What’s the difference between Nationalism and Republicanism?

Spent the morning in Dublin today, and in the course of conversations there someone brought the distinctions that might be made between Republicanism and Nationalism. The latter is almost extinct in the Republic these days. The former, perhaps rather self consciously, the epithet of choice of Fianna Fáil.

It set me thinking as to what northern Irish voters are actually being offered, and how well our descriptions fit what’s actually on offer? Here for instance, courtesy of Belfast Unicorn, is a fascinating clipping from George Orwell (who it must be admitted had it in for nationalism):

A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist — that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating — but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations.

He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is on the downgrade.

But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him.

Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also — since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself — unshakeably certain of being in the right.” George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism, 1945.

All very fine. My quibble though is that the apparent assumption that only unionism affords a detached antidote to such unreconstructed tribal marking. Or that indeed, through it’s long attachment to a liberal English state that Unionism’s baser nationalist impulses are expurgated from the overall ‘offering’.

Yet on the ‘nationalist’ side, the elision between the term is so ubiquitous that they are effortlessly interchangeable. My question to you is, is there a difference? If not why not? And if yes, what are the mainline divergences?

  • Mc Slaggart

    “Republicanism and Nationalism”

    linguist Benjamin Whorf has an hypothesis that the words we use to describe what we see aren’t just idle placeholders they actually determine what we see.

    I agree. Why use the terms “Republicanism and Nationalism” is their something wrong with just calling them Irish?

  • I’m not sure if many people examine the terms that much Mick as they have been used with so much interchange.

    In a Northern sense “Nationalist” was used to refer to those of the light green persuasion. At one time SDLP/Civil Rights people whereas “Republican” was used for those from the militant tradition, Sinn Fein supporters.

    In reality it was probably the reverse when you examine what the actual terms mean.

    With its adherence to the nation and the grouping of a set of individuals, the symbols and past victories etc it’s hard not to argue that traditional Republicans were actually much more nationalistic that their neighbours who, on the face, were much more concerned with personal rights and their own freedom of ascendance inherent to Republicanism.

  • Ruarai

    “The latter is almost extinct in the Republic these days.”

    So how do you explain the rise of SF in the 26, such as it has been? It may not be entirely due to nationalist sentiment in the south but let’s recognize that their rise indicates some.

    SF is the model of a nationalist party, is it not?

    Second, regarding the differences in “Republican” and “Nationalist” in the north, they were just labels like X ad Y: Republican signifying support for the use of violence in real time, the other signifying opposition to, and contradistinction with, those who did advocate the use of violence in real time for “Irish Republican” goals.

    (I should add: part of this contrast was the short-term goal of Nationalists to reform the northern state and conditions it created in people’s lives, whereas the short-term goal of Republicans was to violently destroy the northern state, to “wreck the place”. The SDLP, I think, are still focused on reforming in the short term but SF, I think, can’t decide whether to keep the place on permanently on edge or go all-in on an SDLP-style reform and build agenda. I suspect the conflict generation of SF activists will never be entirely comfortable with avoiding the temptation to occassionally ‘wreck’ in NI (if not wreck NI) where the opportunity arises.)

    Third, it’s always worth distinguishing anti-imperialist Nationalists from the nationalism of imperialists.

    In the case of northern nationalists (who were “nationalist” primarily out of opposition to “Republican” violence), the vast majority, in my view, were most uncomfortable with being called “nationalist” – even as we label ourselves as such.

    What is the difference today between Nationalists and Republicans? All today’s “republicans” are “dissidents” because they haven’t dissented from Irish “Republicanism” while both the SDLP and SF are “nationalist” parties.

    Moreover, where the SDLP used to be useful to the British and Irish states as a check against Republican violence, now SF play that role and are much better are it than the SDLP ever were.

    In a terrible irony, many northern nationalists will today vote for SF for the same reasons they used to vote for the SDLP – to support a check on Republican violence.

  • JH

    Politics here is overwhelmingly nationalist. And it appears to me that lately it’s the British nationalists that are actually far more truly nationalist than the Irish, exemplified most recently by the flag protests and probably nurtured by Irish nationalism having to become more ‘secular’ and less dogmatic to survive.

    The world is moving on around us it seems. Nationalism is becoming less and less relevant. I would happily describe myself as a republican, but not a nationalist. I don’t see how you can be better than someone else, or your arguments more valid than someone else’s, because of an accident of birth. And that’s ultimately what it boils down to. We all bask in the reflected glory of James Joyce or Winston Churchill.

    In the last, say, 100 years nationalism has done more harm than good.

