The Galliard of Don John of Austria


by Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (*)


To see, judge and act, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is the right order of human action. Let us begin, then, by "seeing" the results of the recent Spanish elections.

Let us see things exactly as they happened. I take the figures from the large, prestigious and moderate Madrid daily, ABC (October 9, 1982).

a) In the previous Cortes the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) held 121 seats. It now holds 201, a net gain of 80 seats; b) The Union of the Democratic Center (UCD), with 168 seats, formerly outnumbered the socialists. It lost 156 seats and is now reduced to only 12. This was a spectacular defeat for centrism.

c) The Communist Party held 23 seats. Now it has only 5. Since the party's votes were already so few, the loss of 18 seats is really heavy. d) The rightist Popular Alliance (AP) was the party that gained the most, jumping from a mere 9 representatives to 106. The gain was 97 seats — more than 1000 percent.

I abstain from analyzing the vote for some small factions that do not change the picture.

Let us go on to "judge:" a) The socialist vote gave the PSOE the majority: 201 out of 350 seats. This entitles it to have the new cabinet chosen from its ranks. When this article comes out, King Juan Carlos — a quintessential centrist, and therefore a veiled but active sympathizer of socialism — will probably be in delicious negotiations with majority leader Felipe Gonzalez; b) The rightist opposition, with an aura of radiant dynamism as the par­ty which made the most progress in the elections, can create serious obstacles for the government's majority. But I do not see how it can stably prevent the PSOE from having wide-ranging socialist legislation approved.

In short, the advantage the socialists gained with their increase of seats is offset by the harm they have suffered from the loss of prestige caused by the fact that the right grew more than they did.

Finally, let us go on to "act." From our easy chairs as Brazilian spectators, to act is to root for one of the contenders, which is important for us since rooting is one of our favorite activities. But it is also so because our rooting regarding foreign affairs conditions considerably our attitudes toward domestic affairs.

So let us go on to our rooting: What is most likely to happen?

As we have seen, the most important thing that happened was, in essence, the disbanding of the center, which split into two parts. One slid to the left and the other to the right. Of the formerly om­nipotent center, nothing but a small handful of ashes was left. The significance of this fact goes beyond a mere redistribu­tion of seats in the Parliament. It indicates a change on a most profound level of the Spanish psychology, which tends toward Sancho Panza when centrist, toward Don Quixote when leftist (what was the Pasionaria but a sinister "Quixota" of the left?), or toward Lepanto, symbolized by Don John of Austria, the heroic victor of that celebrated naval battle (with whom I by no means compare, nor did the cream of the Spanish right ever compare, Francisco Franco Bahamonde).

Now, the Spaniards who went from the center to the left or to the right were not exactly devotees of Sancho Panza. Wearied with tension in 1977 and 1979, when they voted for the center, they simply wanted a relaxation of tensions. And basically they still do. But when they found out that the relaxed ambience im­posed on them by Adolfo Suarez and subsequently by Calvo Sotelo was the peace of Sancho Panza in the kingdom of Sancho Panza, they became dissatisfied.

So they began to look for relief elsewhere. Following instinctive preferences, some went to the left, others to the right. But, whether in the PSOE or the AP, they are linked across party borders by invisible but strong temperamental ties and continue to constitute one psychological bloc. If the cen­trists who fled from Sancho Panza to the PSOE were to be asked to support a decidedly socialist program, they would switch from the PSOE to the AP. Likewise, if the AP were in power and tried to carry out a very rightist program, its centrists would change over to the PSOE.

Now, the PSOE happens to be the par­ty in power. It is the one that must carry out a program, and therefore the one which stands to lose its ex-centrists to the AP. If in order to preserve the adhesion of the neophytes who want a relaxation of tensions the PSOE fails to carry out its program, another unavoidable misfor­tune seems to await it: a stoning from its frustrated Quixotic majority.

Therefore, it is easy to see why the ABC cartoon reproduced here pictures the majority party so fatigued and perplexed.

The rightists are left with the joys of opposition, the salty Spanish delight of being "against." One perceives that the "pro-relaxationists" who left the center for the AP had, crackling deep down beneath their longings for a relaxation of tensions, a renewed gusto for bullfights and castanets. I once read that when Don John of Austria defeaded the Turks at Lepanto, he gave thanks to Our Lady, Help of Christians. But he also danced a galliard. Those former centrists are people who have longings for the galliard of Don John of Austria. They will cause less trouble for the right than their counterparts of the left will cause for the PSOE.

But now another question arises. Everything was done to innoculate post-Yalta Spain with the optimistic, pragmatic, a-ideological, supinely bourgeois mentality void of chivalrous light that spread throughout the world. This mentality, which reached its ashen zenith in the Truman era, led anticommunism all over the world to shipwreck and brought a trembling and emasculated West to its knees before an irate, knout­in-fist Russia. Spain, Christendom's flame of courage, seems to have realized that this mentality disfigured its identi­ty, distorted it and deviated it from its mission. So it rejected the center, the fulcrum of this ideology with neither Faith nor fiber. Enchanted, Spain turned once again to contemplate, in the golden spaces of its national memory, Don John of Austria, the knight of Lepan­to, dancing forever his galliard over a sea teeming with the corpses of the vanquished. Will this spark of chivalry find other places in the world to spread its brilliant and nimble flame?

A subtle, dazzling subject... irritating to some. We leave it for another day. Perhaps.


(*) “Folha de S. Paulo”, 4th November 1982