“Absolute Devolution” is the fourth essay in a sequence that explores the current Catalan independence process. This essay characterises power.
The Battle of Ciutadella continues in perpetuity. Sure, they stormed the gates. But only to raise both flags upon Prim, the Catalan-born architect of Spain’s 1868 Glorious Revolution, the subsequently assassinated herald of a particularly turbulent period of political experimentation, from monarchy to aristocracy, via canton to federation, and then back to monarchy. The Iwo Jima moment captured by no one, because no one hopes for six years of tumult to restore the initial state. Sure, they were there. The core Madrid media all but glued to the stage behind, where the “Spanish” (many, but by no means all, Castilian) crowd politely listened to speeches of unity. The more separatist (Catalan and Basque) media camped outside the parliament ahead, where a dozen vans of “Mossos d’Esquadra” (Catalan police) waited apprehensively behind barricades for a riot that never materialised. Even the new-left-biased “Sexta’s” interest waned at the dearth of televisual anger. All with a story to tell, just not this one.
Bias is truth, because – in state – knowing is social. The disunity of a people, a state, reflected in the distribution of biases, the breadth of truths. To bridge disunity is to become an observer with no tribe. Hard enough within a state, ’tis the bane of a foreign correspondent, already lost between the language (as culture) of their audience and the language of that on which they report. Now transpose philosophies, and add a final twist: The external projection of an internal certainty, for an internal which is inherently not-so-certain. Welcome to Spain. Or in the ambiguity of Catalunyian, “Hola República Suspensus”, which roughly translates into English as “please see terms and conditions” – and into the Corsican separatist French of Charlie Hebdo as, “nous exigeons un debat”. These essays are thusly biased, not least by a language that has come to betray its assumptions – a hope of communication that is necessarily never quite realised.
British policy-making is causal and predictive, as befits its dominant philosophy. Policy is analysed or discussed, the method nuanced by the government of the day, then fixed in law. The aim of the process is to implement a robust piece of legislation, not “bad law” full of ambiguities that subsequently require judicial review or referral back to the legislature. This practice presumes a degree of stability or predictability in the target of the policy, and thus inherently struggles to manage rapidly-changing policy areas. Traditionally most obvious in technology, now the bane of a Brexit process that embodies both instability and unpredictability on a huge scale. The pragmatic short-term strategy of British government has been to centralise powers, so that it is best able to exert control over that which it cannot reasonably hope to legislate robustly upon. Brexit’s expected “return of powers from Europe” has thus stalled the devolution of powers promised in the wake of the 2014 Scottish referendum on independence. Not just for Scotland, but for the less obviously separatist regions of England, especially in the North – those that had progressively seceded power to the Place of Westminster during the 20th century, power that, in the 21st, Scotland had shown was possible to take back.
At its root, Spanish policy-making is far more fluid than in Britain. Spanish legislation is more solid than raw policy debate, yet often retains fluidity, as if a live trial upon society: Laws that fit society gradually take on a popular certainty, while those that cannot be accommodated by the social order are gradually reworked. The Spanish legislature is considerably less dependent on absolute power than the British, because it rarely has to enforce anything upon its society. A sense of absolute power is only important in the Spanish state’s dealing with the external. International law and relations presume sovereignty, absolute dominion, even if the reality within is more complex. The European Union routinely strains this structure by its reliance on the supposed absolute power of sovereign member states to implement policy directives, with no particular regard for the quirky transactional structures of policy-making within states. European policy directives that Spanish society can’t easily accommodate are implemented in a state of flux. The implementation of the European Union Services Directive to Spain’s taxi sector provides an example:
The 2009 Services Directive’s principle of “freedom of establishment” inverts the Spanish social principle of “visto bueno”, to ask permission beforehand. Unfortunately that inversion was not first applied to government, which continues to operate on the implicit assumption of “visto bueno” – that government will be given the opportunity to fix problems in law before they actually become problems, exactly the opportunity that the principle of freedom of establishment denies them. Now add a taxi business operated on the traditional principle of “autogestión”, somewhat akin to an extended family – its operations protected from other (competitive) agents by locally-administered regulation, built on three tiers of Spanish legislation (Law, Regulation, and Order) and often further augmented by local Autonomous Community legislation. What was thus unlikely to be a simple or socially acceptable policy change was none-the-less implemented with almost naive simplicity: A historically niche class of taxi licence officially named “arrendamiento con conductor”, but colloquially called VTC (“Voiture de Transport avec Chauffeur”), was reclassified as discretionary transport, much like a coach hire. That should have created a pre-booked “private hire” taxi market alongside the existing on-street “hackney carriage” market. In the (then) coming age of Uber and Cabify, services which would make pre-booking (via mobile phone application) as easy as hailing a cab in the street, both markets would merge. VTC licensing had previously been intended for limousine-style operations, far less prescriptive in its regulatory requirements than for regular taxi operations, but limited to a ratio of 1 VTC licence for every 30 regular taxi licences – a limit the reclassification theoretically removed.
Many autonomous communities, notably Madrid, issued new VTC licences, yielding different degrees of liberalisation in their respective local taxi markets. In Catalunya, nothing much changed. The region’s government, the Generalitat de Catalunya, continued to ignore new taxi licence applications, much as it had done for the previous three decades. Prior VTC licences became more flexible, but insufficient in volume to support the envisaged competitive market. The Generalitat’s head of transport merely acknowledges their “restrictive interpretation of the law“, referring to the contentious test of “underlying consumer demand” which a 1998 Order had arbitrarily defined as the 1:30 ratio (of VTC licences to regular taxi licences). Unfortunately such a fixed definition of “consumer demand” cannot reasonably be interpreted within the terms of the original parent Law – a law which must justify regulation within the Constitutional state, and thus ultimately takes precedence over an incompatible Order. So taxi legislation had already been in flux for 11 years prior to 2009. Arguably the entire policy approach had been misguided since at least 1987, when the Law was made compatible for European Economic Community membership: The Law emphasised econometric passenger demand, built on a systems theory conception of transport that de-humanises supply, when the prime policy requirement was to regulate taxi drivers’ working conditions – specifically drivers’ sense of ownership and security, to counter the excessive variability of their work patterns – in short, to maintain drivers’ sanity. European Union technocratic economic policy has consistently failed to understand this prototypical “gig economy“, both Commission and Parliament still struggling with taxi regulation. In the meantime “gig” workers in Barcelona’s internet-era food delivery businesses have already started edging toward the locally familiar model of cooperativism, in search of “economic sovereignty”.
In 2013 the Spanish government acknowledged the principle of “autogestión” – in effect, acknowledged the Spanish social order – and applied the historic 1:30 ratio to the Law (LOTT). Except the ratio had not previously been written into the Law, and it took another two years to modify the more detailed Regulations (ROTT) and establish a consistent body of legislation. Albeit for a now inconsistent reality: Since taxi licences are permanent, even transferrable, the 1:30 ratio could not be retrospectively applied in regions where it had been exceeded after 2009. Indeed, where previously exceeded, the actual ratio would likely forever exceed 1:30 and thus no new VTC licences would ever be issued again. Speculation ran rife, especially around contentious (unsuccessful) applications made between 2009 and 2013 – and perhaps also between 2013 and 2015, a particular messy period on which different regional high courts have reached different judgements. In Catalunya alone, thousands of applications are stalled pending the final judgement of the Spanish Supreme Court – awaited since July 2016.
In effect, the judiciary has been left to determine the balance of policy, a policy even the Spanish competition authority (CNMC) is reportedly split on. With a blurring of policy and law comes a blurring of political and judicial power, especially apparent at the higher echelons of state, where the risk to Spanish society of power becoming tyrannical is greatest. A similar pattern can be found within the structure of political power: As the Catalan crisis deepened, the executive government sought greater consensus within parliament than was strictly required for its governing majority – yielding to the policy concerns of the new-right Ciudadanos and old-left PSOE. The closer to the heart of the state issues become, the more blurred the three core institutions of power (judiciary, parliament, and government) become – an in-built protection against the rise of absolute tyrannical power. The same cannot be seen within Catalunya’s Independentist process because the structure is inherently unable to process a separation from itself – Constitutional Spain has no capacity to leave itself.
Modern Spain’s method of policy-making is no accident: The Spanish Constitution enshrines the “development of fundamental rights and public liberties” in Organic Law. Organic law is essentially a philosophical construction that allows the thing to be based on itself, a principle common to the founding charters of much of the United States, famously guaranteeing the rights of the people, in the people. The fiat currency of law, Organic law is ultimately based on trust. Spanish Organic law thusly emphasises competency, not hierarchy. Humanity, not divine right. Where the unity of Americans can lean on history (inverse prediction) to define “the people” as a continuation over time, Spanish unity has no such luxury: As concluded by 1714 and All That, ilusión is to be lived, not lived in the past. This societal need for a living constitution was moderated by the addition the monarch and military as living defenders of the unity embodied in an otherwise increasingly historic text. Unity is state, because knowing is social. A theme explored further in the next essay, The Moral of Sovereignty. The hierarchical (God-given or feudal) nature of traditional monarchy never intuitively matched the (structural or philosophical) autonomy of modern Spain. While in 1978 the monarch served to transition Spain out of dictatorship by preserving noble entitlement (the social order inevitably frames governance), the monarch’s constitutional role was always likely to grow awkward. Both monarch and military have transpired to be unpopular in Catalunya – the monarchy popularly considered frivolous, the military oppressive. Neither evokes the intended sense of unity. Their involvement may thus make the Spanish Constitution more vulnerable, not less.
Trust applies both internally and externally, which is where the concept of Organic law in the 1978 Constitution melds with the traditional idea of Spain (described in 1714 and All That). That idea maintains different internal and external perceptions, thus what appears absolute to the external, can remain fluid to the internal – the paradox held in the idea of Spain. Independently, each of these philosophical constructions has historically been robust – Organic law in the United States, the idea of Spain for Spain. The combination of these two constructions in modern Spain, each with its logical vulnerabilities, has a complex interplay:
Spanish citizens trust in Constitutional Spain as they trust in themselves, reflecting the broad pattern of Organic law. Yet as explored in Patria and Patrimonio, the transactional model of responsibility within state is functionally broken, and in complex policy areas citizens are trusting to little more than a void called “state”. The common physicality of state should enable transaction from the small-scale family model to the large-scale nation, but this physicality too often fails. “Simulacres et Simulation” are more indicative of Catalan societal reality, whose intensity the formal structured political state cannot match in physicality. The emphasis on the physical within the political state stems from the idea of Spain, which holds the external in ilusión, and rewards participation in the political state with the manifestation of such ilusión. The contention is that this manifestation is physical to avoid confusion with society itself – more specifically to retain the idea of Spain’s fundamental demarcation between internal (as social simulacres) and external (as physical ilusión). A political state operating solely at the functional level of its society could not maintain such a demarcation. The idea of Spain thus inhibits the transactional state which would be ideal for trust in Constitutional Spain. However the idea of Spain cannot be relinquished without removing its philosophical protections. Based on contemporary events, those philosophical protections are critical to the normal function of Catalan society.
Such analysis is flawed by its narrow logic and presumptive interpretations, but gives a general indication of the interplay between the two philosophical constructs that seem to guide modern Spain. The Act of Referèndum both admonished Catalan trust in Constitutional Spain and fatally exceeded the idea of Spain. The expected model of policy-making unavailable, the state dropped into ambiguity. In the absence of an alternative philosophical project, Catalunya lists precariously in unfamiliar waters. Her Independentist manifest still expecting sight of the promised land. And all the while, storm clouds gather across the Iberian sea.
Fighting The Battle of Who Could Care Less
Since Spanish government does not actually rely on absolute power to “govern” internally, it does not have to specifically devolve such power to regional government, as is the case in Britain. The English word “devolution” is inappropriate to modern Spain. One might argue that the difference between Catalan autonomy and independence lay in the Kantian moral definition of autonomy – action in accordance with objective morality, not under the influence of desires. While enjoying one of the highest functional levels of autonomy of any European province (that is within a sovereign state), Catalans inevitably want more. In a 2006 referendum, Catalunya approved (albeit with an underwhelming turnout of just 49%) a modified Statute of Autonomy, which granted nation (just not sovereign) status to the region, with greater control of financial, judicial and border issues. As befits their pivotal role in “public liberty”, the Statutes that govern the legislatures of Spain’s autonomous communities are formalised as Organic law, so approving a new Statue and then having elements of it rejected as unconstitutional is a part of the internal policy process.
Taken to extreme, the declaration of a law in Spain is nothing more than a political challenge to wider society, not the absolute conclusion of process a new law implies in Britain, and to a good degree, wider Europe. The eventual societal reaction to 2010’s rejection of key elements of the 2006 Statute – 2017’s Act of Referèndum – encompasses just such legislation. However, when applied to independence these principles risk dropping Catalunya into a philosophical void: By Spanish principles, one argues one’s case for independence by declaring it, then having it challenged, in this case by the Constitution. Yet by declaring independence, one has ceased to be in Spain, and thus not bound by any Spanish Constitutional challenge. Independence is thereby obtained unilaterally, in a manner that instantly betrays the method of policy-making expected by people in both Spain and Catalunya. There is little moral basis for such a betrayal, since independence never implied abandoning or radically changing legal norms. Thus president Puigdemont announced independence, paused for half a minute of applause from parliamentary Independentists, then suspended independence to request the political negotiation that, for any other type of declaration, the Spanish system of policy-making would have automatically initiated.
Catalunya became a state of ambiguity. “Respuestas gallegas”, the Galician stereotype of not giving straight answers to simple questions, took on a whole new level of abstraction, as the Galician-born Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, was forced to ask whether Catalunya considered herself independent or not? Similar confusion was palpable among Independentists, both on the street and in the backroom, yet the movement became paralysed: Even the radical CUP had to balance their expectation of a genuine declaration of independence, with the risk of pulling apart the Independentist parliamentary coalition and thus forcing new regional elections that the Independentists might not win. Meanwhile government dialogue took a non-verbal form of the type explained in Patria and Patrimonio: Locally significant railway projects were announced by Spain for Montcada i Reixac, and by Catalunya for Badalona, both politically radical towns on the northern edge of Barcelona. The promise of the ilusión of the external, manifest as physical infrastructure, an entirely appropriate form of internal diplomacy with the most politically explosive fringe of Independentism, both projects (by dint of their construction periods) implying at least three years of fealty.
Carles Puigdemont (Catalunya’s president) duly replied that he felt oppressed by The Act of Referèndum, a sentiment everyone in Catalunya who has been suffering from sleepness nights can agree with, although not everyone would agree the agent of this oppression is Spain. And presumably reflecting on public health advice for dealing with post-referendum stress – “riure per relaxar-nos”, to have a laugh – Puigdemont proposed talks while simultaneously failing to acknowledge what Rajoy had been talking about. One might reasonably question the standard of linguistic education in Catalunya – just a tad more cautiously than Spanish foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, who in an interview with France’s CNews committed the faux pas of alleging the discrimation of Castellano in Catalunya’s schools – a controversial, but not entirely unfounded allegation. Since 2010’s rejection of the 2006 Statue of Autonomy, the balance of Castellano and Català in schools has been fiercely contested, both in the courts and in the classroom. Catalunya’s educational bilingualism has since come to mirror the loss of plurality in her wider society. A state epitomised by the Generalitat de Catalunya’s forthright defense, which opened with a claim that Catalan schools were an example of “liberty, fraternity, democracy and bilingualism”, and ended with a legal threat against any Spanish politician that dared say otherwise. For all its exemplary bilingual education policies, Catalan government can appear only capable of communicating with itself.
The nature of Catalunya’s state of ambiguity is made considerably more complex by the role of the external in its philosophy. With no prior imperative of philosophical independence, Catalunya reasonably expects to remain within the idea of Spain. As described in 1714 and All That, that idea precludes the possibility of simultaneously being both internal and external. A unilateral declaration of independence would, from the Catalan perspective, switch the remainder of Spain from the internal to the external. From Spain, that which is presumed not to recognise the declaration, Catalunya remains internal. The external state is thus ambiguous – Catalaunya’s external includes the rest of Spain, while Spain’s external does not include Spain. As geography, such ambiguity is a territorial confusion, typically resolved by conflict, negotiation, or broader diplomacy. Herein lay Catalunya’s insistence on wider European (or global) mediation: The only part of the external to remain constant is that outside the existing borders of Spain. Unfortunately that constant external neither intuitively understands Spanish policy-making processes (especially not when applied to independence – the rational nonsense described in the previous paragraphs), nor reasonably considers the dispute anything but internal to Spain. The only external element that could intuitively and reasonably act is (the rest of) Spain, but of course Spain considers the issue internal. The only reasonable constant external arbiter would be one that already recognises Catalunya’s independence, thus had already reached a conclusion unbefitting of a third-party arbitrator. The idea of Spain renders all valid positions binary – and thus there can be no political negotiation, and critically no fluidity, from the state of ambiguity.
