Italy’s Five Star Movement – is this what The End of History looks like?

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In 1992, Francis Fukayama predicted in The End of History that the end of the Cold War would impend not only an era of triumphant liberal-democratic capitalism, but one where political evolution had reached its final form. Western democracy, he argued, was the best form of state organisation practically achievable by humans.

The folly of such naïve Western triumphalism, already being challenged by China’s authoritarian wave of economic growth when Fukayama wrote his book, was laid bare by Mohamed Atta and his accomplices on September 11th 2001, before finally being buried by America’s failure to create new orders in Iraq and Afghanistan. But within Western societies, it could be argued to have some grain of truth.

The class-driven politics of the greater part of the 20th Century is dead in nearly every established democracy. The model of working-class left and bourgeois centre-right was in trouble long before the implosion of the Soviet empire. Technological changes and, arguably, the success of European-style welfare states in expanding the middle-class rendered its logic outdated.

Italy shows that process more dramatically than any other country. The peninsula was home to the largest Communist Party in the democratic world, with over a million members and a third of the vote at its peak, funded generously by Moscow for decades as living proof that capitalism could be challenged from within its own structures. The PCI had abandoned Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy long before the USSR did, ditched the name ‘Communist’ in 1991, and after a period as the ‘Democratic Left’ now is fully merged into the Democratic Party – an ideological blancmange stretching from Eurocommunism to Christian Democracy, fully committed to the free market and the European Union.

In Italy’s Years of Lead in the 1970s, the prospect of Communist-Christian Democrat co-operation with massive popular support was enough to see Aldo Moro murdered by the Red Brigades with equally disturbing groups on the far-right only sorry they didn’t get to him first. Now, the same ideological coalition can’t even secure an electoral majority against the fatally weakened pantomime villain that is Silvio Berlusconi and an actual professional comedian.

Everywhere in Europe, the traditional parties of left and right are closer than ever before in terms of the policies they implement. And the electorate is deeply dissatisfied. Election turnouts have declined dramatically, most obviously in the UK where the electoral system mitigates against the emergence of protest parties with significant influence. Elsewhere, protest parties of various sorts have emerged, sometimes with staying power, sometimes fading before the next political fad emerges onto the scene. It isn’t hard to see why.

In most countries, income inequality has widened, while with some exceptions unemployment levels, even in times of prosperity, tend to be at levels that would have been considered scandalous 50 years ago. For those in work, permanent positions are harder to come by, with fixed contracts and agency work proliferating. Power has been transferred upwards to the EU and sideways to technocrats in agencies or the private sector, leaving the nation state deeply hollowed out. The most rapid period of immigration the last millennium has transformed the face of cities from Lisbon to Dublin to Helsinki.

Former TV comedian Beppe Grillo on his election 'Tsunami Tour'. Photo by Roberto Beragnoli.

Former TV comedian Beppe Grillo on his election ‘Tsunami Tour’. Photo by Roberto Beragnoli.

Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement has been propelled into a pivotal position in Italian politics from nowhere by this week’s election. What makes it so useful for examining the nature of the emerging protest parties is its ideological emptiness and unthreatening nature. This is a protest party that promises to change nothing. Its five stars represent the five vague and unthreatening planks of its policy platform – water, transport, ‘development’, internet availability and the environment. It makes unspecific noises about making government more cost-effective by using the internet and that favourite of politicians with few ideas everywhere, streamlining bureaucracy. On the other hand, it has little to say on economic policy in a country with a ball-and-chain of state debt, lavish pension promises but few children and where it’s virtually impossible to get a mortgage. Its one concrete economic policy seems to be a referendum on the Euro – a referendum, not actual withdrawal, and even that is something of a cop-out as Italy’s macroeconomic car crash was already in place before it joined the single currency.

Like the Pirate Party across the Alps in Germany, its voters tend to be young, well, educated and tech-savvy, and like the Pirates its message seems to be that traditional politicians are nasty obsessive careerists and everything would be better if young tech-savvy people like us ran the country. Even when it identifies Italy’s central dilemmas, it fails to propose solutions to them.

Of course, protest parties come in at least three other types. The nationalist protest party can lean to the right or the left economically, but rarely too far from the orthodoxy espoused by mainstream parties. Instead their concerns are focused on the EU, which all would like their countries to leave, immigration, especially Muslim immigration, and criminal justice where they tend to favour stiffer sentences. These parties also tend to be particularly strong supporters of generous pensions, as they tend to have an older voter base, heavily concentrated among the skilled working-classes and lower middle-classes.

