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Chapter VII


Jovellanos' Political Writings

Jovellanos had been trained in the law and he tended to view what we call «political science» as at best a pseudo-science, since it rested heavily on speculation instead of positive texts and facts (I, 102a). Nevertheless the great work of reform which busied Enlightenment Spain forced its champions to face problems of political theory and political organization. Attempted economic reforms, efforts to reshape the country's educational system, and the protracted struggle between Church and State raised questions concerning the rights of individuals and institutions; and the resolution of the conflicting claims forced the reformers to review their concept of society and their notions of the nature, functions, rights, and duties of society's components. Little wonder, then, that during the same period the study of natural law was made compulsory in the Spanish higher schools and universities by government action.

Several of Jovellanos' works, particularly those concerned with economics, deal tangentially with political theory. The best example is the Report on the Agrarian Law, which involves the privileges and consequently the status of the clergy and the nobility. Jovellanos, however, came to concern himself directly with political questions as a result of the War of Independence. Returning to the continent from his imprisonment on Majorca, he found Spain embarked on the struggle against Bonaparte. After some vacillation, and at the insistence of his Asturian compatriots, he became a member of the Junta Suprema Central Gubernativa de España e Indias (the Supreme Central Governing Commission of Spain and America), the provisional government created by the local committees that had sprung up all over the country. With French troops already occupying large parts of Spain, the Junta Central seemed to have its hands full with the military problem of resisting the conqueror of all Europe. It was, however, also forced to deal with fundamental political issues. For one thing, there were those who challenged its legitimacy and sought to limit, if not undermine, its authority. For another, the turmoil of the moment, the collapse of the established government, and the improvisation of local and national alternatives all raised, explicitly or implicitly, the question of what kind of political system should follow peace.

Jovellanos dealt with these issues as a member of the Junta Central; and he played a leading part in the debates that preceded the convening of the cortes (parliament) of 1810, a body which, while professing its esteem for him, moved from the beginning in a direction more radical than anything advocated by Don Gaspar. The Junta Central gave way to a regency on February 1, 1810; but although Jovellanos thereupon had no direct role in government, he continued to follow the debates with interest and to comment on them. Throughout these years of the War of Independence Jovellanos maintained a correspondence with a young English Whig, Lord Holland, who provided him with information about the workings of the British system of government and possibly with some guidance in the framing of proposals for reform in Spain. This correspondence (IV, 345 479) gives us valuable insight into Jovellanos' political positions under the pressure of military and political events.

Upon the dissolution of the Junta Central Jovellanos and his colleagues became the targets of the most serious charges. Stimulated by his sense of obligation to the public as well as his outraged sense of honor and dignity, Jovellanos wrote his Memoria en defensa de la Junta Central (Defense of the Junta Central), I, 503-622, published in 1811. Like most of Jovellanos' writings, it is a response to specific circumstances and particular problems; and it is Jovellanos' most extensive work on political theory and practice. Part I defends the Junta and its members against the accusations of usurpation of authority, misappropriation of public funds, and (incredible as the accusation may seem to us) treason. Part II is a personal vindication, recounting Jovellanos' liberation from prison, his rejection of the offers made to him by the Bonapartists, his participation in the work of the Junta Central, and his conduct and persecutions since the dissolution of that body. Twenty-six appendices reproduce documents related to all of these matters. They include reports written by Jovellanos on constitutional questions, either in his own name or in that of committees of which he was a member. Any attempt to characterize Jovellanos' political thought must rely heavily on this work, supplementing it with other writings, especially the economic and pedagogical.

The Origin of Society

One of the great issues in the political debates of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is the origin of society. Have men always lived in society, or did they at some point create society to take the place of a previous «state of nature»? The answer to this question affected the concepts of the nature of society and of men's rights and obligations within it. This relationship is perhaps best visible in John Locke's Two Treatises of Government, in which extensive discussion of the origin and nature of society is eventually linked to the problems raised by the English Revolution of 1688. Locke postulated a presocial state of nature, as did Hobbes, Hutcheson, and Rousseau. These writers believe in the anarchic state of man before the formation of societies, though they hold different concepts and valuations of this state; and they all ascribe the formation of society to a contract or compact, explicit or implicit. Another school of thought is represented by Adam Ferguson, whom Jovellanos greatly esteemed67 and who declares the «state of nature» to be a fiction not only unsupported by any historical record but actually contrary to nature. Man, according to Ferguson, lives naturally in society, without any compact or contract68. There are variations on these themes; but the above are, in outline, the main schools of thought. Most Spaniards held the Lockeian view, rejecting both Hobbes's concept of a natural state of anarchic violence and Rousseau's condemnation of civilization69.

