Secession and Catalonia: What Is a Nation?
Secession and Catalonia: What Is a Nation? by Boyd D. Cathey – UNZ Review
In recent months, especially with the accession to the presidency of Donald Trump, there has been renewed talk, serious talk, ironic talk, about secession—particularly, from zealously Leftist anti-Trump militants in California and along the Pacific Rim areas of the United States. Advocates of what is called “Cal-exit” make their case that California, specifically, is not like other states and regions of the United States. Its population is increasingly non-Anglo and Hispanic—its politics, at least along the littoral areas, is dominated largely by far left-wingers—and its culture is more influenced by Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Mexico and various leftist totems. It voted by a heavy majority for Hillary.
Yet, far inland areas, mountainous regions of the state, populated by descendants of the rugged gold seekers, the Forty-Niners of 1848-1849, remain conservative. So, the question of secession of California from the Federal union might also need to be addressed on an intra-state level as well: should some strongly conservative districts be permitted to secede from California, itself, if the state should leave the union? What unity would they have with a new “Democratic Socialist Republic of California”?
It becomes complicated. If the question of secession—and not just secession of, as in the case of California, but of any entity—really be examined, then wide variations in culture, history, ethnicity, economics and politics should be considered, taken into consideration.
While secession can be a viable and satisfactory solution to insoluble national problems, it is not always in every case advisable. There may be good reasons for a region, or a state, or a province to depart from a larger entity. I would argue strongly that the painful decision by the Southern states of the United States to secede from the American union in 1860-1861 was largely justified on historical, cultural and economic reasons, not to mention the politics involved.
Actually, the departures of those eleven states (or, actually, thirteen if you count the illegally thwarted departures of Kentucky and Missouri) came in two waves: the first began with South Carolina and continued with the exit of several Deep South states. Lincoln’s call in April 1861 for troops to suppress South Carolina shocked the constitutional sensibilities of additional states in the Upper South, several of which had resisted the initial impulse to join the secession. And by early summer the Confederate States of America was a functioning nation, albeit a country facing invasion from its powerful former co-citizens.
But, I can think of instances when secession—that is, the break-up of larger nations or empires—is not only inadvisable, but positively injurious not only to the whole, but also to the respective seceding parts. The dissolution of the old Austria-Hungarian Empire in 1918, for instance, was not only a tragic mistake geopolitically, but made little sense economically, ethnically or historically. What was produced by the Treaties of Saint-Germain and Trianon was a succession of angrily dissatisfied, uber-nationalist states and displaced ethnic minorities imprisoned in new, arbitrary and irrational geographical expressions, waiting for the next powder keg to explode.
Interestingly, it was the heir to the wizened old Kaiser, Franz Josef, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who advocated additional decentralization of the old empire, with a third, Slavic kingdom, to join Austria and Hungary in a tripartite monarchy. That he and his wife, Sophie, were cruelly assassinated in Sarajevo in July 1914 by a Serbian nationalist, not only put into motion the coming of the First World War, but stymied what might have been a revitalized, regionalist future for the creaky old Habsburg Empire.
The castration of the ancient Russian homeland more recently is another case of good (American) intentions gone awry: the creation of new artificial states such as Byelorussia and Kazakhstan was not only historically and politically wrongheaded, but economically ill-advised. President Vladimir Putin’s statement—rightly understood—that the break-up of the Soviet Union was one of the greatest disasters of the 20thcentury was intended in this sense (and not, as some Russophobic Necons attempt to construe it, as a lament for Communism!).