The decline of traditional patriotism in Britain and Ireland

Remember the great closing episode of Blackadder from the trenches of the Great War where the artful dodger meets his nemesis at last   : “ We need a futile gesture?” The “futile gesture” being that he was to lead his men over the top to be mown down by the German machine guns.  But it was in Ireland that the futile gesture worked best, in the blood sacrifice of 1916.   The Irish Times had some fun at the taoiseach’s  expense today, carrying a signed article by him explaining   his constitutional reforms including the case for abolishing the Seanad  in the referendum on 4th October. My take is slightly different from Mick’s.  Enda’s pitch leading with a checklist of savings is anything but uplifting,

 Already, the Dáil is to be reduced by eight TDs, saving €2 million. Already, the Dáil is doing more with less, working harder and sitting longer. We are already reducing the number of city and county councillors by over 40 per cent. And if the people vote Yes to abolishing the Seanad, the number of politicians in Leinster House will be reduced by one-third.

The Times then allows its curmudgeonly  columnist John Waters to slap him down with another one of  those Was It For This questions. Was it for this – Enda’s tinkering  with the constitution  – that the  blood sacrifice  was made?  Enda’s real opponents next month, warns John will be the ghosts of the men of 1916   The headline runs:  “2016 election will pitch Kenny against Pearse.” But the piece manages to make even the compliment a pretty backhanded one:

 Perhaps what we most urgently require to recall about 1916 is not the heroism but rather the fatal loss of vision which it finally amounted to. In getting themselves shot, Pearse and the others denied posterity the quality of intelligence which their continuing presence would have brought to the independence project.

In the aftermath of their absence, Ireland was left to the tender mercies of till-minders and crawthumpers, and the consequences can still be heard on the radio any morning, as politicians and self-describing “experts” seek to define the existential difference between €2.8 billion and €3.1 billion.

Leave aside the that it took the men of 1916 “  to get themselves shot” for the practical revolutionaries like Collins  to get down to the real business  of planning assassinations and organising the funds. As a much later poet politician Mario Cuomo once said : “You campaign  in poetry but govern in prose.”  Nobody has ever accused Enda of being much good in either.

The wider question is this. Waters relies on  a vision of  Irish patriotism  against which to compare the  pedestrian taisoeach of today.  Apart from in the minds of a few romantics in the south and rather more in the north for whom it was never fulfilled,  how much of this patriotism still exists?  Ireland made the transition  from the patriotism of the oppressed to the  patriotism of the State  via a civil war and unfulfilled unity. Now that the civil war legacy is present only in the forms of the party divide and unity is viewed with greater detachment what is Irish patriotism about beyond a sense of “us” in a more or less settled state?

I ask myself a similar question about British patriotism. the dog that never barks in the Scottish referendum debate. Nobody has yet put the gut emotional argument in favour of the Union. It’s all of a tangle about money, the head before the heart as they put it. British patriotism is still hobbled by angst about Empire, Irish patriotism  inhibited by the acceptance of being unable to deliver the promises of the Proclamation. Both are consequences of grappling with reality at close quarters.  Are we left with anything more than the polemics of John Waters and a call for another round in the back parlour?

 Far from nation-building, the self-styled inheritors of the mantle of Michael Collins propose to dismantle the institutions for which the blood of past generations flowed in rivers. Instead of leadership, they seek to appease the mob by offering the depletion of their own numbers without benefit of firing squad.

Great stuff, great stuff. Mine’s a black Bush.

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  • Mc Slaggart

    “what is Irish patriotism”

    As a European I am not that keen on “patriotism” but I do find this something to be admired:

    Club Tyrone Members commit to contribute £500 a year to that wonderful thing we value so much – the GAA in our County. People pay by Standing Order and in return take nothing more than the deep satisfaction of knowing they’re making a worthwhile contribution to something that’s unique and very important.

    “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary:
    for those who don’t understand, no explanation is possible.””

  • denogla

    Oh, the old ‘futile gesture’ and ‘blood sacrifice’ chestnuts, again. Let’s remember, if we can, that the Easter Rising was not planned with the intention of failing, that it was meant to be a national rather than a Dublin-only uprising, that there was more to it than just what was going on in Pearse’s head at the time, that a thousand militiamen were able to hold out for a week against 16,000 professional soldiers of the most powerful nation in the world at the time, with artillery and gunboats, etc…

    I read that Waters article on the IT website and the hundred or so comments on it. I don’t think a single one actually mentioned partition. Ultimately, we need to think about Irish patriotisms, plural. As in any other country, in Ireland there are differing and sometimes competing views of the substance of patriotism. The perennial complaint that the Irish state has failed to live up to the ideals of 1916 is rather old hat, perhaps for the reason that the tendency to look backwards to the unfulfilled promise of 1916 in the arena of political argument is itself one of the more important characteristics of (at least one form of) Irish patriotism.