In the Theoretical-Practical Treatise on Education, Jovellanos declares that «society [is] the natural state of man, [...] because whatever poets and pseudophilosophers may say, history and experience never show him to us except joined in some association, be it more or less imperfect» (I, 253a). Nevertheless, he occasionally speaks of the formation of society as though it were an historical occurrence, because, believing that the needs of men are the causes of society's existence, he slips into expressions which give these causes a temporal priority over their effect.

Jovellanos, perhaps because his legal training led him to respect the importance of positive law, rejects the thesis that the political rights of man in society, his only natural state, can be based on rights which he might have possessed in a presocial condition (I, 255). He also rejects the notion that the «noble savage» is morally superior to civilized man and that the road to human betterment leads through the abolition of societies. Probably alluding to Rousseau, and writing after the French Revolution had convinced enlightened men of the dangers of certain lines of thought, he condemns such ideas as

the abortive offspring of the pride of a few impious men who, abhorring all submission to authority, sought their glory and their advantage in the subversion of every social order, under the specious guise of cosmopolitanism; and by tinting their antisocial and antireligious ideas with humanitarianism they seek to deceive the unwary, whose consolation they give the appearance of desiring and whose wretchedness and destruction they secretly plan. Enemies that they are of all religion and all authority, conspiring to encompass in the destruction of thrones and altars all institutions and all social virtues, there is no generous and beneficent idea, no virtuous and pure sentiment, but they have declared war upon it and sought to wipe it from the spirits of men. Humanity sounds forever on their lips, and the hatred and desolation of the human race secretly rages within their hearts.

(I, 254b-55a)                

We shall see that Jovellanos believes the relations between governors and governed to be regulated by a compact, tacit or explicit; but this compact or constitution does not create society.

The Nature of Society

Whatever may have been the origin of society, it functions, Jovellanos believes, by means of the sacrifices of its individual constituent parts. The partial sacrifice of individual freedom creates the public authority; the sacrifice of the strength of the citizen gives birth to the power of the State; and the sacrifice of individual wealth yields the public revenues. The State, in turn, is obliged to guarantee the individual the full enjoyment of all the remainder of those possessions (I, 256a). Thus in Jovellanos' concept the individual has certain residual rights, and government is justified in its demands on the citizen only by its purpose, which is to safeguard all that its demands leave the individual. We are reminded of the Lockeian and Jeffersonian view of a government existing to protect life, liberty, and property (or «the pursuit of happiness»).

The social structure is held together, according to Jovellanos, by el amor público, «public spirit» or love of the common good (I, 256b). The foundation of political power is consequently moral, and Jovellanos declares that «the power and force of a State consists not so much in the multitude and wealth of its inhabitants as in their moral character» (I, 492b). Jovellanos' formulation of this idea, in itself far from novel, seems to derive from Adam Ferguson (History of Civil Society, p. 92). Furthermore, by moral character both Ferguson and Jovellanos mean virtue, not military virtues, as did Bacon70. For Jovellanos, the purpose of society ought also to be moral. It should not merely punish vice, but promote a positive concept of virtue (V, 414).

Fundamental to these ideas is a view of society as an organism whose parts coexist harmoniously in a careful balance of functions. Each part is equally a member of the whole, yet no two parts are quite alike in their capacities and obligations. Jovellanos believes in the brotherhood of all men and in their equality before God, before nature, and before and within the law. Alongside this basic equality, however, Jovellanos accepts and justifies functional inequality. Society, he believes, necessarily means hierarchy, not because of differences in ultimate value, but because their capacities and position oblige some men to lead and others to follow (I, 256a). This view, akin to that put forth in our own century by José Ortega y Gasset, is best exemplified in Jovellanos' comments on the nobility.

