Friday, December 9, 2016

What's Wrong with "the Politics of Fear"?

I've always hated that phrase, but today it occurred to me that the separation of powers, and the checks and balances built into democratic systems, are hard to describe as anything other than "the politics of fear"-- or even the political system of fear. And how extraordinarily effective they've been, on the whole!

Surely fear is entirely rational, in many circumstances?

I come from a very strong Irish republican tradition-- virtually all my family, going back several generations, would have been opposed to the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty which granted a very limited self-government to Ireland (and excluded the six counties now called 'Northern Ireland'.)

I feel a genuine sense of pain to have to disagree with them, but I do. I agree with the majority of Irish voters who voted for pro-Treaty candidates in the first election after the Treaty. I think the Treaty was the best deal available, and I don't think the Ulster unionists can (or should) be forced into a united Ireland.

Opponents of the Treaty often dismissed that popular vote, saying that it was not a free vote and was constrained by the fear of Britain invading again if it was rejected. As Cillian Murphy's character in The Wind That Shakes the Barley puts it: "The Treaty does not express the will of the people, but the fear of the people."

But...what's wrong with that? Surely a democratic vote takes every factor into consideration, including the possibility of military attack. If freedom meant not being constrained by any outside factor, I don't see how freedom could exist short of omnipotence.

This is not to make an absolute out of 'consent'. I don't think a Catholic could ever do that. Euthanasia should not be allowed even if you consent to it. Degrading working conditions should not be allowed even if you consent to them. But I think the outcome of elections and referenda are something very different. If the actual electoral process hasn't been interfered with, then surely the decision the people make is to be respected, whatever the reasons they made it.

I'd also make this argument to the many Catholic traditionalists who are anti-democracy because they think democracy is simply plutocracy. Well, maybe, but it doesn't have to be. If people vote based on advertising or marketing or media conditioning, then that's their own fault. Anybody can vote for whoever they want, and anybody can run for election.

Besides, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump is making me more confident that people are capable of rejecting the propaganda they are constantly bombarded with. (Again, I'm not banging a drum for Trump. But any fair-minded observer, I think, would have to concede that the media and entertainment industry were overwhelmingly opposed to him, as they were to Brexit.)

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