The world before Christ – and indeed for centuries after his advent – was a very savage place indeed. The ancient world, embodied in cultures which we identify as civilisations, and in doing so tend to soften the reality which they present to us, was a very cruel and unforgiving one. In this world, despite the benign and wise voices of people like Akenaten, Zoroaster, Socrates, Cicero and others, places like Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome, placed very little value on individual human lives or on many of the values by which we live and govern ourselves today.
Tom Holland’s Dominion and Professor Mary Beard’s S.P.Q.R. – to name but two relatively recent representations of that world – illustrate very well the great divide between the values of pre-Christian civilisation and that set in train by the advent of Christianity.
But if Rome was not built in a day, neither was Christendom. Professor Peter Heather’s Fall of the Roman Empire, or the story of St. Columbanus and his missionaries in the turbulent Europe of the 6th and 7th centuries, show us how long it took to root the values we take for granted today in the soil of that still residually pagan world. Even into the 12th and 13th centuries, the flowering which we see in the lives of St. Francis, St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas, took place side by side with a brutality underwritten by an utterly confused and confusing political morality, exemplified by The Hundred Years War, blundering Crusaders and the disedifying struggles between the Empire and the Papacy.
The path to the civilisation we consider ourselves privileged to live in today, great as its deficiencies may still be, was a long and arduous one. It was not only long but it was also faltering, faltering so badly at times that it seemed, as it did so at least twice in the last century, to be even threatened with extinction. What was the common denominator of most if not all the regressions experienced by what we used to call Christian civilisation but now coyly call Western civilisation? It was the abandonment of the principles of life and living which the followers of Christ have derived from the teaching of a Man who claimed to be, and proved to their satisfaction that he is, the Son of God.
Mark Hamilton’s new book looks at our world today and at the dominant political mechanism by which we seek to organise and govern it. He finds it in grave danger of catastrophic collapse. Of his book he writes:
The book stems from an awareness that the secular state cannot adequately protect its citizens and that as time progresses such failure may prove catastrophic for democracy itself. Democracy without Christianity is fundamentally incomplete — it is like a tree which has lost the roots which anchor and feed it.
Hamilton argues that the decline in democracy can only be reversed if the secular state rediscovers its Christian roots. For this to happen, he says, Christians need to understand the challenges, immerse themselves in political life, and take the opportunities presented to restore the democratic process to a condition where it ceases to be hypocritical.
The book is a calm piece of didacticism rather than a polemic raging against the failures of secularism, the flawed pedigree of relativism or the apathy of supposedly committed Christians. It logically explores the political landscape and encouragingly points to a way forward to restore the damaged fabric of democracy on the basis of the Christian values on which, he argues, it is based.
His arguments will make great sense to some. They will not be easily accepted by others, but one suspects that their counter-arguments will seldom rise above the level of superficial knee-jerk reactions – like the lazy confusing of misguided christian zeal with what is of the essence of Christianity. If superficiality could be avoided one might see the book provoking a valuable and intelligent exploration of a very real problem – the growing sense of deficit which is building up around our democratic institutions.
Dr. George Huxley, classicist, mathematician and archaeologist – to mention but three of the disciplines in which he is distinguished – is emeritus Professor of Classics at Queen’s University Belfast. In a lecture given in University College Dublin some years ago he defended Aristotle’s right still to be considered a wise man. Huxley said:
We speak much of democracy because we have elections and a wide franchise for women and men. But an ancient Greek democrat would with reason question our assumption that we are democrats. We emphasize elections, but we take too little thought for the quality of our elected rulers. Unlike the Athenians of the ﬁfth and fourth centuries BC, we do not subject ofﬁce holders to adequate scrutiny.
While, he admits, some effective scrutiny is to be seen in the activities of Congressional Enquiries in the United States he describes House of Commons committees as toothless instruments by comparison and finds little evidence of scrutiny of European Commissioners. In judicial enquiries were necessary because elected representatives failed to police themselves, and for the most part were tardy, cumbersome, expensive, and inconclusive.
Huxley suggests that we are deceiving ourselves. Perhaps it is this self-deception that is getting to us and disillusioning us about our ‘democracy’? Modern governments, he thinks, are not democratic but oligarchic. The oligarchic establishment of the self—describing ‘great and good’ knows how to use the law to defend itself. An Athenian, therefore, would question our democratic credentials and Aristotle, who yet had grave doubts about radical democracy, would have agreed with him: the millions. of dollars required to secure election to the Presidency of the United States, or the close connexion between British politicians of all parties and business interests, or the ability of powerful persons here in the Ansbacher polity to circumvent the law, are all oligarchic features.
For an ancient Greek, he said, there were two important questions: are the laws good and are they obeyed? If they are not good, they can be changed, but they must not be circumvented. How then would an ancient Greek, having read Aristotle’s Politics, classify most Western polities? He or she would not call them democracies. They are, rather, oligarchies interrupted by elections with low turnouts.
So, is it the case that in our readiness to live a lie about our political institutions we do not even reach the standard of the pre-Christian Greeks? Honesty, integrity and a sense of justice are human virtues attainable by all humans. But the element of Grace which is the gift devoutly to be wished for by all Christians is the most powerful of all the agents which reinforce these and the other virtues which keep us civilised. It is in recognising this that Hamilton is correct in seeing Christianity as the true guardian of the common good in the world. What makes a christian Christian is Grace and not self-description. A Christian’s understanding of his or her identity is that to be truly human they are so because of their Grace-enabled identification with the perfect Man, Jesus Christ – who is also God.
