Populism and the social contract.


Well-known member
Apr 30, 2009

I haven't posted a thread on this site for some time, this could be for a variety of reasons...

  • The site is irrelevant as a medium for discussing politics compared to Reddit/4chan/etc
  • The posters who regularly come here are back-slapping groupies incapable of proper debate
  • People no longer know who I am and consider both myself and my opinions to be irrelevant
  • Things just haven't been the same since DC sold out
  • The learned allies and foes I used to debate with are gone and even the trolls are pathetic single agenda monkeys
  • The whole political debate has been dumbed-down by successive anodyne governments that no one has the heart to discuss it anymore
  • Putting time and effort into a thread, particularly a long opinionated one, is pointless as people have the attention span these days of a May Fly.
  • My overweening projectionist and arrogant persona doesn't sit very well with site users

So let's ignore all of the above which may/may not be true and just give this a whirl, shall we?

On the Social Contract

The Social Contract is something that goes back to the core of civilisation itself. Essentially an unspoken agreement amongst the many that by obeying certain morals, conduct, behaviour and rules, people can come together to form a just and tolerant society. Because the alternative is chaos.

We could discuss the history and philosophy of the social contract through the ages but I couldn't be arsed and I doubt if anyone here is capable of doing so anyway. What I would really like to concentrate on therefore, is my own slant on the social contract as it pertains between The State, on the basis of a modern democratic Western government like Ireland, and its citizens. The modern day social contract goes something like this...

  • That the citizen should educate themselves to the best of their ability and circumstances.
  • That after their education, the citizen should engage in a trade or profession of their choice or circumstances.
  • That they should obey and uphold the laws of the State at all times
  • That they should pay their taxes, just or not
  • That should they have a family that they nourish and provide for their children to the best that their circumstances allow, to feed and clothe them, ensure they receive an education and to input what greater society considers a moral conscious and objectivity
  • That they should contribute to their local community as best as the can and as time allows

In return for this, the State shall provide:

  • Just governance in terms of fiscal, judicial and moral responsibilities
  • To protect the citizen from those that seek to break the law
  • To provision or set about circumstances that allows the citizen a chance to own their own home
  • To provide a health service that suits the needs of all citizens
  • To provide childcare facilities to enable parents to continue working
  • To provide free education for their children
  • To protect the citizen from institutions that knowingly or unknowingly commit great harm by way of malfeasance leading to trauma on their physical, mental or financial well-being.
  • To run the government in a manner that promotes to the benefit of the State as a whole rather than any elite person or people, institute or faction
  • To provide a safety net in terms of illness to the citizen
  • To provide an adequate pension when the citizen retires
  • To encapsulate a cradle to grave philosophy to the citizen and the state.

Now what has happened in the last 30 years is that this version of the social contract has been ripped asunder, chewed up, spat out, trodden in the dirt and then thrown in the fire. The party responsible for this is successive FG or FF governments, regardless of what junior party or independents were involved. We can argue the toss about what which party was more responsible than the other, but we are where we are, right?

So with this breakdown of our social contract, we can understand that the same processes have been happening around the world, and not just in Western-style democracies either. That is, a growing percentage of people are dissatisfied with their government and are making decisions through elections or other processes that look to make change.

Hence Trump. Hence Orban. Hence Brexit. Hence Bolsonaro. Hence ...er Peter Casey.

On Populism in Ireland

All politics is local, and no more local than in Ireland. Therefore populism in Ireland in terms of politics is local too. Populism in politics has been rife for decades in this country, but as these ''deals'' are local, from the days of Tony Gregory to Shane Ross, none of this has entered the national conscious.

Peter Casey's performance in the Presidential election may well turn out to be a non-event, but it is the first time that I can think of, where this tide of populism - as it is currently defined - has reached these shores. Immediately we have seen an enormous backlash from the parties of vested interests, like political parties, liberal commentators and institutions, the media (who are hopelessly compromised), and everyone that wants to maintain the status quo.

All of these people are misreading the situation.

First, comparing Casey and his comments/campaign to Donald Trump, or Orban, or the Brexiteers is inherently wrong. While there are strands that connect the story of 21st century populism throughout the world they don't connect to Ireland. Trump style politics would never be successful in this country. There will be no Irexit. There will be no surge of nationalistic pride that will bring a proto-national fascist to power here. If there is to be populism and a populist party in Ireland, it will our own unique version of it.

Secondly, Peter Casey is an appalling example of a populist. His comments on travellers hit a very painful nerve but all of this was completely accidental. He had no plan but rather fell into a strategy when his hand grenade went off in the laps of the easily offended. He is a terrible performer on TV, can't debate, shows no nous on how party politics works and is the last person you would turn to (beforeNí Riada, Freeman, Gallagher and Duffy) to run for and on behalf of, a populist political campaign.

The third element, not discussed at all, is the antipathy against Higgins. From the very start Higgins was always going to win this contest. Partly because of being the establishment candidate, partly owing to the risible selection of opposition candidates, partly down to ennui of this campaign compared to the car crash version we had last time. People therefore didn't turn out to start off with, but if they did their civic duty, a lot of them voted for Casey as the anti-establishment candidate.

Which brings us to how this result may affect the future democratic process. What's clear to me is that this country is prone to a populist party that campaigns on restoring our social contract. That decides to campaign for a fair and just society based on the working classes. Now by working classes I do not mean the traditional blue collar variety, I am talking about anyone who works for a living bar certain thresholds and vocations.

As I've said, the shredding of the social contract by successive governments will have an effect on the voting population sooner rather than later. It goes like ''Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, fool me thrice, shame on....what version are we on now?

The danger here therefore, is when this wave of populism starts. All parties need to go through a governmental process where their relative newness in terms of people or politics has to go through the FF/FG mince making machine so the status quo can return. Think The Greens, Social Democrats, Labour etc. This is why Sinn Fein won't go into government and why they are not a true populist party, appealing as they do to a very small sector of the electorate.

The reason behind the timing is thus. Currently the popular thinking is that our economy is doing very well, when in fact it is a train heading at full speed to the next market crash. Only this time, the underlying issues with our economy, the massive national debt (€200bn+), the interest repayments on same, the ageing demographics, the spiralling public sector costs, our ultra-dependence on US multinationals and their taxes combined with exterior threats means that the next downturn will be far, far worse than the last.

Unlike the last time, there is no more fat to be cut.

So what would happen then? We know that in the last economic crash the incumbent FF/Green coalition was destroyed in the polls and FG/Labour swept into power with a carte blanche mandate to, in effect, restore the social contract.

Well, we know that FG/Labour only looked after vested interests and continued on with the FF remedy of transferring institutional debt onto the taxpayer. The same taxpayer that makes up the majority of the electorate. So the race is on to see when this populist party begins. Does it start off before the crash, get merged into the mince making political machine and then disappear? Or does come during the crash, riding the wave of popularity to become a government in its own right?

Because at that stage the voter will be asking, what have we got to lose?

Therein lies the danger to the establishment. As the establishment is incapable of seeing past the current term of office and maintaining the status quo, they face the reality of a genuine, if very Irish revolution.

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