  • Red Lion

    So the TD’s are ”working harder and sitting longer” !??

    Cracker, get them up off their backsides I say!

    In these times British or Irish patriotism has been somewhat supplanted by the grim reaper of national bankruptancy. The Irish learn’t this bitterly, Britain will continue to teeter. However, many in the UK remain oblivious to the poor state of the economy, the unsustainable state spending and the ever growing debt.

  • Red Lion

    I meant to finish that by saying that consumerism, materialism and the hope for a pension the state can’t afford are the new patriotism these days

  • FuturePhysicist

    I think there are patriots within civic society, fixing the errors of the elite.

  • aquifer

    Ireland and Britain are by now nett beneficiaries of the first economic globalisation, British Imperialism, despite Englands earlier depredations on the Island. The Americans are still expanding an anglophone capitalism with these islands close to its epicentre. Blame king billy, the bankers’ pet monarch, if you prefer.

    It is very difficult for either of them to assert a ‘patriotic’ cultural and geographic independence from others when they are economic profiteers exploiting others’ lack of economic and cultural sovereignty.

    i.e. If this patriotism thing spreads they will be joint losers.

    This ‘Blood Sacrifice’ entitlement thing?

    A licence to kill for losers, and most of them are not us.

  • Harry Flashman

    The thing about British patriotism is that it is unspoken. The Brits don’t jump up and down and wave the flag with tearful joy as their anthem is played, that’s what Johnny Foreigner does.

    Like an old and very dear Scottish friend once said, “pity the poor English, they don’t have their own language”, in response to my incredulous “eh?”, he said, “yeah, we Scots, Irish and Welsh all have our own languages but the English don’t”, she wasn’t joking by the way.

    The very nature of Britishness is that it doesn’t need definition. Indeed so many of the national institutions that define other nations make no mention of “British”. Its currency is issued by something called the Bank of England, its oldest armed service is simply called the Royal Navy and its ships belong to Her Majesty, its post office is likewise a regal institution and unlike any other nation on the planet the British don’t even feel the need to mention the name of the country on their stamps. Nor do they bother to give the country a passing name check in their charmingly low-key national anthem.

    You will search the legal libraries of the world in vain looking for the document called “The British Constitution”, their passports are issued to citizens of either the European Union or the United Kingdom depending on which is the one you feel gets priority. And yet the place seems to work and has been one of the most successful nations in human history.

    When they have to fake up national days, national costumes, national traditions and write grandiloquent, vainglorious, rousing national anthems the way most other nations had to do in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries then you’ll know they have really lost their patriotism.

    Trust me, one doesn’t have to scratch too deep to uncover the huge reserves of patriotism that British people still retain, it’s just that they feel their patriotic duty is not to make a fuss about it.

    All of the above obviously excludes the British people of Northern Ireland who have a rather more Irish attitude to patriotism and national identity.

  • Oscar Wilde said all that needs to be said about patriotism.

  • Harry Flashman

    What did Oscar say about patriotism? Like Winston Churchill and Mark Twain almost any moderately amusing quote gets attributed to Wilde, even if he never said it.

    The most oft-quoted remark on patriotism and its links to scoundrels was by Samuel Johnson and related not to patriotism in general, Johnson was a dyed in the wool Tory after all, but to the opportunist use of the term by politicians.

  • Greenflag

    Old style ‘patriotism ‘ flags and all that goes with it as well as self identification with one’s countrymen be they Irish , British , American , German , French etc is in today’s globalised world economy -not what it used to be .

    For some of course -the poor sods on the streets of Belfast yesterday or those who believe the ideals of the Irish proclamation are still party political policy of any of the main parties in the Republic -it must rankle that their ‘ideals ‘ and /or ‘culture ” is downgraded if not almost entirely irrelevant in today’s economy .

    The till minders have won out over the crawthumpers . But this is not just an Irish phenomenon . Most Irish and British people probably don’t want to believe that the results of todays election in Germany will be more determinative of the economic future of these islands than anything that happens in or to the Irish Senate or Westminster much less the NI Assembly .

    Of course today’s till minders are not the gombeen men of the past . Today they are Wall St and the City of London and the vast number of offshore tax havens and the practitioners of the multifaceted arts of international finance and currency wars and hedge fund /derivatives traders who can make a million dollars an hour behind a laptop while a lot of people in the UK wonder if they can feed 8 people on five pounds and in the USA some 48 million or one in seven of the population don’t starve to death thanks to the US Federal Food Stamp program -now being cut by GOP politicians as part of their anti poor people campaign .

    So perhaps it’s time to put ‘patriotism ‘ and all that goes with it into a Tesco trolley and send it into a ditch and take up instead the weapons of class warfare a once outmoded concept but now on it’s way back in the face of the political failure of those who have governed these states in the interests of international financial capital for the past 20 years and NOT in the interest of their one time patriotic ? citizenry .

