For Whom the Bell Tolls: The Franco Regime and Contemporary Spain

By James Kurth 


Some 75 years ago – long ago and far away – there was an event which is almost totally forgotten today, but which at its time and for decades thereafter captured the attention and  haunted the memory of most of the Western world – the  Spanish Civil War.  The war began on  July 18, 1936, when General Francisco Franco proclaimed a military uprising to overthrow the  Spanish Second Republic and in particular its Popular Front government.1 The Spanish Civil War  went on for three terrible years (almost 300,000  Spaniards were killed), with the Franco forces  being aided by both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany and with the Republican forces being aided  by the Soviet Union and the legendary “International Brigades.”  It was out of this epic conflict  that Ernest Hemingway wrote his moving and memorable novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls  (1940), about an American academic who fought on the Republican side (and who was played  by Gary Cooper in the equally moving and memorable film version of the book). 

The Spanish Civil War came to an end with Franco’s decisive victory in March 1939, and  it was followed almost immediately by the outbreak of that even greater epic conflict, the  Second World War, in September 1939.  That war brought about the equally decisive defeat of  Fascist Italy and also Nazi Germany, and for a couple of years after 1945, it seemed that Franco  Spain would also soon be swept away.  But the Franco regime – confounding the hopes and  expectations of liberals, democrats, and socialists throughout the West – survived and even  thrived in Spain for another 30 years, ending only with Franco’s peaceful death in November  1975. 

The Liberal-Democratic Consensus About the Franco Regime

Whatever the great and obvious problems of contemporary Spain, most Western  liberals  and socialists take it for granted that the Franco regime was an altogether  reprehensible system, a dictatorship which was not only politically repressive, economically  exploitative, and culturally retrograde, but one which can properly be identified as a Fascist  regime to boot.  The grand consensus of liberals and socialists has always believed that nothing  good can be said about the Franco regime and certainly that there is nothing positive that can  be learned from it.  On the contrary, the regime was so terrible that it is now an object of scorn,  so much so that during the rule of the Socialist party from 2004 to 2011 it engaged in the  systematic and destruction of virtually all of the many monuments and artifacts of the Franco  era, which were once so common throughout Spain.2

Even contemporary conservatives and Catholics today find little positive about the  Franco regime.  They know that their counterparts in previous generations once supported and  praised Franco and his system, but now they find this view of earlier conservatives and  Catholics to be an embarrassment and so they have accepted the liberal-socialist consensus.   Franco and his supporters may have decisively won on the actual battlefields of the Spanish  Civil War in the 1930s, but they have certainly lost on the mental battlefields of the memory  and history of Spain since the 1990s. 

This essay will present a view different from this long-standing and now widely-held  liberal and socialist consensus, a consensus which now includes most contemporary  conservatives and Catholics as well.  Our view is one which has much in common with that of the conservatives and Catholics of earlier generations, but it also takes into account how Spain has evolved and changed during the more than 35 years since the end of the Franco era, until it  has arrived at its troubled condition of today. 

Three Charges Against the Franco Regime

Any contemporary evaluation of the Franco era must address three charges which have  been central and prevalent in Western opinion about Franco and his regime, ever since its  origins in the Spanish Civil War 75 years ago: 

  1. Franco and his regime were Fascist;  
  2. Franco was an ally of Hitler during the Second World War;   
  3. Franco’s regime was economically exploitative, politically repressive, culturally retrograde, and altogether bad for Spain. 

