You Will, You Will

Ignore elite’s agenda – we are still a rich country – The Irish Times – Wed, Jul 28, 2010

Wouldn’t you think An Bord Snip Nua might have adverted to the option of snipping the income of the top 20 per cent of households, as an alternative to snipping social welfare, even if this was not strictly within the terms of reference? Might it not have suggested snipping it sufficiently to pay for the hole in the public finances and leave education, welfare the health alone?

That might put Ireland in the same rankings in the income inequality league as Luxembourg, Belgium or Holland and they are not exactly egalitarian Soviets.

The country is not broke. It is just dysfunctional. We could fix it quite easily, if only there were the political will to do that and if only there was a sufficient sense of social solidarity to permit it.

Question: Why did the Nazis come to power?

Answer: A lack of political will to ensure that the terms of the Versailles Treaty were not excessively onerous on Germany resulted in immense social upheaval in the years after the Treaty was signed. Furthermore, in allowing the Nazi party to gain a foothold in contested elections, the political establishment demonstrated a lack of political will.

Question: Why did Hitler commit suicide?

Answer: Aware that the prospects for a Nazi victory were bleak, the decision to commit suicide on the part of the Fuhrer can be ascribed to an absence of political will.

Question: Why was John Fitzgerald Kennedy assassinated?

Answer: The decision to pull out of Vietnam, which had crystallised in JFK’s mind in the months leading up to November 1963, was accompanied by a lack of political will in government. On the other hand, there was plenty of political will to ensure that the decision to pull out of Vietnam did not rest with John F. Kennedy. The rest, as they say, is history.

Question: Why did the chicken cross the road?

Answer: The failure to erect chicken wire on the part of the farmer charged with raising the chicken is a direct consequence of inadequate oversight mechanisms with regard to the housing and welfare of farmyard animals. The inadequacy of these oversight mechanisms can be traced directly to an absence of political will in government.

OK, I’ll stop now.

An elusive substance, this ‘political will’.

Vincent Browne is certainly not the only one to refer to it as a silver bullet explanation as to why things don’t turn out the way they oughta. But what is it?

It strikes me as one of these things, like one’s mojo, which are mostly present by their absence.

It seems fair enough to say that there is such a thing as will. I may get out of bed in the morning to go to work on account of the fact that if I don’t I will be evicted and starve, but it is not solely on account of that fact. Some degree of will is necessary, because I am a conscious being, capable of making decisions and with sufficient power to act on those decisions. I can always just stay in bed and eventually get evicted and starve. This is not at all to say I go to work purely on account of free will, as Bill Cullen might. But will counts for something.

There’s a difference, though, between the will of one person acting in a particular situation, like me bothering to write these gilded lines, and the sort of political will in aggregate to which Vincent Browne is referring, which seems to involve loads of politicians and civil servants getting their shit together and doing lots of cool stuff for the good of the country.

So, ever the intrepid pursuer of truth, I went out onto the internet and searched for political will. And there are people out there who, perhaps egged on by the angels of their better nature, have attempted to define political will. Like this chap:

Noting at the outset that many people other than me seem to think that political will is just something whose absence is lamented, rather than an object of any great usefulness -a ‘lazy substitute for more sophisticated analysis’-, the writer of this paper attempts, undeterred, to define political will ‘in relation to a requirement to fulfil the international responsibility to protect’:

achieving a balance between incentives and disincentives among potential interveners with the necessary resources, including offsetting their values – such as an ideological commitment to R2P – and their interests. This balance must be sufficient to persuade a critical number of them to formulate and coordinate an appropriate policy, and to create and sustain a coalition strong enough to implement that policy effectively over the time required, given the nature and severity of the operational challenge.

This isn’t defining political will in the abstract, though, but rather taking a commonplace use of the term ‘political will’ in a particular context (international institutions and the responsibility to protect) and seeking to turn the term into a useful instrument for achieving a particular end (implementing policy). This definition has an explicitly subjective, normative basis. That is, the presence of political will in these terms depends on someone achieving a required balance for a certain end, and that end is desirable.

The problem I see, at least for making one’s way from here to an abstract definition of political will, is that any given balance between incentives and disincentives among potential interveners etc. could, depending on where you’re standing, be defined as political will. So one might have as one’s end the violent destruction of the international order and bellum omnium contra omnes, and could then say, well, we need to achieve the right balance for that purpose, and we shall call this balance ‘political will’. And now we shall let loose the dogs of war, and have a gin and tonic.

Well, anyway. It strikes me there isn’t much of a difference between this geezer’s conception of political will, as in the stuff I want there to be in order for a load of stuff I want to happen, and ViBro’s own conception.

So I started looking a bit further afield, or at least a bit further down the Google search results. And I came across this.

The Communist Manifesto of the 21st Century

For a Neo-Communist Manifesto it is absolutely important to offer the public its theoretical principles for consideration. Furthermore, the theoretical foundations of the latest development of the principles of humanism deserve to be profoundly presented.

