American Hidalgos

From the Wikipedia article on Hidalgos (nobility):

Unlike southern Spain, in the north the number of nobles was high and their differences with the common people were few, having been in itself reformed their society from the beginning for historical and demographic reasons as authentic militias for the support of the Royals. In Asturias, the hidalgos came to be almost 80% of the population, and in the case of Cantabria this figure was even higher, reaching 83% in the sixteenth century and exceeding 90% around 1740.[11][12] In the Señorío de Vizcaya and in Guipuzcoa there was also the so-called universal right of hidalguía, by virtue of which all Vizcaya and all Gipuzkoans were born hidalgos.

In the 16th century, the local charters provided the natives of the Basque Country with automatic status as hidalgos, giving them access to military and administrative careers. The reasons for this was that, unlike other regions of Spain, they were considered to have no Moorish or Jewish origins.[13] and because since the RomansVisigoths nor the Arabs were never able to conquer them nor the Cantabrians, they preserved their freedom, sovereignty and pre-Roman culture, beliefs and language longer than the rest of the Iberian peninsula.[14] Unlike other hidalgos who refused manual work as contrary to their honour (as seen in Lazarillo de Tormes), Basque universal gentry extended to the lowliest native worker.

It is easy to look at the American and his inclination toward rugged individualism, combined with the dedication and mystic zeal towards Liberty as being not unlike the Basque peasant who, in his poverty in the 1500s, still regarded himself as a nobleman, literally, in Spanish, a “Son of Someone (Wiktionary).”

In the particular American condition, perhaps we can point to the origins of some of this to the desire for the American pilgrims to obtain religious liberties. The head of the Anglican Church was the monarch of England, and when they were able to break away they were inclined to a sort of congregationalism, and thus the clerical headship passed to the most respected man in the religious body who had the right to preach to the people, and, in a very real sense, possessed to them a greater understanding of the Bible and of Christian life than the King of England.

Couple this also with the concept of stewardship of the land. Throughout Europe, men were peasants and serfs, rarely owning their own land and often very much attached to it, paying to a nobleman or a rentier of some kind. To own one’s own land, and to be part of a congregation that included a man who, like the King of England, wielded a massive authority over the interpretation of the Bible was a very heady thing…

Of course, we would have to say that these people had never quite fully drifted away from reality and thought of themselves as literal 1:1 equivalents of Dukes & Barons, Bishops & Primates, but they would have probably thought of themselves as ennobled in the sense that they had broken away from corrupt and false systems of stewardship & worship. Their nobility was not one that was outdated, bloated, and absurd, in the sense of their European contemporary counterparts, but it was pure, humble, and legitimizing, and while their ennoblement did not entitle them to literal rulership and presiding over others, it entitled them to a great equality with other free men in their communities and perhaps even their slaves, servants, and the Native American tribesmen who were scattered across the land.

This concept survives long after measures for equalizing Americans were put into affect — indeed, you could even see this sentiment in Sen. Huey Long, whose slogan was “Every Man a King,” and who is consistently hailed as one of the greatest egalitarians in American history. While the link seems tenuous as it is just a single word referencing a noble institution… surely, the use of the slogan for a prolonged period was powerful and a direct appeal to the ways that Americans styled themselves on some level.

It would not be ridiculous, in the least, to say that the American Protestant was inclined to think of himself as a Noble, and who, because of his great liberty, felt himself privileged above anyone who was not meaningfully free.

Just as how someone in the Basque country felt that they could all be Hidalgos by virtue of being unconquered and was inclined to think of themselves in a sort of grandiose exceptionalism that extended down to the men who struggled to make ends meet int heir own communites…

And if America is good at anything, its exceptionalism.

 

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