Intolerable Democratic Freedoms: A response to John Bruton

This is a slightly extended version of a comment I left in response to an article by former Taoiseach and current chief IFSC lobbyist John Bruton published in today's Irish Times. No link, for the usual reasons.

If you seriously believe ‘the people’ have the right to force a woman to give birth, you are saying that a woman’s body is the property of the State to do with it as it wishes. So on reading this, I ask myself whether John Bruton’s commitment to forcing women to give birth is on account of religious conviction, or more earthly concerns. A loosening of legislation on abortion in Ireland would mean a loosening of the State’s claim over women’s bodies.

‘The people’ that appears in the constitution is largely the creation of men, in particular, privileged men such as John Bruton. This can be seen in the way the constitution designates women as subalterns, with their role in society carefully and piously organised in terms of their duties in the home. Similarly, the concept of ‘equal right to life’ of the mother and the unborn arises from the notion that a woman’s body is the State’s to dissect as it sees fit, not from the notion that women ought to have autonomy when it comes to their own bodies.  As that renowned benefactor of commercial property to the Catholic Church, Benito Mussolini might say, Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato

Yes, it is rather rich of John Bruton to be talking about human rights and constitutions as if he had any interest in them beyond the possibility of using them for purposes of control and domination. His only interest in constitutions is when they can be used anti-democratically.

Bruton is the head of the lobby for the IFSC, an entity that assists with the suffocation of public finances for schools and hospitals and social services –the very things that allow human rights to be realised- by seeing to it that corporations can ratchet down the amount of taxes they have to pay. Contrary to his claims here about wanting constitutional simplicity, he had no trouble advocating the constitutionalising of structural balances in the so-called Stability Treaty campaign. He did this because it prioritised debt repayment to the financial sector over schools and hospitals and social services, and because it laid the basis for the kind of starkly right-wing society he and his ideological bedfellows across Europe –such as Jose Maria Aznar in Spain, fervently desire.

But the achievement of such a society requires control –often obsessive control- in the face of popular discomfort and resistance. The idea that the State might give up some of that control is anathema to the likes of Fine Gael in general and John Bruton in particular. I suspect that is why John Bruton wants a continuation of Ireland’s draconian abortion laws, just as he called for a heavily regulated environment for social media and just as he called for strict controls on the decade of centenary commemorations in Ireland – because there comes a point when the thought of real democratic freedoms proves simply intolerable.

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