On the contrary, we argue that: 

  1. Franco was a traditional authoritarian ruler, and his regime was characterized by many  pluralist features.  These limited the Franco dictatorship in a way similar to the way traditional  monarchies were once limited, particularly those whose legitimacy was grounded in Catholic  tradition.3   Indeed, Franco himself consciously and effectively limited and contained the one  clearly Fascist element in his conservative coalition – the Falange movement founded by Jose  Antonio Primo de Rivera – so that it only played a minor role in his regime and in its policies;  
  2. Franco was effectively a neutral during Second World War.  Indeed, his defacto cooperation with Britain and the United States allowed them to exercise sea and air control  over the Western Mediterranean theater throughout the war; 
  3. Franco’s regime promoted economic growth, which became especially vigorous and  wide-spread after 1958.  This in turn kept unemployment rates very low (less than 5 percent)  for most of the Franco era.  Indeed, through his system of workers’ syndicates, he provided the  Spanish working class with basic protections and benefits which were equivalent to those which  workers secured in those liberal-democratic political systems which were then at levels of  economic development similar to Spain (e.g., Italy, Greece, and Chile).4 

Furthermore, the economic vitality of Franco Spain was reflected in its demographic  vitality.  The low unemployment rate and the substantial worker protections facilitated a  healthy birth rate, which in turn facilitated economic growth, i.e. an economic-demographic  virtuous cycle.  (This virtuous cycle of the Franco era is in sharp contrast with the high  unemployment rates and low birth rates of contemporary Spain, which have produced a vicious  cycle). 

The Charges Against the Republican Left 

  When liberals and socialists leveled their charges against Franco and his regime, they  conveniently evaded the charges that conservatives and Catholics, and not just Francoists,  could and did make against them.  For the truth of the matter is that the leftist political  movements which dominated the Spanish Second Republic (1931d1939) – liberals and socialists  and also anarchists and communists – were fiercely and fanatically anti-Catholic and were guilty  of massacres and murders which killed tens of thousands of Catholics and other conservatives.   In the spring of 1936, a coalition of these leftist movements won the general election and established a Popular Front government.  Anti-Catholics took this as a signal that they could now do anything they wished against the Church, and, aided and abetted by the new  government, in June and July 1936 they began burning churches and convents and murdering  priests and nuns.  They also assassinated leaders of the Christian Democratic and other  conservative political parties.  These atrocities were the precipitating cause of Franco’s  proclaiming a military uprising on July 18.  However, the uprising failed to immediately take  control of most of the country.  Instead, Spain split into two, roughly-equal regions, with much  of the south controlled by the Francoist or Nationalist forces and with Madrid and much of the  north controlled by the Republican or Loyalist forces.  The consequence was a terrible Civil War  which ground on for almost three years.  Moreover, in the summer and autumn of 1936, the  Civil War was reproduced in microcosm in numerous towns and villages, as the two sides vied  for local supremacy by murdering their opponents. This included 12 Catholic bishops and more  than 5200 priests, 2500 monks, and 280 nuns killed by leftists.5 This was not a case of ethnic  cleansing, but of religious cleansing. 

Moreover, as the Civil War progressed, it was the Communist Party that became the  dominant power within the Republic’s government.  Being better organized than their rivals on  the Left and also receiving direct aid and advice from the Soviet Union, they systematically  marginalized, and often persecuted, their fellow leftists and anti-Catholics, especially the  anarchists.  This process was famously and memorably described in George Orwell’s Homage to  Catalonia (1938).   

The murderous acts of the anti-Catholic Left and the powerful threat from the  Communist Party were the background for what was the most murderous, and the least  defensible, act of the Franco forces.  Even after they had achieved total victory in the Civil War, they were still bent upon revenge, and in 1939-1940 they executed more than 30,000 Loyalist  prisoners. This, in turn, confirmed liberals and socialists around the world in their hatred of the  Franco forces.  They continued to detest the Franco regime for decades thereafter, and they will never admit that it was something other than Fascist. 

The Counterfactual of a Republican Victory 

It is true that the regime was not good for liberals and socialists.  However, it was good  for Spain at the time.  First, had a liberal or socialist regime (i.e., the Spanish Second Republic)  won the Spanish Civil War, it would have been invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany after its  conquest of France in 1940.  This would have in turn necessitated an Allied invasion and  occupation of Spain sometime in the course of the Second World War.  In other words, had a  liberal or socialist regime ruled Spain at the end of the Civil War, Spain would have suffered  three devastating wars between 1936 and 1945 (or 1946 or whenever), instead of only one. 

