Venezuela and the death of a socialist dream

Posted on 02. Apr, 2014 ·0

As is always the way, crisis succeeds crisis, and one story drives out another. Why we seem to be able to pay attention to only one narrative at a time is worth pondering but another time.

The murder and massacre of Syria has for the moment been pushed off the front pages and is replaced by the chaos in Ukraine. Though gallons of ink have been expended on both we are after it all better read but not better informed.

One story of a government’s terror against its own people is winding up to what will be a horrible finale yet remains stubbornly out of the papers and off our televisions. The terror in Venezuela maybe mostly economic but it is a relentless and mindless campaign against the poor and human rights.

Fifteen years ago Hugo Chavez was elected on a programme of redistribution and old fashioned anti-Yankee socialism. And that is what his people got.

At the beginning there was a palpable sense of excitement in the left across the globe as day by day he rolled out juggernaut state and attacked the exploiting blood sucking multinationals that stole the People’s wealth and left millions mired in poverty. This time would be different. This time socialism would work.

Of course the Jeremiahs on the right shook their heads and predicted that it would all end in tears.

By 2009 Venezuela, the third largest oil exporter in the world was in deep trouble. At time of record prices for crude debt as climbing, inflation rising, productivity falling and shortages beginning to appear. In response President Chavez seized assets from 60 oilfield services companies .

“Today, the private services companies disappear, we don’t need them, the people and workers can do the labor and be more efficient,” Chavez said. “We’re going to bury capitalism in Venezuela.”

Today Venezuela far from being an exporting powerhouse cannot meet its own energy needs. Oil production is falling. Drilling distribution and refining infrastructure is rotting and rusting. No investment in new production or existing plant has happened. Rolling blackouts are regular occurrences plunging the cities into darkness and shutting down industrial production.

As it happens there is little industrial production left to close down. The Government has introduced severe currency restrictions making it impossible for many to purchase the dollars necessary to pay for the raw materials they need. Even if they get access to foreign currency it is at a rate of exchange set by the state which is a fantasy.

According to the government 6.3 Bolivars will buy a Dollar. However according to the black market you will need more than ten times that. To put in real life terms, if you arrive in Caracas with a few greenbacks and fancy a Big Mac combo it will cost you $25 if you use an official exchange. However If you get a chap on the black to sell you Bolivars the meal will cost you $2.

In 2007 Chavez imposed tariffs and restrictions on imported cars in order to stimulate local production. In January 2014 Ford production hit zero. While sales of new Fords stood at two.  Today companies like Toyota, GM and Ford are either mothballing production or simply getting out. The foreign exchange has made it nearly impossible for local factories to get dollars to pay for car parts. As a result, assembly lines are stopping without any clear sign they will reopen in the near future.

Hand in hand with fanciful exchange rates are price controls. Of course the Government knows and it tells the people that high prices are not caused by them running the printing presses but by shopkeepers and businessmen who are gouging them.

Recently elected President Maduro has declared war on the parasitic bourgeois and has ordered shops to charge ‘fair’ prices. To encourage the others he decreed the state takeover of an electrical goods chain and told those looking for a bargain in plasma televisions and laptops ‘Leave nothing on the shelves, nothing in the warehouses Let nothing remain in stock!” He went on to warn that this nationalisation was only the tip of the ice berg.

The problem is that since retailers have to pay international suppliers at the real rate of exchange selling goods at the officially set fair price means they lose money on every single sale. Consequently the only choice they have is to close up shop.

In a cruel comic twist the chaos in the economy may mean that soon that even those who want to get out will find themselves trapped as international air lines have started to cut back on flights in and out of Venezuela. They have found it impossible to repatriate almost four billion dollars in revenues and talks on payment in government bonds or oil have foundered. As the president of the IATA Tony Tyler said “The simple fact is that many airlines have stopped substantial sales in Venezuela because they haven’t been paid for the last year or so,”

The official annualised rate of inflation stands at a fairly horrible fifty six per cent. However many economist believe that the real figure may be six times higher. The Cato Institute’s Troubled Currencies unit estimate real inflation to be running at three hundred and thirty per cent. At this level and no sign of the presses stopping how far can hyper inflation be?

Though the presses printing Bolivars may run unimpeded that is not true for the newspapers of Venezuela. Paper shortages have led to the close of twelve titles and another fifteen are reported on the brink. At a time when new regulations are being introduced to curb what the Government calls sensationalist reporting on the nations crime epidemic and TV stations hostile to the leadership are threatened with loss of license, editors who want newspaper print feel themselves in the crosshairs of the information ministry.

Crime is a sore subject. Venezuela does not have guerrillas in the mountains or drug cartel in the forests but it has a higher murder rate than either Colombia or Mexico and it climbs year by year. After fifteen years of radical socialist rule the homicide rate is 73 per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest in South America. Last year 21,692 Venezuelans died at the hands of another. This was a 12% increase on the previous year. More murders than in the USA and all twenty seven member of the EU combined.

The future looks bleak. The Government will not change its policies. It is deep in a paranoid mindset which sees enemies, spies, saboteurs and counter revolutionary bourgeois behind every piece of bad news. Toilet paper is rationed. One government spokesperson ascribed this to the price gouging activities of the manufactures as one would expect. But then in a moment of genius went on also to accuse bourgeois saboteurs of deliberately using far more paper than they needed in a wicked plan to discredit the leadership.

Last week Delcy Rodriguez , the Minister for Information, called for an investigation of newspaper crossword puzzles. It seems she fears they are being used to send conspiratorial messages and organise protests. Bloomberg asked the ministry for a comment on the progress of the investigation but a ministry spokesman declined to comment. As per Ministry of Information rules the spokesman could not be named.

Hugo Chavez sadly died last year. Sadly because when the total collapse of this economy occurs he will escape blame. When the old women are once again rooting through garbage for food most likely they will curse the misfortune which took Hugo from them. Hugo would have known what to do, he would have saved them. Venezuela will most likely learn little from the experience. What about us? Will all those politicians across Europe who queued up to praise the courage and vision of Hugo not finally reflect that making the rich poor does not make the poor rich. Will they admit that his corruption of the courts and judiciary was not after all a price worth paying? Will they see that the concentration of power, political and economic, in one place is an inevitable recipe for disaster? Will they at this late date finally understand that the price of a thing cannot be legislated?

 My guess is no. 

A Christmas Present for the Pope.

Posted on 06. Jan, 2014 ·0

In the west it is at Christmas more than any other time that we are called to remember all those who suffer under the burden of poverty. And now, in the mouth of Christmas, Time has announced that Pope Francis is the Man of the Year. A man who has uncompromisingly laid his cards on the table when it comes to the poor. He loves them and he wants more of them.

In a series of statements since his accession he has made clear his hostility to what he calls capitalism and the operation of the free market. The market, like sinful man, is a wild and savage beast that devours the weak and enriches the strong and the greedy. He has condemned those on the right who worship the market and believe it can provide humanity with the values it needs.

The problem is the Pope has no idea what the market is or what is it is for. The market is simply Wilde’s cynic. It knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. And that perhaps is where Francis goes wrong. Like Smith and Marx before him he confuses price with value. But he should know better. It was after all Spanish Jesuits that first described the subjective nature of value.

I know of no conservative who thinks the market can tell her or him anything but the price of a good. Now be sure that is not a small thing but it is a long way from everything. Correct pricing allows for rational and efficient choices about investment, spending and use and distribution of scarce resources. It does not tell me that cheating at cards is wrong.

He in common with most leftists seems to believe that there is a correlation morally between free marketers and selfishness. To believe in freedom of the individual it seems is to reject the idea of society and decry the communal and cooperative action.

The cold universe of the Randian Objectivist may indeed be morally narcissistic and atomistic. A place where unattached and indivisible egos are the centre of a hostile cosmos. But this is the caricature of the position of conservatives and most libertarians. The sacrality of the individual lies at the heart of the Christian genius and liberal democracy. Francis would do well to remember that. The importance of the individual to the Right is not so I may assert that I –Ego- am the centre of the universe but that we are all separately and jointly the centres of all our moral universes. And in our universe we may be safe from power, coercion, theft and violence, be it of another individual or the awful violence of the State.

Empirically we know certain things, small and great. Of the small for example we know that conservatives in practice care more for the poor than others. They give more money. They give more time. They are more likely to be member of voluntary and community organisations. They are not greedy and selfish. They are altruistic and giving.

But there is a great thing we know and think Francis ought to know it too. If you want to reduce poverty, massively, radically, quickly, and permanently then get the market in to do the job, not some cabal of economists or politburo-crats. Those countries where the division is least between the rich and the poor are market economies. Those countries where the bottom quintiles have the highest standard of living are market economies. Those countries where the poorest have most access to education, to health care, to legal protection, to a good diet, to a long life, to freedom from corruption, to protection from violence, are market economies. Those countries where the poor are least likely to stay poor are market economies. Those countries which spend the most, by a massive difference, on relieving poverty at home and abroad are market economies.

It maybe simply easier for all involved to see poverty as something to be solved or relieved by lobbying governments rather than converting men’s hearts. To persuade a government to spend other people’s money is the work of an instant. To persuade a bad man to be good is very hard indeed. That is the wonderful thing about the market. Let it operate, let men act in freedom and wealth will fall on the good and the bad indifferently.

Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty by the choice of India and China to partially abandon their old planned approach to the economy. The single greatest leap forward for the biggest chunk of humanity ever took place in the great Victorian explosion of wealth creation. Which was by the way followed by the greatest explosion of private philanthropy seen since the middle ages. Hundreds and thousands of schools, hospitals, libraries, orphanages and universities were established and endowed by capitalists like Carnegie, Guinness, Rockefeller, Drexell and Vanderbilt. An honourable tradition carried on today by the likes of Bill Gates, Dave Packard, Bill Hewlett and Leonard Lauder. Men who give from choice not coercion. Is it really necessary to remind a pope that no moral act can be a forced act ?

