Monday, July 30, 2007

Green and rank as grass

The most depressing handicap of Irish ultra-republicans is monocular vision. This can be adequately, and inelegantly revealed by any chance scan of 1169 and Counting:
An award-nominated Irish blog on Irish history and Irish politics - from today and yesterday : all 32 Counties!
The essence is to select and scan long-past documents and thereby reveal the horrors British imperialists impose, minute by minute, over the centuries, on one noble but oppressed people. "History", in any objective form, it is not.

The one big lie ...

George Orwell nailed the "Big Lie" technique in 1984:

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has became inconvenient, and when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed.
The ultra-republican "Big Lie" depends on one inflexible notion: imperial "Britain" somehow wills and maintains a ruthless police state in the Six Counties, contrary to the will of the mass of the Irish people. Everything must be framed into that perspective; and nothing is further from the reality.

... is the father of other lies

Malcolm takes as the shibboleth the word "Protestant" (and its variant grammatical forms). This is not, primarily, because of any denominational commitment on his part, but because it shows up a critical flaw in nationalist/republican thinking: the need to conflate religious demarcations with political ones.

1169 and Counting seem unrelentingly to use "Protestant" as a pejorative. So, in last November's put-down of the Workers' Party (borrowing from a 1983 article lifted from Fortnight magazine):
... some support centred around the academic world which has contributed to a small but growing new Protestant (sic) membership - there is , however , a considerable gap between the political rhetoric which has attracted such new members , and the reality of the party's organisation.
The (sic) is in the original, by the way. Malcolm is not aware that religious affiliation ever was a disclosure required for membership. This aperçu must, therefore, derive from assuming academics are Prods. Hmmm.

Then again, there is this, from a 2005 rip of a 1984 "History of Armagh Jail":
The women's prison in the North of Ireland is situated in the centre of the Protestant/Loyalist city of Armagh.
It was built in the 19th century , a huge granite building which today sports all the trappings of a high-security jail such as barbed wire, guards, arc-lamps , and closed circuit television cameras.
The accuracy of that can be checked against the Census: in 2001 there were 14, 509 residents of the city of Armagh: 68.3% declared themselves to have a Roman Catholic background. Nor is Malcolm, whose knowledge of Armagh goes back to the 1960s, aware of any mass conversions among its populace.

Whose nationalism?

In the history of Irish nationalism, it was the Anglo-Irish who got there first.

Significantly for the history of the next two centuries, the irritant was taxation without representation. In 1576 "the inhabitants of the English pale" are petitioning the Queen's deputy, Surrey, against the taxes "whereby we are reduced to great decay and poverty". When the new Deputy, Sir John Perrot, called a Parliament in 1585-6:
the speaker Walsh, himself a nominee of the Government, delivered a long address setting out the constitutional position. No Government could be autocratic, using power in an arbitrary fashion, king, lords and commons legislated together in parliament. The subject was protected by his status under the crown and there could, therefore, be no discrimination against one in favour of another.
That, by the way, is James Lydon in The Making of Ireland.

A century later, in 1698, William Molyneux challenged the right of English statesmen to make laws for Ireland:
To tax me without my Consent is little better, if at all, than down-right Robbing me.
That was an argument that would be heard an ocean and another century away. And, of course, it was one Swift would refine in Drapier's Letters.

Those precedents, and their natural successors over three centuries, quickly are lost in the miasma of identifying Catholicism as the only true nationalism.

Historical inevitability

Let's persuade Malcolm to leave that long recitation, as least for this posting. Be warned: he will not be cheated of his detailed exposition for ever.

Let's get closer to now, and consider the other falsehood: the great British Imperial plot.

As Malcolm has repeatedly argued in these postings, if there is one constancy of "British" (increasingly a worrying term in itself) governments over decades, since the end of the "economic war", it has been a wish to be out of Ireland, north, south, east, or west. Once Malcolm MacDonald had managed to convince the British Cabinet that de Valera meant what he said, and that Britain's western flank was, literally, neutralised, only the boneheads and self-appointed "Spycatchers" of Margaret Thatcher's honour guard have diverted from the chosen path.

Any real foot-shuffling has been because Dublin, from de Valera to the present day, has shown no wish to take on the "North-east Ulster" business. Even at the moment when "England's difficulty was Ireland's opportunity" that policy did not vary. There is, at the very end of Tim Pat Coogan's De Valera, Long Fellow, Long Shadow, a "Most Secret" internal memorandum addressed to Patrick Kennedy in the Department of the Taoiseach. Dated 24 May, 1941, it lists the myriad ways in which strict "neutrality" was being circumvented to the advantage of Britain. Behind that document lurks the reforming zeal of one Seán Lemass, itching to get out from under the dead hand of de Valera's economics, and seek a rapprochement with a post-war Britain.

A fresh future?

The ultra-republicans are also history. The few remaining firebrands may not yet be capable of eyeing that truth. Today we see greater unity of purpose, across four provinces and the four home nations than was conceivable even a few months ago. Even First Minister Salmond, watchful of his subventions from the Exchequer, is losing his shrillness.

The purblind nationalism issue is dead, and as extinct for all time as the diplodocus.

What matters now is using both eyes, and both sides of the brain in defining a mutual post-nationalism. Sphere: Related Content


yourcousin said...

I would agree with you on "1169 and counting". I checked it out a couple of years ago after Mick gave it a plug but found little there to keep me checking back in.

