What does democracy call for in Catalonia?

Hoping for a peaceful democratic process in Catalonia tomorrow. When democracy fails there’s only repression. Thinking of my Catalan friends

That is a tweet from Pete Wishart, Scottish MP; I ‘ve seen dozens more like it.  But is it the democratic process behind the Catalonian referendum?  Or is it rather a form of electoral terrorism?  Here are a few points:

1. Most countries we consider to be democracies have rather stringent restrictions on when referenda may be held and what they may be used to decide.

2. According to extant reports, only 40 percent or so of the people in Catalonia favor independence.  It’s not like Kurdistan where independence won almost 100 percent of the vote and not only because of selective participation.

3. Aren’t non-official referendum results always going to be slanted in favor of intense minority opinion?  That hardly seems democratic.  See #2.  Arguably the same is true for official referenda as well, though then at least turnout is more representative.  Nonetheless referenda on such big questions may under-represent the interests of the young or the interests of business (and in turn real wages), or they may favor expressive voting too much.

4. Isn’t the truly democratic procedure to let all of Spain vote on Catalonian independence?  Maybe you don’t think so, but that begs the question.

5. Is it a fundamental democratic principle that any geographic region can demand a binding separatist referendum?  Well, maybe, but it sounds closer to John C. Calhoun than the notions of democracy I am familiar with or would favor.

Overall, I don’t see any positive news in how this is developing.  Arguably the situation remains in flux, but still the word is that a unilateral declaration of independence will be forthcoming.


"4. Isn’t the truly democratic procedure to let all people vote on Black rights, not just blacks? Isn’t the truly democratic procedure to let all people vote on Women's rights, not just women? "

No. I don't care if whites don't want blacks to have rights, or if men don't want women to have rights. If blacks vote to have their own rights, or women vote for their own rights, they get to have them.

So if blacks or women vote themselves the right to $1 million per year, they get it. What about other people, can they vote themselves rights too, or is the right to vote for rights a special right only you can bestow on people? I've just voted myself the right to all property in the world, so you need to stop using my device to write silly comments.

There is a fundamental difference is between "rights" that require someone else to provide you with something - your $1M dollars, or the supposed right to healthcare - and rights that require only that others leave you the hell alone. Secession, subject to negotiations on splitting shared national assets and liabilities, falls into the latter category.

There is no fundamental difference. There is a continuum between the two extremes you describe, and a balance with responsibilities.

There is no such continuum. A Right derived at the expense of the Rights of others is not in fact a right at all.

Nearly all meaningful rights are at the expense of someone. Property rights for example are almost completely negative and at the expense of everyone except the owner. An owner is just the only person not denied rights over the owned thing.

This is usually depicted as "positive" and "negative" rights, where the former are entitlements to a share of some resource, and the latter freedom from some imposition. The difference is not black and white, however. Freedom from taxation, to take one example, may technically be a "negative" right, but imposes on those who do pay taxes, as they then have to pay an increased share to compensate.

That illustrates the problem. It is not simply a matter of giving a voting majority what they vote for it is also taking from a minority what they did not vote for. Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what is for dinner. You cannot simply vote to divide a country. Even if a majority want their own country/government it is still a taking of rights/property/wealth from the minority. Iy can ultimately result in taking the life of many of the minority who do not want change. Historically these things happen only after violence/war and for good reason.

I think you may have just stumbled upon a decent test for differentiating negative rights from positive rights.

Uhhh you know that "everyone" did in fact vote on "black rights" and "women's rights".

Ty is still bitter that England didn't get to vote in the 1776 Brexit.

But at least now we know what it takes to get him to use the word "terrorism" -- people seeking self-rule through peacefully voting. Good to know.

Weak analogy.

Catalonia is voting for the right to exit Spain.

Women and blacks were not ejected from the United States. They gained political and civil rights they previously lacked, and the exercise of these rights directly impacted the whole country.

Catalonian secession would obviously impact the rest of Spain as well, but to a far lesser degree (apparently they'd need to hike taxes or cut government spending a bit, and then there are various relocation costs).

4. Isn’t the truly democratic procedure to let all of Spain vote on Catalonian independence? Maybe you don’t think so, but that begs the question.

Two wolves and a sheep voting for dinner is a textbook problem with democracy. It may be democracy in action but it is not very nice.

Still, maybe it is time to let the Afrikaners of the Transvaal vote on independence.

I agree that is truly a stupid way of "allowing" free assembly of regions/states into a larger federation. That being said, if California, Florida, Mississippi, or Texas exiting the Union were on a national ballot, they'd be out in an instant.

"If the boot heel of Missouri were given to Arkansas, you'd raise the average IQ of both states" The US still has some good old regional identity going on!

To me its quite clear. The people of a smaller political entity have the right to separate from a bigger political entity they belong to. Also, why don't you state what your opinion is. Either they do or they don't.

"The people of a smaller political entity have the right to separate from a bigger political entity they belong to."

Which entities? Can a small village declare independence? Can my neighborhood association declare itself the Republic of Oaktreedrivia?

I don't think what entities have a right to declare independence is a trivial question at all. Where do you draw the line?

I would think that if St. Louis, Missouri declared independence from the rest of Missouri, it would become a US Territory without congressional representation, ie you can only declare independence from the nearest link in the hierarchy at a time. It could regain its congressional representation by being re-annexed by Illinois or Missouri (or for the lulz, California) again, this time renegotiating terms of its incorporation, or by getting recognized as a state unto itself.

In reality, we'd burn St. Louis down to the ground before allowing such silly thoughts of free association.

If this were allowed, it would completely upend our political system.

Cities and other regions would declare independence any time the state was doing something they didn't like. They would attempt to use this to hold the state hostage and get the policies they want.

Probably hundreds or even thousands of communities would just choose to remain independent.

Others would align themselves more by ideology or other affinity than geography. Resulting in states that are even more politically polarized than they are now.

The rule of law would be severely undermined, since an entire legislative code can be wiped away and replaced at any time in a single vote.

Perhaps I overestimate the intelligence of John Q. Public, but I don't think so. I'm a 'gubmint is ebil, build bunkers' kinda guy, and I think my state benefits from being in the union. And I do believe there will come a day when secession is necessary and good, but we're not there yet. I can see it in the horizon, but still not close.

You're also assuming that independence could be attained by a simple majority. I do think that exit from a union should be a little harder than entry - if 67% of St. Louis thought that being a part of Missouri were bad for them, then it might actually be that St. Louis is being abused by Missouri.

Kansas City just recently voted to increase its minimum wage to 15$/hr, and the state of Missouri is putting the kibosh on it. As much as KC is being 'oppressed' here, there's no way in fresh hell KC would want to turn down state dollars for the right to screw up their city.

In short, free association is a good thing, and when the rubber meets the road, people realize who their sugar daddies are.

You make some good points in response.

However, presumably in this hypothetical scenario, declaring independence would mean no more income or other taxes being paid to Missouri? Right now the state can be a "sugar daddy" because they can mandate the collection of taxes, and then choose to give some of the money back (or not). If KC could leave and take their tax revenue with them, it would be a very different balance of power in those discussions.

... individual persons are the "smallest political entity" according to the libertarian viewpoint; however that directly clashes with the political theory of democracy and theory of sovereign government rule over a geographical populace

True. And it may be the case that the rest of the state is being subsidised by Kansas City. Let's go ahead and grant that is the case- Kansas City is providing for the rest of the state, but does not have the ability to regulate its own wages. The rest of Missouri would, or at least should, recognize it's being harsh on one of its members, and relinquish some control or risk losing the city altogether. Lord knows Kansas would love some extra tax base.

If there's not even a threat of independence, then it's easier for the majority of Missourians to run roughshod over certain regions. I don't want California or Texas or whatever to secede from the Union, I'd much prefer reformation of the Union. I feel like the threat of secession helps keep the federation mutually beneficial for all parties (even if detrimental in one aspect, because there's not just income/outgo)

>If this were allowed, it would completely upend our political system.
> Probably hundreds or even thousands of communities would just choose to remain independent.
> Others would align themselves more by ideology or other affinity than geography. Resulting in states that are even more politically polarized than they are now.

You know, these all look like features rather than bugs.

Seriously though, reasonable restrictions may be placed on scale, timing, place so you don't have endless opportunistic city-sized secession. But there's a big gap between continuous town-sized secession and "a regional vote every 20 (or 30 or 40) years. It feels like you're hiding behind a sorites paradox here.

