The President of the Generalitat, Quim Torra, with his Vice President, Pere Aragonés, in Parliament. TONI ALBIR EFE
The figure of John Calhoun does not even reach the sole of the shoes to that of Alexander Hamilton. Hardly anyone will vindicate his example, as now happens with that of the first secretary of the United States Treasury in the Government chaired by George Washington, who will mutualize the debt and achieve fiscal union for the then young Union in 1790. If someone evokes the name of Calhoun, who was vice president of the country between 1825 and 1832, will be a counter-example of what currently suits us. Calhoun was a supporter of slavery, defended the rights of the states before the federal power and advanced the secessionist political ideas that led to the civil war.
The last reference to Calhoun that I have read was in the article “The supremacy of community law”, published in this same newspaper on May 31, and signed by a large group of jurists from around the world. The object of the article is the judgment of the German Constitutional Court in which the purchase of public debt of the EU member states by the European Central Bank was criticized. But his arguments do not go into fiscal and monetary questions, but focus on the always fundamental problem of who has the competition over the competition.
According to the signatories, the decision of the Karlsruhe court constitutes a serious threat against the principle of legality. It is not admissible for a national court of one of the 27 member countries to declare a judgment of a European higher court inapplicable on its territory. If this precedent is followed, countries like Hungary and Poland could reaffirm themselves in the destruction of the division of powers and the liquidation of judicial independence that they have already undertaken.
“States have transferred part of their sovereignty to the EU under conditions of reciprocity,” they say. And, therefore, they add, “if one of these could decide which EU rules to apply, the result would be the immediate collapse of the Union legal order.” The jurists also assure that the sentence “recalls the doctrine of annulment invoked by people like Calhoun in the United States before the Civil War, which, in essence, allowed the courts of each state to choose ‘which national norms they respected and which did not “
Calhoun applied his doctrine, called onullification, in South Carolina, a state that he wanted to abrogate or ignore federal legislation as he pleased. The first time I read a reference to this suggestive political concept was a couple of years ago, in a book by Enric Ucelay da Cal, entitled Brief history of Catalan separatism (Random House). This historian maintains that the doctrine of lanullification inspired the incipient federalist Catalanism and connects it even with the contemporary concept of the right to decide. “Adapted to the Catalan perspective, Ucelay assures-, it meant that Catalonia had the right of veto, at least before any collective issue that affected it directly.”
Little attention has been given to the example of American nullification among us, not even among Catalan historians, with the notable exception of Joan Esculies, in an article entitled “Torra and Torrent” (El País Cataluña, January 27, 2020), on the fights between the President of the Generalitat and the President of Parliament, in which the indispensable historical study of Ucelay is precisely evoked. According to Esculies, in Calhoun’s doctrine there is one of the keys to the sovereign illusion that has led “broad layers of Catalan society to believe what were only political hopes or expectations.” In his opinion, from Catalonia it has become internalized that Parliament is already effectively sovereign and that “any law or opinion on its own norm that is considered to negatively affect local interests can or should be ignored”.
Calhoun does not fall sympathetic. Ucelay, with no small irony, assures that “the Catalan federals honored Abraham Lincoln, the slave emancipator, but unconsciously used the ideas of John C. Calhoun”. Our militant independence movement looks for impossible and even obscene analogies in the civil rights movement of black Americans, descendants of those enslaved by Calhoun. The comparison even goes as far as the repression suffered by the independents regarding the actions of the police in the United States these days.
The Karlsruhe judges, with their red robes, Boris Johnson with their brexiters, and Quim Torra with their complaining independence proclamations, belong to the same conceptual universe as the southern secessionism. No one can circumvent the principle of legality or subvert the hierarchy of the courts without making the same secessionist mistake that led to the American Civil War. The Lisbon Treaty recognizes the right to leave the Union in its article 50, and in this the Brexiters have accepted to do it legally instead of continuing to fight to subvert the principle of legality from within, as the German judges or the Catalan secessionists.
It is not a historicist debate, but an essential question for the future of independence, now faced with a dilemma: on the one hand, the Calhoun road, which leads to destroy even the European Union; on the other, that of Hamilton, which is that of the union, the shared debt, the European tax system and the federation. When the EU takes the definitive Hamiltonian step, Catalonia will have to decide: either to continue wasting time in the doldrums or to commit without hesitation to Spanish and European federalism.