Ramblings on Republicanism

I can’t quite nail my voice on this one. Throwing it out in the hope that I can sharpen the argument a bit.


    Our freedom must be had at all hazards. If the men of property will not help us they must fall; we will free ourselves by the aid of that large and respectable class of the community – the men of no property.

Those were his words, but Wolfe Tone was not a socialist. It was impossible for him to be one; even the word socialisme did not appear in the French language until over 30 years after his death. He equally had no knowledge of the 1916 Proclamation, the programme of the 1919 Dáil or the 1937 Constitution. This is somewhat of a problem if Mark’s definition of an Irish Republican is applied.
The mistake is a simple one. Mark confuses the products of Republican principles with the principles themselves. The 1916 Proclamation itself may contain a succinct declaration of Republican principles in its middle passage, but it was intended as the rallying call for a revolution. The 1919 democratic programme (if it was ever intended to be enacted) was policy written for an Ireland long gone. De Valera had to deal with competing pressures in writing the 1937 Constitution, and it contains a fairly clear strain of Catholic Nationalism. All these things are product of own their time and place, and cannot be perfectly transplanted outside them.

    The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.

I could have equally quoted the Declaration of the United Irishmen, or the writings of the Young Irelanders. Similar sentiments abound throughout the Republican cannon. Republicanism encompasses a belief in sovereignty, in democracy, and in equal opportunity and treatment. It is government for ordinary times, not just extraordinary times and so lays on us the requirement to improve the lives of all Irish citizens. But it does not tell us how to do it, it simply trusts in our ability to figure it out. The Irish right can make claims to the above declaration as much as the Irish left. And that is how it must be, if Republicanism is a creed for all Irishmen.

    We who hold his (Wolfe Tone) principles believe that any movement which would successfully grapple with the problem of national freedom must draw its inspiration not from the mouldering records of the past, but from the glowing hopes of the living present, the vast possibilities of the mighty future

James Connolly died in 1916, long before the failures of Marxism became apparent. If he had been born a few generations later, would he have still been a socialist? We cannot say. But he was clearly a man who thought about the world. He took the principles of Tone and married them to socialism, believing it to be best way for those principles to be expressed, unafraid of altering or adding to the cannon. He looked forward, and not back. His heirs are men who have given up thinking. Instead they chose to set the ideas of the past as unshakeable axioms, while berating others from straying from the one true path. Regardless of circumstance or evidence, they reach for the same prescriptions, proclaiming we haven’t believed in the magic hard enough. In a dark irony, they now most resemble the right of the US Republican Party they most despise.

    If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed

Better deeds require better ideas. Generations of Irish Republicans have hoped for better men to follow them to progress where they could not. The tragedy of the dissident movements is not that they are wrong, or in a tiny minority. Within those movements are people who are inspired by great figures of the past, concerned with inequality and injustice, and committed enough to give up their time to try and make a difference. Their tragedy is by setting the legacy they were given in stone, they dishonour that which they most wish to protect.

Mark asks Can ideologies really alter through time? Can definitions change?

Republicanism has been married to Socialism, Capitalism, Militarism, Ethnic Nationalism, Parochialism and more. The challenge is to pass on that which is best from the past, disregard that which is wrong and add something worthwhile to the legacy we have been given. Ireland is a living nation. It cannot be served by a Republicanism that is dead.