Democracy is a ground-upward system of defining and governing society. The character and identity of what that ground is composed of is the crucial issue. This brings us to the one haunting question posed implicitly by Hamilton’s book but not really addressed – perhaps because he feels it is not the context in which to address it. That is, where are the Christians who will transform this self-deceiving world? Democracy is not an ideology. It is a process through which a community gives expression to a vision. If that community is as dazed and confused as ours now is then democracy will do no more than create the chaos begotten by that confusion. By all means Christians should engage in the democratic process but perhaps their first responsibility and their first desire should be to speak their faith loudly and clearly, live by and help many others to live by the truths and values which their faith embodies. Then, perhaps slowly, as they did at the dawn of Christianity, but certainly surely, they will transform the society in which they live.
Irony of ironies, Disney has gone over to the Dark Side and joined the forces of the abortion industry. The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday (May 30) that the corporation’s chief executive has warned the US state of Georgia that its film and TV productions are likely to abandon the state if its controversial abortion bill becomes law.
Bob Iger said it would be “very difficult” for the entertainment giant to continue working in the state if the so-called “heartbeat bill”, which outlaws terminations from as early as six weeks, comes into force.
The Walt Disney Company has shot some of its biggest films in the US state, including Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame.
Speaking to Reuters, Iger said: “If it becomes law, it’ll be very difficult.
“I think many people who work for us will not want to work there, and we will have to heed their wishes in that regard.
“Right now we are watching it very carefully.”
Is that Big Brother, Mr. Iger? It appears that corporate America is becoming more and more daring daring every day in the way that it is playing fast and loose with democratic institutions.
Surely there is a glaring misuse of power here – when a multi-billion industrial baron can step in on an issue like this and decree “Thou shalt not do this” – or we will make you pay dearly? It is probably not personal on Iger’s part – and I am giving him the benefit of the doubt here. He knows that the ideological forces that have captivated the minds and hearts of his prima-dona workforce will make life and business difficult for him if he does not subvert the democratic institutions which they despise.
Ordinary people have a right to ask why a powerful empire like Hollywood has a right to force them to do what they think is wrong. Why should their conscientious defence of the right to life of a human being be sacrificed to a big business which deems that terminating a beating human heart it is morally justifiable?
For most of the time ordinary people don’t want power. They just want to get on with their lives. Democracy relieved them of dictatorial, aristocratic and oligarchic abuses of power. In our democratic age we expect that all we have to do is choose, every few years, reasonable, just and capable people to look after our public affairs for us – and all will be well. That seems to be enough power to keep us going. But something radical has now happened. We do not seem to be in this comfortable place anymore.
“In his essay”, Brooks tells us, “nobody feels like they have any power. The locals, the imperial victims, sure didn’t. Orwell, the guy with the gun, didn’t feel like he had any. The imperialists back in London were too far away.” He thinks this is the way much of the world is today, with everyone afflicted with a widespread sentiment that power is somewhere other than where you are.
Suddenly, we are not so sure that anything we think, say or do matters anymore. If it did why do I have to suppress this sense of fear and loathing every morning as I make my way to work past the Irish parliament and the offices of the prime minister of my country?
Brooks, writing in the American context, speaks of the confusion he sees right across the social and political spectrum where every group feels it is being hard done by in the system. A Pew Research Center poll asked Americans, ‘Would you say your side has been winning or losing more?’ Sixty-four percent of Americans, with majorities of both parties, believe their side has been losing more.
“Sometimes”, Brooks says, “when groups feel oppressed, they organize by coming up with concrete reform proposals to empower themselves.” He cites the Black Lives Matter movement as an example of this kind of response.
Here in Ireland some people afflicted by this “powerlessness” syndrome hope that new political parties might give some respite. Others despair even of that when they look at the options that new fledgling parties provide. They hope that the wave of independent non-party representatives expected in the next Irish parliament – the general election for a new Dáil will take place in about five weeks from now – will at least throw up something to relieve their pain and their anxiety. Others just look on this as a vain hope, convinced that what they see as a mildly to severely corrupt political and media establishment will manipulate the system to keep themselves in power.
Brooks thinks that “the feeling of absolute powerlessness can corrupt absolutely. As psychological research has shown, many people who feel powerless come to feel unworthy, and become complicit in their own oppression. Some exaggerate the weight and size of the obstacles in front of them. Some feel dehumanized, forsaken, doomed and guilty.”
The ultimate stand of the hopeless is a defiant but pointless one and is made when they feel overwhelmed by isolation and atomization. Having lost all trust in their own institutions, they respond to powerlessness with pointless acts of self-destruction. Brooks cites what is happening in the Palestinian territories as a classic example. “Young people don’t organize or work with their government to improve their prospects. They wander into Israel, try to stab a soldier or a pregnant woman and get shot or arrested — every single time. They throw away their lives for a pointless and usually botched moment of terrorism.”
In the United States today, on a macro level, everyone seems to be scratching their heads and asking themselves how this particular electoral cycle leading to the election of their 45th President got so crazy. On a micro level they are agonizing over the strange dysfunction of their legal and law enforcement system which two Columbia University journalism graduates have exposed in their riveting documentary series on Netflix, Making a Murderer.
For Brooks the first is a perversion brought about by feelings of powerlessness. As regards the second, no one seems to have any answers. It all ends up compounding the despair.
Brooks sums up the American dilemma: “Americans are beset by complex, intractable problems that don’t have a clear villain: technological change displaces workers; globalization and the rapid movement of people destabilize communities; family structure dissolves; the political order in the Middle East teeters, the Chinese economy craters, inequality rises, the global order frays, etc.”
