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Foreword || 1: Early Years: Distant Spain

    As a student at Oxford University, Ronald Hilton went to Spain in early 1931, and was in Madrid when the monarchy fell that year. He studied in Barcelona in 1932, and saw the flowering of Catalan nationalism in politics and culture. He traveled, often by bicycle, through much of Spain and thus became acquainted with the life of many of the regions into which Spain is divided. Back in Madrid in 1934, he lived at the Residencia de Estudiantes, which was the focal point for liberal intellectuals and artists, many of whom were famous. Unfortunately, some of the most publicized of them had not only feet of clay but heads of sawdust, and they were quite unequal to the immense task of building a republic in a country without a democratic tradition.

    Hilton witnessed the bloody events which led up to the Civil War. After the first siege of Madrid, he was forced to leave Spain in dangerous circumstances, taking with him secretly a report by his close friend, The Times of London correspondent. The Times, which published also a report by Hilton, headlined it "The Tragedy of Spain: First Uncensored News from Madrid." After the Civil War he returned to Spain and met the intellectuals who had survived. They were few, since most had gone into exile, the majority to Mexico, where Hilton later met many of them.

    The Spanish Civil War, viewed as a prelude to World War II, captured the imagination of the world. There is a vast literature about it and the events leading up to it. However, little attention is paid to its intellectual background. Hilton is one of the few survivors of the period described and probably unique in having known the leading Spanish intellectuals of the time. Scholars now read their books, but Hilton is able to describe their roles in the political drama of Spain. This sets his book apart from other books covering the same subject.

    The Civil War aroused strong passions on both sides, so there are many factual misrepresentations in accounts of it, following the bias of the authors. Witnessing the destruction of a country to which he was deeply attached, Hilton's attitude toward the militants on both sides was "A plague on both your houses." He strives to be even-handed in his criticism and commendation. Spain has now recovered splendidly, but the trauma of the Civil War remains. Virtually all Spaniards silently fear that the democracy they have so painfully reconstructed may collapse as the two earlier republics did. However, Spain seems to have found a political structure which functions better than the old monarchy or the republic, and the present level of political discourse is high. Even the almost intractable Basque problem seems to be moving toward a peaceful solution.

    Contemporary Spain cannot be understood without studying its history, and the present discussions about the constitution take us back to the cortes of Cadiz in 1812. The most critical period is the one discussed in this book. Two Spains confronted each other, while a third was caught between them. Hence the great current interest in that period.