This week in Spain

Cartoon by Peridis, El País 5 Oct. 2007

The fallout from "Crawford"
José María Aznar (the mustachioed face above) must have been really stung by the revelations of his private conversations with George Bush, in Crawford, Texas, on 22 Feb. 2003, just before Bush launched his "Operation Iraqi Freedom" -- transcripts that showed that he knew Bush had made the decision to invade, even while he was claiming that he and Bush and Blair were still seeking a diplomatic solution. The transcripts were unearthed by a British lawyer who passed them on to El País, which broke the story last Tuesday. (Here's Ernesto Ekaizer's original 25 Sept. front-page article, accompanied by a wonderfully goofy photo of Aznar being petted by Bush.)

The Crawford transcripts compound an enduring embarrassment to Aznar's Partido Popular, the party's responsibility for dragging the country into an unpopular and disastrous war. This famous photo of the Azores meeting with Blair, Bush and Aznar grinning about the easy victory they expected in Iraq is republished every time the Partido Popular tries to duck responsibility.

But Aznar is far from repentant. Just yesterday he delivered what El País describes as "un furibundo discurso", a hellfire and damnation tirade against the now-governing socialists and President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in particular, for "rustling through old files to find something diffamatory." Wow! Most amazing, he condemns Zapatero for getting Spain out of Iraq and ending Spain's lapdog subservience to U.S. policy. According to him, Zapatero has taken Spain out of the front ranks of international diplomacy, relegating it "once again to the corner of those countries that don't matter, the club of irrelevant countries." And this man (Aznar) presents himself as a Spanish patriot, defending Spain's integrity and sovereignty. But not, apparently, its independence.

Conflicting nationalisms
Lots of media space has been taken up by some very minor and silly outbursts in Catalonia (the burning of photographs of King Juan Carlos I by young men demanding Catalonian independence) and some potentially more serious confrontations in the Basque country, consisting of threats to the mayoress and a refusal to allow the national flag to be flown at city hall in one small Basque town where nationalists claim to belong to another, non-Spanish country. These smaller nationalisms (Basque, Catalonian, Galician -- and there are others in this very diverse country) get harder and more aggressive in reaction to the kind of Spanish patriotism that Aznar and his cronies demand and that the party's current leader, Mariano Rajoy (shown above reclining upon the "rock" of Aznar) constantly reiterates: exclusivist and denying legitimacy to some very deeply felt and long-standing traditions and loyalties to the respective "patrias chicas" (small homelands). The democratic Constitution of 1978 doesn't let the PP go as far as Franco in suppressing them, but the party has organized huge rallies against the proposed revision of Catalonia's statute of autonomy. This attitude drives many Catalans and Basques, and some Gallegos and other national groups, up their respective walls. And the predictable, if regrettable, aggressive outbursts by Catalans, in their ways, and Basques in other ways, are magnified by the PP to claim that, under the Socialists, "Spain is breaking apart." As though it were any more together when Aznar governed.

Pending issues
Many other things have occurred in Spain this week. They include events related to overbuilding, urban corruption and the crisis of the real estate industry; the huge and amazingly stupid opposition of the Catholic Church and its allies to the proposed "Education for Citizenship"; Spain's involvement and casualties in Afghanistan; the struggle over the official "Historical Memory" of the 1936-39 Civil War. But since all these are ongoing issues, I ought to be able to address them in future dispatches.

I'm going to try to put together a summary like this every week. Let me know what you think of it, and what else you'd like to know about regarding Spain.


Everything really is going to hell...

... if Bush & Cheney carry out the attack on Iran that they've been planning. Since the last two invasions (Iraq & Afghanistan) have proven so disastrous, the only thing that occurs to the Bush Administration is to create another, even more dangerous war. Before that happens, listen to these Iran experts interviewed by Amy Goodman.


