejected the obsession to revise or reject all the content of the tradition, concluding that the novelty was positive per se; and that the Church of other times was obtuse “when the Second Vatican Council has not substituted or suppressed a single truth of faith and a single moral principle of the previous catechisms.” Far from any relativism, the Council had defined Catholicism as the only true religion, because “God wanted to manifest himself fully in Christ, who reconciles all things to himself.” The Church was the bearer of “a revelation that constitutes at the same time, the call and the answer of God for those who seek… Christ is the totality of religious life, he is the only way of salvation.”

In contrast, Guerra Campos accused certain theologians of “imposing the dictatorship on matters of opinion, where the appreciations of the believers are free, while on the other hand all daring against dogmas is tolerated.” When criticizing the dissenters, Guerra Campos took advantage of Montini’s famous speech, delivered on June 29, 1972, in which it was stated that “the smoke of Satan has entered the Church,” to denounce the innovations that he considered dangerous such as “the Church’s retreat to the passions of the world… emptying the faith of its revealed contents… to practically confuse it with a current of opinion and desires of this time… reducing the mission of the Church to a temporary action, a revolutionary political action.” One of the mainstays of his speech was the defense of the Catholic confessional state: “The true religion (we call true religion not a human religion, but the one that springs from the manifestation of Christ, the revelation of God in History), has the maximum right, the exclusive right to be recognized as such and to be, as such, favored: not with coercion, but with positive help so that this message, which is a gift of God, really reaches to all men.”

For Guerra Campos, Christianity was the appropriate response to the two humanisms that were vying for hegemony in the modern world: exalted humanism, whose greatest exponent was Marxism; and the humanism of depression, represented above all by atheistic existentialism. Both led to “slavery.” Even less effective was “scientism,” which, according to the expositions of the biologist Jacques Monod, led to “the radical denial of freedom.” Guerra Campos was to be the doctrinal inspiration for some of the traditionalist groups that came to light as a response to the innovations of the moment.

Not by chance, on May 2, 1966, Fuerza Nueva appeared as a publishing company and, above all, as a political pressure group. Its leaning was clearly traditional Catholic. Its great promoter, Blas Piñar López, did not come from the Falange, nor from Carlism; nor was he a supporter of technocracy. Son of a military defender of the Alcázar of Toledo, Piñar came from Catholic Action. His ideology drew from the sources of Sardá and Salvany, Ramiro de Maeztu, Manuel García Morente convert, Juan Vázquez de Mella, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, and the Catholic propagandist, Manuel Siurot. The old Falangist writer, Ernes-to Giménez Caballero defined him as a champion of “a new Traditionalism, heir to what a Mella, an Aparisi and Guijarro defended.” Appointed director of the Institute of Hispanic Culture in 1957, he held the position until January 1962, when he was suddenly dismissed because of a newspaper article, entitled, “Hypocrites,” and published in ABC, in which he bitterly criticized the international policy of the United States, on the eve of negotiations concerning the permanence of North American bases in Spanish territory. However, Franco personally appointed him attorney in Cortes, one of the so-called Cuarenta de Ayete (Forty of Ayete—procuradors).

The first issue of Fuerza Nueva magazine appeared in December 1966, in which it set out its “reason for being,” and brought about by the progressive denaturalization of the regime born of the Civil War: “We understand that the ideological baggage of our Regime cannot be liquidated in a cheap auction, and that its deep roots, which have their life in the Spanish tradition and in the national revolution, demand that the ruling minorities act to further their evolution, their development, their perfection, their purity and their refined loyalty to the principles that were forged as their doctrinal foundation, but never to their mythologization, to their misleading and sometimes contradictory applications, and, ultimately, to their repeal or abandonment.”

And, thus, Piñar and his acolytes represented, at that time, a political project that no longer coincided, in its essential features, with the renewal pursued by the new ruling elites of the regime and their insertion into the international economic and political framework. Like the rest of the traditionalist sectors, Fuerza Nueva always suffered from what Svetlana Boym calls, “restorative nostalgia,” not a “reflexive” one. Piñar’s project was still that of the “Crusade”—traditional, corporate and confessional monarchy. Verbo traditionalists, Carlists, theologians, Thomist philosophers, military men and Falangists collaborated on the pages of the new magazine. Among its militants appeared the odd neo-fascist, as was the case of Ernesto Milá, soon expelled for his religious heterodoxy. According to Milá, in Fuerza Nueva an “almost Taliban fundamentalism” dominated, where “the religious phenomenon cornered every other element in Piñar’s personal equation.” Fuerza Nueva “aspired above all to carry out a pastoral task and to spread the Catholic religion much more than any political thought, even though for them Catholicism was, in itself, a political definition.”

The religious perspective of Piñar and other members of the regime could be seen in the parliamentary discussions on the project of religious freedom advocated by Minister Fernando María Castiella at the beginning of 1967, and which would be approved in June of that same year. According to the conservative journalist, Torcuato Luca de Tena, who at that time worked as a parliamentary chronicler, there were, on the issue of religious freedom, two parties: the fundamentalist and the progressive.

