All the current nationalist parties of small nations in Europe — the Scots, the Welsh, the Basque, the Catalans, the Flemish — strongly support membership in the European Union, which is dedicated to, and even predicated upon, the extinction of national sovereignty. One would have thought that these parties wanted, at a minimum, national sovereignty. The contradiction is so glaring that it requires an explanation.
The human mind is not a perfect calculating machine, and no doubt all of us sometimes contradict ourselves. Perfect consistency tends to be disconcerting — but so does glaring inconsistency. It’s possible that the nationalist parties’ leaders don’t perceive the contradiction, being so blinded by ideology that they are simply unaware of it. But another possible explanation exists: by leading their nominally independent countries, they forever will be able to feed at the great trough of Brussels and distribute its largesse in true clientelistic fashion. The nationalist leaders certainly lead their people, but by the nose.
Oddly enough, I have not seen the contradiction between current nationalism and support for remaining in the European Union referred to in the press, though I don’t read every paper in every language. This is surely one of the first times in history, however, that the expression, “Out of the frying pan into the fire,” has become not a warning, but the desired destination of substantial proportions of whole populations.
Theodore Dalrymple, “Nationalist Contradictions in Europe: Why do breakaway political parties want to remain in the European Union?”, City Journal, 2016-06-27.
July 23, 2016
August 16, 2015
Sarah Hoyt on the time when the throne of the Kingdom of Portugal was occupied by the Kings of Spain:
When I was little, one of my favorite times in history class every year was when we studied the Spanish occupation.
From 1560 to 1640 and due to some truly gifted stupid actions of Portuguese kings, the throne of Portugal was occupied by the Philips. The first Philip was the famous Philip of the Armada.
Now the throne of Portugal was acquired as legitimately as any other succession at the time and more legitimately than most. Technically Philip was the late King Sebastian’s nephew. (And possibly first cousin, uncle and grandfather. There is no word on whether the royal lines of Portugal and Spain could play the banjo really well, but if they didn’t it was only because they didn’t have banjos.)
However by the time I studied the occupation or “usurpation” EVERY year of elementary school, great indignation was built towards the Philips. One of the reasons I really liked that lesson is that our prim and elderly school marm would instruct us to bring out our crayons and deface our pictures of Philip of Portugal and Spain. (And for those cringing about destruction of school property, in Portugal you buy your school books. You can sometimes buy them used or inherit them from a sibling — not me, my brother was much older than I and books had changed — but in general everyone from the richest to the poorest bought the school books. I rather suspect, now I think about it, that this keeps the Portuguese publishing system working.)
The reason they were hated, the reason we were instructed to deface the pictures was that while occupying the Portuguese throne, perhaps because they were sure it wouldn’t last, or perhaps because they wanted to reduce the proud and independent spirit of the Portuguese (from their perspective the last of the small kingdoms in the peninsula to be swallowed by the Spanish leviathan) the Philips seemed to go out of their way to destroy all Portuguese interests, possessions and wealth, as well as the Portuguese standing with their allies and the world.
It’s been a long time, and mostly I spent my time studying how to deface a picture, but I remember the Spaniards broke the Portuguese alliance with the English which had lasted almost since before there was England, and save for that interruption has lasted to present day. This meant Portuguese ships could fall prey to the British privateers. They also failed to adequately defend Portuguese colonies and gave some of them away as dowry to Spanish Princesses or perhaps party favors.
There were other things, and the rule must have been felt even at the time as disastrous because particularly in the North a cult of the “King who will return” (in this case King Sebastian, young and possibly nuts or at least a really good banjo player, since his mother was the upteenth Spanish princess the Portuguese kings had married in a row.) He died in a futile attack on the North of Africa (there’s taking the fight to the enemy and then there’s nuts) which left the kingdom without a king. Save the Spaniards.
For years, and then centuries, adding an element of fantasy, the legend grew that he had not died and would return “one foggy morning.”
I must have had a fantastical or romantic bend from early on, because one of my favorite songs was by a group called 1111 (Ah ah) which sang about King Sebastian and how they’d found his horse and pieces of his doublet, his sword and his heart, notwithstanding which he’d come back in a foggy morning to lead the half mad seers and witches of the foggy Northern lands. (Represent, I say, represent.)
However, no matter how bad the Spanish occupation was, in that morality tale it became the inflection point at which Portugal stopped being amazing and became beaten down and down and out. At that moment (even though colonies and empire remained) Portugal was broken in the eyes of the world and in its own eyes.
April 6, 2015
In Reason, Baylen Linnekin talks about wine corks and over-cautious would-be regulators:
We flew into Lisbon and drove across the Spanish border to San Vicente de Alcantara, near Caceres, where DIAM makes many of its corks. Once there, our daylong activities included a detailed tour of the DIAM factory and a visit to the nearby cork forest where DIAM obtains cork, which is made from the bark of the eponymous tree.
As I learned on the DIAM tour, the company’s agglomerated corks are made from natural cork that’s first pulverized. The impurities are then removed. Finally, the pure cork that remains is glued back together into the familiar wine cork shape.
Agglomerated corks have two key benefits over competing corks. First, they cost less than natural corks. Second, they eliminate the problem of cork “taint,” a musty taste caused by the presence of a substance found in cork, TCA, that often ruins wines before they’re ever opened.
Sounds great. Still, concern was raised by a wine writer last month, who suggested, quite wrongly in my opinion, that agglomerated corks may be illegal.
The writer, Lewis Purdue of Wine Industry Insight, suggested that the binding agent used by agglomerated cork makers could be leeching into wine. That agent, TDI, is listed as a potential carcinogen. If it were to migrate from cork to wine, that would be bad.
But testing by DIAM and others has shown no detectable level of TDI in wine, meaning there’s no evidence the substance migrates from cork to wine. DIAM also says, firmly, that no such migration occurs.
“Of course we guarantee there’s no TDI migration,” said François Margot, a sales manager with DIAM, told Wine Business writer Cyril Penn.
In that case, there’s no problem, says the FDA. As the FDA explains, agency rules generally permit food packaging to come into contact with food so long as it’s not “reasonably expected to result in substances becoming components of” food.
Why any fuss over agglomerated corks? It stems not from any FDA interest but, rather, from a push by competitors of agglomerated cork makers.
I dislike the kind of composite corks produced by companies like DIAM, but they’re still better than the plastic or other non-cork wine bottle closures a lot of American wineries are using these days.
February 28, 2015
I don’t drink a lot of Spanish wine, and part of that is that most of the Spanish wines I see in the LCBO remind me too much of their early 1980s counterparts that seemed to embody so many faults (especially cork taint) that few were worth the money. This was probably not true at the upper end of the price scale, but I never had the kind of wine-buying budget to allow me to try the “good stuff” anyway. A recent post by Madeline Puckette at Wine Folly may tempt me to experiment a bit more with Iberian red wines:
Spanish red wines offer offer exceptional value and a bold entry into the red wines of Europe. Here are 7 major Spanish red wines to get a basic understanding of what the country has to offer. You can find great sub-$15 fruity crowd pleasers but there are also bold high tannin red wines that easily match the top collector’s wines of the world.
Wine was introduced to Spain by the Phoenicians in 800 BC. Because of this, the wines of the Iberian peninsula are not the same French varieties we grow in the US. The wines are striking and unique, they also match perfectly with rich foods including thick cut cheddar burgers, empanadas, bbq skewers and pork roast.
December 14, 2014
Spanish legislation imposing a special tax on Google has resulted in Google erasing Spain from their Google News business plan altogether:
Back in October, we noted that Spain had passed a ridiculously bad Google News tax, in which it required any news aggregator to pay for snippets and actually went so far as to make it an “inalienable right” to be paid for snippets — meaning that no one could choose to let any aggregator post snippets for free. Publishers have to charge any aggregator. This is ridiculous and dangerous on many levels. As we noted, it would be deathly for digital commons projects or any sort of open access project, which thrive on making content reusable and encouraging the widespread sharing of such content.
Apparently, it’s also deathly for Google News in Spain. A few hours ago, Google announced that due to this law, it was shutting down Google News in Spain, and further that it would be removing all Spanish publications from the rest of Google News. In short, Google went for the nuclear option in the face of a ridiculously bad law:
But sadly, as a result of a new Spanish law, we’ll shortly have to close Google News in Spain. Let me explain why. This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not. As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.
Every time there have been attempts to get Google to cough up some money to publishers in this or that country, people (often in our comments) suggest that Google should just “turn off” Google News in those countries. Google has always resisted such calls. Even in the most extreme circumstances, it’s just done things like removing complaining publications from Google News, or posting the articles without snippets. In both cases, publishers quickly realized how useful Google News was in driving traffic and capitulated. In this case, though, it’s not up to the publishers. It’s entirely up to the law.