It would be wrong to see philanthropy as the main contribution these men and others like them made to the betterment of the lives of the poor. When Rockefeller and the market drove down the price of Kerosene to one fifth of what it had been it had a massive positive effect on the lives of the poor. Now they could have light for one cent an hour. Which meant in winter their children could read and write, keep up with school work and ensure they would never need to worry about the price of a candle. Entrepreneurs and the free market make us all wealthy not  just themselves. Look at the price of cars, TVs, laptops, fridges and air travel and see how much richer we are than our parents were. The first video player I ever saw cost over a thousand punts. The last dvd player I bought cost me forty nine euro. The market is transformative for not for the rich, but the poor. It has always been so. The rich can afford a little socialism, the poor cannot.

Millions of men women and children live on a dollar a day. The definition in 1990 prices of absolute poverty. None of them, none, not one, live in countries that have been historically Market economies. The gap between the rich and the poor in the old Second World of centrally planned economies was a vastly greater than that which pertained in the wild child eat their own young world of western market economies. The poorest people in Ireland today count as amongst the richest in the world.

If this pope is serious about caring about the poor and actually wants to reduce their number the he should take a couple of hours out his busy week to read about economics. About the world as it is and has been rather than the story he seems to have accepted without bothering to check the facts. The pope is an important man. When he speaks journalists pretend to listen. So he has a moral duty to speak from an informed mind and conscience. To that end I will send him a copy of Hazlitt’s  ‘Economics in One Lesson’ as a Christmas present. If he applies himself I predict we maybe hearing some sense out him by Easter. Deo Volente.

The New Bourbons. Politicos who forget no bad idea.

Posted on 28. Oct, 2013 ·0

In the wake of Napoleons defeat it was decided at the Congress of Vienna to restore the Bourbons to the French throne. It was not a roaring success.  In a few short years they demonstrated that in the famous words of Talleyrand ‘they had forgotten nothing and learned nothing’. This week it became clear that we have nest of very own Bourbons alive and well living on the benches of Dail Eireann.

In an effort to sober up the poor the Govt has decided the price of booze will go up; either through a minimum price or a hike in duty. Since the last decade of low drink prices has actually seen a twenty five per cent decline in alcohol consumption it is hard to discern precisely what crisis this measure is supposed to be responding to.

This is a nasty, paternalistic classist policy, which is going to use price to create a form of targeted prohibition. Clearly our elder and betters don’t think the struggling classes ofIrelandshould be drinking at all.

However if you are planning to switch from beer to milk the news is bad. Only seven years after Michael Martin repealed the Groceries Order the horror is back. The Agriculture Committee has recommended the banning of below cost selling. Eamon O Cuiv, poor pet, is sick with worry that unless price protection is introduced fresh milk will disappear from our shelves in a couple of years. As has happened nowhere. Ever.

 While Chair Andrew Doyle wants the ban to extend to all staple foods. Yes, he wants to make a law where all staple foods you buy have a minimum price. Good news for forty thousand milk producers, bad news for four million milk drinkers. The head of the IFA is reported to be delighted with the committee’s proposal. Isn’t that a surprise?

But this weeks gold medal for oldest and baddest idea goes to Derek Nolan TD, head of the labour party’s internal manifesto committee.

In the search for some ‘ideas’ that would draw clear red water between themselves and Fine Gael and hopefully arrest their  relentless fall towards electoral oblivion they have hit upon the old reliable of price controls.

Under a labour administration the price of land for development will not be set by the market. Rather the government will set a cap, a maximum price beyond which land maybe not sold. This will ensure that there can be no gross inflation in the cost of building land and consequently avoid bubbles of the type we saw during the boom.

This is not a just bad idea. This is far worse than that. This is an idea which tells us that our local social democrats have forgotten none of the nonsense notions that impoverished millions across the globe in the name of Marxian economics. This is straight from the centrally planned play book. Twenty four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall they are proposing a return to the kind of thinking that madeAlbaniathe workers paradise it was.

Price controls do not work. They have a longer history of not working that perhaps any other idea in economics. They didn’t work in Babylon Athens orEgypt. Famously when Diocletian issued his Edict of Maximum prices people starved, trade was ruined and the black market exploded. Some historians believe it fatally wounded the empire.


Revolutionary France succeeded in creating hyper inflation by flooding the country with worthless bits of paper called assignats which all were bound to accept on pain of death. To control prices Robespierre et al introduced in 1793 the Law of the Maximum. The resulting shortages produced misery and starvation. Producers kept their produce for themselves, sold it on the flourishing black market or simply stop producing. In December of 1794 the now hated law was repealed.

Even J M Keynes, patron saint of interventionists and economic fiddlers, believed that freely moving prices were indispensable for the proper functioning of a capitalist economy. He opposed price controls even during the Second World War. He states in The Economic Consequences of the Peace, “The preservation of a spurious value for the currency, by the force of law expressed in the regulation of prices, contains in itself … the seeds of final economic decay, and soon dries up the sources of ultimate supply.

If we were to impose an artificially low price on land for development history teaches us that two things will inevitably happen. Firstly the amount of land available to develop will decrease, dramatically and overnight. This will lead a shortage of housing and that will encourage the development of a true housing bubble. Secondly after time people will work out ways of circumventing the price control, legally and illegally. Hidden side deals, in cash most likely; will happen as developers top up prices. TheCaymenIsland banking sector can expect to do some very good business.

The worst of this whole sorry story is that here we are six years into the crash and we are still being sold a nonsense story about the causes of our predicament. Greedy farmers sold land to greedy developers funded by greedy bankers who fleeced a nation which had gone collectively mad.

When Morgan Kelly made his now famous prophesy on the fate of the economy and the banking system he made a point which has been relentlessly ignored. What we experienced inIrelandwas not a housing bubble. It was not even an asset bubble. It was a credit bubble. Credit bubbles are not made out of land price hikes inCountyMeath. They are made in banks. They are made most often in Central Banks.

 The feeding frenzy in the Irish property market happened on the back of years of cheap money. Interest rates had been set too low for the needs of this economy since 1999. They were set to meet the needs of the Germans and French. That is the case now, and will continue to be the case as long as the Euro exists. We will be fine as long as our economy is in sync with the Big Boys. But if we ever happen to grow fast while they slow then it will all happen again. So, if the brilliant boys in Labour really want to have a bright idea they might have a go at solving that problem.

The Lock Out

Posted on 01. Sep, 2013 ·0

I don’t grudge anyone a story and in truth with Labour in government and Michael D in the Aras who didn’t expect to enjoy and endure a years worth of commemorations of the 1913 Lock Out. It is the founding myth of the Irish left and comes populated with all we expect of a good Myth; heroes, villains, prophets and martyrs.

The ogre of the piece was William Martin Murphy; I remember my grandmother’s venom when she spoke of him. In her mouth his name sounded like a blasphemy. Grinder of the poor. Plutocrat. Redmondite. In my childish understanding there was no nuance, this was an uncomplicatedly bad man.

Now he was certainly a prominent figure in the Irish Parliamentary Party, but in 1910 he was every bit the nationalist that Arthur Griffiths was and would later excoriate Redmond for his attempt to placate the Unionists by compromising on complete fiscal autonomy. Yes, he was a slum landlord like pretty well all his IPP colleagues on Dublin Council with the honourable exception of Dillon. However he was not a grinder of his workers, he was considered a decent and generous employer. A job on the trams was a good job. On the fateful occasion when he called in his workers at midnight to order them to have nothing to do with Larkin’s union he also gave them tea and sandwiches and a part days pay for their trouble.

He had no love of organised labour. But the heart of his problem was not with his workers joining a union, it was with them joining Larkin’s union. As had been the case in the Wexford lock the previous year.Murphy was bitterly opposed to sympathy strikes and to the Syndicalism which Larkin preached.While Connolly was as active and important in the ITGWU, Larkin seems to have been the bete noir of the employers and especially William Martin. He saw in this new movement a direct threat to business, property and bourgeois notions of liberal democracy. The problem is that of course he was right.

The other problem is that in the battle between him and the workers he won, and that more than any other factor makes him the great Satan. He had power, he was informed, he was prepared and unlike his adversary he had a plan. Though the city was badly affected by the long, bitter and often violent dispute it carried on. His trams kept running and the city did not shut down. It is important to say that though the union did use mass pickets and intimidation violence as often as not came from the police and not the locked out men.

For six months of the lock out thousands of men women and children suffered misery and privation in a city all too full of misery already. When it became clear that aid in the form of sympathetic labour action in Britain was not going to materialise the men, their hope and resources exhausted, returned to work. Trades Unionism in general and the ITGWU in particular seemed to have suffered a heavy if not fatal blow in Ireland. In retrospect when Larkin upped sticks and headed for America he probably did labour in Ireland a great favour.

That is not to say  that the Lock Out was without consequences.Just not the consequences that some would like to think it had. The dispute polarised groups across the city and the Island.Within the Catholic Church fissures appeared which would be replicated in the debate between Home Rule and Independence. The Hierarchy and older clergy were hostile to the labour movement while younger curates were more likely to be critical of the employers and be engaged by the wider question of poverty and slum living. The previously conservative and monarchist Griffiths supported the men as did Pearse, Clarke, Mac Diarmada , Maud Gonne and Countess Markievicz. Their voices in an otherwise hostile press did not go unnoticed and gave a vital shot in the arm to the languishing Sinn Fein. The working and lower middle classes began to become disenchanted with the IPP; which solidly supported the employers, and started to transfer their sympathies to Griffiths and other hard line nationalists. Indeed for Connolly the lesson of the Lock Out and its failure is that such means will not achieve his aims and he decides he must throw in his lot with the burgeoning physical force nationalists.

Many have pointed out in tones of significance that the men and women who had come out in the Easter Rising were roundly abused by the citizens of Dublin as they were marched to the quays where boats to carry them to prison were waiting. What is less commented on is the fact that the authorities were careful in their choice of route. They deliberately avoided areas like the Liberties or the Coombe where they remembered the solidarity of Pearse with the workers and instead sent the columns through middle class and unionist squares and streets.

Many on the left recall with sorrow the dictum of the war of independence that ‘labour must wait’ , and see in the Lock Out the starting point of a trajectory that would or should have led on inevitably to mass left wing movement throughout the country, if the leaders of the time had not chosen for noble motives to postpone their demands in the face of the great National Question.

