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The President used the ‘s’ word February 23, 2012

Posted by Tomboktu in Capitalism, Class, Community, Culture, Economy, Ethics, European Politics, Inequality, Ireland, Neo-conservatives, Political Philosophy, Social History, Society.

The archived speeches on the site of the President, http://www.president.ie go back only as far as 1997 (Mary McAleese’s inauguration speech), and even in a group that consists of nine members, a sample of two is not a good representation. That said, it is worth noting that this week, President Higgins caused the words socialism and socialist to appear on that site for the first time, by using them in a speech yesterday on Tuesday in London.

When the L.S.E. was founded in 1895 by the four leading Fabians, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, George Bernard Shaw and Graham Wallas, its founders were convinced of the power of education in not only lifting their fellow citizens out of poverty but also of such citizens understanding, participating, and in time, offering an alternative form of society, one that would be egalitarian, democratic, tolerant, one which would extend and deepen democracy in every aspect of life. Such an achievement would also constitute, they felt, the establishment of socialism as an alternative to capitalism.

He also said

the great founding texts of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Croce and others

and, quoting Frederick Powell,

“Privatisation is the road back to autocracy, in which a hollowed-out state is bereft of anything meaningful to attract the support of the citizen – especially the marginalised, excluded from the mainstream of society.”


Standing in support of unregulated markets, of unaccountable capital flows, of virtual financial products, are scholars who frequently claim the legitimation provided by a university. The university is at times put under pressure to demonstrate its utility as the seat of the single hegemonic model of society and economy that prevails.

I believe universities are challenged now not only to recover the moral purpose of original thought, emancipatory scholarship,


Weber, of course, could not have envisaged the consequences of the journey intellectual thought would make from reason to rationality, but then on to calculable rationality, and finally, in our own time, to the speculative gambling that is at the heart of so much global misery with its view of those humans who share our fragile planet, not as citizens, but as rational choice maximizing consumers.

We are in such a winter as Weber foretold. For example, we have arrived at quite widespread acceptance by policy makers of a proposition rejected by the majority of serious economic historians, that markets are rational. This, on occasion, leads, in the extreme, to the suggestion, absurd and all as it may sound, that it is people who are irrational, the markets rational


The mid-twentieth century constituted an atmosphere where social capital emerged and social democracy mediated conflict. The twentieth century saw too a public debate about the role of the State, the rights of the individual and social policy, of the balance between these areas.

In succeeding decades political philosophy and social theory gave way to issues of administration analysis of the role of the State faded and gave way to applied studies, in an administrative sense, of the State’s actions.

A discourse based on solidarity interdependency, shared vulnerability, community, gave way to a discourse on lifestyle and individual consumption. A society of citizens gave way to a disaggregated mass of individual consumers.


There is not, for example, any better future for economics as a subject and discipline than as political economy within a system of culture.

Wow. That won’t go down well on Merrion Street.

See the video here: http://www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/videoAndAudio/channels/publicLecturesAndEvents/player.aspx?id=1362


1. WorldbyStorm - February 23, 2012

Darn it, we think as one Tomboktu, I’d a similar post in the speech almos written up. I think given the week that was in I his comments on privatisation were particular good, and other stuff he’s said since Christmas has been excellent – not least some thoughts on how the voluntary sectors use Of language was tipping from citizens to customers affecting the relationships at work there.

I’d think they must be wondering why the Predident is articulating the clearest traditional social democrat/democratic socialist line of any leading political figure in a generation or more. If he keeps this up expect the Sindo to do a number on him.


2. smiffy - February 23, 2012

It was a very interesting speech (and, yes, before the usual kneejerk reaction kicks in, it does put forward a broadly social democratic, rather than strictly socialist, view of society, albeit a more progressive and considered form of social democracy than we may be used to).

One part of the speech I was surprised wasn’t picked up more widely (although most attention focussed on the comments on privatisation) was this, just after the ref to ‘such a winter as Weber foretold’ quoted above:

“We are in such a winter as Weber foretold. For example, we have arrived at quite widespread acceptance by policy makers of a proposition rejected by the majority of serious economic historians, that markets are rational. This, on occasion, leads, in the extreme, to the suggestion, absurd and all as it may sound, that it is people who are irrational, the markets rational. That public, for whom, Friedrich Von Hayek wrote that economics are too complex, it is suggested, require something other than the direction of elected governments.

They must be forced into a compliance with technocratic demands, for which there is frequently scant scholarly support and, needless to say, no mandate. This represents a challenge to democracy itself I suggest and to the scholarship that supports it. The mediating institutions are losing authority and the prospect of raw conflict increases all over the world as language, words without emancipatory force give ground to what is unaccountable but global. ”

This seems to me to be a fairly explicit attack on the EU/IMF policies towards sovereign states in recent years/months, not just in Ireland, but Greece, Italy et al. Not that it’s particularly original from a socialist/social democratic perspective, but notable coming from a figure who is quite constrained in what he is able to say about matters of political controversy. If this is an indication of the approach Higgins intends to take in the course of his Presidency, it’ll certainly be interesting to follow.


3. antonu su gobbu - February 23, 2012

I’d say so long as these noises – and similar ones by the LP in power and its associated academic intellectuals – are the soundtrack to the politics of austerity it will go down just fine on Merrion Street. We need to be wary of being so delighted to hear the right noises being made that we don’t look at their political meaning. In Latin America they call this stuff “talk left, walk right”.


