Catalonia and the Art of Differential Diagnosis

Photo by ChiralJon | CC BY 2.0

As in the sound practice of medicine, the key to generating useful political analysis lies in the art of differential diagnosis. This is especially true in times of apparent epidemics. When seemingly similar symptoms arise in numerous patients, or in the case of politics, in numerous sites of social action, there is an enormous temptation to describe the problem at hand in terms of overarching patterns of “infection”.

How can we combat this very understandable, if ultimately counterproductive,   tendency?

By redoubling our interest in the particular case history of the “patient” before us, by listening and observing more keenly than ever before to the particular rhythms of his or her life.

There is no doubt that the EU is living through an upsurge of localized nationalist sentiments. And it is clear that a number of these movements, such as Victor Orban’s Fidesz party in Hungary and the Lega Nord in the Veneto, contain authoritarian and xenophobic elements.

The easiest thing to do, especially for frequently monolingual Anglo-Saxon foreign affairs columnists and their academic twins, frequently monolingual Anglo-Saxon professors of Political Science, is to jump to the conclusion that the situation in Catalonia essentially springs from the same disagreeable ferment as movements like these.

The other temptation in the same vein is to simply ignore the particularities of the Catalan case and subordinate the claims of its…

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