Contemporary Spain Politics Compared to US Politics dissertation

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Spanish and American Democracy

The United States of America and Spain are both now industrialized nations and modern democracies, but their paths to democracy and global influence were quite distinct. The United States of America was formally founded in 1776 by a group of early American politicians who envisioned the young nation as an alternative in democratic governance in contrast and opposition to the monarchies still in ruling power throughout Europe. Spain was one of these European countries under monarchial rule in the 18th century and remained a monarchy for 201 years after the official adoption of the democratic Constitution in the United States of America. Spain's transition to democratic rule is largely considered to have begun in 1975 when the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco passed away, although there are other dates in the 1970s that are also said to mark the transition as well.

The philosophical foundations of the democratic republic that was founded in the United States of America had its roots in classical Greek democratic ideals as well as the humanist writings of John Locke and other notable political philosophers of the era. The enshrinement of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence, which was written adopted on July 4, 1776, was predicated upon the ideals of the Enlightenment republicanism, and liberalism and would be the foundational elements of the documents which established the early American government. This Declaration of Independence was written to abolish the American colonies relationship with England, to which the colonies had been paying allegiance and taxes until this time. The monarch of England at this time, King George, did not receive this news well, and the first major challenge faced by the young American nation was the Revolutionary War against England to fight for the right to self-rule. England lost to the United States, which was still largely organized as a confederacy of states at this time, in 1783, and the economic and political growth and organization of the United States of America was able to progress.

The next major conflict to threaten the foundation of American democracy was the American Civil War, which was not ostensibly a war fought upon the philosophical approach to democratic rule itself, but threatened the democratic union of the American states writ large due to strongly divergent regional opinions on the role of slavery in the states. Abraham Lincoln's Union forces representing the abolitionist North won over the Confederacy which represented the cotton-producing southern states, where slavery had become an central part of the economy. While the future of American political cohesiveness looked dim upon the assassination of Lincoln following the Union's victory, the United States slowly rebounded. The Reconstruction era is noted to be a moment in American history when the states lost significant rights in favor of a more prominent federalism. The long-term implication of strengthened federalism meant that the centralized economic power of the United States was greatly increased, setting a solid foundation for the expansionism that enabled the United States to become a global super power by mid 20th century.

The Spanish American War of 1898 was an important moment in the joint history of American and Spanish political history. While ostensibly a war fought upon the conflict over Cuban independence, the political differences between Spain's heavily militarized, monarchial rule and America's young and largely rural population were inflected upon the conflict. The spirit of exploration the American frontier and self-reliance were important to gathering a still recovering post-Civil War nation to become involved in the conflict, with notable figures from the war including the rancher, Rough Rider, and future president Theodore Roosevelt. Spain proceeded in the fight for Cuba because it was economically and politically a vitally important colony to the nation. The loss of Cuba for Spain loomed large for many years and was another important moment in conveying to the modern world the success of democratic rule in the former American colonies. It was a moment in Spanish history where the political and economic advantages of joining the modern movement toward self-ruling, democratic nation-states perhaps became clearer. Instead of adopting liberalism following this staggering defeat and Cuban loss, the country became more insular and the ruling forces became moved towards dictatorship. It would not be for another 80 years, however, until after the death of Franco, the Spanish dictator, that the transition would fully be able to move forward.

Spain's transition to democracy was assisted by the United States government and other industrialized nations in an era where European colonialism worldwide was coming to an end and most European countries were moving toward a democratic style of monarchy known as constitutional monarchy. This transition in Spain was spearheaded by Franco's successor, Juan Carlos, who faced many pressures from people on the far left and right in the Spanish political system who saw him as either disloyal to Spanish tradition or too closely related to the Franco era. It was Juan Carlo's father, Don Juan de Barbon, however, who had envisioned Spain's transition toward constitutional monarchy immediately following World War II, and the plans proceeded to abandon Franco's more repressively legal codes and to prepare the country for a democratic election. A major obstacle in the transition to democratic rule in Spain was the army, who still supported the policies of Franco, and who interfered with the plans for a democratic election.

The king supported Adolfo Suarez as the state-backed candidate and reformer in the process and Suarez was one of the chief architects of the transition to Spanish democracy throughout the challenges from a mistrustful public and an oppositional army. Suarez found success with the presidency of Fernandez Miranda and proceeded to dissolve the Francoist policies and political entity of the Cortes, a process that was laborious but won legitimacy in the eyes of the far right of the Spanish political establishment for enacting major changes by reforming the current system from within rather the old process altogether and immediately disempowering the former elite.

Another significant obstacle that Spain faced directly was the rise in influence of communism in Spain in the late 1970s. This was seen by political prognosticators as the greatest threat to nascent Spanish democracy aside from the opposition of the army and other Franco loyalists. In a move that was distinctly different than America's own red scare, the communist party, Partido Comunista de Espana was legalized by Suarez in 1977 in order to preserve peace. The communist influence was most notable in trade union negotiations and a plurality of political philosophy did not present the immediate challenges to democratic transition at this time as had been projected.

The rise of socialism in Spain in the late 1970s and early 1980s lead to an attempted military coup in 1981 and new elections, in which the socialist party in Spain won a majority of seats and continued to hold a majority until 1989. This was not a bloody transition and, again, sharply divided political pluralism was not disastrous to the young democratic system. As had happened in the United States, it was perhaps this early conflict, which strengthened the final political product by forcing parties to seek cooperation as quickly as possible to keep the government and economy functioning.

One of the most prominent changes in Spanish society following the abolishment of the dictatorship was a social liberalization. Sexual values in Spain became more progressive and despite Spain being a heavily Catholic country, contraception and gay marriage have been legalized and abortion has become tolerated and is in the process of being fully legalized. The social liberalization in the United States has not proceeded as rapidly. Both countries have significant oppositional forces to the social progressivism that has been unfolding in both countries, but Spain has gone through a much faster rate of progressive change than has the United States. This may be attributed to the social context of democratic transition. At the time of the American Revolution, it was not a matter of civil social rights over which the struggle for independence was fought. The economic injustices of taxation and lack of protection of personal property under English rule were the issues over which the Revolution was fought. These are the areas of rapid liberalism related to the American Revolution.

The transition to Spanish Democracy unfolded within the post WWII modern era when the economic liberalization that encouraged globalization was firmly established. The 1960s and 1970s was an era, which saw multiple struggles for civil rights in industrialization nations, particularly in the United States on issues pertaining to the rights and status of African-Americans. In Spain, the issues of prominence in the post-transitional government were related to sexuality and the status of women, issues which were seen a related to the repressive nature of the Franco regime and its heavily Catholic-influenced social policies.

The United States and Spain are each contemporary political superpowers and leading economies. In the era of globalization, the prominence of a country's economy is intimately related to…[continue]

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