Some of my articles

15 d'abril de 2008 2

Alguns dels meus articles traduits a l’anglès.

Kosovo: a sui generis case?

Published in CEJP bulletin, on March the 20th, 2008

Yesterday at a press conference following the EU’s failure to arrive at a common position on the independence of Kosovo, a British journalist asked Javier Solana if the latest Balkan case would be treated as sui generis with regard to international law and the EU’s foreign relations. Solana looked him in the eye and said, “If it wasn’t a sui generis case, we wouldn’t be here talking about it.”

Putting aside absurd debates about legal precedents and the interested bandwagoning of the different parties (including both those who would support Montenegro and Kosovo and those who rally behind Serbia for their own national interests), the question we have to ask ourselves is whether Kosovo’s unilateral declaration is yet another sign of a historical trend in the wider world or whether it is, indeed, sui generis. That the declaration was legally unorthodox means only that it raises new issues in terms of logistics; however, with regard to ideology, to the set of principles we have come to believe should govern collective life in a just and reasonable world, it is not so clear that we are dealing with an exception.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Stanley Fish published an article about the debate over identity politics in his column “Think Again.” In it, he attempted to respond, on the one hand, to those who interpret the Democratic primary as a battle between a black man and a woman and, on the other, to the candid universalists who hold that neither ideology nor identity have an important or appropriate political role to play. The article was entitled, “When ‘Identity Politics’ Is Rational.”
The case of Kosovo, and the EU’s response, raises certain questions. No one can deny that Kosovo’s separatist solution is dictated by strategic necessity. Strategic because a major ethnic problem must be solved and a more or less permanent solution found for the last stronghold of an identity conflict that has been the scourge of the Western Balkans for the last twenty years, and strategic because each day brings a new installment of a power struggle being waged by the West, and especially the United States, in countries, both new and old, that still share a border with Russia. The American desire to locate part of its missile shield in Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, notwithstanding the excuse of Iran, is too much for the moral rearmament of Putin’s Russia. Russian support for Serbia is supplemented by the pressure it is putting on the Ukraine with regard to gas supplies and explicit and implicit support for ethnic Russian minorities in the Baltic and Caspian states. In the end, Kosovan independence, aside from the wound that opened the doors to this strange, legal healing device, is premised on a principle that really is new in international politics: the superior numbers of an ethnic group whose origins and points of reference lie elsewhere. The separatist majority in Kosovo is Albanian, in terms of identity, loyalty and family ties. It is the Serbian minority whose roots, in the classic sense, stretch deepest into the black earth of the southwest Balkans. Are we thus in the presence of a paradigm shift in the definition of group rights? A social majority that, bucking the trends of history, comes to power and creates a new community?

To put things in perspective: if Catalonia were one day to become independent, what would happen if the Spanish-speaking majority of, say, Baix Llobregat were determined to become an independent province? Or if a Rumanian minority with EU passports got together in a sparsely populated region, organized themselves politically and claimed their own right to be a politically distinct community? What about the Germans in the Balearic Islands?

Curiously, the person accompanying Javier Solana yesterday at the press conference was Dimitrij Rupel, who has been Minister of Foreign Affairs in Slovenia several times over the last 17 years, including when Slovenia won its independence in the first of a series of fragmentations that eventually dismembered the former Yugoslavia, culminating with yesterday’s events in Kosovo.

What has been happening in the Balkans over the last twenty years has not been sui generis; it is a paradigm. It is the paradigm of the end of Eastern European communism and, thus, the core of EU construction. It is the paradigm of the blossoming of identities, of the political power of spirits, after years of ideological materialism. It is the paradigm of the confrontation between these identities, as well as of religious affiliations. (It is no coincidence that the conflict between Christians and Muslims that has shaped the region’s history is, as usual, a bellwether for Europe’s future.) It is the paradigm of the right of self-determination, of the definition and, thus, the limits of the individual right to choose one’s destiny and the collective right to organize according to a specific rationale. And it is, above all, the paradigm of the failure of politics and law, as understood in the 20th century, to provide solutions to these needs, neglected for years by materialist liberals and ghettoized cosmopolitans.

Jürgen Habermas himself spoke of this in the now famous exchange with the then Cardinal Ratzinger, which we discussed in the first issue of this bulletin some two and a half years ago. In that exchange, to everybody’s surprise, the philosopher and father of constitutional patriotism, the creator of the concept of the “ideal communication community,” spoke of the importance of identity, of networks of emotional solidarity, of the trust and respect that are generated in rooted communities as a nucleus representing the possibilities of rational, liberal and just politics.

The case of Kosovo reveals, once again, the ineffectiveness of current rules. This is not a Catalan or Basque debate. The historical moment does not turn on the fact that Spain does not recognize Kosovo’s independence. Yesterday, Solana said that the EU would treat Kosovo and Serbia as a joint problem. While this in part reflected the need to smooth over differences between the Spanish and UK blocks, it is also true that Rupel felt obliged to say that Europeans are proud of their diversity. This politically correct discourse, these constant appeals, for years now, to freedom, democracy and justice have ultimately brought the world to where it now stands: closer in terms of the longings stirred in the European soul than with regard to law, recognition or political structures.

The right to decide is a right that is felt, more or less equally and with greater or lesser intensity, in all corners of the world. The creation of 15 new states in the last twenty years in Eastern Europe was the end of a system, above and beyond the end of an ideology. The new mixture of the global world, the questions it raises and that intellectuals, poets, film directors, novelists, philosophers, historians, politicians and singers have been addressing and offering to the public for years, cries out for new categories. New paradigms. The emergence of new spiritualities, new multilingual realities and new conflicts is simply one of the effects of these causes and necessitates something more than rhetoric and the populism of the Alliance of Civilizations.

Yesterday, too, Shlomo Ben Ami published an article on Project Syndicate (http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/benami14/Spanish) criticizing the Alliance of Civilizations, and just a week ago a man featured on the back page of La Vanguardia explained how he spent years giving classes in Germany in Italian through an interpreter, “since language is a type of logic, and to speak a language is to reflect on this logic.” The interesting thing is that “Project Syndicate” is the brainchild of a group of intellectuals from around the world, and it is translated into ten languages. The Italian professore had come to present the translation of one of his works.

This is not a sui generis case; it is the collapse of an obsolete paradigm.

A political neurosis?

article published in Avui newspaper – link http://paper.avui.cat/dialeg/detail.php?id=90100)

Goethe said that the main difference between historical periods lies whether they are governed by trust or resentment. He added that while the first are brilliant, progressive and fruitful, the second disappear or diminish without trace because in the long run, no one worries about anything inefficient or unfruitful. Individuals and collectives believe that conditions for loving life and giving it meaning are really enriching for humanity. This was the cultural movement of the first Catalan democratic movement. Those who do not manage to achieve this goal can be considered as a failure. It may be that they shine with momentary success or longing for fame, but a mysterious historical rule relegates them in the vacuum of anonymity afterwards and no trace of their mark is left.

