Front Page Titles (by Subject) Conservatism in Spain - Literature of Liberty, Winter 1980, vol. 3, No. 4
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Conservatism in Spain - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Winter 1980, vol. 3, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Conservatism in Spain
“Political Conservatism: The Spanish Case, 1875–1977.” Journal of Contemporary History 14(October 1979):561–580.
In defining conservatism in modern Spain, Prof. Robinson relies heavily on the insights of such American theorists as Rossiter, Kirk, Viereck, Wilson, and Huntington.
“Conservative” may ambiguously denote “status quo” politics or “rightist” graspings. Along with Clinton Rossiter, Prof. Robinson finally settles for a conservative model deriving from the tradition of the Irish Whigs, liberals, and free-trader Burkeans. The dilemma plaguing conservatives lies in distinguishing the primary, unchangeable elements of a constitutional state from those secondary factors which may change with changing conditions.
Turning to Spanish political history, Prof. Robinson, along with other Anglo-Saxon historians, identifies the “contemporary” period as beginning in the last quarter of the nineteenth century —the era of the “Restoration Monarchy” of Alfonso XII. The great architect of that monarchy was Antonio Cánovas, conservative framer of the Constitution of 1876. The most influential conservative politician of the modern period, Cánovas embodied a broadly pragmatic position within the framework of liberal constitutionalism. He defined his program more by opposing threats to the “middle way” than by adherence to clear-cut principles. In his views, the lack of sharply defined principles would provide the monarchy with much needed flexibility. Thus, the constitutional system which Cánovas established featured both traditional and liberal elements, so as to include all sectors of opinion which were prepared to compromise and accept the rules of the game.
Like many politicians of this day and our own, Cánovas made strong appeals to “tradition” to legitimize his mixed monarchical and representative institutions. The “nation” was the central feature of his beliefs. He looked upon centuries-old reservoir of experience, not as the ephemeral product of a daily plebiscite. For Cánovas, the experience of the Spanish nation demonstrated incontrovertibly that “the hereditary Monarchy with the Cortes is the essential constitutional form of the country.” The same experience required the establishment of the Roman Catholic faith as Spain's official religion, although non-Catholics would be allowed the right to worship in private.
Cánovas's British-inspired system of compromise held together for over forty years. However, it proved difficult to perfect. Electoral corruption and the manipulation upon which it depended created too many vested interests which thwarted internal reforms.
Cánovas' conservative successors, Francisco Silvela, Antonio Maura, and Eduardo Dato, encouraged democratic reforms to broaden the base of the Canovite system, but were not able to preserve it from overthrow in 1921 by General Primo de Rivera. Thereafter, conservatism continued to make real, though modest contributions to Spanish political life during the Rivera period, the Republic, and the Franco regime. Currently, under the restored parliamentary monarchy, it is represented by two political formations: the Union de Centro Democratico and the Allianza Popular. Nevertheless, the philosophy has not yet regained sufficient respectability for any Spanish party to use the word “conservative” in its title.