Of course, in the Spanish context, the so-called “progressives” were, in reality, “fundamentalists, but less.” The “fundamentalists” included, Coronel de Palma, Piñar, Sanz Orrio, Fagoaga, Oriol, Valero Bermejo, Gómez Aranda, and others. And the “progressives” were Lamo de Espinosa, Villegas Girón, Chozas Bermúdez, Mateu de Ros, Fernández Miranda, Martínez Esteruelas, and Herrero Tejedor. “The fundamentalists cited Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI in numerical and chronological order. The progressives, in reverse chronological order, cited Paul VI more than John XXIII, and the latter more than Pius XII. The fundamentalists were tenacious and audacious, but they were more of the former than of the latter. Progressives were tough and bold, but they were more of the latter than the former. The fundamentalists read works of Saint Augustine and consulted Aranzadi. The progressives read texts of Saint Thomas Aquinas and leafed through the Medina and Marañón. (Someone dared to quote Maritain, but I swear that only happened once).” The attorneys Bárcenas, Manglano, Piñar, Coronel de Palma, Valero Bermejo and Tena Artigas “fought with admirable tenacity to show the minds of those present the risks of a rupture in our Religious Unit.” While other attorneys, such as Alfredo López, affirmed that “it is not only about defending the possible risks of religious freedom, but about defending religious freedom itself.”

In his speeches, Piñar defended the confessional status of the state as a good; something that could not be identified with Catholic unity. The civil right to religious freedom should not promote religious pluralism, because religious pluralism was contrary to Catholic unity, initiating “apostasy;” it was “bad.”

Among the attorneys opposed to the new legislation were Agustín Asís Garrote, Baron de Cárcer, José María Codón, Luis Coronel de Palma, Miguel Fagoaga, Luis Gómez de Aranda, Fermín Izurdiaga, Jesús López Medel, Lucas María de Oriol, Fermín Sanz Orrio and Piñar himself.

Almost at the same time, the Spanish Priestly Brotherhood (Hermandad Sacerdotal de San Antonio María Claret and San Juan de Ávila) emerged, which was formed on November 19, 1968. It had received the approval of Casimiro Morcillo. And its Governing Board was formed by the Franciscan, Miguel Oltra, as president; Francisco Santa Cruz was vice-president; Venancio Marcos, secretary; and Pablo María de la Sierra was treasurer. Its main figure was Miguel Oltra.

The Brotherhood appeared in public on July 9, 1969, in Segovia, before the tomb of San Juan de la Cruz. Two months earlier, on May 12, the San Antonio María Claret Priests and Religious Association, which brought together hundreds of Catalan priests and religious, had met in Vic, and before the tomb of the famous confessor of Isabella II, they deposited their Declaration of Priestly Principles and Criteria. The Segovian act was attended by some five hundred priests, as well as the Cardinal Archbishop of Tarragona and some bishops.

In its Declaration of Principles, the Brotherhood declared its “firm adherence to the Chair of Peter.” Its doctrinal sources were Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. It criticized progressivism, which was accused of marginalizing “the supernatural order or at least disfiguring it by wanting to replace it with a declericalized sociomorphism, which does not know what to do with the priestly mission in modern society.” The dignity of the priesthood lay in “the priestly function of Christ… intermediate between God and men,” the consequence of which was the resounding affirmation of celibacy. It denounced that in the seminars the great masters of theology had been replaced by “amateurs” and “minstrels,” at the “service of political subversion.” No less serious seemed to them “moral errors” and “general corruption of customs.” And this it was that there was “a great crisis of authority and obedience.” It criticized the insistence on responsibility and maturity: “Prudence has reason to be when it is put at the service of Faith, Hope and Charity.” It advocated “social justice,” but not at the cost of faith in the supernatural: “The supernatural and Revelation mark infinite solutions to temporality… Our pastoral care has to be exercised in connection with the divine. Any other temporalistic attitude degrades and desecrates the sacred mission that the Lord has entrusted to us.” In this sense, the condemnation of communism, liberalism and the so-called “Prophetic Groups” was radical: “It is our duty to denounce them and point the finger at them.” Against ecumenism, patriotism: “We consider Patriotism as a virtue included in the fourth commandment of the Law of God. Our apostolate is not exercised in the abstract but in concrete souls, in those close to us, and these are the Spanish. Our Patriotism becomes Catholic ecumenism if we channel our people to Christ.” The Brotherhood had as an organ of diffusion the magazine, Dios lo quiere (God Wills It).

The traditional front experienced a relative reinforcement with the emergence of another doctrinal organ, the Iglesia-Mundo magazine, whose first issue appeared on April 16, 1971, with the support of Archbishop Morcillo and the bulk of the conservative and traditional sector of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. It also enjoyed some support from the regime, particularly from Admiral Carrero Blanco. One of its inspirers was Guerra Campos. Its director was Jaime Caldevilla García-Villar, a Carlist fighter in the Civil War, a graduate in philosophy and the law, and a journalist. Its main contributors were linked to the Spanish Priestly Brotherhood, Verbo and Fuerza Nueva, namely, Victorino Rodríguez, Bernardo Monsegú, Luis Madrid Corcuera, José Ricart Torrens, Luis Vera, Gonzalo Vidal, Vicente Marrero, Vallet de Goytisolo or Adolfo Muñoz Alonso.

