Manuel Lucena: "The Laws of the Indies, a monument to Christian humanitarianism".

"The Spanish empire spread the Christian religion and developed human rights and international law," Manuel Lucena Giraldo, researcher and academic, who directs the Chair of Spanish and Hispanic Studies at the Universities of Madrid, explains to Omnes. Lucena defends professional history against populist visions.

Francisco Otamendi-October 8, 2022-Reading time: 9 minutes

Photo: Puebla and Tolín. First landing of Christopher Columbus in America. Prado Museum.

A few weeks ago, Omnes interviewed the Mexican Rodrigo GuerraSecretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, who had participated as a speaker at the First International Hispano-American Congress organized by the UNIR and UFV universities. Today we offer a twist on the theme of history and Hispanicity, a subject of growing demand and scope, in a conversation with the academic and researcher of the Institute of History of the CSIC, Manuel Lucena, director since May of this year of the Chair of Spanish and Hispanicity of the Universities of Madrid, which has the honorary presidency of Mario Vargas Llosa.

The discovery of America, which had no name in 1492 -it appears in 1507-, has to do with the fact that "the American continent reconnects with the great nucleus of common Eurasian global civilization, in the first place," the historian assures. And then, "with Spanish cultural and political action founding cities, spreading the Christian religion, in the name of a humanitarian providentialism, developing human rights and also international law.

On the other hand, Manuel Lucena specifies that, in his opinion, "the drama of the American Indians comes mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries, which is when they were exterminated by the political entities that became independent from Spain after 1820. The problem is the contemporary indigenous people, not the indigenous people of the past". We started talking about the professorship, and then we talked about America.

What are the fundamental tasks of your Chair of Spanish and Hispanic Studies?

- It postulates an institutional presence of the Autonomous Community of Madrid in matters of the prospective of Spanish as a global language, and of Hispanidad as a concept that articulates a community of speakers with many things in common, and differences also from the cultural point of view. The chair is being set up.

Around 600 million people speak Spanish in the world, 7.6 % of the world's population, according to the Instituto Cervantes. How do you assess this fact?

- It can be summarized in Spanish as the second global language. The first language spoken, in terms of speakers, is of course Chinese, as a specific language of a given community. The first global language is English, but the second global language is Spanish, and this is because there are cultures in Spanish, in the plural, Hispanic cultures, if you want to use the term -I feel very comfortable with it-, and that is equivalent to 600 million people.

Fernando Rodríguez Lafuente, who was the director of the Cervantes InstituteThe Spanish language is the oil we have, the oil of Spain. In this sense, the valuation of the fact has to do with the fact that beyond the borders of Spain, there are the borders of Spanish. And the frontiers are global, they are in all the continents, they are part of the most dynamic movements in innovation and in the construction of the future of the world, and for that reason we have to feel very proud on the one hand. So the assessment can only be very positive.

A historian commented in Omnes that "anachronism is lethal in judging history. Today we are sorely tempted to judge what happened in history by 21st century criteria." Any comments?

- I agree that every good historian, I would say any person, has the obligation to be on guard against judging the past under the parameters of the present. In the case of historians in particular, there is a difficult fit with the study of the past, which forces you to live in it, to recreate it, to think about its values, its styles, its languages, and at the same time you have to tell it to your contemporaries.

I was reminded the other day of Benedetto Croce, when he said that all history is contemporary history.

I agree with the statement that anachronism is lethal, to judge history, but we also have to address our contemporaries. And be able to explain to them that human experience, history, has elements of truth, that truth in history exists, this is not relativism. And the truth of history is the truth of the historian, in that sense. Therefore, I share this criterion, and I would simply add that we should not be afraid to say that the truth of history exists, and that we can get as close to it as possible, although it is obvious that we have to take this principle of anachronism very much into account.

You talk about the truth of the story.

- The life of history is the life of the historian, says an old master. But at the same time, we have to be able to address, to disseminate, to tell, to respond to the demands of the past that the present has, and to distinguish very well history as non-fiction writing, from invention.

History, political science, sociology, economics, respond to non-fiction writings, to narratives that tell the truth, the truth that we have been able to rescue, from the point of view of scientific sources, passed through the filter of source criticism. Because the past is also full of lies, as is the present. Disinformation is not an invention of now.

But of course we have to tell it. And for that I think it is essential to tell things well, to make history an attractive discipline, to get as close as possible to our audiences. Always pointing out that there is a contract here. And the contract is that I am going to tell them the truth of what I have discovered as a historian, the truth of history. The audiences for history are very important and growing. The demand for historical knowledge is very interesting, and it is not covered by any supposedly historical novel, any invention, or any lie from the past. History exists as the study of truth. We cannot give up telling the truth of the past, the truth of the present, and the truth of the future.

With this anachronism I do not wish to cover up anything. To give an example, the assassination of Caesar. Or Cain, who killed his brother Abel, according to the Bible.

̶ My teacher John Elliot pointed out that the historian's job was to illuminate the options of freedom. He was a great humanist. He was telling us that, in effect, I go to history, and a magnicide like the death of Caesar, almost our first political magnicide in the West, of which we remember ̶ there are many others, of course, before and after ̶ , there is a fact there that is a political assassination, which those of disinformation try to justify, as a result of reaction to tyranny, etc. etc. etc.

There is the work of history. And it finds sources that say: this is an assassination, this is a crime; and sources that say: this is justified because Caesar was a tyrant, and there is a moral right to eliminate tyrants. The fascinating thing about the historian's and history's approach to that fact, or to any other, would be: we illuminate the complexities in the decisions of human beings.

The work of the historian is hard, difficult, and very sacrificing, and you have to spend many hours in the library and archives, searching for sources, and recovering the perspective on the past. It is important to tell it, and telling it to young people today is fundamental.

Let's go to a concrete event. For some years now, some American leaders have criticized the colonization of America by Spaniards, among them the Mexican president. On the other hand, Popes such as St. John Paul II and Francis have asked for forgiveness for the errors committed, even "crimes". How do you see this task of the Spaniards in America?

- By the way, the grandfather of the Mexican president was from Santander... To get to the point, we are in different business, history and political propaganda, understanding history as professional history, not the history of propagandists. Professional history gets along badly with populist visions that do not obey the reality of the past, and that would not be sustainable under the point of view of the professional historian.

The first political entity in the history of the world is the Spanish, Catholic, universal monarchy. Because the monarchy of Philip II, and of Philip III and Philip IV, Spanish-Portuguese, was the first political entity in the history of mankind, which definitively integrated possessions, in this sense territories on equal terms, in America, in Asia, in Africa and in Europe. It was that pioneering character of the Spanish empire, which lasted three centuries. It is difficult to explain in terms of continuity, I would put it this way. The Spanish empire, the viceroyalty of the new Spain has lasted even longer than the Mexican Republic, which has just completed two hundred years.

Nationalism as a way of building a political community -the nation is older than nationalism, this is very important to bear in mind as well-, is articulated in a construction of political economies of resentment, of the abandonment of responsibilities, of victimhood. In the last two centuries, every political nation has based its nationalism on someone to be hated, someone to be blamed for what we are unable to solve by ourselves.


- Whoever is susceptible to listen to these doctrines of hatred of populism, to each his own with what he wants to assume. In this case, of course, it must be said no. The discovery of America, which did not have a name in 1492 -the name appears in 1507-, has to do with the fact that the American continent reconnects with the great nucleus of common Eurasian global civilization, in the first place; and secondly, it has to do with the fact that the action of the Spanish empire, the Spanish cultural and political action founds cities, spreads the Christian religion, is done in the name of a humanitarian providentialism, develops human rights, and develops international law.

All of this came long before Mexico existed as an independent political entity. If there are Mexicans today who want to renounce an essential part of their past and of their political and cultural exemplarity, that is up to each one of us. I know Mexico quite well, I admire it deeply, and it has an enormous political and cultural stature in the era of globalization, fundamentally thanks to its Spanish stage, its Hispanic stage. Mexico was the capital of the Spanish empire. Mexico was at the center of the global political entity that was the Spanish empire.

And the terms?

As for the use of these terms, of native or pre-Columbian peoples, I believe that any scholar of globalization knows that we all come from somewhere else. There are no original peoples, native peoples, that does not give you a differentiated political entity that obliges the rest of us to recognize a priority or superiority for them. This of course does not mean that we do not recognize the drama of the American Indians, which above all comes from the 19th and 20th centuries, which is when they were exterminated by the political entities that became independent from Spain after 1820; this is the problem. The problem is the contemporary indigenous people, not the indigenous people of the past.

As a Spaniard today, we have to have all the tranquility in this regard. There is a political entity that disappears in 1825, which was called the Spanish empire, the Spanish monarchy, which is divided into 22 pieces. One is the European Spain, the current Spain in which we are, and there are 21 other pieces, which are called the current Latin American republics, and each one can adjust to the past as they wish. There are people there who are working and working in a very positive way, integrating themselves into globalization from the Hispanic heritage, without rejecting it, without denying it, but on the contrary, integrating it.

The Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, Rodrigo Guerra, told Omnes that "experience shows that the good news of the Gospel, lived in communion, is a source of renewed humanity and true development.

- I really like a book written by a late American historian, Lewis Hanke, entitled 'The Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America'. He describes very well how the great problem of the Spaniards in the 16th century was to understand those other humanities, that number of origins, the people who were there, who to begin with had to be told what legal status they were going to have, whether they were subjects of Her Majesty or not. Isabella the Catholic solved it in her will of 1504 when she said that all the natives of the new lands were disciples of the Crown of Castile, and that was it, it was over.

The whole 16th century is the debate in terms of rights. We are talking about the birth of human rights and international law. It was a difficult and complicated debate, in which some accepted it, others did not. The fundamental thing is that the Crown accepted this debate, sponsored it, suspended the conquests, and in the end normalized the situation in colonization. The Laws of the Indies are a monument to Christian humanitarianism. If you do not accept this simple principle, you should read the Laws of the Indies. [NoteThe Laws of the Indies are the compilation put into effect by King Charles II of Spain in 1680 of the special legislation dictated by Spain for the government of its overseas territories for almost two centuries].

A musical about the birth of mestizaje, Malinche, was recently released. A few words about miscegenation...

- The voyage of Magellan and Elcano, which ended five centuries ago, forced the human beings of this planet that the earth is one, from the geographical point of view, isn't it? But the other debate that they opened, and they also saw it, is that humanity is one, isn't it? Miscegenation is the supervening scenario in which, from the very first moment, from 1492, when Columbus and his companions arrive in the Bahamas, and they think they are in Asia, miscegenation is the result of a global humanity, it is the mirror of global humanity. And of course it is a fact of absolute value. The mestizo being is the human being in a global world.

Miscegenation is not only ethnic, it is cultural, emotional, biological of course, a product of capital, of technologies. Miscegenation is what has brought us here. We are the result of miscegenation, of that eagerness to know the other, to know who he is and what he wants to tell. And also to project values to them, but that other also projects them to you.

In that sense, to think of the global world is to think of miscegenation, to claim it as a solution, as a scenario from which we come. The Spanish Monarchy was global, multiethnic, polycentric, we told it in THIRTEEN one of these days, when talking about a book, 'Conversation with a mestizo of the new Spain', by the French historian Serge Gruzinski.

We conclude by talking with the academic Manuel Lucena about the expression 'Black Legend', which arose in 1910 from a person of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Julian Juderias, who won a contest of the Royal Academy of History. Regarding the Black Legend, "neither self-conscious nor excessive. What we have to do is to study the history of Spain, read it, love it. Spanish-speaking cultures have a lot to say".

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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