Spain: A Unique History

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Previous Figure Next Figure. Email or Customer ID. Forgot password? Old Password. New Password. Password Changed Successfully Your password has been changed. Returning user. Yet it is hard for many foreigners or Spaniards to escape the strong feeling that the Arab inheritance, while not always visible or easily quantifiable, sets the place apart from the rest of Europe. Setting aside arguments over physical evidence of the Arab legacy, the nature of the Spanish state was fundamentally changed by the centuries-long conflict with Islam.


Spain was forced to become militaristic to an extreme, and partly as a result of this development it later turned expansionist. This came at a cost.

From the fifteenth century on, global trade and the rise of empire that came as a byproduct of the hunt for new trade routes and markets made Spain a world power. Just , Spaniards were sent to administer and populate its possessions throughout the colonial period. Latin America was built in the flawed image of Spain, a legacy seen there to this day. But then, in relatively short order, came national decline, which endured for centuries.

The wound was largely self-inflicted. Lacking any serious external threat, the country was prone to internal conflict. The economy was neglected. Its social mores discouraged creative enterprise and led elites to search for ways to avoid work and taxes. During the reign of Carlos II, the last Habsburg king of Spain, who died in , nearly three hundred new titles of nobility were created.

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Eventually by the nineteenth century, this too gave way to the caricature of the Spaniard as a lazy romantic who loves bullfighting, flamenco, and long siestas, which holds with small variations to this day. Some of these character traits are delightful, of course, but none of them are usually associated with successful nations. In politics it was ahead of its time—and of itself. Yet Spain could never make liberal politics stick until the adoption of its current constitution, in Throughout the nineteenth century, the country was economically and educationally backward.

Madrid did not centralize its domain as Paris did, and there was no compelling unifying idea to bind a modern state together.

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For this reason, as other parts of Europe experienced rising national feeling, Spain saw instead the blossoming of regional nationalisms, in the Basque country, Catalonia, and elsewhere. Extremes dominated Spanish politics, most of all in the Civil War that began in Liberal democracy did not take root until the late s.

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  7. Eight decades on, the Civil War is still contentious for historians and politicians. Payne seeks to rescue this complex conflict from mythmakers of various stripes. The war pitted the revolutionaries of the Republican Left, and its communist allies, against the counterrevolutionaries of the Catholic Right, who were eventually backed by the military. Payne has written elsewhere at length on the war and its causes, and here rather briefly but clearly gives an honest account without favor to either side. Though elected in free elections, the Republic ended up trampling on the constitution, arming the unions and welcoming in the Soviets.

    These were no pure democrats. No more so, of course, were those on the other side. The military rebelled, won the backing of fascists in Italy and Germany, and committed a larger share of atrocities during and of course exclusively in the purges after the war. The Spaniards were not fascists of the classic type; before the rebellion, Payne says, the military did not even lean particularly hard to the right.

    Spain: A Unique History

    The Generalissimo looks slightly better with time, and Payne offers a useful reassessment. Yet unlike most other dictators, Franco did lay the ground for a transition to constitutional monarchy. Nothing really moved until he died, in his own bed and in power. King Juan Carlos, the current monarch, was the one who led Spain into the democratic era with a new constitution in and less than a decade later membership in the European Community. It is a good guess whose side Franco—from wherever his spirit rested—took.

    The Spanish Model was instructive for the so-called negotiated transitions in South Africa and much of post-Communist Central Europe, and might now come in handy in the Middle East. Maybe it had all come too fast. The Spaniards were welcome counterweights to the traditional Franco-German condominium in Europe.

    But Aznar, who served two successful terms, made one mistake: he failed to bring the Spanish people along with him on this adventure, which brought rewards as well as risks.

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    A larger proportion of Spaniards seemed to oppose the Iraq war than any other European country whose government backed the war. The Socialists, who in ran on Iraq and Bush, trailed in the polls during the campaign.