Less important was the magazine, Qué pasa? (What’s Happening?), edited by the extravagant convert Joaquín Pérez Madrigal, a true champion of fundamentalism; and El Alcázar, which has become the organ of the Spanish Confederation of Ex-Combatants.

4. Political And Symbolic Conflicts

At the beginning of the 1960s, conflicts between the regime and a part of the clergy were frequent, particularly in Catalonia and the Basque Country, where sectors of the Church continued to support nationalist demands. In this process, the Montserrat Monastery played an important role in Catalonia, where the famous magazine, Serra D´Or was published, which gradually became an organ of Catalanism and rebellious Catholicism. In the Basque Country, a sector of the clergy supported not the clandestine PNV, but the terrorist organization ETA.

However, the most decisive conflict arose years later, when the so-called Joint Assembly of Bishops and Priests was convened between September 13 and 18, 1971. Based on a series of surveys among priests, its objectives were reduced, in theory, to deal with the problems that affected the Spanish Church; to seek solutions and facilitate ways of dialogue between priests and bishops; and deepen the meaning of the priestly ministry. The surveys apparently reflected a deep malaise in the clergy, who appeared disoriented on issues such as morality, politics, priestly ministry, disillusionment with the results of the Council, problems of faith, punishment, criticism and rejection of the alliance with political power, and so on. In practice, its leitmotif was clearly political, that is, to go a step further in the disassociation of the Catholic Church from the Franco regime. According to Martín Descalzo, this was one of “the greatest hours” of Cardinal Tarancón’s life. Descalzo described the event as an Assembly “without extremists,” that is, without integrationists or progressives.

The traditionalist sectors criticized, from the first moment, the convocation. The canonist Salvador Muñoz Iglesias considered it “unnecessary [and] counterproductive… based on the results of a survey whose approach seems tendentious and whose data does not have the value that it is intended to give them.” Some bishops such as Guerra Campos, García Sierra, Cantero, Delgado Gómez and members of Opus Dei were equally adverse. Especially harsh were the criticisms of the Priestly Brotherhood: “With regard to the celebration of the Assembly, an adequate spiritual preparation is lacking.” The Brotherhood also denounced “the intimate feeling that the last lines of the Assembly were drawn beforehand and not precisely by the Episcopal Conference.

Whatever was said, nothing was going to alter the prefabricated result.” It was a “clerical movement of doubts, questions and problems.” In the same way, the Brotherhood condemned “its exaggerated and tendentious “democratism,” which does not harmonize with the hierarchical character of the Church; and its obsession with ‘extremism,’ which is not convincingly clarified or defined, to know what is and is not an evangelical requirement. Thus, they place themselves in fashionable ambivalences, leaning almost blatantly towards those who sound the loudest and get the most noise in the divided river of the Spanish clergyman.”

As a reply, the Priestly Brotherhood convened an alternative Assembly, which was held at the Residence for Religious of the Sagrada Familia de la Moraleja, with the participation of theologians such as Román Orbe, Francisco Paula Solá, Antonio Peinador Navarra, Jesús González Quevedo and Antonio Meseguer Montoya. Some sixty-two priests participated in the Assembly. In its conclusions, the documents on which the convocation of the Joint Assembly was based were rejected; its postponement and its “reorientation to safer theological and ecclesiastical bases” were demanded. It accused the conveners with defending their “own monologue” and of not playing “fair” in the designation of certain dioceses. Ecclesiastical celibacy and its traditional social function were defended; the philosophical, scriptural and theological training to be given in the seminaries was defined; the defense of the Church as a hierarchical society, evangelization, and so forth was asserted.

The conclusions reached by the Joint Assembly emphasized that the State stop intervening in the appointment of bishops, to have freedom of the press, religion, the right to conscientious objection, fundamental rights, and so on. However, the most controversial proposition was the one calling for forgiveness for the attitude of the Spanish Catholic Church during the Civil War: “We humbly acknowledge and ask forgiveness because we did not always know how to be ministers of reconciliation among the people divided by a war between brothers.” A statement as opportunistic as it is ahistorical, which made the strategy of the new hierarchies of the Church very clear. After the debates, the vote was as follows: 123 votes in favor; 113 against; and 10 null; which meant that it was not approved because it required two thirds majority. “I was in complete agreement with the substance of the proposal,” said Tarancón, “but I think it was not wise to refer so clearly to the war. That gave many weapons to begin their attack and in fact many changed their position and went from satisfaction to criticism. That politicized the assembly more than anything.”

In response, Miguel Oltra sent a letter to Tarancón, protesting the content of the proposal: “We are willing to suffer all the persecutions rather than deny our fidelity to the true Church of Christ, and to the ideals for which thirteen of our bishops were murdered and seven thousand priests.” Guerra Campos accused the Assembly of fomenting division in the clergy. And, regarding the issue of the Civil War, he accused the assembly of being “political and unjust… The accusation, which could be partially true in individual cases, is not fair when viewed globally. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the years preceding the war fostered, despite the persecutory climate of legislation and the streets, a spirit of compliance and collaboration with the constituted powers of the Republic … The movement the defense that took place in Spain, both to contain the dissolution of society and to save a series of spiritual values, sprang spontaneously from thousands and thousands of lay Catholics, who acted under their own responsibility. It is a fact that the hierarchy and the clergy in general did not induce armed action.”

