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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: January, 2021|
"Can Ireland And Britain Escape A Common Destiny?"—that is the question asked by Irish Times journalist Diarmaid Ferriter (December 11), who also fills in as Professor in what was intended to be the National University. He does not answer his question. The answer is too obvious, and too embarrassing to be stated: that it depends on whether Britain abandons Ireland to Europe.
Insofar as that common destiny ever existed, it was British destiny imposed on Ireland by use of force, and then followed by a superficial trickle of voluntary Britishness which never managed to be the real thing. The real thing existed in Ireland only in the British colonies. And, even in the colonial oases of Britishness, it soon became a caricature of itself through loss of intimate contact with the mother hive. The Big House system gave rise to hordes of posturing nonentities who were doubly parasitic—on the Irish economically and on Britain culturally. And the parasite always lacks the vigour of the host.
The Irish Times in recent times has been displaying the characteristics of parasitic Britishness gone crazy.
Professor Ferriter, with the sophistry of an enlightened native, writes about the "communal cooperation between the two countries". He mentions a British financial guaranteeing of Free State Land Bonds in the 1920s—a very marginal thing indeed. The co-operation that mattered as a historical event was transacted between a Fenian land agitator who figured out what Britain was and the Unionist Party Government at a period when the Unionist Party was the major British Party—a Tory social-reform-Liberal merger—having little to do with Ulster.
That was by far the greatest piece of co-operation there ever was between the British and the Irish. The history of it has not been written by any of the Professors of History that now litter the country with waste paper. It carries the wrong message for these revisionist times—that the British will deal reasonably with an intransigent force in Ireland which cannot be brought under its thrall.
The other instance of co-operation mentioned by Ferriter is the 1938 economic settlement. He says nothing on how it came about. Ireland then had the substance of a property-owning democracy and Fianna Fail was vigorously nationalist on anti-Treaty grounds. It was decided that the annual repayments on the 1903 land settlement loan should be retained in Ireland. The British Government retaliated by trying to break the Irish economy—a thing which has become commonplace with Trade Sanctions in this era of the United Nations but was a very unusual thing then.
The small-farmer majority in the country pitted their nationalist will against the force of economic determinism which Professor Ferriter seems to regard as irresistible. The British market for meat and milk was closed, so they were given away without profit at home. Then, in 1938 Britain—no doubt with another World War in contemplation—gave way to the Irish, even giving up the Ports which they held under the 'Treaty'.
The Free State became politically independent of Britain in 1938 with the removal of foreign military bases from its territory. This was an achievement of the nationalist Economic War with Britain on the issue of economic determinism.
Britain was very inadequately summed up by Napoleon as a nation of shopkeepers. Living through shops in one way or another certainly became the general medium of life in England before anywhere else, but the State was not conducted by the shopkeepers. That was done by a ruling class based on large-scale land ownership which looked down on trade as vulgar. That ruling class is the distinctive thing about the British State. It is something that is entirely outside European experience, and therefore Europe can only see Britain as behaving capriciously and perversely just now. But Britain—England—is behaving according to its own normality of at least three centuries' standing.
The Government did not consult the shopkeepers about launching the Great War in 1914. The Economist, which was then much more an organ of the shopkeepers than it is now, deplored the upset of business routine that the war would bring. It even pointed out that, if the German march through Belgium was really the issue, it could easily have been prevented by giving a straight answer to the German Ambassador about what Britain would do in the event of a German march through Belgium. But then it came to heel.
Europe, since the French Revolution, has had Monarchies, Democracies, and Dictatorships of various kinds. It has never had anything like the English ruling class which, since 1714, could, like a chameleon, simulate as much of any of these things as served the purpose of the moment. Because of its catastrophic history in the 20th century, engineered by England, Europe has prohibited regions of thought. The most disabling of these is the prohibition against thinking of England as anything but the saviour of Europe from itself—a prohibition which does not only apply to the Nazi period. There is nothing which England, in the exclusive regions beyond the babel of mass University education, cannot think about, and act upon.
Britain is the great peace-loving nation. That is why it has fought more wars than all the disorderly warlike states of Europe combined. Pitirim Sorokin counted them. He was a constitutional socialist dissenter from Lenin's dictatorship in Russia. He escaped to the United States in 1921 and became a historian of war. He counted England as having fought about 180 wars. That was fifty years ago. None of those wars, with the possible exception of the Spanish Armada incident, was a war of defence. The number must now exceed two hundred.
