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|From: Irish Foreign Affairs: Editorials|
|Date: December, 2017|
|“The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the abortive ‘Arab Spring’ which began in 2010 were not, after all, decisive stages in March towards the inevitable triumph of Western-style liberal democracy, as was hoped at the time… Seen in the longer perspective… successful experiments in this form of government have been the exception rather than the rule and there is nothing to say that such a fragile and vulnerable system, for all its merits, shall prevail” —Editorial of the Autumn 2017 issue of Studies, which is devoted to the theme, Democracy In Peril?
Where democracy is an “experiment”, it must always be in peril. Most of the democracies in the United Nations are externally imposed experiments.
Democracy was an ideal imposed upon the world by the handful of states that dominated the world in 1945 and organised it into the United Nations. There were at the outset two forms of democracy corresponding to the ideals of the two conflicting Powers that divided the world between them. There was Socialist Democracy and there was Capitalist Democracy. Each understood Democracy in terms that were conducive to the development of its own system.
The Power that crushed Nazi Germany was Communist Russia. Its version of Democracy bore little resemblance to what was sponsored as Democracy by the rival Power, the United States of America.
The USA had entered the War late in the day, but early enough to be there, in Western Europe, in 1945 and have a say in how the world was to be remade. But, if Communist Russia had not held Nazi Germany at bay in 1941, and systematically destroyed its power during the next three and a half years, there would have been no United Nations in 1945. The UN therefore, in order to be functional, had to encompass these two ideals of Democracy, each of which was committed to destroying the other.
World War between these two forms of Democracy, in the aftermath of the Second World War, was prevented when Russia broke the American nuclear monopoly only three years after the American obliteration of the undefended cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The War between the two rival systems of Democracy had therefore to be scaled down—only secondary weapons could be used—and fought in what was then the Asian fringe of the world.
After two generations of a continuous trial of strength in the Third World, the Russian system collapsed. The USA had always denounced the communist form of Democracy as tyranny, and it now became the hegemonic Power in the United Nations and its conception of Democracy as a means of facilitating the functioning of capitalism became general.
Was there really an expectation, as Studies suggests, that the collapse of the Soviet system of state, over a quarter of a century ago, would take the form of liberal democracy? Or that the “Arab Spring”, encouraged by the EU and the USA a few years ago, would do so? If so, those who held that expectation must have made themselves very ignorant of well-known political facts of life in order to be able to expect such an improbable turn of events.
When Russia lay prostrate before it, the USA started plundering it. By means of a long and strenuous effort since 1945, it had made the world safe for Capitalism, and then it did the capitalist thing. Is there somebody somewhere who really expected it to do otherwise?
Functional democracy is a late growth in the lives of European states. Did Europe actually believe that, by bringing to dominance, in the “Arab Spring”, Islamist social forces that were effectively held in check by the secular regimes in Libya and other places, it was contributing to the establishment of liberal democracy in them?
In the State-oriented modern world—the world of the United Nations—all that can reasonably be expected from the breaking of states is anarchy and mayhem. Life is lived increasingly in the medium of the State, in accordance with its facilities and its prohibitions. The State is depended upon by the individual in order to live. Break the State and the individuals who were its civilised dependents cease to be civilised.
Ample evidence has been provided that this is a fact of the matter. It is, however, not a fact that is expressed in the ideology of the matter. The ideology of the matter suggests that Democracy sets the individual free.
The notion may be traceable to the democracy of small Greek city states of thousands of years ago, where it really was a case of “government of the people by the people”, conducted by general assembly, and with little in the way of an apparatus of state. The first article in Studies goes back to “The Athenian Revolution”.
The actual source of modern capitalist democracy is not ancient Athens. It is the 1688 Revolution in England and the justification of it by the philosopher, John Locke.
1688 did not establish democratic government. It established a regime which for two hundred years regarded democracy as an impossibility in a large state. And yet that anti-democratic regime is the actual source of the modern democratic state in its most durable form—which is the British State.
Locke declared that life in a “state of nature” was preferable to life in a tyrannical state. The tyranny against which he rebelled was the monarchy of James the Second. And when one looks into it one finds that what he meant by a state of nature was not the mass of the people thrown on their own resources to do as they pleased individually, but a network of gentry families that had been evolving into a potential ruling class since about 1640, but intensively from 1660.