The eighteenth century increasingly questioned the social justification of the privileges of a class which had been replaced in warfare by professional soldiers and in administration by middle class bureaucrats. In Spain, the various noble ranks constituted almost a twentieth of the population, more than twice the proportion which existed in pre-Revolutionary France (Herr, p. 95, n. 13). They were exempt from most taxes, though they possessed well over five percent of the nation's wealth. They devoted many acres of land to game preserves, parks, and similar unproductive uses; and even the poorer ones among them were discouraged from work by the rules of their caste. As a class, therefore, the nobility contributed less than its just share to the economic development of Spanish society, yet some of its members felt entitled to the support of that society and proposed the establishment of a montepío or welfare fund for destitute nobles in Madrid. Jovellanos' report on this proposal (II, 14-19, 1784), though short, reveals his attitudes toward this class.

Jovellanos himself was proud of belonging to a noble family, but he considered nobility an artificial and arbitrary creation of society (II, 14a, 106b). Medieval society had established it for the specific purpose of defense and, through its privileges, assured it the wealth that would allow it to devote itself entirely to its function (II, 14b, 16). The noble is not biologically superior to the commoner, though environment may produce a moral superiority that Jovellanos explains in the Report on the Agrarian Law:

It is an undeniable truth that virtue and talents are not linked to birth or class, and that for this reason it would be a grave injustice to bar some classes from service and its rewards. Nevertheless, it is as difficult to expect valor, integrity, elevation of spirit and all the other great qualities which great positions demand, from an obscure and poor upbringing or from employments whose constant exercise shrinks the spirit, presenting it with no stimulus but necessity, no goal but self-interest, as it is easy to find those qualities in the midst of the abundance, the splendor, and even the prejudices of those families which are accustomed to prefer honor to comfort and to seek their fortunes only in glory and reputation.

(II, 105b)                

Nevertheless, the noble, as Jovellanos paints him in the 1790's and as he had already depicted him in his Second Satire, is an example more of vices than of virtues:

The most common [vice] is that of those nobles who, believing that their nobility relieves them of all obligations, apply themselves to nothing, learn nothing, and in no way make themselves useful to society, who believe that all were born to serve and adore them, that the laws were not made for them, that the ministers of religion and of justice have no right to punish or reprehend them, that their houses ought to be the asylum of all who seek their protection, that luxury and idleness ought to live with them, that frugality and work are virtues of the mob; who are proud, oppressive, discourteous, deceitful, etc.; and [who believe], in short, that the splendor of their family and their name authorizes them to be proud, insolent, oppressive, deceitful, and disorderly.

(IV, 185)                

This moral decay of the nobility destroys mutual respect and affection among the social classes. Jovellanos' diary gives us an insight into this social dissolution when it describes popular reaction to an accident:

The whole town came to help the coachmen and did so with remarkable diligence and charity; but -a notable thing!- not a single man cared about us or helped us with his compassion or even asked us whether we had been hurt. Is this not proof of the prejudice with which all who have the air of gentlemen about them are viewed? Man, yearning always to recover his natural equality, looks with pleasure on the sufferings of those who disturb it and with the same pleasure helps those who are on his level, since he considers them alone as his fellow creatures.

(D I, 226)                

The diary also shows how odious and unfounded differentiation among men can spread through all social levels. It describes an Asturian community in which the nobles have preferred seats in church, with the acquiescence of the commoners, who in turn exclude from church altogether a nomadic caste called vaqueros de alzada. These unfortunates must receive communion at the church door. Appalled by this system, Jovellanos asks: «When will Heaven avenge the greater part of the human race for such scandalous and ridiculous distinctions? I am ashamed», he adds, «to live in a country that has nurtured them and that promotes them; but in the end, reason will some day take revenge for the insults that today it receives from ignorance» (D I, 309-10).

In his report on the proposed welfare fund for nobles, Jovellanos argues that a rich noble may or may not be useful to society; but a poor noble, who cannot create for his descendants the environment which breeds greatness, and who is incompetent or unwilling to perform any useful service, has no claim to be supported by society. If, in order to eat, he must accept employment which costs him his rank, society loses an idle member and gains a productive one. Jovellanos therefore rejects the proposed montepío.

Those nobles, however, who have the means of subsistence ought also to reflect on their position in society and to do something to justify it. At the height of the French Revolution Jovellanos inaugurates the Royal Asturian Institute and calls the nobles to it:

The people that supports you needs your guidance and your knowledge. If its helplessness should not move you to come to its aid, let at least your own interest and the decorum of your class move you. You are no longer, as you were in other times, the only bulwarks of the nation's security, nor the defenders of its rights, nor the interpreters of its will. Your escutcheons and your privileges are no longer based on such sound claims; only true patriotism, only virtue, an enlightened and beneficent virtue, can justify and preserve them. Come, teach the people, help it, and pay with your knowledge and advice for that sweat which it constantly sheds on your lands, that innocent and precious sweat to which you owe your splendor and your very existence.