SOMETHING SIMILAR IS HAPPENING IN EUROPEAN POLITICS in general, and more specifically in Catalan politics. Politics, at times evident and explicit and more often surreptitious, is then the eco of culture and inhabitant of its same heart. The crisis of civilizations has repercussions on politics, and at the same time, political crises affect culture. In a country such as ours, this effect is even more so.

THEREFORE, IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO THINK AND ACT as if the imminent crisis in our politics and modern times is due to solely political factors or actions carried out by politicians. Attitudes, facts or ideologies of politicians can always be caricaturized. Their attitude towards life, fearful or fanatical, their narrow-mindedness, their sectarianism, or what is worse, their hardened heart can always be ridiculed. It is easy, given that there are few that embody the ideal that they defend. Yet people also lack this courage and greatness. We only filter trust through bank credits. Despite what the GNP says, in this way a country or a life is not built.

DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE CRISIS IS WITHIN US ALL, we cannot excuse politicians of their responsibilities. I do not believe that we can deny that today we are living an authentic politic neurosis. Politicians of all parties, supporters and journalists participate neurotically in the politic and media world; they cannot find their place, and like zombies, they go about asking questions and giving absurd answers as if we were talking to the wall. All types of ideologies show abundant and splendid clinical patterns. We should be able to demand that our politicians be the front line and that their only confidence not be that of market-technical persuasion (that always ends up frustrating).

IT IS TRUE THAT POLITICIANS DO NOT FIND their place easily in the current historical situation, nor do parents or teachers. The list must be extended, but these three cases are alarming. Experimental attempts have been made by the administrations and civil society, but they are repetitive and have little effect, and do not represent an advance, rather an attempt to return to an era in which all experiments, lucid or not, had their moment of glory. Nonetheless, once again, trust is lacking.

THE SOLUTION, AS WE ALREADY KNOW, WILL NOT COME by increasing and multiplying plans or bureaucracy – as was the typical solution until now, still applied in our country. Bureaucracy left on its own only knows how to perpetuate itself and produce the famous big man, packaged, faceless and finally irresponsible and unfortunate. We have made many errors, and analyzing our politicians will be not enough. When it comes down to it, we cannot forget that no leader is capable of bringing new horizons when he himself has become lost or when the people do not believe him to be capable of leading them there. Proclaiming independence or justice or Parliamentary cohesion does not convert them into royalty. Political determination is not such when it is rhetorical. It is always a Mannerism if the people are looking at the television or yearning for the shops to open on Sundays.

NOWADAYS WE TALK TOO MUCH ABOUT POLITICS, and too little about the country that we want to live in. We argue too much about how ideology is explained, and too little about which north the compass should point. Politics is not an art of demonstrating that your arguments are more powerful or popular, it’s about guaranteeing the possible conditions for the own projects of the inhabitants of a territory, of their lives, even with limits and deficiencies in the electoral struggle. We must be able to demand that trust not be so difficult. Ok. But above all, we must understand that we are making the country, us, the private individuals, the daily bread. Although the country may be better than its politicians, it is not long before we are all frogs in a stagnant and turbulent pond. The main neurosis is ours when we are incapable of valuing the prophets that drive the country alone from their businesses, poems or laboratories. We shouldn’t envy or put down their success as other times just because success seems arrogant to us. Completely separate, they maintain a headstrong trust. We should listen to them, act like them, and our bad politicians will disappear in the wind.
Published in the newspaper AVUI, page 22. Friday, July 20th 2007

Zombies

(http://paper.avui.cat/dialeg/detail.php?id=51525)

The Barcelona electro pop group Ultraplayback often plays at Be Cool on Carrer Beethoven. They have a song, Dragones de Comodo (Dragons of Comodo), dedicated to Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter. The song, written before the death of the showman of beasts, follows the structure of children’s stories that make you choose your own adventure. Of the two singers on either side of Capità Minifaldilla (Captain Miniskirt), the leader of the group, there is one who maintains that the Crocodile Hunter deserves to be condemned for the way he treats animals, while the other doesn’t agree, believing that Irwin’s job is extremely important. Although he may appear to be, Capità Minifaldilla is not neutral either; in short he wears a pig mask to all their concerts. The audience vote by raising their hand if the song should end by condemning the hunter or by acquitting him. It’s my favorite song from Ultraplayback, now that I’ve grown tired of their first hit Viva la anorexia (Long live anorexia) – one of the most pleasant mockeries in recent times, dedicated to all the squeezed out adolescents who sweat their calories off on the dance floor, proud of their gastric noises.

ONE OF THE SINGERS TOLD ME, after a concert, that since Steve Irwin’s death, people always save him from the musical bonfire, while before his passing they preferred to condemn him enthusiastically.
I WAS THINKING ABOUT THAT THE OTHER DAY WHEN I LEFT John Gray’s conference at CCCB. It was the third conference that I had attended in three weeks: the first, also at CCCB, was when I went to hear Lipovetsky, a philosophical sociologist who became famous years ago with a book entitled L’ère du vide (The Era of the Void). He is one of the opinion leaders in what we call Postmodernity and reflection on our hedonism.

THE SECOND CONFERENCE WAS IN THE L’AUDITORI at La Pedrera. The talk, paid for by Caixa de Catalunya and presented in Spanish by Narcís Serra, was given by the sociologist Ulrich Beck, theorist of real cosmopolitism, borne by the golden wings of State cosmopolitism. The third was the conference by Gray, who is a liberal from the London School of Economics. Between them, there was Vattimo, among others and recently a teleconference by Peter Singer, the enfant terrible of animal rights who likes to list which places will not let him speak, due to his unrelenting ways. I didn’t go to these conferences, because I am already familiar with them and they don’t hold weight with me.

THE CONCLUSIONS THAT THE THREE SAGES CAME TO PRESENT TO US can be summarized by saying that Lipovetsky believes that the Postmodernity that he proposed was an error, that in reality we are in hypermodernity (and super, and meta, and ultra…). Beck believes that faced with the world and the risk society, we are only left with skeptical irony; while Gray believes that it is better that we move onward and adapt to things as they arise. This last declaration, it must be said, has been the most significant of the conclusions, and it is hardly surprising coming from Gray, but it is nothing that we didn’t already know. In other words, these sages no longer defend anything. Maybe decadence and skeptical distance are the most sensible of positions to take, given the glow of ignorance and bargain thinking that calms us between purchase and purchase. It is telltale that they have drawn this conclusion from our civilizing effort: hardly anything has any importance. Gray has already said it; there’s no moral or political progress, just technological progress, and not enough of that to save us all.
THE AUDIENCE OF THE THREE CONFERENCES wasn’t very different to that of the condemned Steve Irwin at Be Cool. Our dominant thinking is child of this over-50 intellectual generation, apologists of relativism as the only solution to conquering pluralism – better to not draw blood with anything and that everything goes, you get what I mean… Weak thinking that leaves us defenseless when faced with the fortress of reality, with growth and consumer opportunities. If this is what we have come to, then that’s fine by me; but I don’t need anyone to explain it to me in all solemnity having left the insignificance of my sofa to listen to them.

SHOULD THE PHILOSPHERS OF OUR TIMES RETIRE? Asks Capità Minifaldilla. From the audience, a wave of compassion overpowers the alcohol-fuelled nihilists. Now that they are dead, let’s save them, long live the zombies! The sweetest creatures are at the hands of a crocodile hunter and Barcelona is the capital. Long live anorexia!
Published in the newspaper AVUI, page 30. Friday, March 30th 2007

Machiavelli in Democracy

Article from the newspaper Avui

In 1531, Machiavelli’s The Prince was published. It has passed to popular legend with a quote that does not appear in it “The end justifies the means”. Almost everyone denies it in public and almost everyone practices it in private, even politicians – something which shows that it is true. Machiavelli never intended to propose a text on morality, rather on how things were really done. Politics has always been Machiavellian; it was with Pericles, with Nero, and with medieval popes, with renaissance princes, with absolute kings, with the first parliamentary figures, with presidents of republics, dictators, general secretaries of regionalist parties and with the chairman of the apartment block. What has changed since 1531 is that it is now a science.

474 years later (now two years ago), Edouard Balladur, who was French Prime Minister in the years 1993-95, published Machiavel en démocratie (Machiavelli in Democracy) in France. Just a few days ago, L’Arquer (Grup 62) brought out the translation in Catalan. It is a work to be recommended in all senses, just like The Prince, for anyone who wants to know how politicians create and destroy the terrains of power, what frightens them, what they hate, and how far they are willing to go. One could criticize that it generalizes, but they would be wrong. The structure of power itself makes a dose of malice indispensable in the means if they want to reach some end. There are better and worse politicians, but without a doubt, any that have reached the top have had to fight against their morals and against their adversaries outright and have won. The thirst of the people requires it; it has always been done that way.

Chapter XV of The Prince contains the following paragraph, “…for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil. Hence it is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity.” Balladur, in the prologue to his book asks, “But if the methods of political combat have nothing contemptible, to avoid having to go there, is it necessary to keep on the margin and wait for major changes to make dreams real? Why have a useless purity if it does not serve for anything or anyone?” No one will ignore that this is the reality of power, and that if its politicians find it necessary and they can hide it, they will do whatever it takes to achieve their objectives, or they will lose the battle.

In 474 years since Machiavelli’s time, politics has changed and the Balladur’s book is a testimony of this. Beyond the differences of these specific methods, there is a factor that Balladur’s book deals with that Machiavelli did not have to face – democracy i.e. the media, mutual control of the different powers of the State, the need to gain the affection of citizens, the economy, and demagogy. The book clearly shows how amoral politicians are, just like journalists, intellectuals and above all, electors, capable of accepting and pardoning lies, treason and stabs in the back provided appearances are kept and successes promised are reached.

Balladur’s book only shows how to swerve bullets, manipulate the press and the intellectuals and convince electors and persevere. The question, then, has always been interior, not of the system. There are differential facts between Machiavelli and Balladur: the collapse of a single and shared moral, the fragmentation of the bases of society, the end of metaphysics. The last path traveled by pluralism and individual autonomy is relativism. We have gone from the hypocrisy of the official morals to the realism of the cynics—well, it’s a step forward. The process started during the era of Machiavelli as a conquest of liberty and nowadays renouncement is to be reached. Starting as indispensable secularism, it has ended in void and in anguish. Now politicians no longer need to refer to morals: the exchange is purely material or it is associated with vanity, but there’s nothing new about that. The crumbs of decadence have been scattered all over as a premonition, and politicians haven’t any suggestions for readdressing the situation, for proposing a way of understanding us that overcomes the pettiness as a method. No one has demanded it of them, or so I suspect. Maybe that is why they say that the system is in crisis. Maybe that is why there are less people prepared to become involved.

The only moral given by the book is the same as the rest of the world: since we don’t believe in anything, better to be more shrewd and courageous when justifying ourselves. As Balladur says, “The truth is that referring to moral convictions makes cynics smile”.

In Praise of Difficulty: Ratzinger and Habermas

Article published in the CEJP bulletin June 21st, 2005

On May 1st, La Vanguardia published two talks by Joseph Ratzinger and Jürgen Habermas. The talks were given at the Catholic Academy in Munich on January 19th, 2004. At the time, Ratzinger was one of the most influential cardinals in the Catholic Church, not only because he was head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, but also because his time as a teacher and theologian had confirmed him as one of the most rigorous voices in the Church. Jürgen Habermas was, and remains, the most influential, living philosopher in Europe. However, Habermas is also the culmination of a European philosophical current that traces its roots to the modernity of Descartes, and which, in the form of Husserl and Heidigger, received an influx of ideas in the mid-20th century whose impact is still being gauged. The two German thinkers, Ratzinger and Habermas, have shown both that there is still a fundamental space for speculative reflection and that many political decisions are made according to the dictates of statistics or sociology, without taking into account the grounds for, or consequences of, making such willy-nilly statements. Ratzinger began his papacy talking about relativism, something that led certain acquaintances with anti-clerical views to affirm that, at least, the new Pope was elevating the level of debate. The problem is no longer the condom, but man himself, as always. To give a small example, in 2001, Habermas published a seminal essay entitled “On the Way to Liberal Eugenics?” In it, he offered ethical reflections on current trends in biochemistry, stem cells and cloning. Today, his book should be required reading for all high school science students in Europe. His work points up the laziness with which many public figures frivolously appropriate words and offer knee-jerk reactions. Perhaps herein lies the origin of today’s misology. Misology is the hatred of argument, the panic produced by believing that anything well argued, well spoken, is convincing and that, therefore, anyone who enjoys making complicated, nuanced points must be distrusted. The leading role played by the press in fostering ideology means that critical discourse often takes a back seat to current events and issues. Newspapers are disposable and must pay close attention to the slippery present, while the slow pace of reflection seems to hide in its shell, slave to a series of complexes. This column is in praise of the difficulty of certain reflections in the world today: complexity is not an end in itself, but it is a necessary means when reality is more than a simple set of referendums. The subject of the talks given by these two keen northerners was the search for the Pre-political Moral Foundations of the Liberal State. In other words, in a secularized, neutral state, on what grounds should citizens obey a moral rule or law? Future installments of this column will examine this issue.