In 1688 that gentry’s network overthrew the monarchy, which was attempting to maintain a system of state. It overthrew the state, confident that it could hold the mass of the people in check while doing so. It was confident that it could prevent a repeat of 1641 when the populace was spurred into wild action by the Parliamentary rebellion against Charles the First.
It freed itself from the State, and took over as a ruling class, the business of running the country, using a figurehead monarch as a device to divert the populace, and to ward off the divisiveness of having to find a President for a Republic every few years.
England in the 18th century has very little in the way of a general State to which the lowly subject could appeal if he felt outraged by the way he was being treated by his local aristocrat or gentleman.
Parliament was a ruling class institution through which members of the ruling class did each other favours in the matter of privatising the common land in the great era of “Enclosures”, and in which it was decided how best to go about the conquest of the world. (The major institution of state was the Navy, which was conducted by the ruling class itself with competence and severe discipline in all the arts of sailing and gunnery, with the lower decks being filled by the form of conscription known as Press Gang.)
The ruling class in its Parliament divided into the loose Party groupings of Whig and Tory: a division relating to the affairs of the 17th century. Those who thought about the matter assumed that the Party division was a form of obsolete factionalism which would soon be ironed out as the Constitutional settlement of 1688, as modified in 1714, settled down. But the party arrangement of the ruling class political life persisted until, towards the end of the 18th-century, it was declared to be a necessity of the system.
The growth of industrial capitalism generated a large middle-class, which in the early 19th century begun to demand inclusion in the governing system. The demand was resisted. The capitalist reformers threatened to apply their economic muscle against the system to force their way in. Elements of the ruling class reckoned that the two-party structure of politics had become so ingrained in the national culture that the middle class could be absorbed into it, and broken in to its ways without undermining the system. And so it was done under the 1832 Reform Act—which might be described as the British bourgeois revolution.
This revolution was marked by a change of party names. The Whigs became Liberals, and the Tories Conservatives.
The greatest of the Liberals was Macaulay, who was both the supreme ideologue of Liberal Imperialism and the Government Minister who launched the Opium War on China which forced it into the capitalist world market.
The working class had lived politically under middle-class hegemony until the middle class settled down in the power-structure after 1832. It then began to assert itself as a separate interest. In the 1860s it began to be admitted bit by bit into the Parliamentary franchise but it did not form an effective Party of its own until after the First World War.
It was the Conservative Party that acted for the working class in the first instance, bringing in the first Factory Acts to restrict the excesses of capitalism.
The Liberal Party was the party of laissez-faire capitalism until it split on the issue in the 1885 Election. A Birmingham capitalist, Joseph Chamberlain, who was a force in the Liberal Party, reasoned that the working class would not put up with its condition under free capitalism indefinitely. In the interest of Capitalism he proposed the establishment of what is now called the Welfare State. The Liberal Party refused to adopt it. Chamberlain therefore fought the 1885 Election independently of his party with his own “Unauthorised Programme”. He then made an alliance with the Conservative Party, and for the 1893 Election the Conservatives and Chamberlainites merged as the Unionist Party. And the Irish Administration of the Unionist Government of 1895-1905 enacted the greatest reform there has ever been in Ireland.
An Independent Labour Party was formed around this time but it remained a fringe party in Parliament.
The present Labour Party came into being because the Liberal Party wrecked itself in the course of the World War that it launched in August 1914. The Liberal administration was at the time a minority Government which took Office with the support of John Redmond's Irish Home Rule Party. The Redmondites encouraged the Government in its reckless war-making but refused to join it in Government.
The Unionists had been on the verge of rebellion in 1914 on the Home Rule issue. There seemed to be no way of warding off civil war until the Liberal Imperialist Governing group and its Redmondite prop availed of the occasion of the European War to launch wars of destruction on Germany and on the Ottoman Empire.
The War was launched in a frenzied state of mind. The Liberal Imperialist governing group had to present the war in terms of a transcendental conflict of Good against Evil in order to gain the support of their own back-benches. The Redmondites had to do likewise in order to justify their departure from the traditional nationalist view of England and its wars. But they also felt that they had to refuse to participate in the War Government even though they had put it in Office and had encouraged it to make war. The Government’s position, therefore, was brittle both ideologically and organisationally.
