In May 1931, a few weeks before the proclamation of the Republic, a wave of anti-clerical violence broke out that concluded with the burning of a hundred religious buildings, the profanation of various cemeteries, and grave destruction of artistic heritage. Among the defenders of the young democracy only the Agrupación al Servicio de la República (Group at the Service of the Republic) condemned the deeds: “So, burning convents and churches does not demonstrate either true republican zeal or a forward-looking spirit but, rather, a primitive or criminal fetishism, which can as easily lead to the the adoration of material things as to their destruction” (Gregorio Marañón, José Ortega y Gasset, Ramón Pérez de Ayala, El Sol [Madrid], 11 May 1931). But the Republic did not want to begin its mandate with a repressive reaction, much less protect a Church that it identified with the moral and political backwardness of Spain. Manuel Azaña himself closed the matter with a famous pronouncement: “All the convents and churches together do not equal in value the life of a republican.” Azaña, blinded by enthusiasm or rancour, did not understand that to protect the convents would not have been an act in defense of religion but, rather, of democracy.
History, as someone has said, “does not repeat itself but it rhymes”, which puts us in a similar predicament; one should not defend the King in the name of monarchy but in the name of constitutional order. So long as he continues to be an important piece of our democratic edifice, whoever attacks the King attacks the State. And, curiously, inasmuch as those who want to do away with the monarchy are the same people who want to do away with the State, it is no wonder that the King has many republicans on his side. Obviously, nobody questions the legitimacy of preferring a republic to parliamentary monarchy, but personal preferences do not give anybody the right to ignore, much less attack, the constitutional role assigned the head of state.
Lesmes’s intervention in defense of the King drew the irate reaction of Pablo Iglesias and Alberto Garzón. Iglesias cited on Twitter article 1.2 of the Constitution: “Sovereignty resides in the Spanish people.” This article did not seem so important to him in October 2017; now he trots it out for the same reason he ignored it then: to damage the State. The Vice-President tries to belittle the figure of Felipe VI by reminding us that he is a king but not sovereign. He is right, but he too often forgets that the Executive Branch isn’t either. Neither he nor Sánchez nor Puigdemont can usurp the sovereignty of the Spanish people. And so, until Spaniards should decide otherwise, exercising their sovereign right and as the Constitution decrees, investing itself with an alternative model for a state, the Executive Branch should limit itself to respecting the existing one. Garzón’s tweet does not merit comment; what should pain the King most is the mediocrity of his detractors. As Valle-Inclán wrote, “there is honour in being devoured by lions, but not in being kicked by donkeys.” In short, one never gets to choose the quality of one’s enemies.
The trouble with the monarchy, of course, is that if the King were Alberto Garzón I, we would not be able to rid ourselves of him. With a such a terrible prospect before us, we must not be reluctant altogether to reconsider the model for the head of State. But until then let’s not forget that our democracy is a full one, and that today defending it entails defending the monarchy in its constitutional terms. What’s more, to attack the head of State from the position of the Government and even to consider a change in the system, with a rampant pandemic, and the biggest economic and social crisis in recent memory at our door, gives us the exact measure of how much the health and well-being of the governed matter to some politicians.