Category Archives: philosophy

Lenin’s Siberian Exile

From A Journey into Russia, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2015), Kindle Loc. 2435ff:

Moscow, 23 February 1897. At the Kursk train station a young man is waiting for the Trans-Siberian railroad. Ahead of him lies a two-month journey that will end in Shushenskoye. The train compartment is cramped, but not half as cramped as cell 193 of the Petersburg detention centre, from which the young man has just been released. For the crime of disseminating revolutionary literature, Vladimir Ulyanov is to serve the remaining three years of his sentence in Siberian exile.

Compared with the subsequent nightmare of the Soviet camps, the tsarist system of exile is relatively comfortable. Members of the upper classes – Ulyanov comes from a land-owning family – can organise their lives in Siberia more or less freely. The young man takes up residence in a medium-sized country house. He receives mail by the bundle from revolutionary comrades, and he sends back equally large bundles. He buys a hunting rifle and an Irish Setter named Shenka. His neighbours regularly see the two stalking through the surrounding woods. In summer he bathes twice a day in the Shush, in winter he impresses the small town residents with the elegant momentum of his ice skating. ‘When he would skate over the ice with his hands buried in his pockets,’ recalls an admiring witness, ‘nobody could catch up with him.’

On the side, the young man finds time to complete a book that is later adopted into the canon of the holy scriptures of the Soviet Union: The Development of Capitalism in Russia, published in 1899 under the pseudonym Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

The skates hang on the wall as if Lenin had just hung them up to dry. A great man with small feet, I think involuntarily. It is a quiet day in the former home of the revolutionary. There are six of us: the tour guide, a Russian family and me. The hunting rifle hangs on the bedroom wall, above the two beds in which Lenin and his wife slept. Nadezhda Krupskaya was arrested shortly after Lenin’s departure. When they banished her to the West Siberian city of Ufa, she asked to be relocated with her betrothed. The authorities gave their consent, but, as Lenin wrote to his mother, ‘under a tragicomic condition: if we do not get married immediately, she has to return.’

The wedding ceremony took place in Shushenskoye, in a small church that was demolished after the Revolution. Apart from the church, every single stone in the city has been preserved, even if Lenin so much as walked past it. On his centennial birthday, in 1970, the entire historical town centre was freed of inhabitants and turned into a pilgrimage site. Millions of workers were then herded through their redeemer’s place of exile.

Today, with the stream of pilgrims having subsided, the museum has a discernible public relations crisis. Self-consciously they have renamed the site an ‘Open Air Museum for Siberian Village Culture at the Turn of the Century.’ It is a curious place: a pilgrimage site which hides its saint so that the absence of pilgrims is not as noticeable.

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Rijeka vs. Fiume

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 160-162:

Rijeka—Fiume—was a place of conflicting sovereignties long before the 1940s. Beginning in the late fifteenth century, Rijeka was an important seaport of the Austrian Habsburg Empire, and after the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy in 1867 much of it came under the rule of Budapest, with new rail links connecting it deep into Central Europe. If Trieste is a fault zone, then Rijeka is the very border of that fault zone. In fact, following the First World War, ethnic conflicts among the urban population and the decision of foreign diplomats to hand over the city to the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes led 9,000 ethnic-Italian legionnaires to establish the vaguely anarchist and Fascist “Regency of Carnaro” here. That lasted a year, until 1920, when the Treaty of Rapallo declared Fiume a free state under Italian rule. In 1924, it became part of Fascist Italy. Through it all, the drama between Slavs and Italians nearby on the Istrian peninsula became a microcosm of the drama between East and West; between the free West and the Communist East. Though, given the cruelty and general insensitivity of the Italians towards the Slavs, something not restricted to Mussolini’s Fascists, one side was not always and not necessarily morally superior to the other.

