What are we citizens of the United States making of the Catalan threat to make Spain smaller? Our own country was founded in secession; a continuing part of our politics is the tension between the two terms in the name of our country, the union and the states.
What do we think about Brexit? Or the Scottish independence movement?
It seems to me that, ignoring the considerable dent our own withdrawal put in the British Empire, we were taught in school, as one of those self-evident truths, that the arrow of history always goes from smaller to bigger. Bigger is better. Bigger equals Progress and Civilization. The creation in recent centuries of modern European countries from feudal principalities and fiefdoms was (and for all I know, still is) taught as both inevitable and good. Those modern boundaries are so long established that we tend to forget that until relatively recently there was no France or Spain or Italy, and that Catalonia, for instance, was a sovereign country.
On this side of the pond, it was progress for us not just to separate, even if violently, from England, but for individual states to become the United version. United we stood. Or so the story of history went.
The United Nations was heralded as necessary progress over the conditions that led to the world wars. Insofar as individual countries would surrender sovereignty to one world government, fighting between member nations would be reduced. Sounds like a no-brainer. The European Union emerged as a more practical and effective version of the same idea. (So that makes Brexit a regressive vote, right? But Scotland wanting to split off from the U.K., now regressive in relation to the E.U., a progressive impulse?)
However much the Fall of Rome has been seen as justified by “decadence”–that weird ruler who fiddled imappropiately—its unifying effect has been widely held to be civilizing and its crumbling the cause of hundreds of years of so-called Dark Ages.
Of course “the bigger-the-better” idea has had its setbacks. Hitler had his own precocious notion of a European Union—he just went about it in the wrong way. And the dissolution of the USSR, that union of unpronounceable smaller units, once the hope of many around the world, was welcomed as the end of the Cold War.
Is Spain’s resistance to being reduced in size by the subtraction of Catalonia any different from the US’s fighting our Civil War, one of the most terrible wars in human history, in large measure to “preserve the union,” which has always seemed to me a rather abstract cause to give one’s life for.
What if California, from which faroff techdom we have heard secessionist rumblings, did indeed decide it was tired of being held back by the backwardness of so much of the rest of the union? Should Trump go all Lincoln on the rebels and send in troops to preserve the union? Would Google, Amazon and Musk have their army of robotic orcs ready to repel them?
How would states’ righters feel about that?
One world still seems the progressive goal, even if the U.N. has long been seen as not up to the task. And yet like many, I assume, I mourn the cultural dilution, and homogenization, such as the loss of many of the world’s hundreds of languages, produced by various sorts of globalization. (More influential than the U.N. in producing a version of One World has been US corporate hegemony, including Facebook.)
My personal preference , however idealistically regressive, would be for the survival of quirky, charming regional pools of culture–sort of like Cape Cod (and within that, the Outer Cape and within that, my own town of Wellfleet)– presided over loosely and benignly by a world government headed by Obi-wan Kenobi.