Saturday, October 08, 2011

Rousseau and Ireland (Part Un)

I've been re-reading my Rousseau. The concept of the General Will is not a difficult one to grasp - in essence, we all willingly give up our freedom to the Sovereign (in a representative demoncracy that being the collective The People, i.e. us) and in turn the Sovereign redistributes that freedom in an equitable and socially conscious way. It facilitates that freedom generally - that is, in line with a General Will, a kind of will that attaches to the sovereign, which should in effect represent, broadly, the will of the people. Of course, it doesn't always work that way.

There are several reasons for this. Rousseau abhorred the concept of representative democracy; yet his ideas on democracy were taken by Robespierre and transposed onto the revolutionary movement in France immediately after Rousseau's death in 1778. Rousseau, to butcher an idiom, a était retourner dans sa tombe. He would not have been impressed. Nevertheless, the French model persisted, spawned the American model, and the post-Colonial English model that ultimately found its way to Dublin.

And now we have a problem. Politics has become deeply unrepresentative. As politics and business merge, the notion of a ship of state - one unit, sailing forth - is abandoned in favour of the administration of state, a kind of elevated functionary above the civil service by dint of some arbitrary mandate that bears no resemblance to any legitimacy that Rousseau may have sought in a government. Everything is about the economy - as it was in the good times (a successful economy will make everything else successful), and especially so in the bad, where the focus is on fixing what's broken in the economy, and trying to soften the impact of cuts. In the meantime, the gap between rich and poor grows ever greater, and the invalidation of the structures of legitimacy accelerates. The General Will is almost ignored; there is a default position. The government does nothing unless it has to do with the economy. But was the General Will ever relevant?

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