For example, I look up at the balconies in Rijeka and think immediately of the leader of the Italian Regency of Carnaro, Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938), a name that emerges from time to time in conversations here as a vague and occasional background noise: mentioned quickly in passing, but rarely explained. D’Annunzio was a charismatic intellectual with a lust for power and adulation, who consequently loved balcony appearances. For him, the purpose of politics was to supply an arena for glory and the erection of the perfect state. In Fiume, in 1919, with the collapse of the Habsburg Empire and the city the object of rival claims and protracted negotiations by Italy and the new Yugoslav kingdom, D’Annunzio seized power at the head of the far-right legionnaire movement, itself supported by flaky youthful idealists. Though he didn’t last long, this romantic thinker stylistically paved the way for Mussolini: he was a warning against hazy ideas and intellectual conceit. For lofty themes, if not grounded in moderation and practicality, can be the enemy of healthy politics.

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Slovenia, Misfit in Yugoslavia

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 149-150:

Ljubljana: known in German as Laibach, a place more historically associated with the Habsburg Empire than with any particular nation-state. Here in 1821, one of the crucial congresses was held to stabilize Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. Thus, in the very sound of its name Laibach recalls such personages as Metternich and Castlereagh. I was last in Ljubljana in October 1989, just a few weeks before the Berlin Wall fell, on a concluding trip through Yugoslavia, from where I had reported often during the 1980s. This was still twenty months before the start of the war there. But I would ultimately leave Slovenia out of the final version of Balkan Ghosts, even though it had been a member of the Yugoslav federation, while I would include Greece in the manuscript though it was a long-standing member of NATO. Greece, I had argued to my editors, was Near Eastern despite its ties to the Western alliance, while Slovenia was Central European despite being for so long a part of the largest Balkan country.

Ljubljana in 1989 has left a deep imprint on my memory. A section of my diary from the period, published as a travel essay in The New York Times, records: “Mornings are a blank canvas. Not until 9:30 or so does the autumn fog begin to dissolve. Then the outlines of steep roofs, spires, leaden domes, statues, and willows and poplars emerge like an artist’s first quick strokes. At first it is a pen-and-ink with charcoal. By mid- or late morning come the richer colors of the palette: facades of orange and yellow ochers, pinks, sandy reds, and dazzling greens. As for the architecture itself,” I went on, “it is not only baroque and Renaissance but also Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and so forth. This was partly because, with the exception of five years of Napoleonic rule, Ljubljana between 1135 and 1918 was inside the Habsburg Empire, and thus artistic influences from the far-flung domain filtered in.” Truly, I was infatuated with the city.

But there is even more from my notebooks about Ljubljana that I did not publish at the time: Men smoking in the damp and cold hotel restaurant while waiters talked and ignored customers amid loud rock music (Blood, Sweat & Tears singing “Spinning Wheel”). People had ravaged eyes under matted hair, without the blow dryers and designer glasses that were already ever-present in nearby Austria at the time, and everyone with bad-quality shoes. It was a place where people began to drink early in the day. And yet one after another of the persons I interviewed back in 1989 complicated those initial impressions. For Yugoslavia was already starting to fall apart, even if it wasn’t yet in the news. “The Serbs look backward while we look forward: away from the archaic system” of Tito’s Yugoslavia. “In Slovenia, Tito [a half-Slovene] has been completely forgotten.” “Slovenes are like conscientious objectors in the Yugoslav federation.” “We watch Austrian television, not Serbian television.” “We are a small country that looks out, Serbia is a great country that looks in.” All in all, in October 1989, Slovenia was a poor and downtrodden place by Western standards that, nevertheless, evinced a distinct bitterness about having to prop up the even poorer and yet more powerful states within the Yugoslav federation, notably Serbia. Yugoslavia had, in a political and cultural sense, dragged Slovenia southward into the Balkans, and away from its rightful place in Central Europe, to which Slovenia’s own Habsburg legacy entitled it. Indeed, it was Slovenia’s very resentment over that fact which caused it, like Poland and Hungary, to fiercely aspire towards membership in the West, and thus towards liberalism and free markets.

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Blood Feud on Crete

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 4340ff.

As Paddy and Joan proceeded on their triumphal progress through the villages, they saw that Cretan hospitality had lost none of its over-abundance, and only the long walks and mule rides from one place to the next gave them an opportunity to rest their digestions. Groups of armed mountain men greeted them outside each village, and welcomed them with volleys of shots fired into the air.

