Much of the history of the infrastructure of State harkens back to feudal and older systems of clan based fealty, where one clan is in the ascendant, and brings other clans under its wing, and the head of the clan asserts a right to rule through strength and politics. Francis Fukuyama talked a lot about that in his book on The Origins of Political Order. This kind of authority is still seen today in monarchial type totalitarian states like Saudi Arabia and (formerly) Ba’athist Iraq. There are some similarities with Bashar al Assad’s Syria, but they are limited. Wiliam Dalrymple‘s latest book Return of a King reminds us that Hamid Karzai, the current leader of Afghanistan, comes from the same tiny sub-tribe from whence the original ruler of Afghanistan hailed during the British War there in 1839. The Divine Right of Kings was a principle that emanated from Reformation Europe, and in particular from a Theologically thin doctrine hastily assembled to facilitate Henry VIII. This doctrine was in a sense the harbinger of modern secularism; the French Revolution abhorred the gap between rich and poor, and questioned how righteous the King really was, ultimately resulting in the schism between Church and State.
Ireland has had a well documented, rather turbulent recent economic history. Following on from the bursting of the property bubble and the attendant banking collapse, an extraordinarily myopic political decision to nationalise the exposure of the banks led to a sovereign debt crisis, and, ultimately, a bailout from the troika of the IMF, ECB and European Commission. Apart from the loss of money, there was plenty dramatic wailing about the loss of National Sovereignty, and references to the War of Independence and the heroes of 1916 and ‘is this what they died for?’ rhetoric. There was even a nuance to the sovereignty question, in that the country had lost her economic sovereignty, whatever that meant.
Now, politics has always had an uneasy alliance with the propriety of language, bending it to its will as any situation may have seen fit. The distinction between economic sovereignty, and other sovereignty, one supposes, is that while we’re not necessarily allowed to award pay rises to civil servants, we are still permitted to invade England. At least we have that, I guess. Of course, the extent to which we are – truly – permitted to invade England is limited in exactly the same way as our freedom to spend money has been limited. It is not a flat prohibition on action through coercive or other power that has limited what Ireland as a State can do; it is the threat of exclusion from international systems upon which we have become irrevocably dependent that limits our action.
Charles Moore’s article in the Telegraph yesterday caused something of a stir. Equality, he said, was not really a good thing at all. What’s that you say? He must be an elitist! How uncool is that! Well, essentially he was arguing that in the context of women in the army, and in particular on the front line of the army, that it was one step too far. Women just are not as strong as men, and therefore shouldn’t be there. His argument weakened when he extended it into civil partnership, defining marriage in terms of the legal structures for its dissolution, which appears to me to be something of a non sequitur. In essence, Moore misses the point that ‘unconventional’ couples are not seeking access to the institution, but rather to its attendant rights; indeed, they are seeking to fundamentally alter the institution, and make it more inclusive, rather than simply more equal.