Everything's going to hell…

… and there's not much we can do about it, according to Richard Sennett's most recent book. Sennett, Richard. The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006, argues that 3 values of the "old" capitalism are eroded or lost in the "new" and should be restored: narrative, the sense that one's life has a pattern & is going somewhere (impossible when companies outsource everything & everybody is freelance with no job rights or pension & the older they get, the less employable they become); usefulness, the sense that one's activity actually benefits somebody--now available only in low-status or volunteer service activities; & craftsmanship, the value of doing something well--eroded where youth, energy & obedience are rewarded and experience is not, which is almost everywhere these days. In his final sentence, Sennett proposes, "Perhaps, indeed, revolt against this enfeebled culture will constitute our next fresh page."

But in such a scenario of seamless gloom, where is revolt supposed to come from? Cheer up, Richard. It's not so seamless. In fact, as Ulrich Beck (see below) and many others have recognized, it's a chaos of opposing global forces out there (transnational businesses, states and combinations of states, and nongovernmental organizations of all kinds) and like any mêlée, it's bound to create new opportunities among the disasters. Political craftsmanship in such confusion will be rewarded, new narratives composed, and commitment (even if to an illusory cause) may prove as satisfying as real usefulness. It always has.


Roots & wings

In his much-praised recent book, Ulrich Beck, German sociologist and professor at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität in Munich, demonstrates why neither nation-states nor international capital alone can save us from the many dangers of the "globalized" globe, and proposes an alliance of these two forces (which can't be ignored) with global "civil society" movements -- not to withdraw from globalization, but to engage it and realize its potential for making a better world for all of us.

Beck, Ulrich. Power in the Global Age: A New Global Political Economy. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity, 2005.

Beck argues that: 1. The most urgent problems are now too global to be dealt with effectively by any state (global warming, pollution, exhaustion of carbon fuels, AIDS and other diseases, immigration, terrorism, etc.); 2. Transnational organizations (UN, WTO, NATO, etc.) are clumsy and ineffective, because they are still playing by obsolete "rules" of seeking common ground among states rather than among citizens; 3. Global capital is thus unrestrained by laws except companies' own "extralegal laws" of agreements among themselves, and exercises power over states by nonviolent means of threatening not to invest (in, say, Bolivia, if its laws become too uncomfortable) -- though companies do have to invest somewhere in order to survive, and fierce competition among and within companies makes their leaders' power precarious; 4. Global NGOs can exploit the vunerabilities of global capital (e.g., by organizing consumer boycotts) and pressuring states (e.g., by mobilizing voters and demonstrators), either to solve terrible humanitarian or ecological problems (e.g., Greenpeace, Amnesty International) or exacerbating them (e.g., al-Qaeda -- which is another kind of global nongovernmental organization).

The only hope for humanity is for these three forces (states, which are still necessary instruments of power, enlightened global capital, and global civil society) to combine forces as cosmopolitans, meaning that they feel themselves as belonging simultaneously to the cosmos and to the polis ("glocalization"), not to impose a Western vision of democracy or American culture or any other particular ideology ("universalism" of this sort is imperialism), but recognizing and accepting "the otherness of others" (die Andersheit der Anderen), different strokes for different folks, all recognizing one another's rights to live in a better world.

He says all that in far too many words (my favorite, from p. 286, is Globalisierungsbefürwortungsgegner, rendered by the translator as "opponents of the pro-globalization lobby") and occasionally surrealist metaphors (cosmopolitans should have "both roots and wings" he says over and over), repeats ideas and even phrases, and tells you many things that you already knew (e.g., Pres. Bush's attempt to impose his own sketchily-developed vision of a world order has had and can only have disastrous results, in Iraq and everywhere). Still, the basic ideas (the 4 points numbered above) are probably valid and well worth thinking about and maybe even acting upon -- the utopian (his term) cosmopolitan vision is a lot better than any of the alternatives under discussion.

Thanks to Professor Christopher Leo (University of Winnipeg) for suggesting the importance of this book. For other interesting postings by this astute reader of social theory, see his blog, Christopher Leo.