The Unionist Party approached the matter in a calmer state of mind. It had laid the secret foundations for war on Germany on which the Liberal Imperialists built when they came into Office. Then of course they supported the War. But they did it matter-of-factly, without Millenarian Fantasy, as just another balance-of-power war fought for advantage.
In the Spring of 1915 they brought an end to the Liberal Government dependence on Irish Home Rulers and joined the Liberals in a Coalition. The Liberal Party, supported by the Redmondites, wanted to suspend Elections for the duration of the War. The Unionists agreed on the condition of a Coalition being formed. Then, in 1916, they made a deal with the radical Liberal, Lloyd George, under which he split the Liberal Party by ousting Asquith from the Prime Ministership and himself becoming Prime Minister in a Coalition dominated by the Unionist Party.
In the 1918 Election both the Asquith Liberals and the Lloyd George Liberals were routed and a hastily organised Parliamentary Labour Party found itself the Second Party in the state: His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
This drastic change in the party system was known to be a serious matter. A stable system of Parties was Central to political life. Public opinion was not formed independently of them and then registered at Elections. British elections were not mere opinion polls. The parties contesting them needed to be in substantial consensus for the system to be functional. Winston Churchill said plainly at the time that the Parliamentary System could not function with a Capitalist Party and a Socialist Party as it its constituents.
Many influential Liberals, mainly Liberal Imperialists, joined the Labour Party with a view to making it a functional replacement for the Liberal Party. That is what it became. A dangerous point in the evolution of the representative system founded by the aristocratic ruling class in the 18th century had been got over without serious disturbance. (And the great social welfare reform enacted by the first secure Labour Government after 1945 was on the lines of the reform projected by the Unionist Liberal, Chamberlain, in 1885.)
British democracy is the most authentic form of modern democracy. It is a product of the aristocratic party system of the 18th century. This is the essential thing that makes what we call Democracy possible.
Forget about ancient Athens. Democracy is a system of representative government by parties which are elected to a Legislative Assembly by the adult population.
And forget about Rousseau, who said that government by representatives was not democratic government. He was right of course. But we like to call this representative system, which bridles and harnesses the demos, by the name of democracy.
There is actually a precursor of this kind of democracy in the literature of the romanticised Athenian democracy. In Plato’s dialogue, Menexenus, Socrates explains the history of Athens as he learned it from the mistress of Pericles, Aspasia. She could not be the wife of Pericles because she was an immigrant. Close to the scene of the action, she observed it critically as an outsider. She was one of the few women that Socrates found tolerable and she passed her insight onto him:
“Government is the nurture of men, and the government of good men is good… our ancestors were trained under a good government… Then as now… our government was an aristocracy—a form of government which receives various names, according to the fancies of men, and it is sometimes called democracy, but is really an aristocracy, or government of the best which has the approval of the many…”
This is the kind of democracy that was made functional in England: democracy with a ruling class behind it. It is a system that can be functional in large states. Britain experimented with it on others when it became necessary to engage in a measure of de-Imperialisation. But it had not established it at home as an “experiment”, as an attempt to realise a vision. It was established gradually as it was found to be necessary. The ruling class introduced it gradually, under pressure from below, when it realised that it could be curbed by extension of the authoritative party system that had come about during the period of its own undisputed rule. And, until democratisation became necessary, it was regarded as a visionary project that could never be realised in practice, because actual democracy could only be a kind of anarchy, which would in turn lead to simple dictatorship.
It was the peculiarity of the party system that came about in 18th century England, without ever having been intended, that it enabled the cycle of aristocracy/democracy/dictatorship to be stopped, or at least slowed down.
English democracy was a product of history rather than of social science.
When it came about it was not “government of the people, for the people, by the people”. It was government with the consent of the governed, with consent being elicited every few years when the electorate was presented with a very narrow choice of parties and policies to select from.
There was a phrase in use before the 1832 Reform which said that the representative parties of the ruling class functioned as virtual representatives of the people, and, it was argued, that therefore reform was unnecessary.
