The Many Fathers of Success

Apologies for selfishly vacating my natural position in the revolutionary vanguard these past weeks. I’m afraid my inner counsel of despair led me to the conclusion that The Great Crash of 2008 represents, far from the impending demise of neoliberalism, its ultimate and final triumph. The crisis was a vast stress test, a worst-case catastrophe which confirmed, in extremis, the impunity of capital and the impotence of organised labour, and saw the latter exit stage right for the last time in its present form. Documenting the course of the malaise suddenly began to seem less appealing.

So, with the firm assurance that we are all going to hell and Circumlimina is of the company, let us ooze back into the slough of despond with some thoughts on the fiction of statesmanship.

This, of course, is prompted by the heroically deluded valediction of Patrick Bartholomew “Bertie” Ahern (even his name is a half-truth concealed within a lie.) Bertie, it seems, will be remembered (not least by himself) as the man who brought peace to Northern Ireland.

Historians, we are told, will judge Ahern more favourably than his myopic contemporaries, as the passage of time breaks down the encrusted filth of Bertie’s venality, low tricks and incompetence, leaving only the dazzling pearl of peace as his legacy. This may well be true; historians will, as ever, shape their judgements to suit the requirements of power. Thus it may well be that future generations grow up with Bertie the peacebroker, as their forefathers grew up with Dev the visionary.

It seems to me that the Good Friday Agreement presents us with two competing and incompatible theses – that of peace in Northern Ireland as an idea whose time had come, the product of two war-weary communities exerting slow but irresistible pressure upon those who purported to represent them by fair means and foul; or, alternatively, a thumping endorsement of the Great Man Theory of history, which posits that seismic societal changes are wrought when individuals with sufficient iron in their souls forcibly mould world events in accordance with their vision.

The problem for proponents of the latter theory, in this particular instance, is the motley and underwhelming nature of the dramatis personae. Bertie Ahern’s failings require no elucidation. David Trimble resembles nothing so much as a Northern Irish Alan Dukes, a kind of malignant didgeridoo. Gerry Adams may have seen the winds change earlier than most, but his subsequent flailings have revealed him to be entirely unremarkable (except as possibly the only man in the world with a bilingual beard.) It’s easy to see why John Hume was voted Ireland’s Greatest in a recent RTÉ poll. He’s a D4 radical’s dream, the acceptable face of liberal dissent, who bestrode the political stage like Karloff’s Frankenstein (with brain, but not charisma, intact.)

That still leaves Tony Blair, a man whose stalwart belief in his own destiny was a self-fulfilling prophecy which undeniably infected the course of the early 21st century. I saw Blair interviewed on TV recently, and felt that familiar chill which contemplation of the malevolently alien always engenders. The man is unquestionably a sociopath, inhuman not merely in his actions, but in his very nature. He’s certainly no evil genius; in some ways, he’s more stupid than Bush. Alternative viewpoints are literally incomprehensible to him.

In many respects, Blair is unique among the rogue’s gallery of British prime ministers. Plenty of them have been arrogant, heedless, aloof warmongers, but all except Blair grew up in circumstances which deadened them to the concerns and experiences of lesser lifeforms.

With Blair, it’s something different, some kind of inexplicable psychical lacuna which altered the course of history. There’s something in those wild eyes, those blokily dropped t’s, the unconvincing attempts at firmness and fierceness. Blair is a fundamentally disconcerting amalgam of General Franco and Cliff Richard, and undoubtedly the strangest man to attain fame in the modern era without recourse to incest, cannibalism or Big Brother.

So which do we have to thank for peace in our time? Popular pressure, or one man’s mania? I know what I’d rather attribute it to.

As for Bertie, well, what of him? Ruminating on his legacy is like dissecting the subtextual strata of the Transformers movies, it cedes him too much credit. Bertie Ahern did as the prevailing ethos of the Irish oligarchy and the European Commission required, until his personal appetites and lack of judgement dislodged the baton from his hands. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been some other fucking chancer. Case closed.


3 Responses to “The Many Fathers of Success”

  1. LeftAtTheCross Says:

    On the ultimate stress test, you’re right of course not to under-estimate the capacity for capitalism to muddle through, but it hasn’t yet completed a victory, the contradictions haven’t been resolved, if anything the opposite is true, the heat has been turned up a notch and the bubble is even more stressed than it was before. You’re correct in criticising the response and the state of preparedness of the Left, but it is early days yet, the punch-drunkeness will fall away. I know it sometimes seems unlikely but the reality is that the class enemy is in uncharted territory, they don’t understand what’s happening and they struggle for models and meaning, whereas at least the Left has an understanding of the how and why, and our task is to distill and communicate that into a credible “narrative” that engages with people’s reality.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Jonathan Says:

    “Bertie, it seems, will be remembered (not least by himself) as the man who brought peace to Northern Ireland.”
    I imagine it will only be by himself, Eoghan Harris and other apologists, and those sad deluded souls who want to salvage something – anything – from the wreckage of the Celtic Tiger.
    “a fundamentally disconcerting amalgam of General Franco and Cliff Richard”
    Superb description of him!

  3. Pope Epopt Says:

    Ah, I enjoyed that – very quotable and spot on regarding Ahern and Blair and the vacuity of the great man theory of the peace process.

    But I’d agree with LATC – we are at the beginning of this crisis, and the contradictions between the European technocracy and finance capital are likely to be one of the foci this year.

    2008 weren’t no ‘worst case catastrophe’ of capitalism, not by a long chalk.

    Ideologies are shredding and the capitalist class doesn’t have a viable game-plan. The crisis has been dis-illusioning, in that more people have some inkling of what is going on. More of the ‘middle class’ join the margins and fewer have a real stake in the status quo.

    However, if you wish to relapse into the slough of despond, just consider the likely state of the planetary eco-systems in a centuries time.

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