Last week I titled my weekly essay on Spain "Spain: Macrosociology of an economic crisis", but I got so caught up in the economic details I never got to the concept of "macrosociology." That's what can happen when I write a headline before I write the essay. By "macrosociology" I mean the sociology of a whole society, not just its economic or justice system, or its problems of urbanization, or its demographic changes, or its religious and other ideological conflicts, or its narrative and musical traditions, but all of these (at least) and how they relate to one another. What I meant to imply by that headline last week was that, to properly understand Spain's current economic problems, we need to understand many other things about Spain, because the peculiarities of its economic crisis cannot be explained by economists alone.
I consider economics to be a specialization within the broader field of sociology, as cardiology within medicine. We need those specialists, but they need us generalists to understand why the systems they focus on don't always function the same way. The bursting of the housing bubble and "sub-prime mortgages" in the U.S. has hurt everywhere, but in different ways in the U.S. and Canada, Germany, Ireland, Greece, or Spain, because social context of political and social pressures, cultural traditions toward spending and consuming, in each of those countries limits what spculators and finance institutions and governments and businesses can do.
In Spain the rapid growth and sudden collapse of an economy overly dependent on the construction industry was facilitated by the weakness of institutional controls over conflict of interest (local city councils in cahoots with and on the take from developers to privatize everything that could yield a profit) and the continuing polarization of the society between rich opportunists, convinced that they deserve every penny that they can steal, and a much larger but more poorly organized segment maintaining collective, communal values. And this polarization and this institutional weakness are both aftermaths of the still-unresolved conflicts, which began before and have continued long since the open war of 1936-39.
The furious campaign to silence Spain's best-known, most admired and most aggressive defender of institutional justice, Baltasar Garzón, is evidence that the hostilities continue. The charges are so absurd, and the accusers uncredible, that respected jurists defending human rights around the world find it hard to believe that Garzón, whom they look to as a leader in their struggle, should be put on trial. But the reasons have become obvious: Garzón's investigations of wrong-doing of the Franco years are intolerable to all those judges who were sworn in at that time or by judges of that era; his investigations in the past of illegal police actions by the Socialist government of Felipe González lost him the support of many of the old Socialists; his discovery of deep and extensive corruption by the right-wing Popular Party has turned the many powerful PP regional political bosses and national deputies (members of parliament) into a lobby to destroy him; and a lot lawyers and judges hate him out of jealousy, because he is so famous and so popular abroad.
And there is another peculiarly Spanish sociological phenomenon: The judicial system is almost entirely corrupted by partisan politics, with judges named not by merit or popular election but by bartering among the politicized judges associations. Thus the judges who have admitted what should have been inadmissible charges, including some that had already been thrown out by earlier courts, are all those who have a grudge against this man.
Something good may come out of this horror, though. The campaign of accusations against Garzón -- that he sinned by daring to investigate human rights violations under Franco, that he ordered phone tapping in the corruption cases, and that he solicited money from the Santander Bank in exchange for dismissing a case against the bank president -- is so absurd that it is bringing to light the far wider corruption of the whole judicial system. We hope Garzón survives, but if his judicial enemies succeed (or even if they don't), they will be the laughing stock of the civilized world, and maybe some serious institutional reform of the system can get underway in this country.