Usually, that’s as far as their policy platforms go. In the rare cases where they have entered government they tend to support the same orthodoxy as mainstream parties. Indeed, many are comfortable remaining outside government while having significant influence, especially on immigration policy, through giving minority administrations parliamentary support. None seems to have any good ideas about how their country can continue to support generous pension provision with sub-replacement birthrates and virtually no immigration.

The left-wing protest party is rarer, but the amorphous coalition of leftists from Trotskyites to Greens that is SYRIZA in Greece is one model of how they might look if the pattern becomes more widespread – so, indeed, is Sinn Féin in the Republic. Like nationalist protest parties, SYRIZA has been particularly vocal on pension cuts, as well as promising to restore the minimum wage and unemployment benefits to pre-crash levels.

On paper, SYRIZA is the most successful political party of the radical left in post-Cold War Europe. Underneath much rhetorical bashing of neo-liberalism, however, there isn’t much radical about SYRIZA’s programme. Beyond a renegotiation of the terms of Greece’s debt financing, the group sees little need for a radical transformation of the Greek economy. Indeed its economic policies are reminiscent of many nationalist protest parties – if only we could turn the clock back a generation or two, before this pesky globalisation thing made everything complicated, everything would be fine. On economic and fiscal policy, there is little to separate it from Greece’s respectable party of the protesting right, the Independent Greeks.

The final subset, regionalist protest parties, is currently best epitomised by the Scottish National Party, campaigning for a Yes vote in an independence referendum on the basis that it won’t actually change anything. Capitalising on a sense of powerlessness by ordinary voters culturally or geographically remote from their nations’ capitals, few of these parties are honest enough to admit that independence probably solves little. The really big decisions are taken either in Brussels, in the world’s financial centres, or just sort of happen without anybody making them.

We comfortable Westerners rightly fear that the standard of living we have become accustomed to may well have been a temporary phenomenon. Japan’s generation of stagnation and onrushing demographic collapse should be a warning to us all.

Technological change increases the premium available to those with the right skills and networks, leaving the rest behind. Cheap transport and virtually free electronic communication spreads supply chains across the planet. Electronic money flashes around the planet in less than a second, making capital much freer than labour. Spiralling medical costs threaten the universal high-quality healthcare we have become accustomed to. Birth rates have collapsed not only in developed countries, but most developing countries, since the advent of reliable woman-controlled contraception, but nobody talks honestly about how prosperity is sustained in a country with a declining population.

Mainstream politicians have ignored these issues as the problems have mounted. But what do the new protest movements offer? – A bit of academic lefty rhetoric, a spot of minority-bashing and longer jail terms, or vague waffle. Nothing that’s fundamentally different from the mainstream offer, nothing that addresses the central problems of our societies. Maybe this is how history ends, with soundbite democracy distracting us with the latest slogans and political fads.

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  • wild turkey

    Gerry

    very impressive analysis, though not the lite breakfast read i was anticipating.
    before any profound comment, i’ll have to re- read some Lenny Sciascia. two quick observations?

    1. ‘ the prospect of Communist-Christian Democrat co-operation with massive popular support was enough to see Aldo Moro murdered by the Red Brigades with equally disturbing groups on the far-right only sorry they didn’t get to him first.’

    ignore the ideological camouflage, in their fundamental adherence to authoritarian practices and structures, the Kremlin and the Vatican were never really far apart.

    2. ‘Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement has been propelled into a pivotal position in Italian politics from nowhere by this week’s election. What makes it so useful for examining the nature of the emerging protest parties is its ideological emptiness and unthreatening nature. This is a protest party that promises to change nothing. ‘

    that’s exactly the point. in most European democracies, are the proclaimed ideological differences between major parties of any real import? Do any voters with an IQ over the speed limit assign any credibility to the electoral ‘promises’ made by those parties?

    ciao

  • http://www.ardrighbooks.com SeaanUiNeill

    So Beppe does not stand for anything? I suppose if the general level of self-interest and corruption amongst career politicians is a given then Beppe’s failure to produce a financial policy recognizably similar to the career politicians he mocks is a bad mark against him. Certainly he does not appear to wish to be seen as yet another of these predators he is attacking.