Wolfe Tone, a hard-headed politician who committed himself to the lost cause of making an Irish nation out of the Williamite colony by incorporating the native population into its political functioning, was no wild democratic idealist. He understood the English system, and at one time considered taking part in it. What he aimed for as an Irish nationalist was the English Constitution of the time to be made functional in Ireland, with the addition of Catholic Emancipation under the restricted franchise. And he doubted whether formal democratisation would make much actual difference:
““In England we find a reform in Parliament is always popular, though it is but as a barrier against possible, not actual, grievance. The people suffer in theory by the unequal distribution of the elective franchise; but practically, it is, perhaps, visionary to expect a Government that shall more carefully or steadily follow their real interests. No man can there be a Mimster on any other terms. But reform in Ireland is no speculative remedy for possible evils. The Minister and the Government here hold their offices by a tenure very different from that of pursuing the public good. The people here are despised or defied; their will does not weigh a feather in the balance, when English influence, or the interest of their rulers, is thrown into the opposite scale. We have all the reasons, all the justice, that English reformists can advance, and we have a thousand others, that in England never could exist. (Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland, 1791).
At the heart of English Imperialism is the maxim of John Milton (Cromwellian poet and Secretary of State) that it is England’s mission to teach the nations how to live. England was monarchist in its peculiar fashion at the time of the French Revolution and it made war on France because it was preaching democracy. After it devised its own particular form of democracy, it made war on Germany on the formal ground that, although it had a wider franchise, it did not have precisely the same kind of political structure as Britain and was therefore an “autocracy”.
English “social science” flourished along with democratization, and it ‘theorised’ Democracy abstractly rather than historically, and presented it as a universal ideal, whose secret England had discovered and had implemented at home and which others were under moral obligation to introduce under English tutelage, forcibly applied if necessary.
Martin Mansergh (a Fianna Fáil Government Minister and political advisor to a number of Fianna Fáil Taoisigh, and defender of Irish involvement in the Anglo-American invasion of the Iraq for the purpose of introducing democracy there) observes in his contribution to Studies:
“democracy has had its critics. At one time, and in some parts of the world to this day, democracy is regarded as equivalent to subversion.”
And in some parts of the world democratic intervention by democratic Powers from outside does have the purpose of subversion.
Propaganda directed by a functional democratic State against a functional State of some other kind, in which the preconditions of democratic authority do not exist, is undoubtedly subversive in purpose. Support for Islamist dissent from the secular system of state in Libya, which was functional in the form of a charismatic dictatorship, did not have the purpose of strengthening the Libyan state. The purpose was subversion. And the predictable outcome of the support given to dissent by the Democratic Air Forces was the anarchy of religious fundamentalisms and tribalisms.
But the democracies do not engage in subversive democratic activity against all non-democratic states. Saudi Arabia, the major source of modern Islamic fundamentalism, is untouchable. It is sacred to the democratic world. It has, for about seventy years, been a cornerstone of the Free World.
And where the democratic process brings to power in a state a governing party that displaces a dictatorship that was serviceable to the Free World and brings to Office a party of which the Free World disapproves, the democratic credentials of that party do not save it from the fury of the Western Democracies. Such was the case in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood won an Election that was policed by the military dictatorship. But, when it set about governing in accordance with its electoral mandate, it was overthrown by the military with the support of the Western Democracies. The Irish Times called its overthrow, ‘Hardly A Coup”. The military then held a closely supervised election, and when the sponsored candidates of the Army were seen to be losing on Election Day, the election was kept open and it was made clear that it would remain open until the monitored voting showed a majority for the approved candidates. And the Western Democracies were happy to accept that coerced election as democratic enough.
The opening article in Studies, Democracy In Crisis, is by Thomas B. Mitchell, former professor of Latin in Trinity College and author of the book on Athens published by Yale University. It is largely about ancient Athens. About modern times he writes, accurately enough: “The basic elements of democracy had evolved in Britain in the first decades of the 20th century. There were similar evolutions in the major countries of the British Commonwealth”. (he might have used the more informative term “Greater Britain”, which was in general use in the critical period around the Great War, long before the camouflage term, Commonwealth, was dreamed up.)
“After the First World War, most of the countries of eastern Europe, including the Baltic states, had secured democratic constitutions. However European democracies soon had to face the challenges posed by the rise of Nazism, centred in Germany, fascism, centred in Italy, and communism, centred in Russia, all totalitarian, ultra-nationalist, expansionist regimes, a formidable threat to the free world…”
The main expansionist Power in the world at the end of the Great War was democratic Britain—newly democratised Britain, whose Parliamentary franchise was tripled before the end of the war. It established its authority into the highly expectant and sensitive regions of the Middle East and set it the example of rigged democracy, while making war on the Irish democracy at home.
