by José Antonio Primo de Rivera with Introduction by Simon Harris

Towards a New State shows José Antonio's thinking moving towards fascism, albeit primorriverista in tone. He wrote the article for the first and only issue of El Fascio, which went on sale on March 16th 1933 before being impounded by the authorities and closed down permanently.

Between the publication of The Intellectuals and the Dictatorship and writing Towards a new State, José Antonio continued penning the occasional article for the newspaper La Nación but was mainly concerned with growing his law practice. However, given his illustrious surname and combative personality, it was difficult for him not to be drawn into the politics of the time.

The first government of the Republic under Manuel Azaña was dominated by the Republican and Socialists, who were intent on exacting revenge for what they believed were the wrongs of the Dictatorship. In early 1932, legal proceedings began against prominent ex-ministers of the regime, many of who were not only members of the National Monarchist Union but also friends of the Primo de Rivera family.

In April, José Antonio was a leading member of the team of lawyers that had been brought together to defend these former ministers. By November, he was entrusted with defending Galo Ponte, his father's former Minister of Justice, singlehandedly.

In August, José Antonio and his brother Miguel were both arrested accused of participating in the failed uprising led by General Sanjurjo in Madrid and Seville on August 10th 1932. Both of them had been holidaying in the Basque Country at the time of the revolt, and ultimately they were released without charges. However, the atmosphere of persecution and the constant threat of arrest was bound to push José Antonio to adopt more radical positions.

In January 1933, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and joined Mussolini in the vanguard of nationalist leaders in Europe. It was clear that fascism was here to stay.

Never one to ignore a business opportunity, Manuel Delgado Barreto, the editor of the staunchly conservative La Nación and a member of the National Monarchist Union, decided to start a magazine to capitalise on fascism's growing popularity. He enlisted the help of propagandist and fascist theoretician Ernesto Giménez Caballero, who put together an impressive roster of nationalist writers, including Rafael Sánchez Mazas, Ramiro Ledesma and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, and El Fascio was born.

Delgado Barreto had high hopes of turning El Fascio into the leading fascist magazine in Spain and prepared a print run of 150,000 copies. However, the Republican authorities were not willing to allow fascist thought to take root. The police impounded the first issue, which went on sale on March 16th 1933, and the magazine was closed down forever.

Writing under the epithet "E" for Estella —he was, of course, the Marquis of Estella— José Antonio contributed two articles to El Fascio. The most interesting of the two is Towards a new State, in which he demolishes the idea of a liberal state and puts forward a proposal of what should replace it. It is an early example of José Antonio's move away from conventional Spanish conservatism towards a more radical third position. Being involved in the editorial meetings also meant that José Antonio became personally acquainted with many of the leading fascist thinkers of the day.

The opening lines of Towards a new State are one of José Antonio's best-known quotations and read as follows:

"The Liberal State believes in nothing, not even in its own destiny, not even in itself. The liberal State allows everything to be questioned, even the value of its own existence."

Following this vigorous introduction, and speaking as a lawyer himself, José Antonio goes on to how Liberalism allows virtually anything. This is abhorrent because the laws on which it is based do not come into existence as the result of ethical decisions but are simply the result of the will of the majority. For this reason, its supposed guiding principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity that Liberalism are simply unable to flourish under such a system.

Liberty, for example, is subject to changes in public opinion, the result of which is that minorities are oppressed. At least under a tyrant, the oppressed have the satisfaction of knowing they are right. In a liberal democracy, they are told they are disobedient. As the French jurist Leon Duguit pointed out, when a nation claims to be "free", it should beware that it has not substituted despotism for democratic absolutism.

The Liberal State also fails to produce Equality because while the worker is free to reject the working conditions that the capitalist offers, he is also free to starve to death. In reality, This means that Liberalism leads to inequality and Socialism is a mistaken reaction to a genuine problem.

The result is a political system that makes Fraternity impossible. Each of the political parties represents a different group in society, and the winner takes all system leads to each group hating its opponents. Thus, the country is turned into a battlefield of conflicting interests and opposing forces when, in reality, what is needed is for everyone to pull together.

José Antonio proposes a new concept of the State based on Unity and the idea that the history and destiny of the Nation is greater than the sum of its competing parts. The experience of two years of infighting under the Republic had led him to turn his back entirely on Liberalism and Democracy as viable solutions to the very real problems facing Spain.

It was a small step for José Antonio to begin to embrace a Spanish version of the ideology of the day: Fascism.



March 16th, 1933

The basic elements of the Liberal State

The Liberal State believes in nothing, not even in its own destiny, not even in itself. The liberal State allows everything to be questioned, even the value of its own existence.

For the liberal statesman, the doctrine that the State should survive is just as valid as that the State should be destroyed. That is to say that in his position at the head of an 'established' State, he does not even believe in the intrinsic merits, the justice, the usefulness of that particular State. Rather like a ship's captain who is not sure whether it is better to make port or to be shipwrecked. The liberal outlook amounts to taking a frivolous view of one's own destiny; it permits one to climb up to positions of authority without even believing that there ought to be any positions of authority at all, without feeling that they entail any obligations, not even defending them.