There was also another man with a gun, though he was not mentioned in Paddy’s introduction to The Cretan Runner, nor indeed in his notebooks. At Alones they had spent a few days with Father John Alevizakis and his sons, prior to attending a feast in Rethymno. They were warned not to go on: Yorgo, the son of Kanaki Tsangarakis, had heard Paddy was there. ‘He was waiting,’ wrote Paddy, ‘with rifle and binoculars, to pick me off when I left the village.’ The blood feud was still alive, and the only way out of the village was through a deep ravine.

Yorgo was on one side, our way out on the other . . . I asked whether he was a good shot and Levtheri, Father John’s son, laughed and said ‘Yes, the blighter can shoot a hole through a 10 drachma piece at 500 metres,’ which made us all laugh rather ruefully, including Joan . . . The only thing to do in such a case is to be accompanied by a neutral figure, head of a rival clan or family in whose company nobody can be shot without involving the whole tribe.

A suitably friendly figure agreed to accompany them to safety, and ‘under his protection Joan and I crossed the blank hillside, looking across the valley at Yorgo sitting on the rock, binoculars round his neck and gun across his knees; but unable, by Cretan ethics, to blaze away . . .’ In Vilandredo they were received like kings by Paddy’s god-brother Kapetan Stathi Loukakis. When Stathi heard that the Tsangarakis men were lying in wait for his guest, he too took steps to protect them. Joan noticed that when they left the village they were guarded by lookouts posted at key points, who could challenge anyone who came within firing distance.

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China Envy in Late 1700s

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 9-11:

There were good reasons why the East India Company did not do anything else that might put their little foothold in China at risk. In the eyes of Europeans in the late eighteenth century, the empire of the Qing dynasty was an unequaled vision of power, order, and prosperity. It had long been, as Adam Smith described it in 1776 in The Wealth of Nations, “one of the richest, that is, one of the most fertile, best cultivated, most industrious, and most populous countries in the world.” Smith believed China to have been at a stable climax of development for eons—at least as far back as Marco Polo’s visit in the thirteenth century—which meant that although it did not have the capacity to develop any further (an advantage he reserved largely for Europe), it nevertheless showed no signs of retreating from its pinnacle of prosperity. “Though it may perhaps stand still,” he insisted, “[China] does not seem to go backwards.”

Enlightenment champions of reason saw in China the model of a moral and well-governed state that needed no church—a secular empire, founded on rational texts and ruled by scholars. “Confucius,” wrote Voltaire with admiration in his Philosophical Dictionary of 1765, “had no interest in falsehood; he did not pretend to be a prophet; he claimed no inspiration; he taught no new religion; he used no delusions.” In reading extracts from Confucius’s works, Voltaire concluded, “I have found in them nothing but the purest morality, without the slightest tinge of charlatanism.” The state that had been founded on those works was, he believed, the oldest and most enduring in the world. “There is no house in Europe,” he observed, “the antiquity of which is so well proved as that of the Empire of China.”

China’s political unity in the later eighteenth century was dazzling not just to British economists and French philosophers but to Americans as well, once they began to emerge as a nation of their own. In 1794, a U.S. citizen of Dutch descent, who had served as interpreter for an embassy from the Netherlands to China, dedicated the published account of his voyage to George Washington, celebrating in particular “the virtues which in your Excellency afford so striking a resemblance between Asia and America.” China was for him the standard by which Western countries could be measured: Washington was virtuous because he exhibited some of the qualities of a Qing dynasty emperor. The highest hope that the writer could muster for the future of his new nation was that Washington, in his “principles and sentiments,” might procure for the United States “a duration equal to the Chinese Empire.”

