Posts Tagged ‘spain


European History Pt. 50 — The Conservative International System

Last time I looked at the aftermath of Vienna. Basically, agitation began immediately. Napoleon had tried to impose a revolutionary changes to government from above, but now there were movements from below to reform and change the way that power was distributed. For example, last time we saw that England, which had been EXEMPTED from Napoleon’s rule, was not especially due for changes, and the working class along with even certain business leaders wanted to reform the voting system and corn laws.

Now I want to look at the way in which the signatories to Vienna worked largely cooperatively to manage a series of revolutionary attempts throughout Europe.

Aix-la-Chapelle 1918

At this conference, the victorious powers over Napoleon agreed to withdraw their occupying troops from France. They wanted the new Bourbon monarch, XVIII to stand on his own. France’s reparation debt was privatized. The allies were paid immediately and France paid back the private bankers over time.

Alexander proposed a kind of league of nations whereby a standing international force would act to guarantee the international order (read: status quo). The British, like the U.S. today, refused to commit themselves to unforeseen situations. They promised only to make alliances for specific scenarios (like a resurgent France).

Troppau 1820

At the congress of Troppau, the main issue was the agitation in souther Europe, such as in Italy (Naples) and Spain. At first, these countries accepted Napoleonic rule as progressive, but then they went their own way and created new constitutions that were then forced on the Bourbon rulers that were installed after the war. The funny thing was that the regimes in Spain and Naples were so decrepit and corrupt that the “revolutionaries” were nothing more than average, probably somewhat prosperous, citizens.

Metternich, ever on the watch against change, was scared. He thought the rest of Europe should be quarantined from the revolutions. He called the congress of Troppau, to which Britain and France only sent observers. There, at Troppau, something extraordinary happened. Metternich met privately with Alexander at an inn and had tea. Metternich convinced Alexander to change his entire political philosophy. After this meeting, Alexander admitted that the was wrong about constitutionalism and popular sovereignty and that he would join Metternich’s crusade for stability and against political agitation.

The “Troppau Protocol” was drawn up which declared the need for European great powers to band together against revolution. Neither France nor Great Britain signed, but Neapolitans were put to the sword anyway and Ferdinand I was restored as “absolute” king. The book says it well, “…the Congress of Troppau, ostensibly a Europewide international body, had in effect functioned as an antirevolutionary alliance of Austria, Russia, and Prussia.” Yes.

Congress of Verona 1922

In 1821, a Greek man named Alexander Ypsilanti, a former Russian soldier, initiated a series of revolutionary acts in order to separate a Greek part of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire. He thought he would receive help from Russia since a Grecophile conversion of the Ottoman empire had been a long time Russian project. Metternich was scared of what a pro Russia Greece (and more) would mean.

Alexander, who going by pure self interest should have supported Ypsilanti, joined Metternich in quashing the uprising. 

Also very interesting was that France, growing weary of spies and revolutionaries on its western border, asked permission to lead an army into Spain. Of course, those at the congress eagerly agreed. Spain was reconquered and the French army was greeted with cheering crowds. This was a sad development because Spanish liberals could only watch as the general populace supported a completely counterrevolutionary, foreign army reinstall the king and crush “heretics” and “masons.” Spain’s essential conservatism was utterly confirmed.


European History Pt. 5 — Spanish Golden Age

Last time I was looking at some of the social and economic changes in the early modern period (from about 1500 to 1650). The close of that section talks about the differences between Eastern and Western  Europe, but not too many specifics are given, which is a shame since the division between eastern and western europe seems to run fairly deeply throughout history. The book simply mentions that landlords in eastern europe had greater power in the east. Labor was more compulsory and land owners basically reigned unchallenged on their property,  free from interference of the middle class or from monarchs.


I think that A History of the Modern World does a really good job of explaining the breadth of Spanish ambitions around 1550 and on, and then their unbelievably rapid and spectacular failure.

Starting in the mid 1500, right after the peace of Augsburg, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V retired to a monastery (perhaps in disgust, since he had been unable to preserve Catholicism in the Holy Roman Empire). He divided his eastern possessions to Ferdinand and everything else to Philip, who became King of Spain and Portugal. He was temporarily king of England he claimed sovereignty over France as well.

He had enormous resources since Spanish traders from the New World were UNCHALLENGED on the ocean. Gold, silver, and all manner of other resources poured in to Spain. With these resources, he built a heavily Catholic  nation (in fact, it was too religious, as other trades beyond the church suffered and eventually collapsed the country). He built a palace, the Escorial, which the book says  “expressed in solid stone its creator’s inner spirit.” It was part monastery, fitting with Philip’s zealous religious demeanor.

