Rise and fall of Hispanity: a memetic history

The Spanish Crown was created after King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile were united in marriage in 1469. Together, the Catholic monarchs, as they were known, ended Moorish rule in the Iberian Peninsula. They also started the exploration and conquest of the New World, while their European policy allowed for their grandson Charles Habsburg to become not only King of Spain (as Charles I), but also Holy Roman Emperor (as Charles V). Charles V and his descendants became the rulers of the first truly global empire, appending their recently discovered ultramarine possessions to those in Europe.

The Habsburgs revitalized the meme of Universal Monarchy, styling themselves as followers of Charlemagne’s tradition of defenders of Christendom. Consequently, they fought with ardor the Protestant Reformation, favored by many of their subjects in Northwestern Europe. The Spanish campaigns in Flanders, which spanned generations, were a true Forever War that would make the USA’s Middle East engagements seem short in comparison (although this assertion may age poorly). This was the Golden Era of Hispanity, in which arts and letters flourished and the pace of European politics was set to the Spanish cadence.

The Protestant Reformation spawned as a natural (Devil-inspired?) memetic mutation of Catholic teaching. Similar things had happened before, like Catharism, Waldensianism or Neo-Adamism. This time, however, there was a new invention at play: Gutenberg’s movable-type printing press. A mechanic wonder which would enable the orchestration of the first modern memetic warfare operations.

State powers high-jacked natural memetic processes, accelerating them and turning them into a powerful new political-psychological tool. The Dutch and their English allies, as the earliest adopters of this art, completely determined the memetic framing of the conflict for centuries to come, subverting Habsburg influence through anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish propaganda. A Black Legend was born to echo through the centuries, its memes scattered like infectious droplets projected by every Anglo superspreader from Edgar Allan Poe to Monty Python.

Meanwhile, Flanders was piercing a permanent hole in the Spanish royal purse, draining the Crown’s economy from all the gold and silver mined in the Americas. By 1648, the affair had been more or less settled with the Peace of Westphalia, which is considered the basis of the international system of the following centuries, based on State sovereignty. Westphalia marked the decline of the Spanish senior branch of the Habsburgs, which disappeared after the death of Charles II in 1700, having fathered no children and triggering the Spanish War of Succession. It also signaled a change in political culture: the memetic environment in which powers operated would no more be religious universalism, but the more pragmatic raison d’État.

The War resulted in the end of the Habsburg Era for Spain: the dynasty was replaced by Philip V of Bourbon, nephew of Louis XIV the Sun King. Philip V, in very French fashion, tried to unify and centralize all his possessions to build a better, rationalized administration. The sun was setting for Spain, though, and the British Empire of the Waves was rising, fueled by the values of a nascent memeplex: Liberalism.

Spain, now aligned with France by grace of the Bourbons, tried for a century to hinder the advances of the British Crown and its plucky and voracious sailor-merchants, all the while scrambling to regain the territories lost in the War, such as Minorca and Gibraltar. As Catholic absolute monarchies, the alliance of both Bourbon branches was natural, so the Westphalian memetic shift was at first imperceptible. But when the chance came to undermine the British, previous scruples about collaborating with heretics were proved forgotten. The God-centered memetic framework of the 16th century had given place to modern State-centered justifications for foreign policy.

This effort explains the contribution of Charles III of Spain to the American Revolutionary War, which thanks to the privileged location of the Spanish West Indies was as significant and successful as it is now forgotten. The 1789 Revolution in France, however, led to the bloody overthrow of the Bourbons and a blossoming affinity between two wholly new political animals: the United States of America and the Republic of France, adding to cold raison d’État ideological coherence.

Memetic convergence between the two newborn Revolutionary Republics relegated a possible Spanish-American alliance to the dustbin of History. The initial synergies between the Hispanic and the American worlds were conveniently memory-holed by English-language historiography, along with French-Indian War grievances. France would memetically live on as Britain’s main historical rival and America’s number one ally, a link not even Napoleonic rule could sever. Spain, meanwhile, was assigned the trope of Oppressive Decadent Regime, and marked for future destruction.

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