Second, a liberal or socialist regime almost certainly would not have been able to pursue  the very coherent and effective economic policies that the Franco regime did from the midd 1950s to the midd1970s.  These policies were opposed by powerful economic interests,  particularly traditional agrarian elites and business cartels.   Only a Franco-type regime could  have had both the power and the legitimacy to push these interests aside, in order to establish  a stronger and healthier Spanish economy for the future. 

Of course, a liberal or socialist regime would have enabled and encouraged the full  spectrum of expressive individualism and cultural anarchy that has become so common and pervasive in the West.  And for decades, the cultural scene in Franco Spain was characterized by the cultural sobriety, dignity, and gravity that characterizes (or once characterized) the Catholic  Church.  However, in the last decade of the Franco regime, Spain experienced a vigorous  upsurge of artistic creativity and innovation.  I visited Spain several times during the mid-1970s  and was amazed at the cultural energy and imagination that I saw, particularly in regard to  graphic design and visual arts.  It has often been the case that some of the greatest periods of  cultural vitality have developed within the creative tension between a declining political  authority and a growing cultural freedom.

The Era of Catholic Integralism 

The Franco regime was a prime example of a particular kind of political system  constructed in several Catholic countries in the middle decades of the 20th century – Catholic  Integralism.  In the Integralist conception, there was a very close connection, a sort of marriage,  between the Catholic Church and the national state.  The state was led by practicing Catholics,  respected Catholic doctrine and culture, and devolved authority over significant sectors of  society, particularly education and welfare, to the Church.  Catholic Integralism obviously could  exist in authoritarian political systems, not only in Spain under Franco, but in Portugal under  Antonio de Oliviera Salazar (1932-1970) as well.  However, there were also examples of Catholic  Integralism in democratic political systems, e.g., Ireland under Eamon de Valera (1932-1973)  and Quebec under Maurice Duplessis (1936-1959).

Catholic Integralism developed in Catholic countries where the Church faced or had  faced a very great and grave threat from secular forces, including from a secular state.  In some cases, the threat came from militant and fanatical leftist movements, including the Communist Party.  This was the case in Spain and Portugal.  Indeed, where the Communists actually took  over the state and imposed severe oppression on the Catholic population for a long period of  time, a kind of counter-state Integralism developed, in which the Catholic community became  so integrated that the Church itself could carry out some state-like activities, in opposition to  the official state.  This was the case in Poland and, to a lesser extent, in Croatia.  In other cases,  Catholics had experienced a history of repression and discrimination by a Protestant regime (a  kind of Protestant integralism), e.g., the Protestant Ascendency in Ireland and the British rule in  Canada.

The golden age of Catholic Integralism was the 1950s, which was a time of prosperous  peace after the turmoil of the Second World War but also a time of Cold War against the  massive Communist threat posed by the Soviet Union.  In this environment, the Catholic Church  had to be a church militant, even a fortress church – solid, strong, and united against its very  real and very threatening enemies.  Pope Pius XII fully understood this necessity, and he fully  embodied and expressed the Church’s response.  Moreover, the very architecture of many  Catholic Churches build during this era also embodied and expressed this response.  They were  solid, massive, and severe, almost like fortresses.  Indeed, they were almost like Mont-St.-Michel in France (966) or Monte Cassino in Italy (529), both of which had been built to provide  strong protection for the faithful against marauding barbarians.

The era of Catholic Integralism came to an end with the Second Vatican Council of the  early 1960s, which promulgated a new attitude of openness of the Church to modernity and to  the world.  Openness was the opposite of fortress.  Moreover, it was also the case that during the Cold War the Catholic Church had come under the protection of that new worldly superpower, the United States.  American power, providing not only protection but also  promoting (and sometimes pushing) the values of liberalism and pluralism, was a major cause  of the Catholic Church’s move from fortress to openness.