    National identity should be a source of friendly jibes and loose allegiance and nothing more. We’re all citizens of the World now.

  • Alias

    “The latter is almost extinct in the Republic these days.”

    Nationalism is extinct among the political class, mainly because of two foreign dynamics which seek to separate the nation from the state for their own strategic purposes. One form of propaganda is organised by the EU and the other by the UK. The EU must weaken the nation-states in order to realise its own ambition to merge them into a larger nation-state for an engineered European nation. The UK must weaken the nation-state of Ireland as its territorial claims are in direct opposition to its own.

    Any would-be nationalists have long since been replaced by career hacks who are well aware that to utter any national sentiment that challenges the competing claims of the EU and the UK is to invite a savaging in the national media.

    If you look at the consequences of this long running campaign to undermine Irish nationalism you’ll see them manifest in the property developers, bankers, and property buyers who showed no regard at all for the redundant national interest. You’ll also see it manifest in those who don’t want to pay taxes to nurture a nation they no longer think has any right to exist.

    When you undermine the collective, you’re left with nothing but disparate individuals all on the make at the expense of the other. This is the post-nationalist Ireland engineered by foreign influences with the connivance of quislings and the weak-minded, career-focused hacks.

    Nationalism, however, is not extinct among the people. And it is from the people that it will re-emerge – when they recognise again that they have a collective interest and that their collective interest is best promoted by the collective, and is not best promoted by those who actively seek to undermine it in order to promote their own competing interests.

    A clear example of this was the transfer of sovereignty from the collective to the EU. It was in the EU’s collective interest that Irish people should bail-out French and German bankers but it was not in the Irish people’s interest that they should be forced to do so. As the collective, weakened in its nationalism, gave its sovereignty away – as was the purpose of weakening it – to those who used it to promote their own interest and not the interests of those who gave it away. Most people now see that, and recognise that a nationalist resurgence is absolutely essential to their collective wellbeing.

  • Ruarai


    do you think that the Irish state should have withdrawn (or should withdraw) from the EU or do you think they should have negotiated differently – and, if the later, specifically how?

    I don’t think that Irish sovereignty is best served by withdrawing from international institutions and alliances, like the EU, only to hang in the world like a leaf in a gale. However, I don’t think the current arrangement whereby Ireland, like many smaller states, is simply told what to do by the larger states that dominate these institutions is good for smaller states, the health of the alliances and interntional institutions or, ultimately, for order and stability either.

    We do not live in a post-national or post-nationalist world. But we do live in a world where the stronger nations, not least in Europe, are resorting to increasingly blatant old-school power plays where they are using their positions of strength in the alliances as a means of ruthlessly pursuing national interests rather than a balance of national and institutional/alliance interests.

    This is a very dangerous game for them to play but how Ireland should respond cannot be by leaving the chess board. (An autonomous ‘independent’ Ireland would be ‘rolled’ by the winds of international order very quickly – much more so than even today.)

    The Irish response – the best use of Irish sovereignty – must be playing better chess: forming more effective alliances, being willing to ‘push back’ more often and, not least, helping the larger powers see sense; that by destroying Ireland and the other smaller nations large states are ultimately damaging the very sustainability of the transnational arrangements upon which their strategic interests depend too.

  • I am both a nationalist and a republican.
    One is…perhaps…an emotion….”breathes there a man (or indeed woman) with a soul so dead…” (sadly yes).
    One is the product of Reason. A system for a Nation.

  • Alanbrooke


  • babyface finlayson

    Succinctly put, and I think there is some truth in that.
    If you call yourself a republican in this part of the world, most people will first think, not that you are in favour of government by the people for the people with an elected head of state,but that you support to some degree the use of armed struggle.
    The word no longer means what it once meant. It will take some time for republicans in the broader sense to wrest it back.

  • FDM

    @Alanbrooke et al.



    Which side did fire the most bullets during the troubles?

    Answers on a postcard to…

    L. Saville

  • There is no seperation between Irish Nationalism and Irish Republicanism. Therefore, the above question by Mick corrupts the actual answer chairde…

    There are many forms of Republicanism in Ireland today through the teachings and idealogies of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the SDLP etc. They all can be correctly descibed as Republican Parties because they believe in an elected Head of State and a democratic Government of the people and by the people….