He saw his purpose as a savior for the Christian faith. He meant to smash protestantism and bring all the people of europe back under control of the church and the pope. For a while, it looked like Philip, like other rulers in European history (Louis XIV and Napoleon), would unify all of Europe.

He sponsored a catholic uprising in England, in 1571 he won the battle of Lepanto against the Turks, he put down the rebellion of the Moriscos in his own country, France — ruled at the time by incompetent children — obeyed his orders to eradicate the Huguenots (French Calvinists). However, these apparent victories disintegrated:

But none of these victories provied enduring. The Turkish power was not seriously damaged at Lepanto. In fact, the Turks took Tunis from Philip two years later. The Moriscos were not assimilated. The English Catholic rebellion was stamped out; 800 persons were put to death by Elizabeth’s government. The revolt in the Netherlands remained very much alive, as did the French Huguenots. Twenty years later England was Protestant, the Dutch were winning independence, a Huguenot had become king of France, and the Spanish fleet had gone to ruin in norther water.

Revolt in the Netherlands

This event was really key a this time, and the book covers it in some detail. At this time, there was no Dutch yet, there was only 17 provinces known as the “low countries.” They traded and enjoyed feudal liberties. The revolt began in about 1566 when various nobles (catholic and protestant) united to check intervention from Philip. They were particularly concerned that Philip would bring the inquisition to their countries (a very reasonable thing to be upset about). Philip ignored this petition and journeymen protestants revolted.

In response, Philip send the Duke of Alva to brutally repress the disturbance. These brutalities united all of the 17 provinces firmly against Spain despite their religious differences (1576). William of Orange (“the silent”) was one of the nobles whose land was confiscated by the Duke of Alva and he became the first of a long line of Dutch Williams to resist would-be universal monarchs.

SIDE NOTE (England got involved in this war, because a Spanish Admiral — Don Juan (yea, his real name) — thought that if the Netherlands was subdued, it could be used as a base to destroy heretic England. Of course, Elizabeth saw who she should support in the Netherlands’ rebellion)

However, another Spanish official, the Prince of Parma, succeeded in fracturing the Netherlands and winning 10 provinces away from the original alliance with promises that their liberties would be respected. The 7 remaining formed the Union of Utrecht in 1579.

The war ground on, and Philip decided to invade England because of its aid to the northern 7 low country provinces (called Holland going forward). In 1587, Sir Francis Drake sailed into Cadiz and burned some ships there, this act being referred to as “singing the beard” of the king of Spain. The response was the Spanish armada.

Assembled in 1588, the armada was the greatest fleet ever assembled. It was the symbolic representation of all of Spanish greatness, and it’s fate symbolized Spain’s fall from power. The English ships, outnumbered, but faster, harried the ships from the start. Then the famous “protestant wind” blew the remaining Spanish ships up toward Scotland. The cold and the Spanish inexperience led to the almost complete destruction of the fleet.

With the Spanish fleet shattered, maritime history changed forever. From this moment forward, it would be DUTCH and ENGLISH ships that sailed in Europe. The English East Company was formed in 1600 and the Dutch East India company was formed in 1602.

Spain would remain powerful for another 50 years, but it had already started its decline. No one cared about anything other than the church, the Moriscos were the only people with any skills, and they were persecuted and driven out of the country. Spain lost the sea, and so its only source of income. The riches of the new world had corrupted the Spanish culture and economy. It’s quest for universal monarchy had angered protestants and created powerful opponents in the English and the Dutch.





European History pt. 3 — Discovery

Having summarized some of the happenings leading up to about 1560 in terms of religion (reformation, counter reformation, Calvinism, council of Trent, reform popes, inquisition, Jesuits, etc.), the book is now going to retrace some of the same chronological ground from other perspectives including political, economic, and social.

In this  section, the book I’m reading (see the inaugural post in this series here) gives us two nice guiding quotes.

“It is convenient to thin of the period of about a century following 1560 as the age of the Wars of Religion, which may be said to have ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.”

“Always until about 1500 the Atlantic Ocean had been a barrier, an end. About 1500 it became a bridge, a starting place.”

So we start at about 1500 with the various discoveries made by the European powers.

Two things I noticed right away.

1. What a demonstration of the inertia behind ideas. Think how long it took, in our own culture, to come to complicate the narrative of triumphant European discovery over a mostly dark (literally and figuratively) world. Over many years of scholarship, protest, and cultural transformation, we have realized that Columbus’ journey, for one thing, was not just something for celebration, as it brought disease and conflict to whole groups of people.

2. The age of discovery was a profound moment in human history in which whole cultures began to realize that there were other cultures out there that did COMPLETELY different things. This cannot be overplayed as a theme. It’s incredibly powerful to realize that the everyday ways of living that one has are just one way among many of organizing one’s emotions, commitments, and etc. This was the time when these realizations were first dawning.

