JORDI LLOVET, 12 OCTOBER 2021
Map of the island Utopia, by Abraham Ortelius, Antwerp, 1596.
No advocate of the process clarified what government, health, or education there would be in the imagined republic.
For now, the Independent Republic of Catalonia is a utopia, that is, etymologically, a non-place, something that does not exist but could exist, according to the propagators of this idea. This is how all utopias work: they are an ideal construction, superimposed on and contrary to reality and in the nature of things, which someone proposes because they want it to come true.
Utopias are a constant in the history of the West: Plato proposed one in The Republic, and there have been utopias in almost every age, especially since the Renaissance, that is, when it began to be seen that historical events could be modified by the will of men and peoples.
Messianism and millenarianism, present throughout the Christian Middle Ages, are quite different: the former are the consequence of the apocalyptic and eschatological doctrines of Christianity (the announced second and final arrival of the Messiah on Earth, pointing not to any historical future, but to the end of time and the Last Judgement); the latter, which are similar, derive from the miserable hygienic and living conditions in the Middle Ages, especially due to wars, droughts and epidemics.
As living conditions prospered (relatively speaking, because history and societies have not known any progress; only science and technology and the arts have), and as men believed themselves capable of leading the course of events when the Church or theology ceased to do so, philosophers and literati envisioned a long series of utopias. The “golden ages”, like the one Don Quixote longs for, is but a variant of utopia, but directed towards the past, rather than the future.
Thomas More, or More, wrote the first of the utopias of the modern age (1516): Utopia would have been an island where private property would not exist – which, in fact, has existed since Neolithic times, closely linked to the government of the city, which is typical of most classical and Renaissance utopias, as in the case of Tommaso Campanella’s utopia (the city of the sun, published in 1623). Later, Francis Bacon imagined another (the New Atlantis, published in 1626), which is the most realistic of the Renaissance utopias, because it advocates using advances in science and technology to improve the living conditions of mankind.
At the dawn of German Enlightenment thought, Leibniz did not describe any utopian place, but forged a metaphysics in which it was said that “we live in the best of all possible worlds” – that’s imagination! -a claim that a few decades later Voltaire exploded in his fabulous Candide, one of the best books ever written to save one from humbug.
Although the myth of “progress” is an invention of the late 17th century, the 19th century saw a progression, especially in industry and commerce, unparalleled in all of history. Thus, given the miserable conditions of the working class, a great number of contemporary utopias were born – some “industrial”, others “anti-industrial”, of the Heidi type – in which philosophers and sociologists imagined communities of well-to-do people, properly anarchist, in which work, the arts and the governance of public affairs were to acquire a profile that openly implied the first serious critique of parliamentary democracies. Charles Fourier (1772-1837), Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) and Robert Owen (1771-1858) imagined, and in some cases actually created, phalansteries and geographically localised communities, in which people lived in accordance with industrial progress, or against it, but without the alienating constraints of work, and with a very delicate care for education and the promotion of the arts. None of these utopias prospered; but Karl Marx’s messianic proposal did, which was historically realised in more than one country in the world for several decades, only to end up as a failed good idea.
Returning home, it is surprising that the Catalan utopia has not taken root in the critique of the real living conditions of the population and is, therefore, a utopia entirely surrendered to the social and economic determinations of capitalism: no advocate of the process has been seen who has clarified how it would be lived, what kind of government, education, or health care there would be in this imagined republic. This links the Catalan utopia to the millenarianisms and messianisms of the Middle Ages – it is a very archaic utopia, shall we say, and very theological, at least metaphysical. Following the division into three great historical epochs presented by Joaquín de Fiore (13th century), those of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Pujol was the Father, Mas was the Son-Messiah (remember the electoral propaganda of 2012), and Puigdemont is the Holy Spirit, the most volatile, abstract, and incorporeal person of the Trinity.