    However, to correctly call themselves Irish Republican, they would also need to equally agree/endorse and advocate Nationalism, Socialism, Secularism and Non-Sectarianism. Without these idealogies being given equal status within the overall idealogy of Republicanism, they cannot be genuine Irish Republicans…

    Irish Republicanism was served well by the various S/F’s who adhered to it’s core principles. The IRSP also adhered to the same idealogy and also moved towards Marxism. However, Provisional S/F ditched these core principles in favour of popularism. It has served them well in gaining votes across the country but the Party has moved closer to Nationalist politics rather than Irish Republican Activism.

    I hope the above helps readers understand better the many contradictions within Republicanism in Ireland today.

  • mollymooly

    There’s no point in beginning with a dictionary definition of “nationalism” and “republican” (whether a general dictionary or a specialist PolSci dictionary) and then applying it to Ireland in particular. Unionists are nationalists too, just for a different nation.

    All self-identified Republicans distinguish “true Republicans” like themselves from “so-called Republicans” like that other shower. I don’t know when the phrase “physical force Republican” was coined, but I guess it was an attempt to reclaim the term “Republican” in the 1970s. The kind of loyalty to the 26-county republic that used to be derided as “Partitionism” is now also called “Republican”.

    Is there anybody left who self-identifies as an Irish nationalist but not as a republican? Maybe some SDLP voters, though not the party itself.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Is it not fair to say that they are just 2 old tags that we still use as they’re just laying around the place and no one has bothered to update them?

    JH pointed out the existence of the seldom mentioned ‘British Nationalism’ in NI.
    Even in the ‘fleg’ demonstrations you would see the NI Independence flag being flown, a different kind (and an opposing strain) of Nationalism too, as much as it was lost on the Nike brigade…

    We have these labels in NI and just stick with them.

    It’s only when I moved to Scotland did I become of aware of other types of Nationalism, well, in the sense that it wasn’t religious based.

    Then I lived in the Balkans.

    THAT is nationalism.
    The fencing off of your national identity, common history & language, absolute conviction of your country’s stance and place in the world (though the world is too stupid to realise it) and ejecting of people/themes that might act as a cultural bridge to other nations cut from a similar cloth, for example;
    For years the Croats ignored Nikola Tesla as one of their own on account of his father being a priest in the Orthodox church whilst the Serbians named Belgrade

    Airport after him and likewise the Serbs wanted to return the remains of Josip ‘The Croat’ Tito after the war kicked off.

    Many people within the Unionist community would be extreme nationalists in that sense.
    You can see it in their refusal to acknowledge cultural similarities or to even use the dreaded ‘I’ word.

    With regards to comparing this to Republicanism, well, I haven’t given that much thought, I suppose I’m guilty of clinging onto my old ideas of them being Nationalists with guns (soz).

    Although, my bro recently declared that he is now Republican. I just took this to mean that he doesn’t give a stuff for the monarchy and would be happy to see a united Ireland.

    He cares little for the tri-colour as it is embedded in his brain with negative feelings and images: think 80’s news coverage: “NEWS: BOMB = TRI-COLOUR, NEWS: BOMB = TRI-COLOUR “etc… (likewise “NEWS: CATHOLIC MURDER=ULSTER FLEG…..”), he despises Sinn Fein for their MOPEing, hates Tim Pat Coogan (now THON’S a Nationalist) and certainly has no penchant for Irish nationalism whatsoever.

    Does that qualify as being a Republican? If not, then what is he?

    With this in mind then, are the Republicans actually Irish Nationalists, the nationalists just Catholics who vote for a UI, the Unionists actually British Nationalists with Irish accents and the Loyalists actually extreme British Nationalists (only with poorer diction and harsher accents than ‘British Nationalists’) who occasionally dabble with Northern Irish Nationalism (i.e. ‘more flegs’)?

    I’d love to see the news deal with that.

    I think I’ve just given myself an identity crisis. Again….

  • Obelisk

    I am always careful to label myself a Nationalist rather than a Republican in discussions.

    So, why do I do that?

    Let’s not quibble. It’s about the Armed Struggle has to be the big divider, rooted in Nationalism’s historic division between using force and constitutional methods to achieve our aims, a division stretching back centuries.

    There are parades, and meetings, and internment bonfires, and guest speakers and all that that entails and I always feel awkward in that I just don’t get it. I look back on the troubles and all I see is a big black pit of grief, despair and hopelessness. On an intellectual level, I can almost understand why it happened. But I simply find it impossible to engage on an emotional level. Every time I try and empathise with physical force Republicans I find I can’t do it. The sheer horror over what happened drives me back.

    This is not to claim that modern day Republicans are all gun toting maniacs who delight in celebrating mass murder. That simplifies everything into the neat box whereby Republicans are the bad guys whereas, in my opinion, they were one side in a very dirty conflict.

