Reflection on an article by Vincent Browne
Vincent Browne, writing on the website Politico.ie, in a thought provoking piece on the 300th anniversary of the birth of Jean Jacque Rousseau focuses upon the burning issue of our time – the reality that we are a people ruled over rather than ruling.
Vincent Browne says that Rousseau distrusted “representative democracy”. Though from another time, there is a fundamental truth in Rousseau’s idea. Vincent Browne sets it out in the article thus:
He (Rousseu) resolved that tension (between sovereign and subject) with the idea that the people themselves were the sovereign and, at the same time, subjects. Thereby, in a sense, they were subject to themselves, which Rousseau believed to be the essence of liberty.
Later in the article, Vincent refers to Simon Coveny’s cynical comment on the recent French presidential election that one “couldn’t treat election promises seriously”. He sums up the extent of our ‘democracy’ thus:
Even on the odd occasion when our “rulers” defer to us by way of a referendum it is done regretfully and condescendingly, and then, where possible, coercively, as with the fiscal treaty referendum.
The runaway avarice of the economic boom ‘Celtic Tiger’ years has been succeeded by economic and fiscal collapse. The former brought little lasting benefit to the vast majority of the population. The latter has seen the most unbearable conditions being imposed upon the majority of the people. Whether boom or slump, the political elite continues their rule over the people. The people pay in either event – super profits in the boom and even bigger rewards for the elite in the slump.
Societies since the time of the French Revolution have given rise to a whole variety of political systems more or less known as “representative” of the sovereign people. They come with various labels such as “democratic”, “socialist”, “nationalist”, “popular” and so on. Each comes in various flavours – multi-party or single party, national fronts or popular fronts. But whatever the label or flavour each was conceived as being an appropriate means for Rousseau’s “subjects” to exercise their “sovereignty”.
But if one reads the American Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, the UN Charter, the writings of Tone, Davis, Lalor, Mitchel, Pearse and Connolly, where they speak of “sovereignty”, “democracy” “freedom” “rights” and “representation”, they are spoken of as being natural self evident truths, and necessities arising from civilized life itself. They are necessary conditions of life for the people not ideas to be manipulated by some elite or powers-that-be or separate political class.
Irish political thinkers did not promote the idea that we need a superior elite, or leaders to rule over us, who should be allowed to intersperse themselves between us and our rights. On the contrary, they warned against any form of subversion of the sovereign people’s rights by any factional self-interests or by private member clubs (political parties as we have them today).
The provision of the Irish Constitution which set out the right of the people to send constituency representatives to the Dáil was subverted by the political elite. Having taken the people’s mandate and acting as law makers, they corruptly created a system of party political representation, with its evil ‘whip’ system, in place of people’s representation. Furthermore, acting in collusion with other factions, they turned the people’s Dáil into a cabal of vested interests. This same cabal now berates us with the “fact” that our “sovereignty” has been surrendered – a deed of this political class not of the sovereign people!
So this brings us to the point. The problem is not with representation as such, which is simply the means by which we exercise our prerogatives as a people, but with it being subverted and turned into a form of private property of a self-selecting group or the property of some ‘independent’ self-promoter.
On the other hand if we were to act in accordance with the constitution, we must continuously exercise our mandate before, during and after elections, never surrendering it. The representatives of the people (selected by the citizens as worthy candidates in the first instance), must be contracted to speak and vote in accordance with a specific mandate on all matters down for decision. By this means we will transform our so-called “party political” representative democracy into a people’s representative democracy as set out in Article 16.2.1 of An Bunreacht.
If we, the people, become the politicians, we will have no ‘need’ of the ‘services’ of a separate parasitic political class. We can truly make the law in and supervise our sovereign state. The key is for the people, all electors without distinction, to create a single organisation to exercise their democratic prerogative, their sovereignty.
We don’t have to “distrust” representative democracy just end its corruption by the political class of the elite. This is the way to realise Rousseau’s dream of liberty in our time.