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Out of the Ordinary: Confronting Paradox in the Historiography of Francoism

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>28/02/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Contemporary European History
Issue number1
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)136-146
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date15/01/21
<mark>Original language</mark>English


On 19 November 1975 Francisco Franco lay dying in Madrid's La Paz hospital. Clutching the cloak of the Virgin del Pilar, and with the ill-gotten relic of St Teresa of Ávila's hand at his bedside, the ailing dictator would soon depart this existence following the withdrawal of life support. For Enrique Moradiellos in Franco: Anatomy of a Dictator, the juxtaposition of modernity and tradition within this deathbed scene was emblematic of the countless paradoxes which characterised the Francoist dictatorship in its later years. Since the dictator's death scholars have continued to grapple with such paradoxes, struggling over how best to define a regime which has come to occupy a notoriously contentious space within contemporary Spanish politics and society. Like a fairground hall of mirrors, historical representations of Francoism have been stretched or squashed by different analytical frames, shaped in many cases by the political and social legacies of the dictatorship. Despite dubious claims to ‘objectivity’, the regime's apologists depict Francoism as a stabilising antidote to the ‘chaos’ of republicanism, conveniently overlooking the destruction and misery which followed the coup of 18 July 1936. Meanwhile, those who seek justice for the regime's victims continue to emphasise the repressive nature of the dictatorship. Though an important component of Francoism's modus operandi, repression does not, by itself, help us to fully understand Francoism's long-term survival or the consent it secured from millions of ordinary Spaniards. The titles under review reflect an increasing willingness to confront Francoism's many contradictions head-on, and to regard the paradoxical nature of the regime not as a conceptual knot to be disentangled, but as a historiographical problem in itself. Historians exploring the experiences of ‘ordinary’ people have proved particularly adept at addressing such complexities, as have scholars adopting comparative or transnational frameworks which reach beyond traditional emphasis on fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. The titles surveyed in this article offer a snapshot of recent developments in the field, while signposting potential avenues through which historians of Francoism might contribute to broader discussions within the historiography of modern Europe.