(I, 323a)                

Here Jovellanos calls on his class, displaced from warfare and government, to reassert its leadership in society in the modern terms of education and economic progress and development.

The Spanish Constitution

These ideas on the origin and nature of society, on the function of government, and on the relations among the social classes were all brought to bear on the constitutional questions which especially concerned Jovellanos in his last years. Such questions were much debated in the Spain of the latter eighteenth century. Most Enlightened thinkers believed in the existence of a medieval Spanish constitution, destroyed by the absolutism of subsequent monarchs (Herr, pp. 341-47). They disagreed on its nature, the precise causes of its decline, and the desirability and means of restoring it. Such debates paralleled similar discussions in foreign countries, which produced such outstanding works as the Two Treatises of Government of John Locke and the Esprit des lois of Montesquieu. Both of these writers had their influence in Spain, and Jovellanos knew the works of both. This period also produced various constitutions devised by the revolutionaries in France, as well as the oldest written constitution still in effect, our own.

Both America and France tended to identify a constitution with a written document produced at a specific time. Thomas Paine, for instance, declared that a constitution «has not an ideal, but a real existence; and wherever it cannot be produced in a visible form, there is none»71. One can, however, like Edmund Burke, also think of a constitution as a body of custom growing slowly in the context of history72. This is the view held by Adam Ferguson, who declares that «no constitution is formed by consent, no government is copied from a plan» (History of Civil Society, p. 188), and who stresses the historical and evolutionary nature of government and governmental institutions.

Jovellanos' interest in these questions extended over many years. In the 1780's his «Reflexiones sobre la constitución, las leyes, usos y costumbres de Castilla» («Reflections on the Constitution, Laws, Usages, and Customs of Castile») protest against the excessive importance given to Roman law in Spanish legal studies and explain that humanistic and scientific training, and especially historical learning, are the keys to understanding the development of the Spanish legal system73. In a letter dated 1795, Jovellanos stresses the urgency of studying the Spanish constitution, that is, the distribution of governmental powers and the rights and duties of both governors and governed (II, 147).

With the French invasion of 1808 these questions became urgent. At least two distinct elements were involved in the resistance to Bonaparte. One, which included such leading figures of the Spanish Enlightenment as the Count of Floridablanca, minister under Charles III and Charles IV, sought to defend the old regime of Enlightened Despotism against military aggression and revolutionary innovations. The other faction consisted of the heirs of the Enlightenment. They were influenced by the revolutionary currents of the previous twenty or thirty years, and some of them were not greatly opposed to Bonaparte on doctrinal grounds; but they fought him in the name of national independence. They opened the liberal-Romantic-nationalistic nineteenth century, while their generally older opponents belonged to the golden age of Spanish Enlightenment, the reign of Charles III. The War of Independence was thus a two-fold struggle; even as the nation fought to liberate its territory, it reshaped its political institutions.

Jovellanos approached the constitutional problems of the War of Independence with a firm belief in the existence of a Spanish constitution, rooted, like all the others of Europe, in custom (I, 598b-99a). With this historically oriented, «organic» concept went a preference for gradual, evolutionary change, perhaps best expressed in a letter to Lord Holland:

[There is] no one more inclined [than I] to restore and strengthen and improve, no one more timid in changes and innovations. Perhaps this is already a failing of my old age. I am very suspicious of political theories, and even more of abstract ones. I believe that each nation has its character, the result of its ancient institutions; that if this character declines because of them it is also restored by them; that new times do not necessarily demand new institutions, but a modification of the old; that the important thing is to perfect education and improve our public schooling. With it every prejudice will fall, every error will disappear, every improvement will be facilitated. In conclusion: a nation needs nothing but the right to assemble and to speak. If it is educated, its liberty can always gain [from this right], never lose.

(IV, 377)                

Jovellanos believed that the purpose of the Junta Central and of the parliament whose convocation it prepared was not to create a new constitution but to adapt the old one to new circumstances (I, 548b-49a).

