09 November 2015

Forty Years after Franco: Let Us Not Be Ashamed of Our Own History

Readers will undoubtedly be aware that I have a strong affinity for Spain and all things Spanish.  I also have a stronger affinity for the Church and all things Catholic.  More than its food, the corrida, the music, the art, the architecture, the weather, the people and the culture, Catholicism is the heart of Spanish glory.

The Last Glorious Moment for Catholic Spain, and may I add for the West in general, occurred in the period of 1936-39, when for the last time Catholicism triumphed in arms against the forces of evil.

Many had a hand in that victory.  Not mentioning heavenly aid, in the temporal sphere so many brave Spaniards endured a cruel war engaged by a cruel enemy.  Their entire kingdom-- their entire way of life-- was at stake.  The enemy was strong and looked invincible. It wasn't, thanks to the sacrifices and bravery of many.

Some had a more pure motivation; perhaps the Carlists, fighting explicitly for God and King.  Some had a more noble pedigree, like Javier I. But what is undeniable is that, for all of the good and bad about him, the man who organized, motivated, directed and managed the cause to victory was General Francisco Franco.

The nationalist coalition beat the forces of international communism; there is no easier way to say it than that.  That the victors of the war on sanity make us hesitant or ashamed to say it is proof of the near totality of their power now.  Yet, in the late 1930s, in one corner of the world, they were stopped.  It almost gives one hope, though we know that any such victory today would need a miracle.

Gary Potter at Catholicism.org has written a thoughtful piece on the effect of Franco's rule from 1936 to 1975 on the culture of Spain.  He compares it to the Spain of today, and though it might spoil it for you, he finds it greatly superior.  I agree with him. Because Franco ruled in such a way as to institutionalize the aims for which they fought.

My wife and I have traveled to Spain three times, first in 1998 (twenty-three years after Franco's death) and last in 2014 (nearly forty years after).  While I can't speak to conditions during his rule, I can personally attest to a shocking and marked deterioration of the kind of issues Potter covers in the sixteen years between our first and last visit.

Excerpts are below.  I encourage you to read it all; Potter links to an earlier piece he wrote on the Spanish Civil War, which is quite informative.  If you are interested in this event at all, I also recommend Warren Carroll's The Last Crusade.

A young American male traveling in Spain in the early 1960s, as I was and did, would notice that women did not sunbathe topless on the country’s beaches the way many did on the French Riviera. There weren’t even any bikinis. An American who lived in the country explained to me that the body-covering one-piece swimsuits I saw everywhere were “required.” I was also told that a couple holding hands in the street could be arrested if a policeman spotted them. Yet the tapas bars were filled by men and women, mostly young, in the small hours of the morning. There was laughter and singing. Wine flowed.

The streets of Madrid were the cleanest of any major city in Europe. They also felt the safest, in whichever neighborhood you ventured at whatever hour.

Abortion was a crime, but at that time it still was even in the liberal democracies of England and the U.S. The notion of same-sex “marriage” wasn’t on any mind, at least not a sane one.

One other thing about Spain in those days: I was not yet Catholic, but when I went into a church to look at it, there were always persons praying. If a Mass was going on, the church was crowded.

It wasn’t as if the Spanish government of the time self-consciously modeled its programs and policies on what used to be known as papal social teaching. That really only happened in one place in the twentieth century: Austria under Engelbert Dollfuss when Pope Pius XI was virtual co-chancellor. In Spain in the 60s it was more a matter of life feeling natural, secure, somehow protected. Of course I say this in hindsight, but what I see now is that Spain then had a government intent on enabling individuals to get to Heaven if only by reducing the risk of their damning themselves. In other words, it did not operate according to the liberal notion of freedom as the “right” to do whatever is humanly possible.

Everything about Spain began to change, and to change fast, after November, 1975, forty years ago this month. That is when Gen. Francisco Franco, Spain’s ruler since 1939, died. How fast was change? Within two years a friend of mine, the well-known Cuban-American priest, Rev. Enrique Rueda, was mugged in broad daylight on a main thoroughfare in downtown Madrid. Father was wearing his collar.

Recent travelers to Spain tell me it can be difficult today to find a weekday Mass outside the major cities. Many churches give the appearance of being padlocked – permanently shut for want of clergy and worshippers.

If you polled Spaniards today, asking them which they preferred, life in the country now or during the years 1939-75 when Franco ruled, who can doubt the vast majority, including those who remember the safe streets and young persons acting modestly whether they liked it or not, would answer “now”? Of course they would. Ever since the Garden of Eden men have preferred to live according to their own will instead of God’s, and for two centuries under government whose laws reflect the preference instead of being designed to buttress His.


Bsdouglass said...

Franco is hard for me to embrace as enthusiastically as some folks because it’s hard to see him without seeing what his rule has wrought. Of course, I’m sure he didn’t intend any of it while he was ruling, but ultimately it is what happened. But hindsight is 20-20. Franco, I think ultimately fell in to the trap of being influenced by Liberalism even if he didn’t want to be so influenced. Prime evidence of this is his excluding the King from the country for so many years and his flawed view of Nationalism.

It doesn’t seem very conservative/traditional to continue with the King’s exile, play appointer of the next king, and then rule while the king was legally competent. If we are to see him as a true regent, then he would have to do so while the legitimate ruler was incompetent. I suppose one could argue that the Infante Juan wasn’t competent due to his liberalism, but then he failed miserably with Juan Carlos the disappointment.

When it comes to nationalism, I think Franco’s extreme Madrid-centric focus, without proper understanding of the traditional rights of the outlying areas (which sadly got mixed up with Communist rebellion confusing things even more). The Bosques and Catalans have legitimate complaints by the Franco government trying to push things that were not part of their traditional culture (including the wonderful sport of the arena) as part of a Nationalization of Castellano culture. Were it not for these policies, as well as tightening central control I don’t think we would have seen ETA or Catalan independence run by the Left being such a serious thing.

In the end, Franco’s missteps here destroyed Spain that he sought so hard to protect. Juan Carlos of course was the biggest actor in allowing all the insanity that has followed. But, we do not have to hold that Franco was perfect, only that what he did good: fighting Communism, keeping the Faith, keeping perversion out, etc must be celebrated. In many ways, he was Don Quixote, the last knight of traditional order riding off on crusade and doing very well for a time. He also shows that being an un-modern in the modern world can be downright depressing. We’re all steeped in the evil of modern culture far more than any of us like to think. But, I think there is something positive to take from it all. Franco won his war. He restored, for a little while, sanity and proper order. It fell, but it existed! We must thank God for that and pray for his soul, and if he is in heaven, santo Don Francisco, ruega por nosotros y por Santo España.

TradDadof4 said...

Where was Opus Dei in this most-rapid of all collapses? An organization that boasts strength, political connections, etc. either didnt have as much as they thought, or got scared and ran from the fight. Probably like good modernists, OD decided that "getting along with the inevitable" is always best. Hard to see how instantly becoming the most liberal country in Europe, coming out of Franco, was inevitable.

Cathy D said...

My last trip to Spain was over a weekend. I was pretty excited to attend Mass in Madrid. I was shocked at how few people were there. Virtually no men. Just a handful of women, mostly older.

Athelstane said...

Part of the problem is that Franco gave the wrong Bourbon the throne.

Of course, it is possible that had he given it to a Carlist, Spain would be a republic today. But I would like to have seen it given a chance.

JBQ said...

As someone who was on board a U.S. warship on the way into the Med in 1975, I was very impressed with Franco's Spain. We stopped in Cadiz on the way in to a homeport for 6 months in Naples. On the way out, we stopped in Malaga and Palma. Spain was very impressive. It now appears to be deteriorating. Issues with King Juan Carlos are very troubling. I look on Franco as a hero.