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Modernizing the Nation

Spain during the Reign of Alfonso XIII, 1902–1931

In the Series
Studies in Spanish History

Javier Moreno-Luzón is Professor of History at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid. A specialist in the political life of modern Spain, he has published several books and articles on political clientelism, élites, political parties, elections, the monarchy and Spanish nationalism in early 20th-century Spain.

This book is a new short history of Spain during a crucial period, the reign of Alfonso XIII (1902–1931). Traditionally, this has been seen as a time that epitomized the worst features of ‘old Spain’: a backward country, poor and chronically unequal, with a government dominated by a tiny oligarchy ruling over a corrupt system – an anomaly in Western Europe. However, this study, in line with the most recent historiography, offers a new insight into the period as one that was actually characterized by extensive modernization in Spanish society and politics. Spain experienced, albeit in an unbalanced way, many of the changes already in progress in other European countries, such as urbanization, industrialization, mass migration, the rise in literacy, secularization, and the emergence of mass politics. It then suffered profound conflicts associated with these changes, and a political dynamic of reform and reaction, revolution and counter-revolution.

The book is divided into four main sections, dealing, chronologically, with the beginnings of the regenerationist era, the climax of the liberal monarchy, conflicts during the crisis of liberalism, and the military dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. Primarily a political history, it also touches on social, cultural and economic issues, and offers a comparative European perspective. Last but not least, there is a special interest in the problems of nation-building, a central theme of the period, and the competition between different versions of Spanish nationalism and regional nationalist movements – above all, Catalanism and Basque nationalism. Overall, the Spanish situation is presented here not as a unique case but as a variation within the difficulties that were encountered all across continental Europe in achieving the transition from classical liberalism to mass democracy.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-505-2
Hardback Price: £50.00 / $69.95
Release Date: June 2016
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-810-7
Paperback Price: £24.95 / $34.95
Release Date: December 2012
Page Extent / Format: 192 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No




Chapter 1
Regenerating the Fatherland
The Taking of the Oath
Taking the Battle to Clericalism
An Era ‘Saturated with Pedagogy’
Protest and Reform
Nations in Contention

Chapter 2
Apogee of the Liberal Monarchy
Barcelona Burns
Revolution from Above
A National Monarchy
Conjunción and Confederation
Social Transitions
Cracks in the Turno

Chapter 3
War on Liberalism
Almost a Rich Country
Summer 1917
The Prospect of Bolshevism
The Reign of Christ in Spain
Soldiers against Civilians

Chapter 4
Dictatorship and Final Act
The Coup
Uprooting Caciquismo
The ‘Happy Twenties’
Fatherland, Religion and Monarchy
An Impossible Regime
‘To serve no longer lords who turn into worms’


History has not been very generous to the key figures in the reign of King Alfonso XIII of Spain, be they politicians, military leaders, Catholic churchmen, or financial business, or landed elites. The monarch himself departed in haste from his country in 1931, apparently rejected by his people, compromised by his acquiescence to a military dictatorship in 1923, and encumbered with an accumulation of troubles and long-standing social and political divisions. Spain has been characterized as backward, remote from the dramatic changes affecting much of Europe in that era. Recent history offers a somewhat different story, emphasizing parallel developments with other countries, although the issues, institutions, economics, and politics maintained aspects particular to Spain. Writing a short history of Alfonso’s Spain is an uncommon challenge, however much needed. Moreno-Luzόn (Univ. Complutense in Madrid) is well qualified for the task, yet his study may be best utilized by advanced students. For many undergraduates, it may be read as a dense political history, devoted largely to uninspiring politicians, even as attention is given to efforts to modernize the country and to its conflicts. Recommended.

Reviewed in Neue politische literature (Feb. 2013).

This volume helps to correct the historiographical eclipse of the reign of Alfonso XIII by the Second Republic and civil war. The author provides evidence of the progress – however uneven – that took place in the first third of the twentieth century. This excellent synthesis brings the period alive and shows how it is essential for the understanding of contemporary Spanish history.
Reviewed by Michael Seidman, University of North Carolina Wilmington, in the Bulletin of Spanish Studies

This book traces the political history of Spain during the reign of King Alfonso XIII from 1902 to 1931, contending that this period involved key changes, ill-resolved conflicts, and political mobilization in Spanish society and politics, rather than the traditional view stressing the poverty, inequality, and corrupt government of the time. The book describes the origins of the regenerationist era, a period after Spain's defeat in its war with the US and one of reform in areas from education to foreign policy, distrust towards the corrupt parliamentary system and political mobilizations. It chronicles the height of the liberal monarchy, led by Conservative leader Antonio Maura; conflicts during the crisis of liberalism after the European war; and the military dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, sparked by the attempted colonization of Morocco.

Reviewed in The Journal of Modern History (June 2015)

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