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|From: Church & State: Articles|
|Date: January, 2022|
|By: Brendan Clifford|
Meandering. Brendan Clifford
The development of individualism as the medium of social conformity seems to have been the distinctive achievement of Progress in the last three or four centuries.
It is agreed by those who are paid to know that this development is intimately connected with the growth of Protestantism and Capitalism into the dominant forces—or force—in world affairs.
Native Ireland lagged behind in this development. For why? Ce'en fa? [Cén fáth]
For that, even though it was delivered over to a regime of Progress for two centuries, it refused to conform to it. It remained lodged in the collective comfort of the Catholic morass, instead of rising to the call of Individualism and conforming.
It was punished for its obdurate backwardness. Progress stood for the freedom of the individual to save himself by living his own exclusive life, qualifying himself to be a member of the Elect in the hereafter by doing well in the here and now.
It must be admitted that Progress did its best for the Irish. It destroyed the props of their backwardness—the clan aristocracies, the priesthood, the language and the poets, the untidy forms of pre-capitalist property—It freed them from all the traditional inducements to backwardness, and left them with nothing to lose and everything to gain by conforming to the requirements of free, self-seeking, individualism.
And what did the Irish do when they were freed for Progress by the Penal Laws which punished backwardness? They entered dreamland and remembered times when "an Aifreann binn" [the sweet Mass] was said in the great houses of their own chiefs, while furtively attending subversive gatherings at Mass Rocks, where everything Roman was stripped away except the spirit.
The Romanist religion was idolatrous, materialistic and customary. One of the severely Protestant Bronte sisters—the one who lived in Belgium for a while—summed up the typical human product of Romanism as being fat, stupid and happy.
The Protestant regime in Ireland removed from them the conditions for being fat and happy and did all it could to reinforce their presumed stupidity, but in exchange it offered them access to the higher things in life—beginning with soup.
It shepherded them towards it—but they refused to pass through it and seize the future.
Something in them Prevented The Future, as an academic work of recent times put it.
Why didn't they just give in, become Protestant, and gain the world? What was it that made them so stubbornly attached to ignorant, poverty-stricken bigotry that they refused the truth when it was pressed on them so forcefully by the strongest Power in the world?
Protestantism began by repudiating the world. Its purpose was to assure the isolated self of a place in the hereafter. It repudiated the strain of Christianity which allowed itself to be woven into the structure of the Roman Empire by Constantine. It abhorred the sensuality of graven images and burning incense and melodious chanting. It stood for the simple life, lived abstemiously in the sight of God. And yet it happened somehow that in Ireland it was the Romanists who lived abstemiously, without the ornamental and seductive fripperies brought over from paganism, while the worldly life was lived in the Protestant Big Houses that dotted the country.
Protestantism, which repudiated the world to start with, became the dominating World Power within a remarkably short period—an essentially destructive power with regard to everything else but itself.
I refer, of course, to the Protestantism which came to dominate the world by becoming the State religion of England at the moment when England declared itself an Empire. In its founding centres in South Germany and Switzerland, Protestantism remained a local affair. Zwingly may have hoped to make Zurich the centre of a world empire, but he failed at the first local hurdle.
Protestantism became a world force as the religion of the Empire created by England. And, during its rise as an expansionist and intolerant Protestant State, England was governing Ireland. And yet the Irish insisted on remaining what they were, despite the chastisements and inducements applied to them. They survived the Protestant onslaught. They were deprived of all visible means of support, and yet they maintained themselves as an existential fact.
Would they have retained their unique essence, if they had saved themselves grief and turned Protestant? Or would they have simply become a component of the Imperial state, as did other special cultures around England?
Now their intelligentsia, instead of investigating how they survived—and also investigating the nature of the English frenzy—apologise on behalf of the bigotry of the generations that obstructed the course of Protestant progress.
Official Ireland today apologises for the thoughtless survival of the Irish, who had no concern for others when the others were intent on extinguishing them. It is in denial of its history, and therefore of a major dimension of its existence.
The German philosopher, Schopenhauer, gave a meaningful description of human existence as being made up of Will and Idea. The Irish world scarcely exists today in the realm of the Idea. In the Schopenhauer analysis, the form of art which exists independent of the Idea is music, which is a direct expression of the Will. And Plato set music apart as a form of art that would not be tolerated in his Republic because it was insidious in its influence and was capable of by-passing and subverting the best-constructed ideas.
When official Ireland retreated from itself in the realm of ideas in 1970 by reneging on the obligations it incurred by its assertion of sovereignty over the Six Counties, unofficial Ireland compensated with a musical resurgence. "Folk culture" flourished. The decline of the language revival halted. Fifty years of official sponsorship had reduced it to a shell, but in the seventies it began to acquire unofficial substance, but as an expression of will, rather than a medium in which ideas were developed.
The Arms Trials and associated events in 1970 left the State poverty-stricken in the sphere of ideas—suggesting that there is an intimate connection between the intellect, no matter how fancifully it dresses itself up, and the will, and that, when it is not driven by the will, the intellect becomes pretentious and brittle—a thing observed by Nietzsche long ago, and even acknowledged in a backstairs kind of way by the supreme philosopher of the intellect, Kant.
