Separatism and European Federalism: Two compatible tendencies

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The red version of the Catalan flag. Picture credit: Wikipedia

One of the most academically fascinating aspects of the separatist movements across Europe, is how they relate to the overall trend of European integration in general and the ideology of European federalism in particular. As I have noted in my essay on Nationalism and individual sovereignty in the case of Catalonia separatist movements must not be lumped together with nationalism proper, even though the two political approaches may often appear to overlap under the present circumstances.

The qualitative distinction between nationalism proper and separatism is that the former is founded on a metaphysical superstructure, on holism, ethnic essentialism and polylogism; which see and treat the nation qua ontological entity as the prime subject of history and as the only ‘being’ worth of any sort of power and rights, with sovereignty and self-determination being the most apparent manifestations of such supreme ‘national’ authority and rights.

In contrast the separatists, even though they may also have thick-headed nationalists among their ranks, are not necessarily seeking to exalt some metaphysical agency termed ‘nation’ or ‘ fatherland’ and ascribe to it a somewhat sacrosanct essence which may not be overridden by the interests of individual human beings. Their sole objective is in cases and in effect a libertarian struggle for autonomy and self-determination of the individuals; a secession from a state they consider unjust, immoral and oppressive (whether they are correct or wrong in this assessment is another issue, irrelevant to the fact).

The moment separatists start expounding on the absurdities of the nationalist system of thought, on themes such as say ‘natural’ national borders –what the Nazi’s called Lebensraum– they must no longer be classified as ‘libertarian’ broadly speaking, but as yet another set of nationalist fanatics, this time on a smaller scale, who seek to erect yet more squabbling nation-states. Nevertheless for the time being separatists are not nationalists. Any oversimplified analysis that lumps them together must be rejected outright, as a panoply of falsehoods and misunderstandings.

On another level there is a substantial number of people who stand bewildered at such conclusions, as they hold a world-view which is profoundly different from my own subjectivism. Their opinion stems from their interpretation of global phenomena, such as globalization. For them ‘globalization’ as such impels ‘nations’ to proceed towards the formation of supra-national political entities for the sole purpose of better competing with one another, on a scale of gigantism, as the protagonists of global affairs. It is these irreversible trends of history that direct human action, as they see it, and therefore the separatists are, in their eyes, somewhat out of step with reality, for they seek to undo that which ‘history’ is supposed to be dictating.

Every time I come across such views on globalization, I must confess I feel emptiness to the core of my existence, for it is a perception which in my opinion succeeds in introducing absurdity into social sciences. It allows the court social scientist or rather the intellectual musketeer of statism, to weave determinist apologia for every sort of protectionist, restrictive and intrusive machinations, on the basis that these are counter-measures to an exogenous force –globalization–, which function as means of ameliorating the deleterious effects this impersonal villain –globalization– causes.

In reaction to such egregiously erroneous conceptualizations, the judicious researcher must stress the truism that globalization qua supernatural being which imposes conditions on people, does not and cannot exist. To treat ‘it’ as if it were a real thing which determines and guides the conduct of individuals and the flow of history, is to sacrifice science to the opportunism of short-sighted politics, to the cultivation of bugaboos and ghosts which engender ‘we-they’ syndromes, and to treat individual human beings as mere automatons, passive particles who merely react to the otherwise unstoppable trends of ‘history’ qua exogenous force – this is in effect a sinking back into the slough of fallacies, crudities and holistic generalizations that constituted the Marxian system of thought.

Having stated the above, as an effort to clarify the confusion on issues of ‘international relations’, I need to reiterate the distinction I draw between separatist movements and nationalism proper; and to restate my opposition to any sort of determinism which finds separatist tendencies as somewhat incompatible with some supposed trend of history in European gigantism as a response to globalization.

In viewing the separatist movements gaining momentum all over Europe I am intrigued in witnessing their compatibility with European integration, contrary to the irreconcilable conflict between nationalism proper and European federalism. Having qualified separatism from nationalism I believe it is easier to appreciate the fact that many (most) separatists are in favor of an ever-closer European political union, perhaps as a Machiavellian means of passing through the back door their own agenda in improving their status as autonomous regions under the political umbrella of a European federation (see also Not all European federalists are progressive). Regardless of motivation, on which we may only speculate, it is quite often the case that separatists do not see any internal contradiction between their views and those of European federalism, more so between their struggle for autonomy and these mystical ‘trends’ that ‘globalization’ forces upon humanity.

Separatists are not nationalists, at least not in principle if they support European federalization; if they are not concerned with the myths and shibboleths of nationalism and if they do not care about the fictitious impersonal forces of history, which statists and nationalists proper, among others, have concocted to provide a patina of legitimacy to their otherwise groundless phobias and protectionist propensities.