Most scholars of Catalan nationalism correctly trace the movement’s origins to the Romanticism. The 1833 publication of Boneventura-Carles Aribau’s poem, La Pàtria (The Fatherland), marked the beginning a cultural movement called the Renaixença (Renaissance). Catalonia’s literati turned their focus to the region’s medieval history, cultural particularities and literary tradition, resulting in the creation of a “national character” (Volk) unique from a Spanish one. Most scholars agree that the tangible result of theRenaixença was that it provided an intellectual foundation that nationalists would later build upon. However, they tend to overlook two crucial issues: why the Renaixençawas able to develop in a semi-feudal country and why the ponderings of a few Romantics gained so much popularity in the late 19th century.
This paper argues that the success of political nationalism in Catalonia owes to the interrelationship between center-periphery socioeconomic disparities and the ideas of the Romanticism. Frustrated industrialists needed a way to justify their desires for economic protectionism and political autonomy—and the idea of a Catalan Volk provided a perfect solution. This occurred for four reasons, each of which will be treated in separate sections of the paper. First, Catalonia’s modernization in the late 18th century opened a rift between local and central elites. Catalan industrialists cried for protectionism while Spanish liberals clamored their demands for laissez-faire policies. Secondly, because Catalonia was the only region in Spain with a true middle class, it was more susceptible to the claims of the Romanticism. Bourgeois intellectuals looked for reasons to “explain” the socioeconomic disparities between Catalonia versus the rest of Spain. Thirdly, the regional industrialist concentrated in Barcelona needed a way to gain the support of rural elites in order to wrest political power from Madrid. The Renaixença provided a common framework within which rural conservatives, the nationalist literati and industrialists could push for greater autonomy. Fourth, the dominant nationalist parties that formed in the 1880s had a strong bourgeois base, suggesting that the push for national and economic autonomy had coalesced. This paper concludes with a look at the latent bourgeois influence in contemporary Catalan nationalism.