October 7, 2014
In the Daily Express, Marco Giannangeli lists the latest border and airspace violations in Gibraltar by supposedly “friendly” Spanish agents:
It comes hours after revelations that Spanish fighter jets flew “across the bow” of a Monarch airliner packed with holidaymakers from Manchester as it was landing on the Rock.
That incident prompted Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell to challenge the British Government to finally send Spain’s Ambassador to Britain “packing back to Madrid”.
The latest incursion happened yesterday when a Spanish Government research vessel entered British Gibraltar Territorial Waters off the southern tip of Gibraltar, Europa Point, to “take samples” of the reef at 3pm local time.
It was immediately surrounded by Royal Navy patrol vessels and told to leave British waters.
The demands were ignored by the Spanish vessel, the Angeles Alvarino, which proceeded to drop probes into the water.
It is understood that the boat then performed several reckless manoeuvres and one of the survey probes actually landed on a Royal Navy Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat, which had been sent out to the vessel.
“Once again we have witnessed an unacceptable act of aggression from Spain,’ said a furious Gibraltar Government spokesman today.
The incident outraged Government officials and prompted senior Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, chair of the parliamentary overseas territory group, to challenge foreign secretary Philip Hammond to finally expel the Spanish Ambassador.
“It is outrageous that Spain continues to behave in such an irresponsible and bullying fashion,” he said.
“Spain refuses to let British military jets fly over Spanish airspace on the way to Gibraltar even though they are partners in Nato, yet they think it’s fine to illegally enter British airspace and potentially distract an airliner as it is trying to safely land on the Rock.
“It’s time that the British Government sent the Spanish Ambassador packing back to Madrid. We are fed up with the bullying and intimidation from Spain, and it’s time that we showed them that we are no longer prepared to put up with it.”
September 17, 2014
Spanish vessels have been making more frequent and blatant incursions into the waters around Gibraltar recently, and the governor has made it public that he supports the deployment of another, larger RN ship in the area to help deter these jaunts:
Governor Sir James Dutton has publicly voiced strong support for the deployment of a larger British naval vessel to patrol Gibraltar’s territorial waters.
Sir James, a retired Royal Marine with a distinguished military record, said such a move would send “a really valuable message” in the face of persistent incursions by Spanish state vessels.
“I think it should happen, I have always thought it should happen, I’ve always said it should happen,” he said during a wide-ranging interview on GBC’s Talk About Town.
Sir James said deployment of an offshore vessel would strengthen the Royal Navy’s ability to patrol British waters and stay at sea for longer periods of time.
The governor also revealed that “many” officials at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office supported such a deployment, but that other factors had to be considered including parallel demands on the UK’s limited resources.
“I would be lying if I said one is going to arrive next week, but there is a strong push for it and there is a lot of sympathy, there is a lot of support,” he said.
During the interview, Sir James said Spain was unlikely to shift in its 300-year old position on Gibraltar and that it was important to seek ways of managing the situation through diplomacy so that tensions did not escalate. He said Britain now had a “pretty slick” process of responding to Spanish incursions and said that in the more serious cases, people should not underestimate the impact of calling in the Spanish ambassador, as has happened several times over the past year.
July 12, 2014
In the Globe and Mail, Jack Granatstein remembers many occasions where individual Canadians have chosen to get involved in other peoples’ wars:
Some historical perspective might suggest that Canadians serving in foreign armies is not new to our times. Many Canadians served in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, fighting for the Union and against slavery. Upward of 50,000 Canadians are estimated to have enlisted in the Union forces, and a few hundred wore Confederate grey. Union recruiters operated openly in the Canadas during the war, and many Canadians went south to join up. Even Calixa Lavallée, the composer of O Canada, served as a Union officer. No one objected strenuously.
A few years later, Bishop Ignace Bourget and the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec raised troops to help defend the Papal States against the forces seeking unification of Italy. More than 500 well-educated francophones enlisted in the Papal Zouaves, ready to sail to Italy to defend the Vatican’s territory. Not all the Zouaves made it to Rome by the time the struggle ended in 1870, but eight died. Once again there were few complaints, although Protestants were surely annoyed at this ultramontane Catholic fervour.
