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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: July, 2011|
Reflections On A State
|Brian Lenihan was a marvellous man. Unpretentious. Affable. He sat at the piano played Chopin on the spur of the moment. Pity about The Mistake. Pity about that Delusion in which he spent his last years. That was Olivia O'Leary's instant obituary on Drive Time.
Colm McCarthy's more considered obituary (Sunday Independent, 12 June) holds that "Brian Lenihan was an exceptional minister for an exceptional time". Pity about The Mistake.
"Brian Lenihan was a spectacular victim of bad advice in September 2008".
So Lenihan was a disastrous failure—though one should try to find some kind things to say about him when he has just died.
Lenihan's Mistake was to give a State guarantee to the money in Irish Banks in order to stop it from flooding out of the country as the media know-alls whipped up a panic.
Morgan Kelly predicted doom. It was a safe prediction. The most certain thing about capitalist booms is that they will burst. The only way to prevent a boom from bursting is to prevent the boom. But, given the nature of the contemporary world economy, it is doubtful whether a Government based on a system of democracy could do anything much to prevent its economy from being hustled into a boom when international capital wants to give it one.
When the wild capitalist expansion that was released by the ending of the Cold War was taking off, the Malaysian Government took pre-emptive measures to prevent its economy being swept along by it. The leader of the Opposition movement to open the economy to world capital was charged with corruption and imprisoned. And we howled about the "crony capitalism" of Dr. Mahatir and condemned the trial of his opponent for corruption as being itself corrupt. (That is, the Irish Times howled, and the Irish Times is us now as far as the world is concerned.)
Malaysia does not now have the woes the inevitably come when the exhilaration of the boom collapses. But that is something we have not commented on.
The bust predicted by Morgan Kelly happened. There was no way it could have failed to happen. But the general knowledge that it was bound to happen is pretty useless in a market situation, unless it can be said precisely when and how.
In 2007 the Government, in accordance with a Department of Finance analysis, began to make preparations for the bust. It began to arrange for a "soft landing" when the boom bust, voluntarily subverting economic activity so that there would be a shorter distance to fall. But the bust came suddenly and from an unexpected quarter in 2008, before the "soft landing" measures had time to have much effect.
But it is doubtful, in any case, that long-term preparations by the Government to cut back economic activity during the boom in preparation for the bust is sustainable in the system of representative government. What the electorate would see is economic opportunities being sabotaged by the Government.
For all anybody knew, the bust might have come many years earlier. Nobody knew because, in the market system, it is the business of the market alone to know. No human institution can know as well as the market what the situation is. Human institutions overriding the market only confuse the infallibility of the market. The business of Governments is to facilitate the market in doing what it wants to do. That is the ideology of the market, and it was unquestioned in Irish politics during the long period of boom.
If Fianna Fail had gone to the country in the 2007 Election with a policy of restricting economic activity it would have lost. The Opposition were pressing for a removal of restrictions, such as a big reduction in Stamp Duty on property transactions.
That's democracy. And that's capitalism. Since the end of the Cold War, and the consequent enlargement of the world market, the two have been decreed to be identical.
The newspaper—is it necessary any longer to say The Irish Times, to which Fianna Fail awarded the status of official newspaper of the state, its "newspaper of record"—the newspaper on June 24th:
"This summer marks the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the international financial crisis. It was, quite coincidentally, around that time when the Irish economy began to falter and hopes for a soft landing disappeared…"
So there was an international financial crisis. And mistakes made by the Government brought about an unconnected but coincidental crisis in Ireland!!
The Irish crisis must be disconnected from the systemic capitalism that achieved freedom in the world when the Socialist system collapsed twenty years ago—otherwise the Irish crisis might be taken to be an indictment of the globalist capitalism of which the newspaper has been an enthusiastic advocate.
The 'coincidental' crisis of international finance was set off by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and that collapse was made possible by the ending of banking restrictions imposed by the State in the USA.