Irish citizens seldom agonize over all of these issues – because they don’t expect their chosen representatives to have to deal with them. Our hapless and helpless representatives had to rely of an international troika of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank to dig it out of the mess they let the country fall into in the mid 2000s. The smug way in which the current political establishment now claims credit for the troika’s vigilance in having guided us to a reasonably safe haven fools some but angers others.
Is Ireland safe from the horrors of the unsafe verdicts and law enforcement shenanigans portrayed in Making a Murder? Irish radio last week was debating whether the dreadful scenario presented in the series could happen in their blessed land. Indeed it could – and from time to time there have been suspicious signs that something like it has.
On the political front, thirty-eight percent of the Irish electorate looked on in dismay last year as a united phalanx of political and media forces effectively consigned the already badly wounded natural institution of marriage to the rubbish heap of history by effectively redefining it out of existence. In the previous year the same coordinated forces took the first step in removing from Ireland’s laws and constitution the right to life of unborn children. It is now building up forces again to complete this work and get Ireland to join the world club of states which judicially take the lives of millions of innocent human beings every year. Ireland legislators will do this again with the help of hand-picked lackeys to form “expert groups” and “citizen forums”, the modern equivalent of the packed juries of former times which put the veneer of justice on the killing willed their masters.
The citizens who see these developments as catastrophes feel as powerless as victims confronted by an alien force from they know not where. Their fear is compounded by the fact that this force comes in the form of a human agency whose framework of values is totally out of sync with everything they know about human nature, human dignity and natural justice.
The consequences of the exercise of power by this agency – or agencies either under their control or influence – are the cause of the loathing that they feel. Among these consequences are the slaughter of the unborn, the termination of lives considered “limited”, whether youthful or aged, the destruction of family and the redefinition of human nature itself by the adoption of a crazy gender ideology.
Some but not all of these things have arrived in Ireland. But they surely will and the feeling of powerlessness to do anything about it in the face of an entrenched alien force is breeding despair. How ironic is this in the very year in which Ireland’s people “celebrate” the centenary of the rebellion which led to their winning independence from Britain?
For more than 700 years Ireland was subject to the British Crown. For much of three centuries of that era, up to the later part of the 18th century, her people suffered bitter and lethal persecution for adhering to the principles of their Catholic Faith. There are many who now fear that the Irish political and media establishment’s adherence to new definitions of humanity contrary to their Faith will usher in an new era of persecution.
In Ireland’s history, constitutional change and violent rebellion, sometimes one, sometimes the other, were resorted to as a way of rectifying injustice and of bringing persecution to an end. The hope is that the former will be the means of choice this time to restore to the powerless their democratic voice in the face of something which at times does not look too far removed from a new tyranny.
In looking for a solution to the problem in his country Brooks argues:
To address these problems we need big, responsible institutions (power centres) that can mobilize people, cobble together governing majorities and enact plans of actions. In the U.S. context that means functioning political parties and a functioning Congress.
Those institutions have been weakened of late. Parties have been rendered weak by both campaign finance laws and the Citizens United decision, which have cut off their funding streams and given power to polarized super-donors who work outside the party system. Congress has been weakened by polarization and disruptive members who don’t believe in legislating.
If we’re to have any hope of addressing big systemic problems we’ll have to repair big institutions and have functioning parties and a functioning Congress. We have to discard the anti-political, anti-institutional mood that is prevalent and rebuild effective democratic power centres.
So it may be for America – although I doubt it. In the Irish context is a party like Renua the solution? Or will it be the Social Democrats, or Sinn Fein? I doubt it even more. Why? Because none of these parties have anything of the vision of mankind which has in it the core truths which would enable it to frame consistent policies – social, political or economic – which will meet the needs of our nature and the aspirations which arise from that very nature. Some individuals within these movements have such a vision but these are dismissed by the establishment as “sanctimonious” dreamers. But these are the only hope that the powerless have. The fact is that there is no coherent collective voice in evidence yet which convinces the powerless that there is an alternative vision by which their country might be wisely and justly governed.
Until there is this substance in those currently hollow shells which pass for policies among all these alternatives, any new solution to our powerlessness will be fruitless. Until then the political and moral bankruptcy of our time will continue to plague us.
The corruption of a culture and the consequent corruption of a democracy which owes so much of its validity and integrity to the essence of a culture is a frightening prospect. It is a prospect facing not a few democracies in our time.
George Weigel hopes that Cardinal Walter Kasper’s comments in the aftermath of Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum were misquoted. The Cardinal said: “A democratic state has the duty to respect the will of the people, and it seems clear that, if the majority of the people want such homosexual unions, the state has a duty to recognize such rights.”
That comment, taken at face value, Weigel says in a First Things article last week, “would suggest that a distinguished theologian-bishop has seriously misunderstood the nature of democracy and the Church’s teaching about just political communities.” Weigel also, “delicately” he says, without being too delicate, wonders how much of his own country’s sad recent history the good Cardinal has forgotten.
“For the first word that came to mind” Weigel says, “on reading Kasper’s remark was ‘Weimar.’” He wonders if he means ‘democratic’ as in the… democratic election (which) put Hitler and his Nazi Party in power, or the democratically elected German parliament which passed the notorious Ermächtigungsgesetz (Enabling Act), which effectively granted Hitler dictatorial powers?
He quotes St. John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus, which he describes as “the pinnacle of Catholic social teaching on the democratic experiment, which taught that “democracy” can never be reduced to mere “majority rule.”