Ratzinger and Habermas (II): Natural Law

Published in the CEJP bulletin July 5th, 2005

The crucial issue addressed in the exchange between Habermas and Ratzinger published in La Vanguardia was one of moral legitimacy. In a society such as ours, where public behavior is regulated by law, the question arises as to why these laws are obeyed. The answer to this question (to the extent that one exists) is the same as the answer to the question of why laws are necessary at all. This uncertainty about what compels a society to make laws, and individuals to follow them, is what ultimately gives rise to changes in the final content of laws, to their durability, effectiveness and ethical validity.

Habermas approaches the problem from the standpoint of reason, from dialogic and critical reasoning, if you will, asking: How do people make laws? What does it mean in a democratic state when the future holders of a right (and followers of the laws) are the very same parties who coauthor it? What does majority rule mean when placed side by side with the preservation of the minority? What is the significance of a society, such as Catalonia, Spain, Italy or USA, furnishing itself with a basic text on which to build the rest of its legal system? In this context, what role do politicians play when it comes to laying out for citizens the grounds (moral and otherwise) for creating a text that, in addition to satisfying them socially, adheres to what society believes is right and wrong? Considerations regarding the ethical implications of legal and political acts are a dime a dozen and, for the time being, serve only to show that despite our postmodern age, the procedure, the formalities built into the law-making processes, and the methods of enforcement are based, if not on goodness or truth, at least on caution and safeguards against foolishness. In this sense, procedural law and its viscosity enable prudence, even if they fail to prevent manipulation or boss politics. Of course, Habermas realizes two things. First, such a cold, dispassionate analysis of the legal facts does not reflect any specific reality, for each community is the product of a unique historical process that lays its roots and primes it to react to those signs, including legal ones, that jibe with its historical and religious identity. Second, societies are no longer monolithic, faced with only minor ideological and democratic differences among people with a common identity. On the contrary, every society on the planet today, to a greater or lesser extent, is conditioned by a growing presence of culturally distinct people and groups, while the problems that states and laws must address are of an increasingly global nature. Hence the need to find a legal reality that predates the histories of all countries, predates all identities and pluralities. Something fundamental that stems from the very essence of people, regardless of origin or location. The question, then, is where to find this foundation? In nature? God? Reason alone? We will continue analyzing it in the next bulletin.

Ratzinger and Habermas (III): The Pathologies of Reason and Faith

Published in the CEJP bulletin on July 19th, 2005

After discussing Habermas’s approach to the question of the ethical and moral foundations of the liberal state in the last bulletin, it is now necessary to examine the limitations of the two great European traditions (Christianity and the Enlightenment) when it comes to supporting the creation of local and global law. To this end, let us turn to the argument posited by the then Cardinal Ratzinger in his exchange with Habermas, as published in La Vanguardia.
Ratzinger mentions two new trends that endow both the role of law and the role of citizens in the process of creating that law with special importance: first, the global reality, that is, the interconnection and interdependence that all economically, politically and socially powerful organizations have with each other and with each of the planet’s inhabitants; second, the notable increase in human capabilities. The power to create and destroy realities is more immediate and overwhelming than ever. The ability to wipe out or save a single person or an entire people is now, more than ever before, within the scope of human reason. This raises a question about good, about what is right and what is legal (which may not always be the same thing).

Ratzinger warns of the pathologies of reason and faith, about the devastating consequences of failing to analyze them correctly. Calling for holy war in 11th-century Iran was not the same as sending a video to Al Jazeera today. The silence surrounding the monk Mendel’s discovery of the laws of genetics when crossing peas cannot compare to the hullabaloo that greeted the cloning of Dolly or the possibility of cloning a human being.

According to Ratzinger, science is not a reliable source of ethics. Science is aseptic. It makes no claim to what is right, but rather to reality and to mastering its transformation. The ability to conceive of and build an atomic bomb has nothing to do with ethics: the dilemma lies in its use. The same can be said of cloning. Knowing that we have mastered genetic material to the extent that we can turn man himself into an object or commodity entails no moral confusion: the quandary resides in whether or not it is appropriate to use this knowledge and in weighing the need for its benefits. Ratzinger argues that we cannot grant scientific discourse authority over moral answers or the appropriateness of laws, or, at least, that we cannot grant it sole authority, as it has already been shown that science alone does not generate immediate good.

Some might claim that herein lies the power of the law, the embodiment of the communicative consensus that is democracy. However, Ratzinger argues that democracy has two limitations: first, delegation (which defines the issues for which the delegate, or politician, is responsible); second, the power of the majority, which has often shown itself to be cruel to minorities and which, as we know, raises the question of sovereignty.

Where, then, does that leave the ethical foundation for man’s legal relationships, a foundation that might possibly predate this confrontation? Human rights are an example. After all, whence do they derive their legitimacy? Is the implication that man, by nature, has certain intrinsic rights? Why so? As a result of consensus? How is it, then, that Islam establishes a different system of rights than the West, or that China, despite the Marxism we gave it, questions their very legitimacy, asking whether they aren’t simply another Western product, like football, in the midst of a world tour? Besides, they can do things faster and cheaper regardless. In this context of powers with diverging opinions over essential issues, what kind of consensus will it take to avoid mutual or self-destruction? Something better than the Cold War consensus, when fear of total, nuclear annihilation alone did the trick?

And what about religion? At a time when religious fanaticism is feeding terrorism and seeks to legitimize itself as an alternative to Western materialism and secularization, Ratzinger asks, “Should we consider religion as a redemptive and saving power or as an archaic and dangerous force that sets up false universalisms and brings, with them, intolerance and terror?”

The encounters between global identities and the internal shocks that they produce (for neither Europe nor Islam are univocal), fatigue with rationalism, the pathologies of reason, Western secularization, the pathologies of faith and the need to overcome the contingencies of convention with regard to the essential nature of man all call for mutual limitation and feedback between reason and faith, which, in Europe, refers to the dual tradition of the Enlightenment and Christianity. One can no more deny the ability of reason to coalesce identities and generate transcendent shifts, than one can deny the contributions of religion to the area of truth and understanding in politics. What then are the foundations of the liberal state? We will continue analyzing it in the next bulletin.

Habermas and Ratzinger (IV): The Liberal State, Rational Citizens

Published in the CEJP bulletin on September 6th, 2005
Having examined in the last bulletin the rational limits that Ratzinger would place on faith, and the faith-based limits he would place on reason, it is now time to turn to what Habermas, the father of constitutional patriotism, has to say about contemporary liberal states. Why must we obey laws now that we are no longer conditioned by fear of God or king? Continuing with the series of the last few months, we shall retrain our focus on the exchange between the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas and the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger published in La Vanguardia.

The central concern for both speakers was the foundation for the liberal state. Specifically, now that states no longer depend on divinely appointed kings, why should man abide by their laws? Likewise, if there is no God, why should man abide by laws? The liberal state is a form of collective organization whose tangible beginning and end lie in the body of its legal texts. In theory, these texts are based on respect for individual freedom and solidarity-based adhesion to a collective or community. Man is free and freely participates in society. What’s more, when he does make laws, when he chooses which laws to make, he chooses to maintain this freedom. Consequently, the rules that govern society must both guarantee this freedom and adhere to it. While this may seem paradoxical, it is not: if anything, it is a case of over-conceptualization of political life, an attempt to sterilize public life to make it seem rational, to believe that man (in politics, at least) is guided only by reason.

Indeed, we are told that the one inviolable principle is respect for man. For each and every individual. And what does this respect entail? Under this theory, man is, above all, a free subject with his own valid opinions. Respecting these opinions means respecting the person. Therefore, in civic life it is necessary to take all opinions into account. It follows that agreement on the rules to govern collective behavior requires everyone’s voice to be heard, that is, democracy. And, to come full circle, the laws that are democratically passed must keep this initial plurality intact.

This theory presupposes that people will make rational choices about what seems best for them and for their communities and that differences in opinion (which must not be disregarded) are little more than differences in how things are analyzed. After the catastrophic wars of the 20th century, no one would dare claim that there is only one truth; therefore, accepting all truths and giving them a role in public life is essential, indeed, the priority. This is relativism. However, to prevent society from breaking down into a series of isolated individuals, a reason, a foundation for living together with the same political and legal institutions must be sought. This concept of civic life must be grounded in more than just freedom to work. The foundation we are taught to presuppose, a foundation that is, at the very least, necessary for practical purposes, is solidarity amongst citizens: if one is a co-lawmaker, a co-participant in the legal process, whether as an elector or by voting in a referendum on a constitution or statute, it is assumed that one will cast one’s vote not only to one’s own benefit, but also to the benefit of the community at large. This is the pact, and it is this pact that leads to what is known as “political correctness.”

Extreme capitalism takes the opposite view, arguing that if each person looks out for his or her own self-interest, the resulting competition will lead to excellence, which, in turn, will redound to the common good. In contrast, the prevailing thesis regarding the liberal state assumes that people want the common good, are concerned about the common good and pursue it as a goal in itself; that people love their country and its people and that the measures they support work to the good of all. This notwithstanding, the questions of which country, which community, who exactly are these fellow citizens for whom I want the common good are left unresolved. Indeed, when I say common good, to whom does “common” even refer? These concerns are quite evident in constituent processes: one need think only of phrases such as “the spirit of the transition” or “the need for consensus to draw up the new Statute,” which imply that people are seeking not only their own good, nor even just the good of others, but the common good. Under this ultra-rationalist concept, man is a member of a society to which he brings, through his solidarity, his own vision of justice.

However, today this model has been shown to be inadequate, and the thesis of the rational man has proven illusory. Where would Habermas have us look for the solution? The next and final article will attempt to answer this question.

Habermas and Ratzinger (V): The Irrational Foundations of the Liberal State.

Article published in the CEJP bulletin on September 20th, 2005

This is the final article in the series that began a few months ago regarding the exchange between the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas and the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger published in Catalonia by La Vanguardia.

The goal of the last installment was to examine the physiognomy of our liberal states from the standpoint of political rationalism. In the talks, even Habermas found this model inadequate. The question is, thus, where to seek the foundations of civic behavior in a contemporary state where good does not originate in God.

The law, the constitution, is the origin of the social order, and its spirit encompasses all human relationships. The foundation of which Habermas has spoken to date is the rational, dialogical encounter, that is, dialogue, the capacity of people to speak to and understand one another in the primary sense of the word. I understand you when you speak to me: I know what you mean. Subject, verb, predicate. If communication is possible, we have our political foundation. However, Habermas realizes that rarely, if ever, have liberal states been founded on the basis of the mere adhesion by citizens to a given form of political organization. States have histories, customs and prejudices, even deep-seated grievances, and this informs not only their laws but also the most elemental behavior of their citizens. Perhaps the latter above all else. According to Habermas, “Sharing a religion and language and reclaiming a national consciousness fosters solidarity between citizens.” The certainty that some have of belonging to a national, ethnic or religious group is the reason why they exercise the solidarity that is a prerequisite for the creation of a liberal state. However, these allegiances are not rational, and this is something new for Habermas.

Take the EU. The exercise in collective solidarity required to found a liberal superstate made up of hundreds of millions of citizens with, in many ways, divergent (although in other ways, convergent) identities is immense, and the enthusiasm of politicians for this idea of brotherhood is cooled, referendum by referendum, by the lack of any collective identity to bolster and sustain it. Some might argue that Germany has been bankrolling the EU for years and that such financial generosity is solidarity enough.

However, contrary to what materialists on the right and left might think, money is the least costly thing to give up; admitting Turkey into the club, for example, would come at a much higher price. Regardless, Germany is still seeking the forgiveness of, or rather, expressing its gratitude for the forgiveness granted by, the rest of Europe in what has become a massive exercise in collective cynicism.
Thus, in his talk Habermas does an unusual thing, as unusual as Ratzinger calling for reason to place limits on faith, which we saw in the last bulletin: he affirms the irrational foundations of the liberal state or, at least, he acknowledges them. Think about it: why should people in a postmodern and post-metaphysical society have to partake in a rational exercise that transfers the desire to show solidarity for the common good to laws?

Habermas was the man who sought the foundation of good irrespective of any metaphysical concept, whether God or Satan, rational good or irrational evil. Now he is talking about irrational moral reserves: belonging to a cultural group, having a common religion and a shared history. This is the counterweight to, the asepsis of laws. Habermas is the father of constitutional patriotism, which advocated that citizens would be patriots in a country with just laws, with a respectful constitution, and that this alone would make people obey laws and respect the community, yet he now finds it necessary to marshal sensual arguments, emotional bonds. To this end, he presents faith as a source of truth and, above all, political solidarity. A foundation of attitudes. The examination of these attitudes and their rational usefulness is what determines whether or not they can be incorporated into laws. Think of a country’s historical rights as the moral reserve that acts as the pre-legal foundation for the liberal state. The historical rights to which our Constitution refers and which are obvious to us are the continuation of a collective story. The 1978 Constitution is a nucleus of rights; it is a recapitulation of the historical narrative called Spain, the origin of interpretations and dissatisfactions, just like any other text that might be analyzed.

