August 21, 2011


Was General Franco a catastrophe for Spain?: To me it seems he tried to defend the Spain he knew from people who wanted to destroy it (Francis Phillips, 21 July 2011, Catholic Herald)

[I] have been reading Christopher Howse's book, A Pilgrim in Spain, and although he alludes to the Civil War - it would be difficult not to - he also tries to be neutral, like the BBC. I confess to ignorance on the subject. I have an English friend who lived in Spain for several years under Franco's dictatorship and who is dismissive of those in this country who abhor his memory; for her Franco was simply "a Nationalist". Other friends - Labour voters, interestingly - call him a "Fascist". Stuart Reid of this parish recently described him, if I recall correctly, as looking like "a constipated toad" - which is unfair to toads. I also recall an acrimonious exchange on the Letters page of the Herald a couple of years ago, over a book review which had been favourable to the Republican side.

Howse remarks, "What can be made of the Spanish Civil War? Among the death-dealing disasters of the 20th century its violence baffles reason." He recommends Catholicism in the Second Spanish Republic (1996), by Mary Vincent, and quotes her as writing: "In April 1931 Salamanca was merely one conservative province among several whose populations were prepared to give the Republic a chance. By October 1936, that electorate and its clerical pastors were among General Franco's most fervent supporters."

Why? It seems that the Republic tried to stamp out systematically all public manifestations of the faith that had been central to Spanish life and culture for many centuries. This was much more than a secular agenda to separate Church and state. The Communists got involved and George Orwell, who was no friend to Fascism and who fought on the Republican side, was highly critical of them. It is agreed that terrible atrocities were committed on both sides. Mary Vincent laments that the Church became too identified with Franco's regime. Howse remarks that "Franco was no defender of traditional Spain... He was, when he took power, a symptom of the modern age, one of the many catastrophes of the 20th century."

This puzzles me: if Franco was defending the Spain that he knew from the Republic that wanted to destroy it, then surely he was defending traditional Spain and its ancient faith? True, he was a dictator, but would several members of the lay apostolate Opus Dei have been content to work in his government if his regime had been thuggish? On his death the country passed bloodlessly into a constitutional monarchy within a democratic system; surely this must be counted as one of his achievements? And if the Nationalists had not challenged the Republic and Spain had become a Communist country, as predicted, would Howse have been given the opportunity to wander freely round the place for over 20 years and describe its genius loci so affectionately? Look what Communism did to Eastern Europe. Etc.

Posted by at August 21, 2011 7:31 AM

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