Thursday, April 19, 2007

Historical note on nationalism

These observations from Dead End by Edward Luttwak Harper's Feb 2007, the article I quoted yesterday on counterinsurgency, had a couple of historical observations I also want to highlight:
The very word "guerrilla," which now refers only to a tactic, was first used to describe the ferocious insurgency of the illiterate Spanish poor against their would-be liberators, under the leadership of their traditional oppressors. On July 6, 1808, King Joseph of Spain presented a draft constitution that for the first time in Spain’s history offered an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, and the abolition of the remaining feudal privileges of the aristocracy and of the Church. At that time, abbeys, monasteries, and bishops still owned every building and every piece of land in 3,148 towns and villages, which were inhabited by some of Europe’s most wretched tenants. Despite the fact that the new constitution would have liberated them and let them keep their harvests for themselves, the Spanish peasantry failed to rise up in its support. Instead, they obeyed the priests, who summoned them to fight against the ungodly innovations of the foreign invader. For Joseph was the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, placed on the Spanish throne by French troops. That was all that mattered to most Spaniards — not what was proposed but by whom it was proposed.

By then the French should have known better. In 1799 the same thing had happened in Naples, whose liberals, supported by the French, were slaughtered by the very peasants and plebeians they wished to emancipate. They were mustered into a militia of the "Holy Faith" by Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, coincidentally a member of Calabria’s largest land-owning family, who led his men forward on horseback. Ruffo easily persuaded his followers that all promises of material betterment were irrelevant, because the real aim of the French and the liberals was to destroy the Catholic religion in the service of Satan. Spain's clergy did the same, and their illiterate followers could not know that the very first clause of Joseph’s draft constitution had not only recognized the Roman Apostolic Catholic Church but stated that it was the only one allowed in Spain.
Napoleon's conquests in Europe had both many effects. Also in Germany, the French rule introduced democratic practices at the local level in some areas and forced a significant land reform in Prussia (then a northern German kingdom) that limited the power of the Junker landlord class. It also proked patriotic resistance, which eventally became known as the Wars of Liberation. While that resistance restored reactionary forces, they also spread some democratic ideas, such as a "people's army" in Prussia, i.e., an army drawn from a wide range of the population, not the more narrow standing army of Frederick the Great's militaristic practice.

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1 comment:

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