The 1960s were a turning point in Ireland and elsewhere. We live with the legacy. It is looking pretty tatty. The progressive narrative it ushered in that promised so much in economics, social reform, emancipation, has less and less to contribute. Its guardians who dominate the commentariat have little to say on a Europe in trouble or an Irish democracy struggling to adjust to a changed political landscape. Or rather, what they do say is strong on abuse and weak on analysis. While they know who to blame for the solutions that they dislike, they have no solutions of their own. Except, of course, cries for ‘a new vision for a new Republic’; a need they cannot see their way to filling. The resources for reflection and renewal have dissipated. It was good to be around when they were in full flow.
We talk a lot about politics. We demand more accountability and transparency. We abuse the ‘eunuch’ Dail. We parade policy failures and highlight their costs. We castigate our fellow citizens for their lack of virtue and demand a ‘vision’ from god knows who. We deplore the public’s declining trust in politicians to which all this talk must contribute. We do not, however, discuss what politics is about, reflecting on what it is for, and against what standards it should be judged. Why should we? After all such fundamental questioning can be tiresome, interrupting otherwise fruitful conversations. For example, when discussing the merits of this or that automobile we do not find it either necessary, or useful, to remind ourselves what motor cars are for – the movement of persons from A to B with safety, due dispatch and, at least a modicum of elegance. We all know what motor cars are for and the conversation proceeds smoothly on the basis of this shared presumption. We all know what politics are for, don’t we?