• "God invented war so Americans could learn geography" -- Mark Twain.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Resentful Spirit of Republicanism

No sooner than the ink was dry on Juan Carlos’ abdication than a noisy swarm of republicans swelled the streets of Spain demanding the abolition of the monarchy and, in what must certainly qualify as an act of useless, political nostalgia, chanting the anthems of the Second Republic or perhaps even of the  year long  First.

The usual complaints are advanced: (1) Why should they get to live in palaces while I don’t? (2) I am not anyone’s subject! (3) Their luxurious upkeep is a waste of public treasure; and (4) The country would be better off being a democracy.

A bigger heap of resentful nonsense is hard to imagine.

Why should anyone get to live in a palace while others don’t?  Why can’t everyman have his own palace?  Because, in case republicans might not have noticed, unequal fortune is a fact of life.  The rich we always have with us.

Are there no rich in republics?  Is their wealth any better?  Do these republicans truly believe the canard that in democracies the rich earn their wealth through their own hard work and therefore deserve it?   You know, like Carlos Slim who was simply given Teléfonos de Mexico by the president and who is now the first or second wealthiest man in the world? 

Those who resent the “privileges” and “luxuries” monarchs supposedly enjoy “unfairly” might better direct their resentments against common oligarchs like Bill Gates, Jamie Dimon and the “Walmart Brothers.”  Does anyone think they acquired their hyper-fortunes fairly?

In all events, picking  on the Borbons for luxuriating in wealth is a stupidity based on a falsehood.

The House of Borbon is worth a paltry 5 million!! The Queen of England is worth a mere 450 million dollars.  In contrast, the “republican” Silvio Berlusconni is worth $6.2 billion.  The republican Sebastián Piñera is worth $2.4 billion. Even Fidel Castro is worth more than the King of Spain, weighing in at $900 million.  (Stats. per Wiki)

Oh but how we choke on the wealth and privileges of monarchs!   Republicanism is merely the spirit of resentment.

It does not diminish me in the slightest to pledge loyalty to a superior. In fact, most cooperative endeavors in the world are based on flesh and blood loyalties.  One of the principle dysfunctions of the modern world is that it is based on economies of alienation rather than those grounded in personal loyalties.

Men are not moved by algebra.  It is a stupid conceit of the French “enlightenment” that Cartesian abstractions are more solid and inspiring than “carne y hueso” (Ortega y Gasset).

Animals and humans alike are drawn to and motivated by presence and plumage.  It is nothing to be suppressed or ashamed of.  From prides to teams to platoons to board rooms alpha’s are recognized and followed as surpassing the rest of us in some way.  People around the world loved John Kennedy because they delighted in his presence, and personality not because he was a constitutional office holder.  And he was just as much the creature of privilege as any monarch.  

Most dynasties began with some commanding personality and it was assumed (not without reason) that the “genius” of the father would be passed to the son.  That was sometimes, but not always the case. Genes being the mysterious things they are, there was no shortage of imbeciles and incompetents in the grand lineages of blue blood. 

In times passed, monarchs ruled as well as reigned, their rulership appropriate to the social complexity and political economies of the times.  As with anything there were good and bad and ugly monarchs.  But it is highly debatable whether, on the whole, their record approaches the depravity, mass-cruelty and destruction wreaked upon the world by bourgeois republics. 

In any case, the point is academic.  Western monarchs do not rule but only reign.  They are flesh and blood symbols of the State and of the “all of us together” of each nation.  They represent history, continuity and a sense of community.  They are paid to look pretty and act pretty.  They are far superior totems to the glitzy ostentation of Hollywood or Washington that Americans are relegated to gushing over.

Constitutional monarchs provide a physical focus for animating loyalties and overcoming the calculations of partisan interests.  It is precisely in the momentary suppression of self which the presence of a monarch inspires that provides for a suspension of personal partisan striving which admits the transcending importance of the greater whole now and in historical progression.

Those who admire republicanism so much might well take a look at the United States — a republic, the highest symbol of which is a juridical document which no one reads much less understands, although they all swear allegiance to it with utmost solemnity.  Theorems and propositions are the conceits of a few but they never inspired the many. 

