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August 16, 2005

Comments

Neil

Absolutely right. I'm an ardent republican - equality before the law, a cat can look at a king presuming he hasn't been guillotined etc. - and the very opposite of a romantic nationalist. Trying to contrast the 1798 and 1916 risings to some American friends recently took me along a road similar to that travelled by yourself and Ciarán. How would the enlightened, skeptical Dissenter tradition sit now with Sinn Féin's one size fits (sod) all flannel?

Andrew

This is a very interesting dichotomy drawn here. It seems to apply just as well to any number of nationalist movements starting with the French Revolution through the mid-1800s. The French revolutionaries practically invented both nationalism and republicanism, after all. The revolutions of 1848 too.

enda johnson

i don't think sinn féin's nationalism is focused on 'ethnicity' at all. it is more an expression of cultural solidarity, which need not necessarily rely on ethnic or 'racial' superiority.

as for the 'enlightened' men of '98, tell that to the protestants of scullabogue. i can't think off hand of any similarly sectarian actions, by the romantic nationalists of 1916 (though it would be foolish to suppose none existed).

Frank McGahon

i don't think sinn féin's nationalism is focused on 'ethnicity' at all. it is more an expression of cultural solidarity, which need not necessarily rely on ethnic or 'racial' superiority.

What's the difference? By definition, if you express solidarity to someone you are excluding someone else, based on...culture. This cultural solidarity extends only to one community/ethnic group so it isn't distinguishable in any meaningful way from nationalism based on ethnicity.

enda johnson

i don't agree frank,

the difference is that people can take or leave culture as they choose. people cannot alter their ethnicity.

sinn féin believes irish culture ought have primacy in ireland. to promote and encourage a particular set of cultural values (language, traditions, mores etc) is perfectly reasonable. to exalt one ethnicity over all others is depraved. i fail to see how modern irish nationalism is guilty of this.

Frank McGahon

sinn féin believes irish culture ought have primacy in ireland. to promote and encourage a particular set of cultural values (language, traditions, mores etc) is perfectly reasonable

The argument about whether this is reasonable or not (I don't think it is - see below) is separate to the argument about whether this type of nationalism is compatible with the european republican tradition. There isn't really any way that it is - the notion that SF upholds the rights of all citizens so long as Irish culture has primacy is like Henry Ford's advice to his colour-conscious customers.

As for whether cultural promotion is reasonable, I don't think that you can say it is per se reasonable in every case. A certain amount of cultural promotion might be tolerable, but the basic problem is that if a culture has any legs in it, it doesn't need promotion. If it does need promotion, it is a good sign that it is not as highly valued by the actual people. The GAA and the Irish language provide opposing cases in point. The GAA is a very popular institution and would still thrive if no government funding was available. By contrast, people appear to prefer to pay lip service to the Irish language than actually use it.

And that's just from the point of view of the people who celebrate that culture. One of the hallmarks of liberal democracy is the ability to dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy, active cultural promotion curtails this. Another example of culture-promotion abridging individual rights would be forcing unwilling people to, say, learn Irish (or at least punishing them by disqualifying them from certain jobs). So on balance I think laissez-faire is a better policy towards culture - it will thrive without central direction by taking the government out of the culture business and you aren't abridging anyone's rights.

enda johnson

... this type of nationalism is compatible with the european republican tradition. There isn't really any way that it is ... .

ignoring the above assertion, can we agree that the european republican tradition is best exemplified by the modern french state, for what is the 'european republican tradition' if it doesn't include europe's most enduring republic? there is a state obsessed with cultural promotion, in the arts, language, media etc. now, while i'm sure you disapprove of the distinct absence de laissez-faire, i cannot see how sinn féin's esposual of same does not belong in the same 'tradition'.

you suggest that cultural promotion necessitates abridging individual rights by forcing unwilling people to, say, learn Irish. but the state forces people to learn mathematics and also (rightly) bars those who can not or will not from certain jobs. if you consider the consequences of the failure to enforce a minimum level of competency in irish in the public service in ireland on the right of irish people to conduct their business through the medium of irish, i think you will see (though not necessarily agree with the view) that by failing to promote irish culture, the state is actively abridging individual rights. if i lived in france i would expect to have to learn french. i don't see anything wrong with expecting people who live in ireland having to learn irish.

for my own part, i would be quite happy if the state's role in promotion of irish culture was limited to enabling those irish people who wished to deal with the state were enabled to do so in the first national language. once that's arranged, we can start worrying about banning the hijab.