Britain makes war on its own account. It never submits itself to binding alliances. It was ill at ease with the League of Nations, and in 1939 by-passed it when launching the 2nd World War. It inveigled its way into the Common Market in 1972 with the object of diverting it from its original purpose and succeeded in doing so to a considerable extent.
It kept itself sufficiently apart as a member to be able to leave without fundamental disruption of its own system and to regain entire freedom of action in the world. It has had the project of leaving in mind since about 1990. No simple democracy could hold such a purpose in mind for so long, against all the accidents of electoral government, and inch its way towards implementing it.
The Brexit decision was shocking and incomprehensible to the excessively representative democracies of Europe, all of which were mushroom growths out of the shambles of 1945. It took them a long time to realise that the Referendum result was an unalterable expression of national will. They had come to regard nationalism as a form of irrationality—encouraged to do so by Britain, which deplores every nationalism but its own.
It seems that, when the EU grasped the fact that the Brexit decision was not a mistake which could be remedied, they decided to punish England for it in Ireland, by putting the effective British Border in the Irish Sea.
Many bad arguments have been deployed in support of this aim, but the outcome will not depend on reasoning. It will depend on will.
A weak point in the EU Front against Britain is Fianna Fail. Under Micheál Martin's depressing leadership, it has become fundamentally Anglophile. Life without Britain is a terrifying prospect for it. Martin, standing apart from the EU, has pleaded with both sides to make concessions.
The surprising development in Irish politics is the emergence of the Treaty Party as the national party, with Fianna Fail becoming the West Britain party.
It should not have been surprising. It was Fine Gael that was the Irish party in the European mould in the 1930s. It was re-founded out of Cumann na nGaedheal as a Fascist party in 1933 and retained a fascist orientation through the World War and after it, while supporting Neutrality. And, insofar as there was a nationalist intelligentsia, it was Fine Gael and Fascist and therefore European. Professors Hogan and Tierney are now forgotten, but there are no Professors of their intellectual calibre around today.
The Parliamentary system on British lines was maintained by Fianna Fail against Blueshirt pressure throughout that period, while in Britain itself there was an adaptation towards Fascism in the form of a suspension of party-politics and the formation of National Governments from 1931 to 1945.
It is interesting how these movements at the base of things long ago, which were assumed to have been comprehensively superseded, assert themselves in the long run.
As the Day of Judgement approaches, the Irish Times turns to geography for consolation. In its editorial of December 12th, it reveals its conviction that geography is destiny, and that Irish destiny is therefore British. Geography will prove to be "a reality trumping ideology"!
There is a superficial notion that Ireland is an island. But it isn't. It is a piece of an archipelago—“our archipelago"—and the archipelago is the force of destiny.
(John Donne's maxim, No man is an island, needs amending. No island is an island!)
They do not cite that entertaining West Brit, Gogarty, on the subject, but his definition of an island is relevant. An island, he said, is a "country surrounded by a Navy". The only Navy that has ever surrounded Ireland is the British Navy.
The Spanish Navy might possibly have surrounded it at one time—in which case Ireland would have remained Irish—but it chose to do something else. The French Navy challenged the world-conquering Royal Navy, but was destroyed by it. If Germany had won the War launched against it by Britain, the Royal Navy would have shrunk and the Irish revival would have been boosted by German Celtic studies. But the Royal Navy maintained its world dominance across the centuries and was a physical presence more influential than geography.
Ireland appeared to be on its last legs when it joined the Common Market along with Britain. "Is Ireland Dying?" was the title of one of the topical books of that period. The only real sign of life in it was the War in the North, and that was disowned by the State with widespread social approval, even though the Constitution of the State held that British government in the North was illegitimate.
Official Ireland escaped from itself into Europe. It was Britain's second voice in Europe. But Europe was obliged by its own Constitution to treat Ireland as if it was a nation-state in earnest, with a national language. Europe took it more seriously than it took itself, and elements in Ireland responded.
The 'archipelago' status of Ireland may now be in jeopardy. What will happen if it comes about that the Royal Navy lies between Ireland and Britain?
The Irish Times, a piece of Britain frozen in a time warp, is bewildered by this turn of events. It sees the Mother Country as having embarked on a "perilous and ill-planned expedition into the wilderness", and sees it as a matter of great importance that Ireland should keep up a "vital relationship" with it in that wilderness!