The current crisis of Irish democracy is not the one currently being given space in the nation’s mainstream media outlets. Ungovernability is supposedly just around the corner according to some. A “sinister fringe” is engaging in acts of violence. “Marxist-Leninists” are standing in the way of the government and its wishes. Michael Noonan is on record as saying that he and his government “govern for the reasonable people,” and not the sinister fringe of ungovernable Marxist-Leninists in our midst. Reading this, one would imagine that the Red Army of old is engaging in ideological, and very physical, warfare on Ireland. Of course this is sheer nonsense, but the ghost of the “Dreaded Red” is well risen from its grave, courtesy of the necromancers currently inhabiting Dáil Éireann. Such propaganda is a reaction to the citizens of Ireland having had enough of years of austerity measures.
They have taken to the streets, engaged in peaceful protest, and civil disobedience, in order to show their contempt for their treatment by the government. Compared to other European countries over the last few years, Ireland has been relatively quiet on the protest front. The planned introduction of water charges has changed all that. And now, the government and the Irish media, are panicking. A citizenry of a Western and ostensibly democratic state is not supposed to be actively engaged in the democratic process. To do so is to cause a “crisis of democracy”. This is nothing remotely new. During the 1960s and 1970s, people on both sides of the Atlantic demanded equal rights, an end to war, and generally demanded social change from their leaders whom they considered to have failed in their duty to create an equal society in the post-war years. To that end, they engaged in massive demonstrations and civil disobedience in order to achieve their aims. Such activity on the part of the wider citizenry frightened the leaders of the Western world, so much so that it became the basis of a report by the Trilateral Commission.
Published in 1975, The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, examined in some detail the causes and effects of the active citizenry that emerged in the 1960s and early 1970s in Europe, the United States, and Japan. Written by three leading academics for the NGO, it is premised on the idea that a previously apathetic citizenry became more active and therefore undermined the credibility and functioning of democracy. Although the introduction states that the report is “designed to make democracy stronger”, the definition of democracy being worked off is a top-down approach to governance in which the population is preferably apathetic, passive, and stratified. All three authors wondered how to make democracy not more democratic or effective in the popular understanding of the term, but how to enable a return to the previous state of affairs of an apathetic, passive, and stratified citizenry.
A “crisis of democracy” was “a breakdown of traditional means of social control, a delegitimation of political and other forms of authority, and an overload of demands on government, exceeding its capacity to respond.” An “increase of social interaction” resulted in the breakdown of the means of “traditional social control imposed upon the individual by collective authorities, especially the state, and by hierarchical religious institutions.” In turn, this meant that citizens “resist any kind of social control that is associated with the hierarchical values they have learned to discard and reject.” Individuality was seen to have usurped traditional civic values and stratification, and therefore people were more free than ever to choose their jobs, friends, partners, and general future, as they saw fit. At the very least, the wider population had decided that they could make those decisions for themselves without government interference.