José Alvarez-Junco - The Formation of Spanish Identity and Its Adjustment to the Age of Nations

Any consideration of the emergence of a collective "Spanish" identity in the modern period must first take into account a salient historical fact: the union of kingdoms achieved by the "Catholic Kings," the Trastámara cousins Ferdinand and Isabella, at the end of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth. Following their marriage in 1474, Isabella's victory in the subsequent Castilian civil war and Ferdinand's accession to the Aragonese throne, the royal couple broadened their dominions with the conquest of Granada-the last Muslim kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula-and Navarre, incorporated by Ferdinand after his second marriage. This policy of absorption created a political conglomerate whose borders have remained basically stable for the last half millennium, a very remarkable fact when compared with the fragile and shifting European boundaries throughout the same period. What we today call "Spain" very closely resembles the structure of power accumulated by the Catholic Kings, which makes it one of the oldest political units in Europe, along with France and Britain.

This first statement has nothing to do with the commonplace reiterated by nationalist historians, who used to write that the Catholic Kings achieved "Spanish national unity." Since we are discussing the precedents of a modern nation-state, after recalling the formation and durability of this political entity it is fair to immediately add that its nature at the beginning of that period bears very scarce resemblance to its nature at the end, that is, the meaning of the word "Spain" underwent radical transformation during those 500 years. The union of kingdoms ruled by the Catholic Kings and their successors was utterly alien to what we understand by a nation-state, and present-day historians even doubt whether it could deserve the label "modern state," or "state" at all, although the latter were ideal types widely applied to it by those who wrote on this phenomenon just a few decades ago. Instead, today we tend to use terms such as "monarchy" or "empire" to refer to that conglomerate-words used by the contemporaries, who also began to refer to it as "the Spanish monarchy." I make these semantic distinctions to stress the weak degree of integration of that structure as compared with modern states. Indeed, its different kingdoms and lordships formed a kind of confederation, only united by their common allegiance to the same king; not only did they keep their own institutions, tax exemptions and draft privileges, but they were separated by internal customs. None of this was different from other European monarchies of that period-Scotland within England, for instance; all of them originated in the sum of different territories acquired through conquest or inheritance, while retaining special recognition of their "privileges."

Another indisputable, but not unusual, trait of the situation was the use of force by the Spanish monarchs in order to keep those territories under their rule. In the sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries, Castile itself, and then Aragon and Catalonia rose up in defense of their privileges against the kings' efforts to increase or centralize their powers, but all of them-unlike Portugal, which also rebelled for the same reasons-were crushed, the Castilians by Charles V, the Aragonese by Philip II and the Catalans by Philip IV. The latter's resistance to Madrid´s rule has often been presented by nationalist historiography as an upsurge of "nationalistic" feelings in a modern sense (and "Els Segadors," a song recalling the 1640 uprising in which the Spanish viceroy was murdered, is today the Catalan national anthem). But this interpretation is just a projection of modern phenomena, since, in the early modern period, those struggles were the result of competition among elites for privileges, with little resemblance to a clash over sovereignty in terms of cultural collective personalities. Local elites were the only beneficiaries of those privileges, and they fought for them without taking into account any popular will and, above all, without any reference to ethnic traits ins support of their political claims.

Furthermore, these conflicts did not last long. After the Catalan defeat in the 1640-1653 war, armed confrontations between the absolute monarch and his privileged kingdoms ended. It is true that modern nationalist movements emerged in Catalonia and the Basque Country at the end of the nineteenth century, and they tended to link their claims to those of the old regime, thus presenting a historical version that gave those identities a centuries-old history. But my contention here will be that those peripheral nationalisms are basically modern, and that they have been a consequence of the weak effort to nationalize the masses, or incomplete nation-building process, in Spanish-Castilian terms, during the nineteenth century.





Let us go back to the precedents. After the unification reached by the Catholic Kings, and under the rule of the Habsburg Charles V and Philip II, the extraordinary political success of these monarchs, especially in the wars in which they were constantly involved against the French, the Protestants and the Turks, gave birth to some kind of collective identity in "Spanish" terms. The armies that played the lead in those wars were not "national," of course, but mostly hired and with a composition that, in modern terms, would be considered "multinational." But we should not forget that their enemies called them "Spaniards," that there was a significant component of elite soldiers (the Tercios) coming from Castile, the monarchy's most populated kingdom, and that among the subjects of the Catholic monarch living in border areas the fear caused by foreign attacks undoubtedly created xenophobic feelings against the "enemies of Spain."[1] Thousands of cultural testimonies could be mentioned here attesting the emergence of a "Spanish" identity linked to loyalty to the monarch and allegiance to the "true" religion, more or less as strong as those created in France or England at the same time. One of the best examples of that "Spanishness" is the Historia General de España written in the 1590s by the Jesuit Juan de Mariana.

There were some "ethnic" components in that identity, since it was referred to as a "people" or "nation" that allegedly had existed for millennia, whose members were all supposed to have the same religious beliefs and psychological traits and whose extraordinary exploits were attributed to their spiritual cohesion. And yet, it would be wrong to call that identity "nationalism"-just as I consider it wrong to call that monarchy a "nation-state" or to attribute the 1640 Catalan uprising to pre-nationalist feelings-because that cultural creation never extended beyond the level of the elites, that is, nobody made an effort to "nationalize the masses"; and, above all, because those ethnic traits were not the basis for political legitimacy, which was grounded on dynastic rights and the religiosity of the monarch.

There was a second factor which reinforced that newborn identity and had an undeniable impact on popular milieus: the deep attachment to the Roman Catholic dogma and bitter hostility toward the rebel Protestants, created during the Counter-Reformation period, along with the pride of being "Old Christian," that is, of "pure" or "clean" blood, and not a descendant of the old Jewish and Muslim minorities. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this religious allegiance, which almost superseded and replaced the political link (the fact of being the subjects of the same king). Anti-Muslim and anti-Protestant wars, plus the vigilant eye of the Inquisition, generated a self-referential discourse with a seemingly indelible Catholic legacy. Even the Cádiz Constitution of 1812, inspired by Liberal revolutionaries, expressed this religious allegiance with shocking bluntness: "The Roman Apostolic Catholic religion, the only genuine one, is and shall perpetually be, the religion of all Spaniards."[2]

Religious appeals were indeed most prominent among the calls to rise up against the French when a Napoleonic army entered Spain in 1808. And the success of those calls-which fostered a ferocious popular resistance for a six-year period-proved that some kind of "Spanish" identity existed at the beginning of the modern period. Liberal elites who believed to be inspiring the resistance of the Spanish people against Napoleon from the surrounded city of Cádiz went so far as to present that struggle as a "war of national liberation." Should this be true, it could be considered an excellent beginning of the modern age from the point of view of Spanish nationalism. Unfortunately for national believers, those were nationalistic simplifications.

Indeed, "Spain" had been the rallying cry for the rebellion. But this word referred, at that time, to a mixture of traditions, religiosity and antirevolutionary ideology. As for the armed confrontation itself, today we interpret it as an enormously complex phenomenon. It was, first of all, an international war, waged between the two great European powers of the time: France and England. The division of loyalties among the elites also allows us to classify the conflict as a civil war. In the popular uprising there were xenophobic, anti-French elements, derived from the fact that France had been the main rival of the Spanish monarchy for a couple of centuries and later the model drawn upon by Spain's enlightened reformers, both good reasons for the animosity it aroused among broad sectors of the Spanish population. Another prominent feeling driving many of the combatants was a Manichaean, highly personalized view of the political problems of the day, according to which Manuel Godoy, the former favorite minister who had ruled with absolute power for almost two decades, was the incarnation of Evil, blamed for all calamities afflicting the patria, while the heir Ferdinand of Bourbon, acclaimed as King Ferdinand VII, was the Good Prince, personifying all hope of rectification and redemption. Finally, the anti-Napoleonic war also featured a political-religiously inspired antirevolutionary protest; it is difficult to deny the prevalence of calls to defend the inherited religion against the atheistic invaders, emanating most vehemently from the rural clergy.[3]

But the new nationalistic rhetoric was entering Europe, and the supporters of Ferdinand VII, who led the resistance against the French troops, very skillfully used it in order to blur all the complexities of the struggle and to present it as a national uprising of the Spanish people against a foreign attempt to dominate them. Indeed, the significance of those events was magnified by the additional populist trait in this picture, which made it much more suitable for the Romantic times that were about to begin: the French had been defeated by the Spanish "Pueblo" in a supposedly spontaneous reaction without the direction or even assistance of their traditional rulers. The popular classes, the eternal bearer of national essence, had saved the fatherland when the cosmopolitan and treacherous elites had abandoned it to foreign invaders. A final important feature in this depiction of those events as a heroic deed of the Spanish nation was the prominent role played in them by Catalans and Aragonese. Indeed, the French had had little success when looking for collaborationists in Catalonia, and Zaragoza, Barcelona and Gerona had resisted the French troops most stubbornly. Catalan intellectuals, such as Antonio de Capmany, were prominent among the creators of Spanish national myths at the Liberal Cortes in Cádiz.[4]

The final stage of that process of nationalization of the anti-Napoleonic struggle would come some twenty years later, after the wars of independence of the Spanish American empire, when historians finally found the name best suited to this nationalist version: the 1808-1814 war was christened "the War of Independence," a label that has not yet been revised. From then on the "War of Independence" would be the pillar for the century's most ambitious effort to build a Spanish nationalist mythology. Witness the monuments erected to the conflict's "martyrs," the conversion of the Second of May into a nationalist holiday (and not 12 October, the anniversary of the discovery of America, eurocentrism prevailing over a nod to American engagements) and the first series of Benito Pérez Galdós's "National Episodes," devoted to that war. With good reason, since that war seemed to have proven the permanent existence of a Spanish identity: Spanish heroism against the French was supposedly the reenactment of the "spirit" of Numantia and Saguntum (two pre-historical towns which resisted Carthagenian and Roman assaults), the proof of the unique love of Spaniards for their independence. They had defeated Napoleon-presented as an invincible warrior, the best general history had known since Alexander the Great-as they had the Roman armies two thousand years ago, because people ready to give their lives for their freedom were invincible ("pues no puede esclavo ser / pueblo que sabe morir," as ran the famous patriotic verses by Bernardo López García).

Seen from the outside, and partly due to the anti-Napoleonic war, Spain also underwent a reevaluation. Lord Byron's idealization of Spain in 1809 and the hundreds of memoirs written by British or French veterans from the Peninsular war, along with the arrival in Paris and London of paintings by Velázquez or Murillo-some as a result of the plundering of Spanish churches by the Napoleonic army, some as gifts presented to Lord Wellington-all caused a sudden discovery of Spanish culture during the Golden Age. Washington Irving's Alhambra Tales, Victor Hugo's Orientales and Théophile Gautier's imaginative account of his trip to the country in the 1840s would continue to elaborate this picture, which would be epitomized in Prosper Mérimée's Carmen, later translated into an enormously successful opera by Bizet. All in all, the Spanish image dramatically changed. It is not that the negative image of the "Spanish character" forged by Protestant Europe in Phillip II's days (the so-called "Black Legend") disappeared, but, as a product of the Romantic shift in the sensitivity of the Europeans, it was reinterpreted in positive terms. To William of Orange or Cromwell, Spain had only been the country of cruel conquistadors, fanatical inquisitors, idle and arrogant aristocrats; one century later, everybody agreed with Montesquieu's explanation of the political and economic decline of the Spanish monarchy as the natural consequence of fanaticism, ignorance and arrogance. To Romantic writers, first influenced by the Spanish performance against the Napoleonic armies, the Iberian country continued to be backward, cruel and dangerous, but those features were the result of the intense passions and sincere beliefs of its people. The old conquistadors, inquisitors and idle noblemen were now converted into guerrilleros, bandits, bullfighters, Carlist friars, proud beggars; no less cruel or fanatical than their predecessors, but they led to a positive, instead of negative, evaluation of the "national soul": Spain was a fascinating country, one of the few "pure" and "authentic" peoples of Europe, characterized by its bravery, pride, dignity, religiosity.

This change had indeed little to do with Spanish reality. None of these travelers and observers were truly interested in understanding the country; they were rather guided by the prejudices and concerns they brought from home. The Spain that they were looking for-and which they naturally found-was nothing more than an idealization, the counter-image to the societies they rejected and left behind. What had really happened was a shift in the moral values and internal demands of the European society. Spain began to be seen in a positive light because it offered, on the one hand, an exoticism that satisfied the curiosity and the need to consume refined cultural products typical of the new middle classes which were reaching a considerable level of well-being. Furthermore, Spain was seen as a premodern society, and this was a second source of its magnetism. Postrevolutionary France and industrialized England were not so sanguine about the effects of "progress" as enlightened thinkers had been in the previous century. Revolutionary terror, political instability, the empire of mercantile values, all produced a critical reaction. In artistic and intellectual circles it became fashionable to distance oneself from the moral cynicism and aesthetic mediocrity of the so-called "bourgeois philistine": many, affected by the "spleen," le mal du siècle, found modern society boring. Spain, conveniently idealized as a paradise still untouched by industrialization, urbanization and capitalism, offered the counter-image. Spaniards were particularly attractive to royalists who saw in them an example of loyalty to their king and religion, but also to those who felt nostalgia for a less politically developed society, based on personal relations and commitments rather than on the link with an anonymous bureaucratic state; or to those who were afraid of a social explosion due to the crumbling of traditional social hierarchy after the industrial revolution and saw in Spain's lower classes "dignity" and disdain for material values; or finally to those who lamented the repression, the conventionality, the anonymity, characteristic of urban mass societies and believed to have found in Spain vital spontaneity, joy of living, innate aesthetic taste, and above all "loyalty to its identity"-because nobody doubted there was a very clearly defined Spanish identity.

Within Spain, intellectual elites who were aware of what was happening in other European countries linked their efforts to modernize the society and the political system with a nationalist revivalism. Two and a half centuries after the very precocious work of the Jesuit Juan de Mariana, Modesto Lafuente published in 1850 the first of his thirty-volume Historia General de España. A very creative period followed, with some dozen other national histories published until the end of the century. In the early 1850s Lafuente's own history was quickly converted into school textbooks by Fernando de Castro and widely used after 1856, when the first law for general education was passed. At the same time, the Romantic taste for historical painting was creating the images of the main historical feats in the way they were going to be transmitted to the twentieth century; even today, most illustrations of history schoolbooks come from the period 1850-1880. Literature, music, architecture, even archaeological, ethnographical or anthropological studies some decades later, would follow the national pattern.

The main aim of these artistic, humanistic or supposedly scientific cultural creations was to define the national identity, to grasp the "essence" of the nation, its distinctive personality. Historical accounts, above all, were a quest for a collective identity that was supposed to have existed since the remotest past. They depicted the nation slowly emerging and asserting itself in the territory of a sovereign state, as a product of a unique history, culture and geographical profile. In the Spanish case, the basic argument ran that since time immemorial "Spaniards" had survived wave after wave of invaders, in successive cycles of loss and recovery of the national personality. Completing a process of reinterpretation of the past which had began in the last centuries of the old regime, Numantians were once and for all considered "Spaniards," living proof of the race's heroism and its love for independence; Seneca witnessed the stoicism of the national character; the almost eight-century-long struggle against the Muslims testified to the innate Christian beliefs of the Spaniards. Students could thus take pride and participate in all the glories of their community, their country's contribution to humanity. And historical accounts provided a set of moral prescriptions for individual and collective life, as an expression of the "nation's spirit."[5]

The first builders of that mythical construction of a legendary past had to make a considerable effort to put it in terms suitable for their modernizing project. Liberal elites insisted that this idealized nation had reached its zenith in the Middle Ages, when the Spaniards, locked in yet another battle to preserve their identity in the face of a foreign invasion, had instituted a society characterized by popular participation and tolerance, regional and local diversity, and constraints on royal power expressed in fueros (local rights). The crown, insofar as it had unified the future nation and counteracted the factious and arbitrary power of the nobility, was generally portrayed in favorable terms by these authors, although the Catholic Kings, final architects of the "national unity," were not immune to criticism from the most radical Liberals over their creation of the Inquisition and expulsion of the Jews. Criticism of the monarchy sharply increased when judging the two centuries of rule by the "foreign" Habsburg dynasty. Charles V had abolished Castilian freedom when suppressing the Comunidades revolt in 1521, and embarked Spain on dynastic wars that had bankrupted the country. Liberal historians tarred Philip II with the same brush as the one wielded by his avowed Protestant enemies; even the most moderate underscored his severity and religious intolerance, his scorn for the Aragonese fueros, and the commercial and intellectual damage caused to the nation by his resolve to isolate the country from the rest of Europe and Protestant contagion. His successors, Philip III and Philip IV, were considered "feeble" kings, who had blindly surrendered to the despotic ambition of their validos (favorite ministers), while continuing to destroy the "Spanish constitution," with their attacks on fueros, this time in Catalonia, and to damage the economy of the nation with the expulsion of the Moors. Charles II, the last Habsburg, had only reaped the sad harvest of the policies of his predecessors.[6]





All these developments-the anti-Napoleonic war, the Romantic reappraisal of Spain, the reelaboration of history and culture in general in nationalistic terms-seemed to indicate that the age of nations was beginning in a very positive way for the conversion of the monarchic-Catholic identity created during the previous period into a truly modern national identity. By 1850, few would have hesitated to count Spain among the most clearly defined European "nations." And yet, problems and discrepancies would appear in the 1890s and would become serious in all crucial moments of the twentieth century. A certain part of public opinion-particularly, among Basques and Catalans, but also some Galician intellectual elites-would feel detached from "Spanishness." I would contend that the origin of those problems lies in the Liberal revolutions of the nineteenth century.

A salient political fact marks nineteenth-century Spain: its degradation to a third-rate power in the international scene. In spite of a recurrent discourse on Spanish "decadence" dating from the seventeenth century, Spain had continued to be a major political actor until the Napoleonic years, as proven by its participation in all major European wars for 300 years. But after the loss of the navy in Trafalgar, the Napoleonic invasion and the independence of the American empire in the first twenty years of the century, Spain's position declined. Throughout the following two hundred years, Spain would not take part in any international war. Spain would have no external threats, no international enemies, and only a few, brief, colonial wars, most of which, by the way, ended in failure. The "nationalization of the masses," as George Mosse put it, took place in the European countries during modern wars, such as the Franco-Prussian or World War I[7], and Spain had nothing like that. In exchange for not having external wars, Spain had civil wars (three in the nineteenth century, and a terrible one in the twentieth), which have exactly the opposite effect to external conflicts: they destroy the unity of the social body, instead of being a reinforcing factor. Not only did Spaniards not fight united against anyone; they also fought a great deal against each other. The Spanish state was in a chronic political crisis, its legitimacy being constantly questioned during a period of at least seventy years (1808-1875): from Liberal to autocratic periods, from one dynasty to another, from a monarchical constitution to a republican one, from a unitary Republic to a federal one. Revolutions and civil wars made it difficult for any government to have stability, legitimacy and the means to imprint any deep cultural mark on Spanish society.

The painful situation of royal finances was another obstacle. The heavy debts accumulated during the last wars of the old regime burdened the public sector throughout the nineteenth century, when about one third of public resources was constantly devoted to paying interest on government bonds. The gains from the disentailment of Church lands were immediately spent in the Carlist war, when enormous economic damage was added to the destruction suffered during the Napoleonic conflict. Governments were able neither to influence the economy nor to implement their political measures. The most they could do was provide for the army payroll, a few civil servants and the expenses of the royal house. For its subjects, the state limited itself to the "extraction-coercion" cycle, typical of the early modern period in Europe. No wonder that it failed to foster feelings of identification and that Spain was a country of anarchism.[8]

The Spanish economy on the whole was underdeveloped, with an overwhelmingly agrarian sector still using techniques dating from Roman times. However, this backwardness should not be exaggerated, since, although the population increased from eleven to eighteen million within a century, traditional famines nonetheless disappeared, which means that the period witnessed, on the whole, considerable economic growth. But, given the European context, the comparison with the most advanced European countries was unavoidable: the perception of both Spaniards and visitors was backwardness, decadence (one of the most repeated words in the Spanish political vocabulary). Spaniards felt that they could not resist the comparison with Britain, Germany or France; and they refused to compare themselves with Poland or Ukraine, countries of the same size and population as theirs, but without their "glorious imperial past." All these decades of impotence coincided with the period when other European powers were at their peak, expanding and conquering the world. Thus, a sense of "failure" instead of pride in being Spanish, developed. Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, the builder of the parliamentary system that crowned the liberal cycle, made a humorous reference to that attitude when he muttered at the drafting commission of the 1876 constitution: "son españoles ... los que no pueden ser otra cosa" (Spaniards are ... those who cannot be anything else).[9]

Economic integration of the country was too imperfect to lead to the creation of a real "national market," which, according to Ernest Gellner, is the key to building a national culture.[10] The revolution in communications did not arrive in Spain until very late. I do not mean only roads, mail coaches and railways, but national daily papers, which led to the formation of a national public opinion in other countries. From the point of view of the development of a sense of nationality, the relative slowness of the modernization process is more important in a negative than in a positive sense. When there is no national market, the country is not urbanized, and there are few national newspapers, old local links and identities are not broken and very few feel the need of a new collective identity. Nationalism is a reaction to modernity, to the vacuum created by the impact of modernity on a traditional society. In the 1890s Spain there were still too many local or religious fiestas, too many guild traditions and regional identities; there was no need and no room for the nation.

As a result of all this, the process of creating national myths and symbols was slow and weak. Spain had no national flag until 1843; and even then it was challenged by both Carlists and Republicans in subsequent civil wars until 1939. No national anthem was agreed upon until the twentieth century (to this day it has no words, which means that it cannot be sung, thus forfeiting one of the main inflammatory effects of an anthem); in the Spanish-American War of 1898, the most widespread patriotic song was the "Marcha de Cádiz," taken from a zarzuela (musical comedy). Finally, Spain had few national monuments. Not even street names bore references to national glories, although the expansion of the main Spanish cities outside their medieval walls was undertaken in the 1850s and 1860s, in the midst of the nationalistic fervor in Europe. It is very telling to compare the street names of the Barcelonan Eixample, the new district of the expanding city in the 1860s, which reflect the greatness of the Catalan medieval empire, with the equivalent in Madrid, which mainly feature names of nineteenth-century politicians. Apart from Christopher Columbus, in whose honor an important square was opened at the end of the century, there is no great avenue recalling the great conquistadores of the American continent or other historical myths such as Hernán Cortés, Francisco Pizarro, Viriato (the rebel against the Roman legions), the battles of Otumba, Pavía, Lepanto, Numantia or Saguntum in the heart of Madrid; no Lepanto Square mirrors London's Trafalgar Square.

The weakness of the nationalization of the masses is also demonstrated by the tepid effort made by state institutions in order to shape or inculcate national symbols and myths among the general public. Education and conscription in the army, as France proved, were the most efficient socialization tools for creating a patriotic identity. It is well known that it was through the French revolutionary armies that patriotism received its baptism, and that the Third Republic fought a battle against the Catholic Church in order to control education. Nothing of this sort happened in nineteenth-century Spain. As for education, governments felt afraid of modern teachings (and not so modern: history, philosophy, literature and even classical studies could be considered as a source of dangerous republican thought). The Church had a virtual monopoly on education and kept teaching at a very elementary level; and the Church, of course, did not create "Spaniards" but "Catholics"-even if that required teaching in Catalan or Basque, languages often identified with Carlism, that is, with resistance to the intervention of Liberal governments. In parallel with their dislike for state education, Spanish rulers displayed a deep distrust of general conscription to the army. The powerful conservative leader Cánovas del Castillo expressed his opposition to military draft because, like general state education, in his view it amounted to communism. Until 1911 there was no compulsory military service, but a very flexible system riddled with exceptions, especially for the well-to-do classes, who could simply pay for their exemption from military duties. To "serve the fatherland" was never perceived as a patriotic duty and an "honor," but as a burden that should fall on the shoulders of the laboring classes.[11]

The fact that, in spite of all these problems, the collective identity of the Spanish monarchy created during the early modern period resisted the challenges of modernity proves, in the end, how strong it was. The Spanish monarchy, unlike the Ottoman or the Austro-Hungarian empires, did not dissolve. Moreover, throughout the very stormy nineteenth century, no significant force challenged the existence of a Spanish nation or the unity of the Spanish state; neither the Carlists, who waged the fiercest political struggles of the century, nor even the federalists and Cantonalists during the First Republic of 1873 made an issue of language or questioned the Spanish identity. And yet, by the end of the century, that identity was not exactly national in a modern sense, but was identified with local traditions, nobiliary values and attitudes and, above all, religion in more exclusive manner than in most other Latin countries.

In order to explain the strength of the Catholic traditional mind and its prevalence over the more modern, and above all more national, liberalism in Spain we should reflect upon the possible uses of nationalization efforts. It is well known that nationalism can serve many different political goals: to create or to split political entities; to democratize governments or justify dictatorships; to socialize wealth or to preserve inherited social structures; to advance modernization or to prevent it; to build empires or to rebel against them, and so forth. Which of these were the goals that an effort to reinforce and reshape the Spanish identity in national terms could serve?

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, the most important efforts to build a Spanish national mythology were made by the Liberal elites. The nationalizing project was linked to a program of political and social modernization, as it had been in its embryonic phase at the time of the enlightened eighteenth-century reformers. But from the end of the anti-Napoleonic war, this project was no longer supported by an enlightened monarch, and the rhetoric of popular sovereignty, to which it had been so closely tied during the war, was now forbidden. The absolutist King Ferdinand VII and his ministers felt unmoved and even threatened by the new national mythology and preferred to ignore even the patriotic glories won in the recent war against the French. The absence of public monuments or ceremonies commemorating those events during his reign is striking, though understandable in view of the connection between the anti-Napoleonic uprising and an anti-absolutist revolution. National enthusiasm was only promoted by a revolutionary elite (who called themselves "patriots"), but they spent most of their time imprisoned, living underground or in exile. After the death of this last absolute monarch, a new opportunity seemed to appear for the moderate Liberals, who supported the rights of the king's daughter against the king's brother Don Carlos. The rhetoric of nationalism returned, as it would do in all the brief periods dominated by the progressive left. But Liberals had to fight three successive Carlist rebellions, in the course of which the government's army was called "the Nationals," against Don Carlos's absolutist forces, the self-proclaimed "Catholics" (el ejército católico). Apparently, all those wars ended in a defeat for the Carlists, but there was always some kind of a compromise, and after several decades of fruitless attempts to reshape the political institutions and the culture of the country, Liberals had to accept that they were an isolated minority in the midst of a rural and mostly Catholic country.

After several decades of disappointments, moderate Liberals reached a compromise with the Catholic Church and the oligarchy, including the royal family, who leaned more and more toward their old Carlist enemies. For the rest of the century, power was most of the time in the hands of an oligarchic coalition of landed nobility and newly enriched bourgeoisie who were deeply afraid of nationalistic upheavals. To them, nationalism meant mass mobilization and revolution; it meant a new kind of education that could sever individuals from tradition, that is, from family, province and, above all, religion. On the whole, Spanish rulers did not understand that a modern political system needed a new kind of legitimacy, and they chose to rely on the traditional dynastic-religious justification of power, considering nationalism a dangerous tool. This means that, apart from problems related to the lack of financial resources or economic underdevelopment, governments also lacked the political determination to integrate the country in national terms. In other European states, some of the preexisting monarchies supported lay intellectuals in this effort to create a national identity, and helped the spread of national symbols among the masses. In Spain, nationalist intellectuals were ignored or paid lip-service by government officials, and they had to implement the task of nationalizing the masses without government assistance. Thus, with the waning of the Liberal utopia, the nationalist thrust lost the first goal with which it had been associated.

