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The Metamorphosis of the Spanish Right by Juanma Badenas

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The Metamorphosis of the Spanish Right

The Spanish Right is in the process of transformation. This is not an isolated phenomenon. A new conservatism is emerging in many Western nations, and recent events in the Spanish Popular Party show that the traditional economic Right is in crisis. 

In early April, the Popular Party’s (PP) national president, Pablo Casado, was forced to call a national congress to elect a new leader. At first, it seemed that this was the result of a confrontation between Pablo Casado and Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the president of the regional government of Madrid, each representing a different faction of the Spanish Right. However, in the end a consensus solution was reached in which Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the president of the regional government of Galicia and a member of the Partido Popular, was elected president of the party. He was the only candidate for election. Nevertheless, Núñez Feijóo represents the traditional ‘moderate’ economic Right that lacks the values and principles of the new Right. 

Had the struggle between Díaz Ayuso and Casado been the cause of this election, the Partido Popular could have become an agent in the transformation of the Spanish Right. However, the old Right has become another agent of globalism, almost no different from social democracy.

The Popular Party has a political agenda that coincides with the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) led by Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s current Prime Minister. Despite having promised his voters the opposite, Sánchez has maintained the labor reform that some years ago was approved by former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, then president of the Popular Party. Additionally, when the Popular Party came to power in December 2011, they did not repeal the ideological laws passed by the social democratic Left, such as the historical memory Law, the abortion Law, and the homosexual marriage Law, among others.

Therefore, the metamorphosis of the Spanish Right will not take place through the Popular Party, which for almost forty years has represented Spain’s conservatives. Instead, it will be led by the VOX party.

VOX’s Viva21 Festival in Madrid.

Photo: Vox España via Flickr

The war among Spanish conservatives is not merely being waged for the control of the Popular Party and even less for the control of the regional government of Madrid. It is a much broader conflict that affects all Western countries. Its outcome may help determine the shape of a new political and cultural Right. This conflict pits globalism against the nation state. 

The Left, which used to be made up mainly of communist, socialist, and social-democratic parties, began its transformation after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. At the time, the Right, dominated by Reaganites and Thatcherites, believed it had definitively won the war against Leftism. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, among other Left-leaning politicians (perhaps former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González himself, through his economic ministers, such as Miguel Boyer and Carlos Solchaga), incorporated formerly right-wing principles and values into their government programs and actions. It was a time when the maxime “it’s the economy, stupid” prevailed and many thought that there was no need for further political discussion. 

As its materialistic and economic ideology became obsolete, the Left had no choice but to reinvent itself. The new ideological conglomerate that constitutes today’s progressivism seems to be the natural result of an evolution of leftist thought. However, it has taken a great deal of research, reading, rereading, and reinterpreting writings from the last century to build a powerful and influential doctrine. It has been so successful that it has permeated opposing ideologies, such as (traditional) liberalism and even conservatism. The ‘compassionate conservatism’ of the British David Cameron, the American George W. Bush or the New Zealander John Key serves as an example of this phenomenon.

What until very recently was known as the right wing believed that by managing the economy and generating wealth for individuals, it would generally win the political and ideological wars.

However, the Right still believed that after the prosperity generated through its management and due to economic cycles, it had no choice but to alternate in power in an equally cyclical manner with social-democratic parties, who would ‘redistribute’ the wealth obtained by the liberal-conservatives. That is no longer enough. An ideological revolution is necessary, swapping economic management for patriotism and (of course) successful economic management (because a good economy is always necessary but is not enough).

Even citizens less interested in these issues have realized that their economic opportunities, wages, jobs, and even their health do not depend on whether they are governed by a social-democratic or a liberal-conservative party. The economic policies of both sides are very similar. The labor market “reform” of Pedro Sánchez in Spain, which basically consisted of maintaining previous policies, is a recent example. 

Now that the economy has been removed from the center of politics,, the so-called Right has no choice but to undertake its own metamorphosis. Call the Left and the Right whatever you want; the terminology matters little. However, it is important to understand that there will never be a universal ideology. There will always be political and cultural factions. The new Right understands this. 

A new way of thinking must be developed that will unite Westerners who disagree with the universal morality conceived and imposed by progressivism. In fact, it is already happening, and faster than anyone could have predicted.

Pablo Casado was perceived—even by many militants and sympathizers of the PP—as a universalist politician who morally and economically shares the same ideological paradigm as Pedro Sánchez. On the contrary, Isabel Díaz Ayuso and Santiago Abascal represent the counterpoint to his position, although for reasons that are not exactly the same. 

Through her handling of the pandemic, Isabel Díaz Ayuso has emerged as a great advocate for individual rights and freedoms in the face of the universalist progressivism that superimposes the collective over the individual. The fact that other regional leaders of her party, such as Juanma Moreno or Alberto Núñez Feijóo (mentioned before), have not been successful is most likely due to the fact that they do not share her same principles. This does not go unnoticed by many people, who identify these last two regional leaders (Moreno and Feijóo) with the officialist ideology of the current Popular Party. 

Conversely, Santiago Abascal, VOX’s leader, represents the defense of the Spanish nation and community morality. Many Spaniards agree that these principles are the only means to confront the erosion of individual rights and freedoms that globalism advocates in the name of safeguarding supposedly universal interests. 

A couple of decades ago, those of us who traveled to other European countries felt at home. Today, we don’t even feel at home in our own country. This is a sentiment that lurks in a growing number of Europeans and seems to be misunderstood by some leaders on the so-called Right. The universalism of the Left is in its genes; but the fact that the old Right also aspires to be globalist is incomprehensible. It is like a sieve, unable to collect and carry water.

The battle for the leadership of the Popular Party is nothing more than a skirmish in the transformation that the Right is undergoing. It is not a question of leadership but rather of ideas and principles.

The new Right recognizes that personal choice concerning one’s own life and the nation as the only safe space and sphere, which until now has guaranteed well-being and individual liberties, are two of the pillars on which the new Western conservative movement rests.

The economic model will come later as a consequence of how this new conservatism will finally emerge. But I can assure you that the liberal-conservative formula, whether you like it or not, is extinct. A right-wing that aspires only to economic management and, at best, to maintaining the status quo is a dead right-wing.

Juanma Badenas is a senior professor of civil law at the Universidad Jaume I (Spain) and member of the Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences in Belgium. He is the author of La Derecha: La imprescindible aportación de la Derecha a la sociedad actual, Córdoba: Almuzara, 2020.