Catholic Integralism had been at the core of the identity and legitimacy of the Franco  regime.  When Integralism came to an end in the early 1960s, the very core of the regime also  came to an end.  Henceforth the Franco regime would also have to become less fortress and  more openness.  And, as it turned out by the early 1970s, it would even have to become more  liberal and more pluralist. 

The Rapid Demise of the Franco Regime and the Apparent Model of the Democratic Transition

Of course, if the Franco regime or the system that he set up was so good for Spain, why  did so many Spaniards – a robust electoral majority – join in dismantling it so quickly after  Franco’s death in 1975?  A new and very different constitution was promulgated as early as  1978.  And in 1981, the Socialist party in Spain amazingly became the governing party, albeit  the then very moderate and centrist Socialists led by Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales. His  government brought Spain both into the European Community and NATO and consolidated the  new democratic system.  The transition from the Franco regime to a European-style liberal  democracy was now complete, and it had been remarkably smooth, in contradiction to the  somber expectations which most political analysts of Spain had held in 1975.  Moreover, the  transition governments, including that of the Socialists under Gonzales, had achieved this  transformation without insulting or humiliating the many supporters of Franco who had embraced his system and who still honored his memory.  This smooth transition was facilitated by the reassuring role played by the young King Juan Carlos, the very man whom Franco had  chosen to be his successor as the formal Chief of State, but who turned out to be very  supportive of liberal democracy.  The success of the new liberal-democratic Spain was fully  recognized and celebrated by the rest of the world in 1992 with the comparable success of both  the Barcelona Olympics and the Seville World’s Fair, which commemorated the 500th  anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World.

Thus, in the two decades after Franco’s death and the end of his regime, Spain  underwent an extraordinary transition into being a typical Western European liberal  democracy, fully integrated into the European Union and NATO.  This transition was all the  more extraordinary because it was so peaceful, in sharp contrast with the characteristic  violence of previous regime transitions in Spain.  Indeed, by the midd1990s, Spain and its  transition seemed to provide the very model for what a peaceful transition from a long-standing authoritarian regime to a stable liberal-democratic system should be.  It certainly was  a model for many Eastern Europeans, when they made their own peaceful transition from a  communist regime to a liberal democracy during 1989 and the next few years.

The Contemporary Crisis of Liberal-Democratic Spain

However, the political success of the new liberal-democratic system was attended by  ominous developments in the economic and the demographic fields.  In the 1980s, the Spanish  unemployment rate reached 20 percent, the highest in Europe, and by the 1990s, the Spanish  birth rate had declined to one of the lowest in Europe (a reproduction rate of 1.3, far below the 2.1 which maintains a population at a steady level).  There was also a sharp rise in the Spanish crime rate, particularly in the large cities. It seems that when Spain became a European-style  liberal-democracy, it acquired not only the good features of that system, but its bad features as  well.  Indeed, these bad features were even more bad or extreme than in the rest of liberal-democratic Europe.  Thus, the realities of the new Spain raised questions d as early as the midd 1990s and in an especially pronounced form d about the long-term viability of the European  model of liberal democracy.

It is now almost another two decades after the midd1990s, and the state of European  liberal democracy in general – and of Spanish liberal democracy in particular – now looks very  different than it did back then.  We are now in the midst of the deepest and longest economic  crisis in the West since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and several European liberal  democracies are beginning to experience a serious political crisis as well.  This has especially  been the case with the countries on the southern periphery of Europe – i.e., Greece, Portugal,  and Spain.  Indeed, with its unemployment rate of 25 percent (50 percent among the young) d  the highest in Europe d and its large insolvent banking sector – the most unstable and  destabilizing in Europe – Spain is experiencing the most serious and threatening economic crisis  in the West.  The  Socialist government of 2004d2011  led by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez  Zapatero -- like so many other European governments -- not only pursued policies which greatly  inflated the Spanish housing and banking bubble of the late 2000s, but it was then feckless and  ineffective in picking up the pieces of the ensuing bust.  Unfortunately, when the  Popular  Party, which won the parliamentary elections of 2011,  had been in power in the early 2000s, its  own economic policies also contributed to the bubble, and its current economic policies under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have done nothing to alleviate the bust.

