- Elites locales, señores, reformistas: redes clientelares y Monarquía hacia finales del Antiguo Régimen
The developments that brought about the end of the Old Regime in Spain have been an issue of continued historiographical interest and controversy. During the 1970s the mainstream of Spanish historiography interpreted that process as the result of a bourgeois revolution. Following the classic Marxist model and strongly influenced by French Marxist historiography, most Spanish scholars stated that during the second half of the 18th century a new social class—the bourgeoisie—arose in Spain. Because of the position of this new class in the means of production, its economic, social, and political interests clashed with those of the dominant feudal nobility. The successive upheavals that characterized Spanish history between 1812 and 1868 were thus the consequence of a long-term conflict between a liberal bourgeoisie and a declining feudal absolutist class which resulted in the triumph of the former. This interpretive model was still prevalent up to the mid 80s, but it has been revised during the last years in the light of new research. Christian Windler’s Elites locales, señores, reformistas, constitutes a thoroughly achieved contribution to this revisionist trend.
Windler’s work focuses on the study of the power relations between the monarchy, the seigneurial nobility, and the local elites during the second half of the 18th century. More specifically, he analyzes the impact of reformist absolutism in the creation of new forms of political communication that contributed to the crisis of the Old Regime in Spain. His thesis is that the end of the Spanish Old Regime resulted from a complex process of political, social, and economic change in which old and new elites compited for domination. The upshot of [End Page 227] such competition was not the aggressive imposition of the new elite over the old, as proponents of the bourgeois revolution stated, but rather a negotiated solution that created what Windler calls “a certain community of interests” among the powerful. That community of interests, which was established between the old seigneurial nobility and a new elite of local landowning notables, created the conditions for the making of a liberal state during the 19th century. At the same time, however, it accounts for the social, economic, and even political continuities that characterized Spanish society during the era of liberalism.
To prove such an ambitious thesis, the author studies the impact of Charles III’s reformist policies in several Seigneurial municipalities of Southern Spain. The municipal reforms of 1766, and the crown’s promotion after 1774 of associations for the improvement of provincial life are interpreted as monarchical attempts to control local politics. Nonetheless, Windler asks to what extent these royal reformist policies altered the existing power balance among local elites, the seigneurial nobility, and the state administration. It is not the first time that this question has been posed in Spanish historiography, but what is innovative about Windler’s work is the methodology applied to address it. Instead of approaching the study of power relations from the perspective of the alterations that occurred in institutional, legal, or intellectual traditions, or explaining them as the result of a conflict between confronted classes, Windler focuses on the role of the informal networks established by the elites to maintain domination. Like in any other pre-industrial society, power relations in 18th century Spain were determined by the functioning of extensive networks of patrons and clients. This was a social space characterized by relations of hierarchy, dependence, and loyalty. Power relations were built through a diversity of informal links of solidarity and authority established among kin, friends, clients, and fellow countrymen. The monarchy, the feudal nobility, and the local elites constituted the three major sources of patronage. Windler devotes a major portion of his research to describing the key characters that conformed these patron-client networks, the instruments they used to maintain group cohesion, and the networks’ internal and external dynamics.
However, Windler differentiates this patron-client society from the traditional society...