These were not just Western fantasies. China in the eighteenth century was not only the most populous and politically unified empire on earth, but also the most prosperous. The standard of living in its wealthy eastern and southern cities was easily a match for the companion regions of western Europe, as was life expectancy. To measure by the consumption of luxury goods such as sugar and tea, the quality of life in eastern China in the 1700s appears to have left Europe behind. At the same time, however, due to the Qing government’s tight strictures on foreign trade and residence, China was also seen from outside as impossibly guarded and remote, “the only civilised nation in the world,” as one British writer put it, “whose jealous laws forbid the intrusion of any other people.” The immense riches of the empire were—to the eternal frustration of westerners—always just out of reach.

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Chinese Civil Service System in late 1700s

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 54-55:

For all the admiration of the Chinese examinations by outsiders, however, by the late eighteenth century the system was beginning to fail. It had always been extremely difficult to pass the exams, but as the population expanded in the Qianlong reign there were far more candidates than before who wanted to take part in the competition, and proportionally fewer government jobs with which to reward them. The competition became more and more fierce, and great numbers of talented candidates were left behind, creating a glut of highly educated men with few career prospects. They generally found unsatisfying work as tutors, secretaries, and bureaucratic underlings, unreliable jobs that required a high level of literacy and education but were transient and depended entirely on the patronage of their individual employers. These men were failures in the eyes of their parents, many of whom had spent lavish sums on their sons’ educations in hopes of their becoming officials and bringing power and prestige to the family.

Furthermore, even those scholars who did manage to pass the examinations might still have to wait ten or twenty years before a position in the imperial bureaucracy opened up to them through normal channels. By consequence, the system of civil appointments became fertile ground for bribery schemes. Those who controlled the appointments demanded huge fees from qualified candidates before they would give them a position—in essence, forcing them to purchase their jobs, and then often making them pay yearly sums to hold on to them. As the practice spread, great numbers of officials began their careers in heavy financial debt to their superiors—debts they were expected to make up for by squeezing bribes from their own inferiors or finding other ways (such as embezzlement) to supplement their meager salaries and pay for the fees and gifts that were required of them.

At the lowest levels, where the vast imperial governing apparatus reached the level of the common people, this pyramid of graft resulted in widespread petty oppression and outright cruelty by minor officials towards the populations they governed—especially the peasants and those on the margins of society, who were most vulnerable to their extortions. Such victims had little or no effective legal recourse if they were harassed or beaten or had their meager property taken by greedy officials. All they could really do, if they were desperate enough, was to revolt.

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From Habsburg to Bourbon Spain

From The Penguin History Of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson (Penguin, 2003), Kindle pp. 195-197:

The state of Spain was embodied in the weak and imbecilic Charles II, the last of the Habsburg line and a monarch incapable of male issue. Upon his death in 1700 there followed a war among the European powers to decide the Spanish succession. Philip of Anjou, the grandson of Louis XIV of France, eventually acceded to the throne of Spain, but his right to it was recognized by his enemies at the price of important concessions set out in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. Flanders and the Italian dominions were lost to Austria and Savoy; Great Britain kept Gibraltar and Minorca, and was allowed the exclusive right to supply African slaves to the Spanish Indies, and to an annual shipload of merchandise for trade with the American colonies; Portugal retained her smuggling centre of Colônia do Sacramento on the east bank of the River Plate. These concessions to Britain and Portugal underscored Spain’s imperial debility, since they infringed, at least for a time, the monopoly of trade with the Indies, which she had done so much to defend. Spain’s sovereignty was now reduced to the Peninsula and her realms in America and the Philippines.

This curtailment of power, though humiliating, at least unburdened Spain of dynastic possessions in Italy and the Low Countries which had drained her over the past two centuries. The Treaty of Utrecht, in fact, forced Spain to relinquish the Habsburg concept of empire, based as it had been on an essentially medieval vision of a supranational constellation of kingdoms under a single sovereign pledged to the defence of Catholic integrity in Europe. The new dynasty of French Bourbons would rule Spain as a European nation state among others, and her still very substantial dominions overseas would be regarded as resources to be exploited economically so as to strengthen her position in the theatre of European power politics. Over the course of the new century, therefore, the Bourbons were to recast the aims and methods of Spanish imperial government.

