Conservatives, innovators and renovators


El P. Federico Suárez Verdeguer

Originally published: «Conservadores, innovadores y renovadores», by Félix Mª Martín Antoniano. 


Federico Suárez, during his 1955-56 opening lesson of the academic year in the then Opus Dei’s General Study in Pamplona, took a first step towards the suppression of the (until then prevailing) simplistic scheme that established «absolutists» and «liberals» as the main actors through the transition from the Old Regime to the Revolution. He distinguished between «conservatives» (in order to refer to the afrancesados —Francophiles— that wanted to maintain the enlightened measures implemented during the reigns of Charles III and, especially, Charles IV, and who felt comfortable in a Bonapartist kind of regime) and «reformers», which were all in agreement about their rejection of the state of affairs left at the end of the reign of Charles IV, but which differed in the sense of their «reform» (Suárez gave the name of «renovators» to the royalists, who only wanted to correct the enlightened measures from the previous Carolean reigns, maintaining the current secular Spanish  monarchical regime; and he set aside the epithet of «innovators» for liberals, which wanted as «solution» to directly break up with the current Spanish traditional regime).

We think that this new scheme does not gather in its full complexity the political position of the actors of those decisive times from the reign of Ferdinand VII (1808 – 1833), and we base this affirmation on the prodigious documentary and bibliographical compilation accomplished by Suárez himself and his school, during the following decades, in order to elucidate that period.  We believe that we may distinguish, on one hand, a neat and clear group of publicists that advocated for a rectification of the course set by enlightened ministers since the period of Charles III (some, in their corrective efforts, even go back to the beginning of the Habsburg period), which were characterised by their defense of the current politic regime in favour of the King and of Religion, and which benefited from the support of almost the entire Spanish people: we are talking about the royalists, to whom we believe it is better to refer by this same name with which they were known in those times («realistas»).

On the other hand, grouping all of those publicists that can be labeled as «anti-royalists», many of which, despite being a minority that did not benefit from the approval of the people, held high ranks within the Monarchy, we may distinguish between three well separated categories:

  • The enlightened men from the Carolean period. Dr. Vicente Pou refers to them when he affirms in his La España en la presente crisis (Spain in the present crisis) from 1842: «No one ignores that the men of the Spanish “golden middle” belong to the old school that since the last third of the last century was known in Spain by the too notorious names of Aranda, Campomanes and other illustrious characters which ostensibly founded it». We think that they cannot not be labeled as «conservatives», but as authentic «reformators», who intended to base their fundament on an allegedly «lost» Gothic tradition in order to establish their ill-fated political novelties. The majority of them went over to Josephinism, which they considered as the perfect system, although not few of them evolved towards the other two positions that we will see next. Many of them returned to occupy high ranks during the two periods of Ferdinand VII (mostly during the second one, due to the pressure of the Holy Alliance), and were known as the «party of the moderates», the mortal enemy enemy of the royalists. They reached their zenith after the Mutiny of La Granja, with the Cabinet of Cea Bermúdez (October 1832 – January 1834).
  • The French-style radical liberals. They were characterised by breaking up with the Spanish Monarchy’s whole juristic and legal regime (whom they held accountable for the circumstantial abuses of the ministerial despotism). They considered that the enlightened reforms could only consolidate by establishing a French-like Constitution. They achieved their highest triumph with the 1812 Constitution of Cadiz.
  • The British-style moderate liberals. They had Jovellanos as their founder, and considered that, in order to secure the enlightened reforms, it was enough to establish «Cortes» (Parliament) and Rules of Procedure for it according to the British model. During the Three Liberal Years («Trienio Liberal») they eventually split from the radical liberals. They got their triumph with the Royal Statute («Estatuto Real») of 1834.

Félix M.ª Martín Antoniano

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