The threadbare intellect of Fianna Gael floundered after its Great Denial of 1970. It had asserted a right of sovereignty over the Six Counties, thereby denying the legitimacy of the British Government in them, but it condemned the War that was launched against the illicit British regime. What sense—what reason—was there in that? Surely a usurping regime is fair game!
A revolutionary organisation appeared on the scene and began to do its thinking for it—the Official IRA.
For thirty or forty years 'an illegal organisation' had been a well-understood part of the structure of life. The understanding was that it was made necessary—or at least unavoidable—by the existence of the usurping regime in the Six Counties. It was a product of circumstance, therefore it could not be crushed, even though it could not be given official approval either, even by naming it. It was just "an illegal organisation", regrettable but indispensable. It was preserved by circumstances—and sooner or later those circumstances, which were irreformable, would ensure that its day would come.
In 1969/70 that 'illegal organisation' became the Official IRA. It decided to enter the official life of the state in Dublin and to expel from itself those elements which remained preoccupied with war against the usurping regime in the North. This happened just as the form of the usurping regime in the North began to break down. The expelled elements formed themselves into a Provisional IRA and they found things to do in the old-fashioned way in the Northern turmoil.
The formal occasion of the split in the illegal organisation was its decision to enter the Treaty Dail, and part company with the historic Second Dail, but it was the turn of events in the North that gave historic substance to the split.
And it was undoubtedly because of its outstanding success in handling the Northern situation that the Provisionals are now the major party in the Treaty Dail and the clever Officials are scattered all over the place.
But the Officials had their day. In the seventies they were driven by hatred of the Provisionals and had plenty to say against them, while Fianna Gael could only trot out arid clichés. So they became the spearhead of the anti-Provo conspiracy of the state, and thrived in what was then called the Ideological State Apparatus—RTE and the educational and newspaper media, and one of them is now a member of the House of Lords: Lord Bew.
Their idea was, roughly, to counterpose class against nation. They stood for class against nation. They were in that sense revolutionaries out to overthrow the bourgeois state. But the class force required for revolution was a complicated ideological construct of the advanced Marxism of the time rather than something that actually existed, while the national force in the North, on which the Provisionals based themselves, had actual existence: and it was looking for an effective means of development in 1970 when all the Civil Rights demands had been conceded and were seen not to have touched the essence of the situation.
As Provisional Republicanism grew stronger—its strength deriving entirely from the make-up of Northern Ireland—the Southern State felt obliged to denounce it because it was making an official claim on the North. It might have said that it was the legitimate sovereign authority in the North, with the right to decide on war and peace there. That was the formal position under the 1937 Constitution, but it was not a position which Dublin Governments felt it was politically advisable to assert in the 1970s—although it was stated in its Defence Plea in Kevin Boland's Court action against it over the Sunningdale Agreement. It stated it so as to ward off a Court finding against it on the grounds of the constitutional imperative, but then it tried to forget it.
Therefore its condemnation of Provisional Republican action in the North could only take the form of a condemnation of political violence in principle, which rang hollow when it came from Governments of a state founded on it.
Official Republican condemnation carried more bite because of its vehemence, which was given to it by the fact that it regarded the Provisionals as being in rebellion against its own legitimate authority, and because Officialism operated within an ideology which it originated, and its actions and condemnations were consistent with that ideology. The ideology may have been fantasy, but it was fashionable fantasy of the moment in Western Europe, was taken in earnest by its Stickie advocates, and gave their utterances a feeling of conviction that was lacking from Fianna Gael. And that gave it such an edge that it almost took over RTE.
(They were known as Stickies in Belfast because in 1970 their Easter Lily badges were attached to the lapel with gum instead of pins.)
The Stickies characterised the Provos as Fascist from an early stage because they were nationalists, and they gave priority to the national will over the schematic understanding of the strictures of social science.
The Provos were far from being national-bourgeois in the manner of the founder of Sinn Fein, Arthur Griffith. In class terms they were predominantly working class with an occasional petty bourgeois tinge. The Stickies, insofar as I was acquainted with them, came from a social stratum above the Provos. I thought they would have acted more coherently and effectively if they had recognised themselves as national bourgeois and applied themselves to revitalising bourgeois life in the Republic. But it was probably because they came from a higher social stratum, and got their ideas from the University, that they dismissed the appearance of things as illusion and lost themselves in the mysteries of social science.
The Provos in the North were not anti-socialist—as the "illegal organisation" had often tended to be. They were common or garden socialists, and they learned quickly how to use the British welfare state as a resource, but they were socialists within the parameters of nationalism in Northern Ireland. They were not internationalists. International socialists were welcome to support them, but the support was not reciprocated. This was made clear by Gerry Adams at a meeting laid on for him in London, in the late seventies I think, by the international socialist movement which had a noticeable presence at the time.