Ed - February 23, 2012

Do they say that in Latin America too? I’ve often heard it used by the South African left, the ANC and SACP have got it down to a fine art since 1994.

The main test for Higgins will be if the government is determined to go ahead with the EU treaty without a referendum – will he refer it to the courts to test its legality? FG and Labour can doubtless dismiss speeches like this as a minor irritation, it’ll be drowned out anyway by the IT’s shrieking chorus. But you can be sure they wouldn’t be happy campers at all if there was any prospect of having to submit the treaty to the people.

Barring other developments that looks like it’ll be the major practical decision Higgins has to make as president, so then we’ll see whether it’s going to be talk left, walk left or talk left, walk right.


Blissett - February 23, 2012

In fairness, its hard to see how MDH can either walk left or walk right. Aside from some very limited duties regarding collapses of Government, all he can do is talk, and if he talks left, thats more or less as much as we can expect of him. He has no control over what the Government does.

As far as I know Trevor Ó Clochartaigh SF raised this quote on the order of business today in the context of sale of state assets


Blissett - February 23, 2012

And I might add there is a case to be made that referring it to the courts would not be the better option. If the Supreme Court decides its consitutional, its constitutionality can never be questioned, whereas if allowed to come in to law, it can be challenged again, and again, and again. Im not sure which I would favour, but you could certainly argue the toss on it.


WorldbyStorm - February 23, 2012

That’s an excellent point Bllissett in your last comment. I’ve often wondered about that in relation to a raft of issues. Flexibility in legislation as against near immutability in the constitution.


4. Ed - February 23, 2012

I’m not an expert on the legal technicalities, but what I have in mind is the courts ruling that, in line with the Crotty judgement, the treaty can’t be adopted by Ireland without a referendum, thus forcing the government to hold a referendum against its will. As far as I know the treaty itself couldn’t be struck down by the courts, but they could determine that a referendum is needed before the treaty becomes law.

Fair enough, Higgins has little power, but this seems to be one clear decision to make about whether to walk left or right, perhaps his only one in office.


WorldbyStorm - February 23, 2012

That certainly will be an important litmus test, given his general lack of power. But in fairness I wouldn’t hang him on it prior to the event.


Ed - February 24, 2012

Well it’s not a question of hanging him on it, more a question of putting it on the agenda now so when it comes up, people will be looking to Higgins to take action.

Again I’m not an expert on this but I believe the Icelandic president played quite a good role over the past few years in forcing the government to submit things to a referendum, and he was far from being a radical or revolutionary, so it’s not ultra-left or maximalist to be talking about this.


5. gfmurphy101 - February 24, 2012

At least the speeches from MDH are living up to his election promise of starting a national debate on the issue of capitalism! Can just imagine the rubbish that would be coming out of his aras if Gallagher won !


LeftAtTheCross - February 24, 2012



6. CMK - February 24, 2012

Today’s ‘Phoenix’ is reporting that Michael D.’s campaign got a EUR 1,000 donation from the owner of Supermacs who was a key mover in the constitutional challenge to the JLCs and their protections for low paid workers. If that’s true, and Michael D. doesn’t return that donation, is it not a clear-cut case of ‘talking Left, walking Right’? He can’t be much of a socialist, or social democrat, if he’s willing to take donations from a unequivocal class warrior who has attacked the few protections ‘enjoyed’ by the lowest paid and succeed in his attacks. So, I won’t be getting too excited by Higgins’ talk of ‘socialism’; talk is cheap.


7. CL - February 24, 2012

MDH rightly cites Friedrich von Hayek as one of the principal movers in the revival of market liberalism after it had been discredited in capitalism’s last great crisis, the Great Depression.
But the support of Hayek and Milton Friedman for the Chilean butcher, Pinochet, exposes their hypocrisy; mass murder and torture enabled the technocratic ‘Chicago Boys’ impose their Hayekian ‘spontaneous order’.
Now in Europe this obsolete, utopian dogma being imposed by ideological technocrats is a clear threat to democratic freedom.
In Ireland MDH’s old party, Labour, is using state power to subjugate the people to the coercive power of irrational markets.
MDH it seems puts his faith in middle class Fabianism to meliorate the resulting class tension, bolstered by ’emancipatory scholarship’ from Ireland’s privileged academics, but more than incantation is surely needed.


8. Laurence Ginnell - February 25, 2012

While Higgins is right to criticise the ideology of Von Hayek, Friedman and the ‘Chicago Boys’ (I have been reading Naomi Klein’s excellent and instructive ‘The Shock Doctrine’ on just how despicable the ‘Chicago Boys’ were). It must be remembered that our own gombeens acting as the local branch of the IMF probably have little to no idea who these people are or what they were trying to implement. The thought process in adopting neoliberalism was closer to ‘them big time yanks in their fancy suits and our english overlords with their enunciated vowels are saying governments should do this and that in order to be ”modern” therefore we should do it too in order to show them we are big boys’.

The problem with Von Hayek et al. is that their ideology became hegemonic and that didn’t come about because Irish politicians spent their days devouring the latest treatise from the ‘Chicago boys’. The only way to combat the hegemony is through organic intellectuals and in this sense McGuiness would have made a better President, being closer to the idea of an organic intellectual, than Higgins.

Higgins has spent a lifetime in the establishment, both politics and the decrepit university system, and therefore is completely corrupted. He is as much propping up the hegemony as any FG, FF politician.

Using the so-called ‘s’ word is nothing to get excited about. Brendan Corish also used it if I recall.


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