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President warns of democratic and intellectual crises

Michael D Higgins told the audience at the LSE that if Ireland had retained some of the elements of its national revival, the economic collapse may not be as bad as it is.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/Press Association Images

IN AN ADDRESS to an audience at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) last night, President Michael D Higgins warned that we are moving towards both intellectual and democratic crises.

Praising the founders of LSE, Higgins said they offered an alternative form of society that would deepen democracy, advocate socialism over capitalism and prevent the violence of a class conflict.

In contrast, he claimed Ireland’s recent economic troubles may have been lessened if some of these ideas – taken on board by the leaders of the country’s revival and independence – were retained.

He also said that the idea of rational markets with infinite growth was the dominant myth of recent decades. Politics has taken second place to unregulated markets, he added.

In so many ways the tragedy of modern Ireland’s recent difficulties is that it did what the founders of the LSE hoped.  It was the first English-speaking country to decolonise, to walk in darkness down what would become a better lit road…The problem for Ireland was the failure to achieve economic lift-off at the same moment as soon after.

Higgins said that by the time Ireland started to experience an economic boom in recent times, both the country’s leaders and people had “all but lost connection with the cultural and political elements of national revival” which could have provided “an ethical brake”, as well as the regulation that was needed.

We have, as a consequence, been living through a period of extreme individualism, a period where the concept of society itself has been questioned.

Privatisation – road back to autocracy

During his speech, Higgins talked about a “drift to unfreedom”, noting the importance of the State but also recognising its current faults.

As parliament accountability stands in conflict with unaccountable economic forces, the Irish president said he sees an “emerging democratic crisis”.

Having squandered credibility through light regulation and thus powerless regulatory authorities the State itself has been made vulnerable.

However, privatisation is not the answer, he said.

The president quoted Richard Titmuss, “Privatisation is the road back to autocracy, in which a hollowed-out state is bereft of anything meaningful to attract the support of the citizen – especially the marginalised, excluded from the mainstream of society”.

Continued allegiance to democracy involves an open acknowledgement of the fraught relationship between state power and political activism. Citizen participation through the promotion of a vibrant civil society is the best hope of democracy in the 21st century.

On the eve of announcements by the Government to sell a multitude of State assets, Higgins said it would be “a tragic error” to walk away from the State.

Intellectual crisis

Higgins did not leave the universities blameless, stating that scholars who claim the legitimation of a university have stood in support of unregulated markets, unaccountable capital flows and virtual financial products.

We are experiencing now I believe an intellectual crisis that is far more serious than the economic one which fills the papers, dominates the programmes in our media.

He challenged universities to recover the “moral purpose of original thought” and “caring and concerned teaching”.

He suggested the establishment of an “endowed Chair” between the LSE and an Irish university so the “ethico-cultural idea of Europe and of the national could be invoked to check the drift to unfreedom”.

More: Michael D to arrive in London on first official trip abroad>

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