Spain wasn’t born in 1978

Published in Expansión

The Iron Law of Oligarchy declares that whatever the form of government —monarchy, aristocracy, republic or democracy— power is always exercised by a very small group of people. Our history, the dynamics of power and human nature itself underpin this law beyond any doubt, so to argue today that democracy is the power of the people is to be a bit naive or, what is worse, maybe a bit of a cynic. In the case of Spain, our recent years of democracy have been deified by the oligarchy because, in doing so, it deified itself. To begin with, there has been the will to reduce “democracy” to the fact that we can vote once every four years for a list of contenders preselected by the oligarchy itself. In general, the criteria to select the people on the list is not their intelligence, their character or their virtues, but rather their willingness to submit to the leader. At the same time, we are led to believe that this very narrow concept of democracy supplies the necessary context for freedom, but it omits its very pillars: separation of powers, transparency in public finances, limitation of power, legal security or real freedom of expression and the press, all of which have deliberately and gradually been infringed in the last decades. When democracy is thus understood it can easily degenerate into a tyranny of the majority, in application of the vox populi, vox Dei that grants the majority du jour the divine power to decide on good and evil, no less, and to do away with all minority’s inalienable rights. It’s the idea of two wolves and a sheep voting what’s for dinner tonight. No. In order to ensure that democracy does not destroy freedom and to protect the sheep’s rights, the majority must be subject to rules which the majority itself cannot modify at its own convenience.

It is inescapable that, like any human work, political systems are necessarily fallible and imperfect, and tend to exacerbate their defects over time due to the abuse of power exercised by those who hold it. Power has a natural tendency to expand and in the individual it tends to develop a very specific pathology. Our current constitutional regime in Spain is no exception.

However, propaganda has been used to such an extreme that it would seem the birth of our nation, our Big Bang as it were, took place in 1978. Before that, it seems only darkness and chaos existed. This denial of Spain as a concept and an institution that existed before and is superior to the Constitution of 78 obscures our history, with its successes and its failures, and leaves a void that is now being filled with fantasy stories, like the Catalonian or Basque nationalist movements or the Leninist-Stalinist left we have to put up with today. Furthermore, this historical distortion encourages a ridiculous and simplistic analysis of our past based exclusively on whether there was a democratic state or not in each period of time, a phenomenon that is quite unique in the world. (No other country judges its past like this: France is proud of De Gaulle and Napoleon, Louis XIV and even its glorified bloody Revolution). The current period is venerated exclusively because it is democratic, whatever the data may reveal, and most of our history is unjustly and childishly demonized, thus damaging our self-esteem as a people. We must vindicate the History of Spain with its absolutely brilliant moments, its mediocre ones and those that were truly sad. The chauvinism displayed by other cultures is completely foreign to the Spanish character, but with the great sobriety and self-criticism that characterizes us, we can undoubtedly feel moderately proud about our nation’s past.

From this point of view, if we look back at the last 40 years with that same sobriety, it is easy to understand that we need to correct our course, but not to turn even more violently to port, as some would have it. In order to heal, however, first we must diagnose the disease in light of the truth, and this brings us to a problem. Our self-complacent oligarchy repeats incessantly that since 1978 (that is, since they are in power) we have lived “the longest period of peace and prosperity in our entire history”. There is no denying that Spain has undergone an important process of transformation and modernization, and has opened up to the world. This notwithstanding, the data does not support a summa cum laude, but rather reflects a more measured vision of this time. As far as “prosperity” is concerned, in the last 40 years the Spanish per capita income in real terms has crawled slowly at the rate of 1.5% per year (compared to the 6% per year it grew during 1950-1974) despite having multiplied our national debt by twelve in terms of GDP, the average unemployment rate has hovered around 17% (the highest rate in the Western world), there has been a fourfold increase in the number of civil servants and the taxes necessary to sustain this structure have risen twofold. Some of these trends are common to other Western countries —though their numbers are not quite as high— but, as far as I know, they do not boast about the last forty years having been the period of greatest prosperity in their history. If we take a look at the “peace” we have enjoyed, fortunately, we have not entered a war, but it is difficult to say that these forty years have been flawless when the Basque and Marxist terrorists have killed almost 1,000 people, there has been a twofold increase in the homicide rate and the prison population has risen fourfold. And what can be said about the growing and unresolved territorial tension that poses a serious threat to the unity of Spain, or to the revival our collective trauma —the Civil War—, encouraged in a sinister way by the totalitarian and fallacious Zapatero-Rajoy Historical Memory Law (you know, the former writes it and the latter turns a blind eye on it when he arrives to power with parliamentary majority), when civil society had managed to turn that sad page long ago.

The data invites reflection —in a mature, dispassionate and equitable manner— on the successes of these last decades, and to humbly accept (and propose to amend) the failures and mistakes, without self-interested triumphalism of any sort. The period since 1978 is one more in our history, with its lights and its shadows, and it leaves a lot of room for improvement. Let us correct the imperfections and excesses with calm and wisdom so we can lay the foundations for the next era of our long history as a nation.