The fact is that the National Question, unresolved and festering, would dominate the politics of the new state and labour would find itself squeezed between two visions of the past, where nationalism not worked out and explicit ideology was the central narrative. If only if only. Well I grudge no one his story and I can see the romance of this one for men and women of the Irish left. It is their white heather. But Ireland had been a political anomaly in Europe for three hundred years. Why should we think that it would not continue to be so even after independence. If the left has failed to convince a wide swath of voters of their analysis then the failure is of the left, not history.

Of course men like the martyred Connolly and the mercurial Larkin are more attractive figures when it comes to myth making, fighting for the poor and oppressed while William Martin seems to battle only to protect his profits.

For all his flaws he was a man of huge energy, a risk taker and an entrepreneur. His vision of a free Ireland was not one of frugal piety, but a nation capable of working itself to prosperity.

In the century following the Lockout poverty stagnation and immigration were long to be the constants of the new Irish state. It might be heretical but it is worth considering that the poor of Ireland would have been materially better served had we been blessed with a few more Murphys and one or two fewer passionate but wrongheaded revolutionaries.

Free to Believe

Posted on 16. Jul, 2013 ·0

Freedom is an odd thing. Hard to define, often easier understood in its absence than its presence. Yet it is the fountainhead of creativity, happiness and lives lived in human dignity. It is also one of the most misused and abused words in the moral and political lexicon.

My old prof used to say that to make a rights claim was the most powerful statement one could make in the moral world. Consequently we must be careful about such claims; we must avoid debasing the language of rights by spreading the fabric so far that it must inevitably tear. We live in an age where the reverse is happening. Governments and similar low institutions are never happier than when creating new secondary rights that Dworkin never dreamt of. The right to a job, the right not to fear, the right to indoor toilets, the right to have babies and be called Loretta. At the same time our primary rights are nibbled away, day by month by year. The right to life, the right to property and recently most clearly freedom of religion is being undermined and eroded.

The basis for all virtues is the virtue of courage, for without courage none of the other virtues could flourish. Freedom of religion has a similar position in the family of freedoms we enjoy in liberal democracies. It is not a simple or single freedom but a compendium of important freedoms gathered in to one moral space. What it is not is a mere freedom to worship and to construe it as such is a deliberate attempt to limit the liberty of religious people. Religion is not a liturgy or a prayer meeting but a way of life. The word comes from the Latin for Rule, not for Sunday service. If a state wishes to pretend that it guarantees freedom of religion then it must guarantee the right of religious people to live according to their rules. Of course as long as the way they behave does not harm others.

Harm. I said harm and I meant harm. I did not mean offend, or annoy or enrage or baffle or amuse or tick off; I meant harm, real measurable harm. A tort. This vital for a free society and in no way exclusive to the freedom of religion. A society where I am not free to offend is not free. Freedom of speech without freedom to offend is no freedom. Freedom of the press must carry with a freedom to offend or it is toothless. We must refuse to allow our governments to treat us as children who need protection from bullies in the playground. We must demand that they treat us as adults, and as adults we must patiently endure the name calling and brickbats of idiots. 

Other than the continued infantilisation of society the other agenda pursued by our over lords against religious freedom is the desire to attack certain kinds of conscience defences. A pharmacist in downtown Berlin was reported as having been named and shamed for his refusal to stock the morning after pill. His shop was attacked and badly damaged. Sympathy for him was in short supply as he was placing lives at risk by refusing to stock what he, a Lutheran Christian, considered an abortofacient. Since he was the only chemist in the city of Berlin to take this action it seems unlikely that the product was not very easily obtainable in a host of other outlets and he was in no way compromising anyone’s health, even if we accept this dubious premise of a threat in the first place.

In Britain and Sweden concerns have been raised that the conscience clauses of local national and European rights agreements are leading to a shortage of qualified personnel capable of performing abortions. The numbers of staff refusing to train in abortion technique has increased steadily over the last twenty years. In the region of Lazio in Italy eighty per cent of doctors and nurses refuse on grounds of conscience to assist in abortions. The response has been to suggest limiting the scope of conscience claims so that certain predetermined procedures would remain easily available to any woman who sought them.

What is happening here is that one kind of conscience is being privileged over another. One kind of belief is being place above another. If interrogated about this the answer is that one is scientific knowledge whereas the other is merely religious belief. This is a staggeringly naïf and arrogant position. It confuses a non religious morality with a scientific one. There is of course no such thing. One could read every obstetrics text book there is, deriving the ought you desire from the is of science will remain a statement of belief. Beyond that is of course the fact that many people who oppose abortion do so for reasons which they regard as grounded in science and have no religious faith. Anyhow there is no justification for the current process of distinguishing one kind of conscientious objector over another simply because we do not like what they object to. In fact if you don’t understand that you have utterly failed to understand the notion of conscientious objection.

Liberals have never liked the masses. For the most part of the second half of the Nineteenth century tiny liberal elites ruled over France, Italy, Germany and occasionally Britain. They feared the religiosity of the demos as much as they did the revolution of Mr Marx. The Whig enjoys his own company, his own jokes, his patron’s money and most of all his personal sense of superiority. To the extent they ever agitated for freedom of religion it was because with that freedom is freedom of belief, and disbelief. Now that disbelief is de rigueur and no longer in need of religions protection the elites seek out those vulgar religiosities to remove. The Crib in the hospital, the cross in the school, the Angelus on the radio are all valid targets. These are offensive to others in our now multi cultural society, The odd thing is when asked the Chief Rabbi said he opposed the removal of these offensive things, The Mufti was of the same opinion. So, who is offended? Bearing in mind offence is in itself not a reason to do something anyway. Yet again the liberals are using minorities as a Trojan horse to smuggle through their personal agenda.

When we start to attack and unpick a freedom like freedom of religion we are set on a dangerous path indeed. These core freedoms we have evolved and defended for a few centuries now are not simple atomic freedoms. They are not attached to or based on one simple primary right. This is a moral Matryoshka Doll where right hides within right, and one freedom protects and uncovers another. Or it is a carpet of rights and obligations woven together, strands over and under, in and out. The work has taken generations to slowly assemble. Sometimes additions were tried and discarded, while others approved of were worked into the fabric.

Contemplating the American revolutionaries Dr Johnson noted that the loudest yelps for liberty came from the drivers of slaves. There is undoubtedly a rich and savoury irony to enjoy in the spectacle of certain uber Catholics today crying out for understanding and demanding toleration. These self same bods were far from embracing the values of pluralism back in the 80s. It would be perfectly human to indulge the temptation to see how they might enjoy a dose of repression, human but wrong. Freedom is not something we deserve; nor are rights merited. We possess our rights even if we chose to with hold them from others. They are universal and inalienable. To put it more crudely it behoves us all to remember that the best reason to defend the nasty offensive practices of others is that the day may come when we are the nasty offensive minority hoping against hope that freedom is alive and well and not just a folk memory. 

Ps to love. or St Valentine, Virgin and Martyr

Posted on 13. Feb, 2013 ·0

Any time now somewhere a conservative blogger or right wing think piece writer will be mailing an article excoriating the vacuous, commercial, invented, eroticised and decadent feast that is St Valentine’s Day. All the dreck we buy will pointed to censoriously. The badly made bears. The almost Belgian chocolates. The upholstered cards with verses so dripping with schmaltz that they represent a real and present danger to cardiac health. The inevitable wine snobs will sniff about sparkling rose and well priced cava while the restaurant reviewers will sulk because they can get neither a table nor a date.

Ok. So it may not be high culture, or even old culture but why do conservatives have to morph into a legion of dyspeptic colonels or gout afflicted  ex-raj types when presented with this kind of modernity. The letter columns of the Telegraph do not need any more outraged of Tunbridge Wells. The world, lord knows, does not need another band of damson sucking killjoys. It is an Feast which has never meant anything to me, never made much sense. In my salad days it impinged on me not at all, except when I too could not find a table for dinner. One more than one occasion I wandered mystified from Trattoria to Ristorante hungry and tired unable to find an inn with some room; mid week!One night I recall at maybe the eighth attempt a harassed waiter pointing out that a table for one on San Valentino was unlikely to materialise.

But it matters to some people,a lot of people. People who are not so jaded and old and dateless. My only connect was a disconnect, a failure of imagination, where instead of making a simple gesture I made none. And as life organises itself I never had another february fourteenth to rectify my mistake. So I am left with a small regret, a card and miniature hot water bottle. Precisely the nonsense we love to deprecate. But I know wheresoever I go, my hot bot will go too, and be kept safe in the same place as my degrees, my passport and my grandfather’s watch. 

So, for God’s sake leave the Po-Facery to the ghastly Left. In a drab depressed world is it so awful to throw around some red satin ribbon, drink wine, eat chocolate and tell someone special that they are special? Lovers come and go, until they don’t. So let it be. Love ‘em while they stick around. Chances are by this time next year they will be unstuck and it would be nice to have more happy memories than regrets. 


Posted on 05. Feb, 2013 ·0

The problem of evil never particularly bothered me. It should have perhaps but it didn’t. Evil was a mystery and the suffering of the innocents was part of that mystery. I never expected God to be available to proof or disproof. If any argument spoke to me at level beyond the intellect it was Pascal’s Wager which is the worst of all reasons to believe. It was many years after I had exhausted my reasons to believe that I stumbled upon a response to the problem that opened up a new perspective not on God but life.

I had been reading Candide again. However this time I wondered if maybe Leibnitz had been right all along. This is the best of all possible worlds. This is as good as it gets. Buy what was it about this world that made it the best? What was it that we possess that all the other infinite possible universes lacked? What was it that demanded suffering, loss and death to exist before it could exist? Could it be love? We know the bizarre concatenation of circumstances that must occur for life to develop. Perhaps love is something so extraordinary, so deeply peculiar that it can only come into existence in parallel with death.

Could we love as we do if life was without end? I think that at the heart of human love is the urgent knowledge of impermanency. Without loss and grief could we know we had loved? Without seeing the grief of others could we ever truly understand how important it was to seek out love and cherish it when found? The joy of a new love is also the torture of every hour spent apart. The illumination of new love is joined with the terror of the darkness returning. Jealousy is not mere insecurity but an expression of the passions’ fear of death, death by mortality or by infidelity.

I want to write about love. I have wanted to write about love for a long time, but where to start. Not in myself certainty. I have no idea what it might mean to love myself. Not in God. Not in the pages of philosophy or poetry that inhabit my shelves. My answer such as it is lies in the Question. What do I love? I discover there are no whats only whos. Either love is lived or it is not.

