The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Spain

The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Spain

by Richard Herr


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The first part of the book is an able survey of 'the Enlightenment’ in eighteenth-century Spain. The second part, on ’the Revolution,’ is something more.

Originally published in 1958.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691621623
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 12/08/2015
Series: Princeton Legacy Library , #1938
Pages: 502
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

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The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Spain

By Richard Herr


Copyright © 1958 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-05116-1



AFTER the culture of the Middle Ages passed its zenith, there began a gradual development in the intellectual spirit of Europe that was to culminate in the eighteenth century. Religion, which was the medieval basis for men's thinking on the problems of life, was slowly driven from its prominent position by knowledge of a more secular kind. At the same time, freedom to express unorthodox ideas advanced.

The humanism of the Renaissance marked the first big step along the path. The Reformation brought the next, although its leaders had not intended to do anything but strengthen the religious spirit of Christianity. By the middle of the seventeenth century the Christian church had lost the supreme social authority which it had always asserted. The Reformation had destroyed its unity, and out of the ensuing chaos came the reality, soon justified by the theory, of religious toleration. At the same time in many lands the church fell under state control. Even the most powerful of the various churches that now were claiming to be the sole interpreters of the teachings of Jesus no longer had its former political influence. The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 was made against the wishes of the head of the Roman Catholic Church and accepted despite his condemnation. This flouting of the pope was symbolic of the determination — and ability — of Catholic princes in the future to be princes first and Catholics second.

By this date a new spirit of independence from traditional religion and theology was invading all fields of thought. Because of the stricter control of thought in Catholic countries, Protestant lands were in general the first scene of the new development. In England, Francis Bacon opened the seventeenth century by dismissing Aristotle, the authority on whom medieval Christian scientific and philosophic thought had rested, in favor of the direct observation of nature as the source of knowledge; and Isaac Newton closed it by publishing his profoundly influential discovery of the law of gravitation. Henceforth, the universe and man as part of it were looked upon more and more as subject to rational laws, laws which God meant for man to discover by reasoning upon facts observed directly in nature rather than by the study of revelation and ancient authorities. Political science felt the same emancipation. Hugo Grotius, in the Netherlands, writing on international law, gave currency to a new meaning for the time honored concept of the law of nature. Instead of being synonymous with Christian political doctrines derived from the commandments of the Bible, the term now meant a universally valid law for human society based on reason and the nature of man. John Locke followed at the end of the century by stating that men have natural rights, such as personal freedom and the possession of property, which they did not give up when they formed an agreement to enter into society, abandoning the state of nature in which Locke supposed they had originally existed. René Descartes, writing like other Frenchmen in the safety of voluntary exile, had in the meantime given metaphysics its freedom from scholastic theology. Descartes demonstrated the fallibility of all accepted sources of knowledge, including Christian philosophy, and then relied on his reason alone to prove the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. Locke thereupon laid the foundation for modern epistemology by destroying the belief, still accepted even by Descartes, that God placed certain basic ideas in the minds of men at birth. He asserted instead that man's information comes only from his sense perceptions. Finally the Christian religion itself was openly attacked. Benedict Spinoza, like Descartes consulting his reason alone, substituted for the anthropomorphic Judeo-Christian God, who created the universe, an impersonal, all-embracing concept of God that seemed to make him identical with the universe. In England, meanwhile, from an observation of the new multiplicity of the Christian sects and the newly discovered religions of other lands, a group known as deists evolved the idea of a natural religion, the true primitive religion, from which, they said, all others had departed. These men held that to worship God no instituted church was necessary; certainly no church was justified in receiving state support and persecuting dissenters.

Spinoza and the deists, it is true, were honored more by being detested than by being read, and it was Grotius, Descartes, Locke, and Newton who inspired their contemporaries. By the end of the seventeenth century, nevertheless, the basis for a lay, or at least a religiously unorthodox, outlook on life had been established in Protestant lands. The next hundred years was to see its penetration into Catholic countries and wide diffusion throughout Europe, a movement which has been called the Enlightenment. Early in the century, Voltaire brought back to France from England an admiration for the science of Newton and the philosophy of Locke. The French mind had already been prepared by Descartes, and Voltaire's enthusiasm was soon shared by a group of men who were referred to derisively as philosophes. Motivated by a deep faith in the ability of the human mind to learn the truths of nature through observation and reason, these men questioned all accepted beliefs. Locke's sensationalist theory of epistemology was carried to an extreme form by Étienne Bonnot de Condillac and Claude Adrien Helvétius. The concept of natural religion became common, and even the need for the existence of God to explain natural phenomena was denied by materialist writers such as the Baron d'Holbach. The philosophes introduced their sensationalist and empirical spirit into a gigantic venture undertaken to gather all knowledge into one work of reference. This was the Encyclopédie, edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert, which became famous as much for its iconoclastic approach to knowledge as for its useful collection of information.

