“If ‘left behinds’ feel victims of a system that not only hammers their hopes but looks down on their opinions and aspirations, it is not easy to attract their civic loyalty.” So said Chris Patten, former and last Governor of Hong Kong, and former Chairman of the British Conservative Party.
He was speaking in St Ann’s Church, Dawson St Dublin on Tuesday 25 February 2020, addressing the topic of ‘The Future of Liberal Democracy’. The lecture was organised by Studies, the quarterly journal published by Messenger Publications and was held in honour of Peter Sutherland, former Attorney General of Ireland and patron of Studies.
In his lecture, Patten examined the contributing factors to political dissatisfaction evident in Western societies today. He drew attention to the political and economic pressures from immigration, the corrosive impact that social media can have and the effect of profound changes in the world’s economic balance.
He outlined threats to liberal democracy around the globe, warning about attacks on democratic institutions and civil society including opposition groups, journalists and universities from the rise of populist leaders around the world.
He also flagged the importance of China as a country that could play a leading and constructive role in the global community. However, he also drew attention to the threat that the Chinese Communist Party can present to liberal democracy, citing the hard line that the Party has taken concerning Hong Kong, an administrative region of China that seeks to embody many democratic principles.
Chris Patten, a former EU Commissioner, concluded his address by calling for leaders who will stand up for the rule of law, for honesty and realism and for international cooperation. He then took questions from the floor.
When asked if he would have concerns about liberal democracy if Sinn Féin were to form part of a government given its past relationship with the IRA, he replied that nobody “should hold history against people” but that people should make sure that they know what the history was and make “pretty clear-minded judgments about why, from time to time, you can put history on one side – not always – but from time to time”.
He went on to say that it was possible to excuse people for what their antecedents might have been and to excuse people for the role that some of them may have played in history, adding however that “it is very important to know what the history was and if you make that decision, to make it cooly and rationally.”
The following morning Lord Barnes was the guest of Sean O’Rourke on the Today With Sean O’Rourke programme on RTE Radio 1. He told the presenter that the Brexit era has been the most depressing time of his life. You can listen to that interview here. (Interview begins 30 minutes into the programme).
Photo left to right: Bruce Bradley SJ Editor of Studies, Chris Patten, and Cecilia West of Messenger Publications.