    Five years ago on 8/9/07, Beppe organized a mass rally of two million for vaffanculo day. He displayed the names of two dozen Italian politicians who had been convicted of a number of crimes, from corruption and tax evasion to involvement in a murder. And he reminded everyone that these people were their employees and not their masters.

    In 2010 he set up the “Movimento 5 stelle” as a forum for everyone who wanted honest politics that were the actual expression of a directly empowered people, who had broken out of the post war conditioning of, after a day of voting, handing over all power for the next five years to careerists. The sort of “direct democracy” Five Star recommends (check it out on Wikipedia!), were people, not representatives, vote on policy initiatives, is a reality in Switzerland, just over the Italian border. It has become a possibility now in complex mass societies because of the new technologies and increasingly the old representative systems look very, very nineteenth century. I look forward to the time 5 Star remembers that the “direct” democracy of ancient Athens did not have elections. They chose what few administrators they needed by lot in specifically order to avoid ending up with career politicians.

    During his campaign last week he told an audience in Milan “You lot (the politicians) have eaten up all of our country, the lives of thousands of our people,” his audience catcalled and answered “Thieves! Thieves!” and “get rid of them all.”

    You say the “five stars represent the five vague and unthreatening planks of its policy platform – water, transport, ‘development’, internet availability and the environment.” These may seem bland but they are actual everyday issues for everyone, whose everyday lives are the actual foundation that all the realpolitick of the professional politicians sits on top of.

    This is not a case of an absence of policies, just of radically different policies rooted in real life rather to the zombie policies that have nurtured our plutocracies over the last sixty years! The unfamiliarity of politics that actually intend to do something real for someone is what you are struggling with.

  • Jack2

    Great reading Gerry – thanks.

  • http://www.organizedrage.com/ Mickhall

    “Nothing that’s fundamentally different from the mainstream offer,”

    Gerry

    The above is simply not true, whether its five star in Italy or SYRIZA in Greece, or those in-between, there is a massive differences between these movement and the mainstream, the most prominent is a radical alternative to austerity. Tell me which of the mainstream parties do not support austerity measures. (whether centre left or right, their only differences are one of extremes, how much to cut and how fast.) This after years of tumbling recession proves they are either unfit for the task or corrupt to the core.

    Five star also advocate the democratising of the state, indeed this is its main demand, And by god whether it is Ireland, Italy, Greece, or the UK, don’t those stables need mucking out.

  • David Crookes

    Be warned, politicians of Europe. Italian voters are not uniquely capricious, wicked, or stupid. What has happened in Italy may happen somewhere else in Europe.

    Would it be the worst thing in the world if a NI five-star movement with a cross-border agenda won a landslide victory, and designated itself as ‘other’?

  • http://www.ardrighbooks.com SeaanUiNeill

    Oh David, yes, indeed! It would be the worst thing in the world for career politicians everywhere.

    The sort of direct democracy Beppe is suggesting for Italy would relegate them to our servants instead of our masters. I remember that just after Charles II had dismissed his last parliament at Oxford he told his friend Tom Bruce, Earl of Ailesbury “This morning you had six hundred masters, now you have to serve but one.”

    Well, the Elect have been talking about “Democracy” for centuries, and as my Mother in Law used to say all the time “Be careful what you ask for, you may just get it.”

    And I find the idea of cleaning out political corruption most intriguing, just how would our plutocracies function?

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Seaan, and do you know what? We still have to achieve a real ‘new beginning’ in Stormont. A flushing out of the Stormont stables, with many of the present Mighty Ones sitting sulking on the opposition benches, would bring an end to the present one-party-rule-in-each-of-two-separate-fiefdoms that we have at the moment.

    We owe politicians NOTHING. They get better wages than most of us. We owe them neither careers nor assured futures. I’m attracted to the idea that members of some local Beppe-party might take an average working wage, a bit like SF MLAs, and allow the residue to go to some useful projects in their own constituencies.

    We could go even further. No junkets. No limousines. No bail-outs for denominational insurance companies. And so on. Even in NI we have a number of sordid little plutocracies.

    Someone who knows more than I do might be able to address the question of what would happen if an ‘other’-designated party turned out to have most MLAs.

  • Greenflag

    Gerry ,

    A very impressive analysis of where we are in western society -and not just Italy or Greece or indeed ROI & NI or the UK .

