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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Sidenote The aristocracy and the latifundia


The aristocracy and the _latifundia_.]

Assuming that it would be desirable, can Spain advance any farther along the highway of democracy? If she would do so, she must contend with the aristocracy, which in fact rules the country. The modern Spanish aristocracy is composed of the nobility, their relatives, rich merchants, the clergy, and the military. The richer members of the aristocracy, especially those of central and southern Spain, control the greater part of the best Spanish lands, which they cultivate just enough to ensure wealth to themselves. Thousands of acres are given over to the raising of bulls for the bull-fights, and even the late Duke of Veragua, a descendant of Columbus, was engaged in this industry. One often wonders why Spanish towns are so far away from the railway station, especially in level tracts where it would be normal to expect a growth toward the railroad. The usual answer is that the land belongs to a personage of the realm, who would not think of selling it, and does not care to develop it himself. The agrarian problem is particularly acute in Andalusia, where the evil of _latifundia_, springing out of the later reconquests from the Moslems, is more in evidence than elsewhere.

[Sidenote: Life of men of the better classes.]

The life of the men of the better classes is singularly free from care. They arise late, and go to their favorite caf? or club

to read the newspaper. In the afternoon they frequent their club, passing the time in discussion or in general conversation. Late in the afternoon they go for a drive along the _paseo_, or driveway, the same place every day, where the principal object is to see, or be seen by, the others who are doing the same thing. In the evening they return to the club. Perhaps at 9:30 or 10 o'clock they go to a play, for the theatre begins late, following this by a visit to their favorite caf? and a late departure for home. The program varies little from day to day. In the summer they go to a watering-place, but it usually amounts only to a change of caf?s. These men rarely drink to excess, and they are the most charming people in the world to talk to, but they never study and, if possible to avoid it, never do any work. Unknowingly perhaps, for they are bred to this type of life by centuries of training, they are a drain on the land, the most serious element in the vested interests which stand in the way of effective reform. Those of this class who have to work are provided with sinecures at state expense. The social, economic, and political betterment of Spain cannot proceed very far while the aristocracy is in control. On the other hand the experience of the past has not demonstrated that democracy could maintain order, and this the present r?gime does. Furthermore, the aristocracy is by no means an exclusive caste, but is open to the entry of all.

[Sidenote: Social problems of contemporary Spain.]

In addition to the wealth and political influence of the aristocracy other factors in Spanish life abound to aid and abet in their maintenance of control. One of these is emigration. Spaniards do not expect to rise from poverty to great wealth, as men do in America, for so few of them rarely can, under the existing system, that there is not the stimulus of other men's successes to spur them on. The more ambitious of the poor and moderately well-to-do, therefore, make their way to the Americas, especially to Argentina, and, prior to the recent era of civil war, to Mexico. The poorest and the least ambitious, who are less likely than the others to give trouble, remain behind. A second aid is the lottery.

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