Iglesia-Mundo highlighted the number of priests killed during the Civil War, along with images of the destruction of churches and religious objects. Archbishop Marcelino Olaechea objected that it was intended to bury the Church of the “Crusade” in “the night of oblivion.”

The historian Ricardo de la Cierva, Franco’s official biographer, commenting on the content of the Assembly, pointed out that the Church’s strategy sought, in the face of the conciliar phenomenon and given its reactionary historical trajectory, to recover lost time. As a Catholic historian, to Cierva it seemed “painful, incomprehensible and absurd,” and “a flat, absurd and inconsistent inversion, putting off such recovery sometime in the future.” In that sense, it seemed as if a kind of “anarcho-Christianity” was emerging. In that sense, it seemed as if a kind of “anarcho-Christianity” was emerging.

Faced with such onslaughts, the president of the government, Luis Carrero Blanco, himself a traditional Catholic, had nothing to do with criticizing what he considered a betrayal on the part of the Church. Not without reason, the admiral recalled the material aid given to the Catholic Church since the end of the Civil War by the state, which had spent “some 300,000 million pesetas in the construction of churches, seminaries, charity and teaching centers, maintenance of the faith, and so on.” Soon there was reference in the press to “Carrero the Big Fuss.”

In this context, the appearance of the Tácito group, which emerged in 1973, had special relevance, most of whose members came from Asociación Católica de Propagandistas (the Catholic Association of Propagandists), which, in those years, had downplayed the “National” part of its name, for it said it was “fleeing from national-Catholicism.” Its organ of expression was the newspaper YA, and its members included, José Luis Alvarez, Luis Apostua, Fernando Arias Salgado, Landelino Lavilla, Marcelino Oreja, Juan Manuel Otero Novas, Alfonso Osorio, and others. Its political project was defined as “legal reformism.” The Tacitans advocated a gradual evolution towards liberal democracy from the current legislation, through the incorporation of human rights, into the Spanish legal system, the repeal of laws incompatible with such rights, a legislative chamber elected by universal suffrage, jurisdictional unity, and the recognition of regional diversity. And all this backed by “a new pact between a faithful Prince and a free country.”

The traditionalist forces were losing the game. The Confraternity of Priests, Hermandad de Sacerdotes, had convened an International Priest Day in Zaragoza. However, the bishop of the city of the Ebro, Cantero Cuadrado, from the conservative sector, released a statement in which it was noted that the Episcopal Conference did not authorize the convocation. Significantly, Cantero Cuadrado pointed out that the Brotherhood had been warned that its Conferences would only be allowed if “the development of the themes were strictly spiritual and priestly,” and avoiding “any controversy and any confrontation of a personal nature.” For this reason, it was pointed out that the Conference was not authorized or endorsed.”

Father Miguel Oltra protested against the attitude of the hierarchy that contrasted with its permissiveness towards the left, having allowed a meeting, held in El Escorial, of the association Fe Cristiana y Cambio Social en Hispanoamérica (Christian Faith and Social Change in Latin America), which brought together supporters of the Liberation Theology and Christian-Marxist dialogue. Finally, the Conference was held, but without the support of the Episcopal Conference or the Vatican. Guerra Campos did not attend, although he sent a telegram of support. The Conference began on September 26 at the Basilica del Pilar. In the homily, Oltra criticized the politics of hierarchy, Liberation Theology, and more specifically the heterodox theologian, Hans Küng.

The Episcopal Conference was controlled by Tarancón. And, to a large extent, Guerra Campos was marginalized. On April 13, 1973, his appointment as the new archbishop of Cuenca was made public. The ceremony of entry into the diocese had a small number of attendees from among the hierarchies, highlighting the presence of Marcelo González Martín; which reflected the estrangement from the Episcopal Conference of the new bishop of Cuenca. In a note entitled, “Normas del obispado y acuerdos de la Conferencia Episcopal” (“Norms of the Bishopric and Agreements of the Episcopal Conference”), published in the Bulletin of the diocese, the powers of the Episcopal Conference regarding the actions of bishops were stated. This provoked new criticism from the followers of Tarancón, such as the magazine Vida Nueva.

The assassination of Admiral Carrero Blanco by the terrorist organization ETA on December 20, 1973 once again highlighted the discrepancies between the different sectors of the Church. His burial was the occasion for a noisy, but not excessively large, demonstration organized by members of the Confraternity of Priests, like Venancio Marcos, and Fuerza Nueva, with Blas Piñar at the forefront, where the Civil Guard, the Army were cheered and shouts of “Tarancón to the wall” given. The Levantine cardinal was in charge of officiating the funeral in a very tense atmosphere. One of the ministers, Julio Rodríguez, refused to shake the cardinal’s hand during the ceremony, which was later reproached by Franco himself.

Under the mandate of the new president of the government, Carlos Arias Navarro, the political and symbolic conflict did not cease; quite the opposite. It was not only the house arrest of the bishop of Bilbao, Antonio Añoveros and his projected expulsion from Spanish territory, for a homily in defense of Basque; which further worsened relations between the regime and the Catholic Church. Franco, apparently advised by Marcelo González, had his prime minister rectify matters; he did not want a direct conflict with the Vatican, which he knew he would lose. Added to this were the cultural and symbolic conflicts caused by the new “openness” policy promoted by the new minister, Pío Cabanillas.