“Majorities”, he reminds us, “can get the technicalities of public policy wrong. More gravely, majorities can also get the fundamentals of justice wrong: as many Germans did in the early 1930s, when the outcome of voting for the Nazi Party was clear to anyone who had read Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ or listened to his rants; as many French citizens did in the early twentieth century, when the representatives they democratically elected dismantled Catholic schools, exiled members of religious orders, and expropriated their property; and as too many Americans did during our long national struggle over racial segregation, legally imposed by democratically-elected legislatures.”
Weigel reminds us of the pope-saint’s insistence…that, of the three interlocking parts of the free and virtuous society—a democratic polity, a free economy, and a vibrant public moral culture—the cultural sector is the key to the rest. For it takes a certain kind of people, formed in the arts of self-governance by a robust moral culture and living certain virtues, to operate the machinery of democracy and the free economy in ways that promote decency, justice, and solidarity, not degradation, injustice, or new forms of authoritarian bullying.
Weigel says nothing more about Ireland in this article but it may be added that the biggest shock for the nearly 40% percent of the Irish electorate which voted against the change in their Constitution was not the change in itself but the realisation that the culture of the country had changed so radically. Added to that was the shock that it was the two younger generations in the country which had brought about the change on the basis of an almost entirely emotional platform. Reasoned arguments from the “no change” side were ignored and constantly responded to with emotions ranging from sentimentalism, through arrogance down as far as naked hatred. All this was bolstered by a thoroughly deceitful abuse of the concept of equality – equating the sexual relationship of opposite sexes with that between two people of the same sex.
That the faith-and-reason based culture of a country had been so thoroughly dismantled and replaced with a barely rational and thoroughly sentimental alternative, careless of consequences, was for many a very disturbing experience. How did it happen?
The recalling by Weigel of the French experience of the dismantling of Catholic schools in the early part of the last century deepens the sense of foreboding of those concerned about the erosion of foundations of Irish culture. Most Irish schools are still nominally Catholic and Christian. But that nominal status seems destined to be short-lived and they will soon be entirely secular if the forces of the State and the now apparently secularist majority in the country have anything to do with it. The corrosive and self-inflicted secularisation of Irish education which has been going on for at least three generations now is a large part of the reason for what Irish people wakened up to on May 23 last.
By secularisation we do not mean the removal of institutions from ecclesiastical control. We mean the “disembedding” of all faith-based values from the ethos of educational institutions. We are talking about the process which has been traced so thoroughly by Charles Taylor (A Secular Age), Brad Gregory (The Unintended Reformation) and others in the past few years.
How did this secularisation of education in Ireland come about – apart, that is, from what it owes to the global process Taylor and Gregory have studied? There are never simple cut and dried reasons for these things but a huge contributor was the failure of the baby-boom generation to resist the sexual revolution and the drift toward hedonism which began (roughly) in the 1960s. The generation which they begat didn’t simply not resist this. They swallowed it hook-line-and-sinker. After that no one now even knows what Pope John Paul was talking about when he reminded Ireland’s young people in 1979 that “something else is needed” in their lives instead of drugs, sex and rock’n’roll. Many of them don’t think of much else now – other than money, celebrity and spectator sports. How else do you explain the extraordinary flight from stable marriage to divorce and cohabitation, the disregard for the stable family with a mother and father which the referendum result revealed – not to mention the country’s ranking for binge-drinking and suicide among the under 40s.
Hand in hand with this social decay went the capture by political ideologues of state agencies and services – education, health, justice and social services – and the media of social communication, vital to the cultural life of a country. These were the secularised new graduates from the Irish universities which themselves had come under the influence of American academic politically correct ideology.
These state agencies and the media combined to promote social policies in their own image and likeness which a not-too-bright-or-courageous elected parliament duly went along with. That ninety percent-plus of these representatives supported the same-sex marriage referendum proposal which was rejected by nearly forty percent of those who elected them is – or should be – deeply worrying for any lover of democracy.
Unlike the French, Ireland’s Catholic schools did not even have to wait for the state to dismantle them. In the post-sixties flight from faith they went into self-destruct mode all on their own. On the wave of muddled-to-bad teaching of Christian doctrine – moral included – which can be traced back to the 1970’s, generation after generation were left clueless about the foundations of their faith. The Catholic Church leaders of the era must take responsibility for this and indeed it can only be seen as another side of the coin which produced the careless dealing with those clergy, wolves in shepherd’s clothing, who in those decades perpetrated sexual abuse on those in their care. These same wolves were not only slaves to their own vicious and illicit passions but also victims of the woolly moral thinking which resulted from the ambivalence of some of their theology teachers about the clear moral teaching in Humanae Vitae.
We are all victims now and the barbarians at our gates in the form of ISIS may be far less threatening to the survival of our civilization than those in our midst. Jonah Goldberg in his book The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas talks about the dangerous adulation of youth which infects our age and which betrays not only young people themselves but also jeopardises our civilization. In an interview about the book he said:
We have a popular culture that exalts young people simply because they’re young and I have a deep and abiding contempt for youth politics, certainly as it’s practiced on the Left… The assumption that we have to cater to young people because they’re young, and they’re the future and all that kind of stuff, is just a naked form of power worship. It assumes that since they’re going to run everything one day, we might as well cave into them now. This completely turns the idea of civilization on its head. Hannah Arendt once said that in “Every generation, Western civilization is invaded by barbarians – we call them ‘children.’”
The champions of same-sex marriage rode to victory in the Irish referendum thanks to tyrannical clichés. They had no arguments. All they had were meaningless slogans about a meaningless equality, based on the ludicrous Humpty Dumpty principle that we can make things mean what we say they mean. They did so by mobilising the under-forty voters and feeding them a great deal of romantic nonsense. It worked. The liberal Left now knows how it works and they are setting out to apply the same strategy to introduce abortion-on-demand to the country.