The Stickies were scientific socialists. They seemed to be living in the early days of the Communist International, when the understanding was that the class conflict of Capital and Labour had worked itself through to the point where further development could only come about by the overthrow of bourgeois dictatorship and its replacement by the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
Capital and Labour were then at a stand-off. The Capitalist system could only revive if they were brought back into combination. Labour was destined by the working of the system to overcome Capital. But Mussolini, a revolutionary socialist before the First World War who had helped Britain bring Italy into the War, came up with the forging of a national development of Socialism—which was at variance with the presumption that Socialism was possible only as Internationalism. He established a form of National Socialism to be run jointly by Labour and Capital. That was Fascism. It was reactionary in the sense that it obstructed the necessary course of events as predicted by Scientific Socialism.
The Stickies projected a class development which would override national dissensions. The Provos put themselves at the head of a nationalist revolt in the North, spoiling the game as Mussolini had. And nationalism gave priority to the will to act over scientific understanding of what should be done in order to be in harmony with the necessity of things.
It was not put as clearly as that, but that is the sense I got from a number of Stickies (not Army people) in Belfast and Dublin in the early and middle seventies.
Provisionalism was a national exertion of will, without class analysis, which appealed to tradition: it was Fascism.
Folk culture was a major part of tradition, and was a conspicuous feature of the Fascism of Germany: National Socialism. A Stickie I knew in Dublin was a producer of Irish folk-culture for Radio Eireann. He told me one day that he would have to give it up because he had come to understand that it was one of the important sources of Nazism.
Traditional music was officially banned on Radio Eireann by Conor Cruise O'Brien when he was Postmaster General. As a Civil Servant, he had been a professional Anti-Partitionist, but as Labour Minister in the Coalition he did penance for that.
In the early seventies he engaged in a public debate with Tomás McGiolla, leader of Stickie Sinn Fein. At that moment O'Brien and McGiolla saw themselves as the rival parties in the wave of the future which would sweep away the rubble of the past—but they were the ones that were swept away. They acted as if the state of affairs they aspired to bring about had already been brought about, and in the confused situation that existed they were left clutching at straws.
O'Brien took a stand on Liberalism. Charles Haughey, who wrote very little, wrote some articles on Liberalism for the Sunday Press showing that it was not a substance one could stand on. It was not itself substance. At best it was only the mode of a substance. It had no content of its own.
(Liberalism was in origin the ideology of Manchester Capitalism, laissez-faire capitalism, freedom of conflict, every-man-for-himselfism.)
The Stickies became rivals of the Communist Party for the patronage of the Kremlin of those times, and sank with it.
The Provisionals declared War on the British State in the North, fought it for a generation, negotiated a compromise end to it, held themselves together while ending it, and indicated to the Dublin Establishment that it was time for it to end its sovereignty claim over the North. They then made themselves a major party in the South, while still being reviled as fascists or criminals by Fianna Gael, which they had disobeyed in 1970.
And they outdid all the liberals in their liberalism, casting all tradition to the winds, and declaring the State constructed in the South to be worthy only of being melted down into raw material for recasting. It seems possible that, after the next Election it will not be possible to form a Government without Sinn Fein. In that event, it will be interesting to see how Fianna Gael handles a situation which, according to its own rhetoric, would resemble Germany in 1933.
In all of this religion has been of no account. It has just melted away.
When this magazine was founded 50 years ago, it carried in its early issues a series of articles explaining that the Roman Catholicism of Ireland was anomalous in European terms, and had been established in Ireland only in the mid-19th century, chiefly by reason of British default. It did not have deep roots, stretching back over a millennium, as in Austria for example.
It was Cardinal Cullen's creation. His reforms were resisted in much of the country, which was at ease with Gaelic Catholicism. The resistance was given expression by William O'Brien and Canon Sheehan—both of whom were written out of history by the Establishment.
We suggested that the Church/State situation should be normalised by a Concordat. The Church—Daniel O'Connell's free Church in a free state—wouldn't hear of it. And the anti-clericals, given voice by Gene Kerrigan, looked forward to a simple destruction of the Church by the irresistible spread of Monopoly Capitalism from the United States—which did in fact happen.
Catholicism is, in any case, a different kind of religion from Biblicalist, Individualist Protestantism. Fundamentalist Protestantism is internalised and autonomous. Canon Sheehan gives a memorable description of its Individualist as carrying his world around with him as the snail carries his house—as being just the same as the multitude of other, completely distinct and yet identical, mass-produced individualists.
That may be the Irish future, but it has not yet been achieved!
Meandering. Brendan Clifford
Jesus And The Imperial Power. Peter Brooke
Notes On The Long Island. Stephen Richards
The Murder Of Francis Sheehy Skeffington. Hayden Talbot
Vox Pat: by Pat Maloney (Surveyed; Prince Philip; John Mitchell; Conundrum! A ROSE by any other gender! It's Magic!; Full Circle; Male Loneliness
President Made Right Decision
To Decline Church Service Invitation! Tom Cooper (Report)
Not Much Joy For Unionism! Wilson John Haire
The Irish Christian Brothers AndThe First World War. Donal Kennedy
Storm Over Spain. Máirín Mitchell—An Unconventional Republican Part 1
The Hiberno-Normans, Part One. Nick Folley