I have been aware of separatist movements in Europe for some years and I saw them as a weathervane indicating the general direction of politics and culture. Brexit made me hold back on this thesis for awhile, but the tepid progress towards actually leaving the EU and now the resurgent talk of Catalonian independence confirms my initial intuitions.
Nations are made up of regions that in a perfect peaceful world would each be independent, their governments fully representing the wills of the locals. As the aftermath of the Versailles treaty demonstrated, regions must combine into a tolerable nation for the sake of common security.
Once combined, the central government cannot easily allow regions to secede or it loses its legitimacy and a precedent is set for its complete disassembly. Thus I understand the position of Lincoln in 1861 or of the Spanish government now.
However, the overall trend is nation-states are becoming far less relevant in the 21st century as most of the world is organized into interlinked economic zones. The nations are still there with their armies, territories, legal systems and leaders but the reality is power is no longer neatly circumscribed by the borders of discrete sovereign entities drawn on maps in different colors.
For the purposes of international commerce separate political units are a nuisance. We can imagine what it would be like going through customs every few miles or paying a fee to change currency to be able to buy anything. There is little incentive for globalist rulers anymore to pay much attention to borders, except as it inconveniences the stupid local serfs who are still tied to the land.
To understand Catalonian “independence” we must understand they are not trying to gain sovereignty but only to change patrons. With no threat of invasion, they are a relatively rich region with no need for a national government that funnels away their taxes into poorer regions. They have every interest to signal they’d rather have direct allegiance to Brussels rather than Madrid. They are like a toddler running to Daddy for protection, only to have him back up Mommy’s verdict.
The European movements for regional separation are mostly an attempt of regions to align with the larger economic zone instead of outdated nations whose protection is no longer needed. None of these movements are succeeding though. The regionalists are blocked by an intractable problem of modernity. No region is really regional anymore. For some time people from all over Spain and the world have congregated in Catalonia until the core going back centuries can no longer unite as a political whole. Furthermore, a Spaniard in Barcelona probably has more in common with a resident of any worldwide city than an inhabitant of the Catalonian countryside.
As the experiment of regionalism falls flat as a political movement, people will begin to realize the key to modernity is a sort of techno-tribalism that unites by IQ, class, neurotype, and relatedness rather than some dumb flag people pretend to care about with tremendous heart-slapping sentimentality. One of the most common sentiments I see online: “I have more in common with this alt-right guy far away from me than these assholes who live right next to me with their loud music.” This is the future.