Of what value is republicanism?   The value of some uninspiring, drab, academic from nowhere representing the nation in an undertaker’s overcoat?   If anyone thinks that these republican heads of state are immune from mediocrity or corruption he is not living in the real world. 

The castigated “cost” of maintaining a monarch is simply a function of state-business.  Do republicans really equate the State with a monastery?  States have state functions, state dinners, state ceremonies all of which cost money whether republican or monarchical in form. 

Ah! comes the supposedly irrefutable gambit: “But presidents don’t ride around in gilded carriages.” No.. they ride around in armored vehicles called “The Beast” each one of which costs $1.5 million (there are 12), gets 3.7 miles to the gallon and requires a C-17 Globemaster transport air-craft to be hauled from place to place.  Then there is Air Force One.

 Ah yes.  The economies of a republic!

The British Monarch’s State Coach was built in 1762 and has supposedly been bought and paid for.  Her armored Bentley cost a mere $700.00.   The King of Spain’s official limousine is an Audi RS6 estimated to $100,000.  But why be conservative?  Quadruple the price for assumed “special features” — the bottom line is still lower than republican.

These comparisons are merely illustrative. The cost of state occasions depends on the weight and power of the state in question.  It all depends on popular preferences.  The British like theatrical pomp (from which they incidentally derive hefty tourist revenues) and are willing to front the costs (or seed money). Continental monarchies prefer a more economical mode and Juan Carlos’s “palace” can hardly be considered extravagant.

In caviling about the “costs” of monarchy republicans show themselves up for what they really are: joyless political puritans.

How is Spain not a democracy?  Do they not have elections at all levels?  Are the people prevented from venting their stupidities from the rooftops?  Did they not freely, fairly and democratically elect one incompetent clown after another for the past two decades?  How in the world is getting rid of the Borbons going to improve the degeneracy of Spain’s political class?

The idiots assembled in Puerta del Sol seem to have forgot that Spain is not ruled by an absolute monarchy.  In fact it is even a misnomer to speak of “constitutional monarchy.”  The present day monarchs of Europe are ceremonial monarchies

The crowd of agitated republicans in Spain, and their affiliates elsewhere, would better serve themselves by overthrowing the austerities of the banker-tyranny that actually rules them.

Instead, indulging what can only be regarded as a political fetish, the republicans of Spain think nothing of slandering a monarch who brought them freedom and gave them all they could reasonably hope for.   A poster making the rounds suggests that Juan Carlos and Felipe are continuations of Franco

What a vile canard!  Of course Juan Carlos was Franco’s chronological successor; but it is a truly nasty falsehood to insinuate that he represents a continuation of Franco’s regime. Far from continuing Franco’s Movimiento Nacional, he transformed it with the skill and delicacy of a political surgeon. 

Inheriting the powers of an absolute despot from Franco, it was the King’s choice to appoint the prime minister from a short-list submitted to him by the Council of the Realm, then stacked with Franco loyalists.  Behind the scenes Juan Carlos arranged to have a Adolfo Suarez, a relatively junior technocrat in Franco’s administration, included on the list as a dark-horse.  No one seriously  expected his appointment. It was all merely a show of “openness” for the closed circle of the Franquista elite. 

It was also the stuff of Shakespeare.  Juan Carlos did appoint Suarez prime minister and once in office the latter, dropped his carefully maintained mask  and began the process of democratization.  He legalized the Communist and Socialist parties (1976) and, with their participation, convoked a Constituent Assembly which  promulgated the present constitution. 

The constitution included provisions of social rights (health, education, housing) and, at the instance of Santiago Carillo, the head of the Communist party, the right of State intervention in private companies in the public interest and the facilitation of access by workers to ownership of the means of production were also enshrined in the Constitution  - a provision cribbed from the Article 123 of the “socialist” Mexican Constitution of 1917.

The Republic of the United States should be so monarchical.
One of the arguments republicans in Spain revert to, is that Juan Carlos’ “turn” to democracy was merely a bowing to the inevitable and is therefore nothing he should be praised for or credited with. 

