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In Mussolini’s Garden

This blog has previously bemoaned the lack of interest in Ireland in ideas. Strictly, what was being regretted was the failure to articulate the controlling idea; the people of Ireland, sometimes all of them, and often many of them, are not heedless of ideas – they act on them rather than voice them or consider them.

One of the most influential ideas in Ireland is the belief that the State is superior to the citizen. This idea does not have universal acceptance, but it has a very strong grip on the persons controlling public administration. It is all the stronger for being an assumed truth and never referred to, let alone justified.

The fact that the Irish Constitution contains, and is professed to contain, provisions intended to safeguard the citizen from abuses by the State or its agents, does nothing, it would appear, to attenuate the Statist belief.

Historically, the Statist view is most strongly associated with Germany. Arguably its traditional or original German proponents hold the view as a considered philosophical position. They readily express and defend their ideas of the precedence of the State over the citizen.

It is a matter of surprise that such an idea would find root in Ireland, but its home in public administration suggests its attraction; it appeals to politicians in office and public administrators generally. The exercise of power is rarely if ever a pure act. The administrator invests his/her personality into the decision or act (and judges the fortune of his/her career thereby). Any opposition is resented. Any abstract idea that belittles or diminishes the status of the citizen is welcomed. It vindicates the continued deployment of power even in the face of substantial opposition. In the balancing of citizen and State rights, the balance is not affected by opposition measured by numbers; after all, numbers cannot make what is wrong, right.

Ireland inherited from the UK a perception that the traditional marginal role of the police in the UK (and Ireland) was superior to the Napoleonic system, seen in modern times in mainland European countries in the vestige requiring strangers to report in to the local police station.

In Italy its most ironic manifestation is the absence of internet hotspots or wifi zones on the terms found in Ireland, the UK and the US – free. In Italy it is necessary to produce a passport to use an internet shop; to join a wifi network or, effectively, to use a hotspot.

Benito Mussolini’s villa in Rome was Villa Torlonia on Via Nomentana. Reputedly its garden is a good reception point for the principal wifi network of the city. But reception is available only on terms Mussolini would have understood; by the grace of the Italian State.

While that is not the situation in Ireland, we still limit the ability of the citizen to challenge the State. The principal mechanism of limitation is Order 84 of the Rules of the Superior Courts.

Mussolini would have understood and approved that.