US Treasury Secretary Geithner now says that US banking de-regulation was made necessary by earlier British Government action, which deregulated the City of London. Started by Thatcher, and continued by Blair and Brown, that deregulation was attracting banking to move operations from the USA to London. America had to deregulate to stay in the game. And of course Ireland trailed behind.
There are three major currencies in the world: the dollar, the pound sterling, and the euro. Sterling and the dollar have been bound in intimate antagonism ever since the US rescued Britain from the hopeless condition it got itself into by bringing about a World War in 1939-41 without having any serious intention of fighting it in earnest. Britain was an economic dependency of the US for many years after 1945 and sterling was sustained by a fixed relationship with the dollar. That "special relationship" was necessary. It was the best Britain could hope for after its mad War. But it was always resented. The will to independence never withered.
The European Union and the euro came on the scene. The EU threatened to end the possibility of British balance-of-power politics in Europe. Then the EU invented the euro. And, instead of consolidating Europe as a distinct region of a multi-polar world, which it was big enough to do with a large measure of self-sufficiency, it embarked on the game of world-domination, expanding eastwards and looking for wars to fight. And there were notions of making the euro the major world currency.
That was ten years ago. And now the euro is wondering if it can survive.
The outlandish mistake made by the EU was to establish the Single Market at Britain's behest and allow Britain to remain part of it without joining the euro.
Wiseacres in London now shake their heads and say it was obvious that a monetary system without a political framework to control it could not work. And the Prime Minister says that Britain will do nothing to rescue the euro, which is none of its business, but it treasures the Single Market. So there can be a Single Market without a single currency; a Single Market which consists of two currencies in necessary conflict with each other, with the currency that is outside the euro committed to disrupting the euro.
Who could have thought back in the 1990s that Europe would make such a mess of itself? Or that Britain, with so few visible means of support, could still have done so well for itself and been so destructive of others?
What gives Britain the edge in playing the global finance market that now dominates so much of world affairs? The fact that this market is largely the creation of a British ruling class over three centuries, and that behind all the display of democracy Britain retains something like a ruling class which has a feel for situations and discreetly nudges the democracy this way or that at critical movements.
We commented some issues back that Ireland is a pure democracy with nothing like a ruling class to direct it, and also without functional habits of behaviour developed through centuries of experience. It is a pure democracy, individualisticaly meritocratic to an extreme degree, and therefore without the resources for playing the tricky game of finance capitalism which has no rules.
Fintan O'Toole responded, in his column in The Paper, with a demagogic assertion that we have a ruling class of genius: "Ruling class has used its incompetence to flee the consequences of its incompetence—an awe-inspiring feat". And—
"If they'd put half the talent they've displayed in protecting their own power into running the country, we'd be living in paradise…"
It would be too much to expect a revolutionary populist loud-mouth, who is given about 100,000 euro a year for venting hot-air, to see that a ruling class runs the country, and profits from it of course, and that people who just make money for themselves are not a ruling class. And that all that Ireland has got in the way of an "elite" is people who just make money for themselves.
An elite closely involved in the running of the country as well as in the making of money, in such a way that it could sense the approach of a financial crisis and nudge the country into taking measures to reduce its impact—that is what we have not got. And the main business of The Newspaper during the past quarter of a century has been to avert the danger of a class like that coming into being. And the secret Directory that runs The Paper has used "revolutionary" spoofers like O'Toole for that purpose.
Socialist ideology has been trivialised into begrudgery, and The Paper knows very well how to exploit native begrudgery for its own purposes.
If we had a responsible ruling class, functional in politics and the economy, The Paper would condemn it as "crony capitalism" through the pens of its hired revolutionaries.
And in this matter the enthusiasts for a kind of Capitalism that is completely atomised, in which each capitalist is a completely separate competitive unit, entirely in conflict with every other competitive unit—enthusiasts for a kind of purified capitalist competition that is incapable of existing—are often indistinguishable from the socialists who are mere begrudgers. We think of the Progressive Democrat who has been nominal Editor of The Paper in recent years, who has seen it go downhill, and who in her retirement speech said that the people have a right to know.