Frank McGahon

ignoring the above assertion, can we agree that the european republican tradition is best exemplified by the modern french state, for what is the 'european republican tradition' if it doesn't include europe's most enduring republic? there is a state obsessed with cultural promotion, in the arts, language, media etc. now, while i'm sure you disapprove of the distinct absence de laissez-faire, i cannot see how sinn féin's esposual of same does not belong in the same 'tradition'.

Perhaps a better way of rephrasing it would be to use the word "ideal" instead of tradition - the original republican ideal of treating people as individuals not subservient to king or culture. An ideal, I would contend of Tone's but not of Pearse's or his followers.

but the state forces people to learn mathematics and also (rightly) bars those who can not or will not from certain jobs. if you consider the consequences of the failure to enforce a minimum level of competency in irish in the public service in ireland on the right of irish people to conduct their business through the medium of irish, i think you will see (though not necessarily agree with the view) that by failing to promote irish culture, the state is actively abridging individual rights. if i lived in france i would expect to have to learn french. i don't see anything wrong with expecting people who live in ireland having to learn irish.

Give me a f***in' break! - Irish people speak English, not Irish. I defy you to produce a single Irish person who doesn't understand English. Irish fluency is only necessary for those teaching Irish and for a small number of bureacrats to deal with the few pedants who insist on exercising their "right" to conduct their business with the state through Irish, and is in no way comparable with mathematical competence.

Ciarán

Interesting and enjoyable thread. I'm mostly with Frank on this, obviously. Though I am told that my great aunt moved from Kerry to London in the 1930s without a word of English - last of those particular Mohicans methinks! She did have totally eccentric Hiberno-English in a Cockney accent when I met her in the early 90s.

One rather pedantic thing though: cultural solidarity and ethnicity need not be the same thing (though I suspect one is usually code for the other in Ireland). You can imagine a claim to American culture that's free of ethnicity. Admittedly it needs to be a looser sort of culture than Irish nationalists generally advocate, but nevertheless... It's even more pedantic to note that we can talk of things like gay culture that might have some substance to them but are totally unshackled from all those political notions of statehood, territory or ethnicity.

enda johnson

Irish people speak English, not Irish

this is demonstrably not true. i presume what you meant to say is that most irish people speak english most of the time. but if the state didn't actively discourage its use, who knows how many would elect to speak primarily in the first national language? you might argue that the 10% of irish people who speak irish regularly have no right to have their language preferences subsidised by the 90% who don't, but i say that being irish and living in ireland does accord them this special right. furthermore, i contend that this subsidy is no different to the myriad of similar incentives that characterise the modern french state. i they lived in france, then yes, it would be correct to deny them their right to converse with the french state in their own language.

... to deal with the few pedants who insist on exercising their "right" ...

yikes! can those pedants not be treated as individuals under the republican ideal? after all, anyone who wants to live in a liberal mid-atlantic paradise can always fuck off and live in the mid-atlantic.

Frank McGahon

Enda, you should know well that when I say Irish people speak English, not Irish I'm making an uncontroversial observation. We don't use our "first" language as our, well, first language. Anyway, that report you linked to is pretty much worthless as it's based on the self-reporting census. This is part of the problem, we pay lip service to Irish language use, so when the census form asks can we speak Irish, we answer: ar ndoigh, pire, gan amhrais because we like to think that we do. That's not the same thing as actually using it regularly never mind more frequently than English.

In France, people speak French.

yikes! can those pedants not be treated as individuals under the republican ideal?

