Image via Dublin Opinion.
“The Irish people bailed the Irish people out”
For once, Bono made sense, kind of.
Bono spoke these words at a meeting about people. The people in question were the European Peoples’ Party.
In French, ‘the people’ is singular: le peuple. In Spanish, it is also singular: el pueblo. Italian too: il popolo. In Irish it’s an pobal. In German, it’s das Volk. This word -the people- has a definite political meaning, in terms of a regime of political representation. However, in English, ‘the people’ works a bit weirdly. For instance, in The Leviathan, Hobbes says:
For though where the people are governed by an assembly, chosen by themselves out of their own number, the government is called a democracy, or aristocracy; yet when they are governed by an assembly not of their own choosing, it is a monarchy; not of one man over another man, but of one people over another people.
See what he did there? He starts off by saying “the people are“: “the people” is plural. But then he says “one people over another people”: so the people takes form as a singular thing, but when you talk about it, you talk about “they, the people”. It’s all a bit confusing, a bit Möbius. They’re one, but they’re not the same, as Bono might say.
And yet they are the same. At least, that’s how the European Peoples’ Party operates. For example, the Partido Popular, -the Party of the People- in Spain, was elected with the votes of 30% of the total number of registered voters in Spain. This 30% support was enough to give it an absolute majority in the parliament, and to act in the manner of what the cartoonist in El País by the name of El Roto describes as an ‘absolutist majority’: by reintroducing draconian abortion legislation, criminalising protest, destroying Spain’s National Health Service, and making it far easier for employers to sack people, and getting the police to batter lumps out of protesters, much in the same manner as An Garda Síochána beat lumps out of protesters down outside the European Peoples’ Party conference last night. And in doing these things, it claims to be doing so on behalf of ‘the people’. This, by the way, is what Hobbes calls ‘monarchy‘, and to be fair, Spain is also formally a monarchy, headed by an elephant-shooting King who was hand-picked by fascist dictator Franco as his successor.
In Hobbesian terms, what we can see happening in Spain, quite clearly, is one ‘people’ – the constituency of the rich, the oligarchs, the kleptocrats, Opus Dei and other sanctimonious right-wing Catholic formations-, ruling over another ‘people’ – the different peoples of Spain’s autonomous regions, the popular classes, migrants, and so on.
And so maybe this is what Bono is really getting at, when he says ‘the Irish people bailed the Irish people out’: one Irish ‘people’ – the broad mass of people who work for a living in Ireland- bailed out another Irish ‘people’- Ireland’s political and financial establishments, its ‘indigenous moneyed class‘, which includes, of course, people like Bono- in order to preserve an economic model based on property speculation and tax avoidance. The first ‘people’ bailed out the second ‘people’: in the form of unemployment, illness, emigration, the destruction of communities, falls in living standards; deprivation, poverty, and despair.
To me, this is the deepest thing Bono has ever said. In fact, deep isn’t the word. We’re not talking about depth here, but movement: perhaps a Möbius strip, or, as the people in Bono’s beloved France might say, un serpent qui se mord la queue, or, as my Granny might have said, a rabbit that eats its own pills. As long as those who comprise the first ‘Irish people’ see themselves as inescapably represented by the second ‘Irish people’, they are consigned to pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps for all eternity.
We’re one, but we’re not the same. It’s all starting to make sense now. Thanks, Bono.