Once the philosophes had made good their rupture with Catholic tradition, they turned their attention to the improvement of man's earthly lot. They refused to believe that because of an original fall man was doomed to depravity. They had a faith of their own in the natural goodness of man and his ability to perfect himself. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, not in complete agreement with the optimistic view of the encyclopedists, said that it was society that had corrupted man's goodness. This goodness he still felt could be maintained, however, by the right kind of education, which would keep children away from the evil influences of society and develop their intellect by observation and experience. This was the theme of his Émile. The book was an attack on the system of instruction by rote practiced in contemporary church schools, which had a near monopoly of education. Rousseau added insult to injury in the training he prescribed for Emile by postponing religious education to the age of adolescence and then recommending a form of natural religion.

Another group of persons that was equally effectively destroying the traditional Christian outlook was the physical and natural scientists, who were making astounding advances. Their achievements became the fascination of cultured circles. Men came to accept as true the proposition which the church had made Galileo Galilei recant in 1633, that the earth revolves about the sun, and the one that the Comte de Buffon had been forced to retract in 1751, that the earth had existed for many more epochs than the Bible said. The accomplishments of the men who, following Bacon's advice, chose to observe the facts thus further weakened the prestige of scholastic reasoning. By the end of the eighteenth century experimental science had largely replaced theology in the minds of educated men as the queen of sciences.

From France the Enlightenment spread through Europe. Its exportation was facilitated by the intellectual pre-eminence which the French language and literature had acquired under Louis XIV, because of both the political hegemony of the nation and the superiority of its writers. Its "culture rayonnante" was the pabulum of those in Germany, Italy, Russia, and elsewhere who made a pretense of being educated. Everywhere French writing made known the names of Voltaire, Rousseau, Buffon, Locke, and Newton.

The great enemy the philosophies and scientists faced, especially in their early years, was the Catholic Church. Their proposal to re-examine all knowledge clashed with the assertion of the church that, as a divinely instituted body, it was the guardian of the truth that God had given through revelation. The Catholic Church had not abandoned its medieval claim to teach the only true religion. It called upon the temporal monarchs to aid in suppressing other religious beliefs and in silencing writers who questioned its truths. In France works of the philosophes were prohibited by the government, and in Rome they were put on the Index, a formal list of books whose reading was forbidden to Catholics on pain of excommunication. Writers in the ranks of the church meanwhile mobilized to refute the philosophes and to sustain the faith of Catholics in their religion. To do so successfully, however, they were forced to adopt much of the new way of thinking about man's place in creation. Their very writing was eloquent testimony of the evolution in thought since the Middle Ages.

Another historical phenomenon that coincided with this development of thought was the growth of the middle class. This social group too had its origins in medieval Europe, and it had multiplied prodigiously since then. Its members were the craftsmen and merchants who had transformed the medieval agrarian society into a thriving economy of expanding urban centers, international commercial exchange, and handicraft manufacture. In their business ventures they had had to slight the views of the church on the wickedness of usury and the blessedness of poverty. Theirs was a worldly spirit, and it was their rise that to a great extent explains the triumph of secularism. Where they were strongest, in the Netherlands, England, and France, the new intellectual spirit had made the most progress.

A third development which paralleled both of these was the growth in the power of the state. The eclipse of the Christian church as a rival governing power and the expansion of the economy beyond the control of local institutions had combined with other factors to give kings more direct control over the lives of their subjects than they had ever had before. With control came enlarged responsibility for the welfare of their subjects. By what was perhaps more than coincidence, a number of rulers appeared in the eighteenth century who were able to take advantage of their new role. Frederick II in Prussia, Catherine II in Russia, Joseph II in Austria, and a series of less important princes in Germany and Italy were capable monarchs who were inspired to make use of their personal power to reform their countries. Like the philosophes, they had assimilated the spirit of experimental rationalism and optimism in the future of man. They supported scientific research for the improvement of the agriculture and manufacture of their states. They simplified the complicated agencies of government they had inherited, reformed the administration of justice, and, in accordance with the economic doctrine known as mercantilism, adopted legislation that would further the commercial economy so that it would enrich their states. In these and other projects their aim was to make their people more prosperous and happy because they believed that the king should be the first servant of the state and that the prosperity of the state rested on that of its subjects. These rulers are known as the enlightened despots, and they were as typical of the latter half of the eighteenth century as were the philosophes and the scientists.