Of the forces challenging the European democracies after 1918, only the Russian was self-generated. In all the other places mentioned by Mitchell the problem was the Versailles system. Britain, while denying self-determination to the Irish, rushed various East European peoples into operating nation-states for which they had not prepared themselves by developing strong national movements before the War . These states were carved out of the Habsburg Empire, which Britain had in 1918 decided to destroy because it refused to change sides in the War. It also decided to establish nation states in the spaces left by the Tsarist Empire, which had crumbled under the stresses of the War into which Britain had lured it with the offer of Constantinople.
All of those states were “experiments” in democracy—Democracy that was laid on according to principle rather than through internal national development.
The first noticeable effect of this experiment at democracy was a great increase in the rise of anti-Semitism. The Jews had their place in the Empires, where, if they had been restricted, they were also protected. They were close to being the Imperial middle class of the Habsburg state.
In the states devised by the Versailles Conference the various peoples began their national development rather than crowning it. They found Jews dominating the middle-class positions in a way that had little national connection with the populace. What arose spontaneously in that situation, long before there was any Hitler propaganda, was anti-Semitism. And, if the Protocols of the Elders of Zion circulated in those places, they were not the cause of the anti-Semitism, but served as a plausible explanation of how the Jews came to be standing in the way of the native middle classes.
And if superficial democratisation gave way to (or took the form of) fascist development in those mushroom states, it was because democracy had no historical foundations but was laid on by Britain to give apparent structure to the shambles it had made of Europe when it intervened in its local conflict of interests in 1914 and magnified it into a Millenarian World War of universal Good against universal Evil.
Democracy is not the simple, self-evident thing that tricky Super-Power democracies paint it when it suits their purpose.
“Threats to modern democracy.
“National pride and patriotic sentiment are natural and healthy phenomena when kept within bounds.
“Taken to extremes they are potentially catastrophic. The world’s first democracy was marred and eventually ruined by its willingness to listen to the jingoism of populist extremists…
“There are two other features of modern democracy that pose dangers to its success. It lacks an adequate system of accountability for those to whom it entrusts power, and it has a chronic problem of public apathy and low participation…”
There was a phrase about “the sacred egoism of Nations” that was current around the time of the Great War. (I believe it had an Italian source.)
How can it be made altruistic? It can be preached at by those who have found a position for themselves above the fray. But how can they force the demos to deny itself?
Those who are active in the fray must study the mood of the beast and conciliate it. Winston Churchill, the most reflective of all the British politicians since Balfour, knew as a statesman that the populist cry of “Hang The Kaiser!” should not be conciliated. He knew that catastrophe lay in that direction, and that the prudent course of British statesmanship would be to consolidate Europe by making an alliance with defeated Germany as quickly as possible. But the populace had been fed Millenarian delusions by war propaganda in order to energise it for the war effort, the populace was the master of the rapidly democratised state, and it was intent on acting in peace-making in accordance with what its betters had told it during the War.
Churchill consulted his election agent, who assured him that, if he did not make a Hang The Kaiser! speech he would lose his seat.
It is arguable that the formal democratisation of Britain during the Great War was the originating cause of the situation that led to the Second World War.
Prudent statesmanship was swept aside by democratic passion in 1918-19. A degree of sobriety set in after that and elements of the old regime began to exert an influence. The result was neither one thing nor the other.
But how, in general, can democracy be prevented from doing what democracy tends to do? How can democracy, which is not a façade operated by an elite behind the scenes, have a master?
There was in the Northern Ireland Government in the 1980s a Ministry of Democratic Development. A Democracy under the control of a Government Department!
Well, not quite. Northern Ireland was never a democracy. It was a subordinate system under Whitehall, and Whitehall was at the time trying to rig out a subordinate system of local Six County personnel to operate its Northern Ireland annex for it.
It is instructive that Studies has nothing to say about Northern Ireland —a region of the premier democratic State in Europe in which a 28 year internal war was fought.
It is now beginning to be acknowledged in academic whispers that Northern Ireland is not a state, and never was a state. That fact was plainly obvious outside academia all along. But Irish academia operates with a dense force of resistance, conferred on it by Oxbridge, against seeing what is plainly obvious if it is discreditable to Britain.
