Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Secession and the art of government

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has asked the regional parliament in Barcelona to suspend secession to reach a negotiated solution with Madrid. He wants to move forward cordially, using democracy and peace, saying Catalonia has been denied the right to self-determination. Madrid ruled Catalonia’s independence referendum illegal in early October.

Democracy hides a quiet paradox. It’s supposed to be about listening to the people, but when the system mixes with nation-states, everything starts to unwind. Not every nation has a state, and not every state is a nation. The Catalonians want out, and fair enough. But what comes after? Should it still be nation states, or something smaller? If the latter catches on, then maybe it’s all over for democratic regimes.

There’s only one real reason to talk about secession: the exciting chance to create a new sovereign structure beyond the nation-state. The problem is the old regime always stands in the way. When it eventually dies, what will that moment look like? Is this why we’re supposed to be watching Spain?

The nation-state is looking old. Everyone feels this. Nation states are human organisations, not mystical institutions. They won’t last forever. It’s being kept in cryogenic suspension by the 20th-century idea that governance – thought for all of human history to be an art – is really a science called “objective public policy.”

Policy scholars are carefully selected for race, gender, intelligence and political reliability. They try to use the scientific method to decide action and none ever feel responsible for the success or failure of their policies. And even though public policy and science have no more in common than lawn tennis and dry-docking, the true rulers in Spain are still the professors, journalists and the mandarins. After all, who really runs the show in Syracuse? Dionysius, or the men who write his laws and speeches?

Catalonia’s core complaint is the same across the continent: "European socialism." They know there is nothing European at all about the EU, except that its offices are in Europe and most of its employees were born there. European socialism is the export version of American progressivism, the thinking of Harvard, of John Kenneth Galbraith, George Ball and others.

American public policy is purer in Europe because all its political enemies were exterminated in 1945. The US Army did not shoot all the professors in Europe, but the prestige of conquest is such that it might as well have.

Catalonia wants to secede not because the EU is a success, but because it is a failure. Spain is an excellent place full of excellent people with many assets. Madrid is not one of them. If Spain has seen any prosperity it is not because of Brussels but despite it. Freedom, like anything else in government, is an art. Catalonians know their life is made duller, more rigid and monotonous by the nation-state. And now they want their own? That’s not “wanting out,” that’s madness.

They argue that secession is a libertarian moral necessity. Little do they know, socialists also believe socialism is a moral necessity, and there are a lot more socialists than libertarians. This kind of revolt against progressivism will never succeed because libertarianism contains at its core a shard of pure Left. The Catalonians are using the Ring against Sauron. That will never work. It needs to think differently.

Freedom is not a function of "rights" or political power. It is a function of personal independence. Similarly, privacy (which is a form of freedom) is a function of personal security. Government is a wonderful and essential service and it works best when provided by dull people with no imagination at all. Merchants, judges, policemen, and if necessary, generals. Anglo-American political thought can’t handle this wisdom, but freedom achieved through authority is well-known in the East.

The Catalonians are mistaking disorder for freedom. They believe it is possible to make government smaller by weakening and dividing sovereign authority. That’s fine in the short term, but benign anarchy never lasts. Power is easy to divide and tough to unify. The nation-state mixed with democracy always leads to division, less unity of authority, and a bigger, nastier government.

If Catalonia really wants change, it should aim for smaller, more manageable government and get as far away from “public policy” as this green earth can take them. Right now, Catalonia’s “secession” is simply the reimporting of progressive government through the back door. It’s like injecting yourself with your own sarcoma and calling it a skin transplant. It’s time to think bigger, which means smaller, and to desire more order, which means more freedom.

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