Why Separatism Is No Match for Democracy

Issue Date January 2024
Volume 35
Issue 1
Page Numbers 134–146
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A central paradox in the relationship between separatism and democracy is that while democracy provides a fertile environment for separatism—often by means of democracy’s own institutions, mechanisms, and policies—democratic states are also well equipped to thwart and defeat separatist movements. The same pluralistic flexibility that allows pro-independence movements to blossom provides the tools to subvert and even crush separatist aspirations. Whether stonewalled by constitutional constraints, locked into systems of regional autonomy, undercut by counter-separatist movements, or cowed by the economic consequences of going it alone, separatist movements in democratic states are likely to turn quixotic. Catalonia and Scotland—two regions that only a few years ago seemed to be on the cusp of realizing longtime dreams of independence—prominently display the paradoxical politics inherent in separatism in democratic systems.

About the Author

Omar G. Encarnación is the Charles Flint Kellogg professor of politics at Bard College. He is the author of Democracy without Justice in Spain: The Politics of Forgetting (2014) and Out in the Periphery: Latin America’s Gay Rights Revolution (2016).

View all work by Omar G. Encarnación