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Home » Content » Michael Corleone in Catalonia. A geopolitical fable of a disjointed unionism
The author analyzes the problem of how to deal with the independence issue in Catalonia, using the thesis of the essay 'The Godfather Doctrine'

Toni Timoner

7 September, 2019 02:17

For some time now, unionism in Catalonia has been fragmented, disoriented and even confronted (has it ever not been?). Its factions, parties and platforms debate, without agreement, on the pathology, diagnosis and medicine necessary to definitively overcome the procés. They differ on whether the previous status quo should be restored or if a new political balance should be designed in Spain, in general and particularly in Catalonia. They pointlessly discuss even their own taxonomy: should we call ourselves unionists, constitutionalists, patriots, anti-nationalists? The golden days of the historical manifestations of October 8th and 29th, 2017 in Barcelona are far away.

That division, as unfortunate and as a little surprising, finds striking parallels in the celebrated geopolitical analysis that academics John Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchellen developed in their essay The Godfather Doctrine in 2008, to explain the secular dilemma of American foreign policy in the 21st century. Using Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, The Godfather, Hulsman and Mitchellen drew an allegory of American global power that ponders alternative doctrines in facing their global leadership crisis following the geopolitical hangover at the end of the Cold War. The Corleone family empire, or Pax Corleone, would represent the US. The alternative doctrines would correspond to the different strategies of each of the three Godfather’s children: Sonny, Michael and the adopted Tom Hagen.

A mature reader will understand that here our political system is not being homologated with a criminal organization; quite the opposite. The Corleone, like the Spanish constitutional regime and the American global hegemony, have maintained a political order for decades. They have brought economic prosperity and guaranteed a reasonable distribution of power between the parties. But over time this political order has become contested.

In the film, the trigger is the attempted assassination of the Godfather by Virgil El Turco Sollozzo, a minion of the Barzini family who wants to liquidate the Pax Corleone in order to expand his narcotics business outside of the current order. After the attack on the Godfather – the procés – the three children of the Godfather, gathered in an atmosphere of panic and shock, differing on how to react to the existential threat of the Barzini. The Godfather has survived the bullets and, although serious, this allows the Corleone to gain some time.

The godfather’s three children, Tom, Sonny and Michael, differ on how to react to the threat of the Barzini

The adopted son Tom, conciliatory and diplomatic lawyer, is the first one the family go to for advice. As consigliere of the clan, Tom has been responsible for guiding the family through the dense network of influences, alliances and favors that sustain the Corleone empire in the US. Tom believes that the Corleone’s response must be to reformulate a status quo between the families through negotiation and transaction – “we must speak” “we must listen to what they offer”, Tom mutters; “it is not good for business” warns the consigliere to those who demand immediate reprisals. His vision of the situation fits into the diplomatic-legal doctrine of the so-called liberal-institutionalist school: the Wilsonian vision of the world, based on negotiation, generous leadership and multilateral balance, which had in the Clintons its last great supporter.

This doctrine is also the benign solution that some advocate in Catalonia for the secessionists: an approach, understanding and, finally, a competitive or economic transaction that illuminates a new lasting political-fiscal balance in Spain. Like Tom, they have faith in the effectiveness of diplomacy, the wisdom of the parties and institutional containment.

If the separatist leaders are satisfied with the new arrangement, they say to themselves, the millions of pro-independence guys will be deactivated for decades. Not only that. Tom Hagen is convinced that the frictions between the different families are, after all, a constant of the mafia task that causes inevitable conflicts and forces the constant reassessment of the pacts, even the acceptance of the specific weight of the loss of the Corleone family. Similarly, Wilsonians in Catalonia ascribe to Orteguian entanglement and resign themselves to an indomitable plurality in the endless configuration of Spain.

The eldest son and heir Sonny, on the other hand, wants to fight back. Fed up with malicious acts, he advocates resorting to the law of the strongest and applying brute force to end the Barzini. In the fable of Hulsman and Mitchellen, Sonny represents the neoconservative vision of the Republican administration of George W. Bush. That doctrine drinks from a hegemonic worldview that prioritizes the use of military power in response to all external threats.

Sonny disregards Tom’s recommendations and warnings and wants to launch the entire arsenal of the Corleone family to eradicate any risk of future threat. “No more meetings, no more negotiations, no more tricks of Sollozzo!”, a furious Sonny tells Tom, for whom there is no transaction possible with those who have dared to try to assassinate the Godfather, fatherly figure and family pillar.

