Am I alone in my disappointment at how the centenary of 1916 is going? Certainly there is much to admire. The story of 1916 is being recounted in fresh ways, new areas of inquiry have been opened up. We know more about the role of women, more of the innocent bystanders, especially the children who were killed. The O’Brien Press’s impressive “16 Lives” series reminds us that sixteen individuals were executed after the rising. Where the focus had once been on the seven signatories of the Proclamation, now we have accounts of other leaders; their backgrounds and motivations. What is disappointing is the level of reflection. An opportunity to learn more of our present problems and predicaments is being lost. I do not suppose that the lessons of history are easily read or that it is the historians’ job to teach them. I do suppose that comparison is the best, if not the only way, to study society, culture, politics. Comparing the past with the present gives us a perspective not otherwise available. The material out of which to fashion the comparison is there. It just not being used.
In this post I adumbrate some of what we might expect to learn. My first point is the ‘otherness’ of 1916. The ideas that motivated the insurgents and shaped the judgments, positive and negative, passed on them are not alive today. The distinction between “mystique” and “politique”, between a politics of vision and a politics of power, made by the French thinker and poet, Charles Peguy [1873-1915] , is apposite as we gaze across the chasm that separates us from the lost world of 1916. I discuss that distinction and why Peguy supposed modernity eclipsed mystique.
In my first post, I outlined the difficulties and incoherencies in the conduct of our politics that contributed to the crisis. In particular, I drew attention to the limitations of the ‘genre’ in which Ministers and civil servants cooperated. The ‘court’ model was, I suggested, no longer working. In this part, I attempt to make good that claim by showing how the quite dramatic changes in our political landscape that became manifest in 1980s have undermined the genre. I do this in two sections. In the first, I outline what the changes have been in terms of the strategy, culture and structure of the state. Having done that, I am in a position to discuss the consequences of the changes for democracy in general and the civil service-political interface in particular.