In the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War pitted General Francisco Franco’s Nationalists against the Republican government of Spain. Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy supported the Nationalists. The Soviet Union backed the Republicans; so did at least 1,300 Canadians who volunteered to fight against fascism and went to Spain to serve in what went on to become the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, while another 300 fought in the American Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
The worry about today’s Canadians-fighting-in-foreign-wars revolves primarily around young Muslim men going abroad to fight religious wars. Thus far, few of them have come back to Canada with an obvious intent to bring the war back with them:
None of those war veterans brought jihad home to Canada, a legitimate concern we live with today, although some communists who fought in Spain might have had attitudes inimical to the Canadian capitalist state. Most of the Islamist volunteers, if they survive to return to Canada, will likely settle down to a “normal” life. But so long as ideology, religion, adventurism and a soldier’s pay still matter, Canadians will likely continue going off to fight in other people’s wars.
June 14, 2014
I didn’t watch this game, but apparently I missed quite the event. A Dutch friend of mine took to Twitter to express his joy through the course of the game:
Netherlands vs. Spain in ~20 mins! Go #Oranje! Show these Spanish folks that they were lucky last World Cup.
— Ollannach (Marc) (@Ollannach) June 13, 2014
And we're back! 1-1 #spainvsnetherlands
— Ollannach (Marc) (@Ollannach) June 13, 2014
— ::TwitGrap:: (@TwitGrap) June 13, 2014
For you English folks: "ontspan je" = relax Spanje = Spain ;).
— Ollannach (Marc) (@Ollannach) June 13, 2014
I'm definitely enjoying this. Great game to start with! #spainvsnetherlands
— Ollannach (Marc) (@Ollannach) June 13, 2014
5-1 #spainvsnetherlands !!!!!!!!
— Ollannach (Marc) (@Ollannach) June 13, 2014
You get what you deserve Spain, don't ever take our world cup away again ;).
— Ollannach (Marc) (@Ollannach) June 13, 2014
February 12, 2014
Another day, another non-Spanish leader or ex-leader being charged with crimes against humanity in a Spanish court … but perhaps not for long:
Spain’s MPs voted on Tuesday to push forward with a bill that limits the power of Spanish judges to pursue criminal cases outside the country, a move that human rights organisations said would end Spain’s leading role as an enforcer of international justice.
Last month, the ruling People’s party (PP) tabled a fast-track legal change to curb the use of universal jurisdiction, a provision in international law that allows judges to try cases of human rights abuses committed in other countries. Since being adopted into Spanish law nearly two decades ago, the doctrine has allowed Spanish judges to reach beyond their borders and investigate serious human rights abuses in countries such as Argentina, Rwanda and Guatemala.
Its use put the Spanish justice system into the headlines at times — most famously for the 1998 arrest of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London.
“This reform makes it even harder to probe into severe human rights abuses,” said Ignacio Jovtis, of Amnesty International Spain. “It’s a step backwards for human rights and justice.”
Nearly two dozen international human rights groups have spoken out against the change, calling it political interference in the justice system and urging the government to abandon the reform.
It’s one thing to provide a venue for pursuing violations of civil rights, but it’s quite another to allow your justice system to become an international laughingstock. Spain’s legal system has come dangerously close to the latter with the current law in place. It certainly has created some awkward situations like this:
MPs voted to push ahead with the move a day after a court in Spain ordered Interpol to issue arrest warrants for the former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, as well as four senior Chinese officials, over alleged human rights abuses in Tibet decades ago.
The arrest orders come just as Spain is seeking to lift its sagging economy by deepening trade relations with the Asian superpower.
China issued a sharp rebuke, leaving little question that the issue had strained ties between the two countries. “China is strongly dissatisfied and firmly opposed to the erroneous acts taken by the Spanish agencies in disregard of China’s position,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, at a daily briefing.
January 11, 2014
Spain has decommissioned 18 ships over the past six years, including the aircraft carrier Príncipe de Asturias:
Despite increased budgets and investment in certain weapon developments, the Spanish Ministry of Defence states that their overall budget has depleted by 32% since the start of the financial crisis, with 8.4 billion in the kitty in 2008, dropping to a mere 5.75 billion planned for 2014.
As a result, the Ministry says that it has no choice but to reduce costs, thus resulting in a significant reduction in high profile military elements, like the decommissioning of 18 naval ships in the past 6 years.
One of the most iconic ships to be withdrawn last year was the aircraft carrier Príncipe de Asturias, decommissioned after 25 years of service, considered a somewhat tragic sight when she arrived at the Arsenal Militar de Ferrol for final discharge from service. But as the last Captain of the vessel, Alfredo Rodríguez Fariñas, explained, modernization and maintenance of the ‘Prince of Asturias’ cost the MoD a hundred million per year.
