The Intellectuals and the Dictatorship is an essay written by José Antonio on December 8th, 1931 in defence of his father, Miguel Primo de Rivera, who had been Dictator of Spain from September 1923 to January. It was published as the preface to the book The Dictatorship of Primo de Rivera as Seen from Abroad in the same month.
When Miguel Primo de Rivera came to power in September 1923, José Antonio was only 20 years old. He had just finished his law degree and was doing his military service. He would go on to start a law practice, and as he was mainly concerned with establishing himself professionally, he had little interest in getting involved in politics.
However, as the Dictator's eldest son, José Antonio experienced the political events of the period from very close quarters. He was particularly affected by what he considered the failure of Spanish intellectuals to support his father's attempts to modernise Spain. Their continual attacks led, in part, to Miguel Primo de Rivera's fall from power in January 1930, when he was forced into exile. The criticism didn't let up, and the Dictator died of a diabetes condition in a hotel in Paris just six weeks later on March 16th 1930.
It was at Miguel Primo de Rivera's funeral on April 3rd that several ex-ministers and admirers first hatched the idea of forming a political party to replace the old party of the regime Unión Patriótica (Patriotic Union). Later that month the Unión Monárquica Nacional (National Monarchist Union) was founded. On May 2nd, José Antonio accepted the position of Vice General Secretary under Rafael Benjumea y Burín, Count of Guadalhorce, who was the leader of the new party..
Initially, one of José Antonio's main reasons for getting involved in politics in 1930 was to clear his father's name and vindicate the Dictatorship, and this is a recurring theme in his early articles and speeches. He is often critical of the role the intellectuals played in his father's downfall.
By the declaration of the Second Spanish Republic on April 14th 1931, José Antonio was maturing as a politician in his own right. He failed to win a seat in the first Parliament of the Republic. However, his writings suggest that he was beginning to realise that he could improve on his father's legacy, and we see the first signs of the political leader and theorist he was soon to become.
When he was presented with the chance to write the preface to the book La Dictadura de Primo de Rivera juzgada en el extranjero (The Dictatorship of Primo de Rivera as Seen from Abroad), José Antonio grasped the chance to summarise his thoughts and opinions on his father's legacy.
The Intellectuals and the Dictatorship begins with a quotation from The Revolt of the Masses by Spanish philosopher and essayist José Ortega y Gasset, whose work had influenced José Antonio a great deal but who, by the late 1920s, had become a fierce critic of the Dictatorship. Ortega y Gasset describes pseudointellectuals as "constitutionally unqualifiable and disqualified". Although José Antonio only appropriates the phrase and uses in his criticism of the intellectuals, his critics have often ascribed it originally to him.
José Antonio goes onto ask who history will see in the best light, the Dictator or the intellectuals. He argues that despite being a simple unread military man of action, his father's legacy is far more significant and that the intellectuals failed to see the revolutionary, transformative nature of the Dictatorship. In the main body of the text, however, he turns his somewhat acidic pen on the intellectuals themselves and criticises their lack of education and manners.
As an example of José Antonio's early writing, The Intellectuals and the Dictatorship is an interesting piece that shows his muscular literary style and use of sarcasm and irony, both of which he would apply very capably in his political writings and speeches. It also shows the importance of his father's legacy and reputation in inspiring him to take his first steps in politics.
José Antonio Primo de Rivera was, if nothing else, a man of honour and integrity.
December 8th, 19311
"Strictly speaking, within each social class, there is a mass and a minority, which are both genuine. As we shall see, the predominance of the mass and the vulgar herd, even in groups with a tradition of selectivity, is characteristic of our time. Thus, in the intellectual sphere, which by its nature requires and presupposes a degree of qualitative assessment, one observes the triumphant advance of the pseudointellectuals, who are constitutionally unqualifiable and disqualified."
Had General Primo de Rivera ever written words of such harshness in any of his notes, what would the intellectuals have said of him? For the whiplash could not be sharper: it is not just a matter of certain inferior elements mingling with the intellectuals, but one of 'observing the triumphant advance', 'the predominance of the ... unqualifiable and disqualified", within the intellectual class as such. What would have been said about General Primo de Rivera had he ever written such words? But these words are not his; they are, as indeed the style suggests, by someone who ought to know the intellectuals: by Ortega y Gasset2.
I quote them here because the Dictatorship's most significant handicap was probably its divorce from those whose function is intellectual. Some day, when the years of Dictatorship are competently and meticulously chronicled, the reasons for this division will have to be analysed. At such a time, two contradictory assessments will emerge. One will be advanced by those writers who in our time were hostile to the Dictator: to them, it is clear: "The Dictator could not possibly get on with the intellectuals because he was uneducated, unread and incapable of comprehending thoughts of a certain calibre; obviously he was wholly to blame for the absence of rapport between himself and the intellectuals." But is this assessment—laid down by the men of letters with their customary petulance—the one that will prevail? Or will the contrary assessment gain ground? Because among future historians there are bound to be some who will consider General Primo de Rivera to have been a magnificent leader, an extraordinary, specimen of humanity, whom an intellectual class, afflicted at times by 'the predominance of the mass', 'the triumphant advance of the pseudointellectuals, who are ... unqualifiable and disqualified', failed to understand.
