I am reading Bruno Maçaes book about the relationship between Asia and Europe and I already foresee that it will mark me as much as, ten years ago, did the celebrated essay by Richard Florida about the creative class. The Dawn of Eurasia also talks about the future of the cities but framed within a different geopolitical context, similar to what I pointed out in Londres Paris Barcelona.
Globalization, according to Maçaes, has volatilized Europe’s global centrality but above all, it has stripped the Old Continent of its political, cultural, and geographical borders. Maçaes claims that Europe no longer makes sense in itself because it has become part of a more complex system that includes Russia and China.
The book explains that the split between Asia and the Old Continent is linked to the emergence of the first nation-states after the Fall of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453. The idea of Europe, according to Maçaes, was born to replace Christian unity as this began to crumble. Until then, Europe territories were no more than an extension of Asia, a massive peninsula like India.
In the 19th century, Hegel would already claim that the history of humanity traveled from the East to the West in such a way that, if Asia were the beginning, Europe would be the end. At that time, the Asian empires were agrarian hindrances without a historical conscience or an idea of progress. Asia represented the opposite of western values, which were forged through the power of technology, the ambitions of the individuals, and the hope for a better world.
Maçaes argues that the differences that had separated the two continents are becoming more difficult to establish. The Portuguese political scientist proposes that we regard ourselves as citizens of an area larger than the European territory, which will set the pace of tomorrow’s world. Maçaes believes Eurasia it’s a framework of relationships as dynamic and conflictive as Western Europe had been until 1945.
The book suggests that the European Union is closed up in its own bureaucracy and missing the boat of the third globalization. According to Maçaes the critical questions about the future are now formulated within the passage territories that had marked the frontier between Asia and the European world. The book looks for a seed of a new idea of modernity in cities like Khorgas o Vladivostok, which have been forgotten within the frontiers of both civilizations.
It’s evident that modern life, as we understand it today, is still more developed in Europe and in the US than in Russia or China. However, reading Maçaes book, I have the feeling that both Moscow and Beijing have a more clear and well-thought-out picture of the past and of the future. The rise of populism in the West should be understood as a crude attempt at remembering that whoever controls the discourse of history controls the idea of progress.
Maçaes sees the future of the world dominated by a supercontinent ruled by three big models in constant competition and conflict: one of a democratic essence represented by Europe with the help from the US; another one of an oligarchic nature led by Russia and its satellites; and a third one, in China’s hands, distinctly authoritarian. In this context of debate over modernity, the values that had governed Europe in the last seventy years have run their course.
Jill Lepore has published an article in Foreign Affairs that gives clues in this direction. Lepore defends that every time liberalism has abandoned the national discourse to distance itself from the atrocities promoted by the modern states, the identitarian view has remained in the hands of dictators and demagogues. The columnist recalls that nationalism was born as a liberal idea and warns that concealing the force of the land with the voice of the oppressed does not eliminate the ethnic bonds nor the herd instincts.
Lepore’s thesis could be applied to Catalonia, where the national discourses are instantly branded as fascist or romantic. Nonetheless, her article has made me think about Maçaes book because the Portuguese political scientist notes that, in the best-case scenario, the US will only control part of the new Eurasian hegemony. If that turns out to be the case, the shift of the Catalan process toward victimism has a good chance of ending up crushed by the geopolitical context.
As Lepore’s article points out, the US, just like France, Spain, and Great Britain, are reinforcing and reexamining their national values. The politically correct discourses that have been used to pacify the Old Continent and to organize the North American consumer society are destined to go into a shocking and apparently sudden decline. Hans Morgenthau already predicted over half a century ago that, after decolonization, Asia’s revolution would arrive.
The US and Europe will only be able to lead modernity if they delve into their national and democratic values. The road taken by this reexamination will depend mainly on the role to be played by the European Union territories that aren’t worn out by history, like Catalonia, Scotland, or Flanders. In any case, the creative cities will not camp out on their own, as Richard Florida said; just as neither Zapatero’s multiculturalism has prevailed nor the nation-state model has fallen into a crisis any more than the idea of Europe.
The West’s predicament is that the nation is a fundamental concept, yet difficult to manage in plural societies. To put off dealing with the tough issues, politicians and thinkers have tended to use the stability of decades of plenty to inflate the voice of the feeblest social sectors. The result of disregarding national values is the degeneration of the democratic systems which, instead of being agents of dignity, have become reservoirs of victimism.
While Catalonia’s response is to maintain the existing narcissist conceptions of democracy, bureaucracy in Europe will become a stumbling block for progress and, later, an agent of decadence. We are going back to political realism, meaning morals will harden. If the victims of history are more interested in receiving a pension for the wounds of the past than in building the future of their country as a nation, democracy will remain condemned to be the poor relative of the Eurasian family.
All in all, what I mean is that Catalans, and especially those groups feeling affronted, should bear in mind how their equals live in Russia or China. Catalonia won’t be able to survive with the boyscout and folksong values that shaped autonomism.
Translated from Catalan by Fernando Beato/Originally published on 9 February 2019