You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Spanish Opinion on the War

The sympathies of Spanish people in the present war are determined by the color of their home politics: clericals and conservatives are pro-German, liberals and revolutionists are pro-French. Special incidents like the invasion of Belgium, or moral considerations as to who may have been guilty of breaking the peace, do not count for much with either party. The great line of cleavage which in all Latin countries cuts national life in two also creates divergent sympathies in international affairs, and quite justly, since it separates two opposite moral judgments passed on all European history and two contrary philosophies of life. Within each great party there are many groups, advocating some compromise, delay, or accommodation in practical politics, and yet the two ultimate ideals are clear and conscious throughout. The liberals wish to reorganize Christian society on a pagan basis. The conservatives wish to prevent that reorganization and to restore, in a modern form, the old moral integrity of Christian nations. It is in obedience to these opposed ideals that they take opposite sides in the present war.

Moderate Spanish liberals see in England the mother of parliaments, the home of free trade and of religious toleration. Advanced liberals see in France the leader in revolutionary enlightenment and moral freedom. They heartily love all that republican France represents: democracy, non-religious government and education, fearless experiment in art, frank passions and pleasures, untrammeled intelligence, personal security and comfort. That place in the sun which Germany wants for herself collectively, every Latin by instinct claims for himself individually; and he would know how to fill it, being well versed in basking. Odious to such a temperament must be the heavy mind of the Teutons, their pedantry and meddlesomeness, their sentimental idealism, there emphatic pathos, their grotesque taste,all their pompous, pedagogic, arrogant, clumsy ways. The happy natural pagan does not need so much apparatus; it would crush his genius. For the sake of plain truth and liberty, as he thinks, he has given up his Catholic faith, which at least was wise and beautiful in its way; he cannot wish to see the world duped afresh, and himself browbeaten, by a primitive tribal fanaticism. He loves his ease, and he feels that the victory of Germany would increase everywhere that irrational tension from which the modern world is suffering. It is not only the foolish ruinous armaments that he deprecates, but the pressure on everybody of aimless tasks and struggles, the foolish romantic will making so many damnable faces and arousing so many damnable passions. He knows better how to live.

Spanish clericals and conservatives, on the other hand, feel drawn both by tradition and principle to a Germany which they see so strongly and superbly governed, and allied with Austria, a monarchy closely associated with the great memories of Spain. Even more emphatically they detest the France of Renan, Gambetta, and Combes, of Dreyfus and Madame Caillaux, and every day for years they have been prophesying its ruin. They also heartily dislike England, long the champion of Protestantism and vilifier of Spain; England who holds Gibraltar, a thorn in the Spanish side, and who during the Cuban war smiled on the United States, while Germany frowned and even slightly rattled the sabre. Not that Spaniards were ever deceived by that demonstration; they knew that Germany disliked to see any more places in the sun passing from weak hands into hands from which it might prove more difficult to snatch them. Yet even that interested and ineffectual show of sympathy left a pleasing impression. 

It might seem that the intervention of Belgium, the only country long and successfully governed by the clerical party, and of Russia, the symbol of autocracy, might cut across and confuse these sympathies; but such is not the case. Spanish Catholics say they are sorry for Belgium, but at heart they do not forgive her for having thrown in her lot with atheistical France. They remember too that this is not the first war of “frightfulness” ever waged in Flanders, and who it was that waged it there of old. They suspect that the Belgians also have not forgotten it; for their government, though Catholic, allowed a statue of Ferrer to be set up in Brussels, which the Protestant Kaiser has had decently removed. The clericals can even find a fundamental similarity between the historic task which Germany has now undertaken and that which Spain performed during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with some temporary success, though at the price of her utter ruin, the task of sternly defending and imposing an orthodox Kultur, and stemming a rising tide of individualism and licence.

As for holy Russia, her religiosity combined with her aggressive nationalism renders her a formidable enemy to the Catholic Church, particularly in that Polish borderland where religious persecution is already afoot and where Russia would like to annex some Catholic provinces. So also in the East, where even now the Greeks have the first place, and the Latins, in spite of the crusades, are relegated to a corner. As to Russian autocracy, it does not represent, as German autocracy does, the sort of government that conservative Spaniards would wish to see dominant in their own countries. In fact, absolutism in Russia is a fatal historical accident, like the oligarchy of generals, ministers, and ex-ministers that governs Spain itself. Beneath that accidental system it is easy to feel the emotional, fraternal, spontaneous life of the Russian people––something which savors of anarchy and wild aspiration rather than of principles of restraint and authority, eternal and deeply ingrained, such as Spanish conservatives would admire. Russia accordingly finds no sympathy among them, and Belgium but little, and that little sour.

If we ask which of the two great parties in Spain has the larger following, it is hard to give a decided answer. Many a mind is divided against itself; it is a question of tradition and principle against instinct and hope. By instinct all Mediterranean peoples are republican and pagan, not having changed much since antiquity. In Spanish towns the laboring classes, and the talking and bustling public that sits in cafés and reads the newspapers, are revolutionary in tendency; so that if we counted heads, excluding the passive and illiterate peasantry, the liberal and therefore the pro-French camp would probably hold the large majority. The conservative wing, however, has compensating elements of strength in the support of the clergy, the passionate allegiance of most of the women, and that high-principled, austere, believing minority of the upper classes which feels itself to be the healthy part of the nation, and certainly is alone in maintaining the traditional Castilian virtues. If we take Spain not as the collection of individuals now alive in the peninsula, but as an historical power and personality, there is no doubt that her heart must be with Germany in this war. The friends of the Allies need not grudge traditional Spain this romantic affinity. She is quixotic, and seldom, even in her sympathies, on the winning side.

This article appeared in the April 10, 1915 issue of the magazine.