    Not just Italy is in political gridlock -So is the USA with it’s Congress so divided that automatic spending cuts will soon increase the unemployment lines -depress spending and reduce growth all for the sake of fixing a deficit which has taken 20 years to develop in the midst of wars and federal (taxpayers ) bailouts of the gambling /financial sector .

    Italy has no Government and simultaneously no Pope ?

    The Grilli like their German predecessors the Pirate Party and indeed the huge number of ‘Independents ‘ elected during the 2011 Irish General Election are all indicators of a trend in western political life which I suppose can be described as disaffection with the status quo parties be they of the left or right . The success of the UKIP in recent elections in the UK is another pointer . People everywhere have come to believe that their ‘governments ‘ have stopped governing for the ‘people ‘ and instead have opted for ‘defending ‘ the international plutocrats .

    And yet as you point out is there any realistic alternative to the current spectrum ? Those who vote feel powerless to effect necessary change and those whom they elect very quickly forget their pre-election ‘promises .While this is hardly a new phenomenon it seems to me that we are moving into an era where the fact of their being no ‘real ‘ electable alternative to current rule by the bankster gangsters of Wall St , the City and international finance or more precisely their ‘bought for ‘ politicians -poses serious threats to what we used to call democracy but which has now morphed into an international plutocracy which thrives on the freedom of financial capital but has culled the hard won rights of labour .We see this in the increasing income gaps and in the increasing race to the bottom as states and regions within the larger states compete to attract direct investment by offering lower and lower corporate taxes to investors .This strategy while it can work for a few economies cannot work when every state gets in on the act . It results in a gouging out of the State and thus weakens the powers of government to control or regulate those corporations who can easily move to Poland or Slovenia or Kosovo or Vietnam etc etc .

    It appears the Grilli refuse to take part in Government and will merely vote on individual issues in line with what they perceive to be the voters interests . People are all in favour of stable government naturally -we all fear chaos and rightly so but what if a succession of ‘stable ‘ governments e.g the USA ‘Congress , the UK’s Westminster , the German Bundestag -deliver widespread financial chaos ?

    What then ? People instinctively know -even those who support the mainstream ‘parties that our ‘governments ‘have long since lost their much understated ability to fly by the seats of their pants or ‘muddle ‘through as it were .

    What we now see as we strain upwards to catch a view of our elected leaders is bare arses attached to straw clutching chancers masquerading as ‘leading ‘ the people :(

    The top down model of authoritarian capitalism worked for the UK 1750 -1928 ? -for the USA in the 1870 to 1932 era and for Germany 1830 to 1918 . The Chinese today are merely emulating the earlier examples of imperial capital accumulation . Working conditions and health ans safety standards in China today may be similar to those of Europe or the USA in the 1920’s

    But can ‘authoritarian ‘capitalism be re-instated in the West as an ‘alternative ‘to current stagnation without inflation ?

    Of course -Some are even attempting to impose the rule of international financial capital in it’s modern guise . The first step is to destroy or make unworkable what we used to call democracy .The Grilli and the Pirates and the UKIP and others for all their ‘battiness ‘ are the only ones left actually fighting back against discredited establishments everywhere !

  • http://www.ardrighbooks.com SeaanUiNeill

    Oh Greenflag, we don’t have to do anything “to destroy or make unworkable what we used to call democracy,” as, in the wake of the financial crisis they (the politicians) are doing the job of slowly making the entire system unworkable themselves by debasing every currency (QE) in a misguided hope that “something will show up.” But it won’t, oh no, it won’t. And all at the behest of their greedy twins in the Banks and investment houses who have already subsidised the exhaustion of most of the key resources our so called “culture” needs to function in a short generation……

    And, anyway, it never, ever was democracy in any meaningful sense; it was simply letting us all out of our cages for the occasional day of voting to select the members of a variable oligarchy. Once we were back were we belonged and our masters were behind the closed doors they could take up whoreing everything had been placed in their hands to the “bankster gangsters of Wall St, the City and international finance” picking up from where their predecessors had left off.

    As Yeats so presciently put it “the church and the state [are becoming] the mob that howls at the door.”

    And David, oh for a local “páirtí cúig réalta” that might rid us of “the present one-party-rule-in-each-of-two-separate-fiefdoms that we have at the moment.”