But there is an elite in the economy about which the Paper does not think the people have the right to know. It is the elite which sustained The Paper during the decades when it had no visible means of support, had no national readership, and was stocked by very few shops in the country.
Ireland had a ruling class for a couple of centuries—a class which exercised political and economic power on a monopoly basis, and accumulated great wealth of various kinds, monetary and institutional. In the end it failed to sustain its position as a ruling class, due to a disdain for the natives which became politically dysfunctional as the democratic impulse gained pace. It remained colonial in outlook. It was astonished when the Home Country conceded statehood to the native combination of votes and guns. Many of them went home at that point. A few had joined the natives before the event and had taken part in the separatist movement. Some reconciled themselves to the event once it happened and began to take part in native affairs. But a solid economic enclave remained behind, treated very liberally by the country which for centuries it had ruled very illiberally. It tended to the golden chains, retained the aloof manner of a superior people, and eventually had its pretensions acknowledged by erratic revolutionaries like Eoghan Harris.
The golden chains of Imperialism are a sensitive subject. Even though Connolly warned about them, socialists who know better than he did do not care to mention them. They seem to have accepted the maxim of the Roman Emperor who said "pecunia non olet"—money doesn't smell. Money is impersonal. But, in the real world, one finds that money is very personal indeed, and that it is only a fool and his money that are soon parted.
The wealthy Protestant economic enclave maintained its position easily during the first generation of independence, when national life was disrupted by Britain forcing a 'Civil War' on the issue of the Crown—which was not wanted by the Treatyites any more than the Anti-Treatyites.
After a generation it still had its economically privileged position, its Paper and its University. But, when the former Treatyites returned to office, after long absence, in 1948, they began to put on the squeeze. Fine Gael set about destroying Trinity College—the Ascendancy bastion occupying a big area at the centre of the metropolis—by depriving it of subsidy funds.
Insofar as there was an established Catholic business class, and one that was devoutly Catholic, it was Fine Gael. And Fine Gael, having recovered from its Treatyite fever, was resentful of all the concessions it had felt it necessary to make to the enemy in 1922 and wanted to remedy them. If Trinity had been brought down, the British enclave would probably have given up the ghost, and The Paper would have gone as a matter of course.
But then Fianna Fail returned to power and saved Trinity. Fianna Fail did not represent an established class. It represented the people of the country in all their variety, and the sense of liberal Republicanism which animated them. That is why it could gain overall majorities.
A new business class then began to develop in the populace, within the Fianna Fail ambience. Charles Haughey was active in that development. It began to erode the institutional strongholds of the wealthy Protestant enclave. And The Paper, in protection of its interests, launched the long crusade against this Fianna Fail development of a national capitalism, hiring socialists for the purpose.
The tightest form of "crony capitalism" in Ireland is that which the Irish Times serves but does not mention. It is not much mentioned at all. Respectable people know, but only mention it in code and sotto voce. It is therefore a great surprise to find that most respectable person of all, the late Garret FitzGerald, Garret the Good, wrote about it in his last book, Reflections On The Irish State. He says that in 1922 there were 275,000 Protestants in the 26 Counties, "almost all Unionists". Though consisting of only 7% of the population, they were given almost half of the seats in the Senate, yet "the new state was felt by most of them to be a cold place" (p147).
Naturally so. It was not their State. Beyond that appalling fact, any further complains were mere carping. It had been their State for two centuries: a Protestant State for a Catholic people. That it should cease to be their State, and also cease to be a Protestant State, was just too much for pampered flesh to bear.
The collapse, though sudden at the end, had been threatening for a generation, beginning with dis-Establishment of the Anglican Church in Ireland (though the Constitutionally Anglican monarch remained sovereign in Ireland), which was followed by the setting up of representative Local Government in 1898, and the state-subsidized abolition of the landlord system after 1903. The foundations on which that ruling class rested had been worn away, mainly because of its own conduct. It refused to weave itself into the life of the populace—because it thought life would not be worth living if it did that—and so the populace made its own politics out of its own life.