In addition, the Socialist government under Zapatero pursued  social and cultural  policies which exacerbated political divisions and antagonisms and which have left Spain with  no sense of coherent and confident national identity.  These include not only the relentless  destruction of public monuments and symbols of the Franco era – insulting many conservatives  – but also radical new laws implementing abortion and gay marriage – alarming many Catholics.

Moreover, the current deep economic crisis has metastasized into deep political  divisions. This obviously includes divisions between social classes but also divisions between  geographical regions. In particular the more wealthy and culturally distinct regions of Caladonia  and the Basque Country now greatly resent the central government redistributing funds from  themselves to Madrid (and Castille) and to the poorer regions of Spain. The prospects of  Catalan and Basque separatism or even secession now  loom larger in Spain than anytime since  the Civil War.6

In short, the economic, cultural, and political conditions of Spain today are far removed  from the conditions of the 1990s, which in retrospect might seem to be a lost golden age of  Spanish liberal democracy.  And, as the Spanish economic and political crisis deepens and  lengthens, Spain seems to be moving closer to some of the conditions of the Spanish Second  Republic in the early 1930s.  Indeed, although Spain is technically still a monarchy under King  Juan Carlos, in reality is has become a kind of Spanish Third Republic.

The Fit between Political Systems and Economic and Social Structures

In the light of contemporary crisis of the Spanish liberal-democratic system, how then should we now interpret its predecessor, the Franco regime?  Perhaps a liberal-democratic system works well under some conditions, but poorly under different ones.  And perhaps a  Franco-type regime works poorly under some conditions, but well under different ones.  And  what kind of system would work best for Spain under the conditions of today?

Franco’s Spain (and also Salazar’s Portugal) was one of the least pronounced versions of  the authoritarian dictatorships that had come into being during the crises that wracked Europe  in the first half of the twentieth century.  The Franco regime was so different from Hitler’s  Germany and Mussolini’s Italy that it readily survived the debacle of the Fascist regimes at the  end of the Second World War, and it enjoyed a remarkable stability for the next 30 years.  This  was because the regime seemed to fit very well the economic and social conditions d including  the level of economic development and the size of a middle class d of Spain from the midd1940s  to the midd1970s.

This period corresponded to what in the more advanced economies of Europe became  known as the “30 glorious years.”  For such advanced economies, characterized by both a large  industrial sector and a large middle class, a liberal-democratic political system provided the  best fit, as opposed to an authoritarian regime.  But by the early 1970s, the Franco regime had  brought Spain up to an economic level equivalent to that which much of Western (and liberal-democratic) Europe was at in the late 1940s, after rebuilding from the destruction of the  Second World War.  The rapid but peaceful dismantling of the Franco regime shows clearly that  by 1975 it no longer fit the new and more advanced economic and social conditions –  particularly a modern industrial structure and a substantial middle class – which the regime  itself had done so much to bring into being during the previous two decades.

The Alternatives of Christian Democracy and Catholic Social Thought

However, now 35 years later, the liberal-democratic regime in Spain has developed its  own economic and social disorders, indeed – given its high unemployment rates and low birth  rates – a sort of morbidity, or even, in the words of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, a  “culture of death.”  Since the Franco regime was a moderate example of an authoritarian one  and since contemporary Spain is an  extreme example of a liberal –democratic one, one might  conclude that the golden mean would be a moderate liberal-democratic regime – rather like  the moderate liberal-democratic regimes that existed in Western Europe during the 30 glorious  years.

