Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Time again being short, I offer you these comments from the French cavalry officer. M de Rocca, who took part in the War of Independence between 1808 and 1813. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that he emerged from the war with great admiration for the Spanish people, who had refused to lie down and accept defeat and servitude in the way so many others across the continent had done . . .

When the Emperor Napoleon gave his brother to Spain as a king, he hoped that he would have to deal with a feeble nation, without energy, which, once deprived of its chiefs, would prefer the government of a stranger to the scourge of war in the very heart of the country. Europe herself believed along with the Emperor Napoleon that the Spaniards were to be subdued without a struggle. During the five years the war had lasted, the French had won ten pitched battles successively, they had taken almost every strong place, but nevertheless they had not secured the lasting possession of a single province. Spain had been in a way reduced to Cadiz, as Portugal was to Lisbon. But even if the French had been able to take those towns, the fate of the Peninsula would still not have been decided. While the French armies lay under the walls of Cadiz the Spanish partisans were making incursions to the gates of Toulouse, in the very heart of France.

The Spaniards, as a nation, were animated by one and the same feeling, love of independence, and abhorrence of strangers who would have humbled their national pride by imposing a government upon them. It was neither armies nor fortresses that were to be conquered in Spain, but that one, yet multiplied sentiment which filled the whole people. It was the inmost soul of each and every one that resisted the blow that entrenchment which neither bullet nor bayonet could.

Since these memoirs were written we have seen, first the Muscovite, and then the Prussian people, give proof of devotion to their country similar, in many respects, to that which the Spaniards showed ; and Russia, Prussia and Spain were early delivered from the common enemy. These events have changed the face of Europe; they demonstrate as fully as the long and noble resistance of the Spanish people, that the real strength of states does not consist so much in the number and strength of their regular armies, as in that religious, patriotic, or political feeling which is alone powerful enough to interest every individual of a nation in the public cause as if it were his own.

The irony here is that, almost 200 years on, this same spirit of patriotism and independence may be taking Spain beyond plurality to dismemberment. Maybe it’s true that one can have too much of a good thing.

3 comments:

Midnight Golfer said...

They taught us in business management classes, specifically the one called Organizational Behavior, that

""the internal culture of the company will undermine its own self when external challenges, or "common enemies" are replaced by intramural strife, and fault-finding.

"Join, or Die" -Ben Franklin

"Don't tread on me." -Christopher Gadsden

"E Pluribus Unum" is deemed much more worthy of approval when the order of the age calls for trusting in our common providence, to become greater than the sum of our parts, more than we trust that we can achieve justice severally.
-some dead Swiss guy

The doubts and cynicism that many held towards these guys was overcome by facing, and specifically defeating, a common enemy, and then surviving a civil war...""

Spain has done both.

I wonder how unified Spain was prior to the French invasions, and what happened to Prussia?

Is Germany as unified as it seems, and what did it take for it to be that way? Would there be any unsatisfied regions of Germany wanting to secede right now if the Cold War hadn't split the country?

If some strange conflict happened, and the European Union and some enemy (the Arab League?) divided Spain up, would a re-(re-)unification of Spain happen the way it did for the Germans?

I need to stop playing so much Risk on Facebook.

Roberticus said...

@ Midnight Golfer

You ask: "I wonder how unified Spain was prior to the French invasions...?"

Well, 18th centuty local autonomies were a damn sight more respected than they would be later throughout the 19th century, since the dirigiste burocratic state was still in its infancy, and organic laws and arrangements (especially local tradition) were accomodated with consent of the King in Madrid. Ironically, Spain, though not even a constitutional monarchy, was still comparatively decentralised to the extent that certain regions had varying degrees of autonomy, exemptions and privileges from the King. In other words, it was not a case of "cafe con leche para todos"- just what the regionalists aspire to (at a minimum) today. Yes, it was messy, and to an outsider looking in (especially a Frenchman) it would have appeared incoherent, antiquated and all a bit too laissez-faire. The regional interests were content with the status quo as long as their charters (or fueros) were not revoked nor trespassed. Centralisation in Spain had already made punctual inroads from the 13th-18centuries, particularly whenever there had been a union of crowns or even annexing of kingdoms, principalities, counties etc. but these measures tended to be limited; they might, at most, have extended to burocratic decrees such as the stipulation of Castilian used as official language (but thus barely permeated the society below the courts) All this had happened in France much earlier, had accelerated under Louis XIV and would be definitively and brutally enforced by the French Revolutionaries. Compared to the rapid and relentless centralisation which had occurred at a similar time in France, local languages and customs were still healthily maintained where possible (look at the fate of Arpitan, Occitan and Breton in France). Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Napoleonic invasion of the peninsula came as a trauma and unleashed a century of instability, civil wars, revolutions in its aftermath. Therein lies one of the paradoxes of the Spanish centralising right: though blaming France as the source for much of Spain's historical ills (particularly the radical leftist ideologies which would emerge in the later 19th c), the remedy they propose is thoroughly Gallic and dirigiste in its inspiration! i.e., Madrid as capital, everywhere else dissolved into departments, thus neutralising historical regional affinities and attachments.

Colin said...

Many thanks. Most interesting. As for France. I hear it claimed only last week that in the late 19th century only 15% of the population spoke French as their first language. So the pressure to conform accelerated rather recently.