The way back from this trough of desolation will be long and arduous. It is not just an Irish problem. It is a problem for the remnant of Western civilization and it can only be countered at the level of education. The culture we had is now corrupted and only that remnant can revitalise it: by their families, by their devising adequate strategies for communal education, by Christians and all those of good will, whether Christian or not, with their commitment to the universal truths rooted in our very nature. The barbarians who descended on the Roman world destroyed the old civilization. They in turn, however, eventually withered away and their children’s children ceased to be barbarians because they grew into the light of the truth which had been slowly but surely growing inside that old Roman world. It can, and will, happen again. Believe.
Bruce Arnold’s astounding open letter to Ireland’s Prime Minister (Taoiseach), Enda Kenny, should find him a place in the pantheon of political thinkers alongside Edmund Burke, Abraham Lincoln, Cicero and just a handful of others.
This letter, a call to prudence and wisdom to a straying political establishment is heroic, practical and much deeper in its implications than it might at first seem.
Edmund Burke, an Irishman in England’s 18th century House of Commons, twice called on his fellow parliamentarians to come to their senses. Firstly he did so over their folly in their treatment of the American colonists. Secondly he warned them of the bloody consequences which he saw flowing from the rash political excesses of their French contemporaries in 1789.
In the one, his call for conciliation with the British settlers in America, he failed to win their support and both England and the thirteen colonies paid the price in a bloody war. In the other he was more successful and his countrymen set their faces against the excesses of the French and braced themselves for the eventual and finally victorious struggle with the megalomaniac who sought to straddle the world.
Arnold is an Englishman, a journalist and writer, who has made his home in Ireland and, while not a parliamentarian, is playing a crucial role as one of the leading voices of the only political opposition Ireland’s parliament has today.
Ireland’s Dáil now bears all the hallmarks of a one-party state. Recently it rushed through an important and radical piece of legislation on Children and Family Relationships. While this enactment contained some important reforms it was, however, riddled with provisions which many felt were inimical to children and the family. It was initially envisaged that it would make provision for surrogacy as a legitimate way for same-sex couples to beget children. This was withdrawn for strategic reasons and will now be proposed in separate legislation. Other elements were questioned but, despite some efforts by independent parliamentarians to propose amendments, the Party machines on all sides of the parliament, Government and non-Government, pushed the Bill into law.
Simultaneously – and not coincidentally, for the latter was part of strategic plot to help win the other – it rushed through legislation for a referendum on same-sex marriage. It was so rushed in fact that they did not even take time to get the Irish language – the “first” official language of the State – wording of the measure to synch with the English. They had to correct this to avoid what would have been a very embarrassing legal quagmire.
Arnold’s open letter – ostensibly to the Taoiseach but it should in fact be taken to heart by 90% of the Irish parliament who have sheepishly followed his lead on these things – deals with the detail of what is proposed to the electorate as a change to their constitution. It reveals the devastating superficiality of what is passing for government in the Irish Republic today and which is exemplified in this current political action.
This journalist, in the role now of a true tribune of the people, is calling on Ireland’s political class to come to its senses and to start thinking seriously again. His call has worrying resonances, touching on much more than one single issue. His questioning of the political wisdom of this small country’s parliament casts doubt over its competence to deal with everything that it touches. The context of Arnold’s remarks is the current issue of this referendum. The broader issue which it exposes is that of quality of governance – which is why we can call the letter “astounding”. That this should be so on the eve of Ireland’s centenary celebrations of its achieving independence as a nation is truly disheartening.
Ireland gave the gift of Edmund Burke to England in the 18th century, and to parliamentary democracy across the world. He is now recognised as the father of a political philosophy which puts common sense, the value of the common good and an inherent but open-minded respect for society’s good traditions, over fanatical ideology. Perhaps England has now returned the compliment by giving Ireland a voice which loudly and clearly speaks to power on behalf of a people whose parliament is now attempting to foolishly destroy an institution which has served it beneficially from time immemorial and replace it with an empty and meaningless shell, genderless marriage, which will serve no one’s real interest.
Arnold first wrote to Kenny on this issue of the referendum in February last. That was a more formal approach, raising the constitutional, social and moral questions that are actively bothering about 25 percent of the electorate – a percentage increasing as the campaign continues towards it finale on May 22. Most people now concede that the result of this ballot will be much closer than the opinion polls suggest.
This letter, Arnold begins, is more familiar and personal than the previous one for reasons that will soon become apparent.
We have known each other for the whole of your political career, having first met after you succeeded your father in the by-election that resulted from his death. Henry Kenny was a friend of mine during his two short years as a parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Finance, Richie Ryan. These were my first two years as a journalist working in the Dail. It is probable I met you at that time as well. With ups and downs, inevitable in the relationship between politicians and the journalists who record their lives, I have always had an admiration for your calm style, in opposition and in power, and for a quality I have admired in you, the likeable human appeal that I think of when I think about the career of another politician I have always greatly admired, Jack Lynch. He had the common touch as you have, an ability to be naturally relaxed and friendly.
Perhaps the most important challenge you faced in your political career was the last general election. Fianna Fail had made an undoubted mess of their time in office, tolerating excessive spending, wildly uncontrolled property development and a political dishonesty that was deeply damaging to this country.
I supported your candidature and your courage in putting a quality back into the search for power and a set of principles, not always effective, but good enough to support in the contest during that election. You had the good grace to recognise and acknowledge my consistent support for your campaign and I have no hesitation in saying now that I did it for good and reasoned endorsement of those principles for which you stood.