Like the last two, in Catholic lands the enlightened despots clashed with the church. Economic reforms could not be carried out without disturbing the tithes of the clergy or the extensive ecclesiastical property in mortmain. The apparent uselessness of many monastic orders conflicted with the desire of these rulers to see their subjects profitably employed. The monarchs wished to have progressive scientific knowledge given to the people, but the church had a near monopoly of instruction and imparted an increasingly discredited classical and scholastic education. Finally, when all the activity of the state was being drawn under their control, these princes objected to the allegiance and monetary payments given to the papacy by the branches of the Catholic church in their lands. More and more they interfered with the power of the pope to direct the local churches in temporal matters and limited the money that could be sent to Rome. Like the middle class, the enlightened despots embodied the new outlook that rejected the authority of revealed religion and the Christian church in the affairs of life on this earth.

In this conflict of ideas the role of the nobility was less well defined. Although the nobles enjoyed a privileged position inherited from the Middle Ages, as a class they did not take a firm stand against the Enlightenment. Many welcomed its ideas and patronized its partisans in France and their own countries. But they did not thereby give up their former social and political pretensions. In France they still claimed the right to voice the will of the people and approve the acts of the king. Their case was stated eloquently by the Baron de Montesquieu in De l'esprit des lois, one of the most widely known works of the century. The nobility was singing no swan song. Throughout Europe it was strengthening its control over the land and profiting at the expense of the peasantry. Capitalism could be applied to agriculture as well as to commerce, and the aristocracy had come to know the power of money. Even enlightened despots were in no position to challenge them. For all her fine words, Catherine gave free rein to the growing tyranny of Russian nobles over the serfs; Frederick chatted with Voltaire but remained convinced that the authority of his Junkers over their peasants contributed to the military strength of Prussia; Joseph tried seriously to free his serfs from their obligations to their masters, and his infuriated nobles forced his successors to destroy his work. Although aristocrats might appear enlightened, nowhere in Europe could kings and bourgeoisie in hatching their schemes overlook the power and pretensions of this traditionally minded class.

In the eighteenth century France did not have a king who could rank with the best enlightened despots, but it did have a powerful middle class, and it was the center for the radiation of the Enlightenment. Immediately to the south was Spain. By its proximity Spain was amply suited to receive the lay outlook on life, but it was the land that had for centuries most strongly maintained the Catholic religion at home and supported it abroad with its wealth and blood. Its commercial and manufacturing class had declined since the sixteenth century, while its nobility, one of the proudest in Europe, had lost none of its land. Despite its nearness, Spain did not seem to present fertile ground for the Enlightenment. There remained, however, the possibility that it might be granted an enlightened despot who would favor the new spirit.



With the advent of Philippe de Bourbon, grandson of Louis XIV of France, to the Spanish throne in 1700, Spain experienced more than the turn of a century. The power and prestige of the nation that had reconquered its home from the Moors, had colonized America, and had held European hegemony, was frittered away by the last of the Spanish Habsburgs through exhaustive foreign wars and domestic misgovernment. The Bourbons brought to Spain what it possibly needed most, personal attention. The three kings who ruled in the next eighty-eight years, Philippe, who ascended the Spanish throne as Felipe V, and his two sons, Fernando VI and Carlos III, were moved by a sincere desire to improve their country. Under them it made remarkable moral and material progress. Its population increased, it again showed signs of prosperity, its colonial empire received much needed reform, and before the end of the century it once more had weight in international affairs.


Excerpted from The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Spain by Richard Herr. Copyright © 1958 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

  • Frontmatter, pg. i
  • Preface, pg. vii
  • Contents, pg. xi
  • Chapter I. The Time of Enlightenment, pg. 3
  • Chapter II. Regalism and Jansenism in Spain, pg. 11
  • Chapter III. The Enlightenment Enters Spain, pg. 37
  • Chapter IV. Land Boom and Land Hunger, pg. 86
  • Chapter V. Industrial Renaissance and Stagnation, pg. 120
  • Chapter VI. The Channels of Enlightenment, pg. 154
  • Chapter VII. The Conservative Opposition, pg. 201
  • Chapter VIII. Floridablanca's Great Fear, pg. 239
  • Chapter IX. The French Propaganda Campaigns, pg. 269
  • Chapter X. Spain's Levée En Masse, pg. 297
  • Chapter XI. The Growth of Political Opposition, pg. 316
  • Chapter XII. The Birth of The Liberal Tradition, pg. 337
  • Chapter XIII. Godoy and The Revival of Enlightenment, pg. 348
  • Chapter XIV. Economic Policies and The Price of War, pg. 376
  • Chapter XV. Jovellanos, Urquijo, and The Jansenist Offensive, pg. 398
  • Conclusion: New Unity and New Disunity, pg. 435
  • Bibliographical Note, pg. 445
  • Bibliographical Index, pg. 455
  • Index, pg. 465

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