Tag Archives: Michael Dee Higgins

And other vigorously multisyllable matters.

As discussed by President Squee at the LSE (London School of Economics) last night.

Makes you kinda proud.

The mid-twentieth century constituted an atmosphere where social capital emerged and social democracy mediated conflict. The twentieth century saw too a public debate about the role of the State, the rights of the individual and social policy, of the balance between these areas.

In succeeding decades political philosophy and social theory gave way to issues of administration analysis of the role of the State faded and gave way to applied studies, in an administrative sense, of the State’s actions.

A discourse based on solidarity interdependency, shared vulnerability, community, gave way to a discourse on lifestyle and individual consumption. A society of citizens gave way to a disaggregated mass of individual consumers.

I find Weber’s nightmare of a rationality that in time would counter the original purposes of institutions, that would morph into an irrational form, incapable of adjustment to change internally or externally, difficult to reject as an account of the modern period. As the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor put it – we have been drifting to unfreedom and I suggest that in terms of society, social cohesion, there is nothing as irrational as unregulated markets…

…It is time to recover the unities of scholarship, to strike out for originality. That, I suggest, might be our most valuable European contribution, one that will be valued by future generations.

As subjects are re-cast, unities can be restored, and we should consider Edward Said’s suggestion that it is in the interstices between subjects that the most exciting intellectual work happens.

There is not, for example, any better future for economics as a subject and discipline than as political economy within a system of culture. Would it not be an exciting initiative, I suggest with humility, for the LSE and an Irish university to establish an endowed Chair to explore the ways in which an ethico-cultural idea of Europe and of the national could be invoked to check the drift to unfreedom.

I suggest that the universities and those who labour within them are crucial in the struggle for the recovery of the public world, for the emergence of truly emancipatory paradigms of policy and research. It is not merely a case of connecting the currency, the economy and the people, it is about recovering the right to pose important questions such as Immanuel Kant did in his time – what might we know, what should we do, what may we hope.

It is a time to recover consideration of the public world we share, the fragile planet, for which we must have responsibility, and lodge within it a concept of intergenerational justice and the State, civil society, communities and citizens are needed to act in concert. In his The Politics of Civil Society Frederick Powell concluded his plea for social policy, the subject given its name at the L.S.E. by Richard Titmuss as follows:

“Social policy may yet be the saviour of civilization because it is the instrument for realising social justice and creating a virtuous society. Without it, civilization is undoubtedly ‘bust’. We can conclude that the normative role of civil society is to further democratise social policy by seeking to transform the welfare state into a more participative institution, based on the principles of co-production between the state and the citizen and the personalisation of welfare – not to replace it, as a conservative advocate. Their denial of a public realm constitutes a denial of democracy.

Privatisation is the road back to autocracy, in which a hollowed-out state is bereft of anything meaningful to attract the support of the citizen – especially the marginalised, excluded from the mainstream of society. Continued allegiance to democracy involves an open acknowledgement of the fraught relationship between state power and political activism. Citizen participation through the promotion of a vibrant civil society is the best hope of democracy in the 21st century.”

These issues and challenges we in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe share. Happily there has never been a better environment for us sharing our scholarship, our students and our concerns as we move together to a new version of our interdependent lives. We need to consider the revitalisation of the relationships between the institutional structure of our States and our citizens, to forge a connection between the citizens of Europe and our shared European Institutions.

We need to draw on the debate on alternatives within civil society as opportunities to extend or deepen democracy rather than as alternatives.

There is a moral basis to those who are protesting to those who would like a communitarian new beginning, but I believe that to walk away from the State would be a tragic error on the part of those who seek an emancipatory transformation in our societies. Obviously, of course, to rely entirely on advocacy directed at the State, and to neglect the possibilities and promise of alternatives within civil society would be a disastrous choice too. In combining the tasks of concientization with a commitment to original thought and compassionate and emancipatory scholarship and teaching, public intellectuals can help bridge the space to that utopia and its praxis that we all, as vulnerable inhabitants of our fragile planet, need.

George Bernard Shaw would have encouraged us to save and reconstruct social democracy and to bring its refreshed promise to all the citizens of our shared Europe, to a Europe committed to an ever-deepening democracy.

Full text of speech here

Podcast here.

(Nigel Stead/LSE)