Thursday, September 28, 2017

José Antonio Was Not a Political Theorist

The writings and speeches of José Antonio are anything but works of ‘political theory.’ His speeches criticize, attack or defend, propose or destroy. They seek an immediate and active response from the audience. They do not remotely resemble the talks given at academic conferences.  

José Antonio’s speeches were crafted not so much to clarify listeners’ minds on economic matters, but rather to convince them that the solution to the well-known problems he enumerated lay precisely — at least in the case of Spain — in National-Syndicalism. His notable quotes have a similar style. 

Let’s consider, for example, the following famous phrase from José Antonio: ‘Revolution is the labor of a resolute minority impervious to discouragement.’ It contains many quite obvious intellectual and literary virtues. It’s a perfectly formulated, concise, and correct definition. But this is not the most significant merit of the phrase. When one reads it, one not only bears witness to an intellectual truth, but also feels at once obligated to embrace that imperviousness, that resolution. This is language that galvanizes, that pushes one forward. In other words, it’s the language of a leader, of a politician. It is not the phrase of an intellectual.    

José Antonio was a cultured man. This has nothing to do with how much he read. Rather, it means that José Antonio’s head and heart contained a complete, well-ordered vision of ‘his’ world. It is easy to reconstruct that vision — one need only read his works. But it is a mistake to believe that this vision constituted a new political doctrine. In reading his works, we find instead that his convictions, his political ideas, and his actions were intimately connected to the structure of his ideas and sentiments. This, in Spain, was a very rare thing in our political leaders. No wonder that so many confused a well-organized brain and heart with a political doctrine. 

Does this mean that José Antonio did not have a doctrine? No. He was a National-Syndicalist, and he contributed a great deal to that school of thought. Some of his ideas, of course, were borrowed from the JONS (Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista) and the first jonsistas. But two of José Antonio’s ideals constitute the linchpin of his thinking and his action. These ideals predate his relationship with the jonsistas. Perhaps they even predate his university studies. It’s not altogether surprising that ideals he learned from his family would be mistaken for ideas he received from his education or from some philosophical tradition. The first ideal is that of the greatness of Spain. The second is that of respect for man as the ‘bearer of eternal values.’ Clearly, these concepts are so vague and general that nobody can claim that they originated with José Antonio. Yet they are the marrow of José Antonio’s thought and the most fundamental and intimate reasons for his actions. 

I think it’s rather clear, then, that José Antonio was not a political theorist. He was no elaborator of doctrines. What was he, then? 

A politician. No more, no less. Which is no small achievement. Indeed, being a politician is one of the most difficult and glorious things that one can be in this world.” 

Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, prologue to José Antonio: An Anthology (1939)

*Translated from the Spanish by Jaime de Andrade   

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