Apr 7, 2015


The romantic German Herder, and Hegel himself, shared with Ramon Valls the thought that the "we" cannot come simply from the Hobbesian fear of constant competition nor from the mutual agonism among individual "‘I’s", but must emerge from a natural "we" which is present on family and community life. In fact, this is the key in the German concept of nation which Valls always viewed with reluctance.

Certainly Ramon Valls recognized that within the human condition there is the principle of sociability and its contrast: unsocial agonism. But he does not see this dualism as more or less equal (as did Kant and, more optimistically, Herder), but as a disequilibrium with a near complete domination by agonism. For Valls this is a far more powerful principle than unsociability, so that sociability is nearly irrelevant when confronted with the dangerous human agonism. As a result the human condition is dual, as Kant said, and needs sociability and community impulses, as Herder noted, but the predominance of egotistical agonism is so great, according to Valls, that the duality or sociability are marginal.

Therefore, in none of his analyses does Valls start from the impulse of sociability to legitimize the "we"; but always thinks of it as a protector (with a monopoly on violence) against the war of all against all, which is inevitable without the resistance of the "Leviathan-we".

For Valls it is a mistake to think of the "we" as a nation, cultural or linguistic community, etc. This radically separated him from many of the Catalan and Spanish nationalists of his generation. He always refused to consider that the true "we" could be limited (which is different from incorporating some of the secondary characteristics) to such a feeble base which is linked to the dangerous animal human nature such as community, cultural, linguistic, historical ... links.

Even more, Valls couldn’t accept this "German" concept of nation, but he couldn’t accept the "French" version either (where the privileges are limited to institutional and political elements), although this is closer to his thinking. The key problem is that he associated any nationalism to the dangerous, primary animal impulses and the catastrophes of the civil war and the Franco era.

As the realist that he was, Valls could understand that culture or nation habitually form a powerful and necessary base for institutional politics, but he considered them weak and dangerous without armed institutional vigilance. Only the State can effectively pacify the agonist impulses which are omnipresent in the human condition. As a student of modern history, Valls understood (and could defend) the coinciding of nation and State, but a bit naively and despite knowing the setting of the struggle for power, he considered that the State was necessarily the rational element of control and pacification while the nation was inevitably an irrational element of agonist chaos. We must note that this idea was widespread among his generation for reasons previously mentioned.

As a result, although he was never in the Spanish nationalist movement, which at that time was inseparable from Francoism, Ramon Valls did not fully coincide with the growing Catalan nationalism, which was unequivocally democratic. He accepted leading the Catalan Philosophy Society (part of the Institut d’Estudis Catalans) from 1982 to 1985, where he collaborated with pro-Catalans of varying ideologies such as professors Jordi Sales i Coderch, Xavier Rubert de Ventós, Pere Lluís Font, Francesc Gomà, Francesc Fortuny, Joan Leita (with whom he maintained a strong difference of criteria during the joint edition of Phenomenology of the Spirit), Salvi Turró and me.

Then he was an active collaborator in the first publications of Col·loquis de Vic, where he was an important presence with various lectures and as a member of the science council of the The Catalan Philosophy Society Yearbook. Despite his resistance to any sort of homages, he accepted the presidency of honor of the first Catalan Philosophy Congress, organized by Catalan, Valencian and Balearic Philosophy Societies and celebrated in Barcelona on March 21, 22 i 23 of 2007.

Despite the indisputable democratic pacifism of Catalan nationalism which embodied a potent modernizing project, Valls never really felt close to it. No doubt he remembered the traumatic shocks he’d had with Basque nationalism in the new Basque Country University he’d helped to found. And his unease grew with the consolidation of political autonomy and the emergence of Catalan nationalism from the marginal position where Francoism had put it.

In addition, to understand the proud solitude and relative silence of his last years, there are two decisive academic events. The first is that Ramon Valls had to give up his hope to be rector of the University of Barcelona. For some years he had been vice-rector of the professors and was considered, in pectore, the successor of rector Josep Maria Bricall. Poor health, however, forced him to resign, thus cutting off an aspiration inspired in Hegel, and in which he’d placed his dreams.

The second was the serious confrontation with the major part of the department of the History of Philosophy of the University of Barcelona and his old mentor (professor of the UNED and soon member of the Academy of Spanish Language) Emilio Lledó, the result of a famous and polemical opposition. Valls even left the classes in the Philosophy Department and taught in the Law Department, specifically in the philosophy of law. For years he hardly used his office in the Philosophy Department.

All this embittered his last university years and impelled him to shut himself in. He began to lose friendships and academic/intellectual alliances with professors like Raul Gabás, Victòria Camps, Felipe Martínez Marzoa, Félix Duque, and even ones who were closer to him like José Luis Villacañas, Francisco Jarauta and Víctor Gómez Pin.

We believe, and it would be interesting to see an in-depth biography confirm it, that his increasing isolation was the result of the sum of his own character, his failure in his hope to become rector, his academic conflicts and his profound disappointment and distance with respect to the three most powerful social and intellectual groups of the time. As we have noted, Valls never completely connected with the liberal sector, he distanced himself moodily from both the religious sector where he had been formed and from the Marxist sector which had been so influential in his university years and from the modernizing Catalan nationalists, who were regaining their traditional cultural and social central position.

In short, for various reasons Valls forced himself to proudly and increasingly retire into himself, his solitary study and translation of Hegel. This had the lamentable consequence of minimizing his direct intellectual impact on the new generations of students and philosophers.
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