"It feels like you’re hiding behind a sorites paradox here."

My perspective is that people are asserting that Catalonia has a right to self-determination, without articulating a clear basis for that.

If any group of people were allowed to unilaterally declare independence at any time, that would engender chaos. If self-determination is allowed within certain limits, then there needs to be a plausible argument for what those limits are and why.

After your further comments, I think you hold to a position something like "Self-determination is an important right, and should be allowed with reasonable limits for practicality and stability. So any reasonably large region with a significant independence movement should get to vote on it every few decades" (Forgive me if I'm misinterpreting). I think this is a very reasonable, defensible position, and also it works as a basis for supporting the Catalan vote. But this isn't automatically implied from a simple appeal to self-determination.

This has been an interesting discussion, BTW. Thanks.

@ Dan111

Yes, that is my position. I'd characterise it as "maximally practical application of the right of self-determination".

Thanks for the discussion too.

I agree as well. I'd put the limit at 25 years between referendums. It seemed a while back that Scotland and Quebec voted every year, which sounds like voting til we get the result we want... which only looks like democracy but has a preordained outcome.

There should be limits.

Well, one can reasonably debate what territory and population size limits are practical, but that's not a theoretical objection to the principle of self-determination. Saying it can't be done because the practical limit can't known with certainty is just a continuum fallacy / sorites paradox.

I note that there are many city-sized entities with <1 million population in the world which are functionally independent. Catalan is well above both these levels.

I'm not saying "it can't be done". I'm saying that at what level self-determination applies is a very important question, which Alex's statement ignores.

Yes, Catalonia is big enough to be a functioning country. But this isn't really decisive. A number of countries have less than 50,000 population, including several in Western Europe. That doesn't mean it would be a workable policy to let any territory with that many people vote to leave at any time.

It's not obvious to me that self-determination at the level of large regions like states, provinces, or "autonomous communities" in Spain's case, is either a right of the people or a good policy. Certainly there is a case that it is, but I think that case has to be made. And "obviously any political entity should be able to declare independence" is not that case.

Fair enough. The principle of self-determination proceeds directly from the right of free association. Basically, you should not be forced into a polity with people you don't like. The number of such people in the world who wish to exit and take the land with them should be minimised, as far as practically possible.

And practicality allows for A LOT. States don't have to be large to function well. As regards criteria; if you can show you're functionally viable, then you have the right to secede. One can, as you say, place reasonable time, place, manner restrictions. 1 vote per generation per province seems reasonable; good men can differ on such. Also, the limits on size and population may differ depending on time, circumstances, geography, etc.

But this is all relatively slight compared to the principle itself (though it may engage politicians for many years).

It's not just about whether the new independent state is "functionally viable". It's also about whether a nation made up of potentially seceding regions is functionally viable.

> It’s also about whether a nation made up of potentially seceding regions is functionally viable

Not quite sure I follow here. Obviously any large polity might split at some future point. But being composed of things that POTENTIALLY might leave at some future point doesn't mean a state isn't viable now and can't invoke a right to self-determination.

It seems daft and a monument to political vanity to try and engineer states that will endure forever. That's why these "Eternal, indissoluble" provisos in constitutions grate so much.

@Alistair, I think that if the bar is set too low for portions of a nation to leave, it will seriously undermine the viability of the nation. Democracy requires the people to buy into the nation and its institutions and value that over winning a particular political battle. If regions can freely quit if they don't like the current political situation, the nation can hardly function as a nation. It's not really a unified body.


> I think that if the bar is set too low for portions of a nation to leave, it will seriously undermine the viability of the nation

You have a reasonable point that there is clearly a lower bound of secession in terms of population, area, and frequency of vote. Reasonable men can differ on this. I'd suggest a region, 1 million people, and 30 years as benchmarks. Are these too low? Many (most) historical states were smaller. And the average state in the world only lives ~50 years.

I'm not sure why you think we should avoid "seriously undermine the viability of the nation". If it was just to avoid the instability above, we might simply agree on a threshold. But I worry that you are reifying the nation itself as an objective. Remember, nations, in themselves, aren't morally desirable objects and don't have rights. They exist only to serve their people, in whom all (natural) rights are retained. If constituent peoples feel their nation ill-fitted to themselves, then they are entirely within such rights to dissolve or secede and establish another.

RE: where do you draw the line (at declaring independence)

At the individual level. This should be the objective of human endeavor: to create so much wealth that scarcity is eliminated and people can live without hindrance or harm from each other. Clearly we are not there yet, but it is a noble aspiration. Deciding what language gets taught at what taxpayer financed educational facility is something to transcend, not get bogged down in. Fuck man its never been easier (or cheaper) to learn a foreign language.

I just hope the trend continues towards the commoditization of everything....

Why only the smaller entity? Shouldn't the larger entity also have the right to secession?

Ethno-nationalism for me but not for thee.

Points #2 and #3 indicate to me that Spain really bungled their response to this.

And #4 would have given them an easy way out. The better response would have been
1) Accept that the vote is happening
2) Encourage high turnout, especially among the Nos, emphasizing stability
3) Expand the vote to all of Spain

The result would have likely been that in Catalonia, with higher participation, the result would have been closer to 50-50 (no appearance of a mandate), outside of Catalonia results would have been overwhelmingly against (giving the government perfect cover to say 'the people voted no', and report overwhelming support nationwide for No). The headlines would, the next day, be "Referendum on Catalan independence comes back with overwhelming No, even Catalonia divided.")

Instead, Spain got the worst of all options. A referendum happened and the result was overwhelmingly Yes - as you would expect, because nobody who wasn't intensely for Yes would have braved the police to vote. In addition, there's perfectly inflammatory and poignant video of black-clad police beating up and dragging out peaceful voters. The headlines are instead in the vein "Catalonia overwhelmingly votes for independence, police repression intensifies."

I'm not a fan of all these separatist movements, not at all. But Spain turned this into basically the most convincing argument FOR Catalan independence as it possibly could.

I don't think that word means what you think it means.


Legally, madrid government can simply ignore referendum result. there enough irregularity and law ignored that if Catalan government use referendum to justify anything, Madrid could go to court and win.

by sending police to beat up voters, madrid government legitimize violence, and Catalan government and people had rights to respond violence with violence.

Tyler's point #2 is flat-out misleading, and references the polling of one very anti-independence Madrid-based paper, La Razon, as its source. I can appreciate that Tyler is not a fan of this movement, but he's definitely cherry picking on this one.

According to Wikipedia, aggregate polling data shows (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_independence_referendum,_2017) a solid lean toward independence. It isn't Kazakhstan, but it isn't Scotland, either. If only 40% of the population supported leave, it would make sense for Madrid to take a calculated gamble and hold the vote. But both Madrid and Barcelona know that the region leans toward independence, which is why this is so damned tricky.

1) An individual should be free to leave a society for another, but the same does not hold for people and their property?

2) If the goal is to create aggregations of political power, then yes we should demand the cost of entry be less than the cost of exit.


2) is completely reasonable. Still, I don't think the cost of exit should require violence. Once that EU army gets revved up, I can imagine Catalonia being treated with the same tender mercies that the Germans showed Poland.

Heck, I can imagine Poland in the near future being shown the same tender mercies that Germany showed Poland.

Heheh. Hush. It's almost as if our host is reflectively in favour of large corporatist states which hold the principle of self-determination in contempt. So much the easier for the elites which would rule over us.

You can imagine him in 1776, bleating against the folly of America cutting itself off from English markets.

To be fair, the U.S. almost didn't make it out of those first few decades. We don't call it the "Miracle at Philadelphia" for nothing. And even then, the path was treacherous and resulted in are bloodiest war to date. So, given the odds, the safe bet probably was staying as a British colony. I'm not say that was the right bet.

Agreed, pointing to the U.S. is a prime example of survivorship bias.

Also, the Canadian experience shows that 1776 wasn't strictly necessary. Tyler did a good post about this, whether the US would have been better off leaving the UK peacefully a little later like Canada. Personally I think the US really is a unique nation, in large part due to its manner and principles of founding, so 1776 was on net a good idea. But you can make a reasonable case for the other view.

I think it's arguable, certainly, that a later peaceable secession may have been better for all concerned. Including perhaps the blacks and Amerindians.

Nonetheless, the US did have the right of secession, even if used ill-advisedly.

I mean, you just have to look at all the bloody conflicts that occurred with other American nations seeking independence from their European overlords to see how much the USA is an outlier. Canada's case is also instructive. I'm sure someone's written a very interesting book contrasting the independence process for various British colonies.