Our country’s ‘Sonnys’ see in the application of the law the main and sometimes the only weapon against secessionism

In Spain, our national Sonnys would be those who see in the application of the law, with all its criminal and administrative severity, the main and sometimes the only weapon against secessionism. They insist that you have to hit hard, without delay, immediately. Do not waste your time with negotiating dreams: it is urgent to apply article 155 with a long course and subject Catalonia to an express process of social, cultural and economic denationalization.

Political courage and the BOE will be the shock therapy. But there is no expertise or reflexivity in Sonny’s strategy. His actions are motivated by the anxiety of recovering the moral clarity of the past hegemony of the old Pax Corleone. That is, the restoration of an evocative Pax Constitutionalis, anchored in the founding myths of the Transition, imbued in the conviction that a greater degree of national unity is the great pending task of the State.

However, the strategy that finally saves the Corleone from the threat of the Barzini and prepares them to face the new political reality does not come from any of the brothers who initially control the family’s resources, but from Michael, the youngest and apparently least experienced of the godfather’s children. Michael does not profess any attachment to any particular doctrine. His primary objective is to protect the interests of the family and save it from ruin at all costs.

Michael sees the world without diopters, debts and prejudices; he is also a decorated war hero. He is aware that times have changed and that the era of Corleone rule, as they built it, has decayed. Michael symbolizes the so-called realistic school: the pragmatic and agnostic foreign policy doctrine that understands and accepts structural changes and reevaluates the geopolitical board to formulate the most sensible and judicious decisions according to the new paradigms.

Like the great exponents of American realistic foreign policy (George Kennan, Henry Kissinger or Zbigniew Brzezinski), Michael realizes that conventional responses are sterile. The Corleone can no longer bet exclusively on the use of force. Nor can they be abandoned to the disintegrating and anarchic multilateralism. It is necessary to recalibrate your strategy, with a more complex and sophisticated configuration that combines multiple doctrines according to the need and the opportunity of the moment.

In addition, Michael understands something fundamental that unfortunately is not in common with Spanish political action: you have to be patient and control the times with a long-term vision. For this reason, the strategy of the baby of the Corleone against the Barzini (and against all the enemies of the Corleone family) is executed in several stages, with large doses of prudence, perseverance and meticulous preparation.

Catalonia has been subjected to 40 years of nationalist nation-building and 10 years of separatist state-building

In Spain, unionism is obliged to develop a realistic strategy if it sincerely wants success in achieving its goal. The separate use in Catalonia of neoconservative or liberal-institutional doctrines either only serves short-term interests or only helps to satisfy their own consciences. The systematic onslaught is the wrong tactic because it lacks defined strategic goals. Negotiating appeasement is also based on fossilized diagnoses. Both are extemporaneous, ineffective and inflexible.

The rules of politics in the 21st century have changed. The territory too. Eliminating nationalism in a definitive way, with an integrated and integrating Catalonia at the end of the tunnel, first requires understanding its complex political and linguistic equation, nationalist roots and resilience, and the international ramifications of any reaction-action.

Catalonia has been subjected to 40 years of nationalist nation-building and 10 years of separatist state-building. Reversing this project requires time, patience and inventiveness. Any action plan will require a strategic approach and it will not always be possible to be guided by a rigorous ideological north if it turns out that it is necessary to cross swamps and marshes along the way. And all this applies to the multiple fronts of unionism: language, education, taxation, TV3, dragging issues through courts, subsidies, etc.

But the most difficult task that Michael Corleone would face in Catalonia would be to join forces around that new doctrine. That is, unite unionism. It would not be about drawing another equidistant perpendicular bisector, this time between the different unionist sensibilities. But to agglutinate around a lasting, flexible and pragmatic strategy, with multiple lines of action.

Unionism must understand that the old doctrines have expired or are insufficient separately. Time is short. Unfortunately, separatism does have a perennial and effective strategy: to reap the fruits of the passage of time in a Catalonia where public authorities are conscientiously designed to perpetuate a social environment of constant persuasion. Sooner or later, they will be tempted to lash out again with another exercise of induced tension.

The Corleone family will be the target again. The Barzini and Sollozzo on duty will be there, latent and in wait, and will point their weapons at the new gift, the pillar of the political order. Next time they may have more aim and end his life in an instant. Then, his children, in panic and shock, will not have time to react even with the best of doctrines.

*** Toni Timoner is a Master in International Relations from the SAIS-Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC and representative of the Catalan Civil Society in London. The content of this article reflects exclusively personal opinions of the author.


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