The premieres of Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell once again scandalized the traditionalists. They did not take long to demand the prohibition of the two works and the intervention of the Episcopal Conference. In effect, from its perspective, a Jesus Christ was shown, “not as a son of God, but as a fearful social leader.” And the same happened with Godspell, in which Jesus appeared as “a hysterical and screaming rock opera singer. Surrounded by half-naked whores, mediocre apostles and a libidinous Magdalene who caresses Jesus continuously, highlighting her carnal appetites.” For the editors of Iglesia-Mundo, it was a sample of “blasphemous colonialism.” Julián Gil de Sagredo described Godspell as a “sacrilegious and blasphemous play.” The playwright Pablo Villamar, a member of Fuerza Nueva, presented as an alternative a play entitled, Jesucristo Libertador (Jesus Christ, Liberator).

For its part, the Confraternity of Priests convened a conference at the end of September 1974 in Cuenca, under the aegis of Guerra Campos. In the course of the Conference, the sympathetic press highlighted the figure of the priest and theologian, Luis Vera, canon of the Cathedral of Malaga. Vera accused the progressive theologians of being “the paratroopers the devil,” whose claim was “to give birth to new churches from five-star hotels.” At the end of the event, Vera, a short man, was hoisted up by some of his fellow priests, as highlighted in a photo by Pueblo newspaper.

For Vera, the new theologians were neither Spanish nor theologians, because “they do not use the weapons of Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church;” and they were limited to “copying foreigners.” He denounced “Philosophy” and then “Liberal Theology” as “Trojan horses” to subvert the Church from within. “Next to her, the subversion led by existentialism and Marxism.” He criticized González Ruíz and Díez Alegría, both of whom he accused of trying to sell us “a faith without faith, which wants to substitute God for man, charity for philanthropy and faith itself for revolution, violent if necessary.” Vera was especially hard on González Ruíz, who wanted to convince the Marxists that God was not a hindrance and ended up fabricating a God who, of course, “does not hinder anyone.”

Vera asked the Episcopal Conference to maintain religion classes at the University, institutes and schools; find solutions to the issue of Clergy Social Security. He also demanded clarification on the Justice and Peace Commission, chaired by Joaquín Ruíz Jiménez. He deemed it necessary to demand the anti-modernist oath from all who held office in the Church. He asked for the accounts of Cáritas Española, and reports on Christians for Socialism; and the control over emigrant chaplains, among whom “the anti-Spanish and the Marxists” abounded. The government demanded the defense of “the confessional State;” and that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not to be included in the Law of Religious Freedom as a Christian Church; and the monitoring of public morals.

The content of Vera’s lecture was well received by Fuerza Nueva. The canon of Malaga had “materially nailed the Jesuit Díez Alegría and his companion from Malaga, González Ruíz.” And Que pasa presented the Confraternity of Priests as “a dam against modern heresies.”

5. The Secular Conservative Alternative

At that time, and in response to the situation, a secular right-wing project emerged, the work of one of the regime’s thinkers, Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora, who in 1965 had published his controversial book, El crepúsculo se las ideologías (The Twilight of Ideologies), in whose pages not a few saw a legitimation of the technocratic elite that had run the state since the late 1950s. On his part, Fernández de la Mora never abandoned his youthful Catholicism. He was not an anti-religious thinker, although he clashed on more than one occasion with traditionalists and fundamentalists for his positive assessment of Ortega y Gasset and Xavier Zubiri. However, he clearly perceived, although not without displeasure at first, the changes undergone by Catholicism since Vatican II, judged them irreversible and drew his own conclusions. In the new context, the confessional nature of the State was indefensible. And he opposed any form of political theology or recourse to religious enthusiasm.

Mora’s alternative was a new secular conservatism. In El crepúsculo se las ideologías and other writings, Fernández de la Mora accepted modern consciousness, which was as much as saying the functional rationality of calculation and efficiency; the rationality accepted by the Weberian “disenchantment of the world,” and with it the fragmentation of worldviews, the loss of a unity of religious world-vision, and, above all, the experience of relativism. Consequently, his philosophy of history, taken directly from Augusto Comte, was decidedly progressive, “the laboratory of pathos to logos.” Progress was synonymous with the rationalization of the various social, political and cultural spheres. In the field of religions, at least in Europe and developed societies, there was the “internalization of beliefs,” that is, secularization. In that sense, alternatives, such as, Christian democracy were already anachronistic. In the new, scientific-industrial context, religion was increasingly displaced to the private sphere. Furthermore, revealed religiosity could not monopolize the content of ethics, since there was a rational and natural ethic, valid for all: “Revelation is the object of faith; the moral order is the object of rational acceptance.” Religion was not “primarily and fundamentally something communal; it is essentially a relationship with God, from which community consequences are derived;” it was “individuals and not nations that were the subjects of acts of faith.” Consequently, he was averse to the confessional state, which he considered a “historical anecdote:” “Pure religion is a solitude with God.” For this reason, he not only criticized the traditionalists, but the leftist theologians, like González Ruíz, who wanted a new politicization of the faith.

