Referenda and the Phantom People who act like enemies of democracy…

Not everyone I approached for a Lisbon essay had the time to give us the full text for an article. One such was Professor John Keane of the University of Westminster and author of The Life and Death of Democracy… These are his shorthand thoughts on the usefulness of Referenda in general and their relationship with chambers of elected representatives…From Professor John Keane

If the vote goes against the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty then this will undoubtedly add to the present woes of the Irish people, and of us all. The history of modern referenda shows that they are sometimes necessary, for instance when an outdated or unjust clause in a constitution needs to be changed in order to improve its legitimacy.

But in the history of democracy there are many recorded cases when referenda have had bad effects. Feather-brained populism flourishes. Practical complications get ignored. Wilful ignorance takes over. Disaffection finds a lightning rod. All in the name of a phantom People that acts like the enemies of democracy, as Plato said it always would.

When referenda campaigns go down this path, real people need to wake up, and get up. They should remember the remark of Albert Camus, written in 1944, when France had its back to the wall and nationalist sentiments were on the rise: I love my country, in all its diversity, far too much ever to be a nationalist.

It’s worth noting too that Ireland is one of a very few democracies in the world that uses this extra parliamentary mechanism for amending its Constitution…

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