It is not yet acknowledged, even in the quietest whispers, that Northern Ireland is a region of the British state on which the British democracy imposed an undemocratic, and intensely aggravating, pseudo-democracy; that this pseudo-democracy, excluded from the democracy of the state, was the political medium that gave rise to the War; and that the cause of the war was the statesmanship of the British democracy. But the facts which are now being partially admitted in whispers must, if academia is not forced back into complete denial of the obvious, lead to this conclusion.
Northern Ireland was set up as an undemocratically governed region of the democratic British state. The democracy of the state arranged that the Six County region of the state should be governed undemocratically. There was no demand in the Six Counties for the Northern Ireland system that Westminster imposed on them in 1921. What the Unionist two-thirds of the population wanted was to remain within the democratic system of the British state when the 26 Counties set about building a separate state of their own. What the Nationalist third wanted was to be part of the new Irish state. What the nationalist third did not want was to be excluded from the Irish state and at the same time to be excluded from the democratic system of the British state, and to be placed under a devolved system within the British state which could only work out as communal government of Catholics by Protestants, without there being any possibility of a connecting medium of organic political life.
Close attention to Northern Ireland rubs the glamour off democracy. It was the premier democracy in Europe that made a shambles of the Six Counties—and did it deliberately for an ulterior purpose.
France proclaimed democracy as a principle but could not make it work. England established durable democratic government as a fact, as a system of representative government by parties.
The United States does not count—any more than Israel does in the Middle East. It did not remould an existing society of some other kind into a democratically governed society. It exterminated the other society and developed as a raw democracy in the cleared space, based on a cutting-and-pasting of the party system of the motherland. The genocide was a continuing process for more than a century after independence, and social tensions could be relieved by migration into newly emptied spaces.
Social tension in England was also alleviated in some degree by genocide—by colonial migration to America, Australia, and New Zealand - and by emigration into Imperial administrations, mainly in India. But the base population in England grew steadily the whole time, and its mode of public existence was effectively remade into a structured democracy in the course of the 19th century.
The secret of it lay in the ruling class.
The term ”ruling class” is often used as an abusive term against rich people. Fintan O’Toole sometimes rants against the non-existent Irish ruling class. He always rants in support of fashionable buzz-words. If there was an Irish ruling class, he would be a prominent part of it, nevertheless . . .
No doubt the rich have their networks. They socialise with each other, help each other or stab each other in the back, and have their hangers-on, but in Ireland they are not a ruling class.
(Perhaps the Anglo-Irish are closest to having the characteristics of a ruling class, but in their time they remained too distant from, and too contemptuous of, the population they should have joined and shaped into a nation, and now they are a detached fragment of a failed elite.)
The English ruling class of the Great War unleashed a furious propaganda on the theme of Prussian Junkers as a force of evil in the world. But the Junkers were only landowners with local authority. They were not a ruling class of the state. James Connolly rightly took no notice of them when characterising Germany and deciding to support it in the Great War.
Charles Haughey was berated as having elitist notions. I first heard of him in the early 1960s from some ex-IRA Trotskyists. They hated him because they saw in him the possibility of a rounded bourgeois-democratic national development. He was certainly a gifted politician to have done what he did under the circumstances in which he did it. But his achievement was accomplished through individual political virtuosity. It might be said that he did not meet with an electorate that was worthy of him. He never won an election. He made the state financially viable almost in defiance of the electorate. He was the converse of a Populist.
The great concern today of those who hated him is the Populism of Donald Trump who has endangered democracy by appealing directly (and therefore anarchically) to the populace!
Trump’s political behaviour seems to have been generally characterised, by the upholders of the established democratic routines for handling the populace, as narcissist. This is puzzling. Narcissus saw his image reflected in a stream and fell in love with it. His life became the relationship between himself and his image. It is hard to see how Trump’s behaviour fits this picture. It was his rival who lived within an elaborately constructed image-making machine. Trump reached out clumsily to something real that he saw in the world and it made him President—an uncouth President, without an image, and not trained in the skills of handling the democratic beast: the art so well described by Plato two and a half thousand years ago.
Now it might be said that this is bad, and that the populace must be mastered for democracy to be a functional form of state. It might be that functional democracy is an elite political practice. It used to be that direction of the mass by an elite was not regarded as a good thing—it savoured of Pareto and fascism. But it is noticeable that the word “elite” has begun to be used approvingly since Trump won by a ‘populist’ appeal to the populace.