Naturally, such views did not appeal to the traditionalists. The one in charge of criticizing him was the American, Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dallas and Extraordinary Professor at the University of Navarra. In his criticism, he accused Fernández de la Mora of having embraced “a clearly positivist policy,” whose main enemy was not liberalism or socialism, but “Catholic traditionalism in all its forms.” In his response, Fernández de la Mora called Wilhelmsen’s article “totally chaotic,” which could only be taken “relatively seriously.” In his plea, he reiterated his secularizing views: “What I think is that religiosity consists, fundamentally, in a relationship between man and God, not in a social pact or rhetoric.”

6. Catholic Neoconservatism And Religious Freedom

In January 1963, the first issue of the Atlántida magazine came out, a response to which fell to the historian, Florentino Pérez Embid. The magazine was edited by Rialp, a company closely linked to Opus Dei. At that time, the Andalusian historian distinguished three currents in the Spanish intelligentsia: traditionalism, Christian progressivism and universalist Catholicism. The description of the first seemed like a tirade against Punta Europa. It was a process faithful to Catholic orthodoxy, but it did not devote due attention to the development of “the answers that today are demanded by the new problems posed by thought and by life.” The second was manifested among Catholics adhering to what Pérez Embid called the “bourgeois left,” that is, La Institución Libre de Enseñanza (The Free Institution of Education), the “98” and Ortega y Gasset. Finally, “universal Catholicism,” the trend with which Embid himself identified, was characterized by “the breadth of horizons and a more energetic deepening in the permanent and living Catholic orthodoxy.” In this position were combined the renewal of the typical doctrines of traditional thought in philosophy and history, and “a careful attention to the orientations of contemporary science and thought, and a positive and open attitude towards the current transformation of social structures and of the forms of life.”

Atlántida positively received the declaration of religious freedom and the content of the Second Vatican Council. For Millán-Puelles, the principle of religious freedom was “a fundamentally positive sign,” “a good in itself.” And thus religious freedom was based on the dignity of the human person, “a person with whom God wants a free dialogue.” For his part, Recasens Siches—disciple of Ortega y Gasset and exiled after the Civil War—considered religious freedom as an essential right of the human person. It was, deep down, the only one of all freedoms that possessed an “absolute character.” In this sense, he considered that in Christian doctrine and the historical development of Christianity there had been a “hurtful contradiction” between religious intolerance, on the one hand, and the doctrine held by the majority of Christian philosophers, on the other. Fortunately, the theological and doctrinal foundations of intolerance had been “suppressed and buried by the Second Vatican Council.”

From the perspective of the Second Vatican Council, Gustave Thils analyzed pre-conciliar theories on religious freedom, concluding that the Catholic doctrine was historically very complex and that its apparent uniformity turned out to be more apparent than real. And it is that this doctrine had to be studied in different historical and social contexts and could not be interpreted or defended sub specie aeternitatis. Hence, it was necessary for the new generations “to invent in a certain way—under the influence of the holy spirit—the new type of relationship and the renewed form of encounter that is concretely imposed.”

7. Privilege, Secularization And Decadence

With the death of Francisco Franco, said the chronicler of the Ricardo de la Cierva regime, “an entire era” ended. Undoubtedly, the process of political change culminated in a kind of “agreed rupture.” However, on the social realm there was a perceptible continuity in many respects. And the Catholic Church was one of the institutions that managed to control, as far as possible, and for its own benefit, the transition. The “passive revolution” advocated by Montini and Tarancón can be said to have triumphed in its general aims. Significantly, while Marcelo González, and not Guerra Campos, officiated the funerals for the soul of Francisco Franco in the Plaza de Oriente, Tarancón, in the Church of Jerónimos Monastery, in a ceremony with a deep medieval aftertaste, lectured, paternally, Juan Carlos I on the characteristics and content that the new political situation should have.

Without the support of an increasingly exhausted regime, the traditionalist sectors were progressively ostracized. Miguel Oltra was “exiled” to Cullera and away from Madrid. Guerra Campos was confined to his headquarters in Cuenca. The Confraternity of Priests continued to exist, but was increasingly marginalized and isolated by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Fuerza Nueva finally became a political party. After multiple failures, Piñar won a seat in Madrid in the 1979 elections. In March 1978 he presented, at the headquarters of his party, the schismatic bishop Marcel Lefebvre, who had published his book, Yo acuso al Concilio (I Accuse the Council), in Spain; which alienated him from the support of Catholics. These sectors, with great intellectual and political courage, but without any efficacy, opposed the Political Reform Law, the Constitution and secularizing laws, such as, divorce, and later abortion.

Meanwhile, Tarancón and his acolytes continued to apply the Maurrasian maxim of “politique d’abord.” As José Luis López Aranguren pointed out, despite appearances, the Levantine cardinal promoted a “center policy.” Basically, his party was Unión del Centro Democrático (the Union of the Democratic Center, the “Zentrum Católico,” where former Francoists, numerous Acenepistas [members of the National Catholic Association of Propagandists (ACNP); they are also called “propagandists” or “Christian Democrats”], and Tácito militants. Which marginalized not only fundamentalists, traditionalists or the extreme left, but genuine Christian Democrats, such as, Joaquín Ruíz Jiménez and José María Gil Robles.

In the 1978 Constitution, an important mention was made of the Catholic Church and none other (article 16.3). Without being explicitly confessional, it created the conditions for the State to be constitutionally obliged to “cooperate” with the Catholic Church. In addition, freedom of education and the right of children to receive religious and moral training that was in accordance with the convictions and preferences of their parents was guaranteed (27.3). The state was not actually secular, but non-denominational. Later, with the UCD government, came the 1979 agreements, in which religious assistance to the Armed Forces, the military service of clergy and religious, religious education, the financing of the clergy and the Church by the part of the state, and so on. These agreements demonstrated the dependence of the Church on financial aid from the state.

However, what seemed unstoppable was the process of secularization of Spanish society that began in the 1960s. As López Aranguren and Fernández de la Mora, each in their own way, anticipated, and later corroborated by not a few sociologists, religious and moral faith was privatized. However, the necessary secularization of institutions degenerated into what the philosopher Augusto del Noce has called “natural irreligion,” that is, a spiritual attitude characterized by “an absolute relativism, so that all ideas are seen in relation to the psychological and social situation of those who affirm them, and, therefore, valuable only from the utilitarian point of view of the stimulus for life.”

Furthermore, new winds were blowing in the Vatican. Paul VI died on August 6, 1978. And after the ephemeral period of Albino Luciani, John Paul I, an authentic restorative process was launched by the hand of the Polish Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II, a pontiff who had suffered the rigors of communism and so he did not understand, nor did he have to understand, dialogue with the Marxists, nor the ethical, moral and political permissiveness of the previous period. In the new context, Tarancón and his acolytes were upset. According to some sources, the new pontiff, upon receiving the Spanish cardinal who, at the age of seventy-five, presented his previous resignation, accused him of being responsible for the decline of Catholicism in Spain, “while we strive to subdue communism each time weaker.”

However, the advent of Wojtyla did not really mean a reinforcement of Spanish traditionalism. His restoration project had a different character and other intentions. Nevertheless, he promoted the beatification processes of the Catholics killed during the Civil War, something that Paul VI had always rejected. Significantly, when Wojtyla arrived in Spain on his first successful trip, the PSOE had won the 1982 elections by an overwhelming majority, and Miguel Oltra died in Madrid. Shortly after, on the emblematic date of November 20, Fuerza Nueva dissolved itself, after its electoral failure. Isolated and forgotten within the Catholic Church itself, José Guerra Campos, after his dismissal as bishop of Cuenca, settled in Madrid to care for a sick relative. Finally, he died in Barcelona, in an apartment at the María Inmaculada School, belonging to the Spanish Confraternity of Priests, on July 15, 1997.

John Paul II relied on a new generation of conservative bishops, among whom Ángel Suquía and Antonio María Rouco Varela stood out, rectifiers, as far as possible, of the previous situation. However, the secularizing process advanced irreversibly. The seminaries were empty; the number of practicing Catholics plummeted; and political life was established outside the Church. Good proof of this were the abortion and homosexual marriage laws of the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, approved practically without public debate. In fact, it was something that, in the social imagination, had been taken for granted for a long time. So much so that when the Popular Party governed, under the leadership of Mariano Rajoy, none of those laws was repealed. And it is that in the ideology of the Spanish right, Catholicism or “Christian humanism” no longer appears as the dominant reference, but liberalism.

8. Spain: Land Of Mission

There is no doubt, then, that the situation of Catholicism in Spain is in a profound decline, although it continues to enjoy undoubted socio-economic privileges. Fernando Sebastián, Archbishop Emeritus of Pamplona and Tudela, considers that “in these years of democratic life, the Christian life of the Spanish has weakened… Since the 1970s, Spanish sacramental practice has dropped to less than half. During the last thirty or forty years we have been suffering from a severe vocational crisis that has drastically reduced the number of priests and religious in our churches and institutions, and the dominant trends are inclined towards secularism and moral permissiveness.” He wonders, at the same time, if all this was a consequence of the Second Vatican Council: “We do not know what would have happened with the continuity of the previous situation and without the celebration of the Council. Could Spain have continued for a long time as an island of Tridentine Catholicism in a liberal and secularized Europe? In any case, it is evident that the Catholic Church, “has been reduced to a minority of practicing members, has lost significance and social influence, lives in a rather marginal situation and is sometimes undervalued by opinion and by the public powers.”

Faced with this situation, there has been a tendency to focus on defending the Catholic corporate and institutional interests. However, the struggle between conservatives and progressives within Spanish Catholicism continues. And the conciliar spirit has revived, after the resignation of Josef Ratzinguer. Good proof of this has been the controversy of the exhumation of Francisco Franco’s mortal remains from his tomb in the Basilica of the Valley of the Fallen.

In May 2011, a so-called Committee of Experts for the Future of the Valley of the Fallen was created, chaired by the socialist, Ramón Jáuregui, commissioned by the PSOE for dialogue with progressive Catholic sectors. Among its members, left-wing Catholics, such as, Manuel Reyes Mate, Catalan nationalist priests like the historian Hilari Raguer, and Carlos García de Andoaín, federal coordinator of Christian Socialists. Cardinal Rouco Varela rejected the presence of ecclesiastics on the Commission. On the other hand, the conclusions were as expected: The Valley of the Fallen was the most significant monument of “national-Catholicism.” It had to relocate and resignify itself; and Franco’s corpse had to be taken out of its grave in the Basilica.

