The streets of Barcelona are inundated by crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands alternately demanding secession from Spain and pleading for unity with Spain. So far the secessionists have tried to use the ballot box to declare their independence from Spain but the flawed referendum was largely boycotted by Catalans that believe they are Spanish first.
But the Catalan dilemma is hardly unique. The Basques have been trying to create an independent country for more than a century, sometimes resorting to violence. But the Scots also recently held a referendum to separate from Great Britain. The bonds that hold Walloon and Flemish speaking peoples of Belgium are fraying. Czechoslovakia broke into the Czech and Slovak republics. And let's not forget Brexit.
Is Europe breaking apart? Is this the culmination of a process of greater independence and freedom or the harbinger of the end of Western Civilization as we know it?
The problem is that the Europeans have nothing to hold them together. They have different cultures and different languages. Only the Nordic countries and Britain have a long democratic tradition. Much of the rest was under the sway of monarchs and princes that had aspirations of empire but no common vision to unite its peoples.
Even the glue of the Christian religion is fading from Europe. Church attendance is feeble and many European churches have more tourists than believers. When my wife and I were in Paris she insisted on going the Notre Dame for mass on Sunday but was horrified to discover that the attendance was only about a hundred people that were dwarfed by the enormous cathedral that engulfed them.
French philosopher Pierre Manent, in his book Beyond Radical Secularism, asserts that declining religiosity and increasing secularism is the root cause of Europe’s problems. Church attendance is lowest among European nations having the most entrenched social welfare systems such as France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
Declining religiosity combined with cradle to grave social welfare has led to the breakdown of social cohesion of the nation states of Europe. The European Union is an economic concept that creates no bond of affection amongst the inhabitants. Even concepts such as France and Spain are unraveling. People are seeking bonds based on language, ethnicity and local culture because their countries are not based on universal principles about which all citizens can agree.
I suppose this would be okay if we inhabited a peaceful world where people could group together as they please and not have to worry about their neighbor. But unfortunately, the world is not peaceful and the future of Europe is now under the gravest threat to its existence since the end of World War II. NATO is our bulwark against encroaching threats. Would NATO be stronger with the inclusion of Catalonia, Wallonia, Vasconia, Scotland and a slew of other little provinces? There are larger forces at work than the provincial interests of the Catalans, Basques, Scots and others.
There is even talk of secession in the United States. A group called CalExit is trying to get a referendum on the secession of California from the United States on the 2018 ballot. But our situation is different than Europe’s. While the decline of Christianity and the growing bureaucracy of the European Union have combined to enervate the nation states of Europe, the United States has a common bond from our Founding Principles.
More disparate than any European nation state, the United States has been held together by our Founding Principles over ethnicity or religion. California’s desire to leave the Union (or at least the desire of some Californians) is due to ideology. These irate Californians do not agree with the Founding Principles of America. They are more comfortable with the Marxist-based socialism of Bernie Sanders than the aspirations of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin.
The lust for state-provided welfare benefits in combination with moral equivalency is eroding belief in our American Founding Principles just as they are breaking down the bonds holding our European allies together. In this age of rising global tension, the need for unity is greater than ever. The progressive advocates of doing “what works” to relieve life’s burdens, even on people capable of bearing them, has the unintended consequence of sapping the will of the so-called beneficiaries.
The internal problems that afflict us are not caused by our Founding Principles but by our inability to live up to them and our penchant for electing leaders who don’t even aspire to live up to them - leaders who pitch principles into the trash bin when they interfere with the ability to raise campaign funds or to buy votes with welfare benefits.
We need a national renewal and recommitment to our Founding Principles. We need a recommitment to the equality of opportunity to provide hope for a better future. We need a recommitment to the equality of justice for all. We need a recommitment to the free market economics that has provided us with nature’s bounty and technological wonders. We need this rededication to the American Spirit or we will end up like Catatonica. Or worse.