Wasted vote(r)s

I had a re-run of the old Iraq drunken brawl the other night with a left-wing journalist, who said basically that democracy would never work there and (after a couple more beers) did not work anywhere else, particularly not in Britain, because it’s just not the kind of thing humans are good at. This peculiarly Spanish pessimism is, I think, a rather extended hangover brought on by the betrayal over a period of more than one and a half centuries of the great promise of the 1812 constitution, that the “nation is free, being understood by nation the collective of all Spaniards of both hemispheres; that it cannot be the property of a family or person, and that sovereignty resides essentially in it.”

Joaquín Costa published a fiery pamphlet in 1878 under the title Oligarchy and caciquismo, the current form of government in Spain (Oligarquía y caciquismo como la forma actual de gobierno en España) in which he attacked the illusory nature of contemporary parliamentary democracy and laid waste to those glib orators who promised to respect the will of the people, all the while counting on the system frustrating its expression:

In Castile, as in other medieval states, legislative power depended on the executive, and parliaments voted petitions instead of decrees; in England, on the other hand, executive power depends on the legislature; in the United States, legislative and executive power are mutually independent; in Spain, so-called legislative power dependes on the executive, and executive power depends on the legislature, a monstrosity which results in mutual obstruction, by virtue of which the houses of parliament and ministers have their hands tied reciprocally, and the oligarchs of the left allow nothing that will benefit those of the right, to which those of the right respond in kind, one group being absorbed in the serious task of laying siege day and night to the blue bench [the ministerial seats in the Cortes] and the other in defending it; and so legislatures pass in interminable discussion, expressed perfectly in the one about Don Patricio and his servants:

– What are you doing, Juan?
– I’m not doing anything, sir.
– And you, Pedro?
– Sir, I’m helping Juan.

This kind of stuff still has powerful resonance in a country where the two major parties cheerfully rabbit on about welcome but insignificant initiatives like gay marriage, as well as symbollocks about which flag gets flown over town hall, leaving young people rotting in the kind of dead-end jobs that keep their union and big business backers–respectively adverse to small (= deunionised), smart (=competition) companies–happy. It does seem a bit unfair, though, to project Spanish disappointments onto the poor bloody Iraqis.

(The Patricio/Juan/Pedro gag seems familiar, but I can’t place it.)

Original text: En Castilla, como en los demás Estados medievales, el poder legislativo dependía del ejecutivo, votando las Cortes, en vez de decretos, peticiones; en Inglaterra, al revés, el poder ejecutivo depende del legislativo; en los Estados Unidos, el poder legislativo y el ejecutivo son independientes el uno del otro; en España, el llamado poder legislativo depende del ejecutivo, y el poder ejecutivo depende del legislativo, una monstruosidad, de que resulta una mutua obstrucción, por virtud de la cual las Cámaras y los ministros se tienen atadas las manos recíprocamente, y los oligarcas de la izquierda no dejan hacer cosa de provecho a los de la derecha, ni los de la derecha a los de la izquierda, absorbidos los unos en la grave tarea de asediar noche y día el banco azul y los otros en la de defenderlo; y así las Legislaturas se pasan en un coloquio inacabable, de que da exacta idea aquel de Don Patricio con sus servidores:

-¿Qué haces, Juan?.

-No hago nada, señor.

-¿Y tú, Pedro?

-Señor, estoy ayudando a Juan.

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