There is only one limiting factor: the law. Oh, yes; one can attempt the destruction of everything that exists, but without overstepping the boundaries of the law. But what exactly is the law? Here again, there is no unity; no reference to immutable principles either. The law is the expression of the sovereign will of the people; in practice, that of the majority of voters.

Two points are relevant to this:

Firstly. For the liberal, the law is not justified by its 'result' but by its 'source'. Those schools of thought whose constant aim is the public good consider laws that serve such an end to be good, and bad laws those which stray from this course, regardless of who has promulgated them. The democratic school of thought—democracy being the system which most fully expresses liberal thinking—considers that a law is good and legitimate if it has obtained the consent of the majority of voters, even though its content may be atrocious.

Secondly. Liberals do not consider what is right to be a category of reason but a product of will. Nothing is right in itself. There is never any reference to some scale of values by which to gauge the rightness of any law that is passed. It is enough to find sufficient votes endorsing it.

All this can be summed up in one sentence: "The people are sovereign." Sovereign in the sense that they are entitled to justify their own decisions. The people's decisions are right because they are the people's. The theories of regal absolutism stated, Quod principi placuit legem habet vigorem.1 The time was bound to come when the theoreticians of democracy would say, 'There has to be a certain authority in society whose actions do not need to be right in order to be valid; this authority resides only in the people.' These words are by Jurieu, one of the forerunners of Rousseau.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

The Liberal State—that faithless and indifferent state—wrote these three splendid words on the frontispiece of its temple: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. But under its auspices, none of these three things flourishes.

Liberty cannot live without the protection of strong and immutable principles. When principles change with the ups and downs of public opinion, there is only freedom only for those who agree with the majority. The minorities have no choice but to suffer in silence. Under the tyrants of the Middle Ages, the victims at least had the comfort of knowing that they were being tyrannised. The tyrant might be oppressing them, but those who were actually suffering oppression nonetheless were in the right. Above the heads of tyrants and subjects alike, the eternal words were written, in the light of which each was given his due. In the democratic State, this does not apply; the law—not the state, but the law, the supposed will of the majority—'is always right'. Thus the victim of oppression, besides being oppressed, can moreover be charged with dangerous disobedience if he calls the law unjust. Not even that freedom remains to him.

That is why Duguit2 has branded the belief that a people has gained its freedom the very day it proclaims the dogma of national sovereignty and accepts universal suffrage as 'fatally misguided'. Beware, he says, of substituting despotism with democratic absolutism! The despotism of popular assemblies has to be opposed more energetically than the despotism of kings. 'Something would be equally unjust if it were ordained by the people and its representatives as if a prince had ordained it. Because of the dogma of popular sovereignty, this tends to be all too easily forgotten.'

This is what happens to freedom under the rule of the majority, and to Equality too. First of all, there is no equality between the dominant party, which legislates as it pleases and the rest of the citizens who put up with it. Besides, the Liberal State produces an even more profound inequality: economic inequality. Since, in theory, the worker and the capitalist enjoy the same freedom to enter into a labour contract, the worker ends up by being enslaved by the capitalist. Not that the latter obliges the former by force to accept any given working conditions; he merely lets hunger take its course; he makes an offer which in theory the worker is free to reject; but if he does reject it, he will have nothing to eat, and eventually he is bound to take it. This is how liberalism brought us the accumulation of capital and the proletarianisation of the great mass of the people. In order to defend the oppressed against the economic tyranny of the powerful, something as anti-liberal as socialism had to emerge.

Lastly, it is Fraternity's turn to be shattered. Since the democratic system is based on the rule of the majority, the only way to attain victory within it is to get the support of the majority at any cost. To this end, all weapons are permissible; it is all right to defame, insult and misquote an opponent if this helps to deprive him of a few votes. If there is to be a majority and a minority, there needs to be 'division'. If the other party is to be split, there needs to be 'hatred'. Division and hatred are incompatible with fraternity. And thus the members of one and the same people cease to feel part of a whole superior to themselves, part of a lofty historical unity that encompasses all of them. The fatherland is reduced to the state of a battlefield, where two—or many—contending factions try to destroy each other, each heeding a different sectarian voice, while the dear voice of the common land, which ought to call to them all, seems to have fallen silent.

The aims of the new State

All the aims of the new state could be summed up in a single word: Unity. The fatherland is a historic whole into which all of us merge, superior to all of us and any of our groups. Out of respect for this unity, all classes and individuals must seek to adapt themselves. And its realization must be based on the following two principles:

Firstly. With regard to its 'purpose', the State has to be a tool in the service of that unity, in which it must believe. Nothing that goes against this precious and transcendental unity can be accepted as being good, whether those who support it are many or few.

Secondly. With regard to its 'shape', the State cannot be established on the basis of internal fighting but on a regime of national solidarity, of vigorous and fraternal co-operation. The class struggle and the festering strife of party politics are incompatible with this concept of the state.

The creation of a new type of politics, wherein these two principles will be joined, is the task that history has entrusted to our generation.

El Fascio, Nº 1, March 16th, 1933

1That which pleases the ruler has the force of law.

2Leon Duguit (1859-1928), French jurist.   

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