Lluís Bassets 25/4/2021
Image: Quim Torra – M. Minocri
Julien Benda already denounced almost a hundred years ago the national passions that deprived intellectuals of the defense of universal values
Political hatred does not make a vacation. Almost a century ago, in 1927 exactly, Julien Benda published his famous pamphlet La trahison des clercs translated here as The Betrayal of Intellectuals, against political passions and especially against the renunciation of intellectuals to their vocation to defend universal values. If intellectuals, that is, clerics in charge of truth, reason, and freedom, defend the particular and partisan values of race, nation, or class, they commit the highest betrayal there can be and become propagandists, thought policemen and servants of the established order.
This is exactly what has happened to most Catalan intellectuals in the last decade at least. The national passion, occasionally disguised as class passion, has been imposed on universal values, especially on the truth, hidden under a tangle of lies about the past and the present and unfulfilled promises about the future of Catalonia. But it has also happened with respect to freedoms, especially the most sacred to the intellectual, such as those of conscience and expression.
These are not the best times for tolerant and liberal attitudes, those of the intellectual, from the communist Rosa Luxemburg (“there is no freedom if it is not for those who think differently”) to the enlightened Voltaire (“I disapprove of what he says, but I will defend to the death his right to say so “). The lost decade of the independence process leaves a devastating moral trail in the world of journalism, thought and culture, subject with singular exceptions to the imperatives dictated by partisan power.
It is embarrassing and astonishing to read the letters and manifestos of membership of almost entire professional classes in support of certain partisan proposals, especially in a plural country where unanimity has always been suspicious. The political climate of the last decade has favored it, but those who have organized persuasive strategies to obtain such unfortunate unanimity have been forced to also use pressure techniques, sometimes even coercion, and in many cases direct purchase of wills.
There would be no novelty in these proceedings and in their shameful results if it were not for the abundant and exculpatory doses of good conscience, self-satisfaction and guilt of the adversaries, the lukewarm and even the silent, totally oblivious to these complaints, of which they have flaunted those who have encouraged these attitudes. Victimizing and transferring responsibilities to others has historically been the technique with which nationalism has reached extreme degrees of excellence, from Jordi Pujol to Quim Torra.
This is how many intellectuals, most of them traitors to universal values, have reversed the terms of betrayal during the long course of the independence process. In the first place, pointing to “Spanish intellectuals,” especially the disqualifying the “left-wing” for its insensibility respect to the Catalan right to decide, their Incapacity to react before police intervention during October 1st 2017 and, finally, their scant mercy to the sufferings of imprisoned and exiled politicians. Including then, of course, the names of Catalan intellectuals hostile to the independence process at the head of the infamous blacklist of branded intellectuals without heart.
This task of signaling, rather a police behavior, has acquired political functionality within the independence movement. It has served to discipline the ranks themselves and prevent leaks and changes of position. And it has fueled the polarization that independence needs to legitimize itself as a unique and obligatory option in the face of the Manichean enemy identified as anti-democratic and even fascist, a continuator of the Franco regime.
It is clear that it was convenient to clean up any intermediate territory, first between the right to decide and the Constitution and, later, between self-determination and territorial integrity, turned into opposite poles of the conflict. Anyone who has sought a constitutional interpretation of the right to decide, or tried to substitute self-determination for the dialogue table, or advocated pardon instead of amnesty, has been subjected to double and unbearable pressure. On the one hand, from the most stale Spanish nationalism, which has already challenged the 2006 Statute and now rejects any measure in favor of the prisoners and abhors political dialogue with the independence movement. On the other, from the processist secessionism, demanding adherence to the referendum on self-determination and amnesty as insidious pieces in favor of human rights and democracy.
The evidence that the “Spanish intellectuals” are not the traitors and that the Catalan intellectuals outside the secessionism are even less so, as in so many other local political difficulties, is provided by their insertion in the European and international context. The secessionist demand, with its prisoners, its exiles and its false institutions, is so scarcely universal that recognized foreign intellectuals who have identified universal values in danger in Catalonia can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Rather, the opposite has happened: those who best know the Spanish reality are those who have taken the most distance with the Catalan intellectual betrayal.
This is a question that should make secessionist intellectuals think. Their callousness and in some cases even their responsibility in the face of the harassment that their non-independence Catalan colleagues have suffered during these ten years has left them morally naked. How their insensitivity to the much more intense and serious suffering that Basque intellectuals suffered when ETA was still killing left them naked. Political hatred, the worst political passion, is as tireless as it is blind: it does not even allow us to hear and understand what others write and say. This sin, also committed by many intellectuals, to many, goes beyond treason and sinks into stupidity, an occasion in which the intellectual betrays himself.