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"Multiculturalism Gone Wrong : Spain in the Renaissance" Topic


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©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP15 Feb 2017 11:26 a.m. PST

"We can look at the past in different ways. We can simplify it and codify it into a few key words and concepts, like Empire and Renaissance, Reformation and Revolution, or we can try to get a sense of what it was like for ordinary people to live at a time quite distant from our own. Texbooks tend to take the first approach. The second, far less direct, is more compelling but also much more complex. Textbooks try to wrap life into neat packets, each bound by its own pair of dates; real life is rarely so easy to describe.

The term Renaissance is particularly problematic when it is applied to Spanish history. While we think of the Renaissance in Western Europe as an intellectual movement spreading outward from Italy in the fifteenth century, the flow of everyday life in Spain during the same period was often in conflict with the currents of Renaissance thought, and this conflict was to have profound consequences for centuries to come. It is easy enough to say that during the Renaissance a Europe dominated by the Church awoke to rediscover the thought and the arts of Classical Antiquity. It is quite another matter to see how these new European concerns interacted with the prevailing cultural situation in Spain – a situation that was very different from what was happening in other parts of Europe.

Moreover, the notion of "Spain" itself poses some fundamental questions. When did Spain begin to exist as a nation? Were the cultures that inhabited the Iberian Peninsula before the Roman Empire the first true Spaniards? Did the Romans bring to Spain – Hispania – the first notion of a Spanish identity? Did the Visigoths, who adopted the Latin language and Christian religion of the local inhabitants, somehow set Spain apart from other provinces of the former Roman Empire? Were the Moors – Islamic peoples who controlled much of the peninsula for centuries – Spaniards or alien invaders? Did the Catholic Monarchs, who conquered the last Moorish kingdom on the peninsula and expelled the Jews in 1492, finally establish Spain as a unified nation?

Today we use the term "multicultural" to refer a society composed of diverse ethnic groups. In this sense, the Spain of the Middle Ages was a truly multicultural environment. Américo Castro, the Spanish historian, claimed that Spanish history has its real roots in the coexistence, intermingling, and struggle of three groups – Christians, Moslems, and Jews – and that this coexistence or convivencia must be considered an essential component of what it means to be Spanish. While much of the Reconquest was over by the middle of the thirteenth century, Spain took shape as an amalgam of these three groups. The fact that an area had been reconquered by the Christians didn't mean that the entire culture or population had changed, but simply that a transfer of political power had taken place…"
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daler240D Supporting Member of TMP15 Feb 2017 11:37 a.m. PST

i think this is pretty much established history for going on at least 75 years now. Spain is quite unique as a result of it's confluence of the three cultures. If anything, the Reconquista set them back and froze them in time. Driving out the Jews and Muslms and then becoming the most religiously unbending and intolerant kingdom in Europe was the worst thing that ever happened to them.

Dn Jackson15 Feb 2017 5:16 p.m. PST

"…becoming the most religiously unbending and intolerant kingdom in Europe was the worst thing that ever happened to them."

That's an interesting thought. I wonder how true it is as right after doing this they created an empire that spanned the globe. Central and South America, India, The Phillipines, etc. A lot of countries with multiple religions, ethnicities, races, etc have stagnated and had trouble within that caused numerous problems.

Did the single unifying religion help or hurt the Spanish? What are other people's thoughts on this?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP15 Feb 2017 6:21 p.m. PST

We don't ever get to travel the other road, and there are lots of ways for things to go wrong. If Spain had not unified politically, it might look more like the Balkans. If it hadn't expelled the Moriscos, it might today be as tolerant and diverse as Syria and Iraq. And would you like to replay Ottoman expansion in the 16th Century without a strong Spain? One that did not have a Muslim fifth column?