In Britain the democratic process was wantonly set free from the ‘representative’ system and the demos was required to decide a fundamental affair of state by referendum—and there seems to be a consensus that even the well-trained British electors, when freed from the authoritarian party system, voted wrong.
If not even the well-trained British populace can be trusted to do the right thing when the functional political elite steps aside, what sense is there in the carping remark like this one?:
“Under a thin democratic veneer, the tradition of autocracy is alive and well in Russia today and, it must be said, in skilled hands” (Studies, p292, Mansergh).
Russia had a laissez-faire democracy without an effective state for ten years and Yeltsin, and the democratic West, plundered it to their hearts’ content. And, when Parliament tried to assert some stabilising authority, Yeltsin sent in the tanks to deal with it—to widespread Western approval, including that of John Lloyd, then of the Financial Times and Communist Party of Great Britain and now of the Irish Examiner. What has changed is that somebody from the old regime has constructed an effective political party which provides a stable government in the new order and wins all elections in the new order because no party capable of being a Loyal Opposition has yet emerged. Just like Ireland in the 1930s!
In Iran the Revolution has stabilised into orderly elected government. But, we still hear it said, the clerical hierarchy of the Revolution still has the upper hand over the democratic process when it cares to exert it. Just like England for more than 200 years after its Glorious Revolution! The Lords’ Veto lasted into the 20th century.
Studies must try to remember what it once knew about this matter. Judging by the current issue, it has lost itself in Wonderland.
Letter to the editor
The substance of my views, available on the public record, on what Ireland's attitude to Brexit should be, coincide closely with those that have appeared over the past year in IFA, minus some of the polemics. I am totally opposed to the idea, so far put forward by only a few opinion-formers, that Ireland should follow the UK out of the EU. I also agree with the Government stance to date, with only minor and temporary diplomatic detours, that in pursuing its interests Ireland has to maintain a unified stance with its 26 other EU partners, the importance of sticking to which is emphasized in Dave Alvey's letter on behalf of the Irish Political Review Group to the Irish Times (24 August).
I did not expect to find in an editorial in the June edition an attempt to foist exactly the opposite opinion on me. The mis-attribution to me, however concocted, of the belief that 'in effect that British is the default position of Irish - that Irish is a regional variant of British', and that, if this, my alleged view, is right, Ireland will follow Britain out of the EU, is a preposterous distortion of my thinking, added to by the sinister, but highly implausible, claim that this was my position when I was advising Fianna Fáil Taoisigh.
If anyone wishes to know what I thought about Europe when I was advising Mr. Haughey, it is contained in a 1989 essay published in Ireland and the Challenge of European Integration, Hibernian University Press, edited by Dermot Keogh, entitled 'Ireland and Europe - A new balance'. In a key paragraph, I stated that 'on most of the high profile issues of strategic importance such as the CAP, the Structural Funds, the EMS and the further development of the Community, Ireland and Britain have tended to be on opposite sides'. I then went on to say that 'on many issues, the EMS being the perfect example, we have tended to align ourselves where appropriate or at least reach an understanding with either or both members of the Franco-German partnership and indeed with the Commission'. I know Mr. Haughey agreed with this, because I discussed it with him. Soon after, he strongly backed German unity as President of the European Council, despite the vitriolic opposition of Mrs. Thatcher.
I note from this morning's Irish Times (25 August), reporting on newly released British papers, that I am described in 1988 by their Embassy in Dublin as 'the malign influence' on Mr. Haughey. The British Embassy then, and the IFA editorial now, seem to have arrived on the same page from different directions! 1988 was the year that at Mr. Haughey's request I began meeting Fr. Alec Reid.
We must draw attention to the facts that Mr. Mansergh has in the past given the impression that he was uneasy with the description of Britain as a foreign country—which may of course have been diplomatic in source rather than personal—and that our editorial comment in the June issue did not say that he was now advocating Irexit. It commented generally that Brexit, if it goes through, will be the moment of truth for the many public figures in Irish public life who seem to have reservations about the stark statement that Britain is a foreign country. Those that did not see it as quite a foreign country would naturally have some reason to wish that Ireland would follow it out of the EU. British exit with Ireland remaining staunchly European would be a major act of Irish disassociation from the Anglosphere. We are glad to be informed that Mr. Mansergh is content with that.