So I find myself starting in the creation of my mother. That a mother should love her child is so ordinary that it passes beyond the cliché. It passes utterly uncommented, almost unseen. It is only in its absence that it becomes remarkable. That matters not at all. My mother loved me. She loved my father, my brother and sister, her family, her friends. She loved her mother and father. She loved her Christ. She was probably very like your mother.

Her life was a demonstration in how a properly ordered religious faith can expand, liberate and enlighten a life. It saddens me greatly that my lack of faith she would see not only as her fault but as her failing. What her life did however convince me of is that in the culture wars that rage here and across the world most everyone who shouts the loudest is wrong. Religious belief foundationally is not an assertion to or dissent from a set of propositions. If it is to be human then it must being with a relationship. There must exist in the heart a sense of connection with An Other. There must be a person to whom the words I love can be addressed. Love must go outwards before it can return.

I can really only speak of Christianity here. It is the only experience I have and anyway is the religion I have most sympathy for. It seems to me not at all unevolved or cretinous to have some liking for a faith which does not have a god of love but rather a God who is love. I have occasionally said to believing friends that the only part of the whole narrative that makes perfect sense to me is the fall. Therefore that wicked man has taken a beautiful idea and done evil in its name is of no surprise to me at all. What is amazing is that wicked man had the idea in the first place. And pace my fellow travellers I do not doubt for a moment that as bloody and cruel the history of humanity has been it would have been more brutal yet without the restraining chains of Christianity.

Philosophers have stopped talking about love. What was of central importance to Plato and Aristotle is of small interest today. Philia, Eros and Agape are left to the theologians and the occasional poet. It is odd considering a fascination with language has driven philosophy for a century and the most powerful thing I can say in English is ‘I love you’. As many of you know it is also one of the most frightening, and has sent millions of men and more than a few women fleeing for the hills.

The love between parents and children we gloss over as just a force of nature. The love between siblings is a duty which comes naturally or we work on because we somehow know we should. Those of our blood we may not like but barring accidents we love. It is the other love that remains a mystery we admit to. Why him and not her? Why now but not then? Every anniversary speech you hear will talk of luck. There will often be a little story of how chance brought them together or very nearly kept them apart. But in the end love held them and how it did remains a sustaining mystery.

I wonder about all this as one who came late to the affair. Having spent an adulthood where the darts never landed or at least never pierced my armour I woke up one miserable day to discover myself in love. At a point in time where my age and state were far more suited to the adoption of the contemplative life I found myself enduring something my friends had dealt with at least once by the age of twenty. That is when I discovered that when the affair died the love did not.

I have often heard it said that we have evolved to have no memory of pain because otherwise no woman would ever bear more than one child. If this is so I wanted my more experienced friends to explain how anyone ever had a second affair because child birth could not be more painful than this. I explained in precise and astounded detail the physical manifestations of the ghastly thing. They would nod and assure me that this is all normal. That I found incredible. How could a species survive if reproduction was in any way connected to this? I listened to the most saccharine love ballads and the first time in my life they made sense. Poetry, novels, music, paintings, even jokes, that had eluded me suddenly had meaning. Although in truth for three months I could not listen to any music at all. To this day listening to the radio is something of a lottery.

I consider myself something of an experiment, a way to test the tried and truisms of consoling wisdom. The most important and hackneyed is of course that it is better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all. There is a quote from Wisdom often used in funeral masses which at times seemed apposite, ‘their departure was regarded as disaster, their leaving us like annihilation;’ because it did. But I ask of myself would I rather it never happened? Would it have been better to have continued on my life undisturbed and unaware?

The fact is to love another is something so central to the experience of being human that those who cannot love we pity and fear as monsters. To never have loved is to be slightly less than human.As I am fond of saying to love both spiritually and physically is a gift given to neither angels nor animals, but it is peculiar and proper to man. And it is when we love, and in love make love, that we are at our most perfectly human. We are most perfectly what we can be.

Of course I mean love, not simple desire, not passion, not lust. The wonder of love is the discovery that desire does not dim with time but love makes it grow stronger and deeper than I could possibly have imagined. The wonder was to discover that the physical can truly transcend itself and the most intimate moment is transformed, the gaze of desire is no longer a gaze that possesses and objectifies. All flows out not in, the wish is not to be sated but to satisfy, not to made happy but to give happiness. This must be the test of all love. In this the love of a mother, a child and a lover are conjoined, in love we become selfless and our happiness is the happiness of the other.

Sadly to maintain this selflessness is not so easy. I wish I could in honesty say that all I wish him is happiness, and that he find fulfilment and joy. In truth if I wish that, a lot of the time it is contingent, I wish it but whisper in my head, happy yes, but with me. The self is hard to silence. Do we now demand too much of love? Expect too many miracles, and ask for more perfect union than we should? Marriage has become a statement of love more than at any time in human history yet love seems to be increasingly incapable of maintaining the bond that once was made to last a lifetime.

Where the Christians are right and others wrong is to recognise that we love in the particular, the personal not in the abstract. The saint’s love of the poor begins with her personal love of Christ. To love the Race or the Class or the Gender is always to give permission to hate the individual. To create heaven for many has always meant hell for a few.

I have wanted to write about love for a long time. And I still have not worked out where to start. But at least I have a question now. Is it worth it? If there were choice given, would I chose the world without pain but also without love? What could it mean to be human but without love? Is there a world in some multiverse peopled by quiet, peaceable ancient sociopaths? Well there is no choice and what we have is what there is. What I know is that love holds many lives in existence. When in a finally empty universe we find ourselves battling and failing to be blind to the Absurdity of existence it is the love we have for others and more importantly the knowledge that we are loved that keeps us rolling the rock up the mountain. While we might heartily wish to extinguish the light, we know that to be loved is a responsibility, unsought and at the worst times unwanted but ours nonetheless. What we might gladly embrace for ourselves we cannot inflict on those unfortunate enough to love us.

A Very Human Problem.

Posted on 30. Jan, 2013 ·1

The final cause of the American civil war was slavery. Tariffs, trade, states’ rights and a dozen other issues divided the north and south but in the end it was slavery that split the union and launched the first industrial war in human history. Four years of unimagined carnage followed before slavery was abolished and the confederacy defeated.Lincoln, Spielberg’s fine film is instructive in that it shows that while those who voted for the thirteenth amendment did so for a variety of reasons personal, political and philosophical those who opposed it were united in one fundamental belief. They held as an obvious truth that the African was morally and intellectually inferior to the European races. Black men and women might be human but they were in no wise equal.

It is often written that the framers of the American constitution were mostly hostile to slavery and viewed it as a moral evil that would inevitably wither and die. What actually happened was that King Cotton and the plantation slave economy thrived in the nineteenth century and by 1860 human capital in the USA meant human chattels and their monetary value was in the hundreds of millions. To live with reality of their slave economy it was necessary to evolve a theory of race that could justify that barbarity. Psychologically and morally it is impossible to treat people worse than cattle and still regard oneself as decent and Christian and humane. Since the gentlefolk of the south wished to see themselves as all this and more but did not wish to give up their economy and privilege they had but one option. They would make a virtue out of what appeared a vice. They degraded the moral status of their black chattels. They placed them into a different category of humanity, a category which permitted Whites as higher more evolved creatures to own other human beings.

It would be quite wrong to regard this kind of rationalisation as unusual. It is a pattern that recurs throughout history. When we wish to do evil to others but lack the honesty to face the truth of our motivations it is very useful tool. It is a commonplace of empires. The depiction of the Irish in Punch in the nineteenth century as simian sub-humans is part of long tradition of portraying the Irish as lesser beings. At best we were wild wilful children in need of firm but fatherly control. At worst we were white chimpanzees incapable of higher culture or rational thought.

The same language, the exact same rhetoric was used to justify the carving up of Africa, the possession of the Americas, the destruction of indigenous cultures in Australia and Asia. And it was certainly not unique to Europeans. Radical chauvinism was part and parcel of the Chinese, Japanese and Mesoamerican empires. It was not applied only to other races or nations but even to that half of the nation that happened to be born women.

As child of the twentieth century I cannot be other than fearfully aware of this evil impulse to create different classes within humanity. Racism, class war, pseudo science and utopian visions mixed into a toxic cocktail that maddened whole nations and made murder a moral imperative. The moment we define the other as lesser we do not stand uneasy on the top of a scrabbling slippery slope, we dive headfirst off a cliff.

And here we are.

Standing on that cliff.

For more than twenty years I have thought about this problem, read, talked, argued, listened and tried to understand. I am where I am not by accident or by faith. Morally, philosophically and scientifically I can see no reason to believe that a human foetus is not a human being. This being the case I cannot in conscience believe it is just or prudent to grant it any fewer of the rights and protections we grant to other human beings.

I know for others the moral or ontological status of the foetus is not the primary question regarding the morality or immorality of abortion. This position I do not understand. If the status is qualitatively less than other human beings then the question of what we may legitimately do to the foetus is substantially different. In attempting to demonstrate that the foetus does not possess the same moral claims as born humans two apparently different approaches are taken. One is to admit the humanity of the organism but to claim it lacks personhood. In effect this is philosophical sleight of hand. It is an attempt to overcome the problem that in the opinion of embryologists and biologists there is no scientific reason to place the foetus in a different class from neo-nates, infants, or adults. It is merely a human being at a particular moment of development, a process which is a continuum which begins at fertilisation and end with death.

The alternative is to claim that humanity is contingent on certain capacities. Different ethicists have used different capacities as being central to humanity. These are pretty much the same tests used by those who concede humanity but not personhood. Among them are the ability to experience pain, self consciousness, viability, capable of independent life, ability to move, presence of brainwaves and others.

I have three fundamental problems with this approach. Firstly none of the tests I know of actually reflect qualities that we would normally consider as peculiarly or especially human. If we were to create a list of those things which make us different as a species I contend we would more likely say capacities like aesthetic sensibility, laughter, the capacity to feel guilt, future thinking, compassion, altruism or cruelty. But who would deprive another of their rights because they had no sense of humour or appreciation of art? We do not kill psychopaths simply because they are psychopaths.

Secondly just about anything which the foetus may lack the capacity for is something which other human can lack yet we do not deny their humanity because of it. Some are born without the ability to feel pain. When comatose a person might not be capable of movement, thought, self consciousness, or be capable of breathing independent of mechanical aid. During surgery the heartbeat may be maintained artificially. Children normally become self conscious between eighteen and twenty four months but there is no hard and fast rule. Outside of Peter Singer’s coterie how many  yet would be willing to agree that killing a two year old is not the killing of a human person.

This leads to my third objection. These tests are in fact purely arbitrary. It is a form of philosophical reverse engineering. We know where we want to get to; the problem is to find the particular attribute that will get us there. The philosophers doing this are like the logical positivists of old who spent years trying to find a formulation of the verification principle and later the falsification principle which would not self refute. They continue to look for some capacity or attribute which they can point to and say ‘This is the sine qua non of personhood ’. Though they likely will have to frame it so that it is not the actual possession of the attribute but it’s even brief attainment that confers personhood.

I have friends, men and women, who cannot understand why someone they like, someone they respect someone seemingly civilised can be so lacking in compassion. Some attribute it to a vestigial persistence of my former religious beliefs. Others see it as a lack of sympathetic imagination. I cannot comprehend the dire circumstances that a woman may find herself in. This is true in the particular. I can however perfectly understand feelings of panic, fear, desperation and hopelessness.

What am I to say to a woman ,who is really a child, pregnant after years of brutal incest? What am I to say to woman who has been the victim of terrorising gang rape by soldiers in Bosnia or Zaire? What can I say? What can anyone say that will not be patronising or saccharine. A woman I like and respect is pro choice because she feels the ethical problem is too complex to give up any certainty, and therefore we must yield the final choice to the individual woman. I think she wrong. I think is it not that the ethics are deep and hard but that this is an irreducibly human problem with no neat or happy outcome. There is no answer that will leave us all with clean hands and clear consciences.  

So I am left alone with my conscience, which is very cold comfort indeed. I am left with history which is no comfort at all. I am left with the knowledge that we do not need to imagine what happens when we allow ourselves to decide who is worthy and who is not. We do not need dystopian fantasists to be prophets of the consequences of creating classes within humanity. Before our eyes across the world, the old, the sick , the disabled are devalued and discarded, bed blockers and drains on the economy.

Our rights we possess not from any merit, capacity, ability, talent or any other contingency. We possess our rights, our value, simply by the fact of our mere humanity. And we all possess value or none of us can ever be confident that the day will not come that we discover we have no value at all. 

Fr Flannery . A Martyr for Our Times?

Posted on 26. Jan, 2013 ·0

And on it rolls, the Flannery story. The heroic little priest on the edge of the world, with no one but the plucky New York Times, to help make his case battles against the massed ranks of the Papacy, Fox News and the forces of reaction.

As it rolls it generates heat and to annoyance of some a little light. Piano Piano we discover things, almost facts. It is clear that the heart of the row is not the Redemptorists permissive views on gay relations or his stance on women’s ordination that has brought him to this juncture. He is quoted as having doubts about the sacramental nature of Priesthood, the institution of the sacraments, in particular the institution of the Eucharist and finally grave doubts about the hierarchical nature of the Church.

Now these doubts by themselves are serious indeed for the Catholic in any state of life, but in fact the doubts are symptoms of a more radical doubt yet. The believer in revealed religion is called on to respond Credo, to two separate facts. That God exists and that he has revealed himself, in his own voice or that of prophets in a text. Christians believe that God is revealed in the Bible and privilege is given to those revelations which are believed to recount the actions and teachings of the Christ and Apostles. Those books which are considered canonical by Catholic Christians and many priests were written down in the second half of the first century and at the beginning of the second century. To my knowledge the notion of evangelist as unreliable narrator has never been the core of anyone’s biblical theology.

Now, what Flannery doubts is not the traditional understanding of the priesthood with its institution at the last supper alongside the Eucharist. No, he doubts the accounts we have of this supposed institution. What he is having is a crisis notmerely of faith but of hermeneutics. He believes that Christ instituted a far less exclusive more democratic priesthood of believers. Which was a wicked cool idea when Pietro Waldo had it a thousand years ago. He believes that early church fell into the hands of an elite which produced a text to reflect their agenda and beliefs. Now to my ear that all this sounds like the concerns and constructions of the late 20th C being imposed on the behaviour of first century Jews. But that could not be less important.

What is more important to the believer is to recognise that Flannery maybe right. But he is right only by overthrowing scripture and making a guess. But if he is right then everyone gets to invent the Church they want. Once it is decided that the revelation is deception then we are all equal exegetes. You could reasonably ask however why we should believe the evangelists lied? And why they chose to have different accounts of certain things but to maintain one line on others. And why, again, that line should be found in the Acts and the Epistles. You could ask why those who had known Christ in the flesh and those others who had known and heard their  testimony should have lied .You might ask very simply is Flannery and his account to be held more reliable that of John, who may have seen the Christ die on a cross. ? You could ask Flannery for proof of his opinion. Well, you could ask.  

There was group of Berber Christians who valued martyrdom above all things. They would attack Roman soldiers with clubs to provoke a fatal response, or interrupt the taking of  the auguries or a sacrifice to the Emperor. But to me as child what made most impression was their habit of seeking out the clothes of plague victims and wearing them in the hope of catching the disease. The authorities of the day condemned this practice as heretical. Martyrdom was to be embraced should it come but it was not up to the Christian to tip Gods hand.

In his pursuit of martyrdom Flannery has wrapped himself in the pages of the Irish Times and waded out into a bog of doubt. He will thrash around there as long as he has oxygen. He may in time come to think that one who rejects scripture, denies the sacramental priesthood, doubts the traditional understanding of Eucharist and Church is not a perfect candidate to be a priest in the Catholic Church according to the Latin Rite. His thrashing may bring him to the far bank of the bog where he can find a pure spring of honest disbelief. There he may find what he has been seeking for many years. Or he may find the conviviality of his brethren hard to leave. The honour of his title hard to forego. The glamour of rebellion hard to abandon. If that is the choice he makes it is a very human choice. He will continue to thrash and roll, to some a tool of the Lord for change in the Church. For many a tool of the secularists and and haters. And for some, simply a tool. 

J’accuse. Mitt Romney is successful

Posted on 09. Aug, 2012 ·0

Obama attack terrier Sen Harry Reid has been chewing on Romney for some months now. The completely uncorrupt senator representing Las Vegas, has been unrelenting in his demands that the GOP candidate should publish all of his past tax returns. Romney has steadfastly refused to do so, insisting that he has been as transparent as anyone could reasonably expect and there is nothing in his tax history that is of interest to the American people.

Initially I could not see why he didn’t just publish and be damned. After all no one was accusing him of evading, avoiding or skimming his taxes. And that is of course the point. His sin is being rich. Not having accounts in Grand Caymen or an illegal Guatemalan housekeeper but simply having made a lot of money. This is a new one for American politics. It is also a scary window into the mind of this Whitehouse and the contemporary Democratic Party.

While Nixon might subliminally suggest that the hard scrabble of life had prepared him better for government or given him an insight into the lives of ordinary Americans that Jack Kennedy could not have, he never suggested that the simple fact of being rich should preclude him from the presidency.Indeed according to the lights of Barack Obama, John Kennedy would never get the nomination in today’s party. 

Romney’s crime is success. He has squeezed millions of dollars from the sweat and pain of thousands of the working poor. He has ransacked their factories, robbed their pensions, despoiled the environment and feasted on the tears of children. For as the president recently made clear the entrepreneur does not create anything. The businesswoman does not invent or innovate. They surf the work and wealth of others to achieve their ill gotten gains.

Romney is rich. The rich get rich by exploiting the people. Romney is an exploiter of the people. The syllogism is very neat. The problem is that the American people do not believe its middle premise to be true. This administration has demonstrated it has only a rhetorical understanding for the world view of middle America. Indeed if we cast back four years to videos doing the rounds this was a plain a pikestaff to Obamaites. They do not get the huntin shootin fishin small town America and they know it. And this will be their downfall.

Mitt Romney is dull beyond reason. As a candidate running against a man whose election was for many proof of the constantly renewing promise of America he is really very poor. But he will win. He will win because unlike Washington where the president has 86% approval rating in Boise they do not think getting rich is a sin.

ps. The Senator for Reno, has resisted calls that he himself publish his tax records saying that as a public repressentative he has annually returned exhaustive accounts of his earnings and investments. For man who came from poverty and has been a public servant for forty years we applaud him on being worth ten milllion dollars. That kind of careful scrimping and saving is a model for us all.

Oh that our leaders would do nothing

Posted on 10. Apr, 2012 ·0

A government TD should sound or indeed be better informed than the men at the end of the bar. So when one decides to open mouth to the press to I would hope that he had previously taken a minute to research the particulars of the individual situation and consider any broader points that might be at issue.

The Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise suffered the destruction by fire of its Cathedral. As part of the rebuild a new organ would be needed and a tendering process was established. A committee chaired by Prof G Gillen, a world class organ scholar, was set up to steer. The contract was awarded to an Italian company who won the competition across all parameters including cost.

On foot of this announcement a local blue TD decried the decision to send work out of the country at a time of economic hardship and begged the diocese to instead award the contract a company in Bray.

Now any private citizen is perfectly free to dispose of his income as he sees fit. He can buy exclusively Irish or half Brazilian half Thai if he wants. But the Diocese is not a private person. It acts in stewardship of the money given to it by the faithful and it has duties both moral and legal in how it uses this money. If it had subverted its own tendering system its auditors have stated they would have not been able to sign off on  the diocesan accounts.

If the good TD wants to see economic hardship then he should continue to push the logic of his position. We are small highly productive nation. We are so far beyond self sufficient in food that we export 90% of what we produce. We are world leaders in the manufacture of computers chips, erection medication and baby food. We sell everywhere to everyone. As one of the world’s most open economies with a bigger export surplus than anyone in Europe bar Germany free trade is our mothers milk.

It may be possible for some economists to construct situations where protective tariffs or selective subsidy look like being helpful to an economy. I doubt it but for the sake of argument let us so suppose. What we know for an absolute fact is that the most tariff friendly thinker would tell us that Ireland is at the extreme opposite end of the trade spectrum and that last thing we should ever do is get into a trade war. We benefit hugely from free trade and open access to foreign markets.