The outlines of such adaptive reform are given by Jovellanos in his Defense of the Junta Central (I, 549-50). There he envisages a government of separate and balanced powers. The full executive power, including the veto over legislation, belongs to the king. The legislative power is shared by the two chambers of a national parliament, with an elected lower house initiating laws and an upper house, representing the clergy and nobility, approving them. Jovellanos saw the bicameralism of the British and American legislatures as a felicitous combination of popular representation and conservative restraint. Unknown to the ancients and rejected by «the modern political theorists whose democratic propensity has caused so many evils in our age», it is the basis of Anglo-Saxon greatness and liberty and «the most precious discovery that we owe to the study of and meditation upon the ancient and modern history of societies». An independent judiciary completes Jovellanos' vision of government, though he does not conceive of it as being empowered to interpret laws (I, 512a).

Though Jovellanos purported merely to be restating some principles and features of the ancient Spanish constitution, his ideas are in several respects innovations derived from British practice. Spain had never had a national parliament; the old cortes had been cortes of Castile or of Aragon, not of Spain. The bicameral system was also alien to Spanish tradition. Furthermore, the old cortes, like other parliaments, had granted money to the crown; but they did not initiate legislation74. Jovellanos' admiration for the British constitution (see I, 573b, n. 26) led him into positions which, while too liberal for the adherents of the old regime, proved not liberal enough for the younger element.

When the first national parliament convened in Cadiz in 1810, it organized itself in a single chamber and declared itself the repository of sovereignty; and the Constitution of 1812, product of those cortes and manifesto of Spanish liberalism, proclaimed that sovereignty resides in the nation. Already in 1809, Jovellanos had denounced the concept of national sovereignty, declaring that in every monarchical state sovereignty resides necessarily in the king (I, 597b). The problem was in part terminological: Jovellanos identified sovereignty with the power to execute the laws, while the cortes saw it as the power to make the laws (Camacho, pp. 178-79).

In the next two years, Jovellanos moved to reconcile and explain these two positions. In a letter to Lord Holland he declares that the concept of national sovereignty destroys the Spanish constitution; but he adds that in theory it is generally accepted, even though currently inopportune for practical reasons (IV, 473a). And in a long note to the Defense of the Junta Central (I, 619-21), Jovellanos writes that even though each society originally holds a supreme power, «the name sovereignty does not properly fit this absolute power, because the word sovereignty is relative, and just as it implies authority and command on one side, it implies submission and obedience on the other, so that it can never be said with rigorous accuracy that a man or a people is sovereign over itself». A people subject to a hereditary monarchy, even if it has reserved to itself the legislative authority, can in no sense be called «sovereign», because sovereignty is an attribute of the executive and is indivisible.

At this point, however, Jovellanos shifts his ground to accommodate the new theory, declaring it inconceivable that a society would bestow the executive power on one person or a few, permanently and without limits or conditions.

Once these limits are prescribed, then, and these conditions are set in a constitution established by express compact or accepted by free acknowledgment, if we assume in the depositaries of this authority a perpetual right to exercise it within the bounds of the constitution, we must also assume in them a perpetual obligation not to transgress those bounds; and since the rights and obligations of contracts are relative and reciprocal, so that one cannot conceive of a right for one party that does not imply an obligation for the other, nor an obligation which does not imply a reciprocal right, the result is that if the nation thus constituted has a perpetual obligation to acknowledge and obey that power as long as it acts according to the conditions of the compact, it will also have a perpetual right to contain it within those bounds and, consequently, thus to oblige it if in fact it should transgress them; and if [the] obstinacy [of the government] were such that it should dare to maintain such a breach with force, the nation will also have the right to resist it with force and, as a last resort, to abrogate in turn a compact already openly violated by the other party, thus regaining its original rights.

According to Jovellanos, this natural right has been traditionally claimed and exercised by the Spanish nation. In order to avoid conflicting terminology, Jovellanos proposes to call it «national supremacy». In the course of his discussion, he employs arguments, which elsewhere he would have rejected, based on natural rights independent of society and positive law. In this he may reflect Locke's arguments for a «Supream Power» residing in the people and entitling them to «remove or alter the Legislative, when they find the Legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them»75.


