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Response to Review no. 124

I am grateful for Dr. Vincent’s comments in her review of my book Twentieth Century Spain. They are very clear and should prove extremely helpful in a possible future revision of that text.

As the reviewer points out it is not easy to produce a synthetic account of Spain’s troubled century. In contrast to the `gentler story’ of constitutional developments in Britain or the United States, Spain’s long troubled century has seen two monarchies, one republic, two dictatorships and one of the bloodiest civil wars in Europe’s recent history.

It is not surprising that sometimes the reviewer feels that the remorseless march of events seems to dictate the structure. I feel, however, that the narrative has not concealed the text’s main theme, the country’s painful struggle between the past and modernisation. Indeed, my main aim was to provide a new framework for a clear and original interpretation of the last hundred years of Spanish history in a synthesis work of 90,000 words. As noted in the book’s preface, no single author has, since Raymond Carr’s original groundbreaking work more than twenty years ago, attempted this task.

It was especially welcoming to read that the section on the civil war was admirably concise and lucid, far outstripping the theses put forward by other authors. In my opinion, the civil war is the axis around which the history of modern Spain gravitates. The study of this century can be seen clearly in terms of the origins and causes of this fratricidal conflict as well as its aftermath and legacy.

I accept that there probably was an excessive emphasis on the figure of the Dictator, General Francisco Franco, vis a vis that of the regime itself. Furthermore, the reviewer felt that some key moments such as the Hendaye meeting between Franco and Hitler were overly emphasised in relation to other aspects of the dictatorship. However, I still believe that the survival of the regime during the Second World War and the first years of the Cold War had to be covered in far more detail than the relatively period of stability that the dictatorship enjoyed in the 1950s and early 1960s.

I was a bit puzzled by Dr. Vincent’s comments on the last chapter that encompassed the democratic transition and contemporary politics. To write about recent events is a particularly difficult task. Sometimes the historian must give way to the more speculative mission of the political journalist. Dr Vincent might then find that at times this chapter is tinged with some moralising and even conjectural accounts. I did not think the treatment of Felipe Gonz├ílez was too harsh. His role not only as an important Spanish but also European statesman was praised. The PSOE consolidated democracy in Spain and fulfilled their mission of modernising the country. Yet one cannot overlook the financial, corruption and counter-terrorist scandals which plagued that administration in the 1990s. Surely the fact that the German Christian Democrats were themselves soon caught in some financial mischiefs cannot make us ignore those of the Spanish Socialists. If anything, it makes us realise that political corruption is not a monopoly of Southern Europe. More importantly, as emphasised in the book, they also showed the maturity reached by Spain’s civil society. Unlike the old times, they proved that today in Spain neither the rule of law nor public opinion can be constrained. Even more crucial, there was never an attempt to resort to old methods of praetorian intervention to save the motherland from the misdoings of the political class.