If there are TDs in the government party that favour protectionism, subsidy and tariffs then let them be made known to us. There is no need for them to be shy. They are doing what politicians with no brains and no ideas do in a moment of crisis. Something. That is after all why they got into politics in the first place. They wanted to do Something. Now as the country is mired in crisis they know that they have a duty to do Something. They are part of a long and honourable tradition of politicians spanning the oceans and the ages. Men who stood up bravely and demanded Something must be done. I like to think of them as having two patron saints. The Castor and Pollux of the noble breed if you like. They were St Smoot and St Hawley. They did Something. And along with Blessed FDR (who did Manythings) they made sure the crisis of 29 would become the depression of the 30s.

So please, if you meet your local TD or councillor, throw your arms around their neck and grasp their knees in supplication. Beg them in these perilous and hungry times, to, for the love of God, do Nothing.

Shout it from the Mountain Tops. We are Right.

Posted on 22. Feb, 2012 ·0

I watched a documentary about Padraic  O Conaire on Tg4 over the weekend. The usual story of a tortured artist, a prophet rejected in his own land, and since he was an Irish writer, an alcoholic who drank to kill the demons. A collection of academics and writers including a nun in a veil talked of the tragedy of a man born out of his time and cursed by the mores and narrowness of the society around him.

At one point the subject turned to his politics. It transpires that O Conaire was a radical who embraced the ideas of international socialism. One of the talking heads referred to the hysterical reaction of Cardinal Logue to growth of socialism and quoted him condemning communism in the usual over the top way. This was reported to us in a tone which was a mixture of condescension and   amused contempt. The viewers were clearly being invited to think how paranoid and prejudiced was the cardinal and by extension the Church. Silly and small minded they saw monsters in the shadows which plainly were not there.

Except the monsters were there. And we know they were and we know how monstrous they were. Only seven years after Logue spoke Lenin seized power in Russia. Seven years after that Stalin ascended the Bolshevik throne and the world would know only too well the wonders of International Socialism. As I watched this perfectly ordinary piece of television it struck me that this is what the left always does. And we let them get away with it. They mock those who prophesied against Marxism, they sneer, they jeer. Most of the time we don’t hear the words but we do hear the tune they confidently play and a part of us accepts it. The truth is Logue was not wrong, he was not over the top or hysterical. If anything the Church did not fully understand the magnitude of the evil that was evolving in the heart of Europe. If anything they underplayed the threat of what was to come.

How often have we heard the story of the Hollywood blacklist referred to? Yet the story we hear is always the same. An America gripped by panic and manipulated by wicked rightwing forces betrays itself and persecutes a harmless bunch of creative types. If we were to believe the narrative commonly sold Russia was no threat and in America there were virtually no communists. However we know the American Communist Party at least up to Hungary had tens of thousands of members. We know that like all orthodox communist parties it took direction from Moscow. We know that Stalin’s Russia was deeply hostile to the US. We know that they invested heavily in spy rings in America to steal military secrets and technology. We know from the Blacklisted themselves that party members not merely tried but succeeded in getting anti communist stories blocked from production in Hollywood. That McCarthy was a nasty type and that he abused his power is given. That there was no threat, that there were no plotters is emphatically not.

Thomas Sowell observed that Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it. What the left does in public discourse in order to ignore it is to reconstruct history. They adopt the morality of Raskolnikov. Firstly in private they understand that as the vanguard of the revolution they are not bound by the bourgeois morality of the masses. They assume an almost Nietzschean position; their extraordinary role gives them extraordinary permission. In public they practice retrospective falsification in the knowledge that if a lie is told often enough and with enough authority it will be believed. Or at least the truth will be reduced to a point where the masses think there is no truth merely a number of competing narratives.

They have being doing this from the very first days of Socialist power. They had to since they achieved and maintained power from the first through terror. They had to because it became clear very early on that the theory was bunk. They continue to do falsify and deny to this day. The fact that so discredited an ideology should persist is a condemnation of the right.

We all value civility. We appreciate courtesy, politeness and respectful disagreement. Nobody enjoys a discussion where we spend all the time pointing out errors of fact. It feels arid and pedantic. However we live in a teaching moment. It is teaching us that ignorance of history and economics is too expensive a price to pay for politesse. We can no longer allow ourselves to remain annoyed but mute when the old lies are trundled out. These are interesting times and we must respond to people’s interest. The odd arch comment thrown in from the sidelines is not acceptable. This is a time for evangelising. In the pub, at the dinner table, over coffee, we must say, no, I’m sorry you’re wrong. When the tired platitudes appear often it is enough to ask a simple question. The left are deeply unused to having their basic world view interrogated. The lightest of breezes can bring down the whole edifice. But if a conservative stays silent in the presence of Marxian cant what other can the observers think but that we have no answers, we have no argument, we have no analysis to compete with theirs. It is time to speak, and truth will set us free

Stop ! Thief !

Posted on 17. Feb, 2012 ·0

One phrase perhaps more than any other survives M Thatcher. There is she said, no such thing as society. Those on the left like to throw it in conservative faces like a soiled glove. They try to embarrass politicians with it and indeed generally succeed as most politicians are horribly embarrassed by the truth.

The central debate in democracies over the last century and more has been how to balance the rights and freedom of the individual against the desire to achieve a measure of redistributive justice. We do not want the poor to die of hunger. We want all the children to read and write. But we don’t want to pay punitive taxes. So each political party and each election is a negotiation where we see just how many  pet schemes and high minded projects politicians can convince a plurality of voters to force wealthy people to pay for. Sometimes the pendulum swings to the left and the rich get a good soaking while one legged Eskimo lesbian poetry is well funded. Other times the pendulum swings towards individual liberty and private property and the middle classes get a tax cut while international transgender drum combos suffer a nasty cut.

What Thatcher did when she said what said was to remind a population which had forgotten that society has no money. When it comes to paying for the Eskimo lesbians’ round in the pub society will always be found in the toilets, or outside having a fag. When it comes to paying for services of any kind, there is no such thing as society. Which is what she said and what she meant. When it comes to paying there are only individual tax payers. There are those who are net takers and those who are net givers but Government, the State or Society contribute nothing to the coffers. The role of the state at this point is wages clerk doling out the cash made from the profitable bit of the company. Or perhaps better, a fence, dealing in the procuring and dispersal of stolen goods.

The left really do not like it when we low types remind the dozing public that all that lovely lolly being redistributed by the Fence General is theirs in the first place. This knowledge makes the taxpayer grumbly and truculent. It brings out their baser nature. It makes them ask nasty questions, like,. Why the hell should I have to pay for that? None of this is helpful when one is trying to run a government. Even run one as badly as ours.

The arc opinion regarding where the State may not go and cannot morally do ranges from the anarcho-capitalist through the Burkean Tory and Social Democrat to the Maoist or Stalinist loons. It is an interesting and important debate, which I have all too often. For the purposes of this short remonstrance I will give two quick rules of thumb against which I measure new State appropriations. The first thing is to remember that certain rights are imprescriptible. Governments can never legitimately suspend these rights except in the most extreme of circumstances and for the barest time needed. And with the widespread and tested will of the people. Anything which infringes on this is to be rejected.

The second test is the laugh test. Most of the problems we have regarding the expansion of the state is where someone has created a new right and the state weighs in to vindicate this right, usually at the expense of another’s rights. The way to deal with these  is simply unpack the right in reverse. All these second order positive rights (alla Berlin) make direct demands on other people and their resources. The trick is to see of the lefty of your choice can keep a straight face when you get them to articulate the rights claim as a positive duty. Recently a theftwing pal of mine, vastly wealthier than me, asserted that everyone had the right to free contraceptive medicine. This meant I pointed out that I had a duty to a pay for his condoms. And I asked him to defend the position. Why I demanded, should I buy Johnny’s johnnies. This propositions failed the laugh test. And yet and yet, I guarantee the next batch of manifestos we see will be full of ribticklers far funnier than this. It’s our own fault if we don’t laugh them out of court.

Its not about Quality or Equality is it minister?

Posted on 24. Jan, 2012 ·0

In Ireland education is funded from general taxation. So, not a penny of state money is involved. The system is based on the principle that money follows the child. Schools are subvented according to the number of children attending. Children attend the school of the choice of their parents, which meets their expectations of quality and whose ethos, religious or secular, they are comfortable with. If no such school exists the parents have the right to educate their children themselves. This is a basic right since the constitution is unequivocal that parents are the primary educators of their children and not the state, the family being the basis of society and anterior and prior to any state.

There are no state schools in Ireland. There is a diversity of schools run by various denominations, charitable institutions, community bodies and the VEC. The latter being the closest we have to state control is naturally the pet of the current minister. The system on the whole has worked well for us over the years in providing our young people with a consistently better than average education than our counterparts in the OECD. This is not to say that the system is without inequality. As it stands parents who send their children to fee paying schools are penalised as those schools receive a substantially reduced per capita subvention. Roughly this means that a school in the VEC would be paid for twenty seven teachers while a fee paying school of the same size would be paid for around twenty three posts. It is beyond laughable to hear representatives of the TUI dismiss this difference as marginal when one recalls the howls of outrage in response to a cut of this magnitude being propose to any school in the the VEC sector and the declarations of the dire consequences such a reduction would have on teaching quality.

The inequity of this funding is made even more evident when we consider the shape of school funding. In our radically progressive tax system the top half of one percent of tax payers accounts for twenty percent of all income tax receipts. Top earners pay an effective rate six times that of those at the other end of the tax net, while a great number pay no income tax at all. It is no surprise that many of the families sending children to Blackrock, Clongowes and Alex are in the upper tax bracket and therefore already contributing disproportionately to the funding of schools even though these schools are underfunded by government in the division of posts.

Fee paying schools have been with us since the foundation of the state. Have they represented a two tier system of quality education? No. How do we know? Because somebody checked. While the literacy and numeracy results from PISA make the headlines there are other perhaps more important results that get ignored. We have never hit the top spot in either of those areas but we did in another. We were, along with Finland, the country with the greatest equality of access to education in the world. That meant that where a child happened to live, be it in Donnybrook, Listowel or Trim, it had less impact on their educational outcomes than anywhere else in the world. That is equality. Sadly we have seen a decline our performance in this area. The same period has seen not an expansion in fee paying schools. It has seen an expansion of VEC patron schools and a contraction in the voluntary sector, which are religious schools. I am not saying post hoc propter hoc, but it is curious.

