Don Quixote and the Spanish Foreign Legion: on Vox and choosing the right memes

Vox is a rightist party from Spain of which we have already talked about in the past. For many years, Spain has lacked a strong political parties occupying the fringe right space: the right was monolythic, and almost synonymous with the People’s Party (PP). The PP has long been accused by the left of being continuist to the Francoist establishment. Many of its founding politicians had grown up during the dictatorship, and held strong family and personal ties with its elite. Extreme right parties, like phalangists and traditionalists, were firmly outside the mainstream, so PP voters certainly comprised some of the their social base. As a political strawman, accusing the PP of being extreme right is of doubtless rhetorical utility; from a historical and memetic point of view, however, the assertion does not hold up.

Let’s examine the facts: after the Civil War (1936-39), Generalissimo Franco had consolidated himself as the victor and sole leader of the Nationalist faction of Spain, ridding the country of anything remotely smelling of liberalism, socialism or communism. A pure military man, he was not ideologically inclined. He had joined the army at 14, served with distinction in the African War, and wasn’t known to own a library or read anything other than military treaties. He had joined the Nationalist side relatively late, after careful calculations, and is almost universally described as a grey, unpoetic and somewhat bland character. After having eliminated any surviving resistance, he found a way to get rid of his most politicized followers too. He sent the most philo-fascistic of them to die with the Germans on the Eastern Front, stripped the traditionalists of political positions, and postponed the Bourbon Restoration until his death. The resulting regime was more similar to an anti-communist Military junta, than to a fascist totalitarian State or a reactionary Kingdom. It later befriended the US, who found it useful as an anti-communist bulwark. In its last years, Franco came to rely on liberal technocrats related to the Catholic movement Opus Dei, who kept the system running through until Franco’s death and later went on to create the PP.

So, back to Vox. When it finally got significant congressional representation, in april 2019, “anti-fascist” alerts had already been going on for a while. For people in the left, Vox was another revival of Francoism, making the supposedly fascistic PP pale in comparison. The main reasons for this belief were Vox’s unapologetic nationalism and centralism, both of which had been somewhat taboo in democratic Spain. Talking to Vox voters, it’s easy to realize that they’re mostly people disillusioned with the PP for its abandonment of cultural struggles: notably, its lukewarm position on inmigration (in the South), and its relaxed opposition to Catalan and Basque separatism (in the North). The characterization of Vox as Francoist, however, is also baseless, and the most definite proof for it is that many Francoist, anti-establishment, original right wing radicals distrust Vox for a number of reasons: among them its liberalism, its origins in the PP, its non-rejection of the EU and its ties to the US and Israel.

To summarize, so far we’ve established three somewhat controversial hypothesis: (1) Franco was not a Fascist; (2) the PP might come from Franco but it certainly is not Fascist either; and (3) Vox might come from the PP but it is also not Fascist.

Leaving aside the historical arguments briefly exposed, let’s approach the subject from a memetic standpoint. And it’s not hard to identify Vox’s references in this aspect: its aesthetic icons are the Spanish Tercio and the Conquistador, the red Cross of Burgundy and the morion. The dramatis personae of Vox’s narrative centers around a quixotic confrontation pitting everyman Spaniards against disloyal Flemish Calvinists at Brussels; Perfidious Albion; traitorous separatists; and the unpatriotic, Corrupt Court in Madrid. It tries to be evocative of the 16th and 17th centuries: the scandalous alliance Franco-Ottoman alliance against Spain, the Eighty Years War, and colonial competition in the Atlantic. All the critique of Macron, Merkel and Open Society globalists, and all of the headbutting with Belgian judges in regards to Catalan fugitives, stem from this narrative. Vox is hostile to the EU-imposed quotas of Muslim refugees, but warms up to immigrants coming from South America, seen as belonging in Spain. Its antagonism to Bolivarianism has to be understood as coming not so much from its socialism, but from the way it has cleaved the Spanish-speaking world, geopolitically diluting it.

Francoist memes do not embody this Atlantic spirit. Their aesthetic references are to be found in North Africa. Francoist myth was born in the military outposts of Ceuta and Melilla, in savage desert wars for oil and minerals. It thus lacks Vox’s defensive and heroic tone. The Francoist ethos is that of southward Reconquista, of the warrior spirit, religious and moral reckoning. Franco saw the future of Spain not in Europe nor in South America, but in Africa. As a condition to join the Axis, he tried to negotiate with Hitler a protectorate including most of French possessions in the Maghreb. The Generalissimo relied on African troops to take over Spain, enticing them with the project of saving the world from godless Communism. His elite Muslim warriors became his personal guard. The key to Spain’s spiritual redemption was in Morocco. The model Spaniard was not the idealistic, noble-but-flawed Quixote, but the patriotic Legionario übermensch, forged in sun and steel. To stand shoulder to shoulder with Berlin, Paris and Rome, Spain had to reconnect with its African side.

Voxs success so far has been based on its well-chosen memetic framework. It fitted with the zeitgeist, and with the narratives of neighboring countries. Its response to the political crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, however, has been less spot-on. The party has focused too much on hampering the State of Alarm declared by the leftist government, accusing it of totalitarianism, and trying to provoke some sort of Red Scare reaction. This strategy is doomed to fail. Instead of using the ghost of communism, Vox should focus on destroying the bipartisan establishment of democratic Spain, which threatens the country’s identity in Europe, its territorial security, and its leadership potential in the Atlantic Ocean. The government’s management of the crisis has provided with plenty of opportunities for this. With the geopolitical changes at hand, they either learn to choose their battleground or are fated to irrelevance.