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 Inca 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.

International Intervention In The Little Civil War

It is widely believed that international peace restoration action is a military phenomenon that was born in the 20th century, especially since the establishment of the League of Nations and the United Nations. However, there are earlier recorded precedents of action to stabilize interstate and intrastate conflicts.

External military intervention is an ordinary phenomenon in international relations. And in the 19th century, especially during critical times for Europe, several interventions took place, focused on re-establishing, sic et simpliciter, the institutional and social order threatened by nationalistic, social and economic demands. This was especially true in Italy, where foreign forces were deployed across the peninsula to help local dynasties facing liberal and national unity uprisings.

A De Facto Architecture

The backbone of those actions was the Quintuple Alliance, successor of the Holy Alliance established after the Napoleonic wars. This alliance (a 19th-Century version of the contemporary concept of the “coalition of the willing”) was originally set up to crack down on possible hegemonic ambitions by France. It then saw a mutation in its membership with the inclusion of France in its diplomatic and military architecture. Consequently, it saw a re-orientation in its mandate, focused on supporting the legitimacy of the power system in Europe against internal threats, stemming from the political heritage of the French Revolution.

These ideological calls aside, the Quintuple Alliance also responded to the need to counter demands for social justice that the beginning of the industrialization process had brought about. At the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in October-November 1818, Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia, in exchange for payment of war reparations (albeit reduced), approved the withdrawal of the occupation forces from the North of France.

The France of Louis XVIII was also invited to adhere publicly to a political statement on the brotherhood of the four powers, cemented by the bonds of Christianity, that the four victorious powers over Napoleon had signed. France’s re-inclusion in the Concert of Europe dates from this period, which saw the transition from the Quadruple to the Quintuple Alliance. The full adhesion of France became operational only in 1822.

Furthermore, at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle, in addition to the decision to re-admit France, the four powers had simultaneously signed a secret protocol, which contained a mutual guarantee against France. The move of Paris, from a defeated power to a full-fledged ally, could be traced back to a decision by the Congress of Verona (between 9 to 14 October 1822) to authorize France (against open British dissent) to conduct a military expedition in Spain, to restore the absolutist government of Ferdinand VII of Bourbon, which had been overthrown by a liberal uprising.

Long-Standing Instability

The Patuleia War (or Guerra da Patuleia), also known as the “Little Civil War” (to distinguish it from the “great” civil war that ended in 1834, the War of the Two Brothers) was another moment of the quasi-permanent instability which affected Portugal from the end of the Napoleonic invasion and the re-establishment of the Braganza dynasty from its exile in Brazil. During this period, Portugal was run by British-supported elites.

Pressure then started to mount from the professional classes to obtain more power, in contrast with the conservative approach by the monarchy. Such pressure began with the 1820 Revolution, which established a liberal constitution and turned Portugal into a constitutional monarchy. In 1826, thanks to British influence over Lisbon, a political compromise was established between conservatives and liberals. Their ideological divide, however, was to remain a constant dynamic in Portuguese society, affecting also the military institutions.

The War And Foreign Intervention

Britain and Spain, two Powers that for different reasons were deeply interested in the Portugal, emerged as natural actors in the attempt to stabilize the conflict and avoid a de facto military stalemate on the ground, which could lead the country into a deeper crisis. Britain, since the Peninsular War, had a heavy influence on the country, while Spain kept a wary eye on its neighboring country.

The growing tensions exploded when, in October 1846, Queen Maria II handed power to General Saldanha, a controversial personality in 19th-Century Portugal, who embodied administrative principles rejected before the insurrection of Maria da Fonte which had occurred months earlier. This move of the Crown faced immediate countrywide resistance, organized into local “juntas.” Among these, the one in Porto merged resistance to the new ministry.

Prime Minister Palmerston, using Lisbon’s appeal of help as an opportunity, did not accept Spain acting unilaterally and militarily, as desired by Saldanha, in re-establishing the statu quo ex ante. Nor did Palmerston fully accept the mandate, assigned to Madrid, by the spirit and letter of the Quintuple Alliance. The parties accepted the mediation – rather arbitration – with Great Britain, which played a determinant role in the crisis, thus blocking the political, rather than military, action of France in support of Madrid, and aimed at repeating the political success of Paris in the Spanish crisis of 1823.

It is in this light that the meaning of the agreement, signed in London on 21 May 1847 by the three powers (Britain, Spain and France), should be read. This agreement, initiated by the British, and not eagerly supported by Madrid and Paris, who reluctantly had to accept the approach of London for solving the Portuguese issue, in which Britain took charge of all naval aspects, while was relegated to looking after ground operations, and France was given a minor naval role. More importantly, the London meeting of 1847 paved the way, politically speaking, for the Convention of Gramido.

The Structure Of The Foreign Forces

The core of the British military action in Portugal was carried out by the Royal Navy, which deployed the Channel Fleet in those waters. The deterring presence of a powerful naval force was a fundamental element in the crisis, together with the action of the diplomats, led by Sir Hamilton Seymour, British Envoy to Lisbon. (It is also worth mentioning the contribution of the last British troops who earlier Portugal in 1826, namely, the 12th Lancers, 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards, 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers).

The Channel Fleet was commanded by Sir William Parker who, because of his knowledge of Portugal and its politics, was also given the additional command of the Channel Squadron while still remaining in charge of the Mediterranean Fleet. The Channel Fleet was led by Sir Charles Napier.

On 1st May 1847 took place the first major military action of the international forces. A convoy of rebel troops, commanded by the Conde das Antas, was being ferried by sea along the coast, with the aim of securing the mouth of the River Tagus, thus blockading Lisbon. The convoy was intercepted by a British squadron and ordered to surrender.

When Antas refused, boarding parties of Royal Marines and sailors captured all the transports, despite coming under fire from coastal batteries. Some three thousand rebel soldiers were disarmed and held in São Julião Fort by the Royal Marines until relieved by loyal Portuguese troops. The captives were later released and given amnesty after the Convention of Gramido. The Tagus operation showed that British forces were already on the ground and operating, while multilateral negotiation were still ongoing.

Spain cooperated with Great Britain and France in sea blockades in Portugal, Azores and Madera and also carried out land operations. On 11 June, four Spanish divisions (about 10,000 men, who thus outnumbered the rebellious liberals) entered Portugal and operated mainly in the North, since Porto was the backbone of the liberals. Other Spanish forces entered the central region in order to protect Lisbon from possible incursions by the forces of the Junta.

The Spanish land operation did not meet resistance, and given the weakness of the Portuguese regular forces, this meant that the liberals were not able to exasperate the situation to affect diplomatic negotiations between the Junta and the consuls of Britain, Spain and France in Porto.

The Spanish operation reached its objective two weeks later, with the taking of Porto. The city was now controlled by Spanish troops (which were quickly replaced by the newly constituted force of the Civil Guard, in the duties of public order) and the Royal Marines, which had landed from the British ships at the castle of Foz.

On 10 July, the British, Spanish and French ships ended their blockade the liberals-controlled area. Two months later, all foreign forces left Portugal.

The Convention Of Gramido

The treaty was co-signed on 29 June 1847 by General Manuel Gutiérrez de la Concha y Irigoyen, Marques of Duero, Count of Cancelada and Grandee of Spain, Commandant of the Madrid Expeditionary Force, along with Colonel Senen de Buenaga for Spain; Colonel Wylde for Great Britain; Marquis of Loulé for the Lisbon government; and General César de Vasconcelos for the Junta of Porto. It was a short document of just nine articles, which included the four points of the of the London agreement of May, and focused on reaching an agreement without exasperating the divisions affecting the various Portuguese factions.

The Convention also regulated the presence and role of foreign forces in the area of Porto, which were focused on stabilizing the situation, keeping out the forces of Lisbon and avoiding any kind of retaliation against the local populations. Disarmament, immunity and freedom of movement of personnel of the Junta was also guaranteed. An innovation introduced was the possibility of integration (or reintegration) of military personnel of the Junta forces within Lisbon military units.

Conclusion

The British and Spanish operation in Portugal, on behalf of the Quintuple Alliance, to end the Little Civil War (also known as Guerra da Patuleia), did not create a coherent precedent for similar missions. However, military and diplomatic action by London and Madrid signaled the beginning of the concept of an “international community” (its closest version at the time was the so-called Concert of Powers or Concert of Europe) as a main vehicle of stability in relationships among States.

The silent rivalry between the most influential powers, Great Britain and Spain, did not pose an insurmountable obstacle to the signing of a peace agreement, which was eventually co-signed by the commanders of the British and Spanish forces.

Despite their good intentions, the peace treaty between the liberals and the conservatives unfortunately did bring greater stability to Portugal. Analyzing the role of foreign forces in the conflict, some official sources, such as the Spanish Civil Guard, reported playing a quasi-peace-keeping role.

In reality, on the surface, it appeared similar to other interventions that occurred in that period (e.g., Austrian intervention in the Italian peninsula), which did lead to the brutal suppression of liberal and nationalist movements. The main difference was in the legal instrument signed at the end of the military operations. The peace treaty forced the Portuguese monarchy to adopt a more moderate approach and remove the most controversial points from the constitution and other legislation.

Under this point of view, the international intervention in Portugal could be seen as an interesting and original combination of peace enforcement and peacemaking. Applying contemporary concepts to events in the mid-19th century may appear daring, but in reality, such robust foreign intervention reduced the military strength of the insurgents and paved the way to political dialogue with the Cartista Government, which was also obliged to adopt a more flexible approach.

The Convention of Gramido brought an end to the Little Civil War, temporarily recomposing the divide between liberals and conservative, although the deeper economic, social (and political) causes of instability remained unresolved. Nevertheless, to this day the Convention remains a good example in which the international community, under the leadership of one country, was able to play a positive role, Great Britain’s imperialist interests and motives notwithstanding.

Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations.

The image shows, the “Battle of Cape St. Vincent,” by Léon Morel-Fatio, painted in 1842.

The Man Who Saved The Spanish Empire

Everyone knows about the unfortunate fate of the “Invincible Armada” of Philip II of Spain (1588), a defeat inflicted by the English, which was aided by circumstance – and in a determining way – by the anger of the sea. However, it is less known that the name “Invincible Armada,” of English origin, was given in derision to the Spanish “Grande y Felicísima Armada” (“the Grand and Most Fortuitous Armada”). In fact, during the Battle of Gravelines (August 8, 1588), no Spanish ship was sunk by the English. Rather, the very bad weather conditions, a few hours later, led to the sinking of several Spanish ships, forcing them to give up their plan to destroy the enemy naval forces. However, 87 ships out of 122, three quarters of the Spanish fleet, returned to Spain.

It is also not widely known that a year later, Queen Elizabeth I of England, in turn, sent an invading fleet against the Spanish king, and that this naval intervention also resulted in bitter failure. Commanded by Francis Drake and John Norreys, this “English Armada” had the triple mission of destroying the Spanish fleet on the Cantabrian coast, disembarking in Lisbon to stir up the population, and seize an island in the Azores. The operation, which took place from April 15 to July 10, 1589, ended in the rout of the Anglo-Dutch forces, which lost 40 ships out of 150, and 70% of their strength (nearly 13,000 men).

Of all the important events, which marked the war between the Spanish Empire and the Kingdom of England, it is however the epic of the Basque-Spanish admiral, Blas de Lezo, which has been forgotten the longest. This savior of the Spanish Empire, in Cartagena in 1741, has been paradoxically ignored by almost all historians for nearly two and a half centuries. It was only from the 2000s that we really started to take an interest in him and his brilliant tactics and innovation in weaponry.

From Young Officer To Severely Disabled

Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta was born on February 3, 1687, in Pasaia (Pasajes in Spanish) a port which, a few kilometers from San Sebastián, has the safest harbor of the Basque coast. It is from there that La Fayette set sail for America aboard La Victoire, on April 26, 1777, three years before the adventure of the Hermione, “frigate of freedom,” which brought the Marquis to join the American insurgents in the struggle for their independence.

Blas de Lezo’s career began very early. Barely a teenager, he became a sailor, like his ancestors and like so many of his compatriots from Gipúzkoa. At that time, Spain was plunged into a war of succession, which lasted from 1701 to 1713, and which saw the partisans of Archduke Charles III, from the House of Austria, clash with those of Philip V of Bourbon, the grandson of Louis XIV. During this war, dynastic solidarity led to the ranks and military charges of the army and navy of the Spanish Bourbons to be merged without distinction with those of the Bourbons in France.

Barely seventeen years old, Blas de Lezo was thus enlisted in the French squadron of the Count of Toulouse, Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon. While serving on the flagship, he took part in the important naval battle of Malaga (1704), which brought together the Franco-Spanish and Anglo-Dutch squadrons. During the fight, the young Blas was severely wounded in the left leg, which then had to be amputated below the knee. Reports from the time indicate that he remained stoic, impassive, during an operation which was then performed without anesthesia.

Brought back to health, he now had a peg-leg, and was soon given permission to set sail again, and we can follow him in Peñiscola, Valencia, Palermo and Genoa, then along the entire Mediterranean coast, and soon on the Atlantic coast.

Promoted to the rank of lieutenant in July 1707, he was assigned to the defense of the fortress of Saint Catherine of Toulon, where he fought against the forces of Prince Eugene of Savoy. But fate was cruel yet again – struck in the face by one of the countless shards of wood that a cannonball sent across the bridge, he lost his left eye. He was not a man to be discouraged and he now served as a lieutenant in the coast guard at the port of Rochefort. At twenty-five, he was promoted to captain of a frigate.

When the War of the Spanish Succession ended in 1714, he commanded the Nuestra Señora de Begoña, one of the main ships in charge of securing the blockade of Barcelona. At the forefront of the fight, urging on his men, he received a musket ball on the right forearm. At 27, Blas de Lezo was one-eyed, one-armed and one-legged. His men and fellow combatants nickname him with affectionate irony, “Patapalo” (in Basque “Anka Mot,” wooden leg) or “mediohombre” (half-man).

Blas de Lezo then took command of the galleon Lanfranco, a ship that was part of the Franco-Spanish squadron tasked with fighting against the corsairs and pirates raging in the southern seas (off Peru). For twelve years, from 1716 to 1728, he was Commander-in-Chief of the South Seas Armada. Married in 1725 to Josefa Pacheco, a Peruvian Creole, he went on to have seven children. In recognition of his services, the king made him a member of the Order of the Holy Spirit and of the Golden Fleece, the two most prestigious chivalrous orders of the French and Spanish monarchies.

As leader of the Spanish Mediterranean squadron, in 1731, he supported the Infante Don Carlos (later Charles III) in his campaign to recover the Duchies of Parma and Piacenza. He then went to the port of Genoa to demand payment of a debt to Spain, before taking part in the Spanish expedition to retake Oran. In 1736 he was Commanding General of the galleons responsible for the Atlantic trade. A year later, he was appointed Commander General of Cartagena de Indias on the coast of present-day Colombia. This is where he carried out his toughest mission and achieved his greatest feat of arms.

Defending Spanish America Against England

In the 18th century, Cartagena de Indias was a thriving and prosperous city of 20,000 inhabitants. It is a port in a sheltered bay, where all the riches of the viceroyalties of America flowed. It was also a strategic point particularly coveted by the enemies of Spain. In London, complaints from shipowners and traders were mounting. The action of the Spanish Coast Guard, tasked with combating smuggling, was considered to be intolerable. Tensions mounted between the two crowns.

Taking advantage of a minor incident, the British tried to seize Cartagena and destabilize the Spanish Empire. The incident was the seizure, in 1731, of a British merchant ship commanded by Captain Robert Jenkins. Called to testify in parliament, Jenkins said that the Spanish captain, Juan de Leon Fandiño not only confiscated his cargo, but cut off his ear with a saber while threatening him: “Go and tell your king that if he dares to do what you did, I will do the same to him.” The incident was soon regarded as an offense to the crown and to national honor. In October 1739, the “Jenkins Ear War” was declared on Spain.

To “avenge the affront,” England began arming the largest fleet ever assembled. Placed under the orders of Admiral Edward Vernon, it included 186 ships, equipped with more than 2,000 guns and carrying 25,000 men, which was soon reinforced by 4,000 American militiamen, commanded by Lawrence Washington, the half-brother of George Washington, the future President of the United States.

Opposing them, Blas de Lezo’s forces seemed paltry, with only a very limited number of troops – less than 3,000 troops, some 600 Indian auxiliaries and members of the crews and infantry troops of 6 ships. But Admiral “Patapalo” had two strengths, however: his good knowledge of the terrain and the tropical, humid and very rainy climate. From May, swarms of mosquitoes dangerously increased the risk of an epidemic.

Entering the bay of Cartagena, by sea, is only possible through two narrow straits: the Bocachica (small-mouth) and the Bocagrande (large-mouth). The first was defended by the forts of San Luis and San José, and the second by the forts of San Sebastian, Santa Cruz, San Juan de Manzanillo, Santiago and the Castillo of San Felipe. To ensure the defense of the city, Blas de Lezo had chains stretched across the Bocachica and deployed the six ships he had at the two mouths. Orders were given to scuttle them before they fell into enemy hands, with the hope that the wrecks would delay their advance.

Before attacking, Vernon wasted precious time. He did not want to divide his forces and feared being taken from the rear by the French squadron of the Marquis and Vice-Admiral d’Antin. He seemed unaware that this squadron, usually stationed at the harbor of Saint-Domingue, had only twenty-two warships. When he learned that the French, weakened by tropical diseases and without sufficient supplies, had been forced to return to France, he hurried to take advantage.

One Against Ten

On March 15, 1741, the English fleet deployed in front of Cartagena. The disproportion of force was enormous: there was one defender for every ten attackers. The bombardment of the Spanish forts began immediately. Blas de Lezo, responded from his flagship, El Galicia. He did this by using cannonballs that he had chained two-by-two to maximize damage to enemy ships.

After an intense cannonade, Admiral Vernon landed a small part of his troops. The Spaniards fell back and abandoned two forts, that of San José and Santa Cruz. At the mouths, Blas de Lezo sank his ships and ordered a retreat. Two of these ships were also set on fire, but in vain, because the English managed to tow one of them, thus freeing the passage and opening access to the bay. The Spaniards had no other option but to entrench themselves in their last three forts.

The English flagship entered the bay, with its flags fully displayed. Convinced that the battle was over, Vernon began to celebrate his triumph. A frigate was immediately dispatched to England to announce the victory. In London, the news was received with joy and parties were organized to celebrate the hero. A commemorative medal was engraved read; it read: “Spanish pride humiliated by Vernon,” and it showed Blas de Lezo on his knees, handing his sword to the English admiral.

But in Cartagena, events took an unexpected turn. To put an end to the Spanish resistance, Vernon decided to attack the castle of San Felipe. Rather than suffering heavy losses by engaging in frontal combat, he preferred approaching the rear. His men were therefore forced to go through the jungle, which was not without risks. The operation turned out to be more difficult than expected and resulted in the illness and death of many men. But once his troops got behind the fortress, Vernon could finally give the order to assault.

Two times, the English attacked the 600 Spaniards. The first attack resulted in the death of 1,500 English deaths. Before the second attempt, Vernon had scaling ladders made. Then, on April 19, British forces attacked again, but a surprise awaited them. The ladders turned out to be too short to reach the top of the walls. Warned at the last minute by a spy, “Patapalo” had the idea to dig a pit around the walls to increase their height. After a bloody struggle, the attackers were once again pushed back. This episode was crucial to the morale of the defenders. The British made many more attempts, but all proved unsuccessful. The city was bombarded by cannons for long days, but without success.

After two months, on May 20, 1741, Admiral Vernon was forced to lift the siege and return to England. A yellow fever epidemic and food shortage had significantly weakened his troops and undermined their morale. The toll was heavy: the English lost nearly 8,000 men, and 26 of their ships were set on fire, sunk or seriously damaged.

In London, the truth about the Cartagena de Indias affair would long remain unknown. The English authorities banned publication of any news relating to the lost battle. Paradoxically, Blas de Lezo, the main protagonist of the siege, was never to be rewarded by the Spanish.

Ingratitude Of The Spanish

Blas de Lezo ‘s relations with the viceroy of New Granada, Sebastian de Eslava y Lagaza, a fifty-six-year-old Navarrese, commander of the region, had been poor throughout the siege. They become execrable after the departure of the English. Blas de Lezo was a strong supporter of taking the offense, at least when possible. Eslava, instead, advocated caution and favored the defensive. Less than ten days after the victory, the viceroy sent Madrid an extremely negative report on Lezo’s attitude, demanding that he be immediately relieved of his duties and recalled to Spain.

Admiral de Lezo, who was wounded during the siege, was deteriorating rapidly. Abandoned by everyone except his family and a few friends, he passed away on September 7 at the age of 52 and it is not known where he is buried. Ironically, a month and a half later, on October 21, his dismissal and the order to return to Spain were approved by King Charles III. Conversely, Viceroy Eslava returned to Spain, where he was covered with honors and glory. Promoted to Captain General of the Armies, then Director General of the Infantry, he was subsequently appointed Minister of War in 1754, a position he held until his death in 1759.

The eldest son of Blas de Lezo finally did obtain the full rehabilitation of his father, but only in 1760, a year after the death of Minister Eslava y Lagaza. The defender of Cartagena then received, posthumously, the title of Marquis d’Ovieco for himself and his descendants. Only the Royal Spanish Navy continued to honor the memory of Admiral Blas de Lezo in the centuries that followed, always naming a ship after him.

But it was not until 2014 that the memory of the admiral, victorious over the English, was publicly honored. Two monuments were erected, one in Cadiz, the other in Madrid, on Piazza Columbus, and today there are Blas de Lezo streets in a dozen cities in Spain (Valencia, Malaga, Alicante, Las Palmas, San Sebastián, Cadiz, Huelva, Fuengirola, Renteria, Irún, Pasaia and Madrid).

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

The image shows, “Admiral Blas de Lezo,” by an unknown painter, daited 1735.

A Mockumentary About General Franco

I.

A few weeks ago, I saw a National Geographic documentary about Franco, in their series about dictators. They had just shown one on that channel about Mussolini, which was simplistic, but acceptable. When they announced this one about Franco, I stuck around to watch. I started perplexed, I continued indignant, and I ended hilarious with laughter – because it is actually quite difficult to put together so many inaccuracies, lies, misrepresentations and nonsense.

But as this type of product is precisely what forms the consciences of the semi-enlightened population, which is the scourge of our time (you only have to see a session of the Congress of Deputies), the matter must be taken very seriously. After all, the little that most Spaniards today know about our own history is what they tell us there. And even worse – it is precisely the version that the Spanish left wants to impose on us by law. Interesting, this convergence of the media-financial oligarchy and the cultural left. But let’s get on with Franco.

Something that was surprising as soon as the documentary began was the limited number of specialists who contributed their knowledge and insight. The only historian with a known work on Franco was Paul Preston, which is not exactly an example of balance. The rest of the specialists turned out to be, if Spaniards, people linked to the groups of the socialist “historical memory,” and if foreigners, likely notable professors at home, but completely unknown in the extensive bibliography on Franco and the Franco regime. Plowing with such oxen, it could already be assumed that the furrow was not going to come out very straight.

Right off the bat – National Geographic informed us that Spain is the second country in the world, after Cambodia, with the highest number of mass graves, which is attributable to Franco, naturally. Source of authority: Amnesty International. But this, as everyone should know by now, is a lie. And the author of this whopper is Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Arias, who has confessed his falsehood (by the way, he did not tell Amnesty International, but a group of people working for the UN).

Within those non-existent graves more than 114,000 disappeared. But this, which the National Geographic piece gives as fact, is also a lie. This figure corresponds to a highly debatable estimate of forced disappearances of children and adults between July 1936 and December 1951, and no doubt many of them were victims of postwar repression. But there is no documentary evidence of the fate of the vast majority of them. From here, however, the narrative framework of the documentary is established – what they are going to tell us is the life of a criminal named Francisco Franco.

A Morocco That Did Not Exist

A veritable criminal – a self-conscious subject, clinging to an intransigent Catholicism, who found in war a channel to give way to his psychological problems. What war? That of Morocco, in whose savagery Franco acquires a taste for “killing his own people,” as we are repeatedly told in this documentary. It is interesting to note how the National Geographic depicts the war in Morocco – as a barbarous exercise of cruelty upon the civilian population, where Franco’s soldiers cut off ears and noses and raped wildly. Is that true?

That war, as every Spanish should know, was not a war of Spain against Morocco, but of Spain (and the Sultan of Morocco) against the rebellious tribes of the Rif. Spain acted there as a “protective” power, and, consequently, had in its ranks thousands of Moroccan soldiers. That is the origin of our troops of regulars, with their red hats, their white capes and their majestic marching formation.

The only function of our army in that Morocco was to control the territory and, therefore, to dominate the Kabyles in Rif who occasionally rose up here and there, so that, in effect, the civilian population was frequently crushed, with the caveat that, equally frequently, in an “irregular” war like that one was, it is rarely possible to distinguish the civilian population from combatants.

But what about all those mutilations and ears and cut-off, and so on? First of all, there is a single photo of legionaries displaying the heads of Riffians. But this photo must be put in context. After the Annual disaster (1921), where the Rif Kabyles annihilated some 11,000 Spaniards (3,000 of them of Moroccan origin), the rebels indulged in a savage orgy of blood.

When the Spaniards recovered places like Monte Arruit or Zeluan, they found that their companions had been tortured, mutilated and burned alive. From then on, it is true that certain units did practice an eye for an eye. But the implicit message of the documentary – raised in such a terrible “school,” Franco became a kind of bloodthirsty beast. But, despite all that, what was Franco’s real part in this story?

Franco – National Geographic tells us – had arrived in Morocco as an officer of the “Regiment of Africa,” where he remained for his entire military career. The fact is Franco was only in a regiment called “Africa” at the beginning of his stay in Morocco, under the command of Colonel Villalba Riquelme, and he did not last more than a year, as he immediately asked to be transferred to the Regulars, and then by 1920 to the newly formed Spanish Legion.

However, the name “Regiment of Africa” remains unchanged throughout the documentary to designate the entire Army of Africa. And thus, we are informed that in 1936, the 30,000 “Moors” of the “Regiment of Africa” came over into Spain. With such figures, it must have been the largest regiment of all time. The documentary, however, is not characterized by the love of accurate detail.

By the way, in that Army of Africa (which is its real name, and not that of “regiment”) there were more Spaniards than Moroccans: 19,624 of the former, 15,287 of the latter. But all that is not of interest for a story like that of National Geographic, where the only objective is to show Franco as the criminal leader of a horde of murderous Moors, looters and rapists, in the same way that established the war propaganda of the Popular Front. Yes, the story oozes blatant anti-Moroccan racism. Is there a progressive lawyer in the room who wants to file a hate crime complaint? A guaranteed win.

The Imaginary Republic

There’s more. It is very funny to see how the documentary next moves to tell us about the advent of the Second Republic. Basically, we are told that the people were not against the Crown, but against Alfonso XIII. As an argument to explain historical change, it is astonishingly frivolous.

Then we are told that, with the fall of the monarchy, a democracy with constitutional guarantees and freedom of the press dawned in Spain, a democracy voted by “men and women all together.”

Let’s see now. First, men and women could not vote “all together,” because until 1933, there was no female suffrage in Spain for legislative elections (and this was because of the opposition of a large part of the left that did not want to grant the vote to women). As for the “constitutional guarantees,” the truth is that during almost the entire Second Republic, such guarantees were suspended, first by the Law of Defense of the Republic and later by the Law of Public Order of 1933, both arising from the imaginings of Azaña.

The Constitution of the Second Republic was only really in force for more than a few months, in the period from its approval in December 1931 to the end of the Civil War in 1939. Preston knows that, but he doesn’t care. And we know you don’t care. I’m afraid National Geographic doesn’t care either. But that reality doesn’t spoil a good story for you, right? Even if it’s a documentary.

And what did happen during that Republic? The National Geographic speaks, yes, of the furious anti-Catholic wave that shook the left, and does not mute the shock of the burning of convents in 1931. But Preston explains it all to us immediately: “In the churches there were golden altars while the people were starving.”

So those people, deep down, deserved what happened to them, right? It is the only time that the documentary talks about religious persecution. It does not say a word about the genocide – which was perpetrated by the Popular Front at the beginning of the Civil War. It is not interested because that might mean that Franco actually had some valid reason to revolt.

More grist in the mill: the documentary talks about the 1934 revolution in Asturias and presents it as a trade union conflict. Not a word about the involvement of the PSOE in the matter, nor about the failure of the uprising in other places (Madrid, for example) nor about the simultaneous separatist uprising in Catalonia.

Of course, it tells us immediately that Franco and “his Moors” were sent to quell the “union protest,” and they did so with the bloodthirsty spirit that characterized them. Not a word about the army of 30,000 armed men that socialists, communists, and anarchists had fitted with arms taken from the Trubia factory and who intended to march on Madrid.

For all that, Franco, did not set foot in Asturias. He was in the capital, on the General Staff, summoned by the (legitimate) Government of the Republic. But that, once again, does not matter. What matters is to blare out the message that Franco massacred “his own people.” The victims of the revolutionaries were not people, apparently.

Thrown at full speed into the void, the National Geographic script informs us that 30,000 prisoners of the Asturian revolt were deported to Africa. Nothing less. I confess that it is the first time in my life that I have heard such a thing. I knew that in 1932 a hundred anarchists were confined to Africa, but that was obviously for other crimes, and also by order of Azaña.

In fact, no one knows exactly how many people were arrested and kept in prison after the 1934 revolution. Why? Because the figures of the repression were exaggerated by the left for propaganda purposes; and then, when the left won in 1936, it was the left itself which obstructed any commission of inquiry. And the fact is that the repression of 1934, although it endured and in some cases was even savage, was far wide of the legend that the Popular Front created. But exactly that is the legend that National Geographic assumes to be historical truth. The way in which the documentary leads us to 1936 is just hideous.

II.

While some charitable soul might want to keep count of the consciences affected by this monstrosity, let’s continue gutting the documentary that National Geographic (via Movistar) has dedicated to Franco in its series, Dictator’s Playbook. We have already seen that its version of the war in Morocco and the advent of the Republic is simply fallacious. The rest of history is yet far falser.

Basically, what the documentary tells us is that Spain was a full democracy that the left had won – not a word about the proven electoral fraud of February, nor about the violence of the spring of 1936-, to the chagrin of the landowners, the bishops and the generals. What was that left like? The documentary doesn’t tell us. The only thing that it does tell us is that the new government did not trust many generals and chose to remove them. From that moment on, the documentary speaks of the “exiled generals” as the main engines of the conspiracy. Wait… Exiles?

As far as I know, only Sanjurjo was exiled after his failed coup in 1932 (which Franco, by the way, did not join). The rest had been taken to distant destinations (Franco to the Canary Islands, Goded to the Balearic Islands). But exiles? Perhaps in the National Geographic they ignore the fact that the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands are Spanish territory? So this is geography, according to the National Geographic…

But let’s continue with the generals. Because the reality is that, at the time of the Uprising, the majority of the generals preferred to join the Popular Front. Nor does the National Geographic documentary say a word about the murder of Calvo Sotelo, which was decisive for Franco – like many others – in joining the uprising. The story limits everything to Franco’s concern for the threats looming over the Church. It is not a lie, but obviously it is not the whole truth either.

Ruthless Butcher

More caricature… the National Geographic version of Franco’s proclamation as head of the national camp is, quite simply, hilarious. It is difficult to gloss a version in which nothing is true. Therefore, let us limit ourselves to summarizing what actually happened. In a militarily precarious, politically uncertain and economically desperate situation, and seeing the damage that the division of power was causing on the other side, the rebels decided to choose a single leadership. It should have been Sanjurjo, but he died in a plane crash.

Against the opposition of the generals, most closely linked to the republican order, such as Queipo and especially Cabanellas, the majority of the leaders chose Franco as their political and military leader. Why? For his service record and for his good external contacts. Franco’s supporters also made sure that the leadership included command over the entire nascent state. Not everyone liked it, but they all folded. And everything else is literature.

The documentary says that Franco deviated from his route to Madrid to liberate the Alcázar of Toledo, instead of dedicating those troops to the capture of the capital. For what reasons? For propaganda purposes. Old story. It has always caught my attention that, when this episode is recounted, no one realizes that, besieging the apparently irrelevant Alcazar, there were also a good number of Popular Front troops (15,500 militiamen), and that they did not come to Madrid either, but stayed around their goal.

The Alcázar was so important to the Popular Front that Largo Caballero had himself portrayed disguised as a militiaman, at the head of his hosts, marching against the Toledo enemy. Of course, it was a propaganda goal. Everyone wanted to take it.

And the war? Well, the fact is, Franco won it. The documentary admits only once that Franco was effective, but immediately adds the qualifier “ruthless.” It just won’t do that the “evil general” was a good professional. As Preston and his boys tell us, the Popular Front lost the war because the Soviet Union withdrew its military support.

But the truth is that this did not happen until the fall of 1938, and in fact it would not be fully verified until February of 1939. By then the war was already over, after the collapse of the Popular Front at the Battle of the Ebro.

In any case, the National Geographic account has little interest in any of this – its narrative focuses on explaining that Franco (and “his Moors”) went from city to city murdering people. “Massacring his own people,” which is the “heart-rending” message of the documentary. Of the people who died on the other side, not a peep.

Tons Dead And Stolen Children

The documentary gives as fact the figure of 450,000 victims of the Civil War. It is very reckless. To date, no one is in a position to say with total precision how many people died in our war, either in combat or as a result of repression, and only by approximation can we get an idea of the victims of the subsequent repression (this one, yes, attributable to the Franco regime). Why is it so difficult to get the exact number of victims? For multiple reasons.

At the time, no one had a national ID card, which is an invention of 1944. Many of the censuses and registers were burned by the “revolutionary justice” during the first months of the war, both in official buildings and in churches that burned completely (because in the churches there weren’t just the “golden altars” that Preston talks about). There are also numerous examples of people who changed their identities after the war, of people who appear repeatedly in several lists of victims, even of people who appear as victims of one side and on the other at the same time.

Approximate and provisional figures? Some 140,000 fallen in combat, to which must be added around 60,000 victims of the Red Terror and around 80,000 victims of the repression of the victors (until 1959). Those are the ones that more or less generate some consensus. No, not 450,000 deaths. And the once famous “million dead,” as everyone should know by now, does not refer to the actual dead, but adds up the number of births that would have occurred under normal conditions and that the war situation thwarted.

Regarding figures, the documentary supports the thesis of the 300,000 “children stolen” by the dictatorship, a completely absurd thesis that, once again, has been objectively refuted by reality: the case of Inés Madrigal, decided in court in July 2019, showed that this woman, as a child, was not stolen, but voluntarily given up for adoption. And it is relevant because it is the only case – the only one – that has come to trial. The others have not even passed first muster. But this also does not matter. What National Geographic tells us, in the approach inaugurated by former judge Garzón, is that the Franco regime designed a system to snatch their children from pregnant Republican prisoners and give them to families addicted to the regime. Is this true? Is it a lie?

Let’s see. The Franco regime, after the war, chose to give up the children of female prisoners for adoption, but that was a common practice at the time and continues to be so today in many countries (the United States, for example). The same happened with war orphans. In addition, there is the issue of the “children of war” who were deported by the Popular Front to other European countries to keep them away from the war and who immediately found that the war was reaching them. These children were returned to Spain and in many cases their parents were not found.

And then there is, finally, the issue of children given birth by mothers with problems (or without them) and given up for adoption in an irregular way. It is these cases that fed the suspicion of a plot, but, in general, these are events that happened long after the end of the war, happened even in the post-Franco era. If we mix everything with everything and dispense with documentary support, the hypothesis that the Franco regime set up an organized plot to abduct children can emerge, but that falls as soon as one asks for proof that such a plot actually existed. So far, the proof has not been shown and is not likely to be shown. So, everything is a lie. But trying telling that to the National Geographic.

And So We Come To Delirium

For the audacious makers of the documentary, this matter of the supposed “stolen children” serves to establish a surprising thesis, namely – Franco – they say – implemented a system of social engineering (sic) to raise young fanatics who were those kids stolen from their mothers. Any Spaniard who has lived at the time knows that this is an invention (and also very recent). But there are fewer and fewer compatriots who can attest to it, so, once again, National Geographic does not care. And so it goes.

Naturally, and to ensure that nothing is lacking in the repertoire of topics, the documentary tells us that the Valley of the Fallen was built with “slave labor” of political prisoners (Republicans). It is suggested that they were sentenced to forced labor.

As this is a fallacy that no longer holds water, in the same documentary an archaeologist from the CSIC shows up immediately afterwards, and without fear of contradiction, to explain to us that it was actually a penalty redemption system that allowed the inmate to reduce five years of condemnation for each year of work, and that is why many asked for such voluntarily labor. “But not because they liked it, but because the other was worse,” adds the archaeologist immediately, in case we had not understood. Nor does the National Geographic tell us, of course, that in addition to reducing sentences, these prisoners received a salary, and that the inmates were only a small part of the personnel who worked in the Valley. But the script could not put up with any more contradictions.

Is there more? Of course. The learned scriptwriters at National Geographic maintain that Franco froze (sic) Spain for forty years, and they illustrate this assertion with strident images of an eighteenth-century float going around a bullring. It is remarkable because, however you look at it, those forty years were the time of the greatest socioeconomic transformation that Spain has experienced in its entire history, including the last four decades in democracy. Here’s data from the National Statistics Institute on productive sectors:

At the height of 1940, the primary sector (agriculture) occupied 50% of the population, the secondary (industry) 22% and the tertiary (services) 28%, proportions very similar to those of ten and twenty years ago.

But on Franco’s death, in 1975, these proportions were, in approximate figures, 22%, 37% and 36% respectively.

So, Spain had become an industrial country. That is not to mention many other changes that any Spaniard over 55 years of age may remember as part of their own life: the impressive growth of GDP in the 1960s, home ownership, paid vacations, Social Security, the practical disappearance of illiteracy, etc. Or the nationalization of Telefónica, Movistar’s mother company, which is the television platform where National Geographic broadcasts (what a world…).

Regarding illiteracy, the National Geographic documentary, to support its own fallacy of a “frozen Spain,” ends by telling us that the first democratic elections after 1975, which were the 1977 legislative elections, were won by “the left wing.” In other words, Spain, as soon as the terrible tyrant died (as an old man and in his bed, in a public hospital), returned to the Popular Front.

The truth is that in those elections between the UCD of Suárez and the AP of Fraga (both, by the way, Franco’s ministers) garnered about 8 million votes, while the PSOE, the PCE of Carrillo and the PSP of Tierno Galván did not reach that figure. In subsequent legislative sessions, in 1979, the proportions were very similar. Where is the “left wing?” Who the hell documented this documentary?

I better stop, because there is no reason to bore nice people. There is only one question: What have we done to deserve this?

One last note: the head of National Geographic is a man named Gary Knell, who ran the Sesame Street production company for many years and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a famous think-tank linked to the Rockefellers and entirely devoted, for over a century now, to providing intellectual ammunition for US foreign policy and what is called “global governance.”

Perhaps it is just coincidence that the general tone of National Geographic historical documentaries always, always conveys the idea of European guilt in all the ills of the world. And how can these people be interested – you may wonder – that the ultra-left version prevails about Franco and the History of Spain? The answer is so interesting that it deserves another article. There’s no room for it now. But maybe you have already drawn your own conclusions.

José Javier Esparza, journalist, writer, has published around thirty books about the history of Spain. He currently directs and presents the political debate program “El gato al agua,” the dean of its genre in Spanish audiovisual work.

The image shows a self-portrait by general Francisco Franco.

Crisis Of The Spanish Monarchy And The Need For A Republican Right

Twilight Of The Myth Of The Wonder King

In the history of ideas, a monarch, who rules a State, always appears as an analogy to God, who rules the world. During the Middle Ages and well into the Modern era, kings had, for large masses of the people, a supernatural, character, even physically. Part of the vital force of the monarchy was that the king could perform miracles and, above all, heal with the imposition of hands, as the great French historian Marc Bloch explained, with numerous examples, in his famous book, The Royal Touch. According to Bloch, the last attempt to make the monarchy practical and serious with such religious representations took place in 1825, when Charles X of France wanted to heal by laying on of hands, an attempt that was nothing more than a painful romantic imitation.

The myth of the thaumaturge king lacked tradition in Spain. However, one hundred and fifty years after its end in France, there were attempts in Spain to fabricate a kind of wonder-king, not, of course, on religious grounds, but on political grounds. And it was thus in Spain, in the twentieth century, that the last establishment, not restoration, of a monarchy in Western Europe took place.

In November 1975, by sovereign decision of Francisco Franco, the monarchy returned, in the person of Juan Carlos I de Borbón y Borbón. Regarding the figure of the previous Head of State, any historian would, in my opinion, have to follow the message of Karl Marx to the letter in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, the least Marxist of all his works, when he stated that it was necessary to analyze “the circumstances and conditions that allow a mediocre and grotesque character to play the role of hero.”

The elites of the regime, as well as the opposition, did not have excessive illusions about the monarchical sentiment of the Spanish. Only José María Pemán or Luis María Ansón – the inventor of “Juan III” – could believe, at that point, in something as esoteric as “the magic of royalty.” For the majority of the right, Franco’s will was enough. And in reality, no one was too shocked when Franco chose Juan Carlos as his successor and not his father Juan de Borbón y Battemberg.

Juan Carlos himself did not hesitate to accept that decision, betraying not only his father, but the laws of dynastic succession. The truth is that he had no other alternative either. Based on this experience, the media, and later some court historians, began to manufacture the figure of the thaumaturge king, a process not only risky, but very complicated given the characteristics of the person in question.

Physically, Juan Carlos was handsome enough, dashing, young, even with a good face. However, his character could not bear a close-up. He was shy; and as a speaker, a disaster – as eloquent as a no-trespassing sign. Nor did the man stand out for his intellectual or scientific curiosity, although, yes, he was very athletic. His great obsessions were, as we have had the opportunity to see, money and sex.

With such meager strands, the image of a hearty, regenerating, sincerely democratic monarch was going to be woven, although, incidentally, it was never heard-said that the institution of the monarchy or its magistracy be submitted to a referendum. He would be the healer of all our social and political ailments – he was to be the author of the new “Spanish miracle.” As the always timely and opportunistic José María de Areilza pointed out, the young king was going to be the “engine of change;” that is, the promoter of the transition to liberal democracy.

In essence, there was no other possibility. The process of change to liberal democracy has often been, and continues to be, mythologized, almost in providential terms. As a historian I am not a determinist, but I believe that, in certain cases, such as the one that concerns us, it is necessary to accept, as the always lucid Raymond Aron pointed out, the validity of a certain “probabilistic determinism,” since the freedom of human choice always works within certain environments or restrictions received from the past.

Like it or not, Spain’s destiny was liberal democracy; or, if you like, the party state. The economic development of the 1960s, the expansion of the middle classes and the qualified working classes, the political consequences of the Second Vatican Council, the context of a liberal and social-democratic Europe, the emergence of the Common Market, the diplomatic and military influence of the United States – everything headed in that direction.

Of course, change can be made better or worse, depending on the context; but the path was laid out, in its general lines, beforehand. Franco knew it, as he told US General Vernon Walters in a conversation. Therefore, Juan Carlos I was impelled, whatever his inner convictions, if he had any, to the acceptance of liberal democracy, for lack of alternatives.

Given the contexts to which we have referred, the strange thing would have been the survival of the political regime born of the Spanish Civil War. The historical frame of reference for the new political system was, without a doubt, the Canovasist Restoration of 1874, Soldier King and bipartisanship included. And not only did Manuel Fraga want to play the role of Cánovas – his goal was the progressive integration of the left and peripheral nationalists into the new political system. The exception was the Republican parties.

As in the case of the Restoration, the fundamental dogma was the monarchy, as a guarantee of social continuity. The behavior of the whole of the real left, PSOE and PCE, and that of the nationalists – except for the ETA terrorists – consisted in taking advantage of the opportunities of the new situation. In reality, they were all advantages, since they achieved legality and great promises of social influence and political power.

In this sense, the young monarch’s relations with the old communist leader Santiago Carrillo were especially unctuous, almost pornographic. Of course, one and the other were needed. The 1978 Constitution was the consecration of that pact. Significantly, no monarchical institution underwent a referendum – which, as Professor Dalmacio Negro Pavón has pointed out, did not resolve the monarchical question; it simply postponed it. And there are pasts that do not pass, as Ernst Nolte said.

The new party regime was configured, in daily political practice, as a poorly representative political system, a mere partitocracy – the so-called State of the autonomies was established, which, as some denounced and later it would be seen, was and is a clear instrument of Spanish denationalization and economic waste. The left monopolized the sphere of cultural creation; and a kind of uncritical and superficial Eurofundamentalism hegemonized the social imaginary of the Spanish.

However, the figure of the monarch did not acquire authentic stability until his performance, or supposed performance, in the sad events of February 1981. And it is that when these lines are written we still do not really know what was the true role of the monarch in the gestation and the subsequent failure of the coup attempts that occurred on 23-F. As Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora said, the truth would perhaps be known on the day of the trial. At the Final Judgment, it will be finally understood.

Unsurprisingly, the blame fell on the so-called “extreme right,” which did not learn anything. In any case, the monarch, in the interest of the political, economic and media classes, consolidated his image and his role in the new situation. He was the defender of democracy; or, as Herrero de Miñón said, the defender of the Constitution. The idea, by the way, was Carl Schmitt’s. As a soldier-king he had managed to control the Armed Forces.

Of course, it must also be said, in case there were any doubts, that what was consolidated then was the charisma of Juan Carlos I, not the monarchical institution. Since then, reference has always been made to “Juancarlismo,” not to the monarchism of the Spanish in general and the left in particular.

In reality, Juan Carlos himself knew that his permanence on the throne depended on the acquiescence of the left. If they, at a given moment, questioned his legitimacy, and from his perspective it was very easy for them to do so, he was lost. For this reason, he sympathized much more with the astute and folksy Felipe González than with the hirsute and unpleasant José María Aznar; or, with the sinuous and elusive Rodríguez Zapatero who was with the rough and slow Rajoy Brey.

To top it all, a sector of historiography did not hesitate to fall very low when it came to legitimizing its status. Such was the case, above all, of Javier Tusell Gómez, and more tangentially of the mediocre and opportunist Paul Preston. They both tried, and partly succeeded, in becoming court historians. Although, truth be told, more than historians, their image was more like that of Hola tabloid journlaists. Next to them, Jaime Peñafiel looked like Ranke. Both Tusell and the plump Britisher made an effort to show that, in reality, Juan Carlos was never heir to Franco, but to his father Juan de Borbón; and that the restoration – beware of the concept, nothing neutral – of the monarchy was done against the General Franco and following his own dynastic logic.

Nobody believed it, of course, but both pseudo-historians gained notoriety, influence, and money. The press and all the mass media were complicit, not only in the mythologizing of the character, but in the concealment of Juan Carlos’s stormy private life and, above all, of his businesses and his relationships with characters of dubious morality. Looking for an antithesis to such a character, we have the ascetic Baldwin of Belgium.

Despite his Catholic status, Juan Carlos never made the slightest gesture against abortion laws; and he did not hesitate to sign the Historical Memory Law, which actually delegitimized his historical rank and that of the institution he embodied. And it is that in essence it supposed a mythification of the Second Republic. Apparently, nobody found out about it.

On the other hand, his role as constitutional king has been completely inoperative. It has neither stopped local separatisms, nor mediated between the parties, nor has it been a guarantor of the division of powers. After the entry of Spain into NATO, the figure of the king-soldier has lost much of its functionality. As Juan Vázquez de Mella would have said, he was “el Augusto Cero” (“Augusto Zero”) or “el Rey-Poste” (“the Post-King”).

However, the monarch has been very effective when it comes to living the high life and increasing his personal fortune, as we learn from some media. Little by little, his figure has been destroyed. It had become a broken toy. The real taboo was gradually diluted. Juancarlismo stopped being operative. His perceptible physical decline, his continuous and ostentatious conjugal infidelities, his little transparent businesses, and his lack of interest in public affairs, contributed to making him a character in the Valleinclanesque Ruedo Ibérico [The Iberian Bullring, a series of novels wriiten by Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, in which distortion – esperento – is used. Trans.].

All of this culminated in the pathetic photo from Botswana. Juan Carlos had killed Dumbo; quite the symbol. His forced and necessary abdication was in character – a capricious, disloyal, impulsive, incompetent man when trying to control the economic corruption of his family; a frivolous man. His legacy is a hindrance to his current heir, Felipe VI, and for the dynasty itself. As Louis XV said, “After me, the flood.” We are in it.

What Spain did Juan Carlos I leave us? Perhaps the best thing would be to leave the answer to that question to a poet; and the exalted Luis Alberto de Cuenca said it best: Spain has become “a very sad place that has forbidden heroes, has allowed the roses of scandal to rot… a poor place that has lost its soul without gaining anything in return, a place without a future, a fistful of disunited and sterile land.”

Unlike his father, Felipe VI has nothing to offer to the left and the nationalists. Separatism no longer hides its unattractive face; it wants an independent Republic. And one part of the left, especially in the new generations, rejects the monarchy, whose meaning they do not understand and who prefer the Republic, which is not difficult to understand because, as we have already pointed out, the stability of the institution rested on the charisma of Juan Carlos I and in the myth of the Wonder King, which the King himself has been in charge of destroying. And charisma is not inherited. Nobody has taught young people what the monarchy consists of, its functionality or its advantages; perhaps because in the 21st century all this is already anachronistic. Instead, the benefits of the Second Republic have been sung to them.

We already know where the left will go. And the right? So far, they have supported the young monarch. However, it is not hidden from us that a sector of the right does not forgive Juan Carlos for his marriage with the left and his support for the state of autonomies. And Felipe VI has not had the opportunity to build his own charisma. And he probably never will.

Stance Of A Heterodox Conservative

In March 2014, I was invited to a lunch at La Gran Peña, in which, after the meal, the guest gave his opinion on a current issue, which was then discussed. The issue was whether Juan Carlos, after the Botswana crisis, should abdicate as a show of exemplariness. Among those attending the event were Leandro de Borbón, Fernando Suárez, General Armando Marchante, Ángel Maestro, Enrique de Aguinaga and some others that I do not remember.

In the background, a statue of Alfonso XIII. A monarchical, conservative and Francoist auditorium. Now, I not only defended the abdication of the monarch, but the need to raise debate on the viability of a presidential republic. They jumped on me. “Without the monarchy we will go to civil war,” Leandro de Borbón shouted. Others discussed my ideas vehemently. The most eloquent was Fernando Suárez, who defended Juan Carlos I and the monarchy. Most left without speaking to me.

A few months later the monarch abdicated. Yesterday we learned of his departure from Spain. Serious historical error. A convinced monarchist like Tom Burns Marañón predicts, in Expansión, the next advent of the Third Republic. All of this demonstrates the great fragility of the institution. In any case, it is more than evident that the right wing, for the most part, has a real fear of the Republic.

Lately it has been tried to manufacture a charisma for Felipe VI. His speech of October 3 could be, without a doubt, the foundation of that charisma, but it lacked real support and continuity over time. Soon they clipped his wings. And the speech was badly received by a sector of the left. The chubby Paul Preston, a lousy historian, but an influential actor paid for by Catalan separatism, claimed that it could have been written by Mariano Rajoy.

The subsequent speeches of Felipe VI have already been diffuse, accommodating, paternalistic, without precise content. The fact is that the institution lacks autonomy and cannot become a “party.” In his travels and appearances, he is seen isolated, without support.

The Pedro Sánchez government follows a path diametrically opposed to the content of the actual speech of October 3, 2017. The flight of his father does not favor Felipe in the medium term either. And we must not forget that their fate depends on the opinion of the left. A García Ferreras campaign in La Sexta could ruin the institution in weeks.

In February 2014, a manifesto of leftist intellectuals calling for the Third Republic was made public. Among the signatories were spoiled brats of the current regime, such as, José Caballero Bonald, José Luis Abellán, Ángel Viñas, Josep Fontana, Juan Genovés or Nicolás Sánchez Albornoz.

Is A Republican Right Possible?

Of course, I do not pretend that the whole of the right will convert to republicanism. It would be petulant on my part, since I have no influence in those sectors. I have always been a heterodox conservative. Another thing is that the political, social and mental tendencies of Spanish society go against the monarchy. We are a country of deep social and economic inequalities, but very egalitarian in mentality. “Nobody is more than nobody,” they say. Nobody has taught the youth to be monarchist, or, at least, to respect the institution. And the most rebellious express their dissent by waving a flag of the tacky Second Republic.

In this context, I believe that a sector of the right, necessarily a minority, should defend, in the face of the gale that is coming upon us, the alternative of a presidential republic, compared to the federal or plurinational republic of the left. A presidential model, in which the supreme magistracy of the State comes from the popular election. Its source of democratic legitimacy is relatively direct. For this reason, even if he is a candidate nominated by the parties, once a president comes to power, he is freed from party discipline and a certain independence can be expected from him. Furthermore, by having a full territorial base, it could annul local separatisms and maintain national unity.

This presidentialism can ensure the independence between the legislature and the executive; and, in addition, it has historically been shown capable of limiting the interference of both in the judiciary. It also eliminates government instability and weak coalition cabinets, sometimes subordinate to a tiny minority. In a presidential Republic, the Head of State can actually perform an arbitration function between the parties, and has the advantage that, at the end of his term, the arbitration returns to the electoral roll – what cannot happen with the monarchy.

The negative management of the republican Head of State does not generally affect the institution itself, since at the end of his mandate the same condition that united him to the Head of State also disappears. The same does not happen under the monarchical regime, where any disputed action, and not only public, of the King or his family negatively affects the institution.

Moderation is, in short, a way of committing oneself, albeit slightly, and that entails a wear-and-tear that, in general, constitutional monarchs tend to avoid. In this sense, the Spanish case is archetypal. The King does not rule. Your legal actions are not valid, if they are not endorsed by one of your ministers; and you are not even subject to liability.

Only the moderator function remains. But make no mistake: the Monarch neither intervenes nor moderates. When has a Monarch mediated a conflict between the three powers? He has never done it; he cannot do it; and the Monarch himself knows that he never will do it. This is the message that, in my opinion, should be transmitted to the most critical, active and right-wing sectors. As the great Charles de Gaulle said, a project that would open “the horizon of a great undertaking.” And I will not say more – otherwise they will incinerate me.

Pedro Carlos González Cuevas is a Spanish historian and professor at Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia. He is the author of several books, including, Historia del Pensamiento Político Español (Historical of Spanish Political Thought), La Razon Conservadora (Conservative Reason), and Stanley G. Payne. Perfiles de un hispanista (Stanley G. Payne: Profile of a Hispanicist).

The image shows a portrait of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, by Ricardo Sanz.

The Birth Of The Catholic Reason Of State

I. France, The Anti-Empire

Any attempt to build a metaphysics of nations is doomed to failure. There remains, however, the possibility of affirming a definition of the intimate affinity of nations with certain political forms based on their historical biography. In the case of France, however, this biography arises historically from a truly disconcerting paradox. France, the only nation that retains the name of the Germanic tribe that restored the Empire in Europe, has been the nation that has fought the most. According to Erwin von Lohausen: “Among the various powers that, one by one, were facing the Habsburg Empire, France became, more and more after Louis XI, the soul of the rebellion. While French royalty had the same origins as the German Empire, France was, by nature, the anti-Empire.”

Austrian General Erwin von Lohausen, one of the great experts in geopolitics of the twentieth-century, a veteran of World War II under Rommel, insisted in his analyzes that the meaning, and the relationship with space, of the necessities and the passions of people are engines of world history that no religion or ideology can counteract.

These considerations may seem shocking when applied to the definition of the historical personality of the French nation. Has it not been the country that has poured forth with genuine conviction (at least in its declarations) at the service of a universalist mission, be it religious (the Crusades) or secular (the Rights of Man)? And has not this nation also been one to never hesitate to use these “sacred causes” (to take up the expression of Michael Burleigh) to “profess a fierce national egoism” and a “prejudice for the Fatherland?” It is not easy to find any other European people better able to bear the heavy burden of an impossible symbiosis between sacred universalism and chauvinistic nationalism. Hence the German geopolitical analysis of authors like von Lohausen is so valuable.

It was scholars like these who pointed out the striking freedom of France in choosing its own historical causes in comparison with other nations, conditioned by a geography that limited its scope for action in contrast to the comfortable French geopolitical position: “For German geopolitical scientists, France, because of its geographic situation, enjoys a freedom of action that neither Spain, nor Italy, nor Germany ever had. Historically, these three countries had to directly confront the Saracens, the Slavs and the Magyars. They could only act in relation to their needs. France, however, had the freedom to really choose its policy, to proclaim the Crusades and the Rights of Man.”

Indeed, far from seeing in it an insurmountable opposition, perhaps it is its privileged geostrategic position that explains to a large extent France’s historical fondness for leading the great sacred causes of each era and serving them, by attending first to the interests marked by the politics of national individualism. In France, the universal missions are always framed within the friend-foe political duality.

The peculiar historical configuration of the French identity is one of the most relevant keys to understanding the success with which it confronted empires politically, without ceasing to defend, on paper, the sacred causes with which the latter justified the legitimacy of their hegemony. The first-born daughter of the Church was the Catholic nation that most effectively fought the Holy Roman Empire. Thanks to the testimony of France, we better understand the ineradicable political dimension of the so-called “wars of religion.” Not even in that historical context, of mystical fervor in defense of the faith, could the friend-foe dialectic be translated without historical falsification into any other kind of completely crystalline moral or religious duality. There was France and the policy of its kings to deny it.

Once again, France “chose” its policy with full freedom; and did so against the empire and in the name of the same religious cause. The empire never had a fiercer enemy, because not only did France frustrate its expectations of supremacy with the strength of its armies, but France did so with the authority of its bishops and cardinals, as well as the countless Popes affected by the efforts of her first-born daughter. Although separated very soon from the imperial destiny of Charlemagne, France nevertheless preserved the genetic and foundational mark of a divine mission in “mimetic” competition with the empire. It is perhaps one of the most defining features of France’s identity.

Who is to blame for the French superiority complex, the self-assumed grandeur de la fille aînée de l’Église (“greatness of the first daughter of the Church”)? Psychologists speak of the “child emperor” syndrome to refer to children who end up dominating their parents. It is a curious formula since, in the case of France, the syndrome paradoxically afflicted the nation called to fight the empire pushed by the primogeniture privilege of its affiliation with the Church.

And just as psychologists point to the responsibility of parental education to understand the character formation of these imperial children, so in our case we must also point to the parents of France (the Empire of Charlemagne and the Catholic Church) as mainly responsible for an education conducive to the affirmation of a national pride based on the supreme legitimacy of a divine mission. “The bishops made France as bees make the hive,” wrote Joseph de Maistre. This observation is not without value but even it seems too restrictive. It was the entire Church that fed the religious vanity of the French nation. It was the Church that shaped it, that nurtured it, while continuing to excite and glorify with its education the achievements and conquests of its favorite daughter.

II. A State Against The Empire: Richelieu, Founder Of Modern Europe

A large part of the tensions of the history and identity of France are attuned to the aporia of the political form with which it has wanted to serve its universal mission. The State has been a particularist tool that has determined a good part of the historical dynamics that explain the French opposition to the empire. The victory of France in the seventeenth-century against the Spanish hegemony was also the victory of the state political form over the imperial political form.

Where are the historical roots of this crossroads to be located? The Colombian, Nicolás Gómez Dávila, wrote: “The modern State is the transformation of the apparatus that society has developed for its defense into an autonomous organism that exploits it.” France developed an apparatus for its defense. And the architect of that apparatus was Cardinal Richelieu.

The key to understanding the genesis of this apparatus is found, in full harmony with the Hobbesian thesis, in the civil war that bled a France increasingly divided into religious, political and social factions. As Philippe Erlanger, Richelieu’s biographer, recounts: ”No one was a greater creator than Armand du Plessis. When he took the nation in hand, France was not just a nation adrift; total anarchy devoured it. Its weakness in the face of other powers made it a kind of vacant good, an almost virtual entity. Nothing seemed impossible: Its disaggregation, a Protestant republic of the Midi, provinces that proclaimed their independence, others that fell into the hands of the Habsburgs, a fractionation, a satellization, a decadence similar to that of Italy.”

It is at this juncture that Richelieu’s founding idea and policy appear. The political exceptionality of France destroyed by the wars of religion opened the historical horizon to the affirmation of new possibilities of political definition. As Dalmacio Negro writes: “In the founding moments of a political unit – an important classical locus of political philosophy practically abandoned – the situation is in itself exceptional; the decision then being essential. For the political exception is never about something objectively existing and determinable, but has the character of innovation according to a guiding idea. It is a historical decision, about the future; to make a historical possibility viable. In it, other possible options are discarded, in favor of what is chosen and imposed.”

Erlanger exposes it in his own way by raising the historical dimension of the figure of Cardinal Richelieu to the condition of founder of a new political nation after the construction of the first modern State worthy of the name: Louis XIII wanted to restore greatness and cohesion to this lost kingdom. Relying on this royal wish, Richelieu did much more – he remodeled France, transforming it by a revolution quite similar to those of the twentieth-century, and forced it out of its chrysalis to become a modern nation.”

France was undoubtedly the most advantageous candidate in Europe for the definitive construction of the new political form. Educated by the Church, she also imitated the empire that was reborn with the Frankish dynasty. The new French model took many elements from both one (the Church) and the other (the Empire); and no one better than a French Catholic cardinal, devoted to the service of the Capetian monarchy, to lay the foundations of the new political order that would establish the fortress of the newly inaugurated State, despite many internal enemies and imperial external threats.

In practice, the action and work of ecclesiastics such as Cisneros, Wolsey, Richelieu or Mazarin were decisive for the consolidation and configuration of statehood. […] All of them under the imprint of the still dominant ecclesiastical way of thinking, which determined general attitudes. The result was that the State, (…), imitated and took from it (the Church) much more than power. For example, the secularized idea of the political body derived from the theological concept of the mystical body in which the ontological individual becomes a social individual; or, the idea of hierarchy and a large-scale bureaucratic administration; and, in the background of all this, as the driving force and justification of its activity, the aforementioned dynamic idea of mission, now applied to temporary security.”

In his biography of the Cardinal, Hilaire Belloc christens Richelieu nothing less than the “founder” of modern Europe: “The consequence of this, finally, and above all, was the creation, in the center of Europe, of a new modern nation, highly organized and subjected to a strong monarchical centralism, which, quickly reaching the heights of creative genius both in literature, as in the arts, as in military science, was to constitute a model that would serve as an example to the new nationalist ideal. This new organized nation was France; and the man who carried out all this was Richelieu. He was the one who, subordinating everything to the monarchy he served (and, therefore, to the nation), had to place everything under the authority of the crown… He was the one who, by work and grace of his own will, managed to consolidate the seventeenth-century, and with it, although involuntarily, the Europe of yesterday. His work is modern Europe.”

It is necessary to interpret the work of the new cardinal-minister (or the minister-cardinal, to be more precise as per his historical performance) in the light of the theoretical battle between the rights of religion and those of politics. This far-reaching battle was fought against the backdrop of the wars of religion that shook the old continent, and only reached a solution after the political success of Richelieu’s work at the head of the State apparatus built by him to serve the people – the French monarchy.

According to Marcel Gauchet, the history of the relations between the political and the religious begins with millennia of religious colonization of politics, that is, millennia of religious “occupation” of a political terrain used to living in a protected minority, by an archaic mentality of a mythical-sacred character. It should not be forgotten that “the political came from the bosom of the sacred,” as Dalmacio Negro reminds us.

With the advent of Christianity, “the religion of the departure from religion,” a new framework of relationships was established, in which the political began to gain its independence. In triumphant modernity, the tables were reversed and we witness, on the contrary, the political colonization of religion (political or secular religions represent perhaps the most advanced stage of this process). Today we perhaps arrive at the philosophical-universalist colonization of the political by the humanitarian ideology of religious democracy and human rights, a new form of secular and antipolitical gospel that claims its privileges with messianic fervor.

Octavio Paz pointed out that politics limits one side with war and the other with philosophy. Philosophy represents, in effect, the limit-form of a universalism that was always the focus of the imperial political form (pagan or Christian). Faced with it, the state-form, with a particularist matrix, is defined by the limit and the frontier of enmity, formulated from political criteria, and tending to progressively eliminate moral or religious residues.

What does Richelieu’s work represent in Gauchet’s transhistoric scheme? In the tension of the double condition present in the figure of Richelieu, minister of a Catholic monarchy who ended up blurring a prince of the Church, the modern transition from the religious pole to the political pole is embodied as an epitome. The significance of this epitome may not be (apparently) distinguished from other cardinals with similar political responsibilities, such as Cisneros or Wolsey – but its decisive relevance in the construction of the ratio-status, which the new hegemonic power of Europe was going to impose, necessarily endows it with a superior role.

Richelieu’s work should be interpreted as a declared exercise of affirmation of the primacy of (State) politics and its friend-foe logic over the demands of the religious script that a pastor of the Church was supposed to attend to. What is striking in this case is that this statement does not occur within the framework of the new relationships generated by the Lutheran thinking with which the predominance of the new State hegemony is frequently associated, but in the context of catholic monarchy, the oldest in Europe.

Richelieu’s new State at the service of Louis XIII asserts itself inwardly against the remains of the feudal aristocracy, against the Levantine high nobility, and above all, against the “State within the State,” represented by the Huguenot minority yet infiltrating the political and social body of the nation. In its determined will to fight abroad against the Austro-Spanish Empire, Richelieu’s State also deploys its energies against the internal enemy, the devout “collaborationist” party that, for essentially religious reasons, presented itself as a French ally of the monarchy of the Habsburgs.

The failed coup against Richelieu, on the famous “Day of the Dupes,” ruined the last hopes of the devout pro-Spanish party. As Etienne Thuau summarized in his study on the reason of State in Richelieu’s time, “in relation to organized society, this authoritarianism translates the will to destroy infra-national solidarity in the same way that it destroys the supranational solidarity of the res publica christiana.”

The strengthening of the new State apparatus required the complete submission to the new order of the old estates, as well as of the dissident Huguenot elite, in significant contrast to the tolerant pastoral care that Richelieu had sustained in his time as Bishop of Luçon. But now the cardinal did not act as a man of the Church, but as the inflexible executor of the policy that would ensure the new greatness of the French monarchy. The success of the minister of Louis XIII is inseparable from the new European order that will follow his death and which can hardly be separated from his work. The Ius Publicum Europaeum enshrined in the Treaty of Westphalia was, at heart, a Ius Publicum Richelaeum.

We noted earlier that the logic of the minister-cardinal’s work was defined by his novel hierarchy of principles in directing the affairs of the kingdom, both internally and externally. Whether against the Huguenots, against the nobility, against the devout party or against the Empire, the line of action of the former bishop was based on the spirit of the primacy of politics, and more specifically, in that maxim of consistent political intelligence, according to Raymond Aron, in turning yesterday’s enemy into today’s ally. The Catholic monarchy of Louis XIII did not hesitate to make a pact with foreign Protestant forces while fighting the Huguenot cancer of La Rochelle. All this in the name of the new reason of State. The Cardinal, according to the portrait drawn by his enemies, carried the breviary in one hand and Machiavelli in the other.

It is worthwhile analyzing the result of this new logic of political purity in international and domestic relations. The new scenario was translated intellectually into an intensification of the secularization of political thought and power. For the political legitimation of a Catholic power as emblematic as the French monarchy, Richelieu’s endeavor required, especially in the context of the wars of religion, an argument from authority that went beyond the strictly theological dimension with which they used to hide many of the conflicts that were presented on the geopolitical arena.

In this sense, Armand du Plessis’s gamble contributed to the purification of a political thought hitherto accustomed to disguising itself in the name of moral and religious causes, counteracting with all the theoretical energy (and with essentially theological ammunition) the growing impact that Machiavelli’s unmasked proposition was beginning to have. At the level of the concert of nations, the politics of France began to find its own moral argument; but it was an argument of political morality that attended to the danger represented by a unipolar Empire which threatened the geopolitical balance of Christendom. Thus, in a line very similar to that which the theorist of Action française, Charles Maurras, later defend in his work, Kiel et Tanger (and which General De Gaulle came to apply strictly in the Fifth Republic), France was rising for the first time as a defender of multipolarity in the international arena. Its place and its mission consisted in being the arbiter or mediator of Christianity to preserve its constitutive balance.

Faced with Spanish ambition, the most powerful state in the West now had the duty to free Christianity from the threats that weighed against it. Furthermore, the expression of the will of French power did not exclude the desire to restore an international order. Thus, by affirming itself, the national State recognizes other States. For this reason, in the numerous writings that specify or exalt the role of France in Europe, an idea stubbornly persists: That of European balance which will ensure the freedom of the different States.

“However, in the second quarter of the seventeenth-century, a European balance no longer existed. It had been broken by the inordinate ambition of Spain, and it was up to France to assume the mission of putting things back in their state. Statist writers currently claim for the French the glorious titles of “liberators” and “arbiters of Christianity.” This way of speaking was one of the most official. Richelieu himself defined the objectives of French policy in these terms: “…To help restore freedom to its former allies, reestablish peace in Germany and put things back in a just balance because, in the present state, the House of Austria, in no more than six years, when it has nothing more to conquer in Germany, will try to occupy France at our expense.

“In the name of the cause of European emancipation, Richelieu justified his intervention in the affairs of Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. In every military or diplomatic action, it was about liberating a people or a prince from the “oppression of the Spanish,” from the “tyranny of the House of Austria,” from the terror caused by the “insatiable greed” of this House, enemy of the rest of Christianity, and to stop its “usurpations,” to save Italy from its “unjust oppression,” to seek its salvation.”

Although it is paradoxical, this provocative propaganda against the House of Austria did not sublimate the awareness of careful observation of France’s main political enemy, an observation that reached the rank of self-taught education by the method of strategic rivalry. Luis Díez del Corral recalled that “Richelieu admired the organization of the Spanish Monarchy;” although such admiration did not become the pure and simple emulation of its political-administrative structures: “The image of Spain is present in every act, on every page of the Cardinal. Many were the teachings that he received, but not so much to imitate as to replicate, becoming the configurator of a new type of political organization that contrasts with the Austrian Monarchy, and serves to illuminate its historical nature and destiny. The Spanish theme appears especially in the Cardinal’s Political Testament, a work that Carl J. Burkhardt considers Richelieu’s chef d’oeuvre, ‘a compendium of political art, a profoundly French method that will always preserve the value of a model.’”

Indeed, this meticulous observation of the movements of the imperial enemy did not translate into a “mimetic replica” of the structural configuration of the Spanish imperial model, but rather into a replica of an antagonistic State model. This “profoundly French method that will always preserve the value of a model” was, in effect, the result of the war led with an iron hand by Richelieu, who must be considered the founder, not only of Modern Europe (as Belloc pointed out), but also of the state-centered political organization that accompanies it to this day.

As Dalmacio Negro pointed out: “The war was a struggle between the Spanish people and the most perfected State of the time, which has always been the paradigm or prototype of statehood since Richelieu. The Revolution and Napoleon made it the formidable Nation-State to which it owed its superiority.”

The awareness of the superiority of the French model for the war that was being fought also reached those who stood as opposition to it; but the survival of the imperial forma mentis prevented a mimicry in the opposite direction towards the centralization and concentration of power that it implemented. The French crown was marching at a forced pace. The bringing of the Bourbon dynasty into Spain was necessary to initiate, and not without resistance, the slow implementation of the neighboring state- model.

It is well known that Philip IV rejected the suggestion in this sense of the Count-Duke Olivares, having realized that what Richelieu was doing in France – making it the first great state power, with full awareness of what modern sovereignty means in order to centralize political power. According to Jouvenel, Olivares thought like the Cardinal that the good of the nation and of the State justifies violating any law and privilege, that is, crossing the limits that distinguish the power of the potestas.”

The notion of the French theorist, Bertrand de Jouvenel, on the law of political competition in the narration of “natural history” and of the “growth of power,” offers a very adapted historical-theoretical mold to understand the direct relationship between a war fought by the two Catholic monarchies and the formation, at Richelieu’s initiative, of the new French model of a centralized State.

These natural jealousies between the powers engendered, on the one hand, a well-known principle, the momentary forgetting of which demands a heavy payment from States – that any territorial increase by one of them, by expanding the base from which it draws its resources, forces the others to seek an analogous increase to restore balance. But there is another way for the State to reinforce itself, which is more fearful for the neighbors than territorial acquisition – the progress of power to exploit the resources that its own territory offers it.”

Jouvenel himself points out Burke’s cutting observation in understanding this same phenomenon as an experience to remember after the French Revolution when, in 1795, he wrote: “The State [in France] is supreme. Everything is subordinate to the production of force. The State is military in its principles, in its maxims, in its spirit, in all its movements … If France had more than half of its current forces, it would still be too strong for most of the States of Europe, as they are constituted today and proceeding as they do.”

Jouvenel draws a general lesson from this dialectic between war and the growth of power: “Any progress of power with respect to society, whether obtained in view of war or for any other purpose, gives it an advantage in war.” Such an equation can alter the order of the factors involved, without diminishing its degree of historical validity; and it is in this second sense that the tendency towards the concentration of power, which this mimetic bid between antagonistic powers has pushed, must be understood.

Thus, if, on the one hand, every advance of power serves war, then war, on the other hand, serves the advance of power. This dynamic acts as a sheepdog that urges reticent powers to reach the most advancement in this totalitarian process. This intimate link between war and power appears throughout the history of Europe. Every State that has successively exercised political hegemony has sought the means to do so through a more intense pressure on the people than that exerted by the other powers on their respective peoples. And to confront these precursors it grew necessary that the powers of the continent be placed on the same level.”

The author of On Power understood that this process is closely linked to the French resistance to the Spanish Empire, as happened in England: “The development of absolute monarchy, both in England and in France, is linked to the efforts of both dynasties to resist the Spanish threat. James I will owe his great powers to the army. If Richelieu and Mazarin were able to elevate the rights of the State so much, it was because they could continually invoke external danger.”

The testimony of Fontenay-Mareuil (1594-1665), who was a diplomat and military man in Richelieu’s time, is especially relevant, in Jouvenel’s opinion, to give us “an idea of how military urgency contributed to liquidating the old forms of government and cleared the way to absolute monarchy.” In the words of the French ambassador: “It was really necessary to save the kingdom…that the king had sufficiently absolute authority to do everything that pleased him, since he had to deal with the king of Spain, who has so many countries to obtain everything he needs. It is clear that if he had had to gather the Estates General, as is done in other places, or depend on the good will of parliament to obtain everything that he needed, he would never have been able to do anything.”

The increase in number of the French military under Richelieu’s command is quite a telling indicator of the transformation carried out in France as a result of the political and armed confrontation with the Habsburg Empire: Richelieu, who found that all the forces in France had been reduced by Marie de Medici to 10,000 men, raised them to 60,000. Then, after having fought the war in Germany for a long time, and ‘reaching for the purse rather than the sword,’ he raised an army of 135,000 infantry and 25,000 cavalry – forces that France had not seen in eight centuries.”

There is nothing better than the testimony of Richelieu himself to understand this exorbitant growth of the resources made available to the new State machinery. The cardinal justified it all by the “incessant purpose of stopping the advance of Spain.” The war, midwife to absolute monarchy, not only buried the old aristocracies in this way (confirming Vilfredo Pareto’s assertion about the circulation of the elites) but also prepared for the funeral of the Spanish imperial form, without whose threat there would be no emergence of the gigantic apparatus that, brought about by force of circumstances for the defense of the French nation, was already creating the path to that autonomous body eager to exploit it, as suggested by the scholio of Gómez Dávila.

III. Machiavelli, The Afrancesado

In France, the success of this new national model in competition with the Empire could not fail to be understood outside of the historical demands of an adaptation of the discourse to the particular relationships that, within the framework of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, were imposed between the religion and politics. In this doctrinal and theoretical corset, political knowledge struggled to reach the full margin of autonomy possible, in order to meet the demands of a confrontation between opposing Catholic powers.

In this cultural context, it was evident that France had everything to lose against an imperial power as universalist in its aspirations as the Church itself, and for the same reason, more theoretically legitimized to impose its rights to political hegemony before the doctrinal court which protected the ideas and mentalities of a time in need of theological justification. In this sense, Richelieu’s commitment to the propaganda of the ideas of the so-called “State Catholics” should also be considered as one of the successes of his work of directing the political affairs of the French crown.

An intellectual battle was raging, paralleling the political and military battle; and the critical reception in the Catholic world of Machiavelli’s work was central to the controversy. In France, given the nation’s needs for its defensive geopolitical position in the face of the supremacy of the imperial order, there was an urgent need for a split between Christian ethics and morals and the demands derived from the exercise of political power that had now begun to be assumed.

Meanwhile in Spain, there was no room for assimilating a Machiavellian discourse which was directly opposed to the national legitimizing talismans since the Reconquista (however, Tacitism has been judged as a form of “crypto-Machiavellianism,” very widespread in Catholic countries): “The work of Machiavelli, with its political and historical critique of Christian morality and the papacy, could not compete in a Spain in which the State made Catholicism more and more its basilar foundation and which placed the mythical principle in the refuge of Covadonga of its state-construction and imperial expansion.”

Undoubtedly, this frustrated assimilation by the Spanish elites of the new political discourse of propaganda deserves attention which, at the service of the French monarchy, increasingly vindicated the legitimate autonomy of the reason of State within the framework of Catholic thought, all the while denouncing as spurious the theological arguments with which the Spaniards tried to disguise, according to this interpretation, a political and military hegemony that exclusively served their own interests.

Already in 1623, la France mourante showed what danger the policy of the King of Spain posed for France: ‘…If we allow his conquests to be strengthened, it is very certain that he will become master of all Italy, and dominator of the Germanies, and by this means he will encircle this crown everywhere by powers so great that it will be impossible for to resist it…’ The Discours sur plusieurs points importants (1626) denounces ‘…those who have always aspired to the Empire of the Universe.’ La Lettre déchiffrée (1627) attacks Spanish politics that wants to ‘…raise the affairs of heaven to the level of those of Madrid,’ and for whom ‘everything that is done by the Vatican is criminal if it is not ratified in the Escorial.’ In 1626, the preface of Pierre de touche politique specifies the inspiration for the book: ‘…it uncovers the purpose that the Spanish have to oppress all their neighbors under the pretext of Religion and Charity, and to establish by that means their Universal Monarchy, and shows that this nation has always had the interest of God and the Church on its lips, and it has never had it in its heart.’ After the accusation of imperialism, the reproach most frequently leveled at the Spanish is that of using the spiritual for temporal purposes.”

This new anti-imperialist argumentative arsenal was not manufactured in a completely spontaneous way. It was driven by the theoretical ammunition of Cardinal Richelieu himself, who did not hesitate to point out the political servitudes of the “Spanish theology” of the time.

“Richelieu, in his Memoirs, denounces the Spanish pretexts. Foreign policy pamphlets did not stop attacking the ‘new theology’ manufactured by Spain to cover its ambitions… It is therefore well established in the political creed of the ‘good French:’ When the Spanish defend Christianity, we can be sure that it is Christianity that defends the Spanish.”

In the combat between the Empire and the new state-form of the French model, a struggle was also taking place in the field of political thought. In particular, this theoretical controversy took place within the religious framework of Catholic legitimacy, in which France seemed to count, by her birthright as eldest daughter of the Church, with credentials that could compete with those of the Holy Empire.

Despite the undoubted superiority of the state-form to respond to the demands and challenges of the confrontation that was drawn on the geopolitical board, Spain could not assume those new usages that clashed, head-on, both with its own legal and political traditions and with its political history of national reconstruction (the Reconquista), and so attached to a legitimizing religious discourse that there was no room in it for the slightest split for the reason of State independent of the guardianship of the faith.

On the other hand, this national character and this historical-political-religious personality seemed to fit much better with the imperial narrative, especially at a time marked by a Protestant Reformation that reinforced the rights of justification of religious orthodoxy to impose the universal order of the sword of Rome. These roots explain, to a large extent, the costly assimilation of the state-model in Hispanic lands.

As for Spanish political thought, it was forced, in Abellán’s words, to have to live ‘in fact’ under a political form, ‘the State,’ in which, however, ‘it did not theoretically believe.’ And perhaps it is true that the Spanish authors did not believe much in the ‘modern State;’ not so much because religion prevented it, but rather because they believed in something that was not exactly the modern State: A Catholic Empire.”

Unlike Spain, France had all the reasons in the world to believe in the political form of the State; and if reasons were lacking, there was no hesitation in inventing them as much as necessary. The autonomy of the demands of politics from the imperatives of religion was undoubtedly the central philosophy of the new propaganda of the French monarchy and the core from which all these reasons emerged. And it was Richelieu himself who fully advanced it, by asserting, in a famous phrase and with all the religious authority of which a prince of the Church was capable, that the interests of the State are different from the interests of the salvation of the souls.

“Placed between its Protestant allies and Catholic Spain, Richelieu’s France faced a difficult choice. State or religion. Such was the dilemma that arose in the conscience of many French people and the writings of the time attest to their discomfort… In another respect, Richelieu did not say otherwise and, in the instructions to Schomberg often cited, we read: ‘”Different are the interests of the State, which bind the princes, and different the interests of the salvation of our souls”.’”

The link between this new secularization of political thought and the state- political form is of interest in this regard. In addition to the interest that this commitment to a political realism freed from religious ties supposed for theoretical propaganda in the service of the Cardinal, there is an undoubted favorable propensity of the state-scheme towards the intellectual figures of the most secular political thought. These figures found it difficult to break through the legitimacy structure of the imperial form, too impregnated by the weight of the sacred (the “Holy” Empire) and by the will to impose a cosmocracy of universalist ambitions that, in the manner of Campanella, it necessarily contaminated or dissolved the political dualities of the conflict in its purest sense (friend-foe).

IV. Political Creation Outside The Polis

Sheldon Wolin has analyzed the creative facet inherent in political thought and its recurrent disruptive contribution, between the lines of continuity of the inherited Western tradition, as well as the relationship of these creative leaps with the historical transformations of political forms. For Wolin, originally, political thought was related to the characteristic problems of the polis, that is, to its size, problems and intensity, features that offered a general framework marked by a very defining effervescence of a way of living and living together in public space.

This simple intuition immediately translated into another question. If political thought is a thought related to the problems of the polis, can that same model of thought survive in the contexts related to other political forms? In other words, how does an alien spatial configuration affect the spatial limits, concerns, and conflict intensity of the polis in political thought?

The contrast between the “nervous intensity” of Greek political thought, attached to the dimensions and effervescence of the polis, and other human sensibilities, characteristic of a different spatial conception, was raised for the first time in relation to the “the mood of later Stoicism which leisurely, and without the sense of compelling urgency, contemplated political life as it was acted out amidst a setting as spacious as the universe itself.” This first contrast already heralded the decisive influence that this new universalist spatial sensibility, defining the imperial form, was to imprint on the configuration of political thought, impoverishing and blurring its essential categories.

“…Yet the central fact from the death of Alexander (323) to the final absorption of the Mediterranean world into the Roman Empire was that political conditions no longer corresponded to the traditional categories of political thought. The Greek vocabulary might subsume the tiny polis and the sprawling leagues of cities under the single word koinon, yet there could be no blinking the fact that the city denoted an intensely political association while the leagues, monarchies, and empires that followed upon the decline of the polis were essentially apolitical organizations. Hence if the historical task of Greek political theory had been to discover and to define the nature of political life, it devolved upon Hellenistic and later Roman thought to rediscover what meaning the political dimension of existence might have in an age of empire.”

The way to overcome the difficulties associated with the new social representation of space (the enormous distances that were now imposed in the face of the customary relationship of citizen proximity that defined the Greek political atmosphere) consisted in a recovery of the sacred symbolism, which was then thereafter to merge with the discourse of legitimacy of the imperial forms.

Where loyalty had earlier come from a sense of common involvement, it was now to be centered in a common reverence for power personified. The person of the ruler served as the terminus of loyalties, the common center linking the scattered parts of the empire. This was accomplished by transforming monarchy into a cult and surrounding it with an elaborate system of signs, symbols, and worship. These developments suggest an existing need to bring authority and subject closer by suffusing the relationship with a religious warmth. In this connection, the use of symbolism was particularly important, because it showed how valuable symbols can be in bridging vast distances. They serve to evoke the presence of authority despite the physical reality being far removed.”

The impact of this new configuration of the dimensions of the relationship of the men subjected to the new imperial power not only ruined the classical categories of citizenship of Greek thought but also altered the moral and concrete structure (that so characteristic symbiosis of ethics and practical sense) of a perception of the political, marked by a closeness to the real problems of public space and a direct experience of its associated conflicts.

Faced with this hyperesthesia of Greek political realism, an increasingly abstract conception of political life was now rising, which required, to the same extent, the help of a theoretical and symbolic apparatus, twinned with the morphology of a community, without defined contours, and that overflowed the limits and borders of vivid representations, in order to enter the infinite space opened by universal concepts and categories.

With the development of imperial organization, the locus of power and decision had grown far removed from the lives of the vast majority. There seemed to be little connection between the milieu surrounding political decisions and the tiny circle of the individual’s experience. Politics, in other words, was being conducted in a way incomprehensible to the categories of ordinary thought and experience. The ‘visual politics’ of an earlier age, when men could see and feel the forms of public action and make meaningful comparisons with their own experience, was giving way to “abstract politics,” politics from a distance, where men were informed about public actions which bore little or no resemblance to the economy of the household or the affairs of the market-place. In these circumstances, political symbols were essential reminders of the existence of authority.”

The new cosmic sensitivity, initiated by Stoic cosmopolitanism and which adapted so well to the ethos of imperial power (personifying itself even in egregious figures such as Marcus Aurelius), was called to be united, if not to merge, with soteriological ambitions of a religious nature, especially when, in time, the Empire form was to proclaim Christianity as the official religion: Another and far stronger impulse, but one that was equally apolitical, was to suffuse power with religious symbols and imagery…This was a certain sign that men had come to look towards the political regime for something over and above their material and intellectual needs, something akin to salvation.”

From then on, and despite the theological reservations of a Saint Augustine in relation to Varro’s political theology, the historical-political moment was in the best position to correlate religious and political categories to the point of fostering a politics legitimized by theology and a theology endorsed by existing political forms: “This belief in a political savior, as well as the persistent attempts to assimilate the ruler to a deity and to describe the government of human society as analogous to God’s rule over the cosmos, were themes reflective of the degree to which political and religious elements had become deeply intermixed in men’s minds. In a variety of ways, in the conception of the ruler, subject, and society, the “political” quality was becoming indiscernible. At the same time, from the fourth century B.C. until well into the Christian era, men repeatedly thought of the Deity in largely political terms. Thus the paradoxical situation developed wherein the nature of God’s rule was interpreted through political categories and the human ruler through religious ones; monarchy became a justification for monotheism and monotheism for monarchy.”

It is not necessary to appeal excessively to the imagination to understand that this new mentality contributed unexpectedly but decisively to progressively blur the purity of political concepts that had grown in the heat of the conflictive intensity of Greek city life. The political categories that had populated the minds of the leading Greek philosophers were not born out of abstract speculation but out of civic life that, significantly, many of them had experienced in their own lives.

In this way, the advent of the imperial era washed away, if not the ruin of the political categories inherited from Greek philosophy, then at least the experience inherent in the Greek logos mode of political thought, thus generating a collective temperament far removed from it and increasingly apolitical ways of thinking: “In looking back on the kinds of political speculation that had followed the death of Aristotle, it is evident that the apolitical character of life had been faithfully portrayed, but no truly political philosophy had appeared. What had passed for political thought had often been radically apolitical; the meaning of political existence had been sought out only in order that men might more easily escape from it.”

Inevitably, from that very moment, through the infection of sacred symbolism in imperial forms, a path was already opening for the penetration of moral Manichaeisms that were to progressively overlap with the defining dualities of the essence of what political, as studied, for example, by Julien Freund, especially the friend-foe duality for foreign relations and the command-obedience duality for internal ones.

The political world, for this new moralism, was from now on divided into “good” and “bad” (that is, faithful and unfaithful, orthodox and heretics), thus breaking the spatial and theoretical delimitation between the political and the ethical, built by the realism of authors like Thucydides.

From now on, there was no longer a “political” morality (that is, a morality adapted to the demands of political reality), but rather the political (everything political, with its theoretical and practical arsenal) was subjected to “the” moral, a unique and universalist morality called to be colonized, over time, by a faith (the Christian one) that, unlike the other two monotheisms (the Jewish that preceded it, and the Muslim that succeeded it), paradoxically, never harbored any political ambition: “Instead of redefining the new societies in political terms, political philosophy turned into a species of moral philosophy, addressing itself not to this or that city, but to all mankind… Seneca’s suicide was the dramatic symbol of the bankruptcy of a tradition of political philosophy that had exchanged its political element for a vapid moralism.”

From this new scenario, which ultimately prevailed, we can gather striking precedents that, as symbolic advancements, were presented in the unprecedented Alexandrian imperial experiment. Eratosthenes incarnates, avant la lettre, before history the figure of an anti-Schmittian advisor, who conquers for morality the territory hitherto untouched by politics: “When Eratosthenes advised Alexander to ignore Aristotle’s distinction between Greeks and barbarians and to govern instead by dividing men into ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ this marked not only a step towards a conception of racial equality, but a stage in the decline of political philosophy… Eratosthenes’ advice indicated that political thought, like the polis itself, had been superseded by something broader, vaguer, and less political. The ‘moral’ had overridden the ‘political,’ because the moral and the “good” had come to be defined in relation to what transcended a determinate society existing in time and space.”

In conclusion, the historical decline of the polis, understood as a spatial relationship adapted from the human to the political, dragged political thought, originated by the polis, towards an intellectual, religious and moral habitat less adapted for its intellectual survival.

In this environment, which was that of Empire first and feudalism later, political philosophy languished. Although it preserved its theoretical validity in a mausoleum, in which the echo of a vocabulary born from a claustrophobic microcosm of internal rivalries was frozen over the centuries, it awaited its resurrection, by awaiting an ideal environment for palingenesis:The decline of the polis as the nuclear center of human existence had apparently deprived political thought of its basic unit of analysis, one that it was unable to replace. Without the polis, political philosophy had been reduced to the status of a subject-matter in search of a relevant context.”

The relevant context for the regeneration of political thought appeared in a universe that was partly reminiscent of that of the ancient Greek polis. The turbulent air that was breathed into the Italian republics of the Renaissance oxygenated minds capable of restoring a fuller understanding of new (and old) political realities, presenting themselves again under a new day. Machiavelli was the theoretical epitome of the modern political firmament, but the atmosphere explains the phenomenon. “Almost a century before The Prince was written, a viable tradition of “realism” had developed in Italian political thought,” states Wolin.

However, this new sensitivity to political issues would take time to break through and achieve definitive recognition, for the inertia of the old world continued to weigh on it with the tradition of political-religious symbiosis. It is not surprising that the political butterfly did not finally emerge from the chrysalis until these new categories were assumed precisely in the religious habitat that conditioned it.

The nascent national monarchies offered an incomparable setting for the testing of this new offer of understanding of the political fact. In monarchies headed by statesmen who were at the same time princes of the Church, as in Richelieu’s France, the obstacle of theological legitimation could be overcome with greater ease. In the geopolitical context of religious wars, whose moral demands could hardly be reconciled with the incipient reason of State, the fusion of the political with the religious, far from being an obstacle to the autonomy of the former, was presented as its only (and best) platform for its launching.

The following reflection by Wolin, much broader in scope and intent, nevertheless, allows an interpretation in a French way that offers a powerful framework of analysis to understand the progressive secularization of political thought in France ruled with an iron fist by the “man in red.”

“The growing merger of political and religious categories of thought was an intellectual footnote to the spread of political control over national churches. When these tendencies were joined to the growing strength of the national monarchies and to an emerging national consciousness, the combined effect was to pose a possibility which had not been seriously entertained in the West for almost a thousand years: an autonomous political order which acknowledged no superior and, while accepting the universal validity of Christian norms, was adamant in insisting that their interpretation was a national matter. But while Reformation Europe could accept the practice of an autonomous political order and disagree primarily over who should control it, there was greater reluctance to explore the notion of an autonomous political theory. As long as political theory contained a stubbornly moral element and as long as men identified the ultimate categorical imperatives with the Christian teaching, political thought would resist being divested of religious imagery and religious values.”

There is no doubt that the new political and religious scene had little to do with that of the Greek polis in which men such as Plato, Aristotle or Thucydides had been born and lived. Almost two millennia had passed and the men of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries lived immersed in the dogmas of a faith unknown to the ancient Greeks.

However, far from what might seem at first glance to be the spirit of secularism that genuinely characterized the letter (and spirit) of the believers in Jesus Christ, there yet awaited a favorable context for the definitive conquest of a political autonomy that did not contradict, said its postulates, as seriously as in the case of those who followed the law of Moses or Muhammad.

Furthermore, as Jerónimo Molina notes, the anthropological pessimism of the political conception of a Machiavelli was an unwitting debtor of Christian theology; and, although the echoes of the creator of The Prince seem to resonate in the history of the Peloponnesian war, the profundity of the intellectual equipment on the condition of man, which distinguished the Florentine, as a result of more than 1500 years of Christian tradition, was not within the reach of a military man like Thucydides.

This pessimistic strain, which grew out of the realization that the new knowledge must be conversant with evil and that its major concern was to avoid hell, confirms that it was a post-Christian science rather than one inspired directly by classical models. The assertion that ‘all men are wicked and that they will always give vent to the malignity that is in their minds when opportunity offers’ was one which Greek political science never entertained and Christian doctrine never doubted.”

V. Laicization And The “Catholic” Reason Of State

In this context of French opposition to an imperial power that based its political legitimacy on an authority that appealed to arguments of a religious nature, the autonomy of the political did not appear as the result of an independent intellectual construction, but rather from the demands of a propaganda at the service of military and political action determined by an atmosphere of religious hegemony in the field of argumentation about temporary realities.

Discovered or rediscovered by the statists of Richelieu’s time, the idea of the autonomy of politics does not come from pure speculation, but from a whole series of concrete conflicts: The dispute over Gallicanism, the problem of relations with the Protestants, and above all the Franco-Spanish conflict. The principle of the independence of politics was the anti-Spanish weapon par excellence.”

All of this explains why the course of the debate led to probably unforeseen conclusions. This is proved by the fact that the cardinalist propaganda accepted the challenge of the religious foundation of the theoretical reasons to present in the face of Spanish demands. Spain had chosen a bad enemy to uphold the sacred superiority of her cause. The first-born daughter of the Church would not hesitate to connect with the foundations of a divine mission so frequently highlighted by the Petrine See: The religion of the monarchy could not but confirm the French in the idea that their country had a mission and that it continued the tradition of the Gesta Dei per Francos so well expressed by the words of Joan of Arc: ‘Those who make war on the Holy Kingdom of France, wage war on King Jesus.’”

Nevertheless, the religious dialectic used in the conflict did not cease to be, for the political interests of the French monarchy, a defensive weapon designed specifically to counter the offensive of the Habsburgs, no matter how few actually used it with full conviction. Little by little, strictly political arguments came to the fore, while religious rhetoric was progressively located in the space of stage decoration. After all, the confrontation of the two greatest Catholic powers of the time was not the most appropriate terrain for a resolution of the conflict on a religious basis. As it is a markedly political struggle, it was inevitable that the political arguments would gradually come to occupy the space with the greatest protagonism.

The Catholic State was not just a name of one of those government pamphlets serving Richelieu’s policy. The name chosen for that publication indicates the general inspiration for its content. Undoubtedly, this periodical, which appeared at the beginning of Richelieu’s ministry in 1624, was distinguished by its doctrinal vigor, in its defense of the cardinal’s new policy. The exact title was Le Catholique d’État ou discours politique des alliances du roi très chrétien contre les calomnies de son État. As the scholars of the press of the time pointed out, this pamphlet constituted the hardcore of propaganda in the service of the minister of Louis XIII.

The cardinalist pamphleteer revolted against the intellectual and moral contempt that at the time was directed at the association of the figure of the “Catholic” and the idea of “State policy.” In this way, it placed with pride in its very title the spirit of this association, elevating it to the rank of national and religious communion and apologizing to those who, like the sovereigns of France, knew how to combine the interests of the State and the Catholic Church. However, in the end (and beyond the immediate intentions of its promoters), the thrust of its doctrinal argumentation contributed to progressively dissociate the foundation of the political order from any religious horizon, reworking the foundations of a matched political realism to the interested analysis of the French position in the conflict against the Spanish Empire.

The paradox of the Catholique d’État resides in the fact that after having founded absolutism on an authoritarian conception of religion, it came to separate politics from religion. It does not approximate the power of God except to better ensure its independence… Rejecting the religious arguments of Spanish propaganda and underlining the separation of politics and morals, the Catholique d’État placed the conflict between France and Spain in its true light – that of the confrontation of two national interests.”

As a consequence of this growing translation – from the space of religious definition to the field of political definition – the terminology of the cardinalist writing progressively colors the friend-foe duality of the political opposition with national and non-religious characters, thus affirming a delimitation of intellectual conflict in terms ever closer to the real meaning of political confrontation: While foreign pamphlets separated men into Christian and ungodly, the Catholique d’État took a different view… Thus, in the cardinalist writing, the friend-foe distinction, capital in political thought, was based from now, not on religion, but on nationality and patriotism.”

Thus, from the study of propaganda publications, such as, the Catholique d’État, it is possible to analyze the general meaning of a process of gradual doctrinal decantation. Although the opposition against the Catholic Empire forced a response in the theological field (or more exactly, in the theological-political field), the prolongation of the conflict imposed, in addition to the refutation of the foe’s religious “pretexts” with the same Catholic ammunition that it used, a necessary transfer of the epicenter of the intellectual confrontation towards a political territory, not sown by the theological-moral seed. Without this historical circumstance (fundamentally political and military, as well as religious) that surrounded the cardinalist publication, the “para-doxa” of the Catholique d’État cannot be understood.

Not without its literary qualities, the Catholique d’État contains, in abbreviated form, the theory of the authoritarian State of the reign of Louis XIII, and defines the ideal of a ‘political Catholic,’ of the ‘good patriot.’ Its paradox consists of starting from a religious conception of power in order to separate politics from religion; or, more exactly, from a religion understood in the Spanish way… By developing a new conception of politics, there is a sense of that laicization of power that became the dominant feature of Richelieu’s time.”

The new climate brought about by the Franco-imperial conflict was to propitiate a state of mind tending to consider with suspicion the religious pretexts adduced by a Spanish-Austrian foe maliciously inclined, in the eyes of cardinalist propaganda, to locate the theoretical epicenter of the confrontation in the doctrinal space most adapted to its own benefit. This suspicion unconsciously contributed to disavowing the religious legitimation of political causes, presenting it as a veil, self-interestedly used by a hand determined to hide the true face of its owner.

The similar arrangement of the pieces on the board between the two contenders (Catholic powers competing in moral authority in an atmosphere of religious hyper-legitimacy) originated the unexpected transformation of the rules of the game, until then in force, and with it the consequent secularization of the political thought. It can be said that the Spanish imperial hegemony gave rise to a reason (Catholic and French) of State.

The consequence of this process to Spain and its supporters was, without a doubt, to make religious justifications in politics suspect. Here is a curious detail of the history of political thought in the seventeenth-century: The idea that religion is a deception of the rulers and a secret of domination has been spread by publicists of the very Christian king writing against the pamphleteers of the very Catholic king. The conception that makes religion an imposture of the powerful has been, if not produced, at least reinforced by the confrontation of great nation states. Thus making religion suspect, what could remain as the law of international relations but the interest of each State and natural law? And indeed, if one looks for the basis that the statist writers give to Richelieu’s policy, it is found that they increasingly invoke the national interest and the reason of State. They certainly do not make the kingdom of France a secular state, but they are led to separate more clearly than their predecessors and their opponents the interests of the State from those of religion. The fact that Spain and its supporters insisted on the union of faith and politics undoubtedly contributed much to this secularization… If they still mixed religious arguments and rational arguments, the predominance of the latter is noticeable.”

Thus,” Etienne Thuau writes, “reason of State prepared to become the main argument of Richelieu’s policy.” This “politics of sleeplessness,” a peculiar form of French-style Machiavellianism in a national-Catholic guise, must be understood as the necessary reaction to a given context. The uncomfortable truth of a political realism, purged of moral mystifications and theological disguises, could not break through without attending to that context.

It seems that in Richelieu’s time pro-Spanish publicists and French pamphleteers opted for a veiled politics to that of wakefulness… Thus, in the eyes of many seventeenth-century Frenchmen, Gallic ‘naivety’ was opposed to Spanish hypocrisy. This naivety consisted, at the outset, in revealing to a limited public the levers of power and in taking the layman behind the scenes of government. More profoundly, it tended to desecrate power and detach it from the moral and religious justifications with which it was often illegitimately cloaked. It is not always pleasant to speak the truth, and it is to his lucidity that Richelieu owes, as with Machiavelli, his bad reputation.”

The reference to Machiavelli is not without meaning and perhaps helps to place the doctrinal debate, limited by the circumstances of Richelieu’s time, in a broader context. The “French” reason of State does not arise from the intellectual import of the “letter” of the Florentine’s thought, but rather from the adaptation of its “spirit” to the concrete historical plane of a conflict marked by very precise connotations. And, fundamentally, because of the remarkable personality and ambition of a figure of the stature of Richelieu.

The enigmatic Richelieu in fact embodied for his contemporaries the type of politician marked by Machiavellianism… Faithful, if not to the letter, at least to the spirit of Machiavelli’s doctrine, they made political thought progress since, thanks to them, under the Richelieu regime, the Machiavellian current came to merge with that of the Reason of State.”

The peculiar religious circumstances of the conflict between the French monarchy and the Habsburg Empire help to understand the emergence of this “Catholic” Machiavellianism in Gallic lands and the scope of the contradictions that it carried within it. Another factor that should not be forgotten, when interpreting the period and the historical precipitate (essentially involuntary) that happened to it, is the existential personification of these contradictions. By this we mean that the undoubted political motivations of its main architects were not combined with their religious responsibilities at the cost of a tribute to cynicism or hypocrisy, as a certain distorted and caricatured exhibition tried to underline later, especially in field of literature (The main responsibility, in this regard, is that of Alexander Dumas and his three musketeers).

The genuine religious spirit of men like Richelieu and Father José, the most intimate collaborator of the cardinal’s politics, but also a Capuchin steeped in a fervent missionary ideal, should not be underestimated with chronocentric criteria, if one does not want to blur the real significance of the events of the time (The most representative work on the historical significance of the figure of Father José and his contribution to Richelieu’s political career remains that of Aldous Huxley, Gray Eminence). The sincerity with which these ministers and religious lived their own internal conflicts genuinely fed the sense of politics and the thinking of the main protagonists of the moment, leaving a legacy that would decisively influence the future of a new Europe.

Richelieu may not have had his breviary and Machiavelli at his table, but his Machiavellianism was as indisputable as his faith. Father José dreamt of the Crusade at the same time that he worked for the ruin of the very Catholic Monarchy… The thought of the statists, like that of the men of the seventeenth-century, united the contradictions. They glorified the prince, vice-king of God, responsible before his Creator and, at the same time, invoked the irresponsibility of the reason of State… In good logic, the opposing ways of thinking in life are summoned and completed. Inconsistencies also have their logic… What seems to us incoherence is, to a certain extent, the very mark of life. Those seemingly incompatible principles that coexist are actually the past and the present facing each other.”

Although the sense of criticism of figures like Richelieu usually insists on the amoral character of their political endeavors and on the religious instrumentalization of their power interests, the truth is that many of the men who collaborated with those endeavors were also moved by a sincere desire for religious purification. The delimitation of the respective fields of politics and religion should not only serve to liberate politics from religious servitude but also, and for the same reason, to emancipate religion from bastard political ties.

Closer to reality, the statism of Richelieu’s time, assuming violence to overcome it, tried to agree on force and reason. Attempting to reconcile violence and reason, flirting with Machiavellianism to overcome it, statism propagated a new conception of the relationship of men with each other and of man with God. By secularizing political thought, Richelieu developed natural law and a new theology. Statists reject in the first place any religion that mixes God too much with human affairs and that is preached by people ‘more political and carnal than spiritual.’ as Theveneau put it. They judge very suspiciously political-religious endeavors in the Spanish fashion, such as the League, the Evangelization of the Indies, the holy war against the heretics or the infidel. They aspire to a purer, more interior religion, oblivious of material interests and the narrowness of dogma.”

The characteristic realism of this “Catholic Machiavellianism” could thus enlist the support of sincerely religious men, without whom the contemporaneity of its emergence could hardly be assimilated with the appearance of eminently spiritual figures such as Pascal (1623-1662), and his decisive and parallel contribution to both scientific and religious thought.

“Reason, for the seventeenth-century, is therefore, to a certain extent, daughter of the State of Richelieu,” as Etienne Thuau pointed out, and continued: “The brutality of the time of Louis XIII made political apriorisms impossible… But this oppressive thought is also an instrument of liberation. In its positive aspect, the statist works of our period contribute to secularize the State and the League of Nations, and the most remarkable fact of this influence is that the progress of rationalism is parallel to that of the State.” The environmental secularization of the spirit of the time undoubtedly purified the political analysis but also engendered a new moral and religious sensibility, announcing, on the other hand, the new ideological and cultural winds of the great revolutionary rupture of the late eighteenth-century.

This Christian statism placed ample confidence in the human will to build civil society. It is based on ancient and modern rationalisms and gave great autonomy to the State… It is the same with the political polemics of Spain, as with Pascal’s polemics with the Jesuits: They did a lot to secularize thought and expand the morals and politics of honest men. Equally distant from Spanishized theology and from Machiavelli’s atheism, the politics of honest men – or, more precisely, that of the bourgeoisie, men of law and civil servants – tends to be based on natural law, a Christian rationalism and, very often, deism.”

To relate the links of this great (and indeed foundational) “French Machiavellian moment” with the revolutionary hecatomb, which will take place a century and a half after the death of Richelieu, constitutes the task of a work that goes beyond the limits of this one. Instead, we will content ourselves with pointing out, by way of a conclusive synthesis, that the Catholic reason of State that stands as the main novelty of French political thought at the time of Louis XIII, which in his reign allowed the great Cardinal to fulfill his incomparable foundational and restorative dictatorship,” is a paradigmatic example of that creative factor that accompanies the history of Western thought – in that permanent tension between continuity and innovation, analyzed by Sheldon Wolin, as we have highlighted throughout this brief study as hermeneutical support of our interpretation. This creative factor is undoubtedly linked to that imaginative dimension inherent in political thought, as highlighted by the American author, but also to the socio-historical circumstances that incardinate the imaginative leaps of the philosopher.

The varied conceptions of space indicate that each theorist has viewed the problem from a different perspective, a particular angle of vision. This suggests that political philosophy constitutes a form of ‘seeing’ political phenomena and that the way in which the phenomena will be visualized depends in large measure on where the viewer ‘stands.’”

In other words:

The concepts and categories of a political philosophy may be likened to a net that is cast out to capture political phenomena, which are then drawn in and sorted in a way that seems meaningful and relevant to the particular thinker. But in the whole procedure, he has selected a particular net and he has cast it in a chosen place.”

Although Richelieu’s time did not have the support of a political philosophy similar to that of an observer of the English Civil War such as Thomas Hobbes, it nevertheless developed an analogous propaganda apparatus for self-defense, mutatis mutandis, which we have met in the twentieth-century. The interests of the cardinalist press constituted that socio-historical context to which Wolin refers, and which no longer represented so much the perspective adopted by the “observer” (who is associated with an impartial and almost scientific agent), but the approach taken by whoever he observed and at the same time influenced events, in a position similar to that which defined the trajectory of the diplomatic Machiavelli. “The political philosophy of the Richelieu regime is therefore less the fruit of disinterested reflection than of the mask of the will of the State and an instrument of domination. The impression of incompleteness that his works offer comes from his practical aspirations,” Thuau also pointed out.

It is no coincidence that this scholar of reason of State during Richelieu’s time emphasized that “thanks to creative distortions and respectful falsifications, jurists, theologians and men of letters worked for ‘statist crystallization.’” The reference to the creative factor and the fundamentally proactive position of its new interpreters (observers and actors at the same time) clearly delimits the peculiar socio-historical dimension of the imaginative character that we can attribute to the political thought that germinated to the beat of the cardinal’s work. The fusion of the jurist, theologian and man of letters came to be represented, with a similar political role, by the twentieth-century intellectual.

The echoes of this desacralization sponsored by the propaganda demands of the French throne defended by Richelieu were felt, over time, beyond the space-time coordinates of the Spanish-French conflict that saw it born, attacking the descendants of Louis XIII with arguments similar to those used by cardinalist advertising. Only two centuries later, the argument for the desacralization of politics that favored the geopolitical interests of the kingdom of France ended up ruining its own internal foundations.

However, the antecedents that culminated in the French Revolution had, in the meantime, become contaminated with the infection of a new secular matrix moralism, an enlightened humanitarianism that undoubtedly inherited the transcendent desacralization of power that was initiated involuntarily at the initiative of the propagandized, in the service of the Cardinal, but which reoriented the religious potential of the French tradition towards intramundane purposes. Hence, we must ask ourselves about the weak intellectual offspring of the crude political realism that emerged as a result of the claims of affirmation of the French monarchy of Louis XIII.

One feature of the cardinalist propaganda deserves to be noted: Its tendency to offer a brutal vision of reality… The cardinalist press therefore tended to present political life as a confrontation of forces, a harsh view that seemed to “free spirits” a sign of truth. This feature of Richelieu’s time is striking when his accomplishments are compared with those of a later time.”

Perhaps the French theory of reason of State that emerged in Richelieu’s time died as a consequence of its success. French absolutism was to dominate European geopolitics from the treaty of Westphalia. The requirements of his policy, from then on, were to be different from those under the command of the man in red. If Richeulian Machiavellianism is to be fairly considered as one of the golden ages of political realism, its profound nature is better understood if it is seen, in the pre-Westphalian European context, as a brief parenthesis between theological moralism that it preceded and the immanentist secular moralism that buried it.

We can indeed wonder if the time of Richelieu, who made Machiavellianism flourish, was not the moment of truth of the century. Indeed, the seventeenth-century, a century of violence, seems to have been a “Belle époque” for political realism… The Middle Ages lived in a world that was made bearable by the presence of God. The Age of Enlightenment, without ignoring the miseries of the human condition, nurtured a humanitarian ideal. Our gloomy period only looks at the gross facts without any ray of light coming to illuminate them.”

This is the paradox that perhaps summarizes the history of the vision of the political, which is also the history of its visionaries: That all light outside their domain is not a light that illuminates but a light that blinds.

Domingo González Hernández holds a PhD in political philosophy from the Complutense University of Madrid. He is a professor at the University of Murcia. His recent book is René Girard, maestro cristiano de la sospecha (René Girard, Christian Teacher of Suspicion) He is also the Director of the podcast “La Caverna de Platón” for the newspaper La Razón. He has explored the political possibilities of Girardian mimetic theory in more than twenty studies and academic papers. His latest publication is “La monarquía sagrada y el origen de lo político: una hipótesis farmacológica” (“Sacred monarchy and the origin of politics: a pharmacological hypothesis”), Xiphias Gladius, 2020.

The image shows a portrait of Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu by Philippe de Champaigne, painted ca. 1633-1640.e, painted in 1648.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.