Parents send their children to fee paying schools for many reasons. I could speculate upon them but it is none of my business. It is none of the ministers business. The job of the department in this country is not to run schools or decide who goes to which. Its function is regulatory, it is there to define minimum standards and inspect schools to ensure their achieve them. The composition, ethos, religion, language and management of the schools is the choice of parents not big brothers

The boneless wonder. Or Fine Gael and the Moral Maze

Posted on 02. Nov, 2011 ·0

Some years ago I was able to observe the machinations of Fine Gael in election mode. There was a huge amount of chat about policy, radical cutting edge, game changing, and paradigm shifting policy. Politics was now a battle of ideas I heard, and the job of the party was to innovate and communicate. Well you get the idea. An orgy of cliché was had by all. However when on a few occasions Mad Blueshirt did approach the mother ship moored on Mount St. with fresh notions they went into fits. Not the traditional Fine Gael cataleptics but full blown apoplexy. Raging frothing phone calls and desperate terrified emails besieged us until reassurance was given.

 On only two topics were we to be given our full rhetorical head. The Dear Leader himself had spoken with absolute clarity. Fine Gael was committed to faith schools both on principle and in the belief that the model was highly successful for children. And secondly Fine Gael held the Prolife position as a core value.

 Well faith schools have long since been thrown to the dogs of political opportunism. If this govt lasts five years and Quinn stays as peoples commissar for public instruction then we can be confident God will have been hunted from our classrooms and the religious from our schools. But last week saw something which I still find hard to credit. As tired and cynical as a person becomes there lingers a hope that our politicos have somewhere in them a sticking point. But then…

Last Thursday Ronan Mullen, jihadist, proposed to the Senate that the practice of killing girls in utero because they were girls was a bad practice.

……………. I was going to go on long sarcastic satirical polemic, against our feminists and others, in the manner of a modest proposal.

But I can’t. I’m too tired. I’m too sad. I’m too disheartened right now. The publically confessed catholic leader of Fine Gael, Ireland’s Christian Democratic Party whipped his senators on an indisputable matter of conscience. He whipped them to support an amendment which eviscerated the motion. An amendment put down by Irelands leading pro abortion advocate. A cowardly amendment which came out against infanticide; a practice which is already illegal everywhere. A vicious amendment; which was careful not to mention the abortion, of girls or any other vulnerable group.

I am heart sick. I am hurt for my friends in FG who are bewildered by the lack of morality or courage shown by the leadership of the largest ever FG group in the Oireachteas. I am ashamed for those young men and women who I know and like in the parliamentary party. Men and women I never dreamt would remain passive and quiescent in the face of such an immoral use of the whip. I am at a loss to know where or to whom I can turn to find support or defence of the principles, ethics and traditions of many if not most Irish people. Is Enda Kenny really telling me already that if I want than kind of thing I must go back to the party which did so much to ruin the country?

Maybe. Maybe a decimated, humiliated and purged FF represents the best hope of old idiots like me. On the face of it that proposition seems absurd. You might very reasonably ask me how I could think of forgiving them so soon. You might correctly say that they must spend many more years in the desert before they might even be considered for power. I have no satisfactory answer to you. Perhaps the young TDs and Senators in whom I had previously reposed my hope will yet find their courage and their voice. Perhaps.

On this the first day of repayments the Taoiseach doesn’t know the names of the bondholders. Yet I do. The Internet told me. What I don’t know is what Fine Gael is for. I wonder does the Taoiseach know.

Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus

Posted on 18. Oct, 2011 ·0

 So twenty two judges have refused to follow the example of their brethren and accept voluntarily the pay cuts and pension levy imposed on the public sector by the Government in January of this year. So for the sake of twenty two judicial pay-packets the government wants to tamper with separation of powers that defines a healthy democracy.  According to the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, the pay cuts would be between 16.3% and 23.2%. Taking a notional salary of €200,000 and taking a middle figure pay cut of 20% that would mean that we are holding a referendum in order to save maybe €880000. In a couple of weeks the same government will mandate Anglo Irish, a dead bank, to pay out €800 million of taxpayers’ money to unsecured bondholders. For E880, 000 we couldn’t burn a single bond holder, we could not even lightly toast one. This referendum is clearly not about saving money.

 The fact is this referendum is probably unnecessary. The Supreme Court has recognised the application of income tax to judges is legitimate .A change in the taxation of judges as a class rather than of just an individual most authorities think would be legal.

If what they really wanted to achieve was just a cost saving, there is no necessity to change the constitution so radically. It would have been perfectly easy to introduce an amendment which would have applied only to judges currently appointed in a once off measure and leave untouched the basic protection of judges provided in the constitution.

 One of the basic principles of all law, statute and especially constitution; is the wording of a law be clear and intelligible and its application predictable. Nobody is agreed about the meaning, short term or long term of the text of this amendment. It is vague, ambiguous and wide. It is poisonously bad law to put into the constitution a cuckoo’s egg of an amendment whose effects cannot be clearly predicted. If professional and academic lawyers cannot agree on a common understanding on the import of this amendment, how can ordinary citizens be expected to make an informed judgement on their vote.

It is a principle of republican government that the judiciary be protected from the legislature and the executive. The United States constitution adopted in 1787, guarantees that judges receive “compensation which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office”. The same guarantee was written into Bunreacht na hEireann one hundred and seventy years later. Our leaders need to remember the most important function of the constitution is to protect ordinary citizens from the power of the state. And independent judges are central to that protection.

 We are not being asked to place our faith in the good will and democratic principles of the Taoiseach and his government. We might be happy to accept that they are upstanding men and women who would never dream of interfering with the administration of justice. That is not the point. We are being asked to accept, sight unseen, the bona fides of every single future administration for as long as this amendment stays in force. Sadly we have no such faith in politicians; if we did we would have no need of constitutions.

Of course if the other referendum being held on the same day should pass then we will effectively have a constitution which is only purely decorative anyway.

Each House shall have the power to conduct an inquiry, or an

inquiry with the other House, in a manner provided for by law, into

any matter stated by the House or Houses concerned to be of general

public importance.

3° In the course of any such inquiry the conduct of any person

(whether or not a member of either House) may be investigated and

the House or Houses concerned may make findings in respect of the

conduct of that person concerning the matter to which the inquiry 25


4° It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with

due regard to the principles of fair procedures, the appropriate

balance between the rights of persons and the public interest for the

purposes of ensuring an effective inquiry into any matter to which 30

subsection 2° applies

The italics and emphasis are mine.

Unlike its brother, this amendment needs no deep study to torture a meaning out of it. Its import is all too clear to see. These few lines of law could effectively short circuit the rights and protections currently guaranteed by the constitution. The houses of the Oireachteas, individually or jointly would become our very own twenty first century star chamber. Our TDs and senators would be the arbiters of justice, deciding the extent of such rights as they see fit to grant to any person they chose to enquire into.

They will be enjoined to pay ‘due regard to the principles of fair procedure’ but who is to decide and on what basis what such principles constitute? Will there be recourse to the courts? What powers will the courts have to review decisions of the house? Since it is granted to the houses the right to decide what they consider worthy of investigation any citizen may find herself the object of inquiry without any clear frame work of protection or requirement that a prima facie case exists to justify such an investigation.

The gravity of the possible abuses of citizens is so great that it genuinely boggles the mind. This amendment is either deliberately madly insensitive to rights or bafflingly badly drafted. Whatever the case, it reflects rather poorly on our leaders.

In the run up to the last general election a prominent Fine Gael TD was being interviewed on the radio re some failure or other of the then administration. The journo quoted the relevant minister who claimed his hands were tied by legal impediments. The thrusting FGer sneeringly dismissed this excuse as an excessive concern ‘with constitutional niceties’. At the time it reminded of the oft repeated mantra of Mad Blue Shirt that his was the party of lots of order and little law. Nothing in these proposed amendments gives me pause to think that Mad was not right on the money.

Cato, Our Cato they cried

Posted on 05. Sep, 2011 ·0

So the Vatican responded to the speech. And those who believe, believed and those who dont didn’t. Big Whoop.Not that the substantial issue of the role of the Hierarchy and the Holy See in the handling of abuse cases is unimportant, it is hugely important, just nobody is really talking about it.

The social media and the professional press have been performing hermeneutics on the response and the main bones of contention have been the three years ago bit, the Quote and Mandatory reporting. There is them on foot of the response as says the Taoiseach was less than honest. I say that the day after he gave the speech I pointed out those three basic mendacities without benefit of  scholars or civil servants. And that is important, as we shall see. 

Not thirty years ago, but three. I am a speech writer. I have been writing speeches for debates and public speaking comps since  I was very wee. Nowadays the occasional politician of taste, or real person, will cross by palm with silver for a hand in the communicating themselves to their public. Rates very reasonable. I have over the years heard Enda speak many times and have a fair sense of his style; loud. He loves a contrasting phrase and gets into high rhetorical mode rather more quickly that most do. The moment I heard the not thirty phrase I smelled oratory. The response of his office to enquiries has been that he was not referring to any specific case. Yet the power of the line derives from the specificity of the accusation. The phrase was used not because it was true but because it sounded good.

It will have been known from the outset that the apex of the speech would be Enda’s declaration of Independence. The question will have been how to get there. The thirty years phrase is the launch pad for the trajectory, associated as it is in the text with the positive words sovereign democratic and  republic. This is the leit motiv  which reaches full exposition in his republic of laws strophe. The piece then moves to a more reflective pace, more sorrow than anger, adagio non troppo. This move from Furioso to lamentoso sets him up the last up surge on which any good speech must end. Here he returns to the contrast between the lawless and the lawful. A good quote from the enemy is always nice spot to launch the last attack and he has beaut from the then Cardinal Ratzinger. He creates a nice them/us,  now/then dichotomy and finishes with a motto.

