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The Spanish Style

The Centralist Tradition of Latin America

by Claudio Véliz
Princeton University Press, 355 pp., $9.75 (paper)

Public Policy in a No-Party State: Spanish Planning and Budgeting in the Twilight of the Franquist Era

by Richard Gunther
University of California Press, 361 pp., $17.50

Professor Véliz, like so many others, admires Isaiah Berlin. He approves Berlin’s by now classic division of the human intellect into the single, all-embracing vision of the hedgehog and the multiple, confused—even conflicting—insights of the fox. Of course without generalizations—about the class struggle, imperialism, dependency, etc.—provided by the terrible simplifiers, poor foxes like myself would be condemned to intellectual petit point devoid of pattern. Moreover we would be deprived of a satisfying experience, something to get our teeth into: snap go our foxes’ jaws, the back of the generalization is broken, and, licking our lips, we trot home to the kennel, the vixen, and the cubs.

Professor Véliz is mighty like a hedgehog. He seeks a generalization that will explain the disillusionment that surrounds attempts to “modernize” from above or to “revolutionize” from below the countries of Latin America. Again and again, he suggests, Latin Americans have suffered from a bad case of the wrong model. Indigenous reformist intellectuals like the Argentine philosopher-statesman Sarmiento, bearers of what Véliz calls an “outward-looking nationalism,” saw Europe as the pattern of excellence from its literature to its mechanical engineering. Foreign experts, who step out from an airplane to do a quick job advising governments in Bogotá or La Paz, arrive with the wrong tools in their bags. Both share the mistaken belief that the experience of industrialized northwestern Europe and the patterns derived from that experience are relevant to Latin America.

What the right experience to imitate, what the correct model may be, Professor Véliz is not clear. Nor, for that matter, is Professor René Dumont who has written twenty-odd books also deploring the propensity of the new nations of the Third World to copy the developmental strategies of the First World. As he points out, after a long experience at the hands of Western model makers, Africa is hungrier now than in the bad old days of colonialism.

The European model, Véliz argues, does not fit because Latin America has shared none of the formative experiences of northwestern Europe. The Spanish Empire had no feudal past; it was the creation of the centralized, Renaissance monarchy of Castile. Centralism was intensified by the reforming civil servants of the eighteenth-century Bourbon monarchs, in search of higher tax revenues as much as engaged in the spread of the ideas of the Enlightenment. It was inherited by the bureaucrats of the independent nations that emerged from the wreck of the greatest colonial empire the Western world had seen. The newly independent countries of Latin America flung up no industrial bourgeoisie, confident of its values and ready to challenge the state. Employers and workers alike were dependent on bureaucrats. A latitudinarian Catholicism provoked no dissident sect, no race of Weberian entrepreneurs.

The most chronic case of the wrong model comes with what Véliz calls the “liberal pause”—the attempt to impose constitutions derived from that of the United States, which inevitably collapsed, and the laissez-faire economic policies of European free traders, which inhibited a tariff that would have enabled the dependent peripheral nations to escape from their function as mere suppliers of raw materials to the industrialized West. Once political and economic imitation failed, in a continent almost destroyed by the great depression of the Thirties, Latin America swung back to the centralist model: authoritarian centralizing regimes (modern Argentina or Chile) or one-party states (Mexico and Cuba). He might have added that Spanish liberalism itself was administratively ferociously centralist; it was the Spanish liberals who in the nineteenth century completed the work of the absolute monarchs by destroying the last vestiges of local liberties in Catalonia and the Basque Provinces. Whereas Franco rejected political liberalism as an un-Spanish heresy, he inherited its dogmatic centralism. Hence the revolt of the peripheral regions today against what is the proudest achievement and legacy of Spanish Jacobin liberalism.

One may have reservations about Véliz’s thesis. Did, for example, the British bourgeoisie from the peripheral regions during the Victorian period seek to weaken the state or did they merely wish to kick out the aristocrats who controlled it in order to use it for their own ends? But this is a rich and stimulating book in the philosophe tradition: the reflections of a civilized and acute mind on subjects as diverse as Victorian Gothic and Brazilian mining.

Where Véliz soars, Gunther trudges. For him, by their budgets shall ye know them. Getting and spending reveals the nature of a regime. It is by exploring the arid lands of public accounting that Gunther maps the social and political landscape of Francoism. He guides us in plain speech, eschewing the fashionable jargon of his profession; if he errs, it is on the side of a jauntiness unexpected in a political scientist.