    I can look at the actions of individual Republicans, such as the Hunger Strikers, and feel a connection to them. I feel pride in the stand they took for their beliefs. But I don’t deny I feel a strong measure of revulsion for the acts they committed that landed them there in the first place.

    Do I think Republicans engaged in violence were criminals? I can’t believe what a hard question that is for me to answer. Me sitting at a keyboard, pausing while typing this paragraph and reflecting on what I hold to be true, trying to discern the truth of what I feel on this most complex and dangerous of questions.

    The Real IRA and the New IRA are criminals, I strongly believe that. I believe they are murdering thugs whom if every member dropped dead tomorrow I wouldn’t shed a tear. Yet what they do today the IRA did twenty to thirty years ago. Then shouldn’t the IRA be criminals too? Do I believe that?

    Did the Good Friday perform some sort of moral alchemy then? Before this date you are a freedom fighter with a noble goal and the angels are on your side, after this date you are an unspeakable monster who should be hunted down and dismembered!

    The argument then is that what differentiates the Real IRA from the IRA is the Agreement, that before the Agreement there was no constitutional path, no approval from All Ireland on a better way. And that now that there is a better way, the Real IRA and the rest of the dissidents are monsters for not taking it up.

    Is it truly that simple then? That after the agreement Ireland spoke one way and violence was suddenly morally wrong so the dissidents have no moral authority? Does by extension that mean that BEFORE the agreement Ireland was speaking another way and that we sort of approved the violence?

    How do I even begin to square these questions with the fact that the institutions today and the rights and opportunities I have are much better than those of my parent’s generation and which arguably were bought by the violence and the need of successive British governments to pacify the North?

    How could I turn to an ex-provo and say you were all thugs and murderers, and me maybe enjoying the fruits of the dark deeds him and his comrades did? You could argue everything Nationalists got in terms of equal respect before the law we’d have achieved anyway through peaceful methos but WE JUST DON’T KNOW. All I can say for certain is that it appears the IRA campaign dramatically sped up the tempo of some changes and have directly led to a power-sharing agreement where my community holds veto power over the fate of the entire North. But what about Sunningdale…it was collapsed by Unionist opposition and wouldn’t be tried again for twenty five years.

    I can’t answer this easily. In my heart of hearts I can’t call them criminal yet when I look at what they did all I see is blood and pain and anger and destruction and grief and monstrous act after monstrous act. I could say the acts were criminal but the perpetrators were horribly misguided. A nice pat answer that completely avoids personal responsibility and one I reject.

    I could accept the Republican rationale that it was a war, but the Enniskillen bombing keeps entering my mind when I try out that one.

    Maybe part of being a Nationalist these days, and voting Sinn Fein, is internalising the contradictions or suppressing them. Maybe it only really makes sense among ourselves.

    I know Unionists ask how can we vote for these people knowing what they’ve done. Trust me, we KNOW what they’ve done.
    I guess I see them and the British State on the same level when we look back at the troubles. Unionists won’t like that answer, I know.

    Does a Republican struggle with this as much as I do as a Nationalist? I can’t justify the unjustifiable.

    Is that the core of the difference between the two? One rejects murder and mayhem, struggles with murder and mayhem or justifies murder and mayhem as part of a struggle.

    Is there more or is that really it? If that’s all there is then the shadow of the past lies heavier on us all than I previously thought, an ideological division based on asking is blowing another Human Being into small pieces justified or not.

    I think in reflection that an agreed way of dealing with the past is of equal importance to Nationalists as well as to the victims of Republicans. I believe this needs dealt with in a proper fashion. And I despair as I realise it almost certainly isn’t going to be.

  • I’m not sure the headline question can be answered since there are no base models to test it against. Quite possibly because the two belief systems are fully intertwined. Or quite possibly because there is no single or agreed form of Irish Republicanism.

    Gerry Adams is a Republican. But so is Micheál Martin. And Michael McDowell!

    The nearest one might come to some degree of separation was during the 1916-23 Revolution when some clear blue water was put between Nationalists (the old Irish Parliamentary Party, the Hibernians, etc.) and Republicans (Sinn Féin, Óglaigh na hÉireann, the ICA, etc.). Yet even then there were considerable overlaps.

    Perhaps a better example is the Civil War? The Irish Republican Army versus the Irish National Army. Which in fact was a replay of the earlier internecine divisions represented by the Irish Volunteers versus the Irish National Volunteers.

    Or the Belfast Brigade and later Northern Division of the Irish Republican Army fighting a tripartite campaign during the War of Independence against the IPP/Hibs, the OO/UVF and the British Occupation Forces?

