The Liberalism of José Antonio


José Antonio Primo de Rivera, fundador de Falange Española

Originally published by: Miguel Quesada, Círculo Hispalense.


Analyzing the figure of José Antonio is a complex task. Not so much because of the depth of the character, but because of the numerous -often contradictory- «studies» about him, which force us to take a healthy distance for any reflection. A modest approach will lead us to find a common thread in the stages of José Antonio, which, in my opinion, responds to much more prosaic reasons than the legendary romantic deeds that have contributed to blurring the figure of Primo de Rivera between clouds of incense.

José Antonio enters the political arena in order to salvage the memory of his father, who is vilified by those to whom the old general gave shelter and strength, including progressives. José Antonio’s upbringing and life were closer to the bourgeoisie than to the nobility, given the illegitimacy of the Marquisate of Estella, granted to his family by Alfonso XII for their ferocity in the repression of the Carlists. For this reason, one has the feeling of being in the presence of a military family, alien to the nobility whose services to the new regime had earned them a noble title. José Antonio’s rejection of the bourgeoisie, many years later, was not so much a reaction to the fact that this was the class par excellence of revolutionary liberalism – so inseparable from his family – as it was to the European fashions of the time, to which José Antonio succumbed, although I suspect from his writings that he did so with little depth beyond aesthetics.

A clear trait in José Antonio is his Adamist profile, that is, the conviction that only his Falange can save Spain. In a handwritten text found in Alicante (noted by Ricardo de la Cierva) and delivered by General Sicardo to Indalecio Prieto, as well as to their respective executors, Raimundo Fernández Cuesta and Ramón Serrano Súñer, José Antonio exposes the limitations of the nationalist side, stating that the good intentions of the generals may not be enough to save the nation, since there are many groups behind the uprising. Aside from the exorbitant importance he gives to groups outside the conspiracy against the Republic, and his criticism of Carlism-which he considers «intransigent, narrow-minded, and unfriendly»-it seems that only his Falange represents the pure essence that must regenerate Spain. From this Adamist grandiosity, however, he moves on to an unprecedented possibilism, stating that the government that emerges from the conflict must integrate the leaders of the various opposing factions-he refers, of course, only to the modern ones. The turn from Adamism to possibilism leads to a second shift.

Arriving at Possibilism, José Antonio made a turn from the original confrontation of his Falange to a synthesis of the confronting elements. Perhaps the Hegelian dialectic had indeed been imported to the young founder from beyond the Pyrenees. Thus, José Antonio pointed out that the only way forward was a truce, with a government headed by Martínez Barrio, with ministries for liberals and socialists of the stature of Ortega, Marañón, and Prieto. The revolutionary ferocity of José Antonio seems to have disappeared, giving way to its original liberal substance; rectius, European revolutionary modernity retreated when it assessed Spanish reaction and took refuge in its old nineteenth-century slogans: sovereignty, nation and secularism. The ninth clause of the document, which authorizes the instruction of the Church under the supervision of the State, is a reference to the latter.

These apparent paradoxes are in fact aporias of a reality that, as its founder insisted, was bound to come to an end. The Falange was thus an entity of reason, a conglomerate of matter without form, ranging from Ortegaism to Nazism. A project that followed the consistent path of its false principles, if it really had any beyond the juxtaposition of slogans, and that went from ultramodernity, or accelerated modernity, to its dissolution, always with the common denominator of having Europe as its beacon and guide.

After José Antonio’s assassination, I am of the opinion that his followers understood the true essence of the Falange, in contrast to some historians who point to the chaos created by the absence of their leader. And the fact is that, beyond the romantic prose of its speeches and slogans, the core of the Falange was the Europeanization of Spain, inherited from its original Ortegaism and the source of its constant fascination with foreignization. For this reason, in Francoism, the Falange symbolized the Left, that is to say, modernity, liberalism, secularism, totalitarianism, sovereignty, socialism, materialism, rationalism, and so on. When Europe mutated into a feeble modernity after the Second World War, the Falangists gradually lost their strength when they were not recycled into social democrats and positions in General Franco’s state.

The Falangist role in Spanish history was thus marked by the liberalism of its founders; the party represented, along with Soviet Bolshevism, the most radical attempt at Europeanizing the Spanish people, seeking to accelerate the pace of the revolution through a new model of foreign inspiration. Fortunately, those were times when heretic and foreigner were still the same thing for a good part of the Spanish people, so its slogans had little appeal. Perhaps if the Falange had been born today, the generalized apostasy would have won it greater support, although its European obsession would have led it to replace syndicalism with ecologism. Who knows?

Miguel Quesada, Círculo Hispalense

Translated by Daniel Rodríguez Guerra, Círculo Carlista Camino Real de Tejas

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