To cite members of "Protestant Ascendancy" as the precursor of Irish nationalism is a bit shaky to say the least. Now I will freely ackowledge that the term was not really applied until the eighteenth century (1786 when it was introduced into the political discourse) but it serves our purpose well enough.

I have not read William Molyneux's work so I will not try to pretend otherwise. I would state that the majority of penal laws were instituted by the Irish parliament between 1695 to 1709. So the argument that the English parliament should leave Ireland alone is a non starter.

I note the other quote rails against arbitrary authority (as it should) but we must also acknowledge the argument against arbitrary authority was used by both conservatives and radicals alike against the the Catholic Church who were the ultimate in arbitrary and autocratioc authority and was hence used as an excuse to exclude the great majority of Ireland from meaningful enfranchisement in any parliament be it Irish or otherwise.

How a grouping can disenfranchise the majority while at the same time lay claim to a nationalist crown is simply beyond me.

Disclaimer: I'm referring only the Ascendancy only, not Protestants.

It is also worth remembering that parliament then was very different than it is now (though I would argue not by much). Parliament was simply though importantly a check against arbitrary authority by the King (in the case of the English and Irish parliaments).
Not as commonly viewed today as an expression of the people's will. The arguments forwarded against that authority were also argued by English radicals of the times as well so there is nothing too specifically "Irish" about the people and issues except how they highlight the situation of the Irish Catholic population before emancipation and under the crown.

What gave this arguemnt teeth in Ireland was the teeming mass of Catholics chafing at their yokes. I will freely acknowledge that no Catholic really pleaded the case for Ireland until later, at least in high society or parliament. Though I might refer you to the laws that that Parliament passed making such a possibility a rather moot point. While I am loathe to make an argument for the sub altern I would humbly propose that any number of secret societies such as the woodkernes, followed by the Whiteboys and the Defenders might act as a contribution to Irish nationalism.

Okay I have to go to bed, but I'm far from done so you'll have to excuse an imcomplete argument and not jump to any conclusions re protestant vs catholic contribution to nationalism as it's still a work in progress.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

I'm not greatly disagreeing with anything there.

Nor would I maintain that there is anything "nobler" about the earlier [Anglican and Dissenter] nationalist. All I say is that they got there first, and for largely the same reasons as applied in the American Colonies.

And those are good Marxian reasons.

As a gross generalisation, all the Irish and Anglo-Irish resistance before the late 17th-century was (another generalisation) "feudalist" and concerned with land tenure: who "owned" it and how it was owned.

By 1697, though, things had changed. The "Churchmen" would have welcomed full Union (not because of any protection it might offer against the native Irish, but because it would constrain the burgeoning Presbyterians). Union was not on offer: instead the English merchants and proto-capitalists were set on legislation to discriminate against Irish products. The particular grievance that set Molyneux off was the exclusion of Irish wool from the English market.

Molyneux was a friend of John Locke, and so adopted Locke's ideas of natural right. As a result of Molyneux, Trinity College, Dublin, put Locke on the syllabus.

There were, of course, no thanks from England for Molyneux. His work was condemned in the House of Commons as:
of dangerous consequence to the crown and people of England by denying the authority of the king and parliament of England to bind the kingdom and people of Ireland, and the subordination and dependence that Ireland hath and ought to have upon England.

So, I'm going for "1698 and counting".

yourcousin said...

I laughed so much that I almost forgot what I was going to post when I read your response. I should note that I thought about your post for the better part of two days at work.

If my family had been in America since 17something then I might feel compelled to give some great meaning to the American revolution. Since most of them arrived after 1900 as cheap labor (of Eastern European stock) for the mills I feel little sentimental attachment to it (2nd amendment aside). The American revolution was part truth, part spin. I feel that had the landed gentry in America been granted representation in parliament or a parliament of their own then they would not have revolted. Though things being what they were they were forced to wrap their aristocratic revolt in populist/republican terminology to enlist the masses (though they never had more than a third at any one time).

The fact that Molyneux's efforts were greeted by scorn by the commons is little to cheer about. Remember when draft dodger/carpetbagger McLaughlin stated the positive aspects of the SF peace strategy was that it made unionists writhe?

Aww but I am drawn astray from the original point of my second installment. Which is to address the latter part of the original post. I would warn against prophesizing the demise of ultra-republicanism.

I refrain from using the term "nationalism" becasue I feel that the term is thrown around too loosely. I am reminded of a quote by Rebecca West when I was writing this response,

"Nationalism is the simply the determination of a people to cultivate its own soul, to follow the customs bequethed to it by its, to develop its traditions according to it own instincts. It is the national equivalent of the individual's determination not to be a slave"

I cannot argue with this quote myself, maybe someone else can. Just as the individual must come to be responsible with personal freedom so to must a nation grapple with the responsibilities that come with inalinenable rights and freedom.

The cultivation of the soul must never stop. This is why ultra-republicanism seems so moribound, it has ceased trying to develop its soul past the "Big Lie" (though I disagree on that one).

What needs to be undertaken is not a post-nationalist soul but a nationalist soul that is comfortable with the added influence of the "protestant" mindset.

Shit, I have to run to my grandma's for dinner. Hope this suffices. Never enough hours in a day.

yourcousin said...

"to follow the customs bequethed to it by its ancestors"

Sorry I left out a word

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