Monday, November 16, 2009

Just going back to Tony Kevin’s book on the Camino pilgrimage he made through Andalucia, Estremadura, Castile and Galicia . . . I had to smile at his early comment that he’d gone into a bar at 3pm and happened upon a group of locals “taking a late lunch”. I guess he later learned that, in Spain, this is neither lunch nor late. In fact, it’s what we northerners still call ‘dinner’ and, at 3pm, it’s often only just beginning. I also has problems with his contention that Spain has been more successful than other countries in preserving its old buildings. Perhaps this is true of the whitewashed old villages he passed through and it’s certainly true of the glorious old quarters of cities all over Spain. But I’ve seen the disappearance of too many lovely old houses in Pontevedra to find this generalisation easy to accept. And some of Spain’s new city quarters are a case-study in what happens when there are no effective planning controls. Beyond dreadful. Not slums, just ugly.

Corruption in Spain: More evidence of shoulder-shrugging? Despite the allegations of skulduggery in the Madrid and Valencia wings of the PP party, as highlighted in the current Gürtel case, a poll printed in El Mundo newspaper confirmed that the public are not that bothered. The party would repeat its overall majority in both regions if an election were held today. Spaniards, it emerged, are more concerned about the imminence of tax increases. At least in these two regions.

Which reminds me . . . I thought again of Tony Kevin’s praise of ‘civil’ politicians here when, last week, I read that the besieged – and very possibly corrupt – Valencian President had used the language of the civil war to claim the Government wanted to see him visited in the early hours of the morning, taken away in a van and then found face-down in a ditch. But at least he didn’t accuse them of being liars.

Finally . . . For God knows what reason, it occurred to me as I lay dozing this morning that each successful nation has started with what you might call an elitist, top-down form of government, then experienced some sort of cataclysm and finally ended up with a government of popular legitimacy. Usually associated with functioning democracy. The most obvious example may be France and the French Revolution (if we gloss over the various but temporary Napoleons), followed by the USA and its own Revolution, Britain and its civil war, Bill of Rights, etc.. The model is slightly different with Germany, Italy and Japan – where the cataclysm took the form of devastating military defeat and the collapse of civic society – but the thesis just about holds true even in these cases. But, watertight or not, it does make one wonder what will happen in China to ensure that elitist, top-down government gives way to democracy there. Not to mention the Near East examples of Saudi Arabia and the like. And then, of course, we come to the nascent EU superstate. Will this really break the mould? If not, what form will the cataclysm take? Perhaps what Steinbeck called The Committee of Sleep will give me the answer tonight. Of course, some folk argue that the EU Commission already has democratic legitimacy but I confess to finding this hard to accept.


Ferrolano said...


Simply stated, money will be the oil that smoothes the path toward democracy. Already, here in Asia, I see a lot of Chinese travelers, especially the young, visiting their neighboring countries. The last group that I encountered, flying from Singapore to Korea, all wanted to practice their English (which they did speak very well) and were not shy about asking questions. Evolution will overtake revolution, powered by their industrial base. Sure there will be; the purges, corruption and examples made (from both), but if the industrial machine is to keep going, there will come a degree of sharing of the wealth and of democracy to lubricate the gears. Remember the squeaky wheel…….

Anonymous said...

It has nothing to do with today's post, but here is a link to a book by a Galician writer:
La rana viajera

Roberticus said...

Hi Colin,

enjoying your blog as always.

As per the top-down model of developing democracy, I'm not sure I would class Britain and the USA in this. U.S. Republicans and Libertarians often like to portray their nation's foundings as not being revolutionaray in nature, preferring the term 'War of Independence' even if resultant independence did have revolutionary consequences. In the case of Britain, it was a slower evolution.

The opposite would be France, which visited upon itself such violent revolutionary upheavals and a 'dirigiste' centralisation ever since Loius XIV. I often wonder what would have been Spain's fate (and indeed that of the Italian peninsula) had it not been invaded by Napoleon. Might one attribute much of Spain's suffering and dysfunction during the proceeding two centuries to the application of French Revolutionary medicine to a loosely knit, disparate and conservative conglomerate of duchies and principlalities.

Perhaps Spain would have evolved to become something of a United Kingdom, though less centralised. However, centrifrugal nationalism might not have become so strong a force, since the cultural life of the regions (as used to be the case in France) were not affected by coercive centralism.

The irony in all this for me is the lack of historical awareness on the part of the Spanish right. A century ago, they were wont to blame all their country's ills and decadence on the results of French interference. Today, many of them (the Jimenez Losantos wing) pose as 'liberals' and anglophiles yet their nationalism is build on an entirely French 'jacobin' conceit: the strong, indivisibe, unified and uniform nation state.

Colin said...

Thanks, Roberticus. Excellent food for thought.

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