Jovellanos was no revolutionary. His correspondence with the English radical Alexander Jardine, reflected in diary entries and a fragmentary draft, repeatedly calls for gradual progress within the limits of the possible and expresses horror at the violence of the French Revolution76. In the Theoretical-Practical Treatise on Education, Jovellanos claims that all governments can be improved and that therefore all revolutions against legitimate authority are wrong (I, 255b). When he landed on the continent in 1808 after his imprisonment on Majorca he was clearly frightened by the popular uprisings against Bonaparte (IV, 158a). Yet out of these uprisings grew the local juntas and, eventually, the Junta Central, while Charles IV and Ferdinand VII had abdicated in favor of Bonaparte, whose rights were supported by a number of Spanish authorities. Jovellanos, swept up in the patriotic wave and carried into power, only to be accused with his colleagues of having usurped that power, was forced to justify the existence of the Junta Central. In doing so, he continues to deny that a people has any ordinary right of insurrection; but he conceives of circumstances that would justify revolution and finds precedents in medieval legislation. According to this view, a people under foreign attack and abandoned by its rulers, or a people whose legitimate government is destroyed and replaced by a tyrannical one, has the right to revolt and to determine its own fate (I, 509b, 584b). The case is that of the Spanish people in 1808; but the arguments are those with which Locke, in his Two Treatises of Government, justifies the English revolution of 1688, the result, according to the partisans of William and Mary, of an analogous situation (pp. 424 ff.).


Not only was Jovellanos generally out of sympathy with revolution; he was not a democrat, if «democracy» still has any meaning in an age of participatory democracy, people's democracy, guided democracy, organic democracy, and similar offenses against reason and language. On at least two occasions Jovellanos refers to the «democratic mania» (II, 377a; IV, 477b); and in 1809 he writes of the danger of drifting toward democracy, «a thing which not only every good Spaniard, but every right-thinking man must view with horror in a large, rich, and industrious nation of twenty-five million men scattered over such vast and separated hemispheres» (I, 596b). Yet these statements must be understood in the context of their time. «Democracy», for Jovellanos and his contemporaries, meant the direct control of «the people» over public affairs. This is how Montesquieu understood it when he elaborated his theory of the suitability of different governmental systems for nations of different sizes. According to this theory, democracy, in which all men share power, can function only within a small territory, like the Swiss republics; and the larger the state, the more concentrated power must be. The men of the Enlightenment feared that democracy would decline into mob rule, a fear which events in France did not allay. Furthermore, they were not inclined to yield power to a people which their program of reform assumed to be ignorant and incompetent (Sánchez Agesta, Pensamiento político, p. 210).

Jovellanos credited the people (meaning the masses) with fundamentally good instincts, but considered it prone to be led always by others (I, 569a). Yet he was always concerned for its welfare and, indeed, its freedom, though not necessarily in a political sense (I, 312b). In his Report on the Agrarian Law and in that on the Regulation of Spectacles and Public Entertainments he calls for fewer restrictions on the innocent diversions of the masses (I, 491-93; II, 134b); and even while explaining the conformity of medieval legislation with the constitution of that time, he criticizes what he considers the chief defect of that constitution: «But above all, I seek a free people in this constitution and do not find it. Between its weakened princes and the independent feudal lords, what was the people but a flock of slaves destined to satisfy the ambition of its masters?» (I, 295).

Before his imprisonment, Jovellanos, as a government official, defended the supremacy of the civil authority over that of the Church, and that of the central government over local authorities and even local legal systems (V, 194a, 245b; D II, 458-59). He shared the presuppositions of Enlightened Despotism: that reform was necessary but could be properly guided only from above, and that division of authority was a hindrance to progress. In the Defense of the Junta Central, however, the government is assumed to be responsible to the people. The work itself is an accounting, and Jovellanos expects that the members of the Junta will have to give a further account to the nation assembled in parliament. The events of 1808 had shattered the old system and shown the vigor and necessity of local popularly based organisms.

Under the first impression of those events Jovellanos wrote one of his noblest letters. Cabarrús, the friend for whom he had, in 1790, willingly incurred official wrath, had sided with the new king Joseph Bonaparte and now urged Jovellanos to collaborate in the building of a new and better Spain. Don Gaspar indignantly rejects the charge that Spain is fighting only for the Bourbons; she fights, he declares, for her rights, her constitution, her laws, and her liberty. She has recognized Ferdinand as her king; «but if force detains him or deprives her of her prince, will she not know how to seek another governor? And if she should fear that the ambition or the weakness of a king may expose her to evils as great as those she now suffers, will she not know how to live without a king and how to govern herself?» (IV, 343b). This passage has been subjected to various interpretations, yet it clearly seems to envisage the possibility of a republican regime for Spain. Even under the existing system, Jovellanos favored, during the War of Independence, the institution of universal male franchise, though combined with limits on eligibility to office (I, 551 a); and he proposed, though too late to save the Spanish empire, that the overseas colonies play an active part in the joint government (I, 602a).

