The general election campaign is depressing for a complete dearth of political philosophy on the part of either of the main parties, perhaps it was always thus. There is no articulation of a vision for society. The past has been abandoned, people now read de Valera’s speech from Saint Patrick’s Day 1943 and smile at it, but at least Dev had a vision.
Acutely conscious though we all are of the misery and desolation in which the greater part of the world is plunged, let us turn aside for a moment to that ideal Ireland that we would have. That Ireland which we dreamed of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis of right living; of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youths and the laughter of comely maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. It would, in a word, be the home of a people living the life that God desires that man should live.
Perhaps even de Valera knew that such a land had never existed, nor ever would, but what vision has taken its place?
What “ideal” of Ireland do people now have? Protestants are too individualist to think in terms of vision for a nation – even fundamentalist Protestants would tend to think of an ideal country as being one where certain things are not done, rather than as a place where a certain form of society exists. So if there was a Catholic expression of a vision for Ireland in 2011, what would be included? Would we return to elements of the past? It wasn’t such a great past. It was an Ireland where women had to leave their jobs in the civil service and banking when they got married in fulfilment of the constitutional place of women in the home. Divorce was banned, artificial contraception was banned. Gay and lesbian people simply didn’t exist. Would a vision based on church teaching mean a reversion to those things?
Perhaps in post-modern times the idea of vision is redundant, but there is need for some set of values, some sort of coherence, something we might all strive for; otherwise there is a danger that our politics will remain forever at the level of clientelism and the sterile electioneering of these past weeks.