Nevertheless this failed ruling class continued to believe that its State would not let it down.
At one point it seemed inevitable that the Home Rule Party would take over, and that life in Ireland would be degraded into the most vulgar kind of apeing of English provincialism. (The Ascendancy saw itself as metropolitan and Imperial.) But Home Rule was seen off. And then, there were the Four Glorious Years of the Great War, when much of the world was made a shambles in the usual British way.
The Sinn Fein victory at the 1918 Election was not regarded very seriously. The Church Of Ireland Gazette and the Irish Times were certain that England knew how to deal with these Irish when they tried to get above themselves. The trauma struck suddenly with the Truce, to be only slightly relieved by the Treaty.
FitzGerald finds that the Protestant population fell by 45%, or 1.2% a year, in the half-century, 1861-1911, a period including Church, Local Government, and Land Reform by the British State. (The Catholic population fell by 30%.)
He finds that between 1911 and the first Irish Census in 1926, the Protestant population fell by 32%, or 2.4% a year, double the rate of decline of the preceding half-century. This period included the Home Rule conflict, the 1916 Insurrection, the vote for Sinn Fein, the War that the Irish had to fight when Britain took no account of the vote, and the War to impose the Treaty—which was urged on by the Irish Times and the Church Of Ireland Gazette.
FitzGerald then says that, in the years 1910-36 "the young Protestant population" fell by 36% and the Catholics by 22.5% (p148).
Then, "throughout the period since the end of the 2nd World War the rate of emigration of the young Protestant population has been consistently lower than for Roman Catholics". And this was the case with all age groups.
The decline in the Protestant population after the establishment of the State was not due to economic discrimination and lack of job opportunities:
"It is particularly notable that throughout the whole history of the independent Irish State, the Protestant population of the Republic has fully maintained its favourable socio-economic position"(p150; But is it quite socio-economic?—IPR).
Taking Commerce, Insurance & Finance, Management & Administration, and the Professions, he says that in 1926—
"…the proportion of the Protestant population in these three socio-economic groups was over twice the figure for Roman Catholics, 32.5% as against 16%. But, by 1991, the proportion of working Protestants in these three groups had risen… to 39.5% of the Protestant population"(p150).
"the proportion of Protestants engaged in clerical occupations… fell from 14.5% to 8%…"
And they were—
"…overrepresented between two and three times… amongst farm managers; ships' officers; architects and technologists; as well as in insurance broking, insurance, and business and professional services, and in films and broadcasting.
So it seems that the historic ruling class of Ireland as a Protestant State survived the loss of its State 90 years ago and has maintained itself as a wealthy economic enclave in the Irish state, and that it has been happier in the Irish state during the past generation or so, as the Irish State was overcome by existential doubt about itself, which the Irish Times propagandists played a considerable part in inducing, and has actively increased its privileged economic position.
Garret the Good would hardly blurt these things out if they were not the case. And he would hardly have commented on the fact that "they… have never been publicly adverted to", if he did not think they ought to be adverted to.
It should be evident that, if the decayed and rejected ruling class preserved itself as a wealthy enclave in the national state, it could only be by means of "crony capitalism". The long campaign of the Irish Times against what it saw as an incipient crony capitalism amongst the natives had the purpose of shielding the crony capitalism that it represents. The growth of the native crony capitalism was prevented by the noisy, but spurious, anti-corruption campaigns conducted by the paper of the successful crony capitalism.
What part the successful crony capitalism played in the financial crisis is something that has not been investigated as far as we know.
Pat Cox, on the day he was admitted to Fine Gael membership so that he might seek nomination for the Presidency, was asked on Radio Eireann what he thought of the EU now. He said it was ineffective in the crisis because it now had politicians in place of statesmen. That is true. But it was Cox more than any other individual who undermined EU statesmanship. As leader of the EU Parliament he undermined the Commission, which was the centre of EU statecraft, by means of trivial 'corruption' charges that were sensationalised by the British media. Britain was the power, but Cox was the voice. The outcome was that the Commission, whose business was to tend to the welfare of the EU as a whole. was disrupted, and the Council of Ministers took over. The Council consists of the various Governments who all tend to their own interests in conflict with each other and is dominated by the bigger states.
And the EU Parliament, through which Cox undermined the Commission—what has it been doing, or even said, about the crisis?
"What madness is this?", the Irish Times asked editorially on June 24th about the conflict in the Short Strand. The editorial began:
"After 30 years of incipient civil war and ten years of gradual peacemaking in Northern Ireland, forces are at work within both communities that would tip society back into conflict… Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this week's violence was a willingness by both communities to sustain it."
What happened was that the Short Strand, an isolated Catholic enclave on the South side of the Lagan surrounded by Protestant territory, was attacked and defended itself. The situation of the Short Strand is such that it must always be prepared to defend itself. And there is no evidence that in this instance it did anything but defend itself.
As to "incipient civil war"/—civil war that has been starting for thirty years but never got started—Professor Roy Foster said that Britain gave Ireland "the priceless gift of the English language". The Irish Times should try to learn it.
Regarding the "civil war": Britain, when retaining the 6 Counties within the UK established a regime there which could only have had the purpose of perpetuating Protestant/Catholic conflict. The Protestant community, organised by the Orange Order and the Unionist Council, was set up to police the Catholic community outside the democratic system of the state. Academic propagandists have in recent decades been describing this set-up as "the Northern Irish Sate", in order to shift responsibility away from Britain. But Northern Ireland has never been anything but a region of the British state, under the absolute sovereignty of Westminster, but arranged in a peculiar way to serve the purposes of the British State. Factual description of Northern Ireland in these terms has been absolutely forbidden in the Irish Times by decree of the Directory, so that conflict between the nationalist community and the State can be misrepresented as a Protestant/Catholic civil war.
The war of 1970-1998 was fought between the IRA and the British State. The State sought to "Ulsterise" the war, so that it might be presented as a merely communal war—"tribal" was a word that was often used. This journal tried for twenty years to get the North brought within the democratic system of the British State. The Irish Times allowed no expression to that project.
For 50 years that Catholic community was "the minority" in a bogus democracy. The bogus democracy was abolished in 1972, after two years of warfare. It was not replaced by any other system that might be described as democratic. After a further sixteen years of warfare, the "minority" status of the Catholic community was abolished, and a devolved arrangement was made in which power was not so much shared as divided. The arrangement remains undemocratic, insofar as Northern Ireland plays no part in the politics by which the state is governed.
The Protestant community, which agreed to exclusion from the democracy of the state 90 years ago, and took on the role of policing the Catholic community, has found its position eroding as a consequence of the strong socio-economic development of the Catholic community in the course of the war. (It is a commonplace that war and development often go hand in hand, but there is a reluctance to admit that that happened with the Catholic community in the North, though it is obvious.)
The Protestant community has naturally been demoralised by the flourishing of the Catholic community. That is how the system works. And the organised Protestant working class of thirty years ago has gone to seed by reason of Catholic development and industrial decline. It is fed up and without an outlet for its feelings, apart from hating Catholics.
Nobody has a clue about why they attacked the Short Strand just then. Vincent Browne finds it particularly sad that they should have done so just at the moment when such an exemplary figure as Rory McIlroy was hitting the headlines. But, seeing the part that George Best and Alex Higgins—both working class Protestants—play in the iconography of a community in decline, it is likely that the emergence of a local Fenian as a high flyer in a global sport, and not just a Gaelic one, added to the feeling of despondency and decline. The dynamics of Northern life are beyond Vincent Browne's comprehension. No doubt he feels that he would not be such a good person if he allowed himself to understand them.
Reflections On A State. Editorial