Another of the hotly debated topics of the war years was freedom of the press, which we associate with democratic government. Jovellanos, in 1809, declared such freedom, by which he meant freedom from prior censorship, necessary for intellectual progress (I, 275b); but he also recognized its dangers in time of war and was displeased when it was proclaimed by the cortes in 1810 (I, 555b, 599b; IV, 471a). Before the war, Jovellanos had suggested that the performance of dramas, though not their publication, should be subject to the approval of the Royal Spanish Academy (I, 497b). He was irritated at the restrictions imposed by clerical censorship (D II, 149) and at the way in which it was exercised. Granting its necessity with respect to modern antireligious authors, he considered it absurd as a defense against Jews and Protestants, who no longer imperiled Spain's religious purity; and he found the censors of the Inquisition too ignorant and slow for the task, recommending instead that it be entrusted to the bishops (V, 333b-34a). This was in keeping with governmental policy, which sought to strengthen the authority of the bishops at the expense of the more independent Inquisition.


Jovellanos is consistently antimilitaristic and links hell and war as «the two most horrible things which can present themselves to the human spirit» (D I, 338). Alexander and Julius Caesar, he writes, must be counted among «the greatest enemies of the human race» (II, 132b). And even while elated by the victory of allied arms over the French at Talavera, he reflects on the hollowness of military triumphs: «Thus, while human blood runs in rivers, the songs of victory and the hymns of gratitude to heaven celebrate the miseries of poor mankind» (IV, 423a).

Jovellanos' repeatedly asserted belief in the possibility of human progress through education is perhaps most eloquently expressed in the Theoretical-Practical Treatise, where we read:

Who cannot see that the very progress of education will some day lead, first the enlightened nations of Europe and finally those of the entire earth, to a general confederation whose aim will be to preserve for each the enjoyment of the benefits it owes to heaven, to maintain among all an inviolable and perpetual peace, and to restrain, not with armies nor with cannon, but with the force of its voice, which will be stronger and more terrible than they, any rash nation that may dare to disturb the calm and happiness of the human race? Who, finally, cannot see that this confederation of the nations and societies that cover the earth is the only universal society possible for the human race, the only one to which it seems called by nature and religion, and the only one worthy of the high destinies which the Creator marked for it?

(I, 255a)                

Man, according to Jovellanos, is indefinitely improvable, capable of a progress whose limits we do not and cannot know. This is true of the individual and, by means of the conservation and transmission of knowledge, of the species as well77.

Thus we find once more the unity of Jovellanos' thought. Political reform, moral betterment, economic development -all are parts of that single arch whose keystone is education and over which, when Jovellanos allowed himself to indulge in the utopian speculations so dear to his age, mankind was to pass into a new and better world.


Jovellanos developed no consistent political theory. Dealing almost always with urgent practical questions, he occasionally contradicted himself; yet certain factors remained constant in his thought. He clearly considered the welfare of the people as the aim of political activity, whether under the old regime of Enlightened Despotism or in compromise with the formulas of the new liberal creed. Although he occasionally dreamed of a near-perfect world, he had little faith in revolutionary and utopian solutions to the problems of his time. History and law were for him the shapers of a people's political destiny. An aristocrat by birth and temperament, he called on his class to fulfill its obligations; and he came, in time of war, to an increased appreciation of the capacities of the people.

What was the impact of Jovellanos' political vision on the practical course of events? «The answer is sad indeed. Jovellanos' thought is crushed by the French invasion and by the antithesis which begins to take shape in the cortes of Cadiz, between the two schools [traditionalism and subversively revolutionary «philosophy»] which Jovellanos had condemned. Jovellanos' fate was that of all balanced and serene thought in those restless hours of history which always tend toward radical solutions»78. In these words a distinguished contemporary Spanish historian has written the epitaph of Jovellanos' political thought. Yet that thought continues to be studied and to merit study as an example of Spain's Enlightenment and as part of a total vision of a society more just, more free, more prosperous, more educated -a society advancing in the pursuit of those two great eighteenth-century goals, virtue and material welfare.

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