That's just three offhand. Never imagine things couldn't be worse. Things can always be worse.

vtsaogames15 Feb 2017 6:37 p.m. PST

The unity let them be stride the globe like a colossus for two centuries. Then the continued dominance of the clergy and aristocracy stunted the growth of capitalism. The gold and silver flowing from the New world caused massive inflation before heading to the businesses of northern Europe, where capitalism was developing. After 2 centuries of glory Spain became the has been power.

Supercilius Maximus In the TMP Dawghouse16 Feb 2017 3:22 a.m. PST

It is in the nature of empires to stagnate and eventually collapse, in the face of new ideas, new technologies, human weaknesses (eg greed, laziness, arrogance), or a combination of the above.

As robert says, things can always be worse.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP16 Feb 2017 4:24 a.m. PST

Thank you, Supercilius. I'd like to expand on vtsaogames' point: the New World gold and silver was the real problem, I think. Sad truth is, when the Jews were expelled from Spain, they could hardly go to England, which had ALREADY expelled them, and wouldn't re-admit them for a century and a half. That sort of thing can be a crime and a personal tragedy without crippling a state.
But like some of the "oil states" today, all that more or less free money meant Spain didn't have to make the hard choices about governance the British and French would make. The court factions, pensioners and corruption of Elizabethan and early Stuart England would pass with the ECW, and the French problem would be reduced by Henry IV. But the Spanish court will include all the worst features of medieval monarchy as late as Carlos II. By then, modern economics and politics had passed Spain by.

But as I wrote earlier, we never see the other path. That too could have gone awry.

KTravlos Supporting Member of TMP16 Feb 2017 8:32 a.m. PST

Spain was never united politically. Regionalism and localism were strong for a very long time and are still strong.

The Moriscos were not a fith column. A very small number might have had ties to the Barbary states, but the vast majority did not. The issues has been studied quite a lot and the issues leading to insurrections were the good old reasons that lead people to insurrection. Greed by one group, aribtrariness in the pursuit of greed, reaction by the other, and the central state making a choice between two groups.

The Moriscos are not like christians and muslims in the Ottoman Empire. They were made into christians. There was not millet system in Spain after the reconquista. Give a couple of generations and most of them would see the Spansish state like Albanian converts looked at the Ottoman state.

the issue was that Spain was not a unitary state but a real union of competing and unhappy regions. The Moriscos added to that instability. They would never become Castillians, but could not be fully Catalans. Locals understood that and understood long term that could lead to chaning the local traditions etc to accomodate anotehr crown.

The Jewish issue is a bit more like the Ottoman, in that Jews were given the millet treatment in Spain. But still I find a state that is fundementally fractured like hell kicking out the Jews becuase they added to fractionalisation. Anyhow their loss was the Ottoman's gain. Indeed it is a good question of how Turkish history would had gone if not of the donemene of Selanik and their role in the early CUP politics, and later republican ones.

While the Gold played its role in the fall of Spain, equally important was the political fragmentation. A unitary state was a Bourbon imposition in Spain, and they failed when the Napoleonic Wars and dynastic incompetence came. The next to pull it off was Franco, and he failed as the inevitable return of democracy meant also the return of political fragmentation.

vtsaogames16 Feb 2017 11:12 a.m. PST

donemene of Selanik

You have me there, Konstantinos. When I googled it, everything that came up was in Turkish. So I still have no idea what it is.

On the other hand, did see "Kedi" recently. Erdo-gone indeed, inshallah, mashallah.

KTravlos Supporting Member of TMP16 Feb 2017 11:56 p.m. PST

Probably because I mis-wrote it. Donmeh is the Turkish word. I used the more slang term used by Greeks etc.. It is the term used for Jewish converts to Islam in the Ottoman Empire, initially crypto-Hebrews but later all of them. A lot of the Jews that arrived in the Ottoman Empire after the Spanish expulsions converted to Islam, some remaining crypto-Hebrews. They were important players in the secular and nationalist movement in Turkish history, especially the Committee of Union Progress, and the early Republican period.

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