    I had another look at the Five Star programme on Beppe Grillo’s blog site: (http://www.beppegrillo.it/en/2009/10/the_5star_movements_programme.html) It had an interesting posting by David Instone on 30/11/12. He explained to Beppe just why English Democracy actually works! Well worth looking at if only to remember how little sense of irony these people actually have.

    I would recommend to him a little 1952 book I remember reading a while back called “The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy” by J. L. Talmon.

  • David Crookes

    Indeed, Seaan. We need Leanne Woods to move over here for a while. Things can get incredibly cosy in quite a short time.

    I would go along with Leanne’s idea of a Neighbourhood of Nations, and I like the way she deals with Fat Cats. It enrages me that someone who sits at a desk writing tripe about postmodernism can get paid three or four times as much as a nurse.

  • http://www.ardrighbooks.com SeaanUiNeill

    But think, David, what would a local version of Leanne do with this lot of self-important role-players to work with? Her “A Greenprint for the Valleys” would get very short shift with MLAs who think that gifting their most important constituents with grants to grub up and destroy our mature hedgerows across areas of outstanding natural beauty is an acceptable form of ecological re-generation.

    I’ve been told that directly or indirectly seventy percent of wages in Norn Iron are state funded. If the percentages were the other way round I’d still be worried that the bailouts were creating an unhealthy dependency culture amongst the employed let alone the unemployed.

    A hundred years ago the Irish Industries movement was attempting to stimulate real freedom in the form of productive self-sufficiency throughout the country. But the plutocrats can get just as fat by absorbing state money as the can through private money.

    We really need an intelligent local regeneration plan, such as Leanne’s “A Greenprint for the Valleys” developed locally from real grass roots needs, rather than a series of big government supported Cargo Cult style projects (for “Cargo Cult” style projects see my posting, 16/6/12 on the Runkerry sillyness: “the trust’s over-riding focus is the protection of the environment and landscape within the distinctive setting of Northern Ireland’s only World Heritage Site”).

  • David Crookes

    Seann, I agree with you altogether here. I’d go for a mixture of Leanne Woods and a not-too-pernickety William Morris. What we don’t need is Death by Heritage Centre (overpriced coffee, multimedia presentations, and big jobs for fat cats).

    If the new cross-border party that I dream about ever comes into being, it will develop from what you call real grass roots needs, it will be created by real grass roots people, it will be far greener than the Green Party, and it will attack the present mad orthodoxy that right is right and left is wrong.

    We need politicians who are genuinely interested in what the Breton poet Youenn Gwernig calls ‘rocks, heather, and the wind’. Many of our present MLAs are more interested in granite worktops. Crude material vulgarity rules. But three cheers for the few wise owls in Stormont who are minded to oppose the mad proliferation of private vehicles.

  • http://www.ardrighbooks.com SeaanUiNeill

    Leanne and William Morris, oh yes, please! Like my long dead mentor Frank Bigger I am very, very arts and crafts! Enough anyway to notice the irony when Tony Blair once told an interviewer that his favorite book was “News From No-Where.” I can only assume that some hack aide was getting their own back on him for something……

    At one point when I was living in London I flirted with the Green Party. I found they were far less truly “Green” than I am, not much ‘rocks, heather, and the wind’ there, just a lot of what I once called “Technological Hypnotism” on a U.S. documentary. As I say in my Slugger profile, I am a great supporter of the return of the lost woodlands to our naked province. Possibly because they would provide me with somewhere to go “on my keeping” when our masters finally read my posts and come for me. Perhaps I should mention that “on my keeping” in a sixteenth century Irish term for someone stripping off everything material (land, castles, money) as they prepare to defend their honour and their freedom in a fight. It is what the Elizabethan English described, speaking of their Irish enemies, as “Skulking in Woods.”

    What we need is some truly pragmatic politics, ignoring the rat runs of left and right, and using anything honest that actually works to get us out of this cul de sac we have been herded into by the Elect of Stormont, Westminister and the Dáil, but I doubt that anyone reading this (other than yourself) could ever conceive of anything so truly radical.

  • David Crookes

    Yes, Seann. The islands in Lough Erne stand to me as a pattern of what our country used to be like, and could be like once again. I don’t get excited about gardens in which a weedless border containing twelve cane-supported gladioli surrounds a piece of bowling-green lawn.

