Catalan Independence? A Broken Political Hierarchy

Discussion, not prediction.

Spain, or the bag of ethnicities called Spain, is a democracy. Compared to countries run by stagnantly retentive elites, democracies defy analysis. For an excellent example, we need look no further than U.S. elections, to which many pundits apply much intelligence.

The semi-objective factors provide little guidance:

  • Geography. Is Catalonia isolated by geography from the rest of Spain? Not particularly. The Pyrenees protect if from invasion by the French, which is not the issue here.
  • Economics. Is Catalonia markedly subsidizing the rest of Spain? With 13% of the population, it has 16% of the GNP. Compared to the geographic variations in the U.S, this is not a remarkable ratio. In fact, Catalonia owes Spain money from a 2008 bailout.
  • The vote. 92% of a 40% turnout could well be a minority.
  • Organic cultural drive. (Guardian) Colm Tóibín: ‘Catalonia is a region in the process of reimagining itself’.

The last item doesn’t belong in a list of objective factors, but it is the capsule of everything we don’t know about the situation.  Quoting,

Madrid is not itself prepared to make a detailed case against the vote being held, but rather is insisting that it is illegal, as though the law were something that could not be changed.

This is the crux of it.  Since the Enlightenment, and the complete devolution of monarchic prerogative, there has been a gradual shift from the prerogatives of the state towards the rights of the individual, with the prerogatives of the constituent sub-states sandwiched variably in between.

In less-than-democracies, every sub unit of government, down to the individual citizen, is arranged in a rigid hierarchy of subordination. In western democracies,  this is not the case. In the U.S., even as individual rights have continued to evolve, the “rights” of  states have diminished. In western democracies, for the most part, national elections keep the bargain between the individual  regions or states, and the nation. In Spain, this “broken hierarchy” has failed.

If Catalonia secedes, this will be the first time since the American Civil War (colonies don’t count) that a modern western democracy has devolved (Scotland is close.) But until the map of Europe was rewritten in the 19th century game of “balance of power”, Europe was a continent of duchies and city states. In the wake of Napoleon, when arable land was the principle measure of strength, nations sought security in size.

Since the EU and NATO offer, on paper at least, all the benefits of size, the motivational glue of security provided by membership in a larger national organism has diminished. Such security may be more imagined than real. But Spanish politicians have shown no inclination to convince the Catalans that Spain is good for them.

Is it?





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