The spirit of reform significantly altered the ideological basis of the Catholic monarchy, which the Habsburgs, having taken it over from Ferdinand and Isabella, had developed as the guiding principle of their imperial statecraft. The peculiarly Spanish symbiosis of Crown and Church, which endowed the Catholic monarchy with its monopoly of legitimacy, gave way under successive Bourbon kings to a more stringent absolutism of French regalist inspiration. According to this new doctrine of the divine right of kings, the monarch was invested with the authority to rule by God Himself; his power, therefore, was not limited in principle by religious and ethical sanctions upheld by the Church, and much less so by the more ancient, medieval sense of contract with or obligation to his subjects which was still latent in Spain and which had always been much closer to the surface among the conquistadors and their successors in the Indies.

The new regalism permitted the monarch to do what the Habsburgs had been restrained from doing by the force of religious counsel: it allowed the Crown to frame policies on pragmatic grounds of national self-interest. Impracticable chimeras upon which Catholic Spain had spent so much blood and treasure – the defence of orthodoxy against Dutch rebels and English schismatics, the crusade against the Turk, the protection of Indian rights in the New World – no longer needed to be pursued beyond reasonable limits, for the light of reason had to be allowed to filter through the blinds that kept Spain in her neo-medieval ‘darkness’. And yet, those blinds could not be removed altogether; the Catholic Church was too well entrenched in the state and society and, in any case, the Bourbons realized the value of the Church as both a pillar of the social order and a unifying factor in a far-flung empire.

The ideology of the Bourbon reformers has been aptly called the Catholic Enlightenment, for it was a cautious attempt to adjust to the scientific and rationalist spirit of the eighteenth century without disturbing the fundamentals of the Catholic faith.

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Bolivar’s Constitution, 1826

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 350-351:

BOLÍVAR’S CONSTITUTION WAS A TESTAMENT to how the social realities of the continent had altered his liberating vision; it was a curious combination of deeply held republican principle and authoritarian rule. He had long feared the lawlessness that a hastily conceived democracy might bring. To hand power too quickly to illiterate masses was to snuff out what little order there was. He had once told a British diplomat in Lima, “If principles of liberty are too rapidly introduced, anarchy and a wholesale purge of whites will be the inevitable consequences.” In other words, he had granted all races equality, but he worried that in the process of institutionalizing it, the blacks and Indians would simply kill off the old aristocracy—the very class from which he hailed. It was exactly what had happened in Haiti. Bolívar’s new constitution meant to free the people, and yet, for their own good, keep them in a tight harness.

His constitution’s proposed division of powers—executive, legislative, judicial—was similar to that of the United States, although he added a fourth branch, a separate electoral college. The legislative branch was to be made up of senators, tribunes, and censors. Senators were to enact and guard the laws; tribunes would deal with money and war; censors would safeguard liberties. The government would offer the people a “moral” education in order to instill principles of civic responsibility. The constitution provided for freedoms of speech, press, work, and passage. It ensured citizens all the benefits of personal security, equality before the law, and a jury-based system of justice. It abolished slavery. It put an end to all social privilege. Up to this point, Bolívar’s constitution resembled—even improved on—its British and United States counterparts. Where it differed starkly was in its conditions for the presidency, and it was here that the document ran aground.

Bolívar had stipulated that the president be appointed for life. To him, presidential power was key; upon it would rest the entire Bolívarian concept of order. Although he claimed that he had rendered the position headless and harmless because a president would be powerless to appoint anyone to the legislative government or to the courts, there was no doubt that the presidency would be the most powerful institution in the land. A president’s influence would extend into perpetuity by virtue of his ability to choose a vice president, who would be his successor. Thus, Bolívar contended, “we shall avoid elections, which always result in that great scourge of republics, anarchy . . . the most imminent and terrible peril of popular government.” He had come a long way from his address to the congress of Angostura seven years before, in which he had roundly averred: “Regular elections are essential to popular government, for nothing is more perilous than to permit one citizen to retain power for an extended period.” In the course of taking his wars of liberation south, he had changed his mind entirely.