I have to confess that much of this support and sympathy has been undermined by the inept and already damaging impact of your handling of the Marriage Referendum. If the referendum is carried, I see this as irreparably damaging to moral life in this country, to married life and the future of the family, and leading to the encroachment of wildly inappropriate approaches to the birth and development of children. It runs the risk of splitting the country irreparably.
I have shown recently (through the document I circulated on Wednesday about international developments in the area of same-sex marriage) how totally out of step with the rest of the world Ireland has become in pursuing an unwanted and unjustified constitutional amendment. It is being pushed through in a political atmosphere of almost total ignorance and hysteria. If the referendum is carried, Ireland will be the only jurisdiction in the world providing explicitly for same-sex marriage in its Constitution. It will become the flag bearer for same-sex marriage and gender ideology internationally.
This week, in a pithy and courageous call to the people, Brendan Howlin used a phrase about an aspect of the economy that resonated immediately with me. He called for “the full ventilation of the full truth”. In the marriage referendum the opposite has been the case. In your article in the Irish Independent on April 27th, for example, you repeat the blatant untruth that underlies your whole approach (“… importantly, marriage equality will not in any way affect the institution of marriage. It will only extend equal legal protections to all couples.”). How then could the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court also say on April 27th, to proponents of gay marriage: “you’re not seeking to join the institution, you’re seeking to change what the institution is. The fundamental core of the institution is the opposite-sex relationship and you want to introduce into it a same-sex relationship?”
Do you, Enda, take us all for fools? The dogs in the street know that marriage will change radically. What is now a natural institution that predates the Constitution and is protected by it, will become an artificial creation of the Constitution and be defined by it.
An approach of almost unprecedented ignorance is being purveyed and blindly supported. Talk of love and equality is no substitute for reasoned analysis of the consequences. Huge sums of money from outside the state have been employed, contrary to firm expenditure principles in most other political campaigns. Ministers are hailing the Yes Vote while at the same time refusing to say why and how it is appropriate. They are not answering any of the questions being put to them. Largely this is because they do not know the answers.
You are leading a campaign in a prejudicial and one-sided way that has all the faults of previous referendums, faults that led on several occasions to successful challenges by private citizens. The purpose of a referendum is to allow the Irish people to legislate directly on whether to amend their Constitution or not. Such acts of direct legislation should take place without voters feeling pressurised and intimidated by the Government of the day into voting in a particular way, with all members of that Government favouring a particular outcome, and certain organs of the State being allowed or even encouraged to act in a one-sided way also.
The Gardai have been engaged, quite inappropriately, on the side of the Yes Vote. Their permitting of voter registration sites in universities, enrolling young people, to be used as posts to distribute Yes campaign materials and literature and to be decked with Yes campaign posters and murals, is a denial of their pledge to uphold the Constitution. Young and innocent people are being deliberately misled. The older generations are bewildered by the mood of near-hysteria that prevails in the country.
The criticism of the Gardaí by Nuala O’Loan was devastating. Yet Minister Fitzgerald has taken no effective action as she should have done. She has tolerated silently this putting of the legality of the referendum process at risk. How would you like to stand in an election in which the supervision of the integrity of the ballot, the collection of votes and the transfer of boxes were all entrusted to Sinn Féin with that party supervising registration? That is what it looks like when the Gardaí take sides in a referendum. Have no doubt that the Supreme Court would deem this to be a grave misconduct. You and the members of your Government have been silent about it.
I gave you a copy of a Private Study Paper on Same Sex Marriage in the Irish Constitution with my letter of 25th February. (It is referred to as a private study paper as it was prepared by private citizens who have done work the State should have done.) You replied to me saying that you would read the study paper. I acknowledge that you heeded my call to rectify the crass error in the Irish text of amendment, but I have not heard from you since.
You have instead chosen to deal with an issue that is exceptionally complex, both legally and morally, and which has implications for family law that are at the borders of medical technology and that stretch ethics to their very limits, and indeed beyond, in a trivial manner through a one-page referendum Bill, a single line in the Constitution and a threadbare draft Marriage Bill.
That is no way for a developed state to behave. It is also entirely contrary to the intent and spirit of the huge reform work undertaken by the Constitutional Review Group led by Ken Whitaker. I cannot understand why you have chosen to approach same-sex marriage in such a reckless and ill-thought out manner, a manner that would result in referendum after referendum to try to correct the results of a “yes” vote and which will make us the laughing stock internationally.
It has now also come to my attention that the Marriage Referendum, if carried, will serve to subvert directly the first of the Irish (Treaty of Lisbon) Protocols in relation to Article 41 (The Family) and Article 42 (Education). As Leader of the Opposition, you witnessed the defeat of the referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon in June, 2008 and it being subsequently carried in a second referendum in 2009, once certain protocols for Ireland were secured. These protocols became legally binding when, appended to the Croatian Accession Treaty, it became law on December 1st, 2014.
It really is bewildering for me to see that once we adopt a protocol to protect the integrity of Article 41 and Article 42 of the our Constitution from being overridden by European law and the new wave of European genderless ideology, which utterly and falsely denies the differences between men and women, we then proceed within six months thereafter to try to change, radically and irreparably, our national understanding that marriage is based on gender difference. Thereafter, we will insist that the falsehood of genderless ideology be taught to our children in schools.
Young children and young adults will become increasingly confused, when as boys and girls, young men and young women, they are told that there is no difference between the male and the female. If this Referendum is carried our young people will be told in schools that marriage, which is based on the dignity of the difference between a man and a woman, has no regard to this difference. Can you not see how the false genderless ideology will underpin all of this in a way that leads to confusion? Great confusion will be done to our young people in realising their true identities and their God-given potential?
