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The Moral of Sovereignty

“The Moral of Sovereignty” is the fifth 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. Absolute Devolution, the fourth essay, on power. This essay characterises condominium.

“Spain tells UK not to lose its cool”, glanced the Guardian. “UK accused of losing cool … by Spanish minister”, gawked the BBC. “Spain taunts Britain for losing its composure”, glared the Sun. In the “Did you spill my pint?” prelude to the perennial pub brawl that is Gibraltar, only the reasonable protagonist, Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis, had reason to be confused. Lord Howard’s evocation of Margaret Thatcher’s military defense of the Falklands (Malvinas) hardly evoked the reasonable tone with which Spain had become accustomed to dealing with its European partners. A tri-century grievance born of the same succession war as 1714 and All That. A rock whose thirty thousand residents remain fiercely loyal to both Britain and Europe. And now a very particular problem for Brexit, the United Kingdom’s anticipated exit from the European Union.

Gibraltar is reasonably considered a colony within the European Union because its territorial status as a British Overseas Territory is shared with an array of small colonial outposts, all internally autonomous but reliant on United Kingdom foreign policy. Unlike the Crown Dependencies (Isles of Man, Jersey and Guernsey – those within the broad definition of the British Isles, but not the United Kingdom), Gibraltar is not part of the European Union Customs Union, but is part of the European Union: Gibraltar shares its European Union membership with the United Kingdom, although Gibraltar’s autonomy means European directives have to be specifically passed by Gibraltar’s legislature. Such a complicated arrangement, for so few people, inevitably perpetuates its own exception – an exception the likes of which that none could reasonably establish afresh. The United Kingdom’s Brexit thusly also applies to Gilbratar, regardless of the will of the people of Gibraltar. While colonial status implies a genuine claim to self-determination, and hence a theoretical return to Europe as an independent state, that would force an almost impossible choice on Gibraltarians, apparently between Britain and Europe.

In 2002 the British government attempted to resolve Spanish claims by proposing the shared sovereignty, condominium, of Gibraltar. The concept was not so unfamiliar to Spain, even if the only territory it currently shares (on a six month rotation with France) is a small uninhabited island in the Bidasoa river. Catalunya’s Pyrenean borderlands contained several oddities: Andorra’s sovereignty was shared after 1278, albeit as a suzerainty – a vassalage offering tribute to both the Count of Foix (later France) and the Bishop of La Seu d’Urgell (later Spain). The arrangement effectively lasted until the French revolutionaries of 1793 renounced their share, although Andorra wasn’t admitted to the United Nations, and thus definitively sovereign, until 1993. A similar conflict was resolved differently in Val d’Aran, which in 1313 swore fealty to the Crown of Aragon (later Spain) in return for the valley’s local autonomy – an agreement that held until 1834. And again for Cerdanya, which was partitioned by the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees to leave Llívia (the ancient capital of Cerdanya) surrounded by France – albeit only a mile from the principal bordertown of Puigcerdà, and thereafter a tough border to enforce. All three examples were defined by the disagreements of surrounding dominant sovereign powers, but in each case the actual outcome was locally pragmatic, as befits the reality of Pyrenean geography. Such pragmatism acknowledges the de facto, the situation in fact or in practice: For example, an Aragonese monarch may have had a de jure (in law) claim on Val d’Aran, but since the valley was inaccessible from the south during winter, de facto Val d’Aran functioned with a degree of autonomy, and it was eminently sensible to acknowledge that reality.

The idea of shared sovereignty for Gibraltar was overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum, ostensibly because Gibraltarians did not wish to be “Spanish” – a view thus far unchanged by Brexit. Spain may justifiably be considered the enemy, but this is primarily a de jure fear. De facto, Gibraltar is strongly influenced by adjacent areas of Andalucía: 12 million people visit Gibraltar each year, daily visitor numbers roughly equal to the entire resident population, indicative of high economic and social inter-dependence. Likewise, Gibraltarians are far more culturally mixed than their British colonial status may imply, as likely to carry a British name as a Spanish name. Gibraltar’s “Britishness” is necessarily overstated to foster cultural unity – a direct reflection on the contemporary dominance of sovereign power, that the pragmatism of local coexistence is so readily overwhelmed by the power structure of national authority. So while a British-Spanish condominium would reflect the local character of Gibraltar, the very involvement of such sovereign powers now renders the feudal pragmatism of the Pyrenees impossible.

The rejection of shared sovereignty reflects a wider trend in international law, where condominium has become the exception for the awkward cases, not the norm: Deployed by treaty or convention to territories with no intrinsic social complexity, such as Antarctica or the deep ocean seabed, or to manage states during transition, typically post conflict or colonialism. Catalunya’s contemporary state of ambiguity, described in Absolute Devolution, is not a traditional condominium: Not just because it lacks an agreed resolution, but more fundamentally because The Act of Referèndum emphasises the relative unimportance of territory.

As Lassa Oppenheim highlighted, “a state without a territory is not possible”, because since 1648 international law has followed the principles of the Peace of Westphalia, which resolved the European conflicts of the Reformation, and formalised early modern understanding of state as that territory belonging to a ruler. Any alternative notion of state, such as one that reflects its people, must be retrofitted onto a geographic territory: Westphalia’s territorial presumption is increasingly arcane, even for modern democratic, self-identifyingly European, virtually connected, Westphalia. As argued in Patria and Patrimonio, this definition of state is firmly linked to Enlightenment thinking. Spain had failed to dominate the early modern intellectual hegemony, her global dominance usurped by the Dutch, and was thus forced to internalise her social (knowledge) model within her territory and present that territory to the wider world as an absolute power, a Westphalian sovereignty. The idea of Spain, as explored in 1714 and All That, provided an appropriately robust structure – an internally liberating bouncy castle and an ilusión of the external – an external that could theoretically never be achieved.

Independence from Spain necessarily breaks the idea of Spain for that which becomes independent. In the most basic scenario – the continuation of prior societal norms as a new independent state – independence requires the idea of Spain to be cloned locally. That implies a transitional period, during which the independent state exists in the Westphalian world, but is not yet adapted to it: Catalunya risks exposure to the actual external its society had previously been protected from by the idea of Spain, and requires Catalunya to behave appropriately, to exude control, quite different from the internal bouncy castle of Spain. However, the state of ambiguity is inherently self-transitioning, since both states are simultaneous within – change does not occur at one moment, nor is the whole in flux at once. The nature of within is social, focused upon that area of social knowledge best able to readjust: So long as state remains conceived with the intensity of family, and does not fall in the void in transactional responsibility that bedevils the Spanish political state, any changes can be managed with efficacy. Thus change is through the ambiguity of both, not the objective cause and effect of a singular revolutionary act. The familiar philosophy of the idea of Spain is cloned without leaving the comfort of home, sparing much of the trauma that normally accompanies the birth of a sovereign state.

The theoretical weakness of that scenario lay in what is cloned: The idea of Spain manifests the external in the physical, a physical which apparently cannot be rendered in ambiguity, and so the independent state will tend to conflict over the same physicality as the Spanish state. However both states share the same concept of the idea of Spain, where the physical is relatively unimportant in the social model. The physical has always been the common domain in the political state, and thus the physical can also serve to counterbalance two concurrent political states: More competition than conflict, this balance of states serves the function of a Quantum ballot of the polis – both states perpetuate primarily in social simulacres, their relative support manifest in the physical. While all that may sound exotic, it is little different from the practice of many modern democratic states, albeit without the veneer of singular power. Spain is already highly developed in this regard: Its autonomic policy-making process has almost no reliance on absolute power, while its legal structure bridges a chasm between power and people, affording considerable flexibility between corpus of law and enforcement. The loss of the veneer of singular power would not primarily be a problem internally. It is simply not how sovereign states are supposed to function, and thus primarily confusing for the external.

The already highly autonomous Catalunya gains almost nothing from Westphalian independence, since the territorial state remains more-or-less the same. Little more is gained than the right to be called a nation and register a claim on Catalunya Nord. Full fiscal autonomy is moot within the monetary union of the Eurozone – greater responsibility for debt may even disadvantage an independent Catalunya. In spite of appearances, the Westphalian independence is not the type of independence sought by Independència. That confusion lay in the prior tradition of manifesting the external in the physical, which thus over-emphasises the physical, territory, in matters regarding the external. But as this sequence of essays has demonstrated, the physical is relatively unimportant to the function of Catalunya’s society. The consequent unimportance of Westphalian sovereignty allows Catalunya’s independence movement to safely deploy it as a charade – a game of perception, the demos at the heart of Independència. As an internal rebellion, Independència has no realistic prospect of success. But by embroiling the European Union, on terms which the European Union cannot readily respond, Catalunya strengthens its hand. A game hitherto played as Spain is now primed to take international law – and perhaps even the Enlightenment concept of state – by surprise.

A Critique of Pure Reason

The October weather has been unseasonably warm across Spain. For Barcelona, whose winters are relatively mild, but whose inhabitants have none-the-less learnt to expect a degree of consistency, such weather has caused palpable confusion. The sudden need to juggle summer and winter wardrobes has become exhausting, not least for those that expected a definitive transition at the start of the month. One can only imagine the growing apprehension in Madrid, its continental climate exposing it to far greater extremes. For those raised in the Scottish Borders, the constancy of weather was more obviously always a myth, attested by the preponderance of rainbows. None should reasonably expect certainty, and none should induce their state upon it.

Hume (in Scotland), and Kant (in Prussia), both developed appropriate frameworks for managing societal excesses – in effect to manage exposure to deus sive natura – although in questioning Enlightenment thought it may be more appropriate to attribute that notion to Boethius (“the last Roman”) than Spinoza. The pattern is frequently reprised in these essays as the need to feel, but not achieve. These philosophical frameworks remain applicable only within states, not to the overarching organisation of states, which (as the Peace of Westphalia) predates all the Enlightenment writing cited. Although the idea of Spain is a quintessentially Spanish construction, its concluding description as, “the bedrock of a nation – and the bane of the supra-nationalism implied by globalism, there being no other globe on which to base human ilusión”, hints at the problem of deploying any human philosophical framework upon the totality of humanity, the scope of Westphalian sovereignty. This resolves to a basic theological argument, developed across this section, that postulates Oneness (totality) cannot be known or attained form within itself. Consequently none of the more elaborate later-Enlightenment philosophical frameworks can be applied to the totality of humanity, leaving sovereignty structured upon pure reason.

People are not so reasonable. As discussed in Absolute Devolution, both Spain’s Constitution and structure of autonomy are ultimately based on trust, a trust which rests in the people, a model familiar to Kantian morality. The Act of Referèndum eliminated that trust, and rendered the legal structure built on that trust dysfunctional. Where a devolved (absolute) power could have immediately been suspended, the autonomic power continued to frame the Referèndum as an on-going act of policy-making. Spain was so implicitly defined by its unity – formally in Constitution, and historically reassured by the unity inherent in the idea of Spain – that it struggled to comprehend that “the law” had in the meantime been undermined. For Spain, unity is state, because knowing is social – far from the political platitude “unity” has become in Britain. ONCE, the charity for the blind that runs a popular Spanish lottery, plays with this notion in their marketing campaign “il·lusió és solidaritat” – the cultural translation masked by the literal English, illusion is solid-arity.

