(NB: See update at the end of this post.)
Don’t worry, this one isn’t just a sports story…
The motto of FC Barcelona is “més que un club,” more than a club. For the purposes of full disclosure, I agree. It’s more than a club; it’s one of God’s greatest gifts to leisure time.
- How Soccer Explains the World, by Franklin Foer
Manuel Vazquez Montalban, a contemporary writer in Spain, describes the club as “the epic weapon of a country without a state….” Why?
Buried in the tradition of this club is the division within Spain – the communist / anarchist Catalans (represented by FC Barcelona), and the fascist followers of Franco (represented by the club Real Madrid). After Franco’s forces finally secured Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, the fourth organization to be purged (according to the aforementioned Montalban) – after the communists, the anarchists, and the separatists – was the Barcelona Football Club.
Franco would go on to destroy all the team’s trophies, execute the club’s president, remove the Catalan flag from the team’s crest, and change the name into one of Castilian Spanish.
But Spain was united…for whatever that is worth.
Today Catalunya votes on secession; well, that is, to the extent that those from whom they wish to secede allow the vote. At the moment, some 75% of the voting stations are open with clashes reported at several stations.
Recently, Jeff Deist of the Mises Institute wrote a piece entitled Let Catalonia Decide, regarding this election. In the piece, he argues that those within a jurisdiction must be free to decide the governance of the jurisdiction.
For libertarians, self-determination is the highest political end. In political terms, self-determination is liberty. In an ideal world, self-determination extends all the way to the individual, who enjoys complete political sovereignty over his or her life. The often misused term for this degree of complete self-determination is anarchy.
In an imperfect world, however, libertarians should support smaller and more decentralized governments as a pragmatic step toward greater liberty.
This piece prompted a reply by Marta Hidalgo, an alumnus of Mises University; Hidalgo argues for the other side – Catalan must not be allowed even a vote to secede. I offered a reply at the site, addressing a few of several less-than-convincing statements made by Hidalgo:
“The Catalan nationalist movement in favour of independence is not driven by an urgent need of freedom to establish a libertarian paradise of free market and low taxes.”
This is irrelevant. Secession inherently gives people more choice to find a governance unit within which they prefer to live. Repeat the process a few dozen times and we will really be making progress.
“It does not look for the creation of a smaller and more decentralized government.”
This seems to be false on its face. Inherently secession brings decentralization – two states in the place of one.
“It is the creation of powerful special interests in the region for the purposes of getting even more power, concessions, grants and money from the rest of Spain…”
Will the rest of Spain be forced to give the secessionist state more money and grants? Why?
“To change the current political system, a referendum should start in the national Congress, with a law approved by the absolute majority in Parliament.”
While I am not thrilled with the idea of my secession being left up to a majority of those in my neighborhood voting along with me, I am even less thrilled with the idea that my secession is left to the decision of the state from which I would like to secede.
The end of the Soviet Union might be the singular instance where this was accomplished somewhat peacefully, and even then because it was clear that the central government really had no choice.
I Don’t Get It
Just how is liberty to be made manifest in this imperfect world, in this world that is not a clean slate but one that carries significant political baggage? In this world where almost 200 states already exist – none of which are likely to willingly give up power?
There is nothing libertarian about my forcing people to choose to live in a society that disallows communism or fascism; if some people desire to live in such a system, it is perfectly libertarian to leave them to it.
There is nothing libertarian about my forcing people to accept that today’s version of liberal-socialist-democracy is the best system of government ever created. There is nothing libertarian about my deciding for people who live “over there” the manner in which they must live or otherwise organize politically and economically.
This is true whether “over there” is the distance between Washington DC and Baghdad; it is also true if “over there” is the distance between Madrid and Barcelona.
Perfect libertarianism will be achieved when every single individual has complete, autonomous authority over every decision regarding his life and property – as long as he does not initiate aggression against another in exercising this authority. This suggests something like seven billion political jurisdictions.
Given the less-than-clear status of minors as well as the traditional patriarchal structure that has been a mainstay of western civilization since the beginning of recorded history, I am perfectly fine with about 1.5 billion political jurisdictions – my estimate of one per household.
Given the imperfections inherent in humans – and also their perfectly reasonable desire to voluntarily join in communities (even less-than-perfectly-libertarian communities) – I will be happy to reach even a few thousand distinct political jurisdictions.
How do we get from something less than 200 jurisdictions today to something closer to a few thousand (or 1.5 billion or 7 billion) without getting to 201 first? This is what I don’t get about the thinking of libertarians such as Marta Hidalgo. Or maybe I do get it: there are many universalist libertarians out there – those who know how the entire world should be run, based on their version of libertarian perfection.
There is nothing complicated about the connection between libertarian theory and secessionist reality: Once a region secedes, those within it must be left free to secede again. Continue this process for as long as people desire to continue the process.
I think about Brexit. Voters in Scotland don’t like it – they want to remain part of the EU. The answer is simple – Scotland, do what you didn’t have the intelligence to do a couple of years ago: secede from the United Kingdom.
In this world, it isn’t going to get any better than this. Libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice. We do not live in a perfect world; every step of decentralization brings us one step closer to finding a home, a place where we are free to exercise control over our life and property.
Returning to Foer:
After its fans booed the national anthem before a 1925 exhibition game, the dictator [Miguel Primo de Rivera] shuttered Barca’s stadium for six months and fined its directors.
When the people’s voice is taken away, trouble often follows. Many people blame Miguel Primo de Rivera for heightening social tensions that led to the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
I don’t know what will happen today – or, more importantly, after today – regarding the vote. We already see the force that the central government is willing to deploy to crush the people’s voice. If the people are not allowed a voice…well, rarely does liberty or peace come from such a situation.
Why some libertarians want to take away this voice and choice is beyond my understanding.
Hidalgo offers a quote from Mises to open her essay:
Unfortunately, the nationalists approach history in another temper. For them the past is not a source of information and instruction but an arsenal of weapons for the conduct of war. They search for facts which can be used as pretexts and excuses for their drives for aggression and oppression.
- Mises, 1944. Omnipotent Government
There is no doubt that nationalism has a dark side. Every political concept has one – even classical liberal theory. Nationalism also has a bright side, and fills a voluntarily-held desire for many – and Mises holds a much more nuanced view on the topic than is represented in the one quote offered by Hidalgo.
I offer a few quotes from Ludwig von Mises; perhaps Hidalgo should take time to understand these – and the foundational importance behind these – more thoroughly:
A nation, therefore, has no right to say to a province: You belong to me, I want to take you. A province consists of its inhabitants. If anybody has a right to be heard in this case it is these inhabitants. Boundary disputes should be settled by plebiscite. (Omnipotent Government, p. 90)
No people and no part of a people shall be held against its will in a political association that it does not want. (Nation, State, and Economy, p. 34)
Finally, to my point – each individual free to exercise control over his life and property – that the next secession (and the one following that) is always to be cheered, until we get to the last voluntarily-desired secession:
If it were in any way possible to grant this right of self-determination to every individual person, it would have to be done. (Liberalism, pp. 109–10)
An independent Catalunya is one step toward this.
Update: Well, the story of the day is becoming clear – violence, atrocities and threats by the central government. I will write on this in the next few days, as more details emerge. I will write on this in order to destroy the notion held by libertarians such as Marta Hidalgo that there is something un-libertarian about secession – any secession.