The facts belie the claim. Although the hands on political work was done by Suarez, republicans studiously forget that it was Juan Carlos who held the loyalties of the army.  Franco was dead but his spirit was not.  Despite his manipulative massaging of Falangism, his coy flirtation with monarchists and his ultimate acquiescence in the economic reforms of Opus Dei “technocrats,”  Franco was at bottom and foremost a military man.  His ideology was himself, his support was the army and he was good at maintaining both.  Once El Caudillo was dead, his mantel passed to Juan Carlos and it was his command of the Army’s loyalty to his person, as king and commander,  that kept the Army in line and later suppressed the attempted coup in 1981.

But let it be assumed that Juan Carlos “merely” bowed to the inevitable.  If Juan Carlos recognized that democracy was inevitable and if he chose not to obstruct it with the support of the Army and the absolute powers conferred upon him by Franco, he is to be praised not maligned for that choice. Should he have instead emulated the example of the Imperial Imbecile, Ferdinando VII?   Please.

And here we come to the guts of republican grievances.  They are still bitching and moaning over the fact that they lost the Civil War and are looking for some last act of revenge.

The Spanish Civil War was a terrible episode with atrocities committed on both sides. What republicans seem to forget is that it was a civil war; that is, a country divided against itself. (The election of 1936 was virtually a 50/50 split between the Popular and the National fronts.)  It is not a solution to anything to go on insisting that one half the country is wrong and only your half is right.

In a broader sense the Civil War was a 20th century continuation of the political fissures which had convulsed Spain (and the Spanish Empire) since the abortive promulgation of the liberal 1812 constitution.   By the 1930's, each side was a collection of factions: communists, anarchists, social-democrats, trade-unionists and capitalists on the left versus capitalists, national-syndicalists, latifundists, monarchists and/or “Carlists”  on the right. The left was at least secular and typically virulently anti-clerical and atheist. The right was at least culturally, and typically devotionally, Catholic.   The left abetted a break-up or federalization of the country along regional lines; the right insisted on national unity even at the cost of repressing regional identities.

It is hard to hypothesize what the result would have been had the Republicans won.  Because they were riven by internal strife and advocated federalization there is a good chance that Spain would have simply broken apart or, in the alternative, have been taken over by Stalinist bolshevik cadres which were in the Republican ranks.  The matter is entirely speculative, but republicanism did reflect strong centripetal tendencies.

History does tell us what happened upon the Nationalist victory.  Franco ruthless suppressed all rumors of a left and skillfully played off one rightist faction against the other.  His political vision was that of a pious policeman and his achievement was a pall of quiet in Europe’s most querulous nation. 

What can be seen from this summary but long-view of events is that the present constitutional monarchy is history’s necessary and natural compromise.

The institution of the monarchy satisfies the monarchists and appeases the Army and nationalist tendencies. The government itself is within the post-war spectrum of  European “social-capitalism”.  It gives a de facto primacy to Catholicism and both legal and de-facto autonomy to the regions.  No one is suppressing Catalan or the Basque language or writing their histories and cultures out of the books.  Very serious socio-economic problems confront Spain at the present, as they do the rest of Europe; but the constitutional structure of the State is, as such, sound.  It represents a felicitous compromise to over 200 years of bitter wrangling.

With this perspective in mind, the Republican rallies can be seen for what they are: a massive, immature temper tantrum that insists on what it thinks it wants and on winning (in some merely formal sense) the war it lost.

Anyone who peruses the photographs of the era cannot but notice the pained silence with which Juan Carlos stood for twenty years in Franco’s shadow. In this, he represented his country; and when he emerged from the shadows he led his country not simply “into democracy” but into a resolution of its long internecine divisions.  Whereas Franco maintained nationalism through suppression, the monarchy seeks to offer a point of general convergence which makes room for political and cultural diversity.

El Principe de Asturias comprometiendo dedicarse
 a "una nación, una comunidad social y política unida y diversa".

That was the promise Prince Felipe extended on his first public comment since the abdication.  We wish him well.