Overcoming mutual rejections: the problems of civic conversation and the example of Catalonia (June, 2021)

Civil Society in a broad sense

In an earlier essay, I suggested that we should consider political problems as if they were games of chess, being played as multiple simultaneous matches. Victories, defeats and rankings would follow one another, over and over again, and each match would have its own prize, but the final victory would remain to be seen - it could come... right at the end, or at any time. I now propose a game that, in a sense, goes hand-in-hand with all the others: that of the control of feelings of mutual rejection. I examine this by focusing on a personal experience while emphasising the socio-cultural breadth of the underlying problem - which is far more than just an incidental tactical one.

The underlying challenge is that of winning or losing the game of how to hold together a political community (Europe or Spain, for example) and overcoming or (at least provisionally) circumventing the possibility, or the probability, of spiralling feelings of reciprocal mistrust. Such feelings could overshadow the whole, threatening to cause chaos and darkness. They prevent the formation of a solid foundation for civic friendship, which is indispensable for producing and reproducing a plausible political community. A community, that is, that will be able to last - and even to last for a very long time - just as any European nation-state or a Roman civitas might dream about lasting for a millennium.

In this case, we could attempt to reinforce the European political community, for example. However, it should be done by taking account of not only (and not so much) the ideas and interests argued over in the debates, and the continuous manoeuvring, but the feelings (and the moral dispositions) of the people. And it should also be done in a certain way: indirectly, by focusing attention on how one of the European nation-states (Spain) and one of its territories or regions (Catalonia) fit together. This would be justified for two reasons. Firstly, because what we ascertain at the nation-state level may be useful to us, by analogy, at the European level. Secondly, because, in order for the project of an integrated Europe to come to fruition, it is essential that its constituent parts, its nation-states, have the internal coherence and stability necessary in order to avoid any one of them becoming a source of contagion. To the contrary, this would aggravate an already chaotic situation and foster the creation of a kind of black hole into which a large part of our energies (of Europeans, of Spaniards and of Catalans) would be sucked, for far too long. And the ultimate consequence of that would be a Europe that is “eternally in the making” - a variant of what Voegelin called “that famous Europe which does not exist”.