The Magazine

At War with Itself

Spain, the Spaniards, and their internecine history.

Aug 11, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 45 • By MARK FALCOFF
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On the other hand, the proximate cause of their hasty departure was a failure on the part of the revolutionary left to distinguish between bourgeois democrats and fascists. Astounding as it may seem, the anarchist hit list in June 1936 included such figures as cellist Pablo Casals and the diplomat-scholar Salvador de Madariaga, both of whom took flight before they could be "taken for a ride" (in the gruesome parlance of the day). They were promptly joined in exile by a virtual Who's Who of high culture: philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, critic Ramón Menéndez Pidal, poet Antonio Machado, physician-novelist Gregorio Marañón, man of letters Ramón Pérez de Ayala, poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, historian Américo Castro, novelist Ramón Gómez de la Serna, historian Rafael Altamira--the list seems endless.

Ironically, those who remained uncritical supporters of the new regime and left only in 1939--notably poet Rafael Alberti and filmmaker Luis Buñuel--were the ones who prospered most mightily in exile, beneficiaries of the sedulously cultivated myth of a martyred Spanish democracy.

Most of the prominent figures of Spanish culture that fled went first to France, eventually ending up in Mexico, Cuba, or Argentina, where they had plenty of time to reflect upon the fate of their country. There was even a republic-in-exile whose "president" sat in Paris and whose government was diplomatically recognized by Mexico, though by no one else. The question of what had gone wrong with the republic (and whose fault it was) continued to fill the pages of ephemeral publications and to agitate café tables, as well as the question of when it was politically correct (if ever) to return to Spain before the expected collapse or overthrow of the Franco regime.

By the 1960s the Caudillo, now presiding over a modest economic recovery, and granted new international respectability thanks to the vagaries of Cold War politics, felt confident enough to be reasonably forgiving of exiles with no previous Communist affiliations. Marañón defended his decision to return by saying, "I prefer the Inquisition to the Inquisition plus pedantry plus hypocrisy," e.g., the meaningless squabbles of exile factions.

The dictator no longer had any reason to fear intellectuals, since the rise of a consumer society was pushing them to the margins of public life anyway. Those who waited until after his death were in for a far bigger shock than those who had returned earlier. Max Aub, who came back from Mexico, complained that his country was no longer the site of struggle and heroics, but "a Spain of mediocrity, of the refrigerator and the washing machine."

Mark Falcoff, resident scholar emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute, is working on a study of the Hispanic world.