In conclusion, after centuries in which faith prevailed, which were fruitful while they lasted, followed by centuries during which elite groups have sought to impose a tidy rationality, in these times of relativism, the two highest representatives of each trend have reached an, albeit minor, agreement with regard to the need for the existence of something certain. Faced with mankind’s overall weakness in this struggle, they have decided to join forces and complement one another. We thus return to the beginning: faith and reason. One issues messages considered original, atavistic, irrational, experiential, sensual, transcendent, metaphysical (take your pick); the other proceeds to ponder, choose, polish, examine and apply them (as you prefer). And vice versa. Reason and faith. Both of them, both.

Zapatero and metaphysics

http://paper.avui.cat/article/dialeg/107792/zapatero/la/metafisica.html

The king’s recent contretemps with Chávez and Zapatero’s joke to the late-night host Buenafuente about Barcelona’s commuter train services have distracted public attention from one of the most powerful statements I have ever heard a politician make. It was made by Zapatero, twice: in his reassuring speech at the Iberian American summit and in his interview with the TV channel La Sexta. Both times, he used the same phrase, preceded by silence and followed by a dramatic pause. This is a politician who says exactly what he wants, exactly how he wants to say it. His words were, “Form gives being to things.”

HE SAID THIS WHILE TALKING ABOUT HIS NOW-FAMOUS “TALANTE” (which might roughly translate as “open-minded character” or “willingness”) in an appeal for respect for governmental institutions. But where did Zapatero find this well-constructed, explicitly metaphysical phrase? Claiming that form gives being is no throwaway remark. I found it somewhat hard to believe that Zapatero, or even one of his advisors, could have come up with a sentence of this order, and, since it rang a bell, I decided to track down the source. It’s from St. Thomas Aquinas (1221-1274), specifically, from the Book of Sentences. In Latin, the phrase is “forma dat esse,” form gives being.

IN THE MIDDLE AGES, THE CONCEPT OF “FORM” WAS UNDERSTOOD in strictly Platonic terms, that is, form was seen as the essence of things, something unchanging and permanent. Forms existed above and beyond the objects of the tangible world, which decay. Nearly everyone learned something about Plato’s world of ideas at school, a sort of supersensible world inhabited by things in their purest form, by the essence of beauty, the essence of goodness, etc. These Platonic ideas (eidos in Greek) can also be translated as “forms.” Such an understanding had a host of consequences, including a certain resistance to change, a rigidity of principles, a kind of philosophical fundamentalism. In this context, St. Thomas represented a change. He brought Aristotle to Christianity and made several brilliant contributions of his own that have withstood the test of time. He sought to overcome this identification of form with essence, although, given his situation_ living in a Paris teaming with neo-Platonists and condemned for his Aristotelian deviancy_ this was no mean feat. Nevertheless, he took the chance. To break the chains of this subservience to form, and to break away from its cynical and hypocritical embrace, he proposed a new schema whereby forms were but a vehicle for reaching being, for revealing it, for granting it presence. For to say that form gives being is to say that forms themselves are not being: they may enable being, make it real, bring it into existence, but they are not being itself. St. Thomas understood that true meaning, the core, could not be form alone, but rather something bigger, namely, being itself.

WHEN ZAPATERO SAYS “FORM GIVES being to things,” he is justifying his take on the world, a take that includes notions such as “anything can be said with a smile” and even his specific way of speaking. Most of the president’s speeches, both scripted and extemporized, shy away from statements regarding how things are, that is, the essence of things. Zapatero never says, “This is how things are.” Instead, he tends to refer to reality through a filter. He says, “This is what such and such represents.” For example, in the general political debate last year, he said, “This is what the phenomenon of immigration represents.” And just a few weeks ago in Bellvitge he said, “I know what the AVE [high speed train link] represents.” He does this all the time. For Zapatero, what matters is not what things are, but what they represent. It does not matter what the AVE is, but rather what it represents within his schema. In a word: appearances. It matters far more what something seems to be, than what it actually is.

I AM NOT SAYING THAT FORMS DO NOT MATTER, and I agree with Zapatero that people can differ on virtually any point, providing proper forms are observed. Certainly, politeness is founded on respect for the dignity of others, and that is all fine and good. It would be even better, however, if when Zapatero says that form gives being to things, he were saying, as St. Thomas did, that forms are but a vehicle for arriving at the essence of being, that the best form is that which most clearly reveals the nature of things. But Zapatero uses form as a tool to obscure his actual goals. In other words, for Zapatero, form is being itself, the only thing that matters in his politics. What a pity, then, now that he has found this brilliant catchphrase, that his metaphysical grounding falls so short of Aquinas’s. ZP’s version of the statement is one of the most precise formulations of cynicism in contemporary politics, a cynicism that has no use for ideologies and is a cancer on the trade. It does not matter what you say, as long as you say it nicely. In a democracy, forms should lay the groundwork for content, but for the president forms are used to hide content. Which is odd, for the Greek word for “truth,” aletheia, appropriately enough, means the state of not being hidden.

Article from the Avui newspaper, published December 4th, 2007.

Islam and Technology (I)

Article from the newspaper Avui

One of the most conspicuous characteristics of fundamental Islam is its love for Western technology. Contemporary technology is a European invention according to Ortega i Gasset, and the Nazi concentration camps one of its zeniths, according to Heidegger. Yet the Muslim population, fundamental or not, has bowed in recent decades towards consuming as much technology as their possibilities have allowed them, and has not created a single discourse against advances in our gadgets, as opposed to the Amish, for example. For a few centuries now, there has been a rumour among Islam intellectuals, which is readily believed by many, that a major part of the success of European modernity, major advances in science and technology are due to the influence of medieval Islamic thinkers. There are convincing arguments that authors such as Descartes or Spinoza are ideologically indebted to Muslim thinkers. Technology arising from Europe after the Enlightenment is not a problem for fundamentalism theory and practices. Rather, current Islamic thinking makes a harsh criticism of the consequences of secularism and the spiritual gap of the West. It is decadence that they wish to avoid or destroy, as required. I don’t think that one can be dissociated from the other. Technology, brought to our extreme, is above all a way of giving power and competence to individuals in order to use their own vision of the world and make the silences of their inner convictions heard. It is a necessary condition for individualism and pluralism. Dismissing technology is dismissing power. It is breaking homogenous thinking. Europe has finished with fundamentalism.

Published in the newspaper AVUI, page 20. Saturday, August 18th 2007

Islam and Technology (II)

Article from the newspaper Avui

In the possible control of Pakistan and its nuclear weapons by radical factions or in Iran’s attempt to obtain nuclear weapons, there is a wrath similar to 20th Europe, but there is also a grain of democracy. As I mentioned yesterday, the love Islamic countries has for our technology may lead the way to politic pluralism and respect for one another. In order for pluralism to be possible, the dissemination of talks must be effective and the threats of control by a superior power, dictator or religious leader, must be contained by the sum of individual powers. Communication technology balances power as Chinese leaders know when limiting access to the Internet or anti-globalization factions when they use globalization means to organize themselves. It is also known that technology allows to multiply capabilities, enabling financial independence when faced with tyrants. It is a fact well known by millions of Africans who have mobiles, millions of South Americans with Internet access, or European women who have seen how their technological skills have allowed them to free them from the men who hide them away. Dismissing technology generates porous societies where no one is powerful enough to dominate. Islamic terrorists show this fact every time they use small devices to deploy horror among us, but also it shows the weakness that it involves for all of us who have access to the same gadgets: the power of each terrorist cell keeps the debate about extremes and fundaments open. Be aware that everyone has the power to enforce co-existence and agreement.

