Pierre Rosanvallon has written extensively on democracy in general and on the history of French democracy in particular. In two recent books Counter-Democracy (CUP 2008) and Democratic Legitimacy: Impartiality, Reflexivity, Proximity (PUP 2011), he brings his scholarship to bear on the condition of modern democracy. Though France is his prime concern, he is well acquainted with contemporary political science and philosophy. The trends he dissects with acuity are not specific to France. They are found, of course with local accents, in all western democracies. They are certainly evident in Ireland, as I hope to show in this post. Rosanvallon analysis points us towards a more accurate, and a much more useful account, of the strengths and weaknesses of our democracy and the dynamics that shape it than most Irish commentaries. In this post I apply the analysis in Democratic Legitimacy to Irish circumstances. I pay little attention to his discussion of the history of democracy in thought and action that adds depth and strength to his arguments. This is Rosanvallon applied, not Rosanvallon the preeminent political theorist of democracy explicated.
The Celtic Tiger is dead. Who is to blame and to what degree? The interrogation goes beyond the action of individuals to question the performance of institutions. In what follows, I consider the role of the civil service. While official enquiries have regularly questioned its organizational capacities, the catastrophe has, inevitably, focussed attention on the actions of civil servants. Did they know of the looming dangers? If not, why not? If they did, did they advise their ministers accordingly? If not, why not? What was their understanding of their role and to what extend did it inhibit or encourage them to know and inform? The evidence (scarce enough) suggests that both structural weaknesses and cultural inhibitions prevented them forming and offering the advice that could have reduced the damage. The trusted ‘lookouts’ neither saw clearly enough, nor reported boldly enough what they did discern to the ‘captain’ on the bridge.
This essay attempts to explain why this was so.