All is unity – hope, state, and so on – implying the familiar pattern, the need to feel but not achieve. That unity should not exceed itself is self-evident, but characterises the state as strictly internal, and thus a fundamental limitation in regard to the external: State, implying the model of state, is not transferrable out with, and thus societies can only manage the external by manifesting it within their internal. The nature of that manifestation varies with society – this sequence of essays provides examples of internal physicality of the external in Spain, and causal analytic prediction in Britain. That unity is a totality is similarly self-evident, but is as philosophically troublesome as the theological proof of God: Oneness (totality) may be asserted, but can not be demonstrated from within itself. Or as framed by these essays, the need to feel but not achieve, that progression from within can not quite reach totality, at least not without destroying or rebounding that totality anew. The corollary is that state can never entirely know itself by progression from within itself, and thus must remain fluid. Hence morality is always fluid from within, only definitive from the position of totality. In theological terms, God as Oneness is perfect while the fluidity within is imperfect. Intriguingly, the common stumbling block of this thesis for Catholicism is the physicality, or otherwise, of “the body” of Christ. Historically the idea of Spain exploited this in the manifestation of the external – God and aspects therefore – in the physical. Modern politics, as the new church, the contemporary societal prosthesis, just perpetuated the model. In both systems, the external remains that beyond Spain’s sovereignty.

So unsurprisingly, morality as defined by human unity (internal Spain) transpires to be an altogether more fluid concept than the morality implicit in pure reason (sovereign Spain). Morality, from a broadly Kantian perspective, echoes Catalunya’s state of ambiguity: Independentist unity is limited to Catalunya, and (more contentiously) perhaps only to the independentists therein. Spain’s moral authority over Catalunya remains clear for non-independentists, those still loyal to the Constitution, but otherwise relies on prior, not current, trust in Constitution. Thus in the case of independentists, Spain can only act in the spirit of the formal Constitution that reflects its sovereignty, not the living Constitution that reflects its people. The state of ambiguity poses a particular dilemma because a perfect state of ambiguity is equally absolute to that of Westphalian sovereignty, yet its Quantum state of both leaves no scope for the traditional casual resolution of sovereign action. Independència is not primarily territorial, not especially the sovereign claim it appears, so people trump sovereignty, and thus on balance the government of Spain has none of clear moral authority for sovereign action that sovereignty implies, even if it could act on both extremes of the state of ambiguity. Such analysis emphasises trust as rooted in the individual or constituent group, not trust rooted in the unity of Spain. The first root aligns to fluidity, the second to sovereignty, but with a caveat that The Act of Referèndum has already broken the unity of Spain, and thus undermined any assumption that the entire population of Spain trust as one. Further, the analysis draws only on Constitutional trust, and does not attribute the underlying idea of Spain the importance it deserves. However, while the defense of the idea of Spain may have greater imperative than the defense of democratic Constitutional Spain, such an ideological defense is essentially imperial, and more difficult to justify as law – European tolerance for Crusades isn’t what it used to be.

While the government of Spain can reasonably expect their moral authority to be supported by the external, realpolitik undermines even that. Spain’s reasonable expectation is that if it acts “within the law” the sovereign structure will prevail. While other sovereign states should act as lawful international entities, that does not stop their populations reaching conclusions that reflect the (philosophically more nuanced) internal balances within their respective states. Westphalian sovereignty does not reflect how any modern political state functions internally. In normal circumstances diplomacy can manage or smooth these differences, but taken to extremes, irreconcilable differences emerge. The mismatch between the fluidity of internal politics and the pure reason of sovereignty is particularly problematic for the European Union, which is ostensibly a political union formally structured on sovereignty: At its core, the European Union is exposed to the logical vulnerabilities that elsewhere the likes of Hume and Kant offer protection against – what, within their own states, usually protects citizens from what they cannot realise they did not want to know – that which would undermine their system of knowing.

Westphalian sovereignty is built on broadly the same philosophical system of objective logic practiced within the northern European states that designed it. Unfortunately their “global” territorial model has little or no relation to the way others manage state. For example, the Bantu languages of West and Central Africa exhibit a quite different approach to spatial dimensions. The average African has only the most tangential relationship to northern Europe, seemingly forever a pawn in the 19th century New Imperialism of the Berlin Conference. A territorial game played with scant regard for underlying cultural geography, a continuation of the Congress of Vienna‘s promotion of stability between major European powers (and not necessarily her people). The Horn of Africa still provides a vivid illustration of how poorly internationally recognised borders map onto local clan geography. The internal conflict engendered only rarely bubbles to the global surface – in the case of Somalia, as attacks on international shipping – and when underlying cultural geography does congeal into state, such is in Somaliland, the international community is in no rush to recognise any change in sovereignty.

Catalunya, within the European Union, is different. While Catalunya is strongly influenced by the philosophy of northern Europe, at her core she has a different concept of state – a pattern explored throughout these essays. Unlike those within northern Europe, the sovereign model underpinning the European Union is exploitable by Catalans, because they are not dependant on it within their own society. But unlike Africa and the wider world, Catalunya is inside the European Union, so such exploitation can expose the wider European Union from within. In doing so, Independència ultimately risks cascading: It is theoretically capable of undermining the very system of knowing deployed within core northern European states – a Reformation-esk cataclysm upon northern Europe. A trauma hinted at by the slow undermining of self that is woven into the fabric of these essays – living is exhausting when one learns to doubt the air one breaths. Surely none intends that. Rather by playing this threat to Europe, Catalunya forces the European Union to become actively engaged in what is otherwise, or otherwise externally perceived as, an internal Spanish rebellion (which are necessarily resolved as Spain). The Independentist modus operandi is much the same as that already deployed against Spain: Disavow trust to undermine the system to get what Independentism thinks it wants. Which of course is also what the people of Catalunya cannot realise they did not want to know. The ever-escalating hope, the relentless pursuit of the good which disrespects all in its path. On this analysis, Independència is a cancer within the body of Europe, a cancer that attacks the very sense that would otherwise mount a defense, and a cancer that cannot even know that it has exceeded itself.

And so it was that independence was duly declared again. Shrouded in toxic mist – and that was just the city of Barcelona – the Parliament of Catalunya voted in a secret ballot, with none of the Constitutional authority that ever stopped it before, to un-suspend the previous declaration of independence: In practice to enable September’s transitory law and commence negotiations with Spain in “un règim de col·laboració” – the spirit of cooperation. As if to underscore the nature of the cooperation Catalan Independentism might receive, Val d’Aran promptly mooted its own independence from the independence of Catalunya, then raised much the same concern about any loss of autonomy that might be imposed by Spain, before worrying the whole discussion might be unconstitutional and requesting its status be explicitly recognised by the Spanish Constitution.

The Independentist aim was, as ever, to perpetuate Catalunya’s state of ambiguity, giving Independentists another advance in their sense of independence and another casus belli against the subsequent Spanish response – the dissolution of Catalunya’s parliament – evoking further legal tomfoolery: The Constitutional Court would take another four days to suspend the state of independence, potentially creating a legal minefield for actions during the intervening period. All this while maintaining (the appearance of) the societally expected process of policy-making, and thus avoiding moral panic. A similar fear of challenging the social order helps explain why the ballot was secret: Members of parliament feared prosecution by law that may hold responsibility specifically in person, not in state. As explained in the context of corruption, in a state where transactional responsibility is functionally broken, and it is genuinely difficult to separate the state from the agent within, political agents generally only assume personal responsibility when they lose power or influence over the social order. While requests for negotiation and cooperation can reasonably (in the midst of open rebellion) be read with a degree of cynicism, they emphasise the importance of maintaining the societal norms of Catalunya regardless of circumstances.

The local Ajuntament briefly pondered the ambiguity of it all by lowering both the Spanish and European flags – that one may not have one’s cake and eat it – then returned to normality. For the core of both national media, the country was indeed business as normal: Spain considered the petite Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, vice-president of the Spanish government, reassuringly at the helm of the Generalitat de Catalunya. Meanwhile in the Republic, Carles Puigdemont, “the president of the Generalitat“, was still occupying the exact same post. The Sexta (as if to mirror the implosion of Indignados politics over its conception of unity, which had suddenly been brought into focus by Catalunya), promptly disappeared down the rabbit hole that opens up for any physical media that attempts to reconcile both: Why wouldn’t Puigdemont luncheon in a restaurant in his native Girona, like we suppose he does every Saturday? And good luck trying to extract a straight answer from Ada Colau, Barcelona’s mayor, who well knows her state. Meanwhile Santi Vila, who resigned from the Catalan government shortly before the declaration of independence, obtained a similar state by giving two very different interviews to two very different television audiences.

The sovereign British media were quick to paint over the non-event of independence with reassurance that Spain was back in control, although even The Sun blinked twice at Puidgemont’s subsequent flight to Brussels: “End of the dream?” it asked itself, in barely disguised disbelief at just how abruptly a decade of independence struggle had petered into the ignominy of “political asylum”. Of course Belgium carries its own historic significance – liberal, predictive, fundamentally European, and still harbouring sympathy for the Spanish separatism that forged her – Belgium is the ideal host from which to infect Europe with a disease hitherto internal to Spain. This was not, as Puidgemont stated with a wry smile, “a Belgium question: I’m here in Brussels as the capital of Europe.” Evidently the illusion of ilusión is far from over.

Born de Re-volta

The dual-perspective solution, Catalunya both in Spain and not, was mooted by The Act of Referèndum, the transition of Independència apparently seamless: History is for pithy external propaganda – the internal hope is lived, and none within need care how they arrived. As described in the introduction, change is through the ambiguity of both, not a singular momentous event. Yet the language of “dual perspectives” remains the language of condominium, a society sanitized for purposes of sovereignty. Sovereignty laid vulnerable, that sanitization need be exposed to reveal what lies beneath. However the offender is no so purely reasoned, the search for intuition inevitably introspective. And hence over the course of these essays the notion of perspective has gradually been characterised more as perception – sense, state – deemphasising the physically observed object: The nature of this “dual-perspective” perception switch transpires to be of itself.

One might hope that a graduate of philosophy describing themselves as “a philosopher” had a priori failed their studies. While the best students in Northern universities are still capable of engaging with this recursive metaphysical question, what is philosophy, many lounge in A. J. Ayers’ dystopia of logical verification – safety both in their mind and in the mind of their society. Catalan academia is largely free of this tension because its knowledge is already social: The role of universities is to stabilise such knowledge within prevailing human fluidity, to educate people into its society, not to promote the ability to conceive anything radically different. Of course their societal context is quite different – more intense, and normally safely liberated by the bouncy castle of Spain – so what appear as severe limitations to the outsider, are not so limiting to those within.

The “Filósofo” on the Barceloneta Beach observes the physical manifestation of the external, the zoo of tourismos, as the simulacre it represents to Catalan society. The shape and form of any object is relevant only for the status it conveys. The aim is to communicate a complex idea in a token, not to expand that token into its physical components. The physical objects may be familiar to both filósofo and tourismo alike, but they emphasise quite different states – the filósofo’s social knowledge, contrasting, for example, to the visiting Británico’s objective analysis. Familiarity, particularly between virtualised societies, is a deception. The obvious, easy presumption that sense, that state, is common and shareable, a fallacy – societal trickery to make the external world manageable, not to make that totality definitively understandable: To reprise a theme of this essay, there can be no totality of humanity, of sense, state. A society cannot exceed itself, its state – if it were, it would becomes external to itself, and not its state. The external is inherently ambiguous – both us and them. Yet that precisely describes Catalunya’s state of ambiguity – a state which has exceeded itself, and thereafter contains two slightly different states, each built on social knowledge, which overlap in the physical. Thus to hope for more than state, is to fragment state. We call this state ambiguous because, at least in sovereignty, two (social knowledge) states are not supposed to occupy the same physical territory. But this pattern is not so unfamiliar – for example, the supposively unified nation state called the United States exhibits a high degree of societal polarisation within its politics.

Catalan society did not previously emphasise the physical, so Catalunya’s dual state of ambiguity is more intuitive than it may appear to outsiders. However, aside from the minority pseudo-anarchist CUP, Independentism is strongly biased toward the Catalan bourgeois – a pattern most obviously reflected in Independentist family income and heritage. The Catalan bourgeois are the most virtualised, the closest to the top of the hierarchy of needs, for whom utility has largely been surpassed as a base function and is no longer the focus of societal behaviour: People with a high degree of focus upon their own status in their own society. Of course someone still has to feed the bourgeois. Those with a broader world view, or who perhaps don’t understand the society at all, will tend to focus more on utility. The two states are thus inter-related, what might be called trade, were both not already sharing a common physicality. In practice, Independència is little more than a rearrangement of the social order, a staple of the ebb and flow of Spain for centuries, the current iteration pushing beyond borders because her internal capacity for dealing with hope had already been exhausted:

Dependence will ultimately constrain the hopes of the bourgeois. Dependence is not the same as balance, because ilusión always wants more: In the baseline case, ilusión is in the minority because it is premised on better than average. For a democracy to deliver ilusión therefore requires a degree of deception – for example, promoting a rarely achieved American Dream that encourages the poor to vote for policies that hurt their actual reality. Late 20th century Britain followed America by creating sources of hope within temporal distortion, apparently internal, but actually fostered by international finance. Creations perpetually on the verge of collapse from excessive personal debt or real estate prices. As explored in 1714 and All That, Catalan hopes are less temporal than those in Britain and America, instead playing on the ilusión of the external. Catalunya (and wider Spain) has long since been societally moribund by excessive hope, her social structure littered with examples:

  • Work is not equally distributed across the labour force, with around a fifth finding no work at all, while many of those in work (appear to) strive for better than their economy can deliver – the mismatch between hope and economy reflected in the redundant fifth, who are inelegantly supported by an income redistribution that offers no hope whatsoever.
  • The wider social order is similarly swamped by prior hope – from the autogestión which carefully limits mobility within society, to the notorious difficulty of establishing new business – a stability which has no capacity for new hope.
  • The social model places no importance on internal creation – with breadth of thought traded for intensity, construction from root is unintuitive, so even if it were to import solutions, the society cannot build a way out of itself.

All endemic of a society whose ilusión exceeded itself a long time before the current Catalan crisis. The external world was indeed a godsend:

  • An alternative employment destination for all the Spaniards rejected by their own over-hopeful economy.
  • A reliable source of rewards for participation in the political state, the physical manifestation of the external – an investment of sorts, just not in the manner expected by northern European industrial economics.
  • A global market of pre-created, status-ascribed simulacre, ripe for import.

This dependence on the external to provide additional capacity for hope, as ilusión, is evident in later Francoism, but surely blossomed within the European Union. With the fall, the crisis, a sudden dearth of capacity arose within a society that could only seek more in the external. This is why Independència is the contemporary form of the perennial rearrangement of the Spanish social order – the ilusión of the external, taken to extremis by a Catalan society that had long since exceeded its capacity for hope.

Independència is primarily Europe’s problem, a structural inability to fulfil ever-inflating hope, its hitherto successful economic engine now stalled on near-zero interest rates. The Catalan case is extreme – the first fractures invariably are. And while Catalunya may find some sympathy in Europe, her message will be difficult to communicate across Europe because the European Union lacks the commonality of sense inherent in its member states. In the meantime, Catalunya’s interim solution, her state of ambiguity, may prove difficult for sovereign Europe to manage. Still, in spite of quite reasonable opposition accusations of ridicule, Catalan hope for a European solution to their ilusión-ary crisis at least supposes a continuity of approach – that Europe saved them before and will somehow save them again – even if a hope for hope is rather too revealing of recursion. Brexit Britain exhibits a broadly similar frustration, but with even less rationale to its intended solution – to re-emphasise its own sovereignty, making it even harder to manage its already strained dependency on external hope: The best of British – a traditional idiom wishing luck to someone with scant chance of success.

Jose Torreblanca coined the word “Anglocondescendencia” to describe the condescending attitude of the Anglo-American media toward Spain in the wake of Independència. Nerves have been especially raw on all sides: Independentist Catalans are looking increasingly inward as they struggle to deal with the state of ambiguity they created, while Spanish frustration grows at the Independentist-inspired “Francoland” characterisation of modern Spanish democracy. Meanwhile the politics of both Britain and America have grown increasingly hostile to the external world, keen to deflect domestic attention away from internal problems – the reassurance that however bad the home front, it’s even worse abroad. But as the introductory Gibraltar case demonstrates, Anglocondescendencia is not new. As explored in these essays, the predictive analytic of the Anglo-American world is particularly bad at actually understanding any society unlike itself, far too inclined to judge others by their adoption of Anglo-American economic and philosophical concepts – and as such is invariably “superior”. That reflects a wider pattern, a theme of this essay, that a totality (of humanity) cannot be understood from within.

Anglocondescendencia is cruelly ironic, as Spain is well ahead on some of the most difficult topics facing Anglo-American society. And not just in the management of, or failure thereof, hope. For example, the Anglo-American conception of virtual society stems from post-industrial technology, and thus evades comparison with any society that mostly virtualised before, and therefore without, such industry. As the Hippie hope of Silicon Valley slowly wakes up to the nightmare of the virtual feudalism it orchestrated, it is hard not to draw parallels to Spain – yet few comparisons can be made because, while the Valley’s geography is written in Spanish, there is little shared sense. Just don’t dwell too long on why the names are Spanish: The Donald has more than a echo of Spain’s Ferdinand VII – an egotistical ruler with little understanding of their system of government, easily manipulated by geopolitical opponents, whose tenure undermined the perceived supremacy that had previously held together their country’s virtual empire. Takes two to tango.

If every society genuinely did find its own way, none of this would matter. Each would wall off its state as only it knew how, and deal with its excessive hopes internally. That’s the implicit expectation of sovereignty, which neither has, nor can have, the philosophical nuances present within modern societies. However, within a century of the peace of Westphalia, Europe had entered the epoch of the over-achievement of global empire, a hope that could never realistically be fulfilled wholly within state, and thus came to rely on the external. With that came a form of understanding of the external, just one that could never fully conceive the totality. As the world became more global, this delusion of shared truth took on ever greater importance, yet if “understanding the world” entails reducing the likes of Catalunya down to little more than, “Franco bad, Catalans good”, the global moral compass is dangerously dysfunctional – more likely to deceive than inform. The internal demos may be imperfect, but at least they share state.

The moral of sovereignty is that it is quite inadequate for managing the unbounded hope that emanates from states that have long since exceeded their internal capacity to satisfy hope. While that’s a failure of the model of sovereignty, that model was always going to fail, because nothing can handle the totality of humanity. The prime failure is that hope ever exceeded state, that hope escaped its internal. Good luck trying to get Catalunya back in that box. We should not hope to solve hope – the need to feel but not achieve is a recurrent theme of human fluidity, not a problem awaiting the perfect solution. European strategies for managing excessive post-imperial hope flourished as 19th century New Imperialism, with contemporary events marking the demise of the latest, the post-war Flower Power hope to build a utopia. The European Union occasionally muses on creating itself sovereign, typically as a federation of states – before (implicitly) acknowledging there is insufficient commonality of state, and moving the discussion on to concepts that are more readily agreeable, such as common military. While Catalunya’s state of ambiguity owes much to its particular societal model, which is not readily exportable, its current state is a reaction to excessive hope, and may in turn indicate how to better manage such excesses in the wider external of Europe: Presume state as ambiguous, not sovereign absolute. Such emphasis challenges how we know, to foster a reliable sense of familiarity, not an absolute truth which too often transpires to be a deception.

Annex: The Plummeting Old Women

“Вываливающиеся старухи”, by Daniil Kharms, translated by Neil Cornwell:

“A certain old woman, out of excessive curiosity, fell out of a window, plummeted to the ground, and was smashed to pieces. Another old woman leaned out of the window and began looking at the remains of the first one, but she also, out of excessive curiosity, fell out of the window, plummeted to the ground and was smashed to pieces. Then a third old woman plummeted from the window, then a fourth, then a fifth. By the time a sixth old woman had plummeted down, I was fed up watching them, and went off to Mal’tseviskiy Market where, it was said, a knitted shawl had been given to a certain blind man.”

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