Published in the newspaper AVUI, page 28. Sunday, August 19th 2007

Islam and Technology (and III)

Article from the newspaper Avui

In order for technology to be used as the seed of democracy, pluralism and freedom, an experience of strength and weakness must be created; strength, because if everyone has access to technology, everyone has strength, and thus more people will attempt to say and do their own thing. From here, the idea of individualism and the diversity of though are reinforced, as I mentioned yesterday. However, this dispersed strength must be made aware of its own weakness. It is as erroneous to say that the origin of society is based only on the weakness of humankind when they live isolated, as to say that only within a homogeneous community will humankind find their strength. Europe has seen how the development of technology led it to bring evil to its limits, with two world wars and the Communist paranoia that sought uniform societies. I do not believe that the technological desire of fundamentalist societies has already reached this awareness. For the moment, the logic of impositions continues. Co-existence is based both on the need to share a good as well as the need to avoid a possible evil. For Islamic fundamentalists, the evil that we could inflict is irrelevant because we are the enemy, no matter what we do. Yet if each one of their brothers of faith has power, then an agreement of coexistence is inevitable. What we are yet to see is whether they need a holocaust like we needed in order to understand the extreme weakness in massive access to technology. Until now, all peaceful, democratic and plural nations have come from a previous wrath. They needed to experience the evil that they could inflict in order to renounce total power.

Published in the newspaper AVUI, page 18. Monday, August 20th 2007

Ciutadans de Catalunya

(http://paper.avui.cat/dialeg/detail.php?id=48068 )

I know a good few Ciutadans Party voters and I’m surprised to say that each one has different or even opposite reasons for voting for them. I haven’t discovered anything if I say that Ciutadans bring together all kinds of unsatisfied people and their importance is parallel to that of abstention or the growth of other minority forms. Yet there is one type of Ciutadans voter which is of particular importance.

THE FACT IS THAT AMONG THEIR VOTERS ARE SOCA-REL SPANIARDS: Spaniards with pride and satisfaction, Spaniards who see how Catalan politics does little to bring peace to the Spanish nation, thus only infuriating them further. There are also young people in the group who are sick of nationalistic debates, born in Barcelona, bilingual and with a decent financial situation who above all, being comfortable, do not want things to be made difficult for them. Any demand for rights, any political or national effort (from whatever nation it may be) seems a bother. There are classic Spanish socialists that cannot quite see how the PSC can represent them and there are more still that I don’t know about. Nonetheless, there is one type that cries for attention for their recent appearance: renouncers of identity and of symbols, who wear on their sleeve an aversion to Catalanism and any other aesthetic that is not exactly the same as their own in an enraged war against symbolism, metaphor and spirit. They are post-modern, they call themselves rational and they represent the greatest opportunity to swell the party.

I GET THE IMPRESSION THAT ALBERT RIVERA, their leader, is from this last group. Well educated, with in-depth knowledge of his specialty, a strong sense of individuality, a certain rhetorical sense of social justice and a profound and endless love for concrete things. These individuals love the security of success; they love objects to be only what they are and not what they represent. A piece of cloth is not a flag, it’s a piece of cloth; a song is a song and not a hymn. They are people who have their own special mug at home, not for sentimental reasons, but because it’s private property. It is the victory of objectivity in all ambits, the victory of simple words and narrowest viewpoint positivism. It is denying that debate between people, politicians or countries is a debate between subjectivities meeting and not about objectivity. They believe in legality, full stop, in all ambits. To the letter, literality, valuing a poem for the number of syllables. Strange as it may seem, they believe that their subjectivity, their particular vision is objective, and for this reason, they feel that they are the victims.

THIS THINKING IS MORE UNDERSTOOD than it appears to be, although it is a bit of a sham because it is difficult to always live as if everything were at the forefront. It is a thinking that has conquered the space of daily living, the space of sentimentalism and language. Just take their electoral poster – a naked candidate, full of expressions that said “We don’t care what language you speak, what clothes you wear, what…” etc, in other words, an objective human being, without any features or any of his own particularities. Yet, that human beings are objective does not mean that we do not follow that specific person under specific circumstances; it’s incredible that one can come out with utterances like these nowadays. That human beings are symbolic beings is another of the great platitudes in the history of thought – a fact that is embarrassing to have to repeat. The discourse saying that symbols are not advisable or that they are treacherous or artificial only lasts for the time it takes to say it aloud. In that moment, the person who has said it and their words already are a symbol, as artificial as any other, as human as any other. On the night of the elections the supporters of Ciutadans shouted in Spanish “TV3, take 3” and in front of a Guardia Civil squad car bellowed in Spanish “Freedom, freedom” Are these demands not hymns? Are they not symbols of identity? The most objective Ciutadans already have their own subjective nation.
Published in the newspaper AVUI, page 23. Saturday, 24 February 2007

Prejudice in times of Zen
(http://paper.avui.cat/article/dialeg/55144/prejudicis/temps/zen.html)

I’ve been meaning to read the latest book by French philosopher Comte-Sponville for a while. It was recommended to me by Josep Maria Via i Taltavull, who was my Anthropology lecturer and teacher of so many other things. As Catholics today, we cannot be dogmatic and nor would we want to be, because we have been educated in a context of extreme rationalisms which accuse us of having little basis, of being slaves to our feelings, cowards who want to make the world right with an invented God, and conservative, devout people. Being young and Christian, and admitting it, nowadays is a constant battle, an exercise in unending reasoning. What is more, we need to show that we are serene and happy, because if not, we are instantly branded fundamentalists of Al-Qaeda or bitter sons of silicon. The question I am often asked when I say I’m Christian is whether I have sex. Exactly – everything must be easier than it looks.

CHRISTIANS LIKE ME, WE LIVE IN THIS CONTEMPT, this life-forgiving view of all those who call on reason and science, although they live supported by self-help manuals and the only thing that they know about reason is that they want to be right. As if I don’t trust scientific discoveries and don’t demand doctors to have a university degree. I mean that I am familiar with the laws of Newton not just because they made me learn them at school. I’m also fascinated by the doors of the supermarket that open automatically when I come close with the shopping trolley. And I would have been thankful if some white coat had found the solution to metastasis long before cancer had the chance to accompany my parents to the exit. But no matter, if you’re Christian in modern times and, if Marx, Nietzsche, Feuerbach, the pedophile bishops, Xavier Sardà or the ipod haven’t convinced you, then there is something wrong with you.