    The “constitutional nationalists” Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell both made use of the “mountainside-men”. But they had their own baton-men too.

  • Alias

    The main difference between Nationalism and Republicanism in Ireland is that the latter holds token aspirations and occasionally pays lip service to the objective of re-unification of the island, whereas the former doesn’t.

    In terms of the fundamental principle of nationalism: the former beleives in the right to national self-determination as exercised within a sovereign nation-state, whereas the latter doesn’t grasp such basic concepts and has consequently been led by the British state to offer to trade re-unification of the island for the right to national self-determination.

    The nationalist, for example, would still hold to Article 1 of the Irish Constitution which declares that “The Irish nation hereby affirms its inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign right to choose its own form of Government, to determine its relations with other nations, and to develop its life, political, economic and cultural, in accordance with its own genius and traditions.”

    Whereas the Republican would remove this right and subject it to the veto of a foreign nation. In short, the republican, being a simple creature, hasn’t quite grasped that the clue to the meaning of self-determination is before its swivelled eyes and so it thinks, as the British state has led it to think, that Article 1 includes the British nation as part of the Irish nation and that, therefore, it should be amended to read:

    “The Irish and British nations hereby affirms their discretionary non-sovereign right to choose a consociational form of Government, to determine their relations with other nations, and to develop their life, political, economic and cultural, in accordance with joint Irish-British genius and traditions.

  • ThomasPaine

    The very fact that such a question can be asked in our part of the world, and the vast majority of people on the street would answer it in one way or another with the word “violence” is an extremely sad indictment of the people who live and/or come from here.

    In fact, in framing the answer in an Irish/British context, the individual is himself (or herself) guilty of nationalism, that most vulgar crime against logic, common sense and progressivism.

    You are a moron if you are a nationalist, be that an Irish nationalist, British nationalist or Samoan nationalist.

    Nationalists are and always will be, as Orwell stated, inseparable from the desire for power, not for themselves but for the nation in which they have chosen to sink their own individuality. Nationalists are aggressive, war-waging scum who make the lives of other peoples as humanely miserable as possible.

    Rome (both Republic and Empire), the Spanish and British Empires, Nazi Germany and the Yugoslavian destroyers. All nationalists. All assumed they could not only identify a people who shared a common language, culture, ethnicity or descent, but that this people were a superior race and their only duty was to advance the interests of their nation and by extension themselves. If that meant wiping out other peoples, deemed inferior, and taking by force what wasn’t there’s, then so be it. They may even have deluded themselves into believing their actions weren’t just nationalistic, but that they served a positive purpose for those they conquered, in that they brought them civilization and a better way of life. (Kipling has a lot to answer for)

    Thus, as Orwell also espoused, there is a difference between nationalism and patriotism. (I disagree and have always done in his definition of patriotism, but nevertheless agree on his initial distinction – patriotism is about love for home and its way of life, but does not necessarily mean you believe home and its way of life to be the best in the world)

    This is why Irish nationalism, violent or otherwise, is not nor has ever been nationalism in the true sense of the word. For 800 years it has been defensive in nature (against the oppression of a foreign empire) and so should have been more accurately described as patriotism.

    You are a moron if you are not a republican. To believe in the opposite – that another person or family should be granted an extremely privileged position in society, not only in that everyone else pays for their extravagant lifestyle but that due to the luck of being born into a certain lineage, that they automatically qualify to have some legislative/executive power with no hint of democracy – in this day and age is truly shameful; indeed it is symptomatic of the type of thinking that has slowed or maybe even prevented altogether human progression since the end of the Age of Reason.

    For the above reasons, and to answer the original question, there are a million and one differences between nationalism and republicanism. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be both (Roman Republic example) or of course neither.

  • Alias

    And where does the above example of utter ignorance of the meaning of nationalism originate? The propaganda that links nationalism to warmongering of the type more common to imperialist/expansionist regimes such as the UK and the EU originates, unsurprisingly, with the UK and the EU.

    At their core, both the UK and the EU are de facto nation-states. The main differences between the two entities are simply scale and stage of development, so neither is a replacement for the nation-state although both are prone to tout themselves as such and to disparage the nation-state for that purpose. As Great Britain is a nation-state for the British nation, the EU aims to become a nation-state for the European nation. In both examples, the nation was engineered incrementally over long periods of time. Both are structured as a nation-state with citizenship, nationalist, a sovereign territory, flags, anthem, head of state, government, foreign relations, immigration control, and customs and tariffs.

