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?

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  • joinedupthinking

    Are you sure John Lloyd wasn’t just quoting Machiavelli.

    O’Toole’s piece was excellent.

  • Henry94

    O’Connell is an interesting choice for the father of Irish democracy. In fact what he demonstrated was the limits placed on Irish democracy by British rule

    O’Connell planned a meeting demanding the repeal of the Act of Union at Clontarf and Peel, the British PM outlawed it. This forced O’Connell to make a choice. If he held the meeting it would be illegal and he would be arrested and it could cause a revolution. If he called it off then his credibility would be in ruins. O’Connell abandoned the meeting and was placed under one year’s house arrest and fined.

    He conceded the monopoly of force to the British.

    As Lloyd points out

    “A monopoly on force is the greatest prize in a tyranny;”

    Had O’Connell been willing to confront Peel then we would have had a different and better history and he would deserve the accolade father of Irish democracy.

  • joinedupthinking

    No. What he “conceded” was that, ultimately, violence only exacerbates a problem, and “brings forth monsters” as O’Toole puts it.
    God knows, we’ve had our fill of the monsters this past few decades. By granting violence as the first option, the “oppressed” become the oppressors. You only have to read some of the hate-filled, triumphalist comments from “republicans” on this site to imagine the sort of society they dream of and the place Protestants or anyone who disagrees with them would have.

  • Henry94

    There was nothing violent about O’Connell’s mass meetings. It was the British who introduced the threat of violence by banning the meeting misusing the states monopoly on force to suppress a legitimate political aspiration.

    It takes self-deception on an epic scale to turn British suppression of peaceful demonstrations into Irish nationalists choosing violence as a first option.

  • joinedupthinking

    It takes self-deception on an epic scale to misread what I said. His refusal to countenance or “concede” reactionary volence as political expression no matter the provocation is what is praiseworthy and made O’Connell a true democrat.
    It is you who read his strength in this regard as a weakness and a fault.
    But then, you take your lead from those who unleashed the monsters of perpetual volence. Those who see violence as first resort.
    The dissident republicans are, in strictest terms of logic, correct. 1916 was father to the provos who in turn are father to Continuity and Real IRAs. Why should they accede to “do as I say not as I have done”?

  • Henry94

    His refusal to countenance or “concede” reactionary violence as political expression no matter the provocation is what is praiseworthy and made O’Connell a true democrat.

    You may consider it praiseworthy but it does not make hi a democrat. He was already a democrat. Peel was the one who proved himself to be undemocratic. O’Connell failed to lead the nation against this attack on the right to peaceful assembly.

    You can agree or disagree with his motives but it does not qualify him as father of the nation. His actions did not lead to Irish democracy so he can not be considered its father.

    The dissident republicans are, in strictest terms of logic, correct. 1916 was father to the provos who in turn are father to Continuity and Real IRAs. Why should they accede to “do as I say not as I have done”?

    It doesn’t matter what they accede to or don’t accede to. Like the rest of us they are entitled to believe whatever they like.

    The main thing that should concern us about them is how much support do they have. The vast majority of republicans have been won over by the arguments for the peace process and the Agreement.

    Support, rather than historical or theoretical justification is what make the difference.

    Of course the last time those willing to take up the armed struggle were reduced to such insignificance the issue of peaceful protest arose again. Like in O’Connell time marches were banned. There is the constitutional and the Fenian tradition. History shows us that if you abuse one the other may revive.

    We have an opportunity now to break the cycle. When the long birth of Irish democracy is completed we will have plenty of time to look around for the father. For once O’Connell won’t be a suspect.

  • joinedupthinking

    “When the long birth of Irish democracy is completed we will have plenty of time to look around for the father.”
    Such ballocks. Straight out of the Gerry and Marty school of bullshit. At no time in Irish history did the mass killers start off from a position of widespread support.

  • aquifer

    History might teach us that a resort to violence can demonstrate weakness rather than strength. The presbyterians of 1798 were of a population hugely depleted by emigration to North America. The elitist Irish Republican Brotherhood could not persuade the leader of the Irish Volunteers to rebel, so forged his orders, which he then countermanded, dooming the rebellion. Talk of using violence to revive imagination is both dangerous in terms of modern european political history, and dismissive of the other political currents eclipsed by 1916 and the subsequent repression. There were women’s cultural and anti-war movements, labour movements, gaelic cultural revivals and all-Ireland co-operative movements, which often included all religions and classes. John Lloyd is probably right to note that “a structure of belief is the least dispensable in a democracy.” Our problem may become all those who cannot sustain their structure of belief within a stable and peaceful democracy where human rights are respected.

  • Brian Boru

    Connell doesn’t get the same acclamation because he did not succeed in ending the Union. I think he was naive to expect it could be ended constitutionally in the 19th century. Britain was in imperial mode at the time e.g. South Africa, Rhodesia. Military domination of weaker peoples was still all the rage for them. They didn’t care what we thought. This mentality was still around in the early 20th century. I agree that constitutional efforts are always a preferably option if they have a chance of working but they had been exhausted by 1916 and certainly by 1918. They had failed to bring 32 county Home Rule. To add insult to injury we were being asked to accept a truncated Ireland with powers more akin to the Welsh Assembly (or less) than the Scottish parliament. It was too much to concede on our part. The British Empire only understood one language and that is what it got in 1916 and 1919-21.

    Thankfully there is no longer a British Empire and we are now in a position to pursue our goals peacefully. But that wasn’t the case back then.

  • Brian Boru

    “The elitist Irish Republican Brotherhood could not persuade the leader of the Irish Volunteers to rebel, so forged his orders, which he then countermanded, dooming the rebellion.”

    Not quite correct. What happened is that the IRB forged a document called the Castle Document, which claimed that the British authorities in Dublin Castle were planning to disarm the Irish Volunteers and arrest their leaders. When Eoin McNeill (the leader of the Volunteers) saw it, he ordered the rebellion. However he then cancelled it when he discovered it was a forgery. This resulted in only around 2000 of the 11,000 Irish Volunteers turning out.

  • aquifer

    Thanks for the corrective Brian