If only they could have understood him! In the foolish and sickly atmosphere of the old regime, General Primo de Rivera's arrival on the scene was like an assertion of health. Of course, the Dictator broke with the existing norms; no wonder the politicians hated him as they clung to that system of norms as cripples cling to a charitable institution. But the intellectuals! Their obtuseness was truly remarkable: for years and years, they had been clamouring for the political crust which was disabling Spain to be smashed. Yet when they were confronted with the actual coup d'etat, they did not react in a manner that was intellectual, profound and aware of the revolutionary possibilities implicit in the coup but paid heed instead to petty suspicions, petty aversions, lingering in the vulgar recesses of their minds beneath an upper layer of intellectualism. For instance, the coup had been staged by a military man, and to admit that a soldier might have the makings of a popular leader was abhorrent to those peasants. I deliberately use the most condescending term3, because in actual fact the aversion to the military has its roots in the mediocrity of the small provincial garrison-town, where it is not unusual for the student of law to start nursing anti-militarist sentiments out of sheer envy of the smartly uniformed lieutenant's successes with girls of a certain type at the village dance.
I have often thought that the intellectuals among us, perhaps due to a lack of university life, perhaps due to a lack of tranquil places of learning, are never really transformed into intellectuals. That is to say that they are not intellectuals through and through. If they were, that would make them receptive, in a particular way, not only to the vibrations of things which concern them professionally, but also to any external stimulus. For example, a veteran military man is not only a soldier when he is commanding his troops; he is a soldier at all times—in all his conscious and his instinctive actions, in the way he sits down and the way he summons the night-watchman. The same can generally be said of magistrates. But it is not usually so with intellectuals (needless to say, with the exception of the outstanding ones); it is as though they were each made up of two men, the intellectual, suited to a certain series of activities, and the common, totally common, man, who is neither saturated with culture nor even touched by it, who is as impatient, as vain and bad-tempered as any of the regulars who hold forth at his local cafe. Who does not recall not only the disappointment but also the disbelief he felt on meeting the refined writer he admired without knowing him and found him to be a man of vulgar tastes, lacking in social graces, of stunted conversation, who unashamedly indulged in a plebeian torrent of abuse when the waiter did not immediately bring a ration of sea-food to gratify his gluttony? And who with an even slightly disciplined mind has not experienced disgust and anger at the sight of so much deliberate confusion and inelegant bad faith in the arguments which arise whenever there are many professionals of the intellect gathered together?
For this very reason, because they are not refined to the core but are merely covered in a varnish of catchy information, the Spanish intellectuals, taken by surprise, did not react to the advent of the Dictatorship intellectually. The pattern of their everyday activities was not prepared for something so out of the ordinary. And faced with an unforeseen event, they were only able to react like ordinary men, with all the bad temper and antipathy characteristic of their clique. And this is precisely what they did. They left the Dictator alone surrounded by a vast desert of their making. Whoever dared venture inside gave up any chance of being taken seriously by the arbiters of the intellectual hierarchy. And this resulted in an astonishing spectacle of the Dictator on his own, with no other instruments apart from his optimism, his honesty, his courage, his marvellously quick intelligence, his flexibility, his sincerity, his overriding wealth of genuine humanity, the Dictator alone with no one to help him, surrounded on all sides by hostile silence, in untrained and direct communion with the people, managing to lift up and carry, for at least a period of four years, the sum total of perhaps the strongest hopes that our people can recall.
If only the intellectuals had understood that man! A more favourable conjunction of circumstances may not come to pass in Spain for many years. The intellectuals could have voiced all their knowledge and their thoughts. The Dictator would surely have understood them, for Providence had been truly generous in endowing him with natural talents. The intellectuals could have organized the magnificent illumination of enthusiasm that the Dictatorship needed so badly, on the basis of a great central idea, an elegant and robust doctrine. In return they would have found what they may not have again for a long time: an extraordinary man, in the fullest sense of the word, born in our time with all the exuberant spirit, the joyful generosity, the health and courage and appeal to the masses of a great captain of the Renaissance.
But now it is too late! They let the opportunity pass them by They failed to appreciate its profound and decisive importance. They started complaining about whether the Dictatorship was perhaps lacking respect for some petty ritual or other. And they scorned the man in order to share, at more or less close quarters, in the mourning of the political cliques excluded from positions of command. Rather than the new wind, imperfect but invigorating, they preferred the small-town club-room, which is what Spanish politics were like, with its brazier table, its spicy gossip, its game of cards and its tasteless curtains, which were likely to be bug-ridden. I know that when they were writing, the intellectuals also abhorred all this; but in their heart of hearts they could not contain their sentimental affinity with the politicians in disgrace; they saw the Dictator as a common enemy. And so politicians and intellectuals together put their minds (let us call them that) to spreading sarcastic remarks in the casinos and to publishing clandestine tracts4.
With some exceptions, this was the attitude of the Spanish intellectuals when they were faced with the revolutionary reality of the Dictatorship. That is how they saw it. They may be well pleased to have neutered it. But they will not be the judges of their own clairvoyance. The day will come when, with the benefit of hindsight, an assessment will be made of which was more signicant: the Dictator or the intellectual atmosphere in this corner of the world around the year 1923. Will history say that the intellectuals were right? Already, they cannot help but notice one disquieting symptom: while they are all agreed on despising General Primo de Rivera, there are many able minds outside Spain who, although they think little of our contemporary literature and almost nothing of our science, think of General Primo de Rivera as a man of historical and political significance. In the following pages of this book, the reader will find numerous foreign opinions. And it should not be forgotten that, as Clarin has said, "at times, distance has some of the virtues of time; other countries often play the part of posterity".
JOSE ANTONIO PRIMO DE RIVERA
1Preface by Jose Antonio to the book The Dictatorship of Primo de Rivera as Seen from Abroad, published in 1931
2'La rebelión de las masas', José Ortega y Gassett, Revista de Occidente (Madrid, 1929), p. 16.
4In the original text in Spanish, José Antonio cites a clandestine pamphlet entitled Murcielagos as an example.