Professor Gunther is correct when he argues that Francoism, by the Sixties, had not brought about a totalitarian, one-party state. It was not the party, the “Fascist” Falange, that had conquered the state; the state had castrated the party. The coalition of conservative interests for whom Franco had fought and won the Civil War preferred one-man rule in a no-party state to the hegemony of a party whose aim was some vague transformation of society—the Falangist “pending revolution.”

The party became, in the words of Ricardo de la Cierva—a Francoist sui generis, biographer of the Caudillo and now minister of culture in the new democracy—a “paper tiger.” Latter-day Francoist Spain was ruled by a clique of Franco’s old service cronies and the clever young men of the middle class who could afford a university education. The gateway to power was the civil service entrance examination. Professor Fraga, the Franco minister whose conservative party failed in the last election, sailed through to the top—he was a numero uno; Prime Minister Suárez, no intellectual, passed with difficulty. Politicians in the new democracy face no such tests. Franco did not think up policies; he left that to the professors who dominated his cabinets. He merely vetoed those policies which threatened his base of power.

If Gunther’s main thesis stands secure it is the detail that is fascinating. By 1973 the Spanish GDP per capita equaled that of Japan in 1970—the result of the tourist-fed boom of the Sixties that has devastated the Mediterranean coast. Yet Spain, like some poor American city, was condemned to budget on the basis of static revenues: all expenditure had to be drawn from an inexpandable tax base. Taxation of his middle-class supporters was the one thing the Caudillo vetoed. Apart from praying that the expansion of the economy would generate funds, all the finance minister could do was to juggle with priorities. Gunther’s researches reveal that the army was a low priority, the education of university-trained technocrats relatively high. Even so, the educational system was starved and the universities turned out, not a supply of docile civil servants, but a generation of student radicals. Now middle-aged, they have joined with reconstructed Francoists—Prime Minister Suárez is one—to form the governing elite of the new democracy.

It is Gunther’s thesis that, in a noparty state, interests were not represented by organized opinion in the form of parties, least of all a workers’ party. They were embodied in the persons of ministers who represented what the Spanish political sociologist Amando de Miguel has called “the families of the regime.” A minister with a private line to Franco’s Pardo Palace or friendship with the finance minister was in a strong position when discretionary funds were up for grabs. Once a minister had got his budget allocation he could spend it as he liked. This, Gunther argues, frustrated all attempts at redistributing income toward poorer regions—a point I missed when I discussed regional planning in my own book on Spain. Because individual ministers, appointed “by the finger” of the Caudillo, were masters in their own bailiwicks, “little kings” provided they kept his confidence, Francoist governments were weak when it came to working out a coordinated policy. Ministers, well connected in business circles, were subject to the conflicting demands of, in Gunther’s phrase, “lobbyists galore.” From top to bottom Francoism was a system of interlocking personal connections. For Dionisio Ridruejo, the Falangist poet turned social democrat, “everything in Spain, a telephone, a business contract, the most insignificant bureaucratic favor, comes because you have a friend.”

Professor Gunther has written an important book. It leaves one question in the mind. What in Spain were known as the respectable classes welcomed the democratic republic in 1931 as a better safeguard for their interests than a discredited monarchy; they deserted that democracy and welcomed its overthrow manu militari in July 1936 when it seemed to threaten those interests. In 1976 they welcomed a democratic monarchy as preferable to the continuation of decrepit Francoism.

In Spain now the “in” word is desencanto, a generalized disillusionment with what are held to be the fruits of democracy. To the frustrated left, democracy has not brought legalized abortion, compulsory lay education, a resolute attack on capitalism or a generous solution of the regional problem. To large sectors of the middle class the new democracy is no safeguard against abortion, the virtual destruction of private education, and the disintegration of the nation into a conglomerate of regions. Above all, democracy means the end of the tax holiday which Gunther proves the middle class enjoyed under Francoism.

Will the middle classes desert democracy as they did in 1936? I think not, simply because there is no available alternative, no fashionable antidemocratic model as there was in the 1930s; nor, in spite of antidemocratic outbursts of aging generals and the plots of a lunatic fringe, will they find an army to impose some return to the past. Nevertheless, phrases like “We lived better under Franco” are the common coin, paradoxically, of intellectuals—the old progrés who have lost their role as protesters and see Spain as ruled by reconstructed Francoists, “old dogs in new collars”—and of the traditional middle classes. Gangs of their jeunesse dorée are once more making the streets an uncomfortable reminder of the hot summer of 1936.

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