What was the actual character of these moderate liberal-democratic regimes?  We get a  clue by identifying some prime – and successful – examples:  West Germany under the  leadership of Konrad Adenauer (1949d1963), Italy under Alcide de Gasperi (1948d1959), and  France under Charles de Gaulle (1958d1969).  More basically, these were regimes whose  dominant party and prevailing ideology were Christian Democratic (West Germany and Italy) or  close to it (France).  They also happened to be regimes which were supported by the Catholic  Church and which were more or less consistent with the body of Catholic  teaching known as   Catholic Social Thought.  Of course, these regimes were eventually replaced by more secular d  i.e., more liberal or social democratic – regimes (West Germany after 1969, Italy after 1963, and  France after 1970), and, being democratic political systems, this was done by the votes of the  majority of the electorate.  This could suggest that the Christian Democratic regimes, like the  quite different Franco regime, also once fit the then-existing economic and social conditions of these countries, i.e., that they were right for an historical moment, but eventually that moment  would pass, and they too would become obsolescent.

However, Christian Democratic regimes were the obvious best alternative after the  debacle of the Fascist regimes in Germany and Italy in 1945.  And, given the rather feckless  history of the Fourth Republic in France (1946d1958), de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic turned out to be  the best kind of regime for France in the same era.  Why, then, did a Christian Democratic  regime not become the best alternative in Spain after 1975?

This raises the complex question of how the Catholicism of 1975 was different from the  Catholicism of 1945.  Perhaps the Catholic Church no longer had a confident belief that it could  work closely with popular political forces and mass political parties to shape an entire political  regime in its own image.  This could have resulted from changes internal to the Church (such as  those following Vatican II), or it could have resulted from changes external to it (such as the  growth of secular views and values among the once-Catholic population).  In any event, in the  Spain of the mid-1970s there was little serious and substantive discussion of a Christian  Democratic political alternative.

But looking at the Spanish reality of 2012, it is obvious that there would now be a far  healthier society and culture, and probably a healthier politics and economy, if Spain over the  past 35 years had been shaped and guided by something like Catholic Social Thought. This  obviously would have resulted in public policies far more supportive of families (and therefore  of an adequate birth rate).  But it also would have resulted in policies more supportive of  productive work (and therefore of an adequate employment rate).  And Catholic Social Thought has been very insistent upon constraining a financial sector so that it clearly and directly serves the purposes of the wider society.  This would have prevented the speculative boom and  spectacular bust in the Spanish real estate and banking sectors.  Instead, Spain has been shaped  and guided by two variations on a secular theme – socialist bureaucratic interventionism with  respect to economic matters and liberal expressive individualism with respect to social and  cultural ones.  Both of these secular projects – the socialist and the liberal – have been explicitly  and consistently criticized in a long line of papal encyclicals stretching from Leo XIII to Benedict  XVI, which have put forward an alternative Catholic Social project, which is at once more  spiritual and more human than either the socialist or the liberal one.

It is obvious that Spain cannot solve its very real contemporary problems by going back  to something like the Franco regime and Catholic Integralism.  Even if it should wish to do so,  the economic and social base for such a regime is no longer there, particularly a large agrarian  sector.  (This sector can be composed not only of large estates, but also small family farms.)  It  is less obvious, but still probably the case, that Spain also cannot solve its problems by now  adopting something like a Christian Democratic political system.  Here, too, the economic and  social base for such a system is now not there, particularly a large, but still-Catholic middle  class.  The most fitting time for a Christian Democratic system in Spain was probably from the  late 1960s, to the late 1980s, but that was a road not taken.

However, in the wreckage being wrought by the current economic and demographic  crisis, Spain will once again have to consider and choose a new road.  The current version of the  liberal-democratic system has proven its inadequacy, as indeed it has in much of contemporary  Europe.  This liberal-democratic system will either have to be reinvented or it will be replaced, perhaps by something that would prove to be far worse.  And at this juncture, it would be  useful to once again consider the resources of Catholic Social Thought.

