Category Archives: History

Is Ireland a Legitimate Country?

lemass-on-time

Lemass committed Ireland’s future to one of sovereign compromise. He had no choice.

The international system is a complex and convoluted thing, and sets the framework against which States are measured for their effectiveness, righteousness, or other measures that could serve as proxies for legitimacy: transparency, robustness, even happiness, or goodness. According to these indices, Ireland performs reasonably well – very well actually. It is the seventh most ‘unfragile’ country in the world; the eleventh most ‘good’; the 18th most transparent; and the 19th happiest. Most of these indices combine different metrics such as GDP, social metrics like unemployment, education rates, and so on, which tend to mean that Ireland – and other countries – won’t deviate too much from one ranking to the next. So Ireland performs well as a country. However, the combination of the EU Crisis, Brexit, and Trump’s America seem to represent a trifecta of bad things over which Ireland has little or no control, and could send the country hurtling down those indices. So if Ireland has so little control over these shaping factors, is Ireland in fact a legitimate country, a genuinely sovereign power?

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The Neoliberal Inevitability of Vegetarian Hegemony

trump_taco-png-crop-promo-xlarge2

It’s a tofu taco bowl. Sure it is.

The election of Donald Trump may signal a slap in the face for our neoliberal orthodoxy, but it’s certainly not a death blow. It remains to be seen how effective he will be in disrupting the stasis that has gripped western liberal democratic governance for much of the past quarter century. That it requires disruption is certainly true; reform, at least. But it remains unclear what will replace it other than a ball of resentment and anger. Just as Rick Page declared that ‘hope is not a strategy’ in 2001, the same can be said of anger. But what has that got to do with vegetarianism? Stick with me.

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Neonihilism and the Failure of Liberalism

Do the disaffected know what they want? Agency is one thing: leadership and direction is another.

Do the disaffected know what they want? Agency is one thing: leadership and direction is another.

Ross Douthat in today’s New York Times declares our time a crisis for liberalism, the left having ‘lost its way’, in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump. It’s been a popular theme. In 1969, Ted Lowi declared the end of liberalism, in favour of interest group liberalism, in part a kind of elaboration on Eisenhower’s theme of the military-industrial complex. The liberalism of which we speak has long been defined in terms of economics and economic goods, how the distribution of resources and the freedom that comes with fair access to those resources, can allow mankind to flourish. Friedman’s classic Capitalism and Freedom from 1962 defined the concept, which was ultimately routed in eighteenth century enlightenment thinking, and in particular the French Revolution. Its progression through International Law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the twentieth century brought at its end an essential global consensus: Liberal Democracy was it. This was the end of history. Continue reading

Trump/Brexit: Popular Legitimacy and the Rule of Law

Morten Morland's cartoon from The Times, November 4th.

Morten Morland‘s cartoon from The Times, November 4th.

The New York Times ran an editorial yesterday on what it called ‘a coup’ against the Supreme Court. The death of Antonin Scalia earlier this year, and the Republican Party’s refusal to entertain a replacement has rendered the previously nine, now eight judge court unable to resolve some important cases, split evenly as they are between four generally liberal and four generally conservative justices. The GOP Presidential Nominee, Donald Trump, has recklessly attacked other institutions in his scorched earth strategy that followed his poor showing at the debates, including the Military, the FBI, the President, the Federal Reserve, and the Media. Early on in the campaign, he attacked a judge who ruled against him, claiming the judge was biased because he was Mexican-American. He has threatened to jail his opponent if he wins, he has consistently attacked and undermined the electoral process itself, and encouraged voter suppression.  Every pillar of democracy in America has been weakened by Mr Trump’s candidacy whether he wins or not, and people love him for it.

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The Idea of France

Delacroix's <i>Liberty Leading the People</i>

Delacroix’ Liberty Leading the People. She – Liberty – is so much more than the country: she is the ideal and the aspiration, the unadulterated guiding principle. Her path remains clear; but have the people stopped following her?

As Francois Hollande transitions from the bureaucratic administrator of the Fifth French Republic to a wartime leader in the latest instalment of the rolling war on terror, decisions are being made about France. The latest pronouncements – from overbearing surveillance measures introduced in the Summer in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings, to the most recent introduction of a three month state of emergency in order to deal with the Paris attacks – diminish democratic governance and accountability, in the short-sighted interests of expediency and national security. But this disaffected progression is not new; perhaps the January and November attacks were more overtly offensive than before, and appear more obvious inflection points, but we must go back ten years to the riots of 2005 to try and understand what is happening. Furthermore, the decisions being made today are not merely reflective of missteps taken in the past, but instructive as to the kind of France that is emerging for the future. And for France, we can read Europe, and Western Liberalism.