    The nation-state is essentially where the buck stops. The sovereign people may decide, for example, to pay extra taxes in order to fund the pensions and health care of the nation’s citizens or they may decide to transfer their sovereignty to other entities such as the EU who then decide on their behalf that they should pay extra taxes in order to bail-out French and German bankers and not for any other purpose. In order to get the people to transfer their sovereignty to the emergent EU nation-state it is of course necessary to undermine their nationalism. In this way, the nation that no longer cares about itself as a nation will no longer care what hardships its other members endure.

    That’s a lesson they should have learned from the famine but, alas, the muppets gave their sovereignty away once again. Indeed, they could have re-learned it from examining the plight of other non-sovereign nations. The had reality is that one-one cares about another nation’s welfare, only their own – and once that is undermined, no-one at all cares.

  • aquifer

    The Spanish civil war was triggered by a military coup by ‘faith and fatherland’ nationalists, with flying columns turning the countryside into a playground for murderers and rapists, urged on by radio broadcasts ‘a la Rwanda’. Falangists assassinated politicians to humiliate the government and engender an atmosphere of crisis. The agrarian landowners murdered workless landless peasants, the spanish colonial troops murdered liberal republicans and secular socialist mayors alongside union members journalists feminists women and children. The pace and ferocity of this anti-democratic terror was so great that the Spanish can hardly bear to speak of it yet.

    Nationalism and Republicanism are thus not necessarily compatible.

    Nationalism made sense when there was an economic benefit in securing control of regional economies, of moving swiftly from agrarian to industrial production, or when there was a prospect of invasion by other powers.

    Ireland and the UK have open economies as a means of securing a higher standard of living for citizens than would be obtained by relying on the resources in these islands. i.e. They have globalised and denationalised their economies.

    Is local ‘Republicanism’ then just a flag of convenience for Catholic supremacism on the island, with the name a cloak to ensure that the chapels and schools do not get burned down?

    Or is British Nationalist ‘Unionism’ a cloak for exploitation by British financial interests? At least in this case we can look at the numbers and see for ourselves.

  • ForkHandles

    “What’s the difference between Nationalism and Republicanism?”

    In relation to NI, the difference is the degree of your bitterness!
    Considered in relation to all the countries in Europe, people who are ‘Nationalist’ are people who are full of hatred for some group of ‘others’. Detestable to normal people these days.

  • SK

    “people who are ‘Nationalist’ are people who are full of hatred for some group of ‘others’”

    followed by:

    “Detestable to normal people”


    Without a hint of irony.

  • David Crookes

    Here is one not altogether mischievous answer to Mick’s question. A nationalist may be a monarchist, but a republican may not.

    There is no reason why a unified Ireland should not be a monarchy, if its people decide that they want it to be one.

    People who believe in monarchy are not all morons. Many monarchists find the notion of a perfectly rational and egalitarian republic extremely boring. They dislike the idea of the American republic, in which you may become president only if you have loads of money behind you. They also dislike the idea of any republic that is subject to inordinate minoritarian importunacy.

    No nationalism at all means no viscerality at all, and many intelligent humans like a bit of imaginative blood-and-guts with their rationality. (I’m not talking about killing people. If I was, I might mention Robert Mugabe.) Homo sundaypaperus disapproves of viscerality, but then homo sundaypaperus is predicated chiefly upon mockery.

    The critique of pure reason is for the anatomically deficient. Disembodied intelligence on the throne is always a monster. Real human nationalism often involves a certain element of mystery. On a good day that element will help to dilute the mad self-importance of particular groups and particular individuals.

  • Congal Claen

    There are very few real republicans in Ireland. They may claim it. But they’re just nationalist. They also tend to be socialist. But, nationalism and socialism isn’t much or a pr line nowadays after the second world war.

    If SF were genuinely republican they wouldn’t be such backers of the only absolute monarch left in Europe through their support of his school system.

    They also would have some affinity for Cromwell – the most influential republican to ever set foot in these islands. And before anyone jumps in with all the usual rhetoric about Cromwell, please don’t just repeat the propaganda spread by the royalists after the restoration of the monarchy or the made up nonsense created more than a century later to suit the then nationalist viewpoint.

  • galloglaigh

    Do you mean British nationalists as in pro-Union, or Irish nationalists as in pro-Unity?

  • galloglaigh

    I’d say you could have a republican unionist opposed to the monarchy, but still in favour of the Union!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Congal Claen

    “They also would have some affinity for Cromwell – the most influential republican to ever set foot in these islands…”

    Glad ye said that, I’ve been giving that a wee bit of thought recently.

