Review: Republicanism and Anticlerical Nationalism in Spain, by Enrique A. Sanabria

by Rebeca on July 8, 2009

Republicanism and Anticlerical Nationalism in Spain, by Enrique A. SanabriaRepublicanism and Anticlerical Nationalism in Spain
Enrique A. Sanabria
Palgrave Macmillan 2009
258 pages

 Reviewed by Randall Radic 

In today’s world, most people have some familiarity with what is known in history as The Inquisition, which was when – during the 13th century – the Roman Catholic Church established a tribunal called the Holy Office.  The function of this tribunal was the discovery and suppression of heresy, and the punishment of heretics.  In other words, the Church went after people who didn’t do, believe, and act the way the Church wanted them to. 

Monty Python did some great spoofs on the Inquisition, by the way.

What most people don’t know is that the Church got its comeuppance a few hundred years later.  In other words, every dog has its day.  There comes a day when the dog bites back.  During the 16th century, the dog got tired of being kicked around and turned on its master.  The turning movement was called anti-clericalism.  Anti-clericalism is an attack on the Church, its clergy, and their power. It’s still around today, too.  Only it’s not as violent or bloody as it used to be.  Nowadays, instead of killing priests, vandalizing religious sites, and seizing churches, the anti-clerics commit a different kind of violence.  They kill their victims softly – with words.  They write books exposing them and articles that flay them.  For example, Saussy wrote Rulers of Evil, and Malachi Martin wrote The Jesuits.

In his new book, Enrique Sanabria, who is a professor of Iberian and Atlantic World History at the University of New Mexico, uncloaks the anti-clericalism that took place in Spain in 1931. The book is entitled Republicanism and Anticlerical Nationalism in Spain.  And it’s a humdinger!  Professor Sanabria knows his subject matter inside and out.  And what is most astounding is this:  for an egghead, he writes very, very well.  He keeps it interesting.  There is a small delightful spark of life in his sentences, which means his readers can set aside their stoic resignation, and actually enjoy the book and the story it tells.

The story goes like this: the Republican government came to power in Spain in 1931.  Now this kind of Republican is not like a Republican in the USA circa 2009.  No sirree, Bob.  Some of the Spanish Republicans were Communists.  You know, the guys McCarthy got apoplectic about after WW2.  Anyway, these Spanish Republicans didn’t like the Spanish Monarchy, naturally.  And they didn’t like the Catholic Church and its priests because they supported the monarchy.  In other words, the Church knew which side its bread was buttered on. 

The Republicans secularized education, which meant no more private, religious schools.  And they tossed the Jesuits out of the country.  Then they nationalized the Church’s properties and made the Church pay rent and taxes in order to use what had once upon a time been theirs. 

Payback is a bitch, isn’t it?  

It was politics is what it was.  And as usual, the political junk got out of hand and the next thing that happened was Civil War in Spain.  During the Civil War, lots of churches were destroyed.  Thirteen bishops and about 7000 priests were executed, along with 283 nuns.  Needless to say, the Catholic Church opted to support General Franco and the Nationalist forces.  From the Church’s standpoint, it was a good choice, especially since Franco won and became dictator of Spain.  The Church knows how to pick a winner.

Professor Sanabria spices up the story by focusing on Jose Nakens, who was the editor of the most important liberal magazine in Spain.  The magazine was called New Life, which is almost humorous, because the name carries its own religious connotations.  Nakens was a Communist, and part of the industrialized production of anticlerical newspapers, books, cartoons and propaganda against the corruption of the Church and the monarchy.  The fascinating result of all the propaganda was this:  hatred of the Church and its clergy was used as a unifying agent by the Republicans.  Of course, the reason it worked as a unifying agent was because it was true.  The Church and the monarchy were corrupt, and everybody knew it. 

All in all, it got kind of complicated, but Sanabria does a good job of untying the knot so the reader understands what’s going on and why.

It’s a very good story – and a true one – told in a rich voice, under exquisite lilting control.  And in the end it leads the reader to some inescapable conclusions:  for one, extravagant ambition is bad.  For two, it’s probably best for everyone concerned if Church and State never get married. 

“You gotta’ keep ‘em separated.”

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