When the Bolivian constitution was complete, Bolívar sent that “ark of the covenant” off to Sucre in Bolivia, in a special mission led by his personal aide, Colonel Belford Wilson. Eager to promote its adoption in other republics, he had several editions printed and dispatched to Colombia by the very courier who had delivered Páez’s message begging him to become king. In Peru, his secretary of state made sure that every member of the electoral college had a copy. Bolívar’s constitution, in short, was to be distributed as widely as possible, throughout the Americas as well as strategic points in Europe. As his handiwork circulated, reactions were mixed. The English regarded it as an enlightened charter, generous in its promised liberties, but wise in its mitigation of a “mischievous excess of popular power.” In the United States, on the other hand, legislators were outraged by its provision for a president for life; Southern politicians were infuriated by its abolition of slavery. In South America, opinions were divided. In Chile and Argentina, it was received with moderate praise; in Colombia, it was trooped from town to town by a Venezuelan known to have urged Bolívar to the throne, and so it was no surprise that it was seen as a prologue to monarchy.

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Bolivar’s 1815 Letter from Jamaica

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 175-177:

One of Bolívar’s many writings during that time was an astonishingly prescient letter addressed to an Englishman in Jamaica who expressed interest in his struggle for independence. More than a friendly missive, this was a masterful tour d’horizon. Clearly Bolívar meant it to enjoy wide dissemination. Written in vibrant prose and reflecting a profound grasp of the legacy of colonialism, the letter was read at first only by the small English circle for whom it was intended. It would take more than a dozen years to be retranslated into Spanish. But the letter served as a blueprint for Bolívar’s political thought, and its ideas would emerge in countless documents during those formative days.

The “Letter from Jamaica” declared unequivocally that the bond between America and Spain had been severed forevermore: it could never be repaired. Although the “wicked stepmother” was laboring mightily to reapply her chains, it was too late. The colonies had tasted freedom. “Our hatred for Spain,” he declared, “is vaster than the sea between us.”

In turns a paean to the inexpressible beauty of the continent and a shriek of fury at its despoliation, Bolívar’s letter is a brilliant distillation of Latin America’s political reality. His people, he explains, are neither Indian nor pardos nor European, but an entirely new race, for which European models of government are patently unsuitable. Monarchies, to these Americans, were abhorrent by definition; and democracy—Philadelphia style—inappropriate for a population cowed and infantilized by three hundred years of slavery. “As long as we do not have the political virtues that distinguish our brothers of the north,” he argued, “a democratic system, far from rescuing us, can only bring us ruin. . . . We are a region plagued by vices learned from Spain, which, through history, has been a mistress of cruelty, ambition, meanness, and greed.” Most important to the welfare of these fledgling republics, Bolívar insisted, was a firm executive who employed wisdom, dispensed justice, and ruled benevolently for life. His America needed a strong, centralized government—one that addressed the people’s wretched condition, not a perfectly conceptualized, theoretical model dreamed up by idealists on some far-flung shore.

But the “Letter from Jamaica” was more than mere propaganda; it was inspired prophecy. In it, Bolívar predicted that revolution-torn Mexico would opt for a temporary monarchy, which indeed it did. He pictured the loose confederation of nations that later became Central America. Given Panama’s “magnificent position between two mighty seas,” he imagined a canal. For Argentina, he foresaw military dictatorships; for Chile, “the blessings that flow from the just and gentle laws of a republic.” For Peru, he predicted a limbo in which privileged whites would not tolerate a genuine democracy, colored masses would not tolerate a ruling aristocracy, and the constant threat of rebellion was never far from hand. All these would come to pass. In some countries, one could even say, Bolívar’s visions still hold.

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Spanish Repression in the Americas

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 25-28:

FOR TWO HUNDRED YEARS, FROM the mid-1500s through the mid-1700s, the world that Spain had made had struggled against fiscal failure. The empire whose motto had once been a rousing Plus Ultra! had glutted world markets with silver, thwarted the economic growth of its colonies, and brought itself more than once to the brink of financial ruin. Nowhere was Spain’s misguided fiscal strategy more evident than in the streets of Caracas in the late 1700s, where a deep rage against the madre patria was on the rise.

