Skip navigation

Tag Archives: good society

Ireland is a small component part of western liberal democracy. For that reason it shares current concerns about the direction or the very future of democracy. However, its dominant political model uncannily prefigures the emergent model in other countries.

A number of theorists are convinced that the kind of liberal democracy that has existed for the last century or so has arrived at an existential crisis. It is argued that democracy is in the throes of change in order to accommodate a near universal disdain for politics with citizens and politicians sharing what Peter Mair has called an ‘anti-political sentiment’.* The term refers to the abandonment of any kind of universal objective and the decline of traditional forms of parties which represented such objectives. This is nothing less than the replacement of the demos with shifting civil society groups and alliances, together with “rational” or “practical” approaches to policy – doing whatever works without recourse to divisive debate about values or long-term objectives.

Ireland, it will be recalled, during the lberal-democratic century was never typical. Ireland preferred a system which heaped disdain on politics, universal values and ideas – and this was long before other countries arrived at this juncture. Such considerations were seen as “intellectual” (frequently a term of abuse in Ireland) and unnecessarily divisive when compared to “pragmatic” policies. Ireland, for so long seen as unlike other countries in which left and right clashed over political values, now finds itself in the post-political mainstream: an example of a system without need of discursive politics in any meaningful sense of the term. It might indeed be possible to say without laughing that western liberal democracy is tending towards the traditional Irish model!

That model sees a ruling “political class” faced by pressure groups with attendant activists who demand concessions. It is a stable, conservative system in which the best supported civil society or interest groups are favoured over their rivals. There is no question of debating social priorities, never mind political values or contending visions of a good society.

The media play two roles. The most prominent one is publicising the various claimants and helping to decide which will receive favour and to what extent. Their second role is less obvious. It involves presenting the political model as common sense, as “realism” or the way the world works. Their presentation places the model beyond criticism, and certainly outside of the accepted realm of political controversy. In short, media relentlessly promote this singular view without the slightest thought that it could be challenged, never mind that it ought to be “balanced” by a different perspective. **

_____________________________________________________

* Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy by Peter Mair, Verso, June 2013, ISBN 978 1 84467 324 7

** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/conservative-journalism-and-the-victims-of-austerity/

Advertisements

Sometimes I can’t resist a smile when I hear wistful talk about the nuclear family and its importance to a good society. You see, when I first became aware of the term, it was applied not to a desirable way to rear children but to the polar opposite.

When I married and bought a house in the early seventies, I moved from an urban village to a suburban town. I was part of a movement which was discussed as a cause for concern. Growing up, my extended family lived within one postal district; everyone was a bus trip or even a walk away. Many other families were closer still, with grandparents, aunts and uncles in their immediate vicinity. By the 70s young people were moving to suburban housing estates built on expensive, rezoned lands, where everyone was of an age and income, and lived very similar lives, disconnected from routine daily family contacts. Public transport and other infrastructure had not been a condition when approving housing estates. Visiting became a chore and the better off kept up wider family contact by buying a car. Concerned debate focussed on the role of planning in pulling communities and the extended family apart, and reducing society to, yes, nuclear families. Perhaps if “atomic family” had become the term, subsequent debate would have been clearer.