Just when it seemed that Artur Mas's secessionist adventure was falling apart, he seems to have sealed an agreement that buys at least a year. The staging of this agreement included a stepping-up of tensions with Spain, generated by the recent symposium titled "Spain against Catalonia." However you look at it, today the secession of Catalonia seems a more credible option than it did not long ago.
This poses some disturbing cultural enigmas. How have the Catalans been so suddenly converted to this anti-Spanish culture of ethnic grievance? How is it that the most educated, modern and enlightened people in the Iberian peninsula have been drawn into so irrational a regression? One precedent is what the Catalan historian Rosa Sala Rose called the "mysterious German case." How could the most advanced people in Europe invent the populist nationalism of Hitler? I am not trying to draw any strict comparison between Nazism and Catalanism. I just wish to underline the glaring contradiction between a forward-looking society that has always been in the forefront of Spain, and a political ideology as regressive as völkisch nationalism: a typical case of what Jeffrey Herf called reactionary modernism.
What appears to be the most plausible explanation of the Catalan case is the same as that of the mysterious German case: the factor responsible for the differential in both cases is a stem family model based on paternal authority and a system of inheritance that is primogeniture rather than one of fraternal equality. As the historical demographer Emmanuel Todd has argued, this type of family gives rise to a political anthropology based on "particularist differentialism" and hierarchical authority, typical of völkisch nationalism. This explains both the lack of solidarity of Merkel's Germany, and the Catalans' refusal to share the common Spanish cash-box on the same basis as other regions.
To demand a contentious divorce without seeking agreement generates some perverse consequences
This interpretation, based on the cultural archetype of the stem family, also explains why the Catalan elites see their secession process as a unilateral, contentious divorce, rather than one of mutual accord. What has been called the "disloyalty" of Catalan "sovereignism" is reflected in its referendum proposal, where the question and the rules, instead of being agreed with the central government, as in the Scottish case, were imposed unilaterally.
But to demand a contentious divorce without seeking agreement generates some perverse consequences. It obliges the other side to respond likewise in contentious terms. Or did Artur Mas and Oriol Junqueras expect Rajoy and Rubalcaba to behave as mild Christians, charitably inclined to turn the other cheek to receive another slap? We can only expect that between Barcelona and Madrid there will be a War of the Roses, not as in the medieval war in England, but as in the 1989 film where Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner drift into the mutual self-destruction of their common house. And this is the outcome that can be expected of the political, cultural and juridical war that is now going to be unleashed between Barcelona and Madrid.
It is obvious that the decision to opt for contention has been adopted to create an artificial climate of political polarization, exacerbating ethnocentric passions of "us against them," which it is hoped will favor the emotional, irrational secessionist vote, instead of the far more reasonable economic vote - a contentious divorce being mutually impoverishing.
A red line is being crossed by the Catalan secessionists by not respecting the rights of the rest of Spaniards. But if they do this it is because they consider that their own rights were violated in 2010 when the Constitutional Court, at the instance of the PP, annulled certain articles of the Catalan Statute, approved by the Catalan people; articles, which however, were respected in other regional statutes. It is this maltreatment that has prompted the Catalans to "take the law into their own hands."