When you write a speech there is one thing that you make sure to do. You make as sure as possible that there is no fact used that can be easily shown to be false. Opinion is just opinion but facts are annoying nuggety things. He must have known that the not thirty but three phrase would be interrogated immediately, yet he left it in. He left it in because that lyric suited the music . He left it in because he didn’t care if it was true or not. He was part of the government that rejected mandatory reporting and he must have known this. He wanted a quote to suit his purposes and he got one. He knew that the quote was nothing to do with church and the civil power but he used it all the same. He must have known that this would be quickly uncovered, but he didn’t care. The quote was used untruthfully and to deceive, isn’t that what we would normally call lying?

At the time of speech I rejected as nonsense the notion that it was brave as bravery implies risk and he risked nothing. What is deeply concerning to me is that simply because he was engaged in an attack on the institutional catholic church he has been given a free pass to lie to Parliament. On the information available to the public at this moment I believe that the Taoiseach blithely lied to the Dail.

Now if you wish to engage in a a subtle debate about whether or not not the Quote was a lie in the strict sense then I will refer you to the Taoiseach and Tainiste who seem to be masters of mental reservation and sophistry far beyond mere mortals. But the not thirty but three nails him. If there was no specific case then there was no three years ago. What he said happened did not happen. He knew it did not happen.When he said this he did so intending to deceive. He lied.

The history of clerical sex abuse in this country is horrifying. The response to victims has been dire, slow, grudging and piecemeal. Bishops have been weak and mealy mouthed at best morally complicit at worst. I stood in a room in the late eighties and heard a Bishop and priests discuss the problems facing the American Church with abuse cases. The Bishop outlined all sorts of new pro active positive guidelines being introduced to help get out in front of the problem. he talked about the need for openness, cooperation with the police and transparency. He talked about the need to put the safety of  children above everything else.  he talked about mercy demanding justice. The Ferns report made it clear that all he did was talk. If anyone wants to be enraged, sickened and disillusioned about clerical sex abuse in Ireland just look at the facts. The truth is so awful it needs no embroidery. There was no need to lie but he lied. He lied because he didn’t care. His loyal backbenchers line up to declare their loyalty, and reiterate their pride in his Gettysburg Address. So, he lied,and he lied to the Dail ;they should care?

Pity is treason. Maximilien Robespierre

Posted on 27. Aug, 2011 ·0

The Massacre at Chanzeaux

Occasionally I come across a piece in the paper or an article in a journal so full of oddness, non sequiturs, and plain inaccuracy that it confuses. It is like finding an object that looks vaguely like something else but resolutely refuses to give up its function. You turn it over, hold it up, stand back from it and then move in very close just to see if there is an angle from which the whole thing made sense. Such an article can be found in the Indo today, under the by line of James Downey. It is asfine an example of ipse dixitism as you will find outside the collected works of Conor Cruise O Brien

The theme I think is secularism in Ireland, with a sub plot of how lovely France is. The story kicks off with a nostalgia piece on the invalid Lourdes marriages. He wonders at the fact that the Irish government’s response to a problem affecting Irish citizens was not to imagine what the French government would have done in their place. He then recounts the story of a family wedding in Aix en Provence, where officiating was the fat and twinkly communist mayor. This I assume we are told to disarm us. Me I just wondered about the fat and twinkly revolutionaries who chuckled gently while they drowned Catholics in rivers of the Vendee.

First things first. He doesn’t know what he is talking about. France is a secular state no doubt. It was the first; it has been a pattern of anticlerical and anti religion states for the last two hundred years. From its inception it has been ruthless in its secularism. Hundreds of thousands of religious would be murdered in the West in the name of Justice and Progress. The convention decreed

Not one is to be left alive.” “Women are reproductive furrows who must be ploughed under.” “Only wolves must be left to roam that land.” “Fire, blood, death are needed to preserve liberty.” “Their instruments of fanaticism and superstition must be smashed.

In this they anticipated Gramsci, they understood a despotic regime must control the spiritual, familial and educational life of the citizen. There cannot be private lives. Stalin modelled his social and religious policy on that of the revolution. Indeed where in Ireland we used to find diptychs of JFK and John XXIII, in the USSR Stalin’s picture was flanked by that of Robespierre. French secularism is nothing to do with freedom from religion and everything to do with the State claiming a monopoly on sentimental and moral education.

The French take marriage seriously and we it seems don’t. He opposes the extension of civil recognition to long term unmarried couples. He favours changing the welfare system and tax code in order to bolster marriage and help the family. But no one on the right is asking these questions he laments.


The only people asking for this kind of legislation are on the right. David Quinn, Irish Catholicism’s fox terrier is never stopped talking about this stuff. He even went off and founded a think tank to talk and lobby about this stuff. In England the devout Anglican Frank Field is the acknowledged master in the field of welfare policy and the family, though the devout Catholic Ian Duncan Smith, former Tory leader, is now also leading a broad coalition trying to tackle family and societal breakdown.

He blandly asserts that this is a secular nation. Now maybe he really wants this to be true, but thinking won’t make it so. Or maybe as I adverted before he doesn’t know what a secular state is. Such a state does not begin its constitution with the words

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,

Ireland is a nation where no one religion is established or endowed.  Where the citizen is protected to practice any religion or none. But it is a nation where the objective value of religious belief is recognised and the practice of that belief in its widest sense is protected. The central and crucial difference between secular France and non secular Ireland is the way the law views the individual and it is also at this point that we understand the position of the author of the article.

Quote  our outrageous political system, which encourages localism and individualism at the expense of society as a whole”

We encourage localism and individualism over society as a whole? How disgusting are we? Refusing to sacrifice our personal morality for the service of the Volk/Workers/.Patria/Revolution/. Shameful we are. I think a jolly good dose of re-education is called for.

One of the last head scratchers he produces is regarding the fact the fact that in France it is clear that the state runs education but here it is all hazy and uncertain and this bad, very bad. Where is this person from? Honest to God. Where? There is no lack of clarity who is in charge of education in this state. None. Zero.

The State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children

The family, not the state, the family is the boss in Ireland. The citizens get to choose the education they want for their children unlike in totalitarian secular systems like France’s Ecoles where only the rich have the right of choice. If you don’t like the schooling your children are getting, school them at home, in Ireland you have that right. Or get together other like minded parents and set up a school which reflects your values, unlike France, in Ireland you have that right.

One last thing, not because I couldn’t go on, but because I want to start tomorrows dinner. He blithely assures us that in Ireland there is no aggressive secularism. At this point I genuinely wonder if Mr Downey is in fact living in France. Or is it that again he simply is using words which he doesn’t understand. A few weeks ago E Kenny treated us to a fit of the most savage anti clerical anti church sentiment since Henry didn’t get the divorce. The spiritual descendents of General O Duffy want to imprison priests who won’t break the seal of confession. The minister for Education wants the religious out of the schools (they own). He has demanded they hand over one and a half thousand schools pronto. The head of making up human rights, Mossy Manning, the UN and INTO want religion out the schools cos it might upset somebody, somewhere, sometime. That sounds like a fairly aggressive programme to me. Of course sometimes people don’t see things the same way. For example in the Indo today a certain journalist refers to the past in Ireland where “..authoritarian church.. which exercised thought control...” Now if we can take aggressive to mean hostile or likely to cause offence then I would be happy to characterise such a statement as an example of aggressive secularism.

I would also call it wrong headed. If feeling generous I would call it historically naïve. If feeling otherwise I would call it provocatively stupid. Our tragedy he says lies in the absence of a secular morality that might have saved us from the terrible consequences of catholic mind control. There has only ever one kind of secular morality which has played at the state level and that is revolutionary. France post 1789 had secular morality. Other fine examples are Mexico where the values of Robespierre gave us fifty years of savage repression. Mussolini was a secular anti clerical, as was Hitler, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. Yes indeed secular morality saved those countries from untold disaster. And we all know they never practiced nasty mind control or ever exhibited tendencies to Authoritarianism.  Aggressive secularism is tautologous. Secularism is actively hostile to religious belief and practice. That is why though not religious I could not be a secularist. It is a philospohy of exclusion, intolerance and it is aggressively opposed to the rights of the individual . It may be morally permissible for a person to be a secularist, but a state which is avowedly secular must perforce do violence to the rights of its citizens.

I don’t want a Christian version of sharia law. I would end up stoned fairly quickly. But the more I read this article and reflected on it the clearer it became how horrible an alternative a secular Ireland could be. Me I am as old fashioned as a free market Liberal in sixties Britain. I like pluralism. Everybody in the market place, ideas and values competing and complimenting each other. Respectful disagreement is the order of the day and no one is going to make me sacrifice at the Altar of Reason or in the temple of Revolutionary Justice. Our state is one based on Pluralism and Christianity. It doesn’t have to be so, we can change the constitution. But until it is changed please do not be under any misapprehensions. This is not a secular state; we are not a secular people.

If you don’t want to go the Church, do what I do, sleep in. If you don’t want your children to have a religious education send them to Educate together. Or Blackrock. If you don’t want a church wedding, don’t have one. Freedom does not lie in every one having their liberty reduced by the same amount. It is not in taking away the cribs and silencing the bells. It is in the joyful permission to let the bells ring, let the monks chant, let some feast and let others fast. What doesn’t hurt me is not my concern. If the angelus hurts me, then I need more concerns. 

as good as gold

Posted on 27. Aug, 2011 ·0

Joseph Schumpeter

An ‘automatic’ gold currency is part and parcel of a laissez-faire and free-trade economy. It links every nation’s money rates and price levels with the money-rates and price levels of all the other nations that are ‘on gold.’ It is extremely sensitive to government expenditure and even to attitudes or policies that do not involve expenditure directly, for example, to foreign policy, to certain policies of taxation, and, in general, to precisely all those policies that violate the principles of [classical] liberalism. This is the reason why gold is so unpopular now and also why it was so popular in a bourgeois era. It imposes restrictions upon governments or bureaucracies that are much more powerful than is parliamentary criticism. It is both the badge and the guarantee of bourgeois freedom—of freedom not simply of the bourgeois interest, but of freedom in the bourgeois sense. From this standpoint a man may quite rationally fight for it, even if fully convinced of the validity of all that has ever been urged against it on economic grounds. From the standpoint of etatisme and planning, a man may not less rationally condemn it, even if fully convinced of the validity of all that has ever been urged for it on economic grounds.

—Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis