The integration of military values in Spanish democracy
The integration of military values in Spanish democracy
Article written by Fidel Gómez Rosa, Secretario de Formación y Relaciones Internacionales and former EUROMIL Board Member – @fidelgomezrosa on X
The establishment of democracy in Spain is the result of a constituent process of political consensus in society. The armed forces, guarantors of the Franco regime, presented resistance to change, proposing an initial institutional autonomy, which delayed the reforms of democratic control.
For decades, military morale remained anchored to the traditional values inherited from the dictatorship. This article reviews the evolution of professional ethics, from its doctrine of conformation in the national Catholicism until the democratic reform of military deontology, to analyse the process of integration of military values in the democratic system and to what extent it has influenced the problematic democratic convergence of the military.
The establishment of democracy in Spain is the result of a constituent process of a political consensus in society. The Armed Forces, guarantors of power of the Franco regime, presented resistance to the change, proposing an initial institutional autonomy, which delayed the democratic control reforms. For decades, military morality remained anchored in the traditional values inherited from the dictatorship. This article reviews the evolution of professional ethics, from its conformation in the doctrine of National-Catholicism to the democratic reform of military deontology. A long period that explains the limited democratic convergence of the military.
The primary objective of this article is to analyze the integration process of military morality into democratic ethics as an essential aspect of the transition from dictatorship to democracy. The hypothesis put forth is that this process, successfully completed through successive reforms in democratic control of the armed forces over more than three decades, has, in a restrictive sense, influenced the implementation of the citizen in uniform paradigm—a characteristic of advanced democracies—and has made the consensus-building of a shared democratic memory challenging.
The justification for this article also lies in the opportunity to initiate a line of research on a topic that has received relatively little attention from military historiography in constitutional Spain when compared to other subjects such as the role of military power in political reform, the modernization of the armed forces, and international participation. While numerous studies exist on corporate military values, there is scant discussion of the necessary integration of this military morality into the democratic ethics of society.
In the practice of the military profession, individuals are compelled by professional ethics to take the lives of others and risk their own. This exceptional responsibility underscores the significance of moral training for the military. The internalization of the code of ethics, which comprises a set of good practices, serves as a guiding principle for soldiers, especially during combat, where a deeper level of consciousness is required beyond mere adherence to established legality. Military morale is based on values that form the basis of action. These values may possess a permanent character, such as discipline, loyalty, or self-denial, or they may be contingent, as is the case with the concept of honor, which evolves over time. The fundamental notion of always acting correctly remains constant, but the criteria or standards for what is considered correct may change.
As a justification for professional activity, military values must be integrated into the society of their time. In the case of Spain, they must align with the social and democratic rule of law established in the Constitution, with the principles that underpin the legal system and foster national coexistence. The military organization, an integral component of the administration, is subject to government direction (article 97.1), which is responsible for overseeing its activities in line with the constitutional missions assigned to the armed forces (article 8.1). Consequently, once institutional autonomy is relinquished, political authority is empowered to incorporate military values into the ethical framework of democratic society.
1. MILITARY MORALITY IN THE ARMED FORCES
Armies are primarily constituted to engage in warfare, the highest manifestation of social conflict, to fulfill their designated mission. The preparation and execution of war, always a last resort, involve acts of extreme violence. The moral significance of actions with deliberate lethal consequences necessitates that soldiers conduct themselves in accordance with current legislation and adhere to strict professional ethics. Within this deontology, professional virtues and sociopolitical values shared with society are integrated.
The military moral code is grounded in two fundamental principles. Firstly, the defense of the community, organized within a sovereign state with territorial integrity and independence. Secondly, universally accepted values such as human dignity, respect for human rights, international peace, or the pursuit of justice for crimes against humanity—values that have evolved the paradigm of military force usage. As Juan Antonio Moliner points out, military ethics must align with the broader ethical framework of society, as enshrined in constitutional values. This alignment ensures that the military professional is conscious of the ethical implications of their actions and embraces the solemn responsibility of their role in warfare (2014: 7-8). In essence, the ethical code provides the weapons professional with the moral conviction of the legitimate use of force, the ability to evaluate their own conduct, unwavering commitment to the mission, and the ultimate justification for their efforts and sacrifices (Moliner, 2022: 23-28).
Military morality, therefore, encompasses much more than military tradition. Calls for the staunch preservation of traditions often overlook the ever-changing reality, not only in terms of weaponry, military techniques, and procedures but also in the forms, practices, and customs of the armed forces to adapt them to the contemporary society and prevailing doctrines of each historical period. This consistency was previously observed by José Cadalso in his Moroccan Letters (1774) when addressing the objections raised by veterans of his time against the inevitable adoption of the Prussian system by the Spanish Army, a trend followed throughout Europe. Colonel Cadalso, an esteemed European scholar, highlighted the paradox that patriotic discipline, which was being defended, was, in fact, equally foreign, as it was the French discipline introduced by the House of Bourbon that replaced the Austrian one. He concluded by stating, “Misinterpreted patriotism, rather than being a virtue, becomes a ridiculous defect and is often detrimental to the country itself” (Cadalso, 1982: 142).
1.1. Franco’s Military Ethics
At the end of the Civil War, a new State was established in Spain based on the doctrine of national Catholicism, characterized by the close connection between civil authority and the Catholic Church. As is known, one of the structural causes of the Spanish fratricidal war was the religious issue. The clergy threw themselves, with a stamp of survival, into supporting the rebel side, declaring the war as a liberation crusade. Consequently, the military institution, rejecting rationalist secularism, embraced Catholic fundamentalism in its professional ethics.
A reference work for understanding the professional ethics of the Army during that period was “Military Deontology (1947)” by Lieutenant Colonel Chaplain Mariano Vega Mestre, a professor at the General Military Academy. In this work, Catholic morality is applied to the psychology of the military, emphasizing the importance of professional morality for men at arms, especially those in command roles, to find meaning in their profession.
Professions are practiced with a moral framework to prevent the degradation of mindless routine practices. In the case of military life, which demands the utmost sacrifice in defense of higher interests, a simple external legal morality is insufficient. Instead, it requires an internal asceticism based on spiritual values.
The military vocation, which already indicates a preference for living according to principles of rectitude and honor, is further enhanced by a morally grounded religious attitude. While fulfilling their professional duties, believing soldiers feel constantly supported by divine power, making them resilient in the face of discouragement. The enduring presence of the Christian faith, contrasted with the history and foundations of European civilization, has sustained the strength of the military spirit in the Spanish armies, distinguishing morally undesirable individuals from the collective professionalism of the profession (Vega, 1947: 12-27).
The duties of the officer outlined in the professional code align with the precepts of Catholicism. Each commandment holds a military significance. For instance: the first emphasizes the positive exercise of theological virtues, the second involves the promissory oath of fidelity, the third stresses the preservation of collective religiosity, and the fourth emphasizes patriotic affiliation, and so on. In this manner, relativistic rationalism embedded in secular principles contrasts with the steadfastness of absolute religious convictions. The dictates of conscience for believing soldiers form a robust and stable doctrine for moral assessments and the hierarchy of their own values (Vega, 1947: 48).
Similar dissemination of moral training for Navy and War Aviation officers is carried out through internal regime publications, which remained valid throughout the Franco regime, even into the eighties. This theory of military conduct also served to instill in cadets the confessional nature of the State. In the texts examined, fundamental concepts of Catholic morality and military virtues are combined with explanations that use instances from the military rebellion of July 18 as illustrative examples repeatedly.
Classic military virtues such as honor, loyalty, and courage are harnessed to serve the regime’s ideology, explicitly calling on the military to unite with the dictator.
The instrumentalization of military moral texts to legitimize the political regime and justify military rebellion is paradigmatic. There is a clear commitment to integrating military morale into the political training of officers. For example, in “Military Moral Issues (1960)” by Emilio Romero Salgado, published by the Head of Instruction of the Ministry of the Navy, the virtues of class society are explained in contrast to the failed parliamentary democracy, communism is portrayed as perverse, and the historical significance of the motto established by the Falange, elevated to a national symbol, is explained. Similarly, “Military Moral (1961)” by Germán Rodríguez González, a professor at the General Air Academy, constitutes an ideological exposition of Francoist glorification, frequently referencing the supposed moral superiority of national troops over the militiamen, who were even stripped of their nationality as elements opposing Spain.
Replacement soldiers, corporals, and non-commissioned officers, as immediate commanders, receive distinct moral training from officers. Simplified texts are employed, eschewing heuristic speculation in favor of assertive narratives about Christian doctrine, national symbols (flag, anthem, uniform), and soldierly virtues, emphasizing obedience, loyalty, selflessness, and sacrifice. A notable example of such regimental literature is “Military Moral Conferences (1943)” by Commander Algarra, a compilation of lectures delivered in various military units.
The didactic approach employed relies on historical examples, positioning the siege of Zaragoza or the defense of Baler on the same plane of historical continuity as events from the recent civil war, such as the defense of the Sanctuary of Santa María de la Cabeza or the so-called Epic of the Simancas barracks in Gijón. There are consistent references to the republican period, with warnings about immoral rulers and “false patriots who deceive for their personal gain” (Algarra, 1943: 68).
1.2. The Review of Historical Ordinances
When the Ministry of Defense was established in the summer of 1977, General Gutiérrez Mellado’s team identified, among the department’s priority projects, the review of the ethical standards for the military. They emphasized the need to undertake this review through a joint commission under the authority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JUJEM). The goal was to draft an ethical code that would serve as a permanent guideline for the conduct of present-day military personnel, based on a reevaluation of past norms. This effort also aimed to move beyond the legacy of institutional Francoism and the division of the Ministry of Defense by seeking the historical foundations of the Spanish armed forces and their consistent evolution over time.
The Royal Ordinances for the Armed Forces, approved by Law on December 28, 1978, were divided into three sections: general directives, specific instructions for roles or functions, and the rights and responsibilities of military personnel. The general directives were based on the principles of subordination to the government as the legitimate representative of the nation and the use of military power to preserve peace. The Royal Ordinances, with ethical mandates rooted in a sense of duty, provided military personnel with guidance for personal conduct as members of the armed institution.
These regulations highlighted military virtues such as discipline, responsibility, and the meticulous fulfillment of duties. They also established the limits of obedience in order to prevent the consequences of blind obedience, such as engagement in criminal acts contrary to the laws and customs of warfare. Soldiers were expected to take responsibility for their actions and omissions.
As noted by Salas Larrazábal (1986), a distinguished military historian and member of the review commission, these regulations preserved a valuable moral heritage while adapting to the changes brought about by political shifts. The renewal was primarily seen in the removal of outdated restrictive norms that affected the dignity of soldiers, such as corporal punishment, the mandatory wearing of uniforms, or the requirement to seek permission for marriage. The concept of honor, divorced from obsolete connotations like honor or fame, became closely tied to the demands of duty, with honor courts remaining as guardians of collective decorum. The regulations also emphasized political neutrality, including the prohibition of involvement in political parties, unions, or protest associations.
1.3. The Democratic Reform of Military Conduct Rules
The process of military reforms, a direct consequence of the political transition, spanned over three decades. During this period, objectives were achieved that eventually led to the elimination of military autonomy, making way for the effective control of civilian authority. In successive laws reforming the personnel system (1989, 1999, 2007), there was a gradual alignment of the administrative, organizational, and functional regulations governing the military with those applicable to other public employees.
However, the regulatory framework for military ethics remained within the parameters established by the legal revision of historical precepts in 1978. It was deeply rooted in the cultivation of traditional values that shaped the military ethos, coupled with the obligatory adherence to the Constitution and specific adaptations to accommodate sociopolitical changes. The combined effect of substantial legal reforms in the field of Defense, along with certain jurisprudential resolutions, advised against any further delay in adapting military ordinances to the constitutional framework.
The legislator states in the explanatory statement the reasons behind this reform: to incorporate the external participation of troops governed by international conventions, establish rules of conduct at the core of military actions, strengthen the protection of human dignity and inherent rights, such as the principle of equal treatment, create a comprehensive regulation of the military ethos without distinction of roles, integrate the principles of public service status while respecting the unique characteristics of the armed forces, encapsulated in the discipline-hierarchy-unity triad, and lastly, assign due importance to the technical, logistical, administrative, and educational functions essential for the preparation and execution of military operations.
Finally, after more than three decades of delay, the mandate to comprehensively regulate the development of fundamental rights and public freedoms for military personnel is fulfilled. The regulation governs the right to professional association and, for this purpose, establishes the creation of two bodies: the Personnel Council of the Armed Forces, jointly administered by the government and representative associations, and the Observatory of Military Life, under the jurisdiction of the Cortes Generales, responsible for analyzing and providing advice on military conditions.
2. THE ETHICS OF DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY
Commencing from the common origin of the words “morality” and “ethics” rooted in customs, idealist philosophy distinguishes between internal morality (morality) and external morality (ethics). The moral sense of human actions is governed by the criterion of value, whereas ethical conscience compels us to act in ways that are fair, good, well-intentioned, reasonable, and so forth (Ferrater, 1994: 2413-2416). Morality remains an individual matter, as individuals shape their own life projects based on their inner spirit and conscience.
Cultural heritage and the social environment may predispose individuals, but they do not determine them. Individuals retain their power to make ethical choices and their capacity for critical reflection regarding the acceptance of prevailing social norms (Savater, 1991: 32-33).
The individual ethics of people cannot be divorced from their social significance. The pursuit of a good life corresponds to harmonious coexistence. For public morality to be effective, it must be nurtured within a community, as mere individual disposition does not substantially alter reality. In this context, the welfare state, with its public policies related to health, assistance, and universal education, stands as a collective moral achievement. As Salvador Giner confirms, even at the global level, despite the pragmatic realism prevailing in international relations, a moral awareness of the universal value of human rights has evolved (1987: 17-19).
The democratic system of plural coexistence, specifically in political pluralism, is underpinned by the virtue of civility, fostered within liberal doctrine to regulate civilized disagreements. Bourgeois culture, through the legacy of civic virtues such as tolerance, industriousness, and good manners, has woven the moral fabric of civil society (Giner, 1987: 23). Consequently, the public morality of democratic society encompasses both the individual and collective dimensions of citizen ethics. The constitutional principles of freedom, equality, and justice are delineated in a catalogue of fundamental rights and public freedoms, accompanied by citizens’ corresponding duties toward society.
Civic morality in democratic societies, far from dogmatism and extreme relativism, comprises a set of principles, goods, and higher values rooted in human rationality, serving as common denominators for citizens. The catalogue of human rights has progressively expanded, encompassing not only the original civil and political rights but also social rights and the latest generations of rights, including those related to minorities, environmental protection, and international peace (Cortina, 1994: 108-112).
2.1. The Public Virtues
Victoria Camps has distilled public virtues into three fundamental ones: justice, professionalism, and solidarity. Human sociability is grounded in a sense of justice as a responsible commitment to the community. The bureaucratic misunderstandings typical of advanced societies can only be mitigated through empathetic support. Personal responsibility stems from individual autonomy and conscience, which include the expressions of freedom of speech, assembly, and association. Tolerance entails embracing the diversity of beliefs and opinions. Respect for individuals and their differences is a moral imperative.
In our era, professionalism serves as the societal yardstick for personal excellence. Individuals feel secure in their interests when they are united under the umbrella of professional unions, which grant them a relative advantage based on exclusive knowledge. However, professionalism also represents a public virtue when it serves common interests, transcending its corporate functions (Camps, 1990: 103-120).
The ability to empathize with others, understanding their motivations, is what distinguishes human beings. We recognize each other by developing empathy with our fellow humans. Laws and institutions represent minimal frameworks that cannot fully capture the complexity of life or comprehend all aspects of justice and equity, which only human behavior can provide (Savater, 1991: 125-140). Education is paramount in transmitting a humanizing morality that complements (and forms the basis for) technical knowledge and social skills.
The educational path is the route to fostering a critical spirit, the only safeguard against moral subjugation for citizens (Cortina, 1994: 23). However, this education extends beyond academic instruction, without undermining the importance of a comprehensive curriculum. It also encompasses the integration of individuals into society, shared values, and the promotion of harmonious coexistence.
Respect, culture, and the development of an autonomous personality are integral components of this citizenship education. Education must aim at shaping citizens, and in this regard, it is ideological; it cannot remain neutral in achieving just social goals (Camps, 1990: 123).
2.2. Democratic Ethics
As a product of moral evolution, in well-established democratic societies, there exists a consensus of shared values deeply rooted in common cognitive frameworks. It’s a morality that transcends all societal sectors, while recognizing that deontological codes within various professional domains may introduce variations. The core values synthesized in civic morality encompass human dignity, which bestows intrinsic value upon individuals, as well as the principles of freedom and equality, with justice and equity governing social disparities (Cortina, 1994: 126-135).
Drawing from José Luis Aranguren, social ethics represents a collective moral pursuit in the quest for justice—a continuous struggle fueled by an aspiration for perfection. The dialectical synthesis of these two levels—ethical and political, often in complex interplay—arises from the ability to find common ground, resulting in an objective ethics derived from historical processes and the moralization of public institutions. Democracy “is an everyday ethical-political achievement that can only be preserved through constant self-criticism” (1968: 161).
The State has expanded beyond its original technical-legal role to become a moralized entity, aiming to secure both formal (freedom) and material (equality) democracy for its citizens. In this pursuit of the Welfare State, traditional virtues of Christian charity and secularized philanthropy converge, now embraced by the professional ethics of public employees. The greater good and the collective welfare inherent in the provision of public services prevail, even compulsively if necessary, over private interests, both individual and corporate, in legitimizing the State’s authority (Aranguren, 1968: 257-260).
A robust democratic system, extending beyond the mere ritual of periodic voting, demands an educated and engaged citizenry that comprehends the intricacies of the political process, exercises oversight over power, and collectively pursues the common interest. In democracy, where diverse and sometimes overwhelming information flows, societal complexity can become inscrutable for individual citizens. Therefore, it is imperative to bolster mechanisms for social cooperation and collective organization to prevent the erosion of citizen responsibility in public affairs. Otherwise, society becomes susceptible to manipulation through “regressive political behaviors: populist simplification, a tendency toward authoritarian decision-making, or passive consumption of media-driven politics” (Innerarity, 2018: 34).
3. DEMOCRATIC TRANSFORMATION OF MILITARY CITIZENSHIP
The imperative for military reform, encompassing professionalism, social integration, and modernization, emerged in small circles within CESEDEN towards the end of the Franco regime. While remaining anchored in the corporate conception of armed forces, the debate revolved around two opposing positions: acceptance of inevitable progress (liberalism) or resistance to change (involutionism). There was a recognition that corporate ethics had to evolve beyond archaic codes of collective honor towards a military ethics founded on moral duty and legal endorsement.
General Alonso Baquer’s analysis of military careers, particularly for officers educated for this role, underscores Spain’s unique attachment to the institutional ideal, without disregarding the validity of the bureaucratic-organizational model (Alonso Baquer, 1988: 73-97). Building on this analysis, he asserts that the career model as a professional occupation adequately addresses the ethical demands of the institutional sphere, the occupational dedication to serve, and the administrative efficiency inherent in the bureaucratic structure. It also acts as a bulwark against both interventionist praetorianism and civilism that systematically rejects the (legitimate) use of force. Liberal democracies, exemplified by the United States with their recruitment campaigns, respect the hybrid institutional-occupational system’s effectiveness and seek to preserve the professional ethos to enhance the efficacy of foreign operations. The goal is to select, within the broader framework of converging the armed forces with civil society, segments with different types of military training (Alonso Baquer, 1988: 129-138).
However, Spanish military deontology, unrelated to these debates, remained entrenched in the traditional values established in 1978, without meaningful alignment with the changes brought about by the political transition. The formal integration of constitutional values into military ethical rules lagged behind for decades. The absence of democratic pedagogy had repercussions on the citizenship status of the military and democratic memory.
3.1. Democratic Transition and Military Deontology
The establishment of democracy in Spain, after forty years of dictatorship, posed the challenge of resolving the military problem, given the strong adherence of the higher command to Francoism. Cases of dissident officers are exceptional (Gómez, 2020). Military morality was identified with traditional values, redefined after the war and summarized in the doctrine of national Catholicism, without the recasting of historical ordinances essentially modifying this situation. The military institution, particularly the Army as the most powerful component, demanded military autonomy in the new democratic system of governance.
In 1982, with the first socialist government taking power, after overcoming the acute phase of counter-revolutionary military pressure, political change consolidated. However, it did not immediately resolve the military question. The new executive’s focus was on guaranteeing the supremacy of civilian authority and developing the structures of the Ministry of Defense. Although control of the process was precarious, with incidents of disciplinary issues, closed circles, and the risk of regression, the ministry’s determination ultimately led to a successful conclusion by the end of the decade (Serra, 2008).
The successive legislative reforms, combined with the daily exercise of civilian decision-making in defense policy, neutralized the military’s ability, bound by the statute of public service, to influence the political process. Nevertheless, the military institution retained virtually intact the entire moral heritage from the Franco era. Barracks continued to embrace Francoist symbolism, selective celebration of military deeds from the civil war, Catholic confessionalism, and a reluctance to embrace political pluralism, among other aspects. The esprit de corps, consisting of an array of mottos, legends, songs, rites, hymns, handbooks, etc., cultivated independently of official deontology, continued to exert significant influence on professional culture.
In contrast, civil society distanced itself from the past and sought a new social ethic that reacted against the vertical structure of the State and the paternalistic dogmatism of the Church. The adoption of European democratic ethics clashed with the critical reflection on recent history, particularly in fields such as public education, contributive solidarity, and the acceptance of responsible social commitment (Camps, 1990: 140; Cortina, 1994: 91).
3.2. Constitutional Values and Armed Forces
Educated within an institutional moral framework characterized by strict subordination and unwavering obedience to orders, with only nominal safeguards against command arbitrariness, the Spanish military has often interpreted the Constitution in the most restrictive manner regarding their rights. The process of integrating constitutional values into the armed forces has been gradual and hesitant, allowing a professional culture that remains resistant to embracing the democratic ethical framework of political pluralism.
Recent years have seen notable cases that illustrate this reluctance to accept democratic alternation: the establishment of the Military Emergency Unit (UME), which is now a bastion of the military’s positive public image, was initially considered a challenge to the military ethos; recurring instances of disrespectful protests against the current president of the Government during solemn events, particularly when he belongs to a specific political party; the publication of letters pressuring the king and manifestos expressing admiration for General Franco by retired military personnel; and the repeated commemoration of conflict incidents from the civil war in educational institutions, necessitating a ministry order as a reminder of the commitment to democratic values.
The exercise of public freedoms—such as expression, assembly, and unionization—has often been viewed as incompatible with the military ethos and, therefore, largely restricted, assuming that individuals voluntarily relinquished their full exercise of citizenship upon entering the armed forces. Legal doctrine has reinforced these restrictions, unrelated to developments in comparative law, by maintaining the legal framework of special disciplinary subordination (Pascua, 2006: 94-98).
The Spanish legislator, rather than seeking European alignment—an approach preferred in other areas—has chosen a restrictive path within the constitutional framework, limiting the citizenship status of military personnel and their collective ability to defend their professional, economic, and social interests. The law prohibits unionization, tightly regulates professional associations, and restricts the active political participation of military citizens, resisting this modernization factor (Gómez, 2022).
3.3. Democratic Pedagogy in the Armed Forces
The political transition in Spain unfolded as a consensual process of political reform. Due to its prolonged duration, the dictatorship had shaped a society—referred to as sociological Francoism—that was ideologically disarmed by state propaganda and numbed by the emerging welfare state. This sets Spain apart from other Western European countries, where the prevention of totalitarian regression necessitated a constitutional framework actively defending liberal democracy, including processes to address accountability, historical memory, and democratic education within public administration and broader social sectors.
The political reform, based on the unwritten pact of silence that entailed refraining from pursuing a trial of Francoism, may have been the only viable path to a peaceful transition at the time. However, in retrospect, once the democratic system firmly took root in the 1980s, marked by regular alternation in political leadership, it becomes apparent that an opportunity, backed by popular legitimacy, was missed to address the issue more fundamentally. The persistence of completely unjustified symbols of the dictatorship within public assets and their normalization were not sufficiently recognized. Legislation on democratic memory, such as the recent 2022 law, faces the challenge of rectifying the situation by declaring these symbols illegal and mandating their removal.
A program of democratic education in military training centers, which public authorities might consider embracing given some warning signs, should encompass certain often-misunderstood aspects: critical examination of military interventionism in Spanish politics; the role played by the armed forces during the Franco regime; and the integration of the memories of both Republican and Democratic military personnel, exemplified by the persecuted officers of the Democratic Military Union (Gómez, 2013). In summary, proactive adoption of democratic values within the military’s moral framework should also include explaining, rather than taking for granted, the functioning of the constitutional system and the rules of the democratic process in a parliamentary monarchy.
The values of National Catholicism, characterized by religious fundamentalism and a staunch rejection of political liberalism, deeply influenced the character of the Francoist armed forces. The formal advent of democracy, a result of a political reform process driven by citizen mobilization, did not entail a substantial shift in the ideological orientation of military ethics. Instead, it led to an update of historical moral codes. After the democratic system was securely established, with regular changes in government and military subordination to civilian authority firmly guaranteed, the government refrained from actively promoting democratic education within the armed forces.
As a consequence of the reformist model adopted during the political transition, which did not entail a complete break from the previous regime, the analysis reveals that military values in Spanish democracy, unlike advanced European democracies, exhibit certain peculiarities that significantly impact two areas: the citizenship status of military personnel and democratic memory.
Concerning the first aspect, the restrictive framework governing the exercise of fundamental rights, established at the outset of the transition, remains inflexible, despite legislative reforms aimed at aligning military regulations with civil society. Instead of adopting a more flexible approach to the citizen in uniform, lawmakers have upheld a legal framework characterized by special subordination of the military. Discipline is interpreted in absolute terms, rooted in historical tradition, rather than being seen as merely instrumental to the military profession. The caution in keeping the military separate from active politics, a concern driven by the perceived risk of destabilization during the early transition period, has persisted through prohibitive provisions in the Royal Ordinances until the constitutional repeal that paved the way for professional associations. It continues with a more limited ad hoc clause on political and union neutrality in the current law governing rights and duties. Regarding collective memory, the normalization of Francoist symbols in military facilities, the extended silence imposed on Republican military personnel, the repression of democratic military personnel, the preservation of pre-democratic cultural norms, the confessional nature of official ceremonies, and more—all have contributed to a paradoxical situation: the undeniable professionalism of the Spanish armed forces, on par with their counterparts in other Western countries, contrasts with lingering attitudes rooted in a traditional legacy that does not align with the ethics of a democratic society.
In closing, the trend of justifying the exceptional citizenship status of the military as a necessary measure for democratic consolidation in the wake of the transition’s risks is prevalent in Spanish society. However, this approach increasingly diverges from the framework of European democracies. In these democracies, it is the full integration of the military into society, where they responsibly exercise their rights within the temporary limitations required by their military role, that contributes to a deeper commitment to national defense and the system of public freedoms. Ultimately, this integration places corporate military values at the service of democracy.
The original article can be found here (Spanish language).