While certain countries in Europe are being seduced by a false gender ideology, which denies the differences between men and women, we have a clear defence against this falsehood with the first of the Irish (Treaty of Lisbon) Protocols. You worked hard for these protocols yet your Government are now trying to abolish their protection. More significantly, ministers are telling the Irish people nothing about this. Can you not see how wrong this is? Has no adviser explained that the first of the protocols, which were necessary to secure the carrying of the referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009, will be destroyed if this referendum is carried?
In fairness to you, one cannot expect that you will have heard this from our Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. This body is meant to advise all of us independently upon how our human and constitutional rights are being affected. Since leading representatives of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network shape its policy statements, there is no surprise there.
In the light of all that has happened and of our long relationship, I would deeply appreciate answers from you to the following questions:
Did the Ministers for Justice and Equality or Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Attorney General inform the Government of the Irish (Treaty of Lisbon) Protocols when considering the Marriage Referendum Proposal? Was there any discussion about the first protocol (in so far as it protects Articles 41 and 42) being totally undermined by the Marriage Referendum proposal?
When Article 41.3.1 of the Constitution provides that the State pledges to protect the institution of Marriage upon which the Family is founded from attack, what does this really mean for a marriage of two men? Does it not mean that they will have a constitutional right to donor assisted human reproduction and surrogacy to “found” their family? Must not all legislative restrictions on these practices be subject to this new and radical constitutional right?
Did the Minister for Education and Skills inform the Government of the potential effect on the education system of
placing same-sex marriage on the same level as heterosexual marriage for the future of primary and secondary education in our country in terms of what will be taught to children and young adults about gender, sexual orientation and sexual practices?
Has the Minister for Justice and Equality informed the Government of her view of the involvement of the Gardai on
the “yes” side of the referendum campaign?
Have you not considered the inappropriate and unwarranted statements made by state employees on behalf of their organisations, pledging a support they should be unable to offer?
We need answers. Remembering your father and what he stood for, I need answers.
I do not doubt that you and the Government have done enormous damage to any fair, balanced and EQUAL handling of this Marriage Referendum. I think that you should put a stop immediately by qualifying your position and that of the Government and indicating that you at least are reconsidering your own vote on 22 May, and that you are doing this in light of the many unforeseen, unintended and unconsidered consequences of this referendum that have been brought to your attention.
Will debate-shy Kenny respond meaningfully to this wise and democratic cri de coeur? Kenny has made prepared speeches on the issue. He has yet to engage in public debate on the matter – despite multiple invitations to do so. Will he even give a meaningful reply to this letter? We are, wisely, not going to hold our breath.
It has been boasted of as the biggest democratic event in the history of mankind. Half the world – at least – is going to the polls over these two months to elect local government assemblies, national assemblies, international assemblies, or heads of states.
All the countries in the European Union are heading into elections on the 23rd of next month to elect a new European Parliament. In many of them elections for local assemblies are also taking place. Why does this civic right and duty, which should be an inspiring, hope-filled and uplifting experience, induce such a distasteful feeling and even disgust in our hearts?
As those of us living in Dublin, Ireland, made our way to work yesterday through streets which overnight were festooned with banks of posters pinned to streetlamps, our hearts sank. A myriad of smiling and determined faces stared at us from these lampposts, asking us to give them our “number one” vote. Could that sense of disgust, that sense of wanting to look the other way, be in some way connected with the disillusionment of the people of Ireland – I cannot readily speak for other parts of the world – over the past few years which is reflected in opinion poll surveys showing ever decreasing support for the nation’s political establishment. This is a disillusionment bred out of the experience of broken promises, lies and corruption which is what a large section of the Irish electorate now associates with its political parties.
Ireland you are not alone. Across the Irish Sea the same disillusionment is being experienced. Jeremy O’Grady, editor of The Week writes in the current issue:
What a disquieting maxim it is: “honesty is the best policy”. Blam: just like that, a virtue is demoted to a stratagem. Yet even as a stratagem, few of our politicians seem to have much faith in it. They act as if dishonesty always has a better pay-off.
He is loath to accept that they’re devoted to telling lies. However, the Daily Telegraph columnist, Peter Oborne is less shy about pointing the finger in this direction. Oborne maintains that in Britain, since the time of John Major’s premiership, lies and politicians have been constant bedfellows. Oborne has written a book on the subject, The Rise of Political Lying, in which he says “mendacity and deception” have become the norm, adding that British politics “now lives in a post-truth environment”.
O’Grady, while clearly not liking the politicians edging away from virtue, faults them on simple pragmatic grounds. This isn’t just unvirtuous: it’s a strategic error. So move over Machiavelli. I believe honesty does pay. I honestly do.
But is there any hope of Aristotle – or even Plato – replacing Machiavelli? Not much, unless the voters of the world look all these smiling and determined faces and ask them to make themselves accountable to the Truth with their deeds, not pretending to do so behind a veil of false promises. Our feelings of hopelessness in the face of their past deceit and hypocrisy is the first thing they have to address before they begin to make new promises about what they are going to do in the future. Only then will we have any chance of being able to walk out into our streets and not be reminded, with every few yards we travel, of sad betrayals of misplaced trust.
If anyone, in the aftermath of last week’s shameful political shenanigans in the Irish parliament, doubts the character and determination of sacked Minister, Lucinda Creighton, to be a force in the public life and politics of that country in the years ahead, let them begin by reading her blog entry today. It was published in the Irish Mail on Sunday and is now posted on Lucinda Creighton.ie.
This is not a manifesto for a future Irish politics but it is a preliminary for such a manifesto. It addresses from the depths of her heart and soul the concerns which thousands of Irish people share with here this week – not just on the issue of abortion but on the corruption in the very heart of a country which in just two and a half years will be celebrating the centenary of the beginning of its final battle for freedom and independence as a state among the nations of the earth. What freedom, what independence, many are asking? Lucinda Creighton seems to be on the verge of offering Ireland something to make that a redundant question.
On July 1st she delivered a speech in the Irish chamber of deputies, the Dail, in which she elaborated her concerns about abortion in a general societal sense, as well as focusing on specific aspects of the proposed and shamefully designated Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill which she considered, and still considers, to be deeply flawed.
In it she referred to an underlying cancer afflicting Irish public life – in politics, in business, and above all in the media. Reaction to that was near-apoplectic in some quarters. The cries of hurt and indignation from those who thought they were being targeted made headlines the next day
“My speech”, she correctly says, “was incorrectly picked up as singling out members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party for participating in group think. This is not what I said.”
“What I said in fact, was that group think is a negative feature in society, in the media and in political life. Increasingly we are all supposed to think and speak the same way. There is less and less room in this country for a diversity of opinion, for real and meaningful debate and for genuine analysis. We are all supposed to swim with the tide on every occasion. I consider this dangerous. I am certain that this is dangerous for our democracy.”
That is just as things are in Ireland and the daily exasperation of the millions who listen to and read what the Irish media turns out on a daily basis is sufficient evidence to prove it. When the manifesto for a New Ireland come this must be among the serious illnesses to which it will address itself.
Bloody but unbowed, Ms. Creighton tells us that “This was a long and difficult week, particularly for many in the Fine Gael party. Five of us argued for the right to express an alternative … view on this vitally important piece of legislation. We lost the internal battle to have our voices heard and our consciences respected. This is not a good thing for the democratic process in this State.
“Much of the commentary in the aftermath of Thursday’s vote confirmed to me that our media perpetuates the blind group think which prevailed and contributed to the economic collapse in this country.”
She tells of her “alarm” listening to one of Irish radio’s premier news analysis programmes on the morning after her historic stand against the “flawed” legislation. “The level of analysis or understanding of what is happening in our shambolic Parliamentary system was alarming,” she said.
“A commentator from the Irish Times seemed only capable of understanding the events of the week in terms of ‘strength’, ‘power’ and ‘crushing opponents’. To him it was just a numbers game. He was entirely uninterested in the substance of the disagreement, or the fact that an important viewpoint was ignored or ‘whipped into line’.
“He seemed to believe that the only issue at hand was the fact that ‘only five’ TDs had voted against the legislation and this was somehow a great victory for the Government, its senior figures and Fine Gael. This is a sad and shallow analysis, which ignores the fundamental questions of democracy which were raised thoughout the last few weeks when elected Members of our Parliament were, in many instances, coerced and cajoled into voting for legislation they clearly considered to be faulty and against their better judgement.”
One of the most shocking spectacles in the drama in the Irish parliament last Thursday and into the early hours of Friday morning was the speech of a young woman member, Michelle Mulherrin, voting against her conscience after the whipping she had received from the party leader, Prime Minister, Enda Kenny. Ms. Creighton’s response to it says it all. “I understand completely the dilemma she found herself in. I was there too. I took a different decision, by voting against the legislation. She clearly wrestled with her ultimate decision and eventually decided to vote for it. She did so to avoid being “booted out” of Fine Gael, her party. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach listening to her speech in the Dáil Chamber – out of sadness for her, and the choice she has clearly been forced to take to avoid expulsion. There is something so, so wrong with this. Citizens of this country ought to be concerned at the words uttered by Michelle. They genuinely gave me a deep sense of foreboding.
“In every other modern western democracy that I have studied, public representatives are not and would never be, forced to choose between their conscience and their party. That is worth considering and reflecting upon. This includes Australia, New Zeland, the USA, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and many, many more. In my investigations I could not find any other democratic country on this planet that forces people to vote against their conscience. Ireland has the dubious distinction of standing alone in its denial of conscience. This is not something I am proud of. Nobody should be.”
“The great democrat and peace maker Mahatma Ghandi said ‘In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place’. This is correct. History has taught us what savagery and crimes against humanity can occur, when people abandon their conscience, for the sake of the quiet life, or worse, to satisfy personal ambition. Our State should guard against this, rather than try to normalise it. And we as citizens should demand that this be so.”
She concludes by saying that politicians in her country “really do need to stand up and be counted” – and there will be more cries of hurt and pain from the numerous public representatives who know very well that they have failed to do so, and who have not had the courage to tell the truth about their shame like Deputy Mulherrin. Ms. Creighton sees the value of the discipline in parliamentary democracy. “I don’t advocate the abandonment of the Whip system. It is an essential fundament of a stable economy and a stable society. Coherent positions and voting by political parties are essential in the context of the annual Budget, all finance measures, social welfare measures and so on. But there it should stop.”
Finally, she has a word for those “commentators” who cheer the crushing of political opponents, and applaud the stifling of debate in Ireland. We are back to the driving force behind group think. They “do no service to either good journalism or good politics. In fact they are complicit with the rot in a system which so desperately needs changing. Their anxiety to take quotes and spin from ‘well placed sources’ may make their contributions sound plausible and knowledgeable. In fact, they are missing the real story.”
There has been a good deal of sympathising, moaning, regrets at the loss of a promising political voice in Irish politics over the past few days and this weekend. These words tell us that we need not worry. This is a voice which is not going away and for that the Irish should all – well, nearly all, – be very grateful. There will be no shortage of stories, real stories, coming down the line.