But back to the discoveries. First we hear about the Portugese who created a trade empire through blood and gold on the west coast of India as well as the East coast of Afria.

The West Indies were discovered by Spain in a race with Portugal to get to the East, and conquerors took over the Aztecs in Mexico and the Incas in Peru.

And then we get to another insistent theme of European contact with the world: the slave trade. The slave trade began because the exploitation of the civilizations of America left the Indian population utterly devastated. Also, the Catholic church succeeded in winning some protections for the Indians because of their desire to convert them. African slaves however were seen as more robust than Indians and more than 100,000 had been brought to the New World by 1560. The slave trade would not end for another 3 CENTURIES (one of the most enduring European institution of this entire age) and many many more slaves would be brought to the New World than there were free settlers.

The book then goes into the Spanish conquest and expansion in what is today Latin and South America. For instance, the book makes the point that when Harvard was established in 1636, there were already 5 European-modelled universities in Spanish holdings. In 1545, the Potosi silver mines were discovered which proved to be an unbelievable source of wealth for the Spanish. This money financed the Spanish government in the wars of religion and made it fabulously wealth until about 1600 when other countries finally ventured out into the ocean to take the lucrative trade from the Spanish.

This section closes with a consideration of the commercial revolution, which is the book’s name for the massive economic changes of this time period. Prices rose across the board, going up 4x in England. This helped make people richer as farm goods attracted much higher prices. The commercial revolution went hand in hand with a steady population growth throughout Europe, though the growth was not urban. The growth mainly increased the concentration of the rural areas.





European History Pt. 2 — England and Catholicism

Last time I was looking at the protestant reformation in broad strokes. I continue the story with England, where Protestantism gained a significant foothold in the middle half of the 1500s.


The reason is that after the death of Henry VIII, Mary Tudor attempted to recatholicize England, partially using burnings at the stake. This didn’t go over well, and neither did her marriage to Philip of Spain (making Philip technically king of England), which associated her with the extreme puritanical Catholicism of Spain.

When Elizabeth came around (daughter of Anne Boleyn), she was happy to bend to the protestant side of things as she was illegitimate and so not Queen according to Catholic doctrine.

Europe at Large

The book looks at what protestants shared, because in many respects they were a diverse group. They all rejected institutional religion. They rejected the Clergy as a class of society with special privileges (was the P reformation the first shot in the French revolution?), they rejected several of the sacraments, they allowed marriage among church leaders and they used the vernacular in church.

The book also makes a point that in the early stages of protestantism, there was no clear influence of so-called “economic” factors. The book concedes that P, by “casting a glow” of holiness over ordinary life and “honest labor” may have contributed to the capitalist revolution of Europe. But early on, Calivnism won converts in agrarian centers as well as urban centers, i.e. in Scotland, Poland, and Hungary, places that would not play a part in the economic trajectory of “the west.” Lutheranism  also spread more in the agrarian north of Germany than in the busy south.

Catholicism Reformed 

Action begets reaction and so the Catholic church, faced with a revolution, cleaned up its own house to some degree. Of course, the French did what they could to delay reforms, because a corrupt Catholic church was sure to keep the P movement strong.

The church was also slow to act because P revived the potential power of an ecumenical or conciliar movement by which all the bishops assembled were superior to the Pope. The council of Trent, which met irregularly from 1545 to 1563, tried to iron out some reforms, but it was poorly attended. The pope “won” in this council and retained central power. This is significant, because a “what if” moment had occurred. If the pope had not retained central powers, the Catholic church as an organization might have fragmented well before the modern era.

The conclusions of the Council of Trent, were to reaffirm core doctrines. A crucial reaffirmation was that the Church tradition was on equal footing with the bible. This denied the P claim that the bible alone explained a Christian life. Cult of the virgin, indulgences, and relics, pilgrimmages, etc. were all clarified and restated. Crucially, the Council of Trent compromised and said that justification was by FAITH AND WORKS. P said just faith.

Then Catholicism initiated a counter-reformation, by which new orders were created (Jesuits for example) and new missions. For instance, the book makes the point that Catholics were much more invested in combating slavery in England and the Netherlands.  Spain however, was the origin of this new religiosity. The people were very Catholic and they wrote and spread this fervor as far as possible, even to the new world when possible. For instance, Spain revived the old inquisition, which targeted Jews and Muslims to now combat P. This is the beginning of a theme that I want to highlight, which is that in history, EVERYTHING HAPPENS AT LEAST TWICE. This is similar to “history repeats itself” but I think it’s a little different, because the big moves in history seem to be tried, and then tried once more in an attenuated and weakened form before being abandoned forever. I will try to show examples of this throughout.



