Of Crack Sceptics And Tyrannical Surplus

My last, scattered thoughts on the Lisbon Treaty before I either go out and vote No again, or I don’t.

First, shame on Joe Higgins for leading the No campaign and putting forward a serious, principled and cogent argument for voting No, based on the particulars of the treaty and how these mean the formal entrenchment of neo-liberal capitalism in Europe. Shame on him also for making workers a central concern of the No campaign. Luckily, his opponents, such as Donal Barrington, Micheal Martin and Generation Yes, put forward a serious, principled and cogent counterargument, based on Higgins’s personal desire for a repeat of the Red Terror and the possibility that he has something to do with whipping naked women in public.

On the Yes side, prominent writers, who have unearthed Ireland’s often miserable past for us to great acclaim, such as Bill Cullen and Seamus Heaney, have spoken out about the world historical nightmare that may unfold should Ireland vote No. The great John Montague (I say this without irony or sarcasm) too, who knows Europe because he goes there a bit, reports that ‘our friends’ are baffled by the ‘current lunacy’. With a flourish, he demands that ‘Cathleen Ní Houlihan should not become a wallflower again!, reflecting the current concern among Viennese psychoanalysts with the question of What Cathleen Ní Houlihan Wants.

The Irish Times has learned a lot since the last vote, eschewing this time the possibly counterproductive diagnosis of the country having gone buck mad, choosing instead to focus on hearty exhortation as the best medicine, but not before blaming No campaigners for driving 43% of No voters into the ranks of ‘outright Euroscepticism‘, a viewpoint it applies to those who hold that ‘it would be better not to be part of the European Union’. I am sure I mentioned the use of the term Euroscepticism before, but I think I focused on the Euro- part, rather than the sceptic part. Well, sceptics are people with a tendency to doubt. As the Free! Internet! Dictionary says:

sceptic or US skeptic [skep-tik]
1. a person who habitually doubts generally accepted beliefs
2. a person who doubts the truth of a religion [Greek skeptikos one who reflects upon]

Neither of these definitions of sceptic applies to someone who thinks it would be better not to be part of the European Union. If I think it would be better for me not to smoke crack, you would have to wonder at the objectivity of someone who calls me a ‘crack sceptic’. This is not to say I share the position of the Irish Times’s ‘Eurosceptics’ (I don’t), but the IT’s use of the word is revealing. Because if scepticism as it relates to the European Union is held to mean complete opposition, is any other form of scepticism acceptable? And if so, what would you call it?

Similarly, talk of ‘democratic deficit’ is -how shall I put this- a big pile of arse. It’s supposed to work like this: there is a set of institutions known as the European Union, and it is not subject to sufficient democratic control, therefore it needs more democracy, therefore there is a democratic deficit.

This is an application of the quantity theory of democracy, which is a theory I just made up. To have a ‘democratic deficit’ in a given situation necessarily implies the possibility of a ‘democratic surplus’: there can be too much democracy, or, perhaps more accurately, lots of democracy we can do away with.

If, on the other hand, you have a situation in which can never have too much democracy, you can never have a democratic deficit, since a situation in which there is always room for more democracy means that you can only ever have a democratic deficit, which is a nonsense.

If there is a deficit in democracy, there is a surfeit of the absence of democracy. Can the absence of democracy be defined in positive terms? How about ‘oligarchy’ or ‘tyranny’? Talk of a democratic deficit in the European Union could therefore imply an oligarchic or tyrannical surplus. I am not dealing here with the matter of whether there really is an oligarchic or tyrannical surplus: I am just saying that this is what you could have if you have a democratic deficit.

Talk of a ‘democratic deficit’ in relation to the European Union is constructive criticism. Its use implies an a priori legitimacy of the European Union institutions, but emphasises a need for reform in terms of rendering its institutions more democratic. Not all deficits, of course, are bad. In international economics, a current account deficit in one country may be useful for the purposes of the economic growth of that country and of others, or it may not. So a democratic deficit could under certain conditions be regarded as useful for the purposes of having desirable institutions. I emphasise ‘could’; I don’t know if it ‘is’. However, it is worth noting that not asking European citizens direct questions about what the European Union should be is still quite popular. I think that if you asked all European citizens direct about the Lisbon Treaty, it would probably not pass. If you’re convinced, contre moi, that it would pass, well, there’d be no harm in asking, would there? It doesn’t have to be on Lisbon as such. Jürgen Habermas, for instance, talks about ‘daring to use democracy‘ through a Europe-wide referendum. Or would that be too much democracy for the governments of the member states? Maybe this can be the next grand projet for The Age Of Consent, sorry, Generation Yes, and the rest of those who want to be at the ‘heart of Europe’.

5 Responses to “Of Crack Sceptics And Tyrannical Surplus”

  1. 1 lighthouse September 30, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    The question is too:
    Will all of the rest of Europe really accept a second No from Ireland…

    Several are saying they’ll go their own way, not let Ireland stop them – and it is to some extent understandable, although the
    initial position called for everyone’s agreement.

    In such a case, what’s left for Ireland?
    That’s right, yet another vote…

    For those who don’t know the ‘story’ behind this vote…

    A Bedtime Story for all Nice Children and not so Maastricht Adults


    The Happy Family

    Once upon a time there was a family treaty-ing themselves to a visit in Lisbon.
    On the sunny day that it was they decided to go out together.
    Everyone had to agree on what they would do.
    “So”, said Daddy Brusselsprout “Let’s all go for a picnic!”
    “No”, said Aunt Erin, “I don’t want to”.
    Did they then think of something else, that they might indeed agree on?
    Oh yes they did?
    Oh no they didn’t!
    Daddy Brusselsprout asked all the others anyway, isolating Erin, and then asked her if instead, she would like to go with them to
    the park and eat out of a lunch basket….

    Kids, we’ll finish this story tomorrow, and remember, in the EU yes means yes and no means yes as well!

  2. 2 http://grandzhan.com July 10, 2013 at 7:21 am

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  1. 1 Irish Left Review · John O’Brennan | Lisbon: A Communications Failure Among the Irish Political Hierarchy Trackback on September 30, 2009 at 4:14 pm
  2. 2 Foreboding « MediaBite Blog Trackback on October 2, 2009 at 11:08 am
  3. 3 Foreboding « MediaBite2 Trackback on October 26, 2011 at 6:55 pm

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September 2009

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