    But as usual got distracted. I then thought about how he is (or at least was) on the Loyalist arch in Magherafelt every 12th.

    That’s always confused the jeebus out of me;
    here they are celebrating a man who lobbed off the head of the king and also smashed the Scottish Covenanter Army of the North as well as expelling the many of the leftovers.

    I then remember that it’s Magherafelt and common sense doesn’t come into it.

    But back to your point, Cromwell the Arch Republican, glad it’s not just me that considered that…

  • carl marks

    In the north the terms have got a bit mixed up,
    We see Nationalism at it worst in the fleg protests or in Britain when the BNP come knocking on a black persons door at night, to be IMHO a republican is to be outward looking (again many in the North have hijacked the name republican and used it to cover their nationalism).
    Nationalists will wrap a flag round themselves and have a unwholesome pride in the narrowness of what they define as their people.
    As a republican i take pride in the achievements of my fellow Irishmen and women and love my country wishing the best for it, I do not believe in some sort of racial or genetic superiority indeed I welcome those from other countries and cultures as i believe that diversity of culture strengthens my country an makes it a more interesting place to live.
    Irish Nationalism of the sort preached by Dev done great harm to my country, harm that we are still recovering from,
    Nationalism (and again the term has and is misused in the north not least by myself) is a insular philosophy which uses fear as a means of control,” they will take our jobs, women ,symbols” or “you can’t trust them living near you” it depends on keeping people ignorant so these fears can be used by those who benefit from division and mistrust.
    We have seen the damage that nationalism has done and is doing in the north, the fear and hatred it provokes and how it allows individuals to use the mob for their own ends.
    Look at how easy it is to get mobs onto the streets over a symbol and ask any trade unionist how difficult it is to mobilise people over jobs, housing, health etc.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Chris Gaskin makes the most relevant point – that Irish Republicanism has long been closer to nationalism, witness the SF position regarding Europe.

    It’s a pity that so many people identify as one or the other without ever seeming to look into what the term means elsewhere in the world. If they did, I suspect the two would become much less interchangeable. In France and Italy, it’s the difference between the centre parties and the far right. In England, the use of the term, as well as National in party names, is more indicative of the commonly accepted use. How would the SNP react if the BNP were to form the next government?

    Nationalists, in this sense, tend to be uncomfortable with the political theory underpinning republicanism, which is informed by many of the world’s most brilliant minds across centuries. In the US, it’s unfortunate that a hesitation to identify with republicanism means liberalism does not claim the ideals of the constitution as assertively as it might. In NI, it’s unfortunate that an acceptance of nationalism has fostered a divorce from the values of humanism.

    That’s before you consider the contradictions that appear when you precede either with ‘Catholic’…

  • Congal Claen

    Hi Am Ghobsmacht,

    Indeed. You also have the apprentice boys shutting the gates on their king. And it was the Irish of an orange hue who fought for a republic in America.

    Although we cloak ourselves in loyalist, unionist or republican clothes I suspect in reality we’re mainly petty nationalists of whatever flavour happens to suit our ever changing tastes.

    Who knows what ‘sides’ we’ll be supporting in another 100 years time…

    Oh and btw it’s not limited to Magherafelt. I’ve witnessed loyalist bands marching with a union flag and an ulster independence flag. Maybe someone should say something? Then again…

  • Alias

    Some of the folks dancing around on this thread to an anti-nationalist tune (subliminally played by the British state piper) don’t seem to grasp that the so-called ‘Principle of Consent’ is the actually first principle of nationalism, i.e. the right of a people to self-determination.

    If you support the ‘Principle of Consent’, you’re a nationalist.

  • As a commenter above pointed out, “Nationalist” and “Republican” in Northern Ireland have come to mean exactly the opposite of what they mean elsewhere in the world – “Irish Republicans” are those who hold that the Irish Republic of 1916 is still the legitimate government of Ireland, despite the passing of 100 years of history. In devotion to a vanished ideal Irish Republicanism is more akin to Jacobitism than the dictionary definition – but then of course the US Republican Party has strayed just as far from the straight and narrow and nobody seems to mind.

    The principle of consent is a dictionary-republican ideal – that the government has no right to govern except by the consent of the governed. Nationalism holds that the nation – often conveniently defined – has intrinsic rights that trump those of the individual.

  • BarneyT

    Nationalism is much more enclosed and self serving. For me nationalism is about defining territory and an identify but fails to address the importand factors in life, such as demoncracy and fairness. Nationalism can take on many colours and more readily can trigger conflict. It is therefore more dangerous as its ambitions are limited. For me nationalism presents too many barriers.

    I would argue that Republicanism is much more portable and therefore exportable. It allows for inclusivity and provides a platform for common thought and a collective ethos, irrespective of colour or creed.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Nacion – birth

    Res Publica – public affair

    Fealty – faithful one.

    It’s all quite simple .

  • oaksandcakes

    That’s a tricky question to ask, especially in its Orwellian formulation. The nation-states being relatively “modern” development owe a lot to the French Revolution and more or less are artificial constructs that depend a lot on mysterious spirit of nation and highly sophisticated rituals to express the common allegiance to the state, which is “locus of power isolated by both the ruler and the ruled” and “hold monopoly on coercive power over certain territory”. So far so good, there’s an interesting strand of thought within academia that maintains nationalism to be modern day religion with both dogma and ritualistic aspects and even identify “a civic religion” in the USA as a major frame of reference.
    Meanwhile republic has considerably longer and more honourable pedigree. Love of one’s partia was commendable in the Middle Ages, not so much the pursuit of glory for the sake of the said republic. Methinks that patriotism is more toned down than nationalism and closer to the concept of republic as such.

  • Coll Ciotach

    The difference between nationalist and republican is the same as the difference between a catholic and a fenian. And when does a catholic become a fenian? Whenever he leaves the room.

  • @Congal Claen
    “They also would have some affinity for Cromwell – the most influential republican to ever set foot in these islands…”

    I seem to remember that every time Cromwell attempted to work with representative government he had to get rid of it sooner or later, sending the troops in to turf them all out of their seats in the chamber.

    “Take away this Bauble……”, etc, etc…..

    And that Cromwell was getting fitted for his new coronation robes just before the exiled Charles II (may have) procured his being poisoned. Because Cromwell had discovered the hard way that monarchy is the only system that actually worked. Well at least he was a faster learner than his successors seem to have been.

    So influential Republicans as you describe the breed are unable to work with representatives elected by a public vote, and find that the only system that works for them is their own autocracy, of necessity established by violence outside of any system of law [surely some mistake….]?

    No wonder the English asked Charles back from his travels and needed to bring in (as an appointed king, rather an oxymoron) the leader of the country that had been their national enemy for the best part of forty years when they drove Charles’s brother from the throne rather than re-establish a “Good Old Cause” that had so conspicuously failed them.

  • Framer

    The SDLP is actually more nationalist than SF. By virtuously splitting itself from violence, as far as humeanly possible, it was able to develop a perfectly symbiotic relationship that meant it could capitalise on every act of violence by the IRA, with no loss of global i.e. American credibility, rather the opposite, in EU and UK as well.
    SF can’t do that with the dissidents which is a huge ground for optimism.
    Being more ethnically and actually Catholic than SF also accentuate the SDLP’s nationalism.
    SF, in contrast, are more labourite, in Belfast anyway, not unlike the Joe Devlin position.
    This can all be confirmed in discussion when SDLP people get more and more extreme in their Ireland-a-nation certainties where SF types argue an ever more extreme Hibernian, anti-Protestant (i.e. loyalist) position.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    The problem with the term ‘nationalist’ in Ireland is, it’s unclear what the ‘nation’ is it’s talking about. Does it comprise:
    – all the people on the island? That would seem to deny the possibility of another national identity also having a place on the island – but that can’t be right as Irish nationalist leaders agreed en masse to the legitimacy of British national identity on the island in 1998.
    – just the non-British Irish? In which case, why the obsession with including even British-majority areas within the putative national borders.
    Or is it just the idea that the two nationalities on the island ought to merge into one new Irish nation? The problem even for that gentler form of ‘merger’ nationalism is that it means dragging hundreds of thousands of unwilling people into a ‘new’ nation, built on a state historically unsympathetic towards those people. It is an odd thing to ‘idealistically’ want.

    So even the softest form of 32 county nationalism is still deeply problematic. The idea of ‘converting’ people from one national identity to another is itself both absurd and pretty patronising to us poor ignorants who are to be converted from our false consciousness. But in Ireland, that’s what nationalism means. Or if it’s not that, can someone explain what it does mean?

    For me, legitimate Irish nationalism would be focussed on claiming some border areas for the Republic, but not on taking over the whole island. Unifying as much of the Irish nation as wants to be unified is fine of course and you can have a discussion about that. And indeed making sure people of Irish identity have every freedom to express that in Northern Ireland. But the 32 county version is incoherent I’m afraid. The only basis for deciding on the border can be minimising the numbers on the wrong side of it, of whatever stripe. That is legitimate nationalism. Anything more cannot be.