The Absence of Social Democracy

Dublin's Poverty 1913

Dublin’s Poverty 1913

So here I am, at the beginning of new (christian era) year, and a NEW JOB.

I am excited.  But also INTRIGUED in a not so positive way.  Intrigued because although I am very familiar with the social, cultural and political life of Ireland (indeed I have lived here with my family for the past 8 years and come from an Irish family) I am moving from having worked in English universities since 1997 to a new post in an Irish university.

The change will see all the usual anxieties of starting a new job in a new town.  But there is another, more philosophical concern that has been rising in me for a number of weeks – THE ABSENCE OF A CULTURE OF SOCIAL DEMOCRACY.

Sure, we have Ireland’s most prominent and brilliant social democrat as President (see his talk on the 1913 Dublin lockout).  But, as his talk on the lockout demonstrates, Ireland stands out from most other Western European countries in never having had a strong social democratic movement.  Unlike most of its European neighbours Ireland’s politics has been characterised by nationalist populism.  Both main governing parties are populist right of centre ideologically, both born out of Irelands terrible civil war following the war of independence from Britain.  The distinction between the two main parties is not rooted in social structure in the way that is common elsewhere in Europe.

Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland

Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland

Whereas in Britain debates about widening participation in higher education are couched in social democratic terms, in Ireland, though there is some similarity in policy language, as we know from discussions of ‘policy borrowing’, this is translated in terms of the populist ideological landscape. Widening participation as social inclusion is often framed in terms of inclusion in the wider national body, even if reference is made to social disadvantage.

Am I going too far in my analysis and concern?

love-is-love-source-1024x756

Well. I was listening to a popular phone in radio show this afternoon (Mooney’s show on RTE 1) where there was discussion about the absence of explicit reference to Christianity and Christmas in the President’s recent address.  One reaction that came through strongly from what appeared to be an organised phone-in campaign was that the Irish Labour Party was attempting to socially engineer a secular country through promoting gay marriage and undermining the Catholic culture of the nation.  In hearing  this I was minded of what Michael D Higgins (the President of Ireland) noted of Catholic responses to the labour movement defence of the locked out workers as being ‘godless’ socialists in language reminiscent of the most outrageous Tea Party shock-jocks.

This is not just an institutional move.  It is also an ideological move.

I may need to reflect further on this experience.

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