WHAT IS MORE, SINCE MUSLIM IMMIGRATION and Islamic terrorism have made lifelong fundamental Christians thrive, it seems that you should have to take responsibility for their belches on television programs, where very often they invite the biggest dimwit of the tribe.

I HAVE BEEN MEANING TO READ THE BOOK by Compte-Sponville because my lecturer Via recommended it to me, and I know that he wants me to be aware of new formulations of philosophers, no matter how scant they are. We can no longer go about the world with a parochial catechism, if you don’t want to stay within the bubble of your people. I have read and heard things here and there, and it has awakened my appetite and laziness in equal measure, with neither winning. The book, called L’esprit de l’athéisme (The Spirit of Atheism) looks to round out the circle. Sponville, lifelong atheist and classic materialist, has suddenly changed course towards spirituality. Just like all of Europe, unsatisfied with science alone, he adopts the lighter forms of Zen. The ones that don’t require a commitment; this is a victory of aesthetics, of all things new. As atheists, according to Sponville, we have spirit and we can be spiritual. We are not materialists. We can let our spirit unfold before the magnificence of a landscape, the intimacy of a monastery or the power of a work of art. I still haven’t read it, but this and other things are what I’ve heard about this book. It’s not Sponville’s fault that people take these readings from his book. Coming from someone who sees, I’m sure it’s a well-written, seductive and suggesting book. I’m sure there is well-worked reasoning and also that it doesn’t aspire to any logical or scientific rigor. For a long time, fashionable philosophers have given up on specifying a whole metaphysics to justify their thesis. They just write essays that are lists of stupefactions.

I’M NOT TRYING TO ANNOY OR BE CLEVER, in short, it is a very delicate subject and each one of us knows our own wound, but it is not the first time in the West that someone says that we can strengthen and unleash the spirit and thus, dispense with God and religion; the Nazis did for example. Although, naturally this specific case does not contaminate all those that slave away with the silence of God and a boiling heart. Usually these soft formulations have ended in the arbitrary and in submission to the inclination of each one or of a guru who serves as an example. It ends like this because it has no content, just the force and drive and the impossible satisfaction of irrational desires. With the Kantians’ pardon, we haven’t had enough of it with formal morals. The fascination for spirituality without liturgy, sacredness or community is even older than the importation of oriental symbols such as the swastika, and even more still than the trend of incense in the home. I cannot deny that this is the fashionable thinking. It is the same thinking that takes us to the platitudes of manuals on happiness and fills the yoga schools and the business esoteric bookshops.

TRY TO UNDERSTAND ME, I DON’T WANT TO EVANGELISE ANYONE, but I’m becoming tired of being the irrational Catholic, the submissive religious follower, heir of all the wars in history, guilty of all the sodomies of the vestry, and of seeing how the same insanities as always grow merrily around me. I’m under the impression that the spirits that have no foundation are spirits that have no limit. If you want a spirit, you must have a god. If not, what happens to you before the Christ Pantocrator can only be called a synapse. And in the end, it’s not that this is a lie. For me, it’s also easier to reason Christianity than to be a Christian.

Published in the newspaper AVUI, page 26. Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Neutrals

Article from the newspaper Avui

The historical philosopher, Reinhard Koselleck says that one of the most crucial moments at the end of the old regime was when the religious civil wars gave to princes the opportunity to prove themselves as a neutral power in disputes. Faced with the sectaries’ inability to reach agreement, the prince played moderator. It was his power, a temporary power, which he imposed on the bloody dissensions of the spiritual powers at war. In this way, the State started an unstoppable secularization process, and from crisis to crisis, a certain consensus has been reached. The State must be a neutral political body capable of moderating and articulating internal dissensions to avoid civil war.

NEUTRALITY (which comes from Latin ne uter, neither one nor the other) depends on the tension of the rivals. It does not involve any good in itself other than to avoid confrontment and it has no content of its own. When we say that the State is neutral, we are saying that all forms of dissension are possible, given that it does not put the survival of this neutrality at risk. In fact, it is this survival that led the princes to want to become the paradigm of neutrality. The only thing that they protected was their own power and the real victory came on defeating the religious power. The liberal State, the State that groups us nowadays as a result of that moment is not an example of neutrality, objective, universal, or strictly speaking, just, because that neutrality does not exist in politics, nor can it exist.

COMBINING RIVALS, becoming the middle ground in dissensions of the citizens depends on what these citizens are like. For Spain, this means demographic superiority, as has been demonstrated decade after decade. Since one of the essential objectives of a neutral State is the subsistence of the conditions of this neutrality, defending Spain, defending the State becomes an unavoidable task for all its institutions.

THE NEUTRAL STATE IS THE NEW BACKGROUND ARGUMENT of the Spanish nationalists. It’s the argument used by Ciutadans, the Losantos talk show, PP and PSOE. It is also the argument provided by Duran and by PSC, when they say that independence would provide more cons than pros, more dissension and violence than liberation and peace. Maybe it is not necessary to remind AVUI readers that Spain is not a neutral State, but it is worthwhile mentioning that Spanish nationalism (be it identity or utilitarian) has moved from the unit of destiny, in other words, from a metaphysical concept to that of justification of the free citizen or to a post-metaphysical concept. In times of internationalization of all elements of economic and political life, there no longer is credible neutrality, at least exercised by a state power. States are overcome or destroyed, something for which we are still not prepared. Humankind’s new contract with the already-global community means finding solutions to problems of individual and group identity. The appearance of neutrality is useful in a territory, a country or a kingdom when there are various groups that come to loggerheads to lead the story, to achieve ultimate power. However when dealing with defining the space where this neutrality must reign, when dealing with making the public space peaceful for the inner peace of each person, neutrality is only another form of violence. The harshest form because it looks to assimilate, to make uniform, to annihilate difference.

ACCEPTING NEUTRALITY means recognizing the distance between one’s way of thinking with another’s. It must be possible to define, to decide the centre by attending to new needs. Spanish nationality is designed to prevent exactly this. The princes’ neutrality had to bring us forcibly to argue about it: inevitably, it had to be a temporary solution.

IN REALITY, WE NEED NOT REMEMBER that institutional Spain wants to assimilate us, to make us neutral; however the fallacies of our times must be dismantled first. These are no longer times for obviating these conflicts, not here or anywhere else, in the favor of co-existence here and now that only puts neutrals at risk. The boiling of the identity issue everywhere is proof. This is the new crisis.

Published in the newspaper AVUI, page 27. Sunday, September 23rd 2007

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