Thoughts on the Seanad

I was thinking about the Seanad. Obviously, I would prefer not to.

I find the idea of a political chamber composed of people appointed by political officials and university graduates so loathsome that it would make me vomit were I to vote against its abolition.

 I suppose I wouldn’t mind so much that the Irish establishment believes a university qualification confers special political authority, knowledge and judgement, if the application of this belief were confined to the Seanad’s flatulent impotence.

But it so happens that the country is run by technocrats dedicated to economic management, in the interests of speculation and accumulation, through councils and consultation groups unencumbered by any degree of democratic accountability.

Then you have a media culture that elevates economists, including economists who work for banks, to the status of oracular priests.

However, I have no interest in helping deliver a political victory for Fine Gael. Their proposal to abolish the Seanad is calculated anti-elitism. It is the sort of thing that all power-hungry right-wing parties, the parties of property and the power of money, get up to from time to time. String along just enough of the people you hate so you can get enough of what you want.

Growing numbers of people hate politicians, and for excellent reasons, not least the fact that so many of them are pigs at the trough in a time of spreading social misery. It makes sense under such circumstances, for a party of property, to direct public anger arising from unemployment, impoverishment and entropy toward the out-of-touch political establishment and away from contemplation of social justice and redistribution. It is what the Republican Party -and the billionaire Koch Brothers- have done in the United States very successfully for decades.

Is Fine Gael’s vigorous anti-elitism likely to extend to private schools? Or decisions on economic policy? To put it bluntly, it is in Richard Bruton’s hole.

But this isn’t just crude anti-elitism on Fine Gael’s part. They are also, sensibly, from their point of view, tapping into the cultivated middle class obsession with something called ‘political reform’. The reigning common sense has it that Ireland’s economic collapse has nothing to do with capitalism as such, but arises merely from management and accountability failures on the part of political institutions (and also the stupidity of the voting preferences of the rabblement, who, it is believed, are as corrupt as the individuals they elect).

The obsession with political reform has taken up vast hours and acres of current affairs coverage, in recent years, which is handy, because it both distracts public attention away from the dismantling of welfare state provisions and other measures for disciplining and intimidating labour, and helps present such measures as inevitable necessities.

The referendum campaign has conjured the usual pop-up ‘civil society’, or even ‘civic society’ groups atop Ireland’s political wastelands: small groups of self-declared professionals with the time, connections and cultural capital on their hands to hold forth on matters of grand public import without the need for soliciting wider public participation.

One senses they could not give a rat’s ass about democratising any political institution, certainly not in terms that mean they would bend to popular will, instead of the will of finance capital.

The whole thing is intended to produce a spectacle of public political agency and participation, with the aid of media outlets owned by billionaire oligarchs, on something that doesn’t matter a shite in the context of another looming budget.

This budget, like all the previous ones overseen by the Troika, will further destroy the material basis for democratic equality and whose anti-democratic character is the formal expression of class war waged from above. But where ‘Democracy Matters’, really really matters, is on the question of Seanad abolition, apparently.

For all the anti-elitist rhetoric, the referendum outcome will not undermine the political establishment’s power one iota. What it will do, however, is present an image of popular legitimacy, of a polity sustained by democratic deliberation, for another few months, to get the budget over and done with.

So I think the best way forward is to take no part in the contest.


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