If the internal front offered such insurmountable difficulties, the international sphere did not allow an easy outlet for nationalism as a mobilizing ideology, either. Spain, as I have said, had hardly any international conflict throughout the century. Its borders were not threatened, and taking on the world's leading power to recover Gibraltar was out of the question. The construction of an Iberian unitary state (the Unión Ibérica) was an avowed goal of Spanish and Portuguese revolutionaries and could have become a mobilizing and nationalizing cause similar to German or Italian unification, but this ideal also faded as did enthusiasm for the Liberal revolution. A third international endeavor for which nationalism could be a mobilizing tool was colonialism, the most popular cause in late-nineteenth-century Europe. Again, this was a difficult road for Spanish rulers, since the Spanish empire, unlike its robust European neighbors, was quickly disappearing. For some time, such as the period led by Prime Minister Leopoldo O'Donnell (1856-1863), Spanish elites felt compelled to follow other European rulers in their frenetic carving up of the world. Several adventures ended in relative disaster until O'Donnell's attention turned to the dream of conquest in northern Africa. The Melilla war in 1859-1860, pompously christened the "War of Africa," gave rise to the greatest outpouring of patriotic rhetoric seen since the anti-Napoleonic war. This was a singular occasion on which Liberal and Catholic nationalism coincided in practice, as seen in the enthusiastic unanimous support for the declaration of war by political parties of all allegiances. Very telling in this regard are the parallels between the pastoral letter with which the archbishop of Madrid saw the troops off to battle and the resounding article published at the same time by the anticlerical leftist politician Emilio Castelar, future president of the Spanish Republic. "You are going into combat," said the archbishop, "to fight against the infidels ... the enemies not just of your queen and your fatherland but of your God and your religion." "Soldiers," harangued Castelar, "your weapons carry the sacred fire of the fatherland. Yours is the cause of civilization. You have been chosen by heaven to fulfill its grand designs in modern history."[12]

With the 1859-1860 war Spanish nationalism became a respectable enterprise for Catholic conservative forces, until then unconcerned with buttressing their goals with appeals to national identity. Patriotism was finally embraced by the clergy and the absolutist elites who thus far had relied on religion and tradition as their only legitimizing discourse. But, in the end, imperialism would not be the main outlet for national fervors in Spain. One has to remember that the Catholic Church most Spanish middle classes felt identified with was at a low ebb in the second half of the nineteenth century, barely resisting Italian unification and "modern errors" such as positivism, liberalism, Darwinism and Marxism. This was the antimodern attitude that would become almost fused with Spanish national identity in conservative milieus, particularly in the second half of the century. Furthermore, after the Carlist wars, anticlericalism had become one of the most prominent features of the Liberal revolution. Faced with this grave threat, the clergy, the main ideologues of conservatism, found it useful to phrase the old identification of Spain with Catholicism in modern national terms and combat Liberalism as an essentially anti-Spanish ideology. After the 1868 revolution, a new threat to the established order appeared under the name of workers' "internationalism." The expediency of recourse to nationalism was clear, at that point, and Spanish conservatives shifted their focus. Whereas in the 1830s the Carlists would appeal to their followers as Catholics, in the 1860s they could appeal to them as Spaniards, in the understanding that there was an eternal link between the two identities.

In order to adapt their mythology to the nationalistic era, traditional Catholic thinkers had to create, in the second half of the century, a patriotic historical canon opposed to the Liberal version which presaged the future National-Catholicism. Often being the work of clerics, as I have noted, it no doubt inherited many features of the old histories of the Church, now intermingled with nationalist elements. It emerged after Liberal histories, beginning in the 1860s, without any really prominent author until Menéndez Pelayo in the 1880s. The common denominator to all these conservative historians was Catholicism-or, to be precise, "Catholic unity," that is, monolithic Catholicism, without any room for non-Catholics in Spain-as the foundation of the Spanish nationality and the political institution par excellence: the monarchy. For if, as one of them wrote, "the monarchy and the clergy [are] the two luminaries placed by the Almighty in the firmament," if one is forced to choose between the two heavenly bodies there is no doubt as to which has priority. Nothing is more abrasive to these authors than the intrusion into the ecclesiastic world by civil authorities. The Muslim invasion of Spain, for instance, was a "divine punishment" for the sins of the last Visigothic kings in their hateful attempts to rein in the powerful bishops: "thus did vanish the Spanish nation the moment the divine liberty of the Church was attacked." The zenith of this union of crown and cross was in the reigns of Reccared (the Visigoth king who switched allegiance from Arianism to Catholicism), Ferdinand III (whence Saint Ferdinand), the Catholic Kings and, above all, the Habsburg monarchs of Spain, "kings whose every act was subordinated to religion, to which they submitted social life and who stood before the world as genuine standard-bearers of Catholicism." Thanks to such kings, Spain reached its political apogee, "favored by invisible guardians." Conversely, "the Bourbon race," as some of these authors put it in clear offense to the reigning dynasty, brought the end of "genuinely Christian Spanish policies, [because] basing themselves on the sophistic distinction between politics and religion, [they] only pursued worldly interests"; Charles III, the enlightened regalist king, "recklessly opened the doors of the kingdom to revolution."[13] This conservative animosity toward the Bourbon mirrors the Liberals' distaste for the Habsburg, no doubt one of the fundamental lines of division between Liberal and Catholic-conservative historiography.

The best summary of this version of Spanish history ise the famous concluding lines of Menéndez Pelayo's Historia de los heterodoxos españoles:


We were probably not destined to form a great nation because of the land we live on, nor because of our race, nor because or our character.... Only common religion can provide a people with its own, specific life, with the consciousness of a strong unanimity; only religion can legitimate and found the laws.... Without a common God, a common altar, common sacrifices, without praying to the same Father and being reborn in a common sacrament, how can a People be great and strong?... Christianity gave its unity to Spain.... Thanks to it, we have been a Nation, even a great Nation, and not a multitude of individuals.[14]


Around this mixture of nationalist feelings and religious faith, several centennials were celebrated in the 1880s and 1890s, from the second of playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca's death in 1881 to the thirteenth centennial of "Spain's conversion to Catholicism" in 1889, or the fourth of the then called "discovery of America" in 1892. On such occasions, the patria was increasingly invoked, at first as a natural companion of religion, then as the primary loyalty.[15] Catholic ideologues thus transformed this conservative version of Spanish nationalism into a mobilizing tool, thereby finding the way to reconcile themselves with mass politics and the parliamentary system. The new path would have a very promising future.

These two rival versions of the national identity would compete throughout the rest of the century in recurring controversies, a continuation of debates already initiated in the eighteenth century. The difference was that the two models were now formally set in place, and even came to be known as "the two Spains," an accurate expression referring to alternative national mythologies (and their respective political projects), although more questionable as a social dichotomy. As unifying ideals, both projects were seriously hampered. The National-Catholics were much too closely linked to the administration of the Catholic Church, and to local and nobiliary powers, instead of to the state. Moreover, their view of Spain's past was inherently repellent to modernizing elites. As is typical of all nationalisms, debates over Spain's past in which these rival definitions of the nation took part in the last analysis involved a conflict of attitudes toward its role in the modern world. For National-Catholics, Spain should remain "ever Spain," that is, the bulwark of a traditional religious-hierarchical scale of values. For Liberal-Progressives, Spain's survival and prosperity hinged on its ability to salvage its finest democratic traditions, mistreated in recent centuries by foreign-inspired absolutism. Although their program was probably more suited to the tasks of modern nation-building, the Liberals, as we have already seen, failed to win support for its implementation.

The impasse in which Spanish nationalism found itself by the end of the nineteenth century experienced an unexpected shock with the Spanish-American war of 1898, which led to the independence of Cuba and the other remaining territories of the empire. The isolation of the Spanish government and the impotence of the navy in that war was seen in Spain as a demonstration of inherent problems of the country and even the "race." The 1898 defeat was seen by many as the complete collapse of the nation, unable to compare itself with the expanding European powers of the period. In the ensuing political crisis, not only the institutions of the oligarchic parliamentary monarchy, but the very idea of "Spain" came under criticism. The old patriotic rhetoric was clearly obsolete, and an enormous body of literature on the "Spanish problem" was produced, mainly centered on the question of Spain's "racial decadence," based on its inability to cope with the modern world. Proposals of transformation of the Spanish "way of being" (forcing the Spanish people to acquire pragmatic values, industriousness, love of science) were advanced; this is what was meant by the "Europeanization" of the country (a word still widely used in the Spanish political vocabulary). It was at that moment when an intense, even hectic, period of the nation-building process in Castilian-Spanish terms began. Nationalism linked to the cause of internal reform reappeared under the name of regenerationism. But the Catholic conservatives also accepted the need for regeneration, that is, for some modernizing reforms, to place the nation-state on a competitive footing internationally.

Problems of identification with the idea of "España" in the aftermath of the Spanish-American war also led to the emergence of Basque and Catalan nationalisms as political forces. The Barcelona province and the Bilbao area were precisely the only industrial areas within the still overwhelmingly agrarian and rural Spain, and this uneven economic growth of the country helped to create the image of Catalonia and the Basque Country as advanced, European islands in a sea of backwardness. It was in those regions that nationalist movements finally emerged after the 1898 defeat. Perhaps it should be underlined here that the link between seceding nationalistic movements and economic circumstances is in Spain almost exactly the opposite to the well-known model of economic deprivation or frustration or to the colonial model of economic exploitation of oppressed nationalities by a metropolitan center. In Spain, alternative nationalisms grew in two industrialized peripheral regions that resented their political subjection to an underdeveloped center. The Galician case would be an excellent counterexample: a typically underdeveloped and "colonized" or economically dependent region, where nevertheless no strong nationalist movement has developed until very recently.

The emergence of those threatening "separatist" movements finally provided Spanish nationalism with a cause to serve: the purely reactionary one of being the unifying ideology for all those opposed, not only to liberal or social revolution, but also to Catalan and Basque autonomy. The 1880s centennials had only been the beginning of an association between nationalism and antirevolutionary attitudes. In the 1910s and 1920s this association would grow, in the context of new African wars and José Antonio Primo de Rivera's dictatorship. And it would prove to be of enormous importance in the vast National-Catholic mobilization against the Second Republic in the 1930s. As ideological support of the Francoist regime, it would survive well into the second half of the twentieth century. It was then, with Francoism, that the most determined effort of nationalization in Castilian-Spanish terms was carried out. But it was too late and too brutal. The link between "Spanishness" and backwardness, dictatorship and European exceptionality would give a bitter flavor to the idea and the symbols of Spain. Present traits of the Spanish national problem, especially in the Basque case, are a direct offspring of the dictatorship.





The general conclusion to be drawn from the above is that Spanish identity is old and, on the whole, has been a considerable success. Of course, this does not mean that this identity has always been of a "national" kind. On the contrary, its problems have arisen only in the last hundred years, after a lackluster performance during the age of nationalisms. This is because processes of "nationalization of the masses" (usually studied in relation to the new nation-states formed in the nineteenth century, such as Germany or Italy in Europe, or immigration countries such as Argentina or the USA outside Europe) were also necessary for old traditional European monarchies if they were to survive as modern nation-states. A successful example of these ethnicization processes was, of course, republican France, thoroughly studied by Eugen Weber.[16] Well-known failures were the Austro-Hungarian or the Ottoman empires. Spain was a middle-of-the-road case: an old traditional monarchy which survived, but under political and economic circumstances that made its effort to nationalize the masses weak and insufficient. Spain lost the remnants of the empire at the precise moment when other European powers were dominating the world; financial problems and constant revolutions questioning the legitimacy of the state doomed it to inefficiency; Spanish rulers were unable to set up a schooling system or a military service. And yet, in spite of all that, challenging nationalisms hardly existed until the aftermath of the 1898 crisis, when both Basque and Catalan nationalisms appeared as political forces. They would, of course, reappear in the twentieth century, particularly in two periods. The first one was the political crisis of the 1930s, with the Second Republic and Civil War, when Catalanism came to be one of the crucial factors on the political scene. The second, and most important, was from the 1960s onward, that is, under late Francoism and the period of the transition to democracy, when both Catalan and Basque nationalisms acquired strong popular backing, and a violent independentist group appeared in the Basque Country.

The origins of the present confrontation, therefore, seem to lie in the weak process of nationalization that the country underwent throughout the nineteenth century. Of course, we could date the problem earlier and say that the weakness of the Liberal revolution was also linked to the isolation of modernizing elites, due to the dominance of the Catholic antimodern identity inculcated among the rural masses during the early modern period. But on the whole it seems fair to conclude that modern problems, and not old regime problems, are the key to twentieth-century struggles for and against a "Spanish" national identity. Both central and peripheral nationalisms are relatively recent phenomena, the Spanish one basically created in the early nineteenth century and its contenders almost one hundred years later, although both think of their referential national entities as very old, almost eternal, realities. The period when Spanish nationalism should have been spread and inculcated among the population coincided with a stage when the state was suffering weakness and disrepute. Weakness again was the dominant feature during the tough 1930s confrontation. And general disrepute marked the end of Francoism, when Spanish identity finally entered an apparently deadly crisis. All this seems to suggest that a political factor, the state's strength or weakness, has been the major cause for the emergence of challenging identities.

It should be underlined that in the last 25 years this factor has apparently disappeared. The transition to democracy after Franco's death was a success, and the present parliamentary democracy is stable. Spain is gaining some ground as an international power, it is a respected member of the European Union and NATO, and pride in Spanish identity seems to be growing. Spain is no longer an underdeveloped country, and specifically Madrid is no longer the underdeveloped region where the political center is located, confronted with two industrialized peripheral areas. A very serious process of devolution of powers to the regions has taken place, making the Spanish state one of the most decentralized in Europe. Once a country of emigration, both to Latin America and to central Europe, Spain is now facing problems resulting from a massive influx of African and Latin American immigrants. All these recent factors radically alter the picture. This time, history does not seem to be the key to the future. The future is not only open, as always, but more open than ever.





[1] Peter Sahlins, Boundaries: The Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees (Berkeley, 1991).

[2] Article 12. Emphasis added.

[3] José Alvarez Junco "La invención de la Guerra de la Independencia," Studia Historica, 12 (1994): 75-99. On Godoy and Ferdinand, see Richard Herr, "Good, Evil and Spain's Rising against Napoleon," in Richard Herr and Howard T. Parker, eds., Ideas in History (Durham, NC, 1965), 157-81.

[4] See Capmany´s Centinela contra Franceses, London, Tamesis Books, 1988, with an excellent introduction by François Étienvre.

[5] See Carolyn P. Boyd, Historia Patria: Politics, History and National Identity in Spain, 1875-1975 (Princeton, 1997).

[6] José Alvarez Junco, Mater Dolorosa: La idea de España en el siglo XIX (Madrid, 2001), pp. 214-226.

[7] G. Mosse, The Nationalization of the Masses. Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germnay form the Napoleonic Wars through the Third Reich (Cornell, 1975).

[8] See Leandro Prados de la Escosura, De Estado a Nación. Crecimiento y atraso económico en España (1780-1930) (Madrid, Alianza, 1988), or David Ringrose, Spain, Europe and the "Spanish Miracle," 1700-1900 (Cambridge, 1996).

[9] Quoted, for instance, by Benito Pérez Galdós in his well-known "Episodio Nacional" Cánovas, chapter XI.

[10] E. Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Cornell, 1983).

[11] José Alvarez Junco, "The Nation-Building Process in Nineteenth-Century Spain," in Clare Mar-Molinero and Angel Smith, eds., Nationalism and the Nation in the Iberian Peninsula: Competing and Conflicting Identities (Oxford and Washington DC, 1996), 89-106.

[12] Emilio Castelar, in La Discusión, 18 October 1859; "Carta pastoral" by the Archbishop, dated 2 November 1859, printed in all national newspapers the following day.

[13] José Alvarez Junco, Mater Dolorosa, 417-31.

[14] Marcelino. Menéndez Pelayo, Historia de los heterodoxos españoles (Madrid, Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1967), 2:1036-38.

[15] See Alvarez Junco, Mater Dolorosa, 445-57.

[16] E. Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen. The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914 (Stanford, 1976).

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