Assuming that Canada as we know it or anything like it would exist without a successful American Revolution is like the cheap sort of Alternative History novels in which Hemingway and Elvis exist in a world where the Tonan Empire never fell.

Peter Wishart is from Scotland, not Australia. Although he represents an area named Perth which is one of Australia's state capitals. The Australian city takes it's name from the Scottish.

ah, the penny drops, he's a scottish nationalist.

If you believe the results (not a given for me), I find it likely that full turnout in Catalonia would have still shown at least 60% support for independence despite the polling data- I think it unlikely that more than than 2/3 of the abstentions were for remaining in Spain.

It might seem that Rajoy's actions were ill-considered and against his interests, but it is entirely possible he took this route precisely to ensure the abstentions were at least equal to those participating in the vote so that the vote could be attack on those grounds alone.

Catalonia can probably have independence if it is willing to fight for it- if push really does come to shove, I think Spain will let them go. And it won't be happy days for the Catalans either- they will have a significant fraction of the population who really wishes to be in Spain, and that would be a festering wound for generations.

You are starting from believing that the numbers we are told are actually real: Given the level of controls (none), and the fact that the entire thing was organized by people that wanted one result, I think it's wise to be pretty skeptical of the result.

Rajoy has plenty of blame for the poor results though: The situation today is such that being pro-Spain in Catalonia is seen as risky, as the pro-independence crowd is radicalized, and saying things against them is not seen as all that safe. It's Spain's classic Caciquismo: Given that the regional police is in pro-independence hands, and that local governments are far bigger than the national government, it's just not smart to make any calls for national unity if you live in Barcelona.

. "Indissoluble, eternal, unity" dispensations in a constitution are total c**p. I seem to recall the Soviet Union was big on the same 'principle', for the same reason, to enslave minority nationalities. They are an authoritarian's charter and an affront to people's right of self-determination.

We don't know the outcome of a proper ballot, but given such issue is sufficiently in doubt Spain should hold a proper referendum in Catalonia.

IIRC, the Soviet constitution included a notional right for the Union Republics to secede. I think that provision was in the 1936 and the 1977 constitutions.

"If you believe the results (not a given for me),"

To which you replied "You are starting from believing that the numbers we are told are actually real:"


I also am quite disappointed at how little nuance is there in media's coverage of this whole mess. If there's one thing clear out of all of this is that Spain should fire their PR department, because they are asleep at the wheel.

There's plenty of arguments out there for declaring independence outside of regular legal means, but we normally consider this out of, say, Bosnia, or the kurds, places where the human right situation is problematic. People compared this to Franco... but that's only because they don't remember Franco. We see worse in Ferguson.

I'd love to see media look at this from the perspective of someone in Catalonia that doesn't want independence, especially from someone in the state police: For all intents and purposes, there's been purity tests going on for many years, making sure that you put Catalonia ahead of Spain before you reach a post of any responsibility. Pretty much the same thing happens in schools, as Spanish is not all that far from being banned from public schools. Force that doesn't involve making people bleed won't go viral, but it's a regular part of life, regardless of whether the people applying said force are white supremacists or catalonian nationalists.

Either way, I don't think anyone really wins here: Catalonian nationalism might have a very different political direction than Trumpism, but ultimately they are not all that different: Focus on problems while being anti-intellectual when it comes to solutions.

This is also a great lesson towards what happens when countries don't invest in national unity: Spain has been ashamed of themselves, barring their soccer teams, for a generation. Instead of investing on national unity in arts, decades were spent on a foolish focus on media about the second republic and Franco's regime. That's not promoting national history, but dwelling in still recent recent darkness. You might as well see Germans putting their arts budget on world war I and II movies, and the US talking about the trail of tears.

We might think that modern US jingoism, with so much flag waving, is stupid, but see what happens when you don't do any of it, and a region starts investing seriously on it. Overdoing national mythos might be bad, but ignoring it completely is worse still.

The Catalans may be a-holes, but a-holes have the same rights to self-determination as everyone else.

Agree that Spain has mis-handled it badly though. An ounce of concessions and kindness might have gone a long way to diffusing this situation. There's something about insecure powers that make them loathe to make concessions.

Rajoy and the PP brought on this whole mess by fighting in the courts the statute that was approved way back in the 2000s. They made it obvious then that they don't care to engage with Catalunya. It was a big power play for the central government. You can hardly be surprised that it's come to this.

A great shame, because the majority of Catalans do want to be part of Spain. Why couldn't the government of Madrid just worked with them instead of ignoring them?

Focus on problems while being anti-intellectual when it comes to solutions.

If you fancy the Democratic Party has anything but the most tenuous relationship with 'the intellectual' or 'solutions', I'm vending bridges.

Democrats create problems. Problems need solutions. Strong relationship, QED

This is a great comment. Thanks for your contribution.

> Isn’t the truly democratic procedure to let all of Spain vote on Catalonian independence?

Does this work the other way? If 144 million Russians vote to annex Estonia, and 1.4 million Estonians vote to reject annexation, then isn't there 99% democratic support? If the logic of who constitutes the electorate applies to secession, why not annexation?

Yes. Tyler's statement is so stupid I'm amazed he can make it. It invokes all sorts of such argumenta ad absurdum and completely fails to understand what the principle of self determination actually is.

I respect Tyler, but sometimes he comes to things which are so abstruse and at odds with his other principles that one has to shake one's head. Strangely these failures always seem to occur when the liberalism he parrots clashes with the interests of large, corporatist, globalism.....draw you own conclusions.

Invoking the "everyone votes" principle for annexation yields an amusing "always a bigger fish" game, in which nations vote to annex each other with the aim of enslaving the junior partner until only one remains.

It is all very much two wolves and a sheep vote on dinner.

Tyler, could you refer to any good writing on this topic from Andreu Mas-Colell? I googled but you are better!

At the risk of imposing American free-speech values, it seems to me that the mere act of holding a vote is purely expressive and should never be illegal. Whether the result of that vote is legally binding, enforceable or relevant is a separate question. If the Spanish government had taken this view, they could have painted the vote as pure theatrics and had the courts nullify the result afterward (as the Spanish constitution clearly required) in boring judicial proceedings. Instead they bludgeoned old ladies for merely dropping pieces of paper in buckets, which is pretty clearly repressive. Their response and has very much raised the moral standing of the Catatonian independence movement.

State sanctioned violence in response to non-violent action is immoral whatever the larger issue. The Spanish regime claims it to be proportional. About as proportional as me punching you in the nose because I don't like the look you gave me.

@David Wright. On re-reading, the tone of my reply sounds critical. I'm actually (non) violently agreeing with you. (Where's the edit button when you need it?!)

Editing is outlawed by the Marginal Revolution constitutional court. All comments are declared eternal, indissoluble, and..... [modded]

"At the risk of imposing American free-speech value": it's the way you tell 'em.

But is it the democratic process behind the Catalonian referendum? Or is it rather a form of electoral terrorism?

By Grabthar's Hammer, what an asshole

The very notion of democracy loses its meaning if we do not agree what the relevant *demos* is. Here the question is precisely this: is there one demos, the people of all Spain, including Catalans, or is there several demoi (demoses?), a Catalan demos and a Castillan demos and perhaps other? While this question is not solved, the notion of democracy is floating in the void, and asking, as Tyler does in this post, what is the democratic way of solving that question can lead only to logical fallacy.

As for me, I believe that only Catalans should be asked if they want to stay in Spain. This is not based on my understanding of democracy, which is inapplicable here, but on the idea of individual freedom and freedom of association, and what I want a nation to be: a free association of people who wants to be together and submit, for their common good, to the same common rules.

"The very notion of democracy loses its meaning if we do not agree what the relevant *demos* is. Here the question is precisely this: is there one demos, the people of all Spain, including Catalans, or is there several demoi (demoses?), a Catalan demos and a Castillan demos and perhaps other?"

Right. But isn't this question normally answered in the founding document---i.e., the Constitution? For example, the UK was free to leave the EU due to Article 50 of the Treaty of Europe. That article clearly states a right of each constituent state to vote to leave. The US Constitution, on the other hand, contains no such provision. The clear implication is that the proper "demos" for this question is the entire country. Once you agree to join the group, you are bound to the group's rules. It's not like this issue is unforseeable when countries are formed and constitutions are written.

The Spanish constitution does not give Catalonia the right to secede and the Spanish Constitutional Court has unanimously held that its referenda on the matter are unconstitutional. Isn't this relevant to the issue of which "demos" is the appropriate one? If a constituent state or other discrete group is allowed, willy nilly, to ignore the terms of the founding document, what is left of your "democracy"?

While I agree with your paragraph 1, it appears to me that paragraph 2 does not logically follow. Of course, that leaves the question of whether what is now Catalunya voluntarily agreed to join Spain in the first place (i.e., in a democratic process), but I'll leave that to the historical experts. You didn't address that issue.

The UK constitution says nothing about conditions for Scottish independence. Nonetheless, when it became clear that a lot of people in Scotland wanted a vote on it, we arranged a referendum. Unlike the Spanish, we respect the principle of self-determination (but given their behaviour over Gibraltar over the years, I'm not surprised).

Constitutions can't create or destroy natural rights like self-determination. They exist only to protect such rights. Denying such right by constitutional or non-constitutional means ferments a tyranny.

I seem to recall a country somewhere was founded on such things.

The UK doesn't really have a constitution, though. At least not in the sense that word is typically understood. Because of this, a fundamental issue like how the regions in the UK relate to the whole is not written down in one definitive place, and even a major question like whether Scotland may vote to leave may be ambiguous. Also, there is no clear single document that Scotland assented to in some way.

Contrast with Spain, which has a constitution which describes how the regions relate to the nation, and was adopted in 1978 after a referendum (with overwhelming support from Catalonia).

Yes; exactly. It's nice if constitutions make reasonable provision for secession votes but it's not required. The natural right of self determination exists regardless of what constitutions say. Constitutions can't create or destroy natural rights. They exist only to defend them.

So a formal mechanism in a constitution may be taken if it does not deny such natural rights. In the case of Spain however, the constitution is an affront to the principle of self-determination, especially with the eternal, indissoluble "logic". You can't alienate your natural rights. And you certainly can't alienate those of your children and their children (40 years ago!). Or else one could sell one's posterity into slavery.

In the UK there was no formal mechanism; a referendum was organised when it became clear through various avenues that a Scottish majority wanted a vote on such a matter. Amazingly, everyone behaved like grown-ups, even the SNP.

How would you define the "natural right of self determination"?

Looking at the summary on Wikipedia, it's typically understood as a right of groups, not individuals. And how one defines what groups it applies to is a huge sticking point, with no consensus.

The fact that the people of Spain can autonomously decide their fate through the democratic process would satisfy this right in some people's view. Including voting on adopting a constitution that doesn't allow regions of Spain to secede.

Obviously that's not the only view, but I'm struggling to find anyone advocating a consistent, coherent position that necessitates giving Catalonia the right to secede.

> How would you define the “natural right of self determination”? Looking at the summary on Wikipedia, it’s typically understood as a right of groups, not individuals. And how one defines what groups it applies to is a huge sticking point, with no consensus.

Simple. It is entirely self-identified. That is, ANY geographical group which gets together for the joint purpose of jointly self-determining can do so. For any reason they want. Again, this is from first principles of free association.

I'm not required to go around pointing at ethnicities and saying "Scots yes, Catalans, no, Kurds, maybe, Azerbaijanis' no, Quebecois, yes,...", Such would be an exercise in arbitrary definition and power as you say, and hold no consensus.

You may want a formal "petition of signatures" or something, but that's haggling over details. The answer to your question is "The self-determining group self-identifies, period".

Oh, also, formally speaking, it's never a right of GROUP. It's the collective rights of the members of the group.

This is political philosophy 201. All rights are individual rights. When we speak of exercising group rights or national rights, we are usually just using shorthand to avoid saying "a large mass of individual in group X collectively exercising their individual rights".

9 times out of 10 this shorthand is fine, but sometimes it can lead to horrors. The "will of the people" is the classical example, but the debate over "the rights of corporations" is informed by the same principle.

So, how about a town, a village, or a single family? Is it really any group? This is simply not workable.

@ Dan

> So, how about a town, a village, or a single family? Is it really any group? This is simply not workable.

No, no, no., Obviously there has to be functional limits. I'd hoped I'd made that clear. If I haven't, apologies.

I agree with your points throughout that one may require reasonable thresholds on population, territory, and vote frequency for secession. The main criteria is that the seceding state is large enough to be functionally capable of independence.

I'd suggest a quick review of the Wikipedia page on size of countries in the world. Art Deco will be along to disagree with me that some of the smaller ones aren't "really" independent, but I think you might be surprised how small states can be in territory and population and be viable.

I’d suggest a quick review of the Wikipedia page on size of countries in the world. Art Deco will be along to disagree with me that some of the smaller ones aren’t “really” independent, but I think you might be surprised how small states can be in territory and population and be viable

The question is not 'viability' but function. The status of the Vatican is a diplomatic courtesy, much like that pertaining to embassies, consulates, and legations. That for Monaco is one step up. It's a franchise for a small set (20,000 people or so) to be immune from French law, especially tax law. They are functionally a dependent territory (n.b. the Channel Islands have immunities of similar import); by way of example, you really cannot staff a diplomatic and consular service with a population base of 20,000; Liechtenstein relies on Switzerland, IIRC. Some of the insular states of the South Pacific took to hiring foreigners for diplomatic tasks; there was a New York lawyer who was some tiny country's UN ambassador. Population, urbanism, and education provide for escalating levels of sophistication present within formal boundaries. The full-monty for an affluent country I do not think you see until you have a population north of 4 million, a key city north of 1 million, and production north of $180 bn a year.

Catalonia as a sovereign country seems untidy. The country is bilingual and Spanish is almost universally spoken (which Catalan is not). The other Catalanophone territories (Valencia and the Balaerics) have separatist movements that encompass < 10% of the population. Catalonia itself is an unweildy unit inasmuch as the majority of the population is located in a single, bulbous dense settlement. And, of course, they want to leave Spain and enter the EU. They (like the Scots nationalists) are unclear on the concept.

@ArtDeco, lots of countries are "untidy", though. How about Belgium? Two countries with two different languages in one. It would be a lot tidier if they just joined the Netherlands and France.

Catalonia is certainly big enough to be a viable country, even by the high standards you suggest. Either they have the right of self-determination or they do not. I'm not sure of the answer to that, but I don't think perceived neatness of a country with their boundaries is decisive.

FWIW, I'd like to see Belgium and Canada execute a velvet divorce between their components because political life has been rendered so unwieldy (especially in Belgium) under current arrangements. I'm not seeing the same in Scotland or Catalonia, though I suppose that could come to pass.

OTOH, in the Balkans, you have excess fragmentation for which the remedy might be some consolidation (greater Roumania, greater Albania, greater Serbia, and some re-allocation of municipalities between Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia).

The problem first-and-foremost is the EU as currently structured. The second is suboptimal territorial units and a deficit of regional autonomy.

Thanks, Art :-)

You have a point that some of the smaller one's probably can't run the full set of modern state services. Is that really a sine quo non of statehood? Or a bar to secession?

I think your proposed limits are a bit high, but reasonable men may differ.

And this is what makes the Estonian annexation hypothetical above so laughable. Estonia didn't vote 30 years earlier to consent to the principles of the Soviet constitution- Catalonia did vote to become part of Spain. At that point it needs to adhere to the content of the constitution.

A lot of the same people here who hate hate hate the southern secession love them some Catalonian indenpendence which tells me we are dealing with the unbridled id cry of the SJWs.

@ Sam

Well Sam, I think both the South and Catalonia had/have a right of self-determination and the moral right to secede.

Course, in the former case, the North(or anyone else for that matter) still had a perfectly good right to beat on them for their gross aggression against their black population. Unless Catalonia really mistreats its Spanish indigenes, I don't think a repeat of the violence is necessary.

Vivian, thanks for your post. And I completely agree that my second paragraph do not follow from the first.
The first seems to me a logical tautology, while the second is my opinion, based on plenty of presuppositions, humors and reflexions.

Your argument and Dan111's about the constitution of 1978 is interesting but I don't think it really holds water. The constitution of 1978 did not decide whether Catalonia was to be part of Spain or not: it decided whether Spain, of which Catalonia was a part willy-nilly, would be a military dictatorship or a democratic constitutional monarchy.

Catalonia became part of Spain around 1715, by force, when conquered by the victorious French side of Phillip V in the Spanish Succession War (We did it. Sorry). Before it had the same king than Castile since the times of Charles V (early 16th), but they were completely different countries, like Canada and Australia now have the same Queen but are independent countries. There were since the middle ages a very advanced representative systems in Catalonia (of course not democratic in the modern sense, mostly merchants and nobilities were represented) which consistently resisted unification with Castile into Spain.

Your argument that the acceptance of 1978 constitution means the the Catalan also accepted to be part of Spain, and to secede only according to the Spanish laws and constitution would hold only if in 1978 Catalonia had a real choice of being part of Spain or not. Obviously they were not given this choice. If you have any doubts, look to what happened to Basques, who at time required independence.

Good, challenging response.

Thanks Joël for the thoughtful response. As I indicated in my original comment, I think much depends on how voluntary Catalunya's attachment to Spain was in the first place. I'm not the historical expert, but your reply, as far as it went, falls short of convincing me. So, before 1715 Catalunya was not part of Spain and at that time their attachment was not voluntary seems to be the argument. I think that perhaps on issues such as this one a reasonable "statute of limitations" might be in order. Three hundred years and quite a number of constitutions later, Catalunya wants to secede outside the normal legal process (that, in this case, would be to change the constitution or some other means that involves the vote of all current Spaniards).

Your comment that the 1978 constitution "did not decide whether Catalunya would be part of Spain" isn't really the point and I think that framing is somewhat self-serving. Correct me if I'm wrong, but at the time that constitution was drafted, everything was up for grabs--not just whether Spain would be a "democracy". To wit, it certainly would have been possible to inject in that constitution (or the earlier ones from 1715 onwards for that matter) a provision that allowed segments of what is called "Spain" to peacefully secede according to some reasonable procedure. Perhaps I'm wrong, but there seems no evidence that such a provision was put forward and even if one was it certainly not adopted, despite the fact that the constitution was overwhelmingly approved, also by residents of Catalunya. I find it hard to believe that what happened more than 300 years ago is now the argument that Catalunya doesn't need to play by the national rules.

I would have more sympathy if Catalunya had some grounds for saying they are being oppressed. They already have much more autonomy than other regions of Spain. The main argument is that they pay more into the national Treasury than they get back. That does not strike me as a compelling reason particularly since their success seems more than a little due to the successful 1978 constitutional reforms.

Thanks for not bringing up the silly "natural law" argument, as if Alistair, Hume and Burke are the ones who get to decide what a natural law is and what is not. Talk about democracy!

Even voluntary ascensions and constitutions can't be taken as indefinitely binding. Natural rights aren't alienable like that. If they were, then it would be perfectly moral to sell your children into slavery.

"like Canada and Australia now have the same Queen but are independent countries"

Not a good comparison. Good Queen Liz has no power. King Charles V of Spain (Castille) and his successors made binding policy both on Spain and Catalonia before the formal unification.

Catalonia was the nucleus of the old kingdom of Aragon. However those kings expanded their territory first southward during the Reconquista and then east across the Mediterranean to include Sicily and eventually Naples. Catalonia became part of a semi-unified Spanish state when Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile merged their crowns and later their grandson and heir Carlos I proclaimed a unitary Spanish crown. The old kingdom of Aragon did keep a lot of its laws and customs under the Habsburg dynasty, but when Philip V took the Spanish throne after the War of the Spanish Succession all that was lost to to complete control from Madrid.
The Habsburgs kings however had been autocrats, not constitutional rulers like Elizabeth II today-- they both ruled and reigned. It's a mistake to compare the unified Spanish crown to some modern constitutional monarchy. Catalonia, as part of the erstwhile Aragon, had some local customs and laws and tribunals, but when orders came down from the Escorial it was expected that the Catalonians would jump in unison with the rest of His Most Catholic Majesty's subjects.

What is the ultimate source for 2? Tyler gives a link to an article of the Washington Post, which says this: "There's not a lot of good polling. But the surveys that do exist suggest the region is divided. One of the most recent opinion polls, from July, suggests that Catalans are about evenly split on the question of independence. Forty-one percent of those surveyed said they were in favor; 49 percent said they were opposed." There is a link given there to an article of the BBC, but I do not see the poll mentioned in that article.

The Basques, where 44.65% turned out to vote 74.60% in favor of the current constitution in 1978, and thus only 33.31% of eligible voters endorsed it, have a colorable case for it being democratically legitimate for them to have a unilateral referendum on independence.

The Catalans, on the other hand, had a 67.91% turnout that voted 95.15% in favor of the current Spanish constitution, and thus 61.62% of all eligible Catalan voters endorsed a constitution that prohibits secession. Expecting them to get that provision amended out before trying to secede seems perfectly reasonable, in the absence of any extraordinary abuses of Catalonia.

You can't alienate your natural right to self-determination. You can't bind successive generations to your contract.

1978 was 40 years ago. Over half of those voters are dead. Do the restrictions they accepted apply to their children, and their children's children? Can you sell your lineage into slavery? "well, I'm sorry Slave #54176, but your great grandfather DID sell you to me, explicitly saying it was for perpetuity here on the bill of sale".

"You can’t bind successive generations to your contract."

Is this not exactly what successful independence does?

Suppose the Irish of tomorrow want to reunite with the United Kingdom again. They would then have to undertake the very difficult work of convincing the UK to let them in, unify economies and laws, and arranging a new political settlement. The independence movement of 1922 has severely bound the voters of 2018.

Today's separatists know full well that if they achieve their goals today they are binding their descendants for the foreseeable future; they are forfeiting their descendants' right to stay in Spain without having to convince a majority of remaining Spaniards to vote for that association. It is no less illegitimate for their descendants to be bound your descendants out than to bind them in.

I think not. Not for the plain meaning of the word "bound". My descendants would be free to reverse my decision, yours would be truly bound by yours. And so would the children of the non-secessionists. They would be bound by your decision even if they hated your children and wanted rid of them.

I think there is a framing enthymeme here: you've conjured two un-alike futures and obscured the rights of all parties, including that of the children of the non-secessionists..

Future 1. A and B are independent. A seeks unity with B. B does not want unity with A.
Future 2. A and B are unified, in perpetua, due to choice of Parent-A and Parent-B. A is happy with unity but B is not and seeks independence (which they can't have, due to choice of Parent A and Parent B)

All you have done in future 2 is imposed Parent-A and Parent-B choice on B. Only future 1 doesn't violate self-determination for either A or B.


There is future 3:
A and B both want unity, but there are structural impediments of a non-trivial cost (e.g. those seen by East and West Germany, North and South Yemen, Canada and Newfoundland). Parent-B has thus imposed burden on both A and B.

This is the real world, there are non-trivial constraints which parent-B imposes. Exercising the joining rights of future-A and future-B thus faces "taxation" imposed by parent-B. I, at least, believe that paying de facto poll taxes to exercise political rights is disenfranchising and hence binding. But do tell, raising costs until people cannot exercise their political rights is not "binding"?

Should Spain just impose an exit tax, say something around 300% of Catalonian GDP? They are then free to leave, and according to you, have full rights of self-determination.

OK; that makes your point a bit clearer. The charitable answer is "yes, you're right". I should have been more precise and talked about restrictions on freedoms of descendants rather than imposing costs.

Unfortunately I'd caution that your point does not however lead to a general presumption for unity, much less an "indissoluble" one. It also doesn't address the principle of self-determination, per se.

Even with your net utility argument transaction costs go both ways! It's not clear that the transaction costs of a renewed union for your secessionist descendants are higher than the opportunity costs being trapped in a loveless or abusive political marriage! Suppose your descendants want to leave in the future; your actions will at the very least have raised the costs of their doing so. Perhaps fatally.

There are very few examples in economics where an increase in transaction costs improves social utility, much less Pareto optimality. I'd ask you to think carefully about the expected gains from increasing transactions costs with "eternal, indissoluble" unions. Apologies for extending the marriage analogy, but a requirement for a general (or supermajority) reads something like this:

"I want a divorce because you hit me."
"Well, a marriage is made of two persons and I don't want a divorce. So tough as you need us both to agree".

I concur, both eternal union and independence bind descendants. Both of them infringe upon the freedom of people not making the case. So we need to make our analysis on other grounds.

Oddly enough, divorce is exactly one of the areas where increased transaction costs actually help the economy. Difference in difference data show that divorce liberalization had a negative impact on lifetime earnings of children exposed to divorce law liberalization.

This should not surprise us. Unilateral divorce is the ability of one party to inflict costs on another. For instance Mary and John share a condo, John divorces Mary. Neither can afford the condo on their own so it must be sold and half of the time it will be a worse than average time to sell. They also then both have to pay independently for shelter. Both move into efficiency apartments that require them to pay say 65% of their old housing costs.

Politically we can expect the same behaviors. Catalonia will, undoubtedly, have to duplicate many of the costs of that are currently shared by all Spanish regions (e.g. printing of government laws, foreign embassies); all the other regions will have to pay proportionately more or scale back (e.g. fewer Spanish consulates). We can expect separation to impose costs on the rest of Spain against their consent.

Particularly for questions of obligation, anarchy is far more costly. Look at the places in the world with poor functioning courts, is there a single one that experiences significant growth? Where major investors are willing to sink capital? Compulsion is a way to increase trust in contracts and ultimately creating stable conditions for growth.

Might Catalonia suggest that they never signed off on such contracts and cannot be held responsible? Sure. But that does not change the fact that they wish to void a contract unilaterally that everyone else assumed was fixed.

There are plenty of arguments for breaking up countries, but they are all going to be rooted in the specific situation of the people in question. As Brexit continues to prove, there is nothing cheap about unwinding political arrangements. Maybe it is worth it if the UK can become more adaptable in the global economy. Maybe Catalonia can scale back their ambitions throughout the world and focus their taxes more on helping their own citizens. But we should begin questions about changing the status quo with the assumption that they impose real costs, often on those not voting, and that they are not a value neutral proposition.

Maybe Catalonia should go, but let's not be silly and say that it is a free lunch.

Re: You can’t alienate your natural right to self-determination. You can’t bind successive generations to your contract.

Um, yes, you can. We are all subject to laws that were passed well before we were born.

Oh come on, we can (and do) change those laws as they no longer suit. What's the average age of a law on the statute books?

Sure and I were arguing over crafting constitutions/laws descendants could not change, save (perhaps) at great cost.

And anyway the argument is of ethics, not capability.

Obviously you CAN bind future descendants in a practical sense. I can sell my children into slavery (hahaha - just kidding children! Keep picking the cotton like Daddy says). But you can't bind them in a moral sense; they would still be right to rebel or flee.

I already dealt with the slavery question before you even mentioned it -- holding someone in slavery would clearly be an extraordinary abuse. But what extraordinary abuses since 1978 do the Catalans have to cite? What liberties do the Spanish deny Catalonia that Catalonia's constitution would preserve?

On the other hand, you give no limits whatsoever on an inalienable "natural right to self-determination". How few people can decide to secede, and what territory can they take with them? What about the dissenters in that territory? An argument that ends in anarchy is not an argument for a democratic right to Catalonian secession and statehood.

The mess that Rajoy is making of the Catalonian question is bad but not yet fatal. However, if Tony Bliar, Saviour of the World, turns up offering his services (for vast fees to be paid into a perfectly oopaque structure) then we’ll know that half a century of civil war and barbarism is inevitable. Has any MR reader seen St. Tony recently? I’d like to short whichever part of the world he is helping.

When Tony Blair dies, God will finally have someone he can look up to.

You understate the awfulness of that delusional, demented fool.

How is this different from Quebec? The last one went down to the wire, was organized and promoted by the provincial party in power who wanted separation. A lackluster federalist campaign almost lost to a charismatic campaigner with a wooden leg.

Frankly the response was ridiculous. Spain has been beaten down by the debt crisis, very high unemployment. Democracy isn't about some fine grained control n mechanism, it is a way for the electorate to express it's displeasure. Considering the situation if this is the worse thing that could happen they should be considering their luck. But no, send in the military.

Is the Spanish reaction at the behest of Brussels?

Spain is a country which came into being in the fifteenth century through the wars of conquest of a couple of intolerant Catholic zealots. What's so sacred about its borders that violence is justified against those who dare peacefully question them? It's like a man quoting the sacred nature of the marriage vows as he bashes his wife because she threatened to leave him. Hint: she's not the one in the wrong.

If you read the history of the world you will see that most countries were formed via conquest and intolerance. I can pick apart tens of "nations" within the boundaries of present day Angola where I live...

That's true, but it doesn't follow from that that independence movements are wrong. Maybe every region with such a history should be allowed to vote themselves independent.

"a form of electoral terrorism?"

Terrorism? Seriously? As in indiscriminate VIOLENCE intended to terrorize? That terrorism? If you really think "terrorism" describes what the Catalans are doing, then the word has lost all meaning or you've lost it.

Hush. Anything that opposes the interests of GloboCorp and the Liberal Multicult Megastate is Terrorism. Or hate speech. Or something bad. We'll let you know what.

Here at new global elite HQ our aim is to make such quaint little elections as meaningful and exciting as junior shareholders passing advisory resolutions at the AGM.

Please the multiculturalists all support this anti-constitutional action.

Really? This cuts both ways here in Europe. Is it different your side of the pond?

Catalonia certainly has sympathy from the radical left, but the institutional left is very much on board with the corporatist/globalism thing and doesn't like ethnic identity and secessionism or the disruption of The Great European project.

The right is likewise split between the libertarian self-determining elements for Catalan independence and conservative wing who like state power and tradition and finds Rajoy sexy when he talks in that gruff voice of his..

You know what I totally spoke without complete information on this. In America the same organizations that railed against brexit are sympathetic to Catalonia. I assumed without checking that to be the case in Europe. But you are right the economist which I take to be the mouthpiece of corporatism oposes the referendum so you are right.

I oppose secession on constitutional grounds so it doesn't chance my opinion either way, but I am less contemptuous of the movement and I was wrong in my post.

In any system, you maintain liberty only if you maintain the right of exit. Without it, you are a slave. You might be a slave very well treated, but as Lysander Spooner said, if you choose a master that beats you once a week, instead that once a day, this still does not imply you agree with being a slave.

In many cases the leaders and the passions at the base of separatist movements are less than savory. Often they are rabid nationalist, many times deep socialist, sometimes an awful combination of both. Still, once you decide that they have the right of exit, you can't discuss their reasons.

Of course, it is in cases of secession that the statists of the nation-states suddenly find out all the problems with representative democracy. "The separatists are more motivated to vote and they show up in larger numbers". " They will not respect the minorities". And the ridiculous: "It is illegal, because their great-grandfathers voted for union and the rules cannot be changed", forgetting how they themselves in most cases (certainly in the US) raped their Constitution to increase the role of the State in society.

Much could be said about the decision process of a political secession, but given how representative democracy is used and idolized by the statists themselves, it is practically impossible to think about systems different than the usual 50% +1. As Mencken stated, democracy is the art of managing the circus from the cage of the monkeys. Once you accept that the raw violence of the mob rules everybody life when it is convenient to you, you are hardly in a position to criticize it when the monkeys rebel.

+ 1

+1 too. And +10 for all Alistair's posts today.

Re: In any system, you maintain liberty only if you maintain the right of exit. Without it, you are a slave.

Nonsense. Liberty is maintained by explicit constitutional guarantees of basic human rights, with an independent judiciary to enforce them at need.
Words have meaning and "slave" emphatically does not mean "Citizen obligated to obey the laws of his country".

> Liberty is maintained by explicit constitutional guarantees of basic human rights,

Soviet Constitution, 1934.

> with an independent judiciary to enforce them at need.

Weimar Germany 1928

Sure. You can probably think of a few more safeguards. But they may (will) all ultimately fail you. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Maybe in 500 years. At the end of the day, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty across alternatives are the only controls that keep the wider system at liberty.

No safeguard in any area of life is perfect. But most of us do still wear our seat-belts even if they aren't guaranteed to save our lives in every possible collision.

"electoral terrorism" as you put it is en vogue because using the expression "democratic process" supposedly adds some extra credibility to any political process.

Maybe Spanish government should be a little bit more flexible and start a constructive dialogue that could lead to either a properly organized and discussed referendum or a new model for Catalonia's autonomy.

Maybe I'm wrong but Catalonia's demand for independence is mostly due to cultural reasons and for that matter, I think it's an awful idea/principle.

Here in the UK, there are many who would love to have had a vote on Scottish independence on the (possibly rather uncharitable) grounds of wanting rid of them!
If the Catalonia had voted against independence, but the rest of Spain had voted in favour such that the total vote was also in favour, how would that work? Would they be forced out, as it were?

Indeed. Association is 2-way street. I thought it would have been fair to have had simultaneous votes north-and-south of the border in the recent referendum. Scotland would have stayed only if BOTH votes favoured it.

This is something that people on the left have not yet understood. They seem not to grasp the difference between a democracy and a democratic republic, where certain rights are not to be changed by a democratic consensus.

This is why I still think a democracy is no the pinnacle of political evolution that so many people make it out to be. It is however certainly better than a monarchy or oligarchy but only when combined with a liberal republic.

I will take in this post a more historical perspective. Tyler in general tends to think more in the now than even considering 100-300 years of the past. Thats why he views most countries as fixed and unchangable. If we review however the past 200 years, then Catalonia was more independent than today in the age of the nation state.
in general even 200 years ago we had more countries with more independence than today and except for Switzerland most were forced to become nation states.

Perhaps we have come to the age of peak nation state. I dont think Catalunya as a single state would be so bad as long as it is tightly integrated in the European Union frame. Then it might be some kind of supra-federalism on EU level.

EU law is very clear that and independent Catalunya would not be part of the EU or Eurozone and would have to apply to both. Getting rid of the Euro might almost be worth it, but it's worth noting that the Catalan leadership is consistenlty lied about EU membership implying that it would continue with no interruption or be fast-tracked.

Give it a few years.

If the UK closes on Brexit, and then Scotland carries through on its secession threat, Brussels will find a Constitutional principle that admits Scotland.

Why, when they could just fast-track them?

Regarding Pt. 3: What about the referendums on the EU "consitution" (though I would never see it as a real consitution because it is not made by or for the people) in France? There we didnt have a minority vote and yet the government ignored the vote altogether. isnt this the inverse of that?

There are many issues to this Catalan predicament

Bob has been providing arguments to a more nuanced view. He has said that “Spanish is not all that far from being banned from public schools" in Catalonia. That is true, but to put it into contest provides additional knowledge. The reality is much worse. 60% of Catalan children has the Spanish language as mother tongue (30%, Catalan language) All primary and secondary schools use Catalan as vehicular teaching language (with an our a week of Spanish... or nothing) Basically, in practice, you are not allowed to decide in which language do you want your children to be taught. I am sure most of you will think that this cannot be true in a democratic country.

As the United Nations recognizes (21st of February, day of the mother tongue) children should be schooled in the mother tongue whenever possible. But 60% of Catalan children are denied this right by successive Catalan regional governments... 30 years and counting. This has produced a situation in which two generations of Catalan children with Spanish as mother tongue have systematically been denied the possibility to develop his potential mental abilities to the upmost, with the consequences that Tyler, in other contests, has commented regularly. They will forever occupy the lowest range of jobs in the Catalan economy. This is cultural supremacy to the core. You will not find this in any other democratic country... nor by a mile. I will leave for other time, perhaps, which characteristics the teachers and principals of the schools share.

The Spanish Constitutional Court has ruled several times against this discrimination, instructing the Catalan government to remedy the situation. To no avail. The regional government pays not attention, neither the central government or the civil society doing much. Civil society movements, very prominent in Catalonia, are basically arms of separatist parties. Still, the threat of the Constitutional Court is there, so better to get rid of this nuisance declaring independence.

Children who speak Spanish are unable to learn other languages?

Felix you say:"You will not find this in any other democratic country… nor by a mile"

Actually you will-in Russian speaking areas of both Estonia and Latvia

Spain is an artificial country, kept together by the Francoist totalitarian violence of the Castilian oppressor.

Which country isn't artificial? Iceland maybe.

First we were ethnically Scandinavian, but then we became practically (i.e., financially) Danish ... because Copenhagen paid the bills. Then we discovered geothermal power and herring, and we could cast off Copenhagen.

Perhaps geography -- the vast distance between Iceland and Copenhagen -- trumps blood?

"What does democracy call for in Catalonia?" Who gives a bugger about what democracy calls for? What matters, probably, is what good order and liberty call for, which might not be consistent anyway.

Indeed. There can be liberty without good order, but there can be no good order with liberty.

"Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery Forbid it almighty God I know not what course others may take but as for me give me liberty or give me death? "

"without" liberty.

Catalonia or California? My state follows item 4. above: the relatively wealthy island in the county wishes to separately incorporate, but our state law requires the vote of the entire county to approve it (something the non-island residents would never do since it would effectively end the current arrangement whereby the island residents pay much more in county taxes than is spent on the island). Is that democratic? What if California and NY residents approve referendums to secede? I recently watched the film about the nation of Texas (and incidentally about the Alamo) starring John Wayne as Davy Crockett. It's a crock all right.

Will separatists find contentment if they succeed or will they find boredom and anxiety once they have accomplished their primary goal in life? https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/opinion/js-mill-happiness-anxiety.html

back already rayward ? You scolded us all Saturday and said you weren't gonna wastes any more time with the moronic comments section here. Just admit to yourself that you are an obsessive compulsive commenter here (among others) and skip further sermons to us hapless morons...

Isn’t the truly democratic procedure to let all of the British Empire vote on American independence? Maybe you don’t think so, but that begs the question.

Have you read the Declaration of Independence? They address this question, and others, at some length.

And when the South wanted to leave the Union in 1861, the north voted for four years of war. But principals and principles always differ.

The South started that war.

A slimy advertising flyer.

This all could have been avoided if the central government in Madrid hadn't been so haughty since the PP took power back in the 2000s. It's just stubbornness, right? They could have gone the Canadian route and worked to rectify Catalan grievances while at the same time promoting the benefits of being a part of Spain. Instead, they refused to engage in any kind of dialogue. Stupid hard headedness.

Burying our heads in the sand is how we got Trump in the US, and how Spain got separatists in Catalunya.

Well, the EU also had plenty of opportunities to accommodate British concerns and requests for derogation and....

Maybe you are right re: the Spanish govts arrogance.

Seems to me that Spain has given Catalonia a lot of autonomy. I suspect the separatists are intractable though, and don’t just want federalism, even sensible (and “good order”) federalism.

In Canada, it was — after years of bending over backwards — made clear to the separatists: if Canada is divisible so is Quebec.

That is, if a group of malcontented separatists, numbering no more than 30% of the population (but having outsized political clout), believe they can destroy a country, then a similar % in THAT polity should be able to secede too!

Tangential to points you raise.
1. Secession affects the balance of the country so they should get a vote too.
2. There is no way a secession vote should be simple majority.

1. That's nice. But slightly fails to understand what self-determination means. Mostly the "self" bit. See Dan Hill post above about how such "principle" allows Russia to vote Estonia into itself. Or to keep minority nationalities enslaved if already inside.

2. Why not? Reverse the framing: if it was a vote to join rather than leave, would it require a similar super majority?

Actually, it was Doug's comment. Apologies to all concerned.

If Spain were so concerned about ensuring majoritarianism, why did it sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights? By doing so, it pledged in Part I Article 1 that "All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."

Spain didn't have to make that commitment, yet it did. You can't have your cake and eat it too by pretending to support the right of self-determination yet childishly ignore any effort to ever exercise that right.

>pretending to support the right of self-determination yet childishly ignore any effort to ever exercise that right.

Nice point. But Spain has been ignoring the right of self-determination for years. See Gibraltar. Aggression I dislike, but hypocrisy is what I really hate in a culture.

I realize I'm a bit late to the party here, but...isn't an equally relevant question, "What is it about keeping Catalonia / Katalunya in the unified state that is Spain that is worth fighting and dying for?"

There are obvious arguments for that based on the Spanish state's self-interest and indeed self-preservation, but...what relevance do those arguments have to other Spaniards? If I am a Galician--or for that matter a Basque, with my own agenda in these matters--where does my interest lie?

One of the curious aspects of these secessionist situations is that on the one hand, the central government uses a parade of horribles to deter the potentially-seceding state, yet on the other hand it also argues in the next sentence how awful it would be for the larger entity if the separation occurs, e.g., Quebec, Brexit, and others. Indeed, even as far back as the late 1980s the Soviet government had the cheek to make those arguments about Estonia and Latvia!

For one thing, a group of very devoted separatists, perhaps no more than 30%-40%, are about to launch their entire polity on a political adventure that the silent majority don’t want.

Wasn't the point of the referendum to determine if it was really just 30-40%? If it's actually that small, then why did the Spanish government engage in such overbearing efforts to stop the vote? It would have made much more sense to allow it, but ensure the process was open and unbiased.

Good point. That's why the Spanish should not have been so dumb / heavy-handed and they should have agitated for helping to write the language that framed the question. THAT is now you achieve your goals.

My guess is the Spanish government knows/thinks that support is actually quite a bit higher than that and they're very afraid of a referendum that would affirm that.

All good questions. Just make sure your answers are the same for Tibet and Scotland as well.

I wonder if all the people in favor of self-determination also favor robust federalism. Can self-determination only be exercised through independence or can Texas exercise its self-determinination by saying no to Obamacare?

Some federations have only loose requirements for its members, requiring only a levy of troops in defensive wars, led by joint chiefs. Some federations regulate so much they ban bendy bananas.

All depends on how the federation is set up.

To your specific point, Texas does have a fair amount of representation in Congress and a simple majority could repeal the law. If it were found particularly onerous to Texans and they could not get support for a repeal...

Well, as Sanctuary Cities and legalized Devil Weed have shown, laws only apply so far as they are enforced. We may start seeing more and more states just ignore federal law (I don't like Obamacare but don't want laws ignored either)

Sovereignty is one of those existential questions that is not ultimately decided by a vote. The law of sovereigns is anarchic, not civic. There's no Code of Sovereignty written down anywhere, and no Grand High Court of Sovereignty keeping an eye on elections and adjudicating outcomes. "Democracy" is just PR.

Sovereignty is hard to get, which leads me to thinking about the Catalans' motivations. What are they willing to fight and die over? Some Americans seceded over transfer payments, but they had a whole big ocean between them and most of the imperial army. Are the Catalans really going to the mat for the right to join the EU? Also, 15% of Catalan is non-native to the peninsula. I doubt they're very excited about it.

Anyway, it's all interesting to watch.

Unless I greatly misunderstand points 4 and 5, they seem incredibly weak. If this is TC's point of view, then he ought to dedicate a separate post to just those points alone. Consider, for example, a situation in which the USA unanimously voted to annex Cuba. Cuba voted unanimously against this, but hey, democracy suggests that we should be able to do it.

(This is obviously nonsense, but my point is only that without some further explication, TC's last two points need serious help.)


A reminder: in Canada, it was made clear to the separatists: if Canada is divisible so is Quebec.*

Canada also required that the question about secession was a clear one, not a weasely worded biased-towards-Quebec question.

* which was one way if signalling “even if by lying you manage to reach 50%+1, you separatists are going to have to deal with an entity (Canada) that supports the silent majority who don’t want your ethnic enclave.”

And that's fair. Obviously if Catalonia becomes independent (which I do not wish, but I strongly believe they have the right to decide themselves), if parts of Catalonia, especially parts continuous to the rest of Spain, wants to stay in Spain, there should be allowed to. (Also if parts of Spain, or even of France, not in Catalonia but contiguous to it wants to secede and join Catalonia, they should also be allowed to -- if Catalonia wants them of course).

That's an important principle, and probably the fact that it was not enforced nor respected by Western powers (Germany, France, UK, the US) during the Yugoslavia wars contributed a lot to make the situation worse. When Croatia wanted away, it was their right in the name of self-determination, and this was accepted by western power. But when Serbian area in Croatia wanted to secede from Croatia and go back to Serbia, they were forbidden to do so. The same thing again happened with Serbs from Bosnia, and once again with Kosovo: when Northern Kosovo, which was 90% Serbian and contiguous to mainland Serbia, wanted to stay with Serbia, they got bombed.

To equate people peacefully voting, even in an illegal referendum, with terrorism is to take newspeak to a new level.

Doubleplusungood, Tyler.

To put it plainly, Tyler, equating voting with terrorism is a foulup on your part that you should really consider retracting and apologizing for.

The US bombed Serbia over Kosovo. When does the bombing of Spain begin?

When Spain begins implementing the ethnic cleansing.

The flight of the Kosovar Albanians followed the American bombing, it did not precede it. Call it Clinton's Cleansing.

The flight of the Kosovar Albanians followed the American bombing, it did not precede it. Call it Clinton’s Cleansing.

It wasn't a flight and there was already precedent from what had gone on in Bosnia. Your reflexive superciliousness leads you to talk rot most of the time.

If ethnic cleansing is the standard, we can begin saturation bombing of most of Western Europe.

In Catalonia ethnic cleansing would be the other way round, if that to occur. The nationalist minority has been denaying spanish speaking people (large majority, 60% - 30% catalan - 10% other nationalities) basic cultural rights for decades. Like if a french spaking québéquois minority would deny english speaking people in Quebec the posibility of schooling children in english to the english speaking québéquois. How a minority has been doing this for so long, is a textbook case of supremacy maneuvering. Everybody woulb be well advised to follow the events closely; lot of things can be learned.

#1 is also question-begging: just because referendum restrictions are common does not mean they are good policy.

#4 is nonsense when you have historically distinct regional entities, for the reasons others have said.

#5 is essentially guilt by association. Calhoun was wrong because he wanted secession for evil reasons, not because he wanted secession. There's no reason to believe Catalan independence activists' reasons are anything remotely close to the level of evil of Calhoun's.

#2 and #3 are the salient points here, and they suggest that the right thing to do here would have been:
-- Allow an official, more representative referendum.
-- Require a supermajority for secession, as should be required for any fundamental constitutional change (Brexit and California Prop 8, among others, show the problems with letting a narrow simple majority change the constitution).

This would almost certainly have prevented a secession attempt, while making the pro-independence side feel they had gotten a fair chance.

Overall, I don’t see any positive news in how this is developing

Yes. There seems to be nothing good at all. The phrase "own goal" comes to mind.

Democracy doesn't have much to do with it, obviously. The Spanish government is attempting to protect its own interests, as do all governments. Outside observers want the status quo, as if there has always been a Spain and it's the end of history. In fact, Spain is a creation of 18th century dynastic manipulations. There's no particular reason it should exist in its present form at all.

The fundamental difference between Catalonia and Calhoun is that the Catalans aren't trying to preserve and promote slavery, unlike Calhoun or, say, George Mason.

Interesting to see that Tyler does not condemn the violence.

George Mason had nothing to do with slavery. Tyler assures us the African gentlemen involved were just early globalists taking advantages of an ingenious visa scheme to do the jobs Americans didn't want to do. Many of these bold entrepreneurs pioneered great technological advances in the fields of lynching, whuppin', and iron-fettering. America was the better for their presence.

Another interestesting example is the independence process of Palau. From Wikipedia (some edits to make the excerpt readable):

"Palau opted for independent status in 1978. It approved a new constitution and became the Republic of Palau in 1981.It signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1982. After eight referenda and an amendment to the Palauan constitution, the Compact was ratified in 1993. The Compact went into effect on 1 October 1994, marking Palau de jure independent, although it had been de facto independent since 25 May 1994, when the trusteeship ended."

In Palau, the key question was to resolve a conflict between the nation's constitution (Nuclear-free country) and the Compact of Free Association (Ability of US Navy to operate in Palau). Multiple referenda were held over the course of 12 years and several governments, and each time a majority of the voters voted for the amendment to allow the Compact to hold. However, a vote of 2/3's was required by the constitution to allow for the amendment.

At least one head of government was assassinated during the course of this independence project.

"electoral terrorism" - real insightful hyperbole there. Tyler obviously a graduate of the Hayley Geftman-Gold/Richard Dawkins School of Sensitivity. #1 so some A's have B's, therefore C is not A. Logic? #2 Only 40% turned out. News flash dude - Spanish thugs were bashing in Catalan heads. Reminiscent of kisses Tyler blew to antifa terrorists blocking entrance to the mall on inauguration day. Tyler needs to examine his violence issues. #3 Referendum results slanted in favor of intense minority opinion. So democracy is about suppressing intense minority opinion? Who exactly sounds like John C Calhoun here? #4 Why stop at Spain? Why not let the whole stinking EU decide? Or we could go full Plato and just let George Soros decide. #5 So the Catalans are equivalent to slave holders? Dear Virginia Assembly, please do something to stop Commonwealth funding being used to promulgate this sort of ugly Americanism. And maybe make sure your state professors are familiar with basic US history documents like the Declaration of Independence. Overall, I don’t see any positive indications in this piece of the need for a continuing role for representatives of our state funded institutions in public discourse.

A referendum had taken place in 2006. We're still waiting for Madrid and the EU to consider its outcome.

Of course, neither the EU nor Madrid will : the Euro would die should they do. But we still fucking don't care. We'll just do our best to put the EU, the Euro, and Madrid to the ground and rebuild after.

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