Willing to define the volitions of the absolutely actual universal Political Will, which self-determines its complete theoretical and practical reality in the world, manifests itself in it and rules it, we have to introduce the concept of Politovolia. Being the highest organisation of the Absolute Rational Will in the living process of its continuous self-development, Politovolia is a manifestation of the all-inclusive and omnipotent willing itself Political Will, which constantly carries out into practice itself in the world history and changes the ethical and civic virtues as well as the ethical values and political culture of every society in each particular epoch. It is the universal power that is in everything and there is no social human activity in which Political Will does not rule itself through itself.

Here we see the humble, quotidian ‘political will’, conceived as above of in terms of a lack of necessary stuff, transformed via the cunning of History, into the presence of all this Stuff working its way into every crevice, nook, cranny and mental process, always-already, everytime, everywhere. Good grief.

And c’mere: there’s more:

The Philosophy of Absolute Rational Will

Join the school! Take part in establishing the newest political movement of the Absolute Rational Will. Fight for the unconditional right of the Philosophy of Absolute Rational Will to become a part of the culture of humanity and make Mankind more powerful through creating a society genuinely based on the supreme might of the principles of Absolute Rational Will. Go for it! The time for the Newest Development of modern practical Universal Will – the time for its Newest Revolution – has come, Ladies and Gentlemen. Join the revolutionary school of Modern Rational Voluntarism! Develop the Science of Politovolia! The Political Will of each epoch manifests itself as a distinct, comprehensive politovolical system. The task of Man is to act politically, to be a citizen, to manifest his Rational Will, to have the Political Will of his time and to carry it out into practice.

And then:

Just do it!

I take it this is some sort of wind-up. It would be a remarkable coincidence if, in the final moments in the search for political will, the bearing of the Political Will of one’s time and the purchase of a pair of trainers were set in motion by the same radical injunction.

Or maybe not. Anyway, I’m losing the will to go any further after that last bit.

Returning to planet Earth for the moment, what is there to be learned from ViBro’s accusation of a lack of political will in the particular context of Irish parliamentary democracy? Perhaps as he moseys from one politician to the next, he is struck by the fact that none of them appears to bear the mark of the beast, and that in the main they are fairly normal human beings who have the capacity to act in ways that would deliver a more egalitarian society but -GAA manager alert- don’t seem to want it enough. And, if only they wanted it enough, it would be so easy to change so many things.

This seems to me a bit like wanting more pedestrians to douse themselves in petrol and set themselves alight in bouts of devil-may-care spontaneity. Pedestrians for the most part are able-bodied people, they can get hold of some petrol pretty easily, so why won’t they immolate themselves when I expect them to do it? One short answer is that pedestrians walk the streets from A to B, they stop at traffic lights, look both ways, and pretend not to see beggars and chummy young people with clipboards, and they may well possess the capacity to reduce themselves to cinders, but, simply put, it just isn’t the sort of thing you can reasonably expect them to get up to with any degree of regularity. As a pedestrian, it is not their thing. Sadly for one who might will it otherwise, it does not amount to a lack of inflammatory will, any more than my computer’s failure to write this post for me amounts to a lack of compositionary will. Which is to say, maybe it does, but it is several country miles away from the point, which is that if the actions of pedestrians, computers or politicians do not serve your interests then it is probably because their real function is not what you suppose it to be, no matter how much you desire that it were otherwise.

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4 Responses to “You Will, You Will”


  1. 1 John McDermott July 29, 2010 at 7:54 am

    We need something like the Nazi Party and a charismatic leader right now, to change the fundamental inequalities in this country which result in the poor,the sick and the handicapped paying for the criminality of the rich and the powerful cronies of Fianna Fail.

  2. 2 Hugh Green July 29, 2010 at 8:02 am

    This might be controversial, and I’m just throwing this out there, but having something like the Nazi Party is probably not a good idea.

  3. 3 Eoin O'Mahony July 30, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Aw come on Hugh. Something LIKE the Nazi Party. You know, nice pressed shirts, a bit of anti-Semitism but no one you wouldn’t want living next door to you. John thinks that the words friendly fascism have some resonance but that’s only because we see it around us already, in various guises.

    The misrecognition of what is the political will by ViBro is a common fault of a liberal view of history that sees objective conditions for power to merely unfold in the world. This kind of power merely gets deployed and the common goodness of humanity simply springs forth from its wellspring. This view is common despite the fact that much of political life in this state is about fairly meaningful issues like where houses and sewage goes and yet we think that we should be standing on the Senate floor in robes, yielding to the ‘will of the people’ (trope of the Enlightenment). I need to lie down I think.

    • 4 Hugh Green August 3, 2010 at 9:35 am

      Yes, I think you’re right on the objective conditions for power bit: every absence of political will is just an instance of Progress delayed on account of History being a little cussed in how it wishes to advance. And then there is the other side – the political as being the domain of grand actors on an important stage. I once heard Brian Lenihan jr talk in a radio interview about how his house when young resembled the residence of a Roman Senator with all the comings and goings and petitions. That is what one is up against.


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