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Church and State: What is the Church for?

stpetersrome

The Roman Catholic Church: What is its New Role to be?

I was asked a question recently about the role of the church – in particular the Roman Catholic Church – and how it could be reinvigorated.  What is it missing, my interlocutor asked, in order to connect? The discussion led to some interesting thought connections. In the first instance, there appears to be a question about what role the church truly played in social structures – relative to the state – in more ‘successful’ times. In truth, it appears that the Church served as a quasi-state structure.

Bob Neuwirth‘s 2011 book on The Stealth of Nations looked at informal economies and structures. We’ve discussed informal economies this on this blog before, but also informal justice systems. That concept was about current day emerging countries, but if we go back fifty, one hundred years, there were limited formal state structures as we understand them today even in Western developed economies. Police forces are a relatively recent innovation, and in their earliest days they were sporadic at best. Hospitals and schools run by the state are similarly – broadly speaking – an innovation of the twentieth century. Before that, disputes were often resolved by community leaders – priests – and healthcare and education, such as it was, was provided by Churches. Whatever the Spiritual function, the practical matters of social organization were arguably far more important.  Continue reading

British Exceptionalism and the New Isolationism

isolationismIn the early part of the twentieth century, Woodrow Wilson‘s America decided upon an Isolationist Foreign Policy concentrating their efforts on the battles at home. It wasn’t a new strategy – since the days of George Washington, the country as it emerged tried to distance itself from foreign entanglements, notwithstanding repeated encroachment on its borders by regional competitors and the death throes of European Power. The German ascendancy in the Atlantic finally forced their hand, and in order to protect the interests of America the country was forced into the war, and away from its isolationism. America, it appeared, could only advance her domestic interests if actively engaged on the International Stage.

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Inequality and The Demise of the Euro

euro-meltdown

This is not going well.

The coalition negotiations in Germany appear to have stalled on the question of whether Chancellor Merkel will authorize further European capital (read: German capital) for Irish banks.  Further more, the SDP is trying to force Ireland to raise its corporation tax rate, an incentive that has diverted investments away from the rest of Europe in key areas such as the Internet and Biotechnology.  This is not the first time that Germany has taken on the appearance of a reluctant bully in Europe, forcing itself on the weaker nations who are not deserving of its largesse.  It is of course symptom, not cause, and the true reason for the current difficulties – perpetuated now for five years or so – is the structural failure of the European project to manage economic diversity.

There is some great wealth in Europe, concentrated in pockets such as the Ruhr valley, Northern Italy, Southern England, and other places.  Big industries such as auto manufacturing and pharmaceuticals employ hundreds of thousands, while financial services help to facilitate the trade of those products all over the world.  The wealth, however, is poorly distributed if we consider the wider context.

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A New Troika: Inequality, Sovereign Decline and Democratic Deficits

Serge Halimi_small

Serge Halimi: Considered Outrage

Serge Halimi is the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, a kind of internationalised politico-philosophical publication from LeMonde featuring articles on international affairs and globalisation.  He is unrepentantly left wing, and in his May column, he unloads both barrels into what he perceives as a global elitist hegemony, The Tyranny of the One Per Cent.  His analysis is unusual in one respect, however.  It is an attack on a system, rather than its people; it is not lamenting greed (a kind of anti-Gordon Gekko) and is not so much bitter as it is critical.  Throughout the piece he constructs a compelling argument in the French Republican tradition – that eighteenth Century revolutionary philosophy that has – perhaps unintentionally – led us all to where we are today.   Continue reading

Inequality and Democracy

Wen Jiabao

Outgoing Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao: “Social strains are clearly increasing.”

Outgoing Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao today added his voice (not for the first time) to those warning against rising inequality as a threat to China’s development.  Imbalances in economic growth he warned were threatening the success of the economy.  “We must make ensuring and improving people’s wellbeing the starting point and goal of all the government’s work, give entire priority to it and strive to strengthen social development,” he added.  It is a common refrain, and one that goes to the root of modern statecraft.

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