Yikes! yerself. If you're going to insist on filling your water-connection form in Irish even though you write, read and speak better English, go nuts, knock yourself out. I don't mind. Doesn't mean you have a "right" not to be considered a pedant. Pedants are individuals too.

And, another thing:

but if the state didn't actively discourage its use, who knows how many would elect to speak primarily in the first national language?

Huh? I assume you don't refer to the government's continuing intervention in language use which has had the same baleful effect as previous economic interventions so what can you possibly mean by "active discouragement"? As I see it. there is massive, active encouragement, albeit counterproductively so.

enda johnson

what can you possibly mean by "active discouragement"?

by not providing facilities (i.e a sufficiency of fluent speakers) to allow the 10% (pedants) conduct their affairs through irish, the state is actively discouraging the use of irish. what difference does it make if it is ineptly paying lip service to the professed ideal? it is not delivering!

i'm not a statistician, but i undertstand that all censuses (censii??) are self reporting and in ireland anyway it is an offence to give misleading answers. so i don't think you can dismiss its findings so easily. after all, the government uses the exact same mechanisms to detemine where to build roads, schools, hospitals etc. at the very least, the state ought view the revealed preferences in the census as evidence of latent demand, a demand being suppressed by the state's failure to meet its obligations regarding the protection and promotion of irish language and culture in ireland.

tá an tuaraim ann nach bhfuil dúil ar bith ag daoine don teanga a thuileadh, ach léirítear blian i ndiaidh blian go bhfuil fás agus borradh ag teacht le labhairt ár dteanga, sna gaeltachtaí agus sna galltachtaí. is soiléir go bhfuil deireadh iomlán leis an dtír aonteangach, ach tá'n méid sin fíor le dhá chéad bhlian anuas. is soiléir ón daonáireamh gur sa mhionlach atá tú, Frank, agus le fás shinn féin sa deisceart, tá dul chun cinn iontach amach romhainn. tiocfaidh ár lá!

Frank McGahon

is soiléir ón daonáireamh gur sa mhionlach atá tú, Frank

I wouldn't be so sure about that..

Jimmy Sands

I think the inconsistency lies in the elevation of a nebulous "nation" as an authority superior to that of the state. In extemis it holds that the democratic institutions of the state have no authority to compromise the nation.

Frank McGahon

I suppose this is exacerbated by the sense that this state is, at best in some kind of holding position for the "real" republic, at worst an illegitimate occupation - "Leinster House" and all that.

enda johnson

jimmy,

In extemis it holds that the democratic institutions of the state have no authority to compromise the nation
but what is a nation if not the democratically expressed wishes of its constituent members? how is sinn féin's professed republicanism compromised by its nationalism? can you demonstrate how sinn féin's position is thus in extremis?

Frank McGahon

Enda, hard as it might be for a SF supporter to appreciate - we are not all a bunch of drones, er, I mean "equals" - we don't all have the same view, thank God. Therefore it isn't really meaningful to talk about "the expressed wishes of its constituent members" as if this was one thing. If you have diversity of opinion, then there cannot be one "nation" which sums up everyone's wishes and is in some way a superior authority to the state.

enda johnson

sorry frank,

i should have said the "aggregation of the multifarious expressed wishes of its constituent members". is that an attribute you could ascribe to a nation, without necessarily being a drone? i mean, this is how all democratic societies are organised, is it not?

if all the members of the nation had the same view, then the view of one would be sufficient to determine the view of all. didn't de valera say something about only having to look into his own heart to know the heart of ireland? now there was a republican fixated on an exclusively gaelic and catholic ireland!

Jimmy Sands

Enda,

The wishes of the state's citizenry are easy to establish if the state is democratic. If the nation is defined as something other than merely the inhabitants of a state (and invariably it is) there is no method of establishing its will nor any legal person with any obligation to respect that will. The idea of a nation having wishes inconsistent with those of the citizens of a state is a tactic of demagogues and in principle corrosive to any Republic.

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