Mises, Rothbard, and Catalonia

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Many people in Catalonia wish to secede from Spain and form their own country, but the Spanish government has used force to block them from doing so. What should libertarians think of this conflict? In trying to answer this question, it is useful to seek guidance from Mises and Rothbard. Not that these two thinkers are always right, but it is a safe bet that these two giants of twentieth-century social science will have something illuminating to say.

Mises addresses the issue directly. In Omnipotent Government, he criticizes the eminent Spanish liberal Salvador de Madariaga for his opposition to Catalonian independence. “If some peoples pretend that history or geography gives them the right to subjugate other races, nations, or peoples, there can be no peace. It is unbelievable how deep-rooted these vicious ideas of hegemony, domination, and oppression are even among the most distinguished contemporaries. Señor Salvador de Madariaga condemns the demands of the Catalans and the Basques for independence, and advocates Castilian hegemony for racial, historical, geographical, linguistic, religious, and economic considerations.” (pp. 15–16) (Madariaga served variously as Professor of Spanish at Oxford and Spanish Ambassador to the League of Nations. He and Mises were friends, until this dispute drove them apart.)

Attempts to suppress the autonomy of a distinct linguistic group, Mises thought, would tend to lead to war. Peace requires that groups be allowed to choose their own destiny. “It is futile to advance historical or geographical reasons in support of political ambitions which cannot stand the criticism of democratic principles. Democratic government can safeguard peace and international cooperation because it does not aim at…

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