Review of Daniel Gascón's book The postmodern coup


Alfredo Crespo Alcázar is Professor at the International University of Valencia and at Antonio de Nebrija’s University (Madrid).

El golpe posmoderno. 15 lecciones para el futuro de la democracia
, de Daniel Gascón

Debate, Barcelona, 2018, 208 páginas. 

Daniel Gascón offers us a very suggestive, often politically incorrect, essay whose object of study is the Catalonian “procés.” The author tackles a subject of evident complexity without falling into equidistance, liable to be summed up in the false dialectic “separators versus separatists.” In fact, he does not hesitate to criticize the way in which Rajoy’s government responded to the breakaway attack, condemning without palliatives the marginal place he gave to the battle of ideas.

With all that, what does he mean by postmodern coup? What characteristics define it? In response to the first question, for Gascón, that was an illegal adventure carried out by the Catalan government: “no matter how much secessionism spoke about democratic principles, what it did was more like establishing a sovereign dictatorship following the doctrine of Carl Schmitt” (p.37).

As for the second question, Gascón points out that “we have seen the rebellion, clothed with all the conventions and rhetoric of the struggle for the dignity of oppressed peoples, of a rich minority against a liberal democracy. The challenge is open, of course, but apparently peaceful. Laws were broken, critics were denounced on social networks, and the headquarters of anti-independence parties were attacked” (p.11). The “procés,” therefore, resorted to symbolic and verbal violence; moreover, its champions always tried for the Spanish State to practise physical violence, understanding that its use would facilitate the legitimisation of the breakaway aspirations sponsored by the Catalonian government.

In reply, the author recalls that, during the 1-0, the Mossos de Escuadra did not fulfil their constitutional mission; hence the intervention of the National Police and the Guardia Civil, instrumentalised by independentists in two complementary ways. On the one hand, by increasing the actual number of wounded, that is, by lying. On the other hand, showing notable doses of the binomial victimhood-opportunism: “apparently, the correct interpretation is that we should congratulate ourselves because they did not intensify a conflict that would not have erupted if they had not initiated it. In addition, we must thank them for not carrying out a violent action. There were two explanations for this resignation. One was strategic: the legitimacy it provided. The other revealed itself more tactically: in the end, there was no real violence because they lacked the necessary strength to provoke it, because they were losing” (p.171).

The “procés,” finally, was at all times led by the Catalonian political elites, not by civil society, warns the author. In fact, it was a movement from top to bottom, in which numerous populist features were mentioned, appreciable in the construction of an enemy (Spain), which was first stigmatized pejoratively by separatism and later served as an alibi to justify the multiple frustrations accumulated by the separatists (for example, the flight of companies from Catalonia).

In close relation with the previous idea, for Gascón, the “procés” has resulted in a resounding failure for those who perpetrated it. Indeed, there are plenty of reasons for describing it as such, ranging from the failure to achieve independence to the absence of international mediation, without forgetting that, today, separatism is not the majority option among Catalans.

Furthermore, for the purposes of legitimacy, it should not be forgotten that the European Union defended Spain: “the European Union is based on the cession of sovereignty by States, but it is still a club of States. The dismantling of one of them would encourage other secessionist movements. In the medium term, it could mean the end of Europe” (p.177). Therefore, in line with this theoretical approach, no EU member state recognised the Catalonian republic proclaimed in October 2017.

No room for euphoria 
The above analysis does not cause the author to enter the realm of optimism when he reflects on what may happen in the short and medium term. On the contrary, Gascón draws lessons more attached to reality, such as the deterioration of coexistence and of autonomous and state institutions, stating that the “procés” has meant a negative episode for Catalonia and Spain, whose democracy has been denied by separatists, spreading without blush that political ideas are pursued in our country.

However, such a mantra was bought by certain sectors of the international press, thus reflecting a deep ignorance of the history of Spain. At the time of deepening in this matter, the author shelters neither in general affirmations nor in claims close to the world of topics. On the contrary, he shows himself to be brave, elaborating a very complete listing with names and surnames (Owen Jones, John Carlin, Paul Mason, Max Weller, John Lee Anderson, New Statesman, The Spectator, some editorials of The New York Times) and denouncing that, particularly among some representatives of the Anglo-Saxon press, a condescending interpretation of Spain prevailed, i.e., the vision of “a wild Spain, populated by nice and proud people, with a primitive charm, but that at the slightest opportunity returned to romantic and authoritarian ways” (p.161).

The author continues his political incorrectness when he focuses on those who understood the “procés” and its narrative as a “progressive” phenomenon, referring specifically to the attitude of broad sectors of the left (p.45). In fact, Gascón points out that during the month of October 2017, the calls for “dialogue” with the coup plotters by formations such as the PSC or Podemos were common. These calls were combined with accusations of guilt that fell exclusively on the Government of the Nation: “Striking is the paradox of those who always recommend dialogue, agreement and are willing to negotiate (even if they do not like that word) with anyone, no matter how extremist or violent they may be, but at the same time they cannot stand the idea of having a picture where they are close to someone associated with the Spanish right wing” (p.46).

The (justified) reproaches to the left do not end there, since, in the full force of “Pujolism,” that left felt uncomfortable with those who, like Francesc de Carreras, Arcadi Espada, Albert Boadella or Félix Ovejero, predicted the intentions and ends of Catalonian nationalism. In this respect, once again the author is implacable: “we must believe, like so many decent, progressive and orderly people, that it is acceptable to prosecute a small delinquent, but not one who diverts public funds to create a new country, who uses the infrastructures of the State against the State itself or who works to destroy the constitutional order while mocking the warnings of the Courts” (pp.172-173).

In short, a work whose reading is obligatory in order to know not only the true ethics of those who fostered the “procés” but also that of those who acted as spokespersons for their expectations, either fattening them or justifying them. Gascón assumes that it will take a long time for the wounds to heal, so he does not incur in the messianism of proposing a magic solution. However, he offers some reference models, the main one being the recovery of the spirit of the Transition, which leaves the door open to the possibility that in the future, when circumstances allow it and the unity of the Nation is not endangered, a constitutional reform could be produced as a result of the consensus and later voted by all Spaniards.

Translation by Javier Martín Merchán

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