The Guardian carries a heavily contracted version of Stephen Howe’s detailed and fascinating essay, Mad Dogs and Ulstermen: the crisis of Loyalism, published in two parts at openDemocracy, [part one here], in which he argues that “the combative cultural and political worldview of Northern Ireland’s working-class Protestant communities is not an atavistic residue but part of a complex response to modern global conditions and national pressures.”His concluding paragraphs emphasise the difficulties facing this distinctively Irish culture –
It could even be said that the story Loyalism now presents is an anti (or non-) foundationalist one; that Loyalism has largely cut loose from the grand narratives of Unionist history (1641, 1689, 1912, 1916…) and offers only very contemporary and very localised “truths” and images. This is a “postmodernist” approach to the past, perhaps, but is an extremely attenuated vision on which to base any positive political programme.
What remains will inevitably seem to most observers increasingly negative. Loyalism is a culture ambivalent about, when not aggressively resisting, Irishness. Yet, whatever else it is, it is distinctively an Irish culture – one that grew in, and exists only on, the island of Ireland (it has offshoots in west-central Scotland, and more tenuously in Canada, but is sustained there largely by those with Ulster origins or family links).
Loyalism is in a sense the most “alternative” of Ireland’s alternative modernities: that sense being not so much “other” (nor, as in much of the international literature on the concept mentioned earlier, “in a different – postcolonial – place”) as “a different choice”, or, in another dictionary meaning, “outside the mainstream, dissident, resisting”.
“Resisting”, though, with few resources and little confidence. The essential cultural difference between Loyalism and its foes is indeed that while Republicans conceive of themselves as having an inherited, densely woven tradition – however thoroughly and recently reinvented that “tradition” may really be – Loyalists have to make it up as they go along. If the result of that heterogenous improvisation is a kind of untheorised postmodernism, it is the postmodernism of despair. These are the fragments they shore up against their ruins.
Read the rest.