The state of ambiguity can be expressed with a certainty familiar to Quantum Mechanics – the state of ambiguity as both positions. Arguably such a conception has been in the social canon since Zoroastrian dualism lead to the characterisation of “the devil” as an indeterminant actor. Subsequent, notably later Christian, societies distrusted such ambiguity because its actions could not be predicted with certainty of outcome. Banalised as “bad” by a system of knowledge that promoted depth (of knowing) at the expense of breadth – a system inclined to binary notions of object knowledge. Catalunya’s state of ambiguity thus fosters an international perception that Spain has “lost control”: The external perception of absolutist Spain, that it ever was in control, is broken. Internally nothing has changed, so the Spanish population will not perceive this or intuitively accept its consequence. The appearance of not being in control risks the intervention of the external into Spain, which is the only influence theoretically capable of destroying the idea of Spain. A more Napoleonic hypothesis than seems plausible, modern democratic Spain has high hopes for the European Union, and any degradation of relations with the external is troublesome. Hence Spain will not want to be seen to lose control, yet in doing so risks exerting more control than its government actually has. That risk diminishes as government power blurs into parliamentary and judicial power, gradually consolidating as absolute power: As highlighted earlier, the more challenging a policy is to the state – especially the highest echelons of the state – the greater the blurring of powers. In the wake of The Act of Referèndum a broad consensus of Spanish political parties emerged, with only Podemos difficult to accommodate – its pluri-nationalism (“we”) hard to map onto a singular Spanish unity. But ultimately, if the Spanish state is absolutely threatened, its power will become absolute. The dispute then entirely binary, with no place for plurality whatsoever. Spanish absolutism will thus rise to counter Catalunya’s state of ambiguity. Yet that is to simplify the situation within Catalaunya herself:
Absolutism, of the form attributed above to Spain, has traditionally become associated with the pursuit of the singular “good” – perfection in the exercise of power. However, as the opposite side of the same dualism, a perfect state of ambiguity is equally absolute – at one extreme and the other. It is the human communication, the sensing, the living, of this state that renders balance. The Quantum state may be shunned or feared elsewhere, but there is strong evidence of Catalan society’s underlying ability to manage it: The dual-perspective solution mooted by The Act of Referèndum logically derives from a state of ambiguity. The Catalan model of hope is, at its root, not predictive. The system of social knowledge, of sense, and state, de-emphasises the physical objective world. However all these abilities are moderated by external influences – broadly Papal, Anglo-American, and Enlightenment respectively. Ergo there is a tension in each, ostensibly between internal and external, between the ambiguous (Quantum) absolute and the traditional (Objective) absolute. That tension can surely only be managed in the fluidity between these extremes. Exactly the fludity that is, in all matters except separation from Spain, inherent in Catalan plurality and Spanish policy-making alike. But a fluidity that evidently cannot be obtained from an extreme absolute position where all arguments are binary.
In Catalunya, the pursuit of the singular good is the directed, inflationary hope characterised in 1714 and All That as externalised freedom. The idea of Spain normally provides philosophical protection from such unfettered ilusión – except, of course, in the attempt to separate from Spain. The idea of Spain has far greater significance to state than mere territory. However traditionally, as Patria and Patrimonio demonstrated, in all matters of state the external manifests in the physical. Hence independence of the form that pursues the singular good, is territorial, where physical borders define state. Such a resolved definition is quite different to the independence of the state of ambiguity. Mainstream independentism expected resolution, and certainly not a state constrained by the process of its creation. El Procés created ambiguity because it hoped for more than the idea of Spain, its philosophical bouncy castle of a state that hitherto protected Catalans. The next step in the process is thus to accept the outcome as presented, not as expected, or reset the entire process and hope to better constrain it in the future. A reset is eminently sensible – a path available through regional elections and subsequent (Spanish) Constitutional reform – yet nonsense while Independentism still clamours for “the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” (in Irish mythology the pot of gold is hidden by Leprechauns, the ambiguity of nature).
Neither step is readily acceptable to the conservative core of Independentism: Those that have successfully hoped in the past have accumulated much in the process, thus have more to lose, so are particularly reluctant to reset their hopes. And since they have more to lose, they also worry more about losing it, so the state of ambiguity exposes them to greater despair. Instead, their hope may continue on the only alternative trajectory obviously available: Hope inverts from external to internal. If so solely directed, internal hope implies an insular Catalan Republic, quietly festering on its own relentless sense of oppression. The internal persecution complex that stems from the void in transactional responsibility within state, hitherto only directed at Spain, now directed to the whole external. There’s already evidence of this on the fringe of Independentism, in the realisation that no major European country is rushing to recognise the sovereignty of Catalunya, in the hostile reaction to increasingly unsympathetic European media coverage, in the relentless expectation of the suspension of autonomy and worse, and in the implicit (if not necessarily accurate) understanding that the new external now contains the old Spanish enemy. For a province that spent the 1940s and 1950s in self-sufficient isolation, the concept is not so unfamiliar, although few remember the period fondly. Add Spain’s logical response to Catalan independence – absolute power – and the contemporary scenario looks uncomfortably similar to that of the 1930s. Faced with such a devolution in the state of Catalunya, perhaps the political experimentation heralded by Prim deserves more airtime? The more applicable historical parallel, Franco’s two decades of dictatorial isolationism while the rest of Europe burned, somewhat less palatable.
Help Catalonia, Save Europe
To the exogenous Británico, ambiguity was already a somewhat familiar state. Long past caring to hear of one’s price in the Brexit horse-trading, or even whether the British government could survive long enough to agree it. Britain left fighting the battle of who could care less, all but unaware the wider European Union had concluded she’d gone. For the mechanised state of Britain, the veritable Turing machine of analytic policy, the closer to the state of ambiguity, the more rapid the policy inversions. Such perpetual temporal switching the only valid expression within her philosophical template – rendering, to the infrequent observer, a quantum deception of both. In this context, policy processes can take an extremely long time to reach their conclusion. And so it is that a British government which has argued about little else for the year and a half since the Brexit referendum result, is still struggling to reach a firm policy position on almost every critical detail of the country’s supposed exit from Europe. The emerging options for Britain are somewhat similar to Catalunya’s:
- Brexit with “no deal”, the high risk strategy that is likely to minimise subsequent international interactions – a parallel to the expected impact of Catalunya’s unilateral declaration of independence,
- continuing negotiation pending a gradual-possibly-maybe-never withdrawal from Europe – conceptually (just not philosophically) similar to Catalunya’s state of ambiguity,
- or acknowledge forlorn hope with a socio-political reset to some point in the past.
As discussed in 1714 and All That, both Brexit and Independència hope for more than can reasonably be achieved within their respective political systems, and both more broadly reflect the inflationary hope for better which has come to exceed the pragmatism of a hope to be felt, but not achieved. In Britain’s perpetual temporal switching we observe that hope flows both ways. The prognosis, that when time becomes too directed for human society to manage it, it morphs into an oscillation in which time flows as much forward as backward. A creation story in which a humanity hopes for better up until it can manage no more, then oscillates in the state it created. Theologically, and morally, this is the creation of hell by the excessive pursuit of the good.
Each society’s ability to manage is rooted in state (sense, knowing). If that state is considered purely a function of the now-exhausted management that created it, then there is no engine for further evolution of state. However, consistent oscillation means predictability, normality, a solid basis for more expansive hope. As demonstrated by the lack of plurality stemming from The Act of Referèndum, such a solid state inhibits the function of society. So while solidity is a theoretical basis for expansion, such expansion also rapidly requires fluidity – a functional mode of human inter-relation. Having reached a state of ambiguity without a clear philosophical model – up shit creek without a paddle – Catalunya is perfectly positioned for such an experiment.
It remains to be seen whether Catalunya will. September’s transitory law implied mimicking Spain in Catalunya, just less the king and country. As Patria and Patrimonio concluded, that law was more of a geopolitical power play than a founding charter. Meanwhile the silent intellectual panic about which none may speak, for fear of decrying the cause, ensures an appropriately ambiguous analysis. Regardless, no society willingly experiments with their state, since the process is turbulent and the outcome unfamiliar: Enlightenment thought was as much an exercise in making sense of the state rendered by the Christian Reformation, as being liberated to do so by it. Such a socio-political experiment can not reasonably be planned. Catalunya will surely stumble through, one crisis at a time, evolving organically.
The stage is already set for continuing ambiguity: Spain will seek powers over the autonomy of Catalunya using Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, a Senate process expected to take about a week. Meanwhile Catalunya will presumably make (unsuspend, or even more imprecisely compound) its unilateral declaration of independence, but not be able to progress it sufficiently to create a functioning country before Catalunya loses the relevant powers to Spain. From the Independentist perspective that loss of power will be a external imposition upon the sovereign state of Catalunya, an international hostility. From the non-Independentist perspective, still bound to the Spanish Constitution, the same imposition is internal and entirely justified. While the causal chain is clear, the actual events in that chain would occur out of sequence: A similar trick on international law to that the Independentists pulled on the Spanish Constitution during The Act of Referèndum – in effect, breaking the law, then immediately making a claim under that law, before the initial breech can be judged. The trick has not gone unnoticed by Miquel Iceta, one of the non-Independentist party leaders, but the exploit is inherent to the structure of autonomy, which presumes respect for its parent state – something the Independence movement is intent on disrespecting. Their aim here is simply to secure a casus belli for the Independentist cause, to perpetuate the ambiguity regardless of how Spain subsequently exerts control on Catalunya, not to resolve anything internationally. What to many external observers will look like the basis of war, only does so because those observers apply the very causal model that this Independentist trickery side-steps: To the Catalan sense, which does not over-emphasise past causality, the trick primarily establishes the validity of both cases.
The Act of Referèndum mooted a dual-perspective solution – Catalunya both in Spain and not: A human perception switch, that by dint of most legislation being either autonomous or European in source, transpired to be surprisingly practical. As this essay has demonstrated, the necessary presumption of absolute power in a single sovereign state was always just that, a working hypothesis that rarely reflected the internal state. The excesses of British hope can be managed within their base philosophical model by perpetual temporal switching, so the excesses of Catalan hope should similarly map onto the expected (if currently unavailable) idea of Spain, implying perpetual perception switching: Not just the inversion from external to internal concluded by the previous section, but a state of both internal and external. Such a state implies a shift from the idea of Spain, which had previously required the separation of internal and external. The removal of that restriction allows an inherently fluid ilusión that need not be satisfied by the manifestation of the external in the physical, and thus allows state to function wholly or substantially in the “Simulacres et Simulation” of its society. In broad theory, that state better matches the intensity of society, therefore makes the underlying family model inherently scalable, and hence resolves the problem of transactional responsibility, that is so broken within Spain. Whether the family model can scale better in abstraction than in physicality is quite a different question, one that combines themes of (bottom-up) confederalism and (post-territorial) virtualisation. But enough idle theorycrafting. Without philosophical independence, Catalunya retains the idea of Spain, and thus the same concept of internal and external. However it is still possible to oscillate between, for example by hoping for the support of others (in the internal) to mutually seek hope in the external. Each occupies a distinct mode – the internal as intensity of family, the external as physical manifestation.
For a place with such a history of political innovation, the unimaginative physicality of the Catalan independence process is quite embarrassing. Òmnium, one of the civic cultural organisations behind the Independentist campaign, reacted to the controversial incarceration (pending trial for sedition) of its leader, Jordi Cuixart, with a video titled, “Help Catalonia, Save Europe“. Its production had been copied directly from the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, albeit devoid of the authenticity the original sought to convey. Crudely lifted from the propaganda handbook, as has been just about everything the Independentist movement has scripted since the 2013 “Via Catalana” mimicked the Baltic pro-independence human chain. However, “E.T. phone home” is not the communication of the primitive species it may seem, rather the communication of a society which manifests (and thus communicates with) the external at a far more basic physical level than the simulacres of their internal society. For the visiting alien, everything in Catalunya is the opposite of what it seems: The stereotypical expatriate in the sun, feeling superior about themselves in relation to any number of “backward” Spanish stereotypes, are themselves little more than an animal in a public zoo, unable to grasp the intensity of those around them. Who’s deceiving who?
External deception, the bias that is truth because in state knowing is social (to reiterate the introduction), is especially malleable where genuine (internal) communication depends more on shared sense, than spoken language. The brutality with which Catalan Independentism deploys the full panoply of Spanish historical trauma can be shocking, especially to Spaniards who are inclined to see themselves in the present, not as a continuation of someone else’s past. The northern European (especially anglophone) media laps this all up because it appeals culturally – both to their own societies’ need of prediction through past history, and to the arcane Spanish stereotypes therein. In avoiding the second, this sequence of essays leans on the first – and it is hard not to, because the historical litany is full of parables, which we suppose reveal the wider societal pattern we cannot so easy grasp by anthropology. Yet this source tends to over-emphasise the physical history of causal events, physicality which is least important to the society supposedly being observed. To observe the current Catalan Independence process solely as its constituent events is to fundamentally misunderstand its motives and eventual outcome, so why place emphasis on parallels to similarly observed history? As long as actual observable events make scant difference to the underlying process, such events can be freely manipulated by the Independentist movement without undermining anything genuinely important to their process.
The deception hidden in plain sight remains remarkably enduring propaganda, but as explored in The Act of Referèndum, this deception is better described as a charade – a genuine test of one’s depth of perception. Participation in this game is the new demos: A virtualised society, self-selecting by sense, the protection of its internalised social order vested in ambiguity.
The organic evolution of Catalunya’s state of ambiguity may be somewhat predictable, but the attempt to predict reveals its own intrigue. Especially for those who are inclined to think that they understand the base conditions and objectives, yet do not understand them well enough to think within those conditions’ own model. Such an interrogation of the other naturally reveals most about one’s own: The modern state is increasingly too complicated to split by a single definitive act, however well predicted and planned. That is as true of Independència as of Brexit, the only difference is that Catalunya seems to implicitly understand this, while Britain still appears to expect the definitive resolution of “Deal or No Deal”. Britain’s cultural expectation of outcomes that can be predicted, a model by which she thinks she understands an inherently unpredictable world, has surely come home to roost. The contemporary model of sovereign power is an inadequate simplification of the fluidity, let alone scope for ambiguity, within human societies.
The European Union is poised for a crisis, a Catastrophe, a Cataclysm – a “Catexit”. Since Spain is the sovereign entity that belongs to the European Union, any unilateral declaration of independence is presumed to unceremoniously dump the territory of Catalunya out of the European Union. In practice, the ambiguity of Catalunya’s state poses Catexit as an open question to the rest of Europe, one that it may find difficult to answer. Any Catexit would be far more sudden than Brexit, and far more of a shock to the affected population of Catalunya, traditionally far more unified in their loyalty to Europe than the British. This impending Catalan sovereignty crisis is not just a practical problem for Catalunya in Europe, but exposes the structural inflexibility of the European Union. Not just the widely acknowledged flaws this essay demonstrates with the case of taxi regulation: The treaty structure of the Europe, between sovereign states, which constrains transactional policy-making, and particularly struggles with policy that isn’t technocratic – the economic roots of the European project that can inhibit broader social governance. But also more fundamental questions of how, and in what direction, power flows within the European Union: The issue is already a stumbling block in Brexit negotiations – what absolute power should govern citizens’ rights? Or from the opposite perspective, why does a particular sovereign state have to exercise such power over a person who might reasonably consider themselves “European”? Or without putting to finer point on it, “Catalan and European”? Catalunya’s state of ambiguity, potentially both in Spain and not, will make any sovereign resolution especially difficult, and risks alienating a people who are otherwise willing participants in the European Union.
“Absolute Devolution” is the fourth essay in a sequence that explores the current Catalan independence process. The first essay introduces The Act of Referèndum. The second, on hope, 1714 and All That. The third, Patria and Patrimonio, on state. The fifth essay in this sequence is The Moral of Sovereignty. It characterises condominium.