Part of the strategy is the withdrawal of these costly and purpose built ships, in favour of more modern craft that meets the needs to the Navy’s international mission, such as the activities in the Indian Ocean where the frigate Álvaro de Bazán and maritime action ship Tornado are currently patrolling, and the ship Cantabria, currently in the sea off the Australian coast.
December 20, 2013
David Friedman is running a seminar called “Legal Systems Very Different from Ours” and one of the students in the seminar chose to do her paper on the Mayan legal system … or at least what we can deduce from the various sources. We don’t have a coherent view on many aspects of the Mayan culture, but he identifies the key sources that can be drawn from:
1. Modern Archeology.
The advantage is that one can dig up ruins, artifacts, other physical remains of a civilization and date them. Physical objects, unlike written texts or oral tradition, can’t lie or be mistaken.
The disadvantage is the problem of interpreting what you find — which may well depend in part on what you expect to find. As Chesterton pointed out, future archaeologists might conclude that the 19th century English believed the dead could smell things, as shown by the evidence of flowers in grave sites.
2: The oral traditions and current practices of the descendants of the Maya civilization.
The advantage of that source of information is that there are lots of people who are bilingual in one of the Maya languages and a modern language, so anthropologists who interview them can avoid the problem of making sense of an ancient language and an extinct system of writing.
The disadvantage is that we do not know how much of what current Maya believe about events in the distant past is true, nor to what degree current institutions preserve the institutions of the distant past.
3. A book written in Spanish by a 16th century Spanish Bishop describing his observations shortly after the conquest.
The advantage is that it is written in a language we can read, using a writing system we can read, based on first hand observation.
The disadvantages are, first, that it is first hand observation by a single observer of a society very different from his own, and second that the observer had serious biases that may well have affected what he observed and recorded. […]
November 2, 2013
Daniel Bogre Udell looks at the state of the independence movement in Catalonia, which has been part of Spain since the War of Spanish Succession in 1714, except for a brief interlude during the Spanish Civil War:
This year, on September 11, hundreds of thousands of Catalans joined hands to form a human chain that extended 460 kilometers across their region, from the French Pyrenean border to Valencia. Complete with matching t-shirts and slogans, this robust act of protest was astonishingly well-organised, which came as no surprise: it was in fact the echo of a mass demonstration that took place one year prior, when a million people took to the streets of Barcelona under the banner: “Catalonia: The Next State in Europe.”
The day after that first demonstration, Catalan President Artur Mas publicly endorsed the protest and called for a referendum on independence. Shortly after, he convoked early elections which produced a sweeping pro-referendum majority in Barcelona.
Overnight, Catalan politics changed. The Independentists were now in control. Unionists softened their rhetoric. Nearly two hundred towns in the Catalan countryside preemptively declared independence [ca]. Parliament passed a declaration of sovereignty.
Instead of taking this clamor seriously and engaging the Catalan public, most in the Spanish government, including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, positioned themselves firmly as antagonists. They insisted that referendum was illegal, framing Catalan nationalists as enemies of democracy and, in some extreme cases, comparing the sovereignty movement to Nazism.
They have also tried to promote the idea of Catalan nationalist ambitions as parochial and irrelevant. After a meeting with Catalan business leaders in Barcelona this month, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister claimed not to have noticed any strong markers of regional identity. In a recent English-language interview with The Wall Street Journal, Prime Minister Rajoy described the hypothetical advent of Catalan independence as contrary to the world’s “natural evolution.” When addressing the Spanish public at the UN General Assembly, he went out of his way assure those in the chamber that none of his fellow world leaders had asked him about Catalonia.
Behind closed doors, however, it seems that Spanish officials are more concerned than their dismissive behavior implies: recently, Spain’s UN delegation drafted a report on how best to respond if Catalan leaders take their case to the international community in the wake of a successful referendum on independence. It asserted that Madrid could possibly draft security council allies into blocking Catalonia’s full statehood, but would be relatively powerless to stop the region’s admission as a General Assembly observer.
“Catalonia: The Next Partially-Recognized State” may not be as elegant a turn of phrase as those coined by activists, but it nonetheless haunts politicians in Madrid.