Labor and Society

There are two ways to understand most things, and we often have only an imagination of one of the ways but not the other.

For example, when we hear praise for capitalism. We hear things like “markets work” and that they lead to “innovation” and “efficiency.” But there are two ways to hear those words. Liberals tend to hear those words as empty promises or deceptive trivialities. Some markets just don’t plain work due to information deficits or transaction costs and some things may not be even CAPABLE of being bought or sold, like friends, votes, or dignity. Fine, I agree.

But I want to emphasize that these words don’t have to be heard as empty trivialities. There is still many powerful effects of market organization and I want to suggest that in this post, there is even something worth having about the unceasing aggressiveness of capitalism.

The way I want to draw out this point is by, as lawyers would say, using exhibit A — southern Europe. In this excellent article, southern europe’s crushing socialist guarantees are revealed to have gone too far. Liberals often scoff at backwater conservatives who horde guns and claim that large government programs lead to naziism or whatever (obviously welfare states, don’t as a rule, cause genocide since many progressive liberal democracies today have enormous welfare states, i.e., the Scandinavian countries). However, smarter conservatives know that while the welfare state does not lead to government totalitarianism, it can lead to a more creeping, less grandiose type of social destruction.

The article makes this point by illustrating how extremely large pensions combined with generous social safety nets, entrenched bureaucrats, and a high level of social regulation can quite literally suffocate the growth of the society and culminate a kind of ugly stagnation in which obsolete bureaucrats and industry magnates hold on to their jobs at the expense of bright innovative, and hard working young people. In Italy, educated people are migrating out of the country at an enormous rate and in Spain, the unemployment is I think the article said 20%.

This is, thank god, not fascism, but again, its not pretty. The PM of Italy has declared that one of the challenges of the coming year is to deal with the widespread disenchantment of an entire generation.

What I’m trying to suggest in this post is something that is so obvious and so trite, but at the same time, for some bizarre reason, worth saying. And that is:  there is a middle ground and it’s hard to find but it must be sought.

Of course untethered capitalism throws many people without skills or training under the bus, and the damage can be daunting. And to be clear, it may be better to ere on the side of too much social provisioning than too little (not sure), but one thing is clear, which is that there is something not just necessary about constraints, but even something good about them. A society cannot enjoy harmony and prosperity if everyone is given a $100,000 pension and unemployment stipends are 80% of your salary for as long as you need (I don’t think its actually like this in Southern Europe, this is just me exaggerating). What eliminating government welfare programs does is push people to succeed on their own. And for some that’s cruel, because “on their own” isn’t very much, but it’s a balance. When someone is “forced” (as those who are very liberal would say) to work for their own living, but succeed, not only does society win from that person’s hard work (and not needing to support them) but THAT person wins by being challenged and coming out victorious. A success is worth nothing if nothing is at stake. Try playing poker for no money. Pretty boring. When real loss is involved, only then is there the possibility of real gain.

Again, it’s an ideal that’s just not an option for some people, and they need help, but instituting wide ranging job guarantees and government support ruins the chance at growth, striving, and effort. All of these things have enormous economic payoffs (compare Italy’s economy to ours), but they also have enormous social, humanistic benefits. We gain better, stronger people who get to feel the simply joy of providing for oneself.

Here’s what I mean by balance. I think healthcare is a no brainer (not necessarily that Obama did it right), but how generous our unemployment benefits should be, and how high taxes should be, etc. etc., are all up for discussion. It has corrosive social effects to consistently take money from society’s hardest working members and give it to those who may be clinging to unfair benefits. In the U.S., the rich I think are much too resentful toward the poor. Their tax burden or whatever just isn’t that much, but as we slide (perhaps) closer and closer to the mid point between completely socialism and complete free marketism, it’s worth remembering, that it is easy to go over to the other side and protect dying industries and jobs with statist coercion when hard-working people want a chance (a chance!) to go to work for long hours.

The threat of statism is not totalitarianism, but stultifying decay.


Spaniards Must Be Killing It

I’ve been reading some stuff about motivation, willpower and self-control, and one thing that helps people exert more energy and follow through on difficult tasks is a sense of perceived effectiveness. When people have confidence in their own abilities, they are more likely to perform tasks successfully and with more focus.

This study is based on an earlier study about soccer matches which shows that people who strongly identify with a team rate their own competency as higher on tasks that they must then perform. The mechanism for this effect is identity formation. Die-hard fans treat the wins and losses of their teams as a kind of personal success or failure, which then affects their own judgment about how competent they are.

Spaniards must be so effective at achieving their goals right now.