The Thirty Thousand
Spanish history from the death of Philip II to the end of the last century is virtually an unexplored subject. There have been no good books on it in English and only one or two of limited scope in French or Spanish. Spain has lain walled off by the Pyrenees like a country of fable, a favorite subject for travel writers but neglected by the historians. The few that have tried their hand at it have merely scraped the surface.
This has been particularly true of the nineteenth century, the subject of the greater part of Raymond Carr’s new book. What after all is one to make of those three revolutions, six constitutions, and twenty or so pronunciamentos by an army that had over six hundred generals, and one officer to every eight men? In what other country does one find large parties that are as fanatically religious as the Carlists or as fanatically atheist as the Anarcho-Syndicalists? What was the point of holding elections every few years when the results were always known beforehand? Surely this Spain was not a serious nation, just a land of paradoxes and absurdities, and its history was as difficult to make sense of as that of Ireland. Even Spaniards preferred to get it in novel form through Galdós’s Episodios Nacionales.
It was only in the present century, after the shock given by the loss of Cuba, that educated Spaniards began to ask themselves why so many things seemed to have gone wrong. They found a number of reasons for this—in the increasing influence of the reactionary Church, especially in education, in the faking of the elections by the caciques or local bosses, in the new independent stand taken by the Army officers, and generally in the tendency of the various parts and elements of the nation to split apart and move towards their extremes. These were clearly symptoms of the weakening force of Liberalism but they also had a root in the country’s geography. Spain lived mainly by its agriculture and yet the soil, the rainfall, and therefore the conditions of work and land tenure varied wildly from one region to another. To give only two examples, agricultural laborers in Andalusia might have to travel ten miles on a donkey to reach their work and besides that be unemployed for half the year, whereas in Galicia a family would be tied to a tiny plot of acid soil that was too small and too poor to support it. Every one of Spain’s regions differed markedly from the others and had its own special form of rural life, so that when to these differences were added the ideologies that derived from them—Carlism from Navarre, Anarcho-Syndicalism from rural Andalusia and industrial Catalonia, Socialism from the mining and wheat-growing areas, Basque and Catalan nationalism from their respective provinces—it will be seen that government from Madrid required either great firmness or a difficult balancing feat.
The Republic which came in …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.