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Who are the Rebels in the Catalan Democracy Crisis?

Evil is never obvious

Be open to the truth, no matter how un-apparent it is, because Evil is never obvious. In the spirit of the season, one of the greatest Evils to appear in the West since the 1930s is wearing a spectacular costume. Catalonian secession is wearing a democratic costume, yet is the perfect opposite of liberty. The images of police brutality and the narratives we hear from Barcelona are entirely misleading. As events intensify and tragedy hovers, we need to think things through and make the right decision.

Catalonia has 16% of Spain’s population. It accounts for 25% of its exports and 19% of the Spanish GDP. After Spain’s financial collapse in 2008, the secessionist movement began to gather steam, saying that Catalonia gives more money to Spain than it gets back.[1] In 2014 an unofficial, non-binding referendum was held by the Catalan regional government. While 80% voted for independence, overall turnout for the referendum stood at only 37%. Never the less, when, in January 2016, Carles Puigdemont became president of the region (after a deal between two secessionist parties created a thin legislative majority) Since then, Puigdemont has worked and spoken almost exclusively for secession.[2] It will come, then, as no surprise that tensions between Catalonia and Madrid – and within Catalonia itself – are rising.

Early this month these tensions exploded when, after months of political and rhetorical buildup from secessionist elites pointed toward the expectation that this would be a binding vote for independence, courts in Madrid affirmed that this second referendum was, in fact, illegal. When the referendum was held, on October 1, the Spanish police unquestionably used excessive violence to quash it. Still, and due partially to an anti-secessionist boycott, turnout for the second referendum was exceedingly low, although the Generalitat claims that 90% of those who voted supported secession. But neither low turnout nor rejections from Europe – nor pleas from Madrid, the outcry of Catalonian citizens against secession,[3] or the increasingly loud economic warnings[4] – prevented Puigdemont from declaring independence on October 10. Even though Puigdemont immediately suspended this declaration, claiming he wants to negotiate an exit, tensions remain high.

Still, subtle trends within leading secessionists’ rhetoric and Catalan citizens’ activities show that the nightmare may dissolve. Lessons from the study of mass politics and eruptions of violence offer us some hope. Fewer people have been in streets over the past three weeks, and those who have come have stayed for shorter time periods. Even worse for secessionists, Republicans are now coming out in the hundreds of thousands, ending the narrative of that all of Catalonia is United for secession. Puigdemont remains defiant, but he only delivers antagonizing rhetoric only once or twice a week. With Madrid’s imposition of control over Catalonia, dissolving the Generalitat and declaring new elections, law and freedom — i.e., Human Rights and Dignity — have returned to Catalonia.

***

Catalan is its own language, ethnicity, and culture. Simultaneously, Catalans are Spanish.[5] A separatist impulse certainly exists within the region, but it mainly emerges when exploited by Catalan elites or provoked by authoritarian Spaniards. Against the proto-fascist Franco in the Spanish Civil War and under Franco until 1975, Catalonia was oppressed – and heroically defiant. Since democracy returned in 1976, Spain has been one of Europe’s most decentralized countries, and secessionism was latent. Only 2008 gave the secessionist movement an opportunity.

Puigdemont is the secessionist movement: the passion, the ideology, the acceptable means and dreamy ends of millions of Catalans are from the mind of this one man. Given the misleading progressivism of the secessionist movement[6] and the idiocy and brutality from Madrid on October 1, the 2017 Catalan secessionism has to be examined intimately for us to make the right decision as to what it truly is: is it democratic? Is it anti-democratic? Ought it be supported? It is by investigating who Puigdemont is that we can answer such questions.

Simply put, Puigdemont is a dictator masquerading as a democrat. This can be seen in any number of his actions, but here let us take one in particular: his lack of concern for the law. Numerous times throughout 2017 there have been, quite literally, coups in Catalonia. On multiple occasions the Catalan Parliament has passed laws without the sufficient number of votes and without fulfilling the constitutionally required time of debate – time that is politically unavailable to the slim secessionist majority. Puigdemont’s party spokesman has rebutted such descriptions, saying that “exceptional situations” require “exceptional processes.” But liberals should always be suspicious of “exceptions.” What is more, the contents of the laws so passed are often hidden.[7]

But this is not all. Under Puigdemont a seven-seat body empowered itself to issue and override laws at will, and then proceeded to pass laws preparing and validating an unconstitutional separatist referendum. When three anti-secessionist representatives on this council refused to participate, the law was passed anyway, with Puigdemont declaring that an “urgent path” was required. Whether through Parliament or through the military, a coup is the castration of the Republic to the delight of those who care more about their own objectives than popular sovereignty. Republics are the highest form of human activity;[8] violating it is to deny inalienable rights.

Sometimes during these coups, the anti-secessionists would walk out. Film shows Puigdemont grinning and chuckling as Catalonia’s democratic rebels exited the stolen chamber.[9] This is the unmasked image of the man. Coups are good to him, and the death of a Republic a joke.[10] Accordingly, the courts in Catalonia have faced increasing pressure and threats from the secessionist powers.[11]

Catalonia has dissolved into a dictatorship. Even socially, there is no debate.[12] An anti-secession “NO” campaign did not exist. Thanks to formal state ownership and backroom pressure, the “SÍ” campaign dominated media.[13] In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt demonstrates that human freedom lives or dies by speech actually spoken. So, while free press is ostensibly still allowed in Catalonia, it is not functional, and therefore neither is freedom. Catalonia, well before this October of conflict, was a horror show for its citizens.

***

Careful analysis is required to see the truth of whether or not an idea is a radical ideology. Yet truth is black-and-white, no matter how grey it seems to us. This Catalan secessionist movement is a Radical ideology and a mass movement – that is, Evil. It was never about independence: the goal is a racial-ethnic collective. Followers of this movement are possessed by the idea of Catalonia;[14] accordingly, secessionism has nothing to do with economics, culture, or popular sovereignty. To secessionists, nothing is worth failure, so anything is worth success.[15]

Puigdemont has done his best to combat these views, saying, for example, that “European foundational views are at risk in Catalonia,” and that “democratically deciding the future of a nation is not a crime.” While both of these statements are certainly true, neither have anything to do with Catalonia. European foundational views are at risk in Catalonia – but because of his ultra-nationalist project. It is his social engineering that has made “democratically deciding the future of a nation” – the democratic decision of the majority of Catalonian citizens to oppose secession – a crime. He is, without realizing it, talking about himself.

The Catalonian radicality is proven by the fact that non-famous, non-activist pro-secessionists have been violent in the street. There have been attacks, both verbal and physical, against people wearing symbols of, or talking about, Spain.[16] That Puigdemont is not intentionally connected to these attacks is thicker proof: only radicality, like Trumpism or ISIS, will inspire average citizens to undertake violence. Only when leaders are so publicly possessed with their “not-normal”[17] pursuits will citizens be inspired to join them through violence, because only then will citizens feel that crime is not of their own accord, but an answer to the call of duty.

In the West, for the price of myth and glory, we have free citizens. This simple commitment to caring about things that matter over things that don’t is the foundation of the European Union, which Havel rightly called a civilizational project. Meanwhile Puigdemont and his ideas are dedicated to things that don’t matter. They focus on the differences between people from Catalonia and the rest of Spain. Like Brexit, objective, 2+2 facts show that Catalonia leaving Spain will make the people’s lives economically worse. Yet Puigdemont pushes ahead. No normal, rational, democratic, decent European would be willing to make their people poorer for mythical purposes. That is radicality.

Neither is a separatism based on ethnicity a viable model for the world. Many of Africa’s conflicts are caused by elites exploiting minor, manufactured, “ethnic” or “cultural” differences.[18] Ethnic conflict is amoral not only because it is impractical (i.e., that it would destroy the world as in the 19th and 20th centuries), it is amoral because it is, at its very core, a politics are based on intolerance. No democracies are, and no democracy can be, defined by ethnicity.

Kosovo separated from Serbia because Serbia was committing genocide. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, nations broke away from Empires, as they had the right to, because Austria, Prussia, and Russia should not rule half a continent. In Ukraine right now, the Russian army occupies part of the country with the support of some separatists. While the rhetoric from the perpetrators is the same, Kosovo was just, while the Donbas is not. One case was about Liberty, and the other volkischism. Only tyranny can produce a just cause for separatism, and this is obviously not the case in Spain.[19]

Puigdemont and most Catalans consider themselves progressive. But the left of the Left-Right spectrum is fundamentally about views toward tolerance, not economic stances.[20] The separatists cannot be accurately evaluated by their economic leftism – their views on human Plurality are much more important for those they rule, and much more morally defining. And by these lights Puigdemont is a classic far-right extremist. Any self-respecting liberal or socialist should scorn a movement whose sole purpose is separatism based on ethnicity.[21]

Society under Puigdemont’s rule is becoming, and if he succeeded would completely be, intolerant. Legitimate diversity is inimical to Puigdemont’s Catalan separatism.[22] For Catalan secessionists, nations cannot be Plural. As a social and philosophical idea, this is an exclusionary, ethnically-unifying principle. And all the constitutional patriotism of the E.U., of post-War Germany, anti-Trump America, and indeed of all democracies are incompatible with such a vision. The vision of the current Catalonian secessionist movement is an integral nationalism, a project which fanatically demands the creation of a nation through the two pillars of racial Unity and social exclusionary. Any possibility of having cultural diversity but politically unity, of speaking different languages but agreeing to be part of the same country, is incomprehensible to them.[23]

Ideology snowballs, and that is the problem. Ethnic separatism is a rejection of Plurality,[24] the feature of humanity which separates us from ants, lions, geese, cheese, and dirt. Only Plurality as reality legitimates democracies. The devolution of democratic politics – whether in Catalonia or closer to home – should bother all lovers of freedom.

***

To make such strong claims does not necessitate blinding ourselves to the sins of the Spanish state. On October 1, for example, the Spanish police were outrageously heavy-handed. And yet the sad fact is that democratic states commit excesses. Especially in times of self-defense, democratic states may be too harsh against the open society’s enemies. Even when not excessive, defending the Republic is ugly, yet the way of life which would replace the Republic if it were to be passive in the face of the menace is inconceivably worse for the citizens actually living there. We must remember the terrible truth: in our world, real threats to Human Rights and Dignity sometimes emerge. Then the choice is to defend the Republic or to allow the death of Liberty, because Evil only stops after a decisive victory or defeat.

Most dictatorships abuse this justification, claiming that their barbarism is necessary to improve the health of the population; but their lies do not make our truths lies. Against this, and despite their wrongs, Madrid’s fight is just.[25]

Certainly the Spanish police were wrong. Yet since Spain is free, the government is constantly in political and moral debt to its citizens. Spanish civil society will teach, fix, and punish the government when things like this happen. And in the end, the temporary idiocy and cruelty of the government does not change the fact that the opposition against which the government was acting would destroy Plurality.

In facing this dilemma we are once again brought back to Modernity’s constituent dilemma: democratic states are imperfect, but their societies free; authoritarian states are exhilaratingly progressive, but their societies oppressive.

***

Perhaps, one might say, what I have argued is not far from the truth: despite his leftist economics Puigdemont and the secessionists are reenacting the extremist dream of an ethnic nation state. But, it must be asked, why use the word “Evil” to describe them? Are they, in fact, Evil?

I must answer: they are. The word “Evil” here is not slander, it is description. And this because Evil is selfless, not selfish: it wants to make things better. Yet Evil becomes itself when the solutions it proposes are Radical: eliminating all Pluralities in pursuit of the perfect planet. The uncomfortable fact, the complicated truth, is that being a good person means fighting for Plurality in a world where Evil, collectivist-Utopian projects, appear logical and romantic and just.

This is the situation of the good people of Catalonia today. Under Puigdemont, Unity threatens to abolish Plurality, exclusion threatens to become the only condition of Catalonian citizenship. Politically liberal observers must look carefully to see this, we must watch, as Arendt urged us to do, for the “little verities of facts.” The radical faith of secessionists and the public and ethnic humiliation of those who do not identify with them is real in Catalonia.[26] Evil is not always obvious, yet it nevertheless exists.

It is no geographic or genetic coincidence that after taking power, the entire nations of Germany and Russia came to support Hitler and Stalin. It is not that Germany was destined for fascism, or Russia for Communism. It is simply that, at the time, Evil did not appear as Evil. During its time it never does.

Our duty now is to pressure Madrid to act properly and legally, but also to stand with Spain in defending the Republic. Otherwise, in the name of the people of Catalonia, we will support the dawn of their oppression. In times like these, we can hardly afford the collapse of another democratic state, the death of yet another free society.

This means realizing that Spain’s dismissal of the Generalitat, the imposition of temporary federal rule, and the call for new Catalan elections for December are obviously right. It means seeing, in the ironic end of Puigdemont’s reign by a conservative central government, the arrival of justice, not oppression. And this is the point – we must think things through to see which side is really fighting for human Dignity, and which side is Evil.

This is why Albert Camus said: rebel. This is why Pluralists must side with the rebels: because politics are often deceiving. One side can have total moral legitimacy and philosophical justice, but small details may show it to be Evil. Accordingly, we must look deeper to understand just who the rebels truly are.

In a close analysis of Catalonian secessionism, the truth emerges when we see that the Republic is destroyed and society is closed, that citizens are either part of the mob or attacked as enemies; that indoctrination and power are growing. Our job as citizens – as human beings wonderfully diverse from, but no better or worse than, any of the other seven billion – is to sort through lies and radicality to find the rebels, and to side with them. Rebellion is doing what’s right for the good of human persons.[27] Sometimes states are rebels.

This disgust with Puigdemont’s project is an homage to Catalonia. Save Barcelona, combat independence.

***

Jordan Luber is a graduate student in the European Politics and Society: Vaclav Havel Joint Master’s Program, led by Charles Univeristy. He studied ideology, mass movements, and Human Dignity under Vladimir Tismaneanu and Piotr H. Kosicki at the Univeristy of Maryland, College Park. Jordan continues to work on morality and radical fantasies.  Also, Immense gratitude to Kate Langdon for help in conceptualizing. 

Footnotes:

[1] Even this idea, in a rational, non-radical form, is not liberal. How can the better-off possibly say that any community less successful should be detached from it? How can support of a community be seen as sapping your own wealth? Should the US excommunicate West Virginia? Should the West abandon fighting malaria in Africa?

[2] Puigdemont is an “absent president,” promising something traumatic yet unimaginably liberating, yet providing no assurances or details — something democratic leaders politically and morally owe their citizens. He is hiding the irresponsibility of his project, yet fooling his citizens to truth him and his power (see: “The break that some people talk about would be a revolutionary event. To believe that this country is for adventures of this type is to have a very idealized vision of social and political reality. It is living on a cloud). Note: throughout this piece articles online will be hyperlinked. The footnote following will either paraphrase or quote the article, unless otherwise stated. Additionally, most sources are from El País. El País is Spain’s paper-of-record, a radically centrist paper. Much of my argument in this piece is built upon the journalism practiced by El País over the last year and a half.

[3] Previously, anti-secessionist civil society has been as quiet as its politics have been powerless. On Sunday, October 8, 350,000 citizens in Barcelona marched against secession. This was a defeat for the incessant narrative that secession was the will of the population.

[4] Major companies have been leaving Barcelona since October 1, and as the prospect rises, economists are increasingly warning of the undoubted effects of independence.

[5] By all values of plurality upon which our Western civilization is built, being Catalan and Spanish, like being Jewish and German, is perfectly possible.

[6] A young Catalan noted “Some of us feel insecure because if you take the Catalan flag you are a democrat, but if you take the Spanish one, you are a fascist…It is not politically correct to say that you feel Spanish if you want to be ‘progressive’ or a democrat…Are they really saying they are morally superior, that only in Catalonia people know what democracy is?”

[7] “Additionally, this law is clandestine, because it hides the five regulations that accompany it… Political disloyalty and the deceit of citizens are thus linked to legal misconduct.”

[8] See Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition (1958). In discussing “Action,” she exposes the power of citizens and the need for real liberty, where the state, since it is necessary in human civilization, must obey women and men who are committed to thinking, speaking, and acting for the practical and philosophical advancement of all human beings.

[9] Early in the video the democrats walk out. 46 seconds in, Puigdemont is seen as his faction “wins” the unconstitutional vote of a half-empty legislature.

[10] Puigdemont has made Catalonia’s regional government a one-party state, by definition — one party sets policy without the legally required majority, because they want to. He is proud of this, because he genuinely believes his power is justified by his goal for the sake of the worthy people, whom he truly cares about.

[11] For example, two associations of judges denounced secessionists’ interference in the trial of Artur Mas, Puigdemont’s moderate predecessor who organized the outlawed referendum in 2014. Meanwhile, back in March the Economic Council of business warns that the Generalitat is threatening the rule of law.

[12] Instead of debate, there is “a monologue, through mobilization and manipulation,” not conversation. There is no “interchange of opinions,” just secessionist thunder.

[13] One of Karl Marx’s first essays was against any censorship. Censorship, the suppression of public voice, it quite literally the greatest crime there is.