    If someone organizes a conference in a big hotel about rediscovering our early Celtic spirituality I shall yawn, but if someone organizes a series of tree-planting Saturdays I’ll want to be at every one. Your mention of “on my keeping” reminds me of a frightening clause from II Samuel 18. 8: “…..the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.” Trees are our fellow-creatures. We become less human if we forget that fact.

  • abucs

    If the EU government were to take a year off, how much would it really be missed?

    If Western national governments were to do the same, would they really be missed?

    What are Western governments these days except re-distributors of other peoples money in accordance with their own ideology and reactionaries of day to day media campaigns?

  • http://www.ardrighbooks.com SeaanUiNeill

    Ah David, I cannot agree with you more! “Trees are our fellow-creatures. We become less human if we forget that fact.” People are outraged at the brutality of human beings to their fellows, and to animals, but as I drive along the Belfast Larne line and watch the destruction of nature that is effected to “dual carriageway” a road that is perfectly adequate for even rush hour traffic. But I suppose it is necessary as one half of some “Us and Them” Stormont spending plan….

    The mature trees and hedgerows ripped up do not even become honest firewood, as great mountains of chipped wood dot the length of the ribbon worksite. But I imagine that someone, somewhere, will have another foreign holiday home and another couple of £80,000 four wheel drives, such as we may find thickly parked along all the wee red brick back streets of Belfast.

    In Japan sacred places are thought of as Kami haunted (Kami: every class of spirit from Gods to Ghosts). Pious followers of Shinto allow these sites to settle into the natural form that the Kami are most comfortable with, by letting the landscape run to rich wilderness. The entire area of Mount Fuji is such a shrine. Our secular utopia in Norn Iron produces farmers who would asphalt their fields if their single payments requirements would let them get away with it.

  • http://www.ardrighbooks.com SeaanUiNeill

    @abucs

    Regarding media campaigns, please note my comments over on the “Why do politicians lie?” thread: ‘Monday night Jeremy Duns is presenting a programme “MI6 & the Media.” over on Radio 4 (BBC). The idea is that in the 1960s “key Fleet Street correspondents and news chiefs were working for the intelligence services.” ‘

    More about my own experience of just how independant these campaigns are over there….

    I’m very, very ambivalent about the EEC. Without some of its regulations, without some over-ridding scrutiny from above on Stormont, the sort of fiasco we have seen with the Runkerry decision would be unchecked throughout the province. But the spending issues simply are bizarre. Just as one example, the single farm payment has almost created a situation where the gross product of NI farms and the amount issued in the single farm payments almost cancel each other out. So much for the original “food security” arguement!!! And the payments (and, locally, “Right to Build” under PPS21) goes equally to non-farmers who simply own farmland and rent conacre, who have no involvement in anything that could be even broadly be described as actual farming.

  • GEF

    “Even in NI we have a number of sordid little plutocracies.”

    David can you or anyone list a few of theses “sordid little plutocracies ” here in NI so as they could be discussed about?

  • http://www.ardrighbooks.com SeaanUiNeill

    Alas,GEF, if David named anyone, he would be sued and slugger would be closed down. These people have money and lawyers to enforce their privacy, even here in NI.

    Any discussion would need to carefully avoid even implying anything about the possible activities of any individual whose private life and career might be seriously harmed by such allegations. None of my own comments on Slugger should ever be taken to imply any criticism of the political or business activities of any individual either living or dead, and are offered for illustrative purposes only.

  • GEF

    Alas,GEF, if David named anyone, he would be sued and slugger would be closed down. These people have money and lawyers to enforce their privacy, even here in NI.”

    Understood SeaanUiNeill, rather than individual wealthy plutocrat names (which one example can already be found in the House of Lords NI List) I was more interested in the plural “plutocracies” IE:
    1. Government by the wealthy.
    2. A wealthy class that controls a government.
    3. A government or state in which the wealthy rule.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Seann, you’re a lot wiser than I am here, so if I’m carted off by the Jazz Police you can say you warned me.

    GEF, I would stress the word “little”. I had in mind a number of persons in the building and architecture business who appear to get more joy out of the planning people than ordinary individuals. (Few realize a single example’s relevance.) Years ago I was refused permission to build a house in vernacular style on my own land. Later I explored the possibility of building a whole craft village on the land, plus tea-shop, toilets, car-park, and more besides. When I asked the London architect who was advising me about getting planning permission, he told me that the project would “go through on a nod”. Anecdotal, I know.

    I also had in mind the enormous educational behemoth of academics, advisers, theoreticians, and inspectors who draw their bigger-than-average salaries while allowing many of our schools to remain hell-pits in which pupils learn little or nothing.

    Then you have Great and Good persons like the Presbyterian moderator who hinted in public that Protestants might be more inclined to support the post-SAA regime if PMS savers were baled out by the taxpayer. He didn’t say give us money or we’ll vote TUV, but it wasn’t a million miles away from that.

    A mile or two down the road from such worthies you have the whole gamut of protection rackets.

  • http://www.ardrighbooks.com SeaanUiNeill

    David, you say “I had in mind a number of persons in the building and architecture business who appear to get more joy out of the planning people than ordinary individuals.” But our ruling twin parties have, with their bribe to the farmers, PPS21, opened up this developer craze to anyone at all with a six year old farm number, no matter if they can actually farm or not, and seemingly, no matter if they can meet the planning criteria or not.

    And all this in a countryside already frighteningly overburdened with a housing glut of breeze block palaces thrown up in the last twenty years! Anyone not taking advantage of this windfall is considered a fool, so, like the PMS scandal, cash comes well before morality, and the corruption that marked only a few once, becomes something of a social norm. I think of an academic “Marxist” telling me in the 1990s, “now we no longer need to expropriate wealth from the rich, we have the option to become the rich.”

  • David Crookes

    Seann, many thanks for that lucid posting. If we weren’t tied to a bigger economy, we might be in a worse-than-Greek state. How do we sell rectitude when corruption is seen as wisdom?

    I see the PMS pay-out as a sad index of our spread-the-greed-and-spread-the-gravy society. Private speculators were turned into peculators of the public purse more or less on the grounds that they were all good church people!

    A businessman who is a fellow-member of my own church said to me a couple of years ago that the corruption has got into most people’s thinking. “If we need a new roof for the church,” he said, “some of us will start asking, ‘Who will give us money to pay for it?’ “

  • http://www.ardrighbooks.com SeaanUiNeill

    Oh David, what started out as the desire of decent men to redress real need and deprivation has become a bottomless maw. Where the need in the beginning was simply enough food, medical care and a dry, warm place with an inside toilet, now it has become a car (sometimes a four wheel drive) for everyone in the household and rooms full of expensive mean plastic for the kids. And as much money as can be snatched in a lifetime.
    There are simply not enough natural resources in our world unmined as yet to supply this limitless greed. And everyone feels they “deserve” to have, literally, eveything. A local lay preacher who influences the young has even told me “God rewards his faithful with all these good things.” As I remember it, there used to be some differentiation between God and Mammon. I seem to remember that the later was the fellow who was master of the “Cave of Worldly Wealth” in my copy of “The Faerie Queene.”

  • David Crookes

    Seann, you have actually come across a preacher of the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’! I didn’t know that NI contained a real example of the breed, and I’m a part-time preacher myself. But it is true that all around us God and Mammon are being combined to make the sort of Tashlan that Lewis envisaged. I would add Ben Jonson’s Sir Epicure Mammon to the staff of your Cave of Worldly Wealth.

    What do we do about it? There’s supposed to be an economic crisis, and yet sixth-form girls in local grammar schools are paying up to £1000 each on their formals, minibus-jeeps are proliferating on our roads, and people who live in small terrace houses feel obliged to instal central heating systems.

    I see a 32-county Ireland in the future. It will have some kind of monarchy. Most people will work with their hands by day. Not everyone will want to become a desk-wallah by getting some kind of ‘degree’ that leaves him largely illiterate, and lands him with an enormous debt.

    Most mothers will stay at home and look after their children. Marriages will last. Once sensible family life is restored, multitudinous syndromes and special educational needs will disappear.

    Public transport will be the norm. Large private vehicles will be rare. Ireland will make her own clean uniform Trabant.

    Most people will live in well-insulated houses with small rooms. Kitchens and bathrooms will be small and simple.

    Street-gardens, parks, and forests will proliferate.

    There will be time for everyone to enjoy an intellectual and spiritual life. It may be possible to have a four-day working week.

    I don’t want to hog the blog, so I’ll stop now. Most of us are living in a state of materialist slavery. Clever people explain that we have no alternative. That’s a lie. Get rid of stupid greed, and lots of good things will become possible.

    I wonder if it will take complete economic collapse to break our chains.