>Near the beginning of his thought-provoking presentation yesterday at the Family Research Council, Ignacio Arsuaga, President of HazteOir.org, noted that one of the problems faced by conservatives in Spain was the unavoidable fact that their country suffers from a “culturally weak Right”. Having allowed themselves to be defined, as S. Arsuaga puts it, as the “representatives of a Contra-Culture”, many have adopted a defeatist attitude that the culture wars are over, and they have lost. HazteOir and other groups are trying to combat that defeatism and foster greater participation in politics and society by those who have, until now, thrown up their hands in frustration and resignation at the path which Spain has been taking over the past several years.
The Spanish Left has, in an astonishingly short period of time, made good use of parliamentary party discipline to pass a number of outrageous laws, such as that allowing teen-aged girls to obtain the so-called “Morning After Pill” without either a prescription or parental notification, and mandated the teaching in public schools of deliberate lies as part of an “Education for Citizenship” about world history. One very pertinent example of the latter given by S. Arsuaga from one of the approved texts was a real whopper: a claim that in 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution succeeded in overthrowing the Tsar in order to give freedom and democracy to the Russian people. [N.B.: Presumably the millions of people whom Lenin, Stalin and the rest executed for disagreeing with them accepted their own executions as a necessary aspect of their new “democracy”.]
As is often the case in Spanish history, there is a tendency towards exaggeration and magnification, and this often crops up when things go awry. During a convivial dinner discussion about yesterday’s presentation with friends Gonzalo Castañeira and Thomas Peters, the former pointed out that when Spain tries to do something evil, it usually succeeds in spectacular fashion. This is part of the Spanish character which I touched on recently in my post on the great Spanish painter Francisco de Goya’s “A Fight to the Death with Clubs”, and which was in fact repeated in a quote given during S. Arsuaga’s talk yesterday – i.e., the conventional wisdom is that the Spaniard only understands the cudgel.
Yet historically speaking, even if the forgoing character assessment is true, people from outside of Spain have always found much to admire in the more conservative aspects of the Spanish character. Count Castiglione, the patron of this blog, not only spent a great deal of time in Spain but also, in “The Book of the Courtier”, extolled many of its virtues to his fellow Italians. In lauding their conservative but elegant appearance, Castiglione reflected that the way Spaniards look is a reflection of their character: “Things external often bear witness to the things within.” Similarly, when visiting Spain in the 19th century, the English writer and art critic Richard Ford (1796-1858) found much to admire in the seriousness of the Spaniard and what we would perceive as a preference for small-government conservatism.
Ford’s seminal book, “A Handbook For Travelers in Spain”, has long been considered one of the best travel books ever written. Indeed, in his obituary The Times stated that “so great a literary achievement had never before been performed under so humble a title.” Following many years traveling throughout the country, Ford observed that a great deal of power was held by local governments in Spain, in order to better address local problems. He felt that the strength of these local governments was that, seemingly paradoxically, “they kept Spain Spanish, because such institutions were congenial to national character, which, essentially local, abhors a foreign centralising system. They again have grown with the country’s growth, and have become part and parcel of the constitution.”
Spain was very much admired in the past for its seriousness and straightforwardness, as well as its ability to let its hair down when appropriate. The juxtaposition of the serious and the joyful, like the dark, deeply spiritual men and women who appear in the portraits of El Greco with the unadulterated, passionate joy of flamenco, is something which has attracted discerning American visitors from Washington Irving to John Singer Sargent to Ernest Hemingway. Today, those who try to espouse the dignified, conservative aspects of traditional Spanish character are considered to be, as S. Arsuaga points out, intentionally fighting what leftists consider the “culture” of today’s Spain.
Truthfully, what the Spanish left describes as the “culture” is really a non-entity lacking any culture whatsoever. It is in fact an anti-culture, in which there are no universal standards or ideals other than those arbitrarily adopted and rejected as whim or cult of personality dictates. And ironically enough, the proverbial cudgel is the preferred tool for promoting the so-called diversity of the left: disagree with me, and I will bash your brains in rather than allow you to retain your own thoughts.
It is high time for the Spanish people to wake up, to reassert themselves, and to put aside the monstrous anti-culture which seems to have infected every element of their visible society. It is extremely encouraging that S. Arsuaga and others – including, albeit somewhat belatedly, the Spanish Episcopal Conference – are trying to do that awakening, but there is much more that remains to be done. The impression from this side of the Atlantic that Spain is slipping irretrievably into anarchy is not going to be overcome otherwise.