The conclusions had no political consequences, as the PSOE lost the 2011 elections. The government of Mariano Rajoy did nothing about it. However, in February 2013 Josef Ratzinguer resigned as Pontiff, and Peter’s chair was occupied by the Argentine Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Reyes Mate and other leftist theologians expressed their hope regarding the political significance of the new pontificate. It was “the beginning of a new time.” It has not been the only one. A philosopher like Gianni Vattimo has stated that, with Bergoglio, the Catholic Church today represents the “emancipatory sense of religion,” “the struggle against imperialism and capitalist exploitation,” “a Communist International, today, can only be religious and Christian.”

The arrival to the government of the socialist Pedro Sánchez raised the question again. And, finally, after a series of conversations and pacts between the Spanish government and the Holy See, the mortal remains of Francisco Franco were taken out, on October 24, 2019, from his tomb in the Basilica of the Valley of the Fallen to the cemetery of Mingorrumbio, in El Pardo. Quite a symbolic event. Perhaps this is one of the last episodes of the consequences of the Second Vatican Council in the recent history of Spain.

Like Pontius Pilate, the Catholic Church tried to wash its hands. Of course, he did not succeed. In a display of typically clerical cynicism, Monsignor Luis Argüello, spokesman for the Episcopal Conference, affirmed that “It was one thing not to oppose him and another to say that the Church supports him.” Later, he said it was “time to look forward” and “seal the reconciliation.” Once the exhumation was done, he limited himself to reiterating the Church’s non-involvement in that political decision, although he criticized the content of the homily dedicated to Franco during the ceremony, which he described as hagiographic. This good man surely thinks he is subtle. But he is no more than a Pharisee. Or, what is worse, he underestimates us. He takes us for fools.

Bergoglio’s pontificate is assuming a true intellectual, political and moral regression, that is, a return to the eccentricities of the Second Vatican Council. Good proof of this is the content of the latest encyclical of the current pontiff, Fratelli tutti, whose content is a poorly digested amalgam of progressivism, ecology, political correctness and ecumenism: all seasoned by typical Vatican eclecticism – again, complexio oppositorum. In short, a mediocre, heavy, lumpy text that, except for the brief references to divinity, could have been signed by any member of a Masonic lodge. And it is, to a large extent, that the thought of the current pontiff is inserted in what the theologian Russell Ronald Reno has called “the ideological consensus of the postwar period,” that is to say, “the empire of the weak gods.”

On the other hand, the COVID-19 epidemic has highlighted even more, as the philosopher Giorgio Agamben pointed out, the crisis of Catholicism, by highlighting that European societies no longer believe in anything other than “naked life;” and, furthermore, the absolute hegemony of “the religion of science.” “First of all, the Church, which, becoming the servant of science, already converted into the true religion of our time, has radically abjured its most essential principles. The Church, under a Pope named Francis, has forgotten that Francis embraced lepers. She has forgotten that one of the works of mercy is visiting the sick. She has forgotten that the martyrs teach that one must be willing to sacrifice life before faith, and that renouncing one’s neighbor means renouncing faith.”

With regard to Spain, Bergoglio’s performance has been devastating. He has not bothered to visit our country, not even on the anniversary of Saint Teresa of Jesus. He ruthlessly criticized the discovery and evangelization of America. For years, the Catholic Church has become, especially in Catalonia and the Basque Country, a disruptive force at the service of peripheral nationalisms. Catholic is not synonymous with Spanish, and perhaps it never was, as Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora pointed out, in a specific criticism of Menéndez Pelayo’s thesis. Not long ago, Bergoglio welcomed Pedro Sánchez, a staunch atheist, grave robber, and a radical supporter of euthanasia and abortion. Of course, underneath this reception, there is the entire economic mess of the Spanish Catholic Church: concerted teaching, the IBI, the Cathedral of Córdoba, and so on and so forth. However, negotiating with a pathological liar can be a serious mistake. We will see that with the new education law drawn up by Isabel Celáa. I guess the Church hierarchy will get what it deserves.

Meanwhile, Spanish society, as we have already discussed, is a missional land. And faced with this dramatic situation, the Catholic Church is not capable of offering us more than the blandness of COPE or the mediocrity of TV13, whose main message is western films. Never has Spanish Catholicism been so decadent and socially insignificant. A puppet of a state that maintains it, in exchange for complicity and silence. But only a free Church will be able to exercise her mission in society.


This article was originally published in Razón Española, No. 224, February 2021. This translation appears through the kind courtesy and gracious permission of Gonzalo Fernandez de la Mora and Razón Española.


Pedro Carlos González Cuevas is professor of the history of political ideas and history of Spanish thought at UNED. He has been a fellow at the CSIC and at the Center for Political and Constitutional Studies. He is the author of several works on the history of the right wing and conservatism in Spain.


The featured image shows, “Spain pays homage to Religion and to the Church,” by Corrado Giaquinto, painted ca. 1759.