A History of Spain
By Simon Barton
Palgrave Macmillan – £16.99
‘’The transition relied upon a gradual shift in mindset and political behaviour, as the population as a whole accepted that Spain’s future did not lie with Francoism, and adapted to the give-and-take of party politics. The Spain of the Transicion bore little resemblance to that of 1931. Democracy was firmly established in the West; the religious question was no longer so volatile as it had once been; and with living standards far higher than they had been 40 years earlier, few workers shared the revolutionary zeal of their counterparts of the 1930s.’’
So writes Simon Barton in ‘The Modern Era, 1931-2008’ chapter of this crystal clear and utterly comprehensive dissertation of Iberian history: A History of Spain. Written from a standpoint of cool and considered, translucent analysis, the book invariably covers a vast amount of terrain, before eventually arriving at the aforementioned, relatively tranquil terminus known as the Transicion.
An era during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Transicion witnessed an abundance of Spaniards, who felt far more compelled to kneel at the altar of reconciliation, rather than that of revolution.
And who could blame them? Who’d want to blame them?
Still living with and within the tumultuous trajectory of Spain’s ghastly Civil War (1936-39), it’s hardly surprising that the populace at large were ready to embrace a touch of civility and redemption.
Writing in the same chapter, the author reiterates as much: ‘’Spaniards were willing to forget about their troubled past and look to the future. Once it was realized that the end of Francoism would not lead to a state of anarchy, the vast majority of Spaniards were happy to support the peaceful transition towards democracy.’’
Suffice to say, the journey wasn’t an easy one.
Just as history repeats itself – so too, does the greed-infested ideology of the powerful, the myopic religiosity of the Catholic Church, not to mention the dire mistakes of an unfortunately, un-educated and largely un-enlightened society in general. Catastrophic issues which, until the harrowing catharsis of the country’s Civil War, plagued Spain to the point of nigh self-implosion.
But even more politically endemic and historically damaging throughout the country’s history, has been Spain’s inexorable struggle between Centralization and Peripheral Autonomy. A social stasis of sorts, which the author briefly touches on in the book’s Introduction: ‘’For many historians, Spanish history is to be understood above all in terms of a permanent struggle between centre and periphery: the desire of a central government to overcome regional particularism and bring about a truly united nation; and the no less strenuous efforts of the regions to maintain their identity and to keep central government at arm’s length.’’
Is it any wonder the writer Richard Ford pertinently referred to Spain as ‘’a bundle of small bodies tied together by a rope of sand.’’ While in his influential essay ‘Invertebrate Spain’ (Espana Invertebrada), the philosopher Jose Ortega Y Gassett alluded to the country as ‘‘not so much a nation as a series of watertight compartments.’’
From Spain’s Origins and Prehistory (Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians) to the Ascendancy of Christian Iberia (The rise and fall of the Almohad Empire/the land of three religions); from the Universal Monarchy (1474-1700) to the Enlightened Despots (1700-1833); from Liberalism and Reaction (1833-1931) to the already mentioned Modern Era – A History of Spain is an invaluable introduction and companion for anyone interested in this most fascinating of histories. Replete with a really helpful Glossary, Chronology and section on Further Reading, I wouldn’t be surprised if this Second Edition won’t soon become almost indispensable.