Friday, December 15, 2017

Joan Ramon Resina's "The Ghost in the Constitution"

Joan Ramon Resina is Professor of Iberian and Latin American Cultures at Stanford University. His books include Barcelona's Vocation of Modernity: Rise and Decline of an Urban Image.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Ghost in the Constitution: Historical Memory and Denial in Spanish Society, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Ghost in the Constitution we find a parallelism between the claim of the Falangist “national movement” to combat political sectarianism and the syndicalist rejection of “politics.” In the 1930s, both the extreme right and the extreme left combated “bourgeois democracy” for the purpose of crushing political plurality. The right attacked dissidence in the name of timeless symbols of Castilian imperialism, in a move reminiscent of the Renaissance transference of the political-theological principle of absolute authority to the Castilian nation, identified with its king. “Franco, Spain’s Caudillo through God’s grace—as the motto in Spanish coins declared—turned to this theological foundation of absolute authority in a gesture that found support in Falange’s own recourse to a form of the nostalgic sublime anchored in the combined authoritarianism of Church and Army.”

This page, although from a chapter devoted to the etiology of the violence unleashed during the Spanish Civil War, references the historical background of the book’s subject, namely the social cost of Spain’s political amnesia during the years of the transition from the military dictatorship to the constitutional monarchy. A quarter of a century after the “pact of silence” and the approval of an amnesty law shielding perpetrators of human rights abuses from prosecution and even from exposure (through anti-defamation laws), concern about the “stolen past” emerged in the public media, leading to the enactment of an innocuous “law for the recovery of the historical memory.” The Ghost in the Constitution not only discusses the concept of historical memory, its appropriateness as a source of legislation, and the implications of remembering and denying for the social welfare of a democracy, but also delves into the conditions of forgiveness and reconciliation.

The book’s historical coverage includes the nationalist motivations of the coup d’état against the Republic, the bombing of Guernica, the assault on Catalonia’s cultural specificity and institutions, the experience of the concentration camps, exile, and the precarious nature of memory. The maintenance of indirect forms of censorship and the reemergence of fascist behavior in post-Franco Spain through the perpetuation of “sociological Francoism,” that is, in the expression of nostalgia and tolerance of the values and methods of the dictatorship, is considered as the latency of archaic elements ready to be reactivated under favorable conditions.

In this hypothesis, the established idea of Spain’s transition to democracy as a harmonious resolution of a conflicted past appears seriously flawed. The legend of a consensual suturing of the historical wound (based on a free social contract) disguises the extortion that took place under cover of a political pact and the violence that accompanied its promulgation. “The spate of violent actions in that ominous year of 1977 could not have been coincidental. Important elements of the Francoist apparatus utilized small right-wing groups, always ready for violence, to destabilize society, justify a coup d’état, and block the incipient liberalization.”

The book lays out the reasons for the exhaustion and ultimate failure of the Constitution of 1978 to heal a country that never achieved its alleged national cohesion except under duress. In light of Spain’s regression to undemocratic values and behavior, including negationism and its correlative, the unleashing of right wing violence against dissidents and minorities, the question of memory versus denial emerges as central to the exegesis of the present. Memory, in this sense, is the passkey that unlocks the riddle of Spanish society’s dearth of democratic conviction.
Learn more about The Ghost in the Constitution at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue