Civil War Spain Versus Swedish Harmony: The Quality of Government Factor

36 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 26 Aug 2010

See all articles by Victor Lapuente

Victor Lapuente

University of Gothenburg - Department of Political Science

Bo Rothstein

University of Gothenburg

Date Written: 2010


In 1936, while Sweden gave birth to one of the most peaceful solutions to class conflict (i.e. the Neo-Corporatist Welfare State) with the iconic signature of the Saltsjöbaden Accord, Spain gave birth to the most violent results: the Spanish Civil War. Why did the political, social and economic elites choose collaboration in Sweden and violent confrontation in Spain? Building on recent findings by economic historians, this paper shows the notable socio-economic similarities between the two countries before these events. Both had European-record levels of social conflict, both were also late industrialist economies enjoying remarkable growth rates as well as decreasing levels of economic inequalities. The paper underlines an overlooked factor: the public bureaucracy. In the key decades of state expansion (late 19th-early 20th century), the semi-authoritarian Sweden – where executive and administrative positions, firmly in hands of the Crown, were unaccountable to the parliament – created and consolidated a meritocratic autonomous bureaucracy which promoted impartiality and the rule of law. On the contrary, the instable and, on average, more democratic Spain – where executive and administrative positions were frequently accountable to parliamentary dynamics – built a patronage-based administration which allowed successive political incumbents to implement their most preferred policies above the rule of law. This made that in 1936, facing a leftist government extensively violating property rights, civil rights and the rule of law, the Spanish capitalist and middle-classes, until then the least supportive of fascism in Europe, actively supported Franco’s military rebellion, which ended up becoming one of the longest fascist regimes in the history.

Keywords: Civil war, quality of government, patronage, public administration

Suggested Citation

Lapuente, Victor and Rothstein, Bo, Civil War Spain Versus Swedish Harmony: The Quality of Government Factor (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Victor Lapuente (Contact Author)

University of Gothenburg - Department of Political Science ( email )

Box 711
Göteborg, S-405 30

Bo Rothstein

University of Gothenburg ( email )

Box 711
Gothenburg, SE 40530
+46317864599 (Fax)


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