September 13, 2013
If you’re not already enthralled by watching Canada’s separatist movement in Quebec or the Scottish independence campaign, there’s a potentially even more disruptive separation brewing in Spain. Tyler Cowen thinks it’s not getting as much media exposure as it deserves:
Personally, I am still waiting to hear why Catalonian independence would not bring the fiscal death knell of current Spain, and thus also the collapse of current eurozone arrangements and perhaps also a eurozone-wide depression. Otherwise I would gladly entertain Catalonia as an independent nation, or perhaps after the crisis has passed a referendum can be held. When referenda are held during tough times, it is often too easy to get a “no” vote against anything connected with the status quo.
Is the view simply that “now is the time to strike” and “it is worth it”? Obviously, an independence movement will not wish to speak too loudly about transition costs, but I would wish for more transparency. Or is the view that Spain could fiscally survive the shock of losing about twenty percent of its economy, with all the uncertainties and transition costs along the way? That could be argued, but frankly I doubt it, OMT or not, furthermore other regions would claim more autonomy too. An alternative, more moralizing view is that the fiscal problems are “Spain’s fault in the first place” and need not be discussed too much by the pro-independence side, but I am more consequentialist and marginal product-oriented than that.
This piece, in Catalan, does cover the fiscal implications of debt assumption for an independent Catalonia. The site also links to this somewhat spare piece by Gary Becker, but I still want more of a discussion of the issues raised above.
Keep in mind that two clocks are ticking. The first is that education in Catalonia is becoming increasingly “hispanicized,” the second is that as economic conditions in Spain improve, or maybe just become seen as a new normal, getting a pro-secession vote in a referendum may become harder. It doesn’t quite seem like “do or die” right now, but overall time probably is not on the side of Catalonian independence.
For those that assume Catalonia has always been part of Spain, Edward Hugh discusses why September 11 has been an important date in Catalonian history for nearly 300 years:
Catalonia was a party in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), where the old crowns of Castile and Aragon fought, alongside their European allies, over who should be crowned as king of Spain following the death of Charles II. Catalonia, which favoured archduke Charles as successor, lost a war which ended with Europe recognising Philip V as the new king of Spain. The long war ended with a prolonged siege of Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, which was systematically bombarded by Spanish troops fighting for the Bourbon candidate, Philip V. After months of resistance Barcelona finally surrendered on September 11 1714. Modern Spain was born, but Catalonia was to pay a heavy price for its support for the Austrian candidate: Catalan language was forbidden and Catalan institutions abolished. Every year, on September 11, Catalans commemorate the day on which Barcelona fell, honouring those killed defending the country’s laws and institutions.
August 31, 2013
In an older post at the Guardian, Miguel-Anxo Murado looks at the place of the monarchy in Spanish society:
King Juan Carlos of Spain must be one of the most Shakespearian kings, ever. His grandfather was ousted from the throne like Richard II, and like Richard III, his brother was killed (though in Carlos’ case it was a tragic accident). Like Hamlet he had a difficult relationship with his father, and like Macbeth, he arrived at the crown by way of an evil creature (General Franco). It sounds inevitable that, like King Lear, in his old age he would be cursed with troublesome daughters. Now, one of them, Princess Cristina, has been summoned by a judge. She has to answer for allegations that, together with her husband the Duke of Palma, they misappropriated millions of euros in public funds. Some say this scandal, the latest in a long series of royal mishaps, threatens the very institution of monarchy in Spain. But is it so?
The rule of King Juan Carlos of Spain is a very interesting example of how the essence of monarchy is not history, but a story — and how tricky that is. The Spanish monarchy is a literary institution. It was born outside and above the law. Its legitimacy was based on symbols, metaphors and, first and foremost, on storytelling: a mostly imaginary tale of continuity and exceptionality. Modernity changed this a bit, but not by much. Like theatre, monarchy had begun like a religious cult and ended in a popular spectacle. That was all. In stable systems like the UK, this transition from statecraft to stagecraft could be done more or less effectively, but in Spain it was pushing the trick too far.
Like with all story-telling, there’s some truth in this fiction. Yes, the king did assist the transition to democracy, and he stood against the 1981 military coup. Yet the often overlooked fact here is that he had no alternative if he wanted to reign. It was true that he was not ostentatious, but he wasn’t austere either. It is true that he seems a likeable person, but not exemplary. He was a patron of the WWF, but he also loves hunting elephants. He needed not to be perfect, but now he has to, because that was the nature of the narrative his friends concocted.