'Intellectual crisis' concerns Higgins

Tue, Feb 21, 2012, 00:00

Ireland and the European Union have been “living through a period of extreme individualism” when the very existence of society itself has been questioned, President Michael D Higgins has told the London School of Economics.

"The public space in so many countries of the EU has been commodified, and it is as calculating rational choice maximizers, rather than as citizens, we have been invited to view our neighbours," he said.

"That is the mark of our times, the hegemonic version, by which it is suggested, we live our lives together. Our existence is assumed to be, is defined as, competing individual actors at times neurotic in our insatiable anxieties for consumption."

The power of the markets to declare that humanity is irrational, while the market itself is rational must be resisted, said Mr Higgins, who is on his first foreign visit as head of state.

During a wide-ranging speech, Mr Higgins paid tribute to the founders of the London School of Economics, including Irish writer, George Bernard Shaw, who promoted a greater understanding of the need for socialism.

"In so many ways the tragedy of modern Ireland's recent difficulties is that it did what the founders of the LSE hoped. It was the first English-speaking country to decolonise, to walk in darkness down what would become a better lit road - a road illuminated by teachers and students at the LSE.

"The problem for Ireland was the failure to achieve economic lift-off at the same moment as soon after. By the time the more recent economic boom began, leaders and people had all but lost connection with the cultural and political elements of national revival which might, if retained, have provided an ethical brake, made a critique that would have constituted the regulation that was needed," he said.

The dream of a social Europe, he said, is being "undermined by the commodification of ever more aspects of social life, as European social capital, the strongest in the world, is monetized.

"It is clear we have arrived at such a crisis now as great or greater than that faced by the previous generation of political and social theorists at the end of the 19th Century. It is a challenge for all of us to craft our response to our crisis as they did to theirs in their time.

"We are experiencing now I believe an intellectual crisis that is far more serious than the economic one which fills the papers, dominates the programmes in our media," said the President, who earlier visited the London Irish Centre in Camden.

While at the centre, Mr Higgins said the Irish living overseas would “always be in the forefront of my thoughts”.

Ms Mulready, of the Irish Elderly Advice Network, one of the groups that will meet the President, said there is “great excitement” surrounding his visit.

Tomorrow, Mr Higgins will visit the Olympic Park and attend a performance of Juno and Paycock involving the Abbey Theatre and the National Theatre of Great Britain before returning to Dublin on Thursday morning..