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Carlton Hayes

Carlton Hayes

Part II: Spain (part 1), (part 3)

When the Brits flew Francisco Franco home from Morocco to take command of what would become known as the “Nationalist” forces to fight against the “Loyalists” who supported the constituted government, Hayes probably thought he was the last person who would get caught up in it.

The Catholic Church, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany backed Franco; everybody else pretended to be neutral, but everybody took sides. When the fighting ended in 1939, Spain had lost about 4% of her population, a higher rate of slaughter than the American War Between  the States and approaching even that of the forming of the Soviet Union, 1917-20.  In the eyes of liberals and socialists everywhere it seemed to be a contest between fascism and democracy, with the evil ones coming out on top. 

The irony was not lost on Hayes that his Church supported the “Nationalist” side, given his critical work on the subject.  Hayes himself tried to stay neutral. He well understood what most American liberals did not–that the “Loyalist” or “Republican” side was early taken over by communists dedicated to the foreign policy objectives of the Soviet Union.  Hayes remarked several times that the choice in Spain was never a Western-style democracy, but between potential fascist or communist government. As bad as either would be, he felt, communism was slightly worse.

The agony and the horror and the great sadness that was Spain made it the ideological litmus-test of the late 1930s.  Within the United States government a quiet struggle began, roughly along liberal/conservative lines but including a goodly dose of anti-Catholicism, over the “problem” of Spain. When Franco’s forces won in 1939, many liberals in the State Department, executive offices, and Congress dedicated themselves to his removal, or at least his isolation.

Carlton Hayes stayed mostly out of the controversy, but created a minor one of his own by writing what may have been his masterpiece. A Generation of Materialism, 1871-1900 appeared in 1941, much to the chagrin of liberals and even many of his former students, who were usually fiercely loyal to him. The critics did not include Jacques Barzun, who helped him edit the manuscript, or Alfred A. Knopf, who wrote Hayes, “My God, what a relief it is to come across English prose like yours.”  He later compared it favorably with Churchill’s.

Liberals, in general, thought that Hayes had given up on his former tolerant catholicism and had become merely a Catholic. They had some reason to think so. Hayes beat up on liberals and the cult of progress during much of 1941-42 in articles and in speeches to the American Catholic Historical Association (which he had helped to found), including implying that what he called the “end of the Enlightenment”–which he located in the 1890s–had laid the groundwork for the ideological and nationalist thugs of the 1930s. He even counseled a return to the study of medieval polities, which he felt were important sources of the best of modern European law and culture.

A Generation of Materialism was a rare thing, a history of Europe rather than a series of national histories of European countries. Its theme is the fruition and demise of Liberalism, its devolution into materialism, in turn giving rise to the types of nationalism and imperialism about which Hayes had long written. He was skeptical about the cult of progress–it too had devolved into a complex web of relativity–which of course put him on the opposite side of the prevailing cult of the New Deal.  The book is filled with sparkling sketches of European leaders, but none gets a more sympathetic treatment than Pope Leo XIII, “the greatest Pope of modern times.” The Holy Father’s views on social justice, the unity of faith and reason, the primacy of the family, private property as a natural right, the dignity of labor, and the compatibility of Catholicism with democracy were all at the heart of Hayes’s humanism by 1941.

The following year, Hayes was summoned to Washington to be offered the job of Ambassador to Spain. It was truly a shock–Hayes read but did not speak Spanish, he had not been a Franco supporter during the Civil War, and, above all, he was an academic with no political or diplomatic experience. The records show (but Hayes never learned) that FDR and his close advisers wanted a well known Catholic who would be acceptable to both American and Spanish constituencies; and Hayes’s inexperience was an advantage since the administration planned for him to do as little as possible.

Hayes was deeply moved by Spanish spirituality. His faith took a turn that led to Opus Dei and daily Mass, a commitment that would continue through the rest of his life. At the same time he entered the world of practical diplomacy, a world in which few academics have had either experience or success. Despite the administration’s plans for him to be mostly a figurehead, he functioned well as Ambassador. It is perhaps only a small stretch to argue that he grew to understand Spain’s position in the world and the nature of the Franco regime better than anybody at the time, partly because he knew nationalism so well and understood the European context of all of Spain’s actions.  It did not hurt that he also intuited the Catholicism of many of Spain’s leaders, including the caudillo.

Franco had a two-war theory: In the West, the regrettable war between Germany and Italy on the one hand, and Britain, France and the United States on the other; in the East, the holy war of Europe against communist atheist Russia. In the latter Franco could not be neutral; he even committed a “Blue Division” to fight what he considered unadulterated evil. Toward the Western war he proclaimed neutrality. Even though it was a war among brothers, he could never side with the allies because of their partnership with Russia, not fully with Germany because their war aims in the West were illegitimate. His reasoning may have been fanciful–or calculated–but Hayes recognized it for what it was, a ploy to stay out of a war that Spain could not morally, economically, or strategically afford to enter.

Carlton Hayes was a successful ambassador precisely for the same reasons he was a brilliant historian. He was anchored in his faith, open-minded in using whatever means of analysis were available, prudent in his behavior, and able to connect the dots of European reality. Eventually, liberals and the far left called him an “appeaser,” because he argued so vigorously against schemes to unseat Franco in the name of an “antifascist” war. The left, of course could not (or would not) see that the tragic irony of World War II was not its failure to rid the world of Franco, but its (perhaps necessary) partnership with communism. Hayes saw this, and warned that the only result of pursuing a policy to topple the Franco regime would be a communist post-war Spain.

His diplomatic memoir, Wartime Mission in Spain, is on the whole calmer and more objective than other books on Spain written between 1936-1946, but Hayes couldn’t resist taking the left to task for turning OSS agents loose (as many as 10,000 were in Spain at once!) and conducting a massive anti-Franco propaganda campaign through the Office of War Information. He counseled friendship with Spain, and warned repeatedly against using American power to determine the kinds of governments other peoples should adopt.  He had always considered himself an internationalist, going so far as to be a strong supporter of the League of Nations and the United Nations, but his internationalism was really a secular form of the universalism of the Church rather than rooted in American triumphalism.  He would spend the rest of his life arguing that the City on a Hill was not Washington, D.C., but Western Civilization itself.

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