Sunday, September 27, 2009

Democracy and Saving the Planet

The democratic Western way is not perfect. Thus the Irish having with considerable insight, voted "no" to the proposed European Union constitution, gave the answer which was not regarded by the mandarins of Brussels as being the correct answer. So the Irish are being requested to vote again. This re-run of the Yes or No question when the electorate has already voted no, smacks not only of patronising the voters but is also indicative of a major imbalance in the democratic system. If those who vote no are given another chance so that they can think about voting yes this time round, why should those who voted yes last time not now be given another opportunity to vote no?

Some political leaders were pragmatic (possibly patronising in a different way?) enough to conclude that their electorates could not be expected to understand the complexities involved so went ahead without offering peoples chances to vote on the matter at all.

There are issues so fundamental to human life that they should not be decided simply by the will of the majority. Capital punishment is a good example . Revenge and retribution by killing killers may seem attractive to a majority of voters but should not such an issue be decided by informed leadership? The New Testament answer would be a resounding no to answering death by death so the Scottish decision re the Lockerbie killings, if truly made out of compassion, was a New Testament response albeit doubtless contrary to the majority opinion. Revenge however can seem sufficiently 'sweet' to many to yield a "yes" answer in a popular referendum on the issue. It is noteworthy in the Lockerbie context that Scotland's Cardinal O'Brien
was in the fore of those seeking to pressure world's leaders to take action about mankind's tragic actions in polluting the planet.

Major Green issues likewise require great and informed leadership to determine rather than simply relying on the majority view. How many car drivers for example would vote for making private car ownership almost if not actually impossible? Yet if the ability to own and drive private vehicles at will continues to go unchecked, we may all drive ourselves and the planet to destruction; likewise a few other aspects of personal lifestyles.

Calling for referenda on such issues may be truely democratic but alas such may also be the actions of truly weak leaders.

The Catholic Church here on the planet is full of weaknesses but its reliance on leadership rather than democratic/popular opinions, is one of its strengths. The Scottish Cardinal O'Brien's stance on green issues is a hallmark of a good leader. The BBC reported lst week:


Scotland's leading Roman Catholic has warned the international community that "political wrangling" over climate change is putting the poor at risk.

5 comments:

  1. Jerry, I found your post absolutely fascinating and it seems to me to go to the heart of the debate currently raging on "the limits of democracy".
    I think we should be careful, though, not to assume that the results of an OPINION POLL would necessarily be echoed in a REFERENDUM. The majority opinion expressed in a snap poll might well be different from the vote expressed after a well-conducted campaign.
    It's a vexed question and I find it difficult to get my tired brain around it!

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  2. Greetings Baranaby - I agree with your view about opinion polls too but your point about "a well conducted campaign" raises another issue:
    By all accounts the Yes vote people in Ireland are being well funded whereas the No vote campaign is not. Possibly apocrophal but the story appears to be that EU funding is going to the one side but not the other. The result if it follows the money as things alas tend to do, is obvious...

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  3. My first experience of a "referendum", Jerry, was with Fr Gillick at Beaumont. Was he still there in your day? Did he perhaps become Rector? Anyway, I remember him as one of those brilliant men who would have been a success in any walk of life. He also had natural authority. NOBODY fooled around with Fr Gillick! He was our history teacher in Syntax I (I think).
    On the first day of the new school year he walked into the classroom and said: "Listen, we can cover the syllabus any way you like or we can DO IT MY WAY". We were all far too much in awe to say a word (apart from being too thick to think of any other way of learning history)!
    So that was one referendum in which the "government" got the answer it wanted...

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  4. Greetings Barnaby. Father Gillick's name had a particular resonance for the year of '67 which was the final Beaumont year, as he was headmaster at the time and suffered much mostly unfair opprobium from boys, families and BU as a result. After laving Beaumont he went to South Africa and worked with Jesuit Missions there right through until he was in 80+ with under privileged in an AIDs clinic. The Jesuit Missions HQ is in Wimbledon and it happened he visited Wimbledon about 11 years ago when another BU of '67 was elebrating his 50th birthday. The then 50 year old BU held a BBQ in his SW19 garden with four of us + wives + Father Gillick SJ was also invited. A terrific atmosphere and Father Gillick was obviously a kind priest and man who handled the responsibility of seeming to head up the Beaumont closure as adroitly as possible. RIP

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  5. Thanks for the information, Jerry. I didn't know anything about his life after Beaumont. I admired him immensely. He seemed to be able to make a success of anything he set his mind to - brilliant at sport. At the same time I was a bit scared of him as he seemed to think that I and a friend of mine called Finnbarr O'Driscoll might make good "priest material"!! As you say a kind man.

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