Unlike many of my pro-European colleagues, I was disappointed when the hard left Syriza coalition did not win last year’s Greek general election. I was disappointed because the failure of the non-authoritarian (in the human rights sense) hard-left to actually take control of a modern western nation is bad for politics. It allows its advocates in other countries (like the People’s Front of Killiney) to continue to offer pain-free solutions without ever having to account for their implementation elsewhere. In short, there is no model they can be held account to.
Some point to Venezuela or Cuba, of course, but they always fall at the first hurdle: would those same Chavezist sympathisers have been happy giving Margaret Thatcher, or in Ireland, Charlie Haughey, the same powers that Chavez or Castro had? The answer is always a clear No, which proves the failings of the model. You can’t build a system of government around a cult of personality.
But the idea of a democratic socialist nation is still an attractive City-on-a-hill proposition for many, and so it really would serve democratic capitalism better if there was a genuinely tangible and above all measureable society with which to compare the capitalist model.
Sweden and the Nordic countries generally tend to be hailed as the closest to the ideal, although even they, as Sweden’s reforming free-market orientated coalition has shown, occasionally tip rightwards. Also, the fact that they seem, as a region, to have headed in a broadly similar direction might make one think that culture has played as much a role as politics. Has their severe weather, or the relatively minor penetration of Catholicism played a role in their prosperity?
Whereas the emergence of a genuinely socialist nation looks less and less likely in the current globalised environment, it’s not far fetched to imagine socialist “pockets” developing within a devolved nation. Whether it is San Francisco or perhaps Scotland, federalist politics (in the real sense) mixed with EU-style rights of living and working could offer us a tantalising possibility of micro-socialist states appearing in Europe or the US, where citizens with like-minded values could converge to build a mutually compatible society. Indeed in the US, it has already begun, with religious hardliners knowing they can find shared values in the south, and liberals likewise in New York, Vermont or San Francisco.
If anything, it is over-centralised countries like Ireland or the UK which are denying their citizens the opportunity, and are in danger of losing their more pro-active citizens to other more empowered regions.
And by the way, this is not just an option open to left wing policies: just how would a low tax libertarian county do in Ireland, for example?