The case of the Spanish American colonies had no precedent in modern history: a vital colonial economy was being forced, at times by violent means, to kowtow to an underdeveloped mother country. The principal—as Montesquieu had predicted a half century before—was now slave to the accessory. Even as England burst into the industrial age, Spain made no attempt to develop factories; it ignored the road to modernization and stuck stubbornly to its primitive, agricultural roots. But the Bourbon kings and their courts could not ignore the pressures of the day: Spain’s population was burgeoning; its infrastructure, tottering; there was a pressing need to increase the imperial revenue. Rather than try something new, the Spanish kings decided to hold on firmly to what they had.

At midnight on April 1, 1767, all Jesuit priests were expelled from Spanish America. Five thousand clerics, most of them American-born, were marched to the coast, put on ships, and deported to Europe, giving the crown unfettered reign over education as well as over the widespread property of the Church’s missions. King Carlos IV made it very clear that he did not consider learning advisable for America: Spain would be better off, and its subjects easier to manage, if it kept its colonies in ignorance. Absolute rule had always been the hallmark of Spanish colonialism. From the outset, each viceroy and captain-general had reported directly to the Spanish court, making the king the supreme overseer of American resources. Under his auspices, Spain had wrung vast quantities of gold and silver from the New World and sold them in Europe as raw material. It controlled the entire world supply of cocoa and rerouted it to points around the globe from storehouses in Cádiz. It had done much the same with copper, indigo, sugar, pearls, emeralds, cotton, wool, tomatoes, potatoes, and leather. To prevent the colonies from trading these goods themselves, it imposed an onerous system of domination. All foreign contact was forbidden. Contraband was punishable by death. Movement between the colonies was closely monitored. But as the years of colonial rule wore on, oversight had grown lax. The war that had flared between Britain and Spain in 1779 had crippled Spanish commerce, prompting a lively contraband trade. A traffic of forbidden books flourished. It was said that all Caracas was awash in smuggled goods. To put a stop to this, Spain moved to overhaul its laws, impose harsher ones, and forbid Americans even the most basic freedoms.

The Tribunal of the Inquisition, imposed in 1480 by Ferdinand and Isabel to keep a firm hold on empire, was given more power. Its laws, which called for penalties of death or torture, were diligently enforced. Books or newspapers could not be published or sold without the permission of Spain’s Council of the Indies. Colonials were barred from owning printing presses. The implementation of every document, the approval of every venture, the mailing of every letter was a long, costly affair that required government approval. No foreigners, not even Spaniards, could visit the colonies without permission from the king. All non-Spanish ships in American waters were deemed enemy craft and attacked.

Spain also fiercely suppressed American entrepreneurship. Only the Spanish-born were allowed to own stores or sell goods in the streets. No American was permitted to plant grapes, own vineyards, grow tobacco, make spirits, or propagate olive trees—Spain brooked no competition. It earned $60 million a year, after all (the equivalent of almost a billion today), by selling goods back to its colonies.

But, in a bizarre act of self-immolation, Spain enforced strict regulations on its colonies’ productivity and initiative. Creoles were subject to punishing taxes; Indians or mestizos could labor only in menial trades; black slaves could work only in the fields, or as domestics in houses. No American was allowed to own a mine; nor could he work a vein of ore without reporting it to colonial authorities. Factories were forbidden, unless they were registered sugar mills. Basque businesses controlled all the shipping. Manufacturing was rigorously banned, although Spain had no competing manufacturing industry. Most galling of all, the revenue raised from the new, exorbitantly high taxes—a profit of $46 million a year—was not used to improve conditions in the colonies. The money was shipped back, in its entirety, to Spain.

Americans balked at this. “Nature has separated us from Spain by immense seas,” exiled Peruvian Jesuit Viscardo y Guzmán wrote in 1791. “A son who found himself at such a distance would be a fool, if, in managing his own affairs, he constantly awaited the decision of his father.” It was as potent a commentary on the inherent flaws of colonialism as Thomas Jefferson’s “A Summary View of the Rights of British America.”

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