Latin Conservatism

Latin Conservatism

Latin Conservatism is a political ideology in southern Europe that was founded by noted French thinker Joseph de Maistre and which reached its peak in Spain under Francisco Franco. In contrast to Burkean Conservatism, which originated at about the same time, Latin Conservatism is uncompromising in its belief in the need for order. While Burke supported constitutionalism and some degree of democracy, Maistre, like Thomas Hobbes before him, though with a more religious tone, supported absolutism as the only means of avoiding violent disorder.

Maistre, a diplomat who had to flee for his life during the French Revolution, became convinced that ultra-liberal ideas, particularly Rousseau's theory of a "general will", had led to the horrors of the French Revolution and the bloodshed of the Napoleonic Wars. In forceful terms he compared the situation of his day to the Book of Genesis. "Order" was the divine will, "chaos" the devil's will and "revolution" was original sin. But Maistre also objected to the quasi-secularism and self-indulgence of some late 18th century monarchies, and believed that state and church must remain inseparable. He summed up how moral order, in his opinion, had to be maintained in what became the unofficial motto of Latin Conservatism, "the pope and the executioner". Maistre's dislike of leftist intellectuals also influenced later conservatives in southern Europe.

Maistre's political beliefs seemed to triumph for a time after the Bourbon Restoration of 1815, but the revolutions that swept Europe in 1830 and 1848 allowed the liberal and sometimes the radical left to predominate through much of the continent. That Spain remained a monarchy through the 19th century can in part be attributed to Maistre's influence. In much of Europe, however, Burkean thought was the most thoroughgoing right-wing ideology. It was to take the upsurge of anarchism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to revive Latin Conservatism.

Mikhail Bakunin, who introduced the use of violence into anarchist thought, influenced new generations that became increasingly nihilistic in their beliefs and used terrorism to promote their ideas. Czar Alexander II of Russia and President William McKinley in the United States were both assassinated by anarchists, and anarchists in Spain launched a series of murderous attacks on Roman Catholic churches in 1909. In Spain, where the Catholic influence was very strong, Maistre's ideas had renewed appeal.

The extreme violence of the left set the stage for perhaps the greatest triumph of Latin Conservatism. Violence between the left and right culminated in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and the right, under Francisco Franco, emerged victorious. Franco, a devout Catholic and advocate of nationalcatolicismo often considered to be a fascist, was intent on destroying violent anarchism and immorality and restoring Catholicism as the state religion and was willing to resort to extreme measures to achieve his goals, as were the leftists. Each side murdered about 80,000 political opponents during the war, and Franco executed some 10,000 more left-wingers after the war. During Franco's rule as dictator (1939-1975), the principles of Maistre's Latin Conservatism were fully instituted in Spain. Many theaters, which in pre-Franco Spain had were regarded as leftist and amoral, were shut down, and theatre and cinema were heavily censored. Catholic faith was required to hold a government post. Political dissent was not allowed. Even as Europe became increasingly liberal in the 1950s and 1960's, Franco held firm to his ideas. He died in 1975 believing that he had chosen a conservative successor, but Juan Carlos, the man whom he had chosen to replace him, was actually a liberal and Franco's death essentially ended Latin Conservatism as a major political force. In the United States, however, ideas of a similar nature developed independently with some influence from Latin Conservatism, and are currently held by paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan and members of the Constitution Party. In Europe, its influence is apparent in the ideas of Jean-Marie Le Pen and his party, Front National, in France, as well as marginal, insignificant groups in other European countries.

Like all political ideologies, Latin Conservatism is the source of much controversy. To conservatives and to many Roman Catholics, it was the only way to prevent anarchism and violence far worse than Franco's. To liberals, however, Latin Conservatism was an inexcusable and overbearing infringement on personal rights. Even its bitterest opponents, however, would concede that under Franco Latin Conservatism did achieve its goal of maintaining order.

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*Antonio Salazar, Portuguese dictator 1932-1968, also adopted many tenets of Latin Conservatism
*Charles Maurras, founder of the Action Française, was an atheist but embraced much of Latin Conservatism
*Philippe Pétain, head of Vichy France, Maurras' "divine surprise"
*Léon Degrelle, head of the Belgian Catholic Rex movement
*Engelbert Dollfuß, Catholic anti-Nazi Austrofascist
*Clerical fascism

For an American viewpoint similar to Latin Conservatism, visit:

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