Catholic Social Thought and the Enduring Spain

The Franco regime claimed to represent the “eternal Spain” – the Spain of “Their Most  Catholic Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella,” the Spain of strong families, strong local  communities, and a strong nation, all inspired and guided by a strong Catholic Church.  This  claim was an exaggeration, but in truth each of these elements – family, community, nation,  and Church were more healthy and vital in Franco Spain than they are in the liberal-democratic,  even socialist Spain of today.  But, as it happens, family, community, nation, and Church are  also the central elements of the social order long proposed by Catholic Social Thought.

Catholic Integralism was a system bound to the economic and social conditions of a  particular time, and that time is past.  Similarly, Christian Democracy was also a system bound  to its own d albeit more advanced d economic and social conditions, and its time has also past.   However, Catholic Social Thought represents a project that transcends any particular level of  economic and social development.  It advances a conception and vision that can fit a wide  range of economic and social conditions – stretching from largely agrarian societies, through  industrial ones, to those of the information-age - and a wide range of political systems –  including both authoritarian regimes and democratic ones.  However, the Catholic Social  conception and vision definitely are not liberal, and definitely are not socialist.  This means that  if Spanish liberal democracy is to be reinvented to both better address the real problems of contemporary Spain and to better represent the real elements of enduring Spain, it will have to  become less liberal and less socialist and will have to become, in some ways, more Catholic.

What is true of Spain is probably also true of the other once-Catholic countries of  Europe.  They too are now seeing their liberal and socialist projects collapsing into ruin, and  they too are approaching a crossroads, with some roads leading to either paralysis or  disintegration, or to some kind of bureaucratic and non-democratic rule.  But there is also  another road leading to some contemporary version of the Catholic Social project.

When the Bell Tolls

When Hemingway wrote his novel about the Spanish Civil War, he had in mind the  famous lines by the poet, John Donne (1624): 

....Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.  And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

For Hemingway, it was the death of the Spanish Second Republic for whom the bell tolled in  1939, but it was also tolling for the rest of the democratic West.

In our own time, a different Spain has been dying, under the assault of the militant  liberalism and socialism of what has become in effect a Spanish Third Republic.  This is Catholic  Spain – the Spain of strong families, communities, nation, and Church.  And if the bell should  toll for once-Catholic Spain, it will also toll, for much the same reasons, for the rest of onced Catholic Europe and for much of what was once the West.  But today, in the current economic  and social crisis, liberal and socialist Spain is itself dying, due in part to its own extremes and  excesses.  And if the bell should toll for this Spain, it too will toll, for much the same reasons, for the rest of liberal and socialist Europe and the West.  For when the bell tolls for Spain, it tolls for thee.

Notes

1.  The classic history of the war is Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (New York: Harper and Row, 1961). Comprehensive, and contrasting, accounts of Franco and his regime are  Stanley G. Payne, The Franco Regime, 1936d1975 (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press,  1987); and Paul Preston, Franco: A Biography (London: Harper Collins, 1993). Payne’s book,  and his many other books on 20th-century Spain, provide by far the best understanding of the  Franco regime.

2. A vivid account of what is happening to the greatest Franco monument of all, The Valley  of the Fallen, is given by Jonathan Freedland, “Spain and the Lingering Legacy of Franco,” The  Guardian, 28 March 2011. 

3. Juan J. Linz, “An Authoritarian Regime: Spain,” in Eric Allardt and Stein Rokkan, editors,  Mass Politics (New York: Free Press, 1970), pp. 251d183; James Kurth, “A Tale of Four  Countries: Parallel Politics in Southern Europe, 1815d1990,” in James Kurth and James Petras,  editors, Mediterranean Paradoxes: The Politics and Social Structure of Southern Europe  (Providence, RI: Berg), pp. 27d66. Stanley Payne provides a detailed and nuanced account of  fascist-like or “fascitized” features of the Franco regime, especially until 1942, in his Spain: A  Unique History (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2011),  chapter 13.

4. Payne, The Franco Regime, chapter 19.

5. Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, chapter 20.

6.   “Europe’s Crisis Spawns Calls for a Breakup Of Spain,” The Wall Street Journal, 29  October 2012.