Can imagination replace dispair of 1916?

John lloyd posits the idea that there “ruling classes all have at least four indispensable prerequisites if they are to keep ruling and remain a class. They must have a certain level of popular support (essential in a democracy, but also needed in a tyranny) as well as cadres, or people willing to bear the burden of executive power. A monopoly on the use of force is also needed, as is a structure of belief”. He continues: “A monopoly on force is the greatest prize in a tyranny; a structure of belief is the least dispensable in a democracy.”In the Irish Times today, Fintan O’Toole asks why Daniel O’Connell, probably the provider of Nationalist Ireland’s first coherent ‘structure of belief’, has been systematically eclipsed, by a small cadre’s choice of force in 1916. He ends with a important question:

The 1916 Rising was motivated not by hope, but by despair at what its leaders saw as the decrepit state of the Irish imagination. As Harry Boland expressed it from prison after the Rising: “Ireland had sunk so low that nothing but blood could save her.” The would-be revolutionaries saw themselves as Dr Frankensteins, running a bolt of violent energy through an inert body in the hope of bringing it to life. They did not know that, as we have learned, such violence creates life but also brings forth monsters.

But the question they pose for us is this: are we so imaginatively dead that only violence can wake us up to the possibility of a real republic? Or can we, like O’Connell, imagine a people that asserts its dignity by seeking collectively to shape its own history?

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty