Thursday, August 4, 2011

Monarchist Profile: Eugenio Vegas Latapie

One of the most fiery and controversial monarchists produced by Spain was Eugenio Vegas Latapie, however, his life and career is one monarchists should look at and learn from. Vegas Latapie was born in 1907 and hailed from Irun. His father was a retired soldier who had fought in Cuba and a French teacher and Eugenio, after finishing school, joined the Spanish army as a lawyer. He was one of the founding members of the monarchist group Acción Español. This was an Alfonsist organization that advocated the overthrow of the Spanish republic and the restoration of a strong Catholic monarchy. Made up of tradition-minded Spanish nationalists and disaffected Carlists it supported a program of monarchism, integral nationalism and Catholic social teachings. As the name implies, it was inspired by the more well-known Action Française made famous by Charles Maurras. For a time the group was fairly prominent and enjoyed the foreign support of Action Française, Portuguese National Syndicalists and the National Fascist Party of Italy. Vegas Latapie was outspoken even for this group in his calls for very authoritarian Catholic monarchy and the glorification of Spanish history and the solidarity of the Iberian Peninsula.

In fact, Vegas Latapie became so extreme in his views that he eventually became critical of the former King Alfonso XIII and the Infante Juan Conde de Barcelona in their turn for being insufficiently monarchist for his way of thinking. Likewise, although an always outspoken advocate of Catholic triumphalism he began attacking the Church in his writings for accepting the French republic and embracing certain principles of democracy and civil rights. In fact, so radical had he become that he almost turned violent as he and his brother Jose hatched a plan to assassinate President Manuel Azaña in retaliation for the murder of Jose Calvo Sotelo (another of the co-founders of Acción Español) in 1936. However, they were dependent on help from radical elements in the Spanish army and this was not forthcoming as most enemies of the republic in the military establishment were already gearing up for the approaching civil war. Thwarted on that front, and showing his increasing frustration and imbalance, he instead planned to make a suicide attack on the Chamber of Deputies using mustard gas, killing himself and everyone inside. However, as his brother worked for the only supplier of the gas in Spain, he dropped the idea for fear that his brother would end up paying for his crime.

One might have thought that a conflict such as the last Spanish Civil War was made to order for a man like Vegas Latapie but it was not. In fact, if it is not already evident, he was always one of those types of person who is never happy or satisfied, no cause is ever good enough, no leader ever pure enough. Thinking himself right and everyone else wrong he was constantly disappointed by those around him. When the war broke out, Vegas Latapie naturally favored the nationalist side and had some friendly contacts with the Spanish Falange. However, he did not approve of the conduct of the war, thinking that the nationalists were entirely too soft! He urged them ever to be merciless, to take no prisoners and show no pity. He also did not get along well with Falangist leader Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, disapproving of his rather playboy lifestyle. Nonetheless, he was appointed to the leadership council of the nationalist movement until General Francisco Franco replaced him in 1938, having grown tired of his constant criticism and allegations of ideological or personal impurity directed at everyone around him. Acción Español, taking this as an insult to their pride, withdrew their support from Franco and his coalition. In the end, this probably did their cause more harm than good.

Now, of course, like the King, the Count of Barcelona, the Church and the Falange before him, General Franco also now joined the list of those “not good enough” for Eugenio Vegas Latapie. Not only did he not support the “National Movement” but he actively opposed General Franco, though there was nothing he could do to thwart the generalissimo, and even after Franco won the war and was in total control of Spain he did not relent in his criticism of the new leader or of the government. He still regarded the government as insufficiently Catholic (though he regarded the Catholic Church itself as insufficiently Catholic) and he protested that there was no King on the throne. Of course, that would have been problematic by his own standards as he regarded the Alfonsists (whom he had always tended to support) as unreliable and insufficiently authoritarian and he had never had time for the Carlists whom he regarded as insufficiently Spanish and a threat to national unity. So, he was a Catholic for whom the Pope was not ‘Catholic enough’ and a monarchist who could not bring himself to actually support a monarch. Vegas Latapie in a nutshell.

Things became so bad with his written attacks of the nationalist regime that in 1942 he was briefly exiled from the country by Franco and took refuge in neutral Switzerland. Perhaps this had some effect on him as in 1946 he did finally come back around to supporting the restoration of the Count of Barcelona and joined his little court-in-exile where he continued to argue in favor of an authoritarian monarchy and against any sort of democracy. Franco might have agreed with that and that was, ironically, his primary reason for failing to make the count King Juan III of Spain, for fear that he would end the National Movement and make Spain democratic. Whatever the reason, if Vegas Latapie and the Count of Barcelona agreed on nothing else they did agree in their opposition to Franco who both came to regard as a traitor and a usurper. However, after the death of Franco when King Juan Carlos came to the throne, Vegas Latapie was certainly not happy with such a royal restoration either as it came with the democratization he most loathed. By the end of his life he had become extremely bitter and disillusioned as is evidenced by his autobiography that came out in 1983 titled, “Political Memoirs, the Suicide of the Monarchy and the Second Republic”. He died, still opposed to virtually everyone and everything in 1985.

This may be the most gloomy monarchist profile I have done, but I chose to do it because, again, there are important lessons here to learn. Holding to your principles is one thing but being so unrealistic as to think that you alone are right and everyone else is wrong unless they think exactly like you is something else entirely. The self-righteous ‘holier than thou’ attitude never got anyone very far. Here was a man whose entire life was dominated by unhappiness; such is the fate of those who seek any sort of perfection on earth. Most of life is spent trying to make the best of bad situations, choosing the least objectionable from a collection of choices in which none are ideal. In the end, Vegas Latapie did not accomplish anything because he was seldom engaged in anything long enough to do so before denouncing everyone and going off in a huff. Those who accept life as it is can sometimes manage a slight shift in direction but those who deny reality, who expect any sort of perfection this side of the Kingdom of Heaven, will, like Vegas Latapie, find themselves eventually dashed to pieces on the rocks of that reality.

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