[14] See Fyodor Dostoeyevsky’s The Demons. The title is often translated as “the possessed.” The book follows the activities of a radical socialist terrorist sect. “ ‘As soon as there’s just a tiny bit of family or love, there’s a desire for property. We’ll extinguish desire…we’ll stifle every genius in infancy, everything reduced to a common denominator, complete equality…Only the necessary is necessary…Slaves must have rulers. Complete obedience, complete impersonality…there will be no desires’.” (Vintage Classics, pp. 417-418).

[15] “You have realized too late that the drive for independence was serious.” With his defiant speech of February 2016 in the Parlament, Puigdemont rhetorically speaks to Madrid, clearly relishing the confrontation. This was his speech when the illegal laws for secession started.

[16] There have been a number of attacks in the streets against any citizens wearing Spanish symbols of talking about Spain. This was in June of last year, before the radicalization of Puigdemont and society throughout 2017. Since this minor report from El País, there has been little information.

[17] In Argentina, a country dominated by Radical ideology for the past 70 years, liberals desperately advocate for being “a normal country.” Decades of curses have revealed to good people in Argentina that only by abandoning all Utopian dreams, eschatological delusions, and fantasies of salvation (to use the title of Vladimir Tismaneanu’s 1998 book on the Far-Right in Eastern Europe) can they have a normal country. We take normality for granted in the West. Normal ideas cannot lead to bureaucratic or popular Terror, while Radical ideas almost surely will. See this article in the Spanish liberal paper Clarín (Bugle).

[18] See the book of John F. McCauley. In his The Logic of Ethnic and Religious Conflict in Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2017), McCauley shows that most African conflicts are fabricated by elites — usually out of greed and lust for power, not even for the genuine Utopian ideology, as was the case with, say, Hitler or Robespierre. McCauley proves this by demonstrating the countless examples of the same exact individuals who fight for religious reasons one day, then ethnic ones a few days later. Ethnic conflict, in that “Dark Continent,” that “tribal land,” is totally fabricated by elites (and Western racist perceptions); the problem is elites are able to trick people.

[19] This article discusses the separatist case of Scotland and Quebec with Catalonia — two other illegitimate movements for “independence” from an already free society, though neither quite as radical.

[20] Hitler was a socialist, albeit a bad one. Only a year before becoming a Nazi, Goebbels, like Mussolini, loved Lenin and Communism — not only for its Totalitarianism, but for its progressive economic policies and hope for History.

[21] The only political support the secessionists have in Europe is from the far-right parties.

[22] In addition to the very idea, which is based on exclusive belonging, dissidents in Catalonia are now rhetorically attacked and even publicly humiliated.

[23] See Timothy Snyder’s The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus 1569-1999, Yale University Press, 2003. In this revolutionary study, Snyder discusses the beautiful Plurality of the early-modern Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth, which incorporated the four nations of the book’s subtitle into one country. The idea was that cultural diversity did not have to be deterministic and exclusionary. Only modern nationalism, from the late 19th century onward, killed this model, in favor of exclusionary nationalism, proclaiming that citizens could not decide their politics, but only obey their blood.

[24] As Arendt pointed out in The Human Condition, because we have brains and souls, because we think, all humans are unique.

[25] Conversations with Professor Piotr H. Kosicki, September 2017. Kosicki, an expert on religious and nationalist European politics, sees enough sad but perfect comparisons between Puigdemont and Poland’s National Democracy movement of the late 19th century. Kosicki added that Max Weber would support the state “flexing its muscle…a little bit” if the alternative was the success of authoritarian populism. At this point I remind readers that in 1968 Adorno — the second-greatest member of post-Marxist, critical theory Frankfurt School — called the police when radical students psychically threatened him and his students and metaphysically threatened freedom of thought and speech.

[26] This article discusses the “political fiction” of the secessionists. The state insists a break away will be easy, while the reality is the Spanish government would not comply, and thus Catalonia and Catalans would suffer economically and in other ways. There is a belief that everything will work out.

[27] “Persons” is a term from 20th century progressive Catholic intellectuals. Personalism is a philosophy dedicated to helping human beings, transcending isolating individualism or authoritarian collectivism. In fact, the movement was a major origin of the concept of Human Rights which came later in the century. Many of these Catholic intellectuals became Communists in the 30s, 40s, and 50s for the cause of freedom and justice. All the same, they continued to always rebel, and so they saw their mistake. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s they became the core part of Communism’s nemesis, dissidents. See Piotr H. Kosicki’s Catholics on the Barricades: Poland, France, and “Revolution,” 1891-1956 (Yale University Press) 2017.

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