    In Blackadder’ s era millions of young went went to an early grave because their leaders had’nt the imagination or capacity to stop competing Empires from being ever more competitive . In 2013 some 80% to 85% of this generation’s youth are being channeled into lives of a near indentured servitude in which their hopes of achieving a living standard higher than their parents generation are being crushed .

    Former British PM Gordon Brown at least seemed to be aware of the near miss which British society faced in 2008 as a result of the ‘banksters ‘ succcessful short term assault on the living standards of people everywhere in the western world and they are still at it via the off shore tax avoiding and evading ‘treasure islands ‘ a.k.a Crown Colonies

  • Brian Walker

    Overnight my memory twitched and I remembered. Damn, not Blackadder but Beyond the Fringe about Bomber Command in WW2.

    Said by Squadron Leader to Flight Officer Perkins): “I want you to lay down your life, Perkins.” “Right sir!” “We need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war.” “Yessir!” “Get up in a crate, Perkins.” “Sah!” “Pop over to Bremen.” “Yessir!” “Take a shufti.” “Right sir!” “And don’t come back.” “Yessir” “Goodbye, Perkins. God, I wish I was going too.” “Goodbye Sah! – Or is it au revoir?” “No, Perkins.”

    Different outfit, different war, same point, same tradition of satire.

  • Harry Flashman

    “Different outfit, different war, same point, same tradition of satire.”

    On the contrary Blackadder’s satire was somewhat subtler, better-intentioned, although wildly inaccurate in its portrayal of British soldiers and their officers in WWI, and with a degree more sympathy. Perhaps because the writers were at a much greater remove from the war than the Fringe writers.

    I find the Bomber Command sketch quoted above smug, trite and verging on the offensive written as it was by extremely privileged upper-middle class university students enjoying the freedoms and liberties so jealously won for them by better men than them, only a decade or so older, who hadn’t the privilege of sneering when they were sent to sacrifice their lives on a far from futile, in fact extremely effective, offensive against the Nazis.

    I actually loathe those twerps for that sketch.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Actually Harry, Johnson was a stanch Jacobite, which was the golden thread that ran through much of the “Old Toryism” before the new fangled Conservative Party was amalgimated with odious Whig values in the 1920s.

    The “Patriotism” Johnson was refering to was that where politicians could use double-think to see the spawn of Parliament’s German puppet as King in place of their own proper monarch who was hounded in exile by their lackeys. Scoundrels indeed!!!!

  • Greenflag

    Whatever you do don’t mention the War .

    Today’s suited Nazis in Wall St & the City of London are waging economic war against the working and middle classes of Europe and America and elected governments in so called democracies are terrified of them 🙁

    Blackadder (Atkinson ) might want to consider a new comedy series in which the RBS , Barclays and Anglo Irish all get starring roles as bumbling ‘twerps’ as they loot their way through billions in the search for ‘victory ‘:(

  • SDLP supporter

    Given the day and the afternoon that’s in it, the SDLP’s Claire Hanna has referenced (with full and humble acknowledgement to the Irish Times) the classic and timeless piece by their wonderful Damian Cullen a few weeks back on ‘Why GAA games are special’.
    Sometimes, it’s good to be Irish. Maigh Eo abu! Enjoy the piece in full!

    “ No matter how big the match, a special announcement is required if children are not to run on to the pitch at half-time to kick/hurl/bit of both.
    * At the stile for the ‘Under-16s’ and ‘OAPs’, sometimes it’s hard to know which a fella queueing is going to claim to be.
    * “Hats, flags or headbands.” (I never understood why you could only have one or the other.) There was a time when paperhats were all the rage, more recently fans have been getting very imaginative. Intercounty games bring out the colour – not just in our use of language.
    * Spectators can’t get into some sports stadiums with a plastic bottle of water. You can bring a bring a three-foot plank of wood with you to a GAA match and no one bats an eyelid.
    * The GAA jersey is an unofficial internal passport in Ireland. It’s like holding a new-born baby – you’re just inviting strangers to strike up a conversation.
    * And outside these shores, the GAA club is an unofficial Irish embassy particularly in those parts of the world where there are actual jobs.
    * Double & triple headers. What other sporting organisation puts some of its biggest matches back-to-back?
    * Anyone not shaking hands with an opponent who spent the previous hour trying to strangle/inflict grievous bodily harm/murder them is considered a bad sport.
    * In how many sports can a player perform in front of tens of thousands of spectators and then tell a journalist he won’t be going out to celebrate because he has work in the morning?
    * Sideline insults at GAA matches are akin to heckling in a comedy club – often designed to entertain the crowd more than actually land on a particular target.
    You know the kind of thing. . .
    “He wouldn’t spot a foul in a henhouse.”
    “He’s not even good enough to line-out for these useless no-hopers.”
    “Warm up, you’re coming off”
    “If it was a bag of chips you’d have caught it.”
    * Our games must look completely insane to foreigners – and one wonders what they make of the men in white coats standing at both ends of the field.
    * Players don’t pretend to be injured – they pretend not to be.
    * You can watch two matches at the business end of the championship, in the fourth largest stadium in Europe, for as little as 120. (a stand ticket for an under-16 at the weekend was a fiver).
    * Pitch invasions. Those that have to fill out insurance forms for GAA stadiums hate them. Celebrating fans and players love them.
    * Television may decide kick-off times, but school teachers decide throw-in times. That’s a good thing, right?
    * There is nothing unusual about enjoying an opposing player’s mistakes in a club game, and applauding his/her every move for the county the following weekend.
    * Sports analysts often spend much of their time trying to say nothing. GAA analysts spend much of their time trying to say everything. We love them (even Joe).
    * Not only are GAA managers often far too ready to speak their mind after a controversial match, but they usually begin their remarks with: “I’m not supposed to say this, but . . . ”
    * Despite some tinkering around the edges, the main rules of the GAA have never changed, Like those of junior B football: “If it moves hit it, if it doesn’t move, hit it until it does.”
    * There’s no segregation in the GAA, so you can clearly hear the abuse shouted by opposing fans (on the plus side, they can hear your thoughts on the game).
    * GAA stars don’t retire. They fade away slowly, eventually finishing as an unused substitute in a Junior C League match.”

  • Turgon

    Harry as so often is correct. The “satire” is extremely poor and highly ill informed. It is most unlikely that anyone in Bomber Command would have wanted a “futile gesture.”

    Firstly because they did not want to lose their aircrew for no good reasons: not just a humanitarian spirit but also for loss of expensively trained people. If that were not reason enough losing expensive aircraft for no reason would have been a bad idea.

    Clearly in war incompetence foolishness and badly informed decisions are made. In the First World War that was probably even more the case mainly due to lack of information though a large number of more recent historians have shown that the traditional view of that period is childishly simplistic.

    However, the sort of “satire” mentioned above is indeed a bit offensive. Except that actually unwittingly those people doing the satirising are actually satirising their own ill informed views. They show that despite feeling they were clever and avant-garde they were simplistically accepting a trendy pseudohistory held by a minority at the time and long since discarded by serious historians

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Turgon, Satire is by its very nature inclined to exagerate and simplify its subjects. Its not intended as literal or even pseudo history. And I remember family members who actually bombed Berlin laughing at ithe sketch.

    Harry, Harry, while I’ve loathed the slimyness of Pete and Dud since their first appearance “extremely privileged upper-middle class university students” hardly describes Alan Bennet, a boy from a poor background who knew the forces as an insider as he did national service before going on to university. Jonathan Miller was also someone who was not unaware of the insiders view of the war. His father carried out war work as a military psychiatrist.

    While in no way impuning the courage of the young men who flew with Bomber Command the bombing campaign they were involved in was always highly controversial before its dishonestly hyped “success” made it the military norm it has been ever since 1945. Among the many who recognised the serious limitations of bombing was the brillaint Hugh Dowding, who actually won the Battle of Britain against the German bombing effort. Dowding’s serious and sustained opposition to the 1930s myth of the war winning bomber was the main factor in his scandalous removal from his post in November 1940.

  • aquifer

    The position of the poor in erstwhile nation states is made problematic by the progress of global capitalism.

    Patriotism is a claim for inclusion, while capital does not care.

    Competition with the developing world brings wages down and removes jobs, but unable to identify a particular perpetrator for this process, poor people may resort to xenophobia, sectarianism, or blaming historic enemies.

    This may be a particular problem for richer countries where the export of manufacturing jobs, and global pressure to shrink public sector spending, leaves many poor people without either work or a meaningful role.

    Patriotism can be a nostalgia for times when the state did more and engaged more. e.g. A generation ago unemployment benefits were more generous in relative terms, and there were state owned employers in many sectors. Earlier post revolutionary states formed entire cultures and enforced a standardised cultural narrative. States enjoyed more of a monopoly in public discourse and much stronger and more violent sanctions for criminality or dissent. People within Nation states had new bonds forged in war. Not acceptable or desirable now, but people were certainly engaged.

    But with people within borders becoming more and more unequal, is competitive downsizing of the public sector and of representative democracy really such a smart idea for stability?

    Maybe the state should fund political parties rather than rely on the self popularising skills of opportunist politicians.

  • Greenflag

    The German Election results are in with the CDU /CSU (Merkel ) winning . Her former coalition partners the FDP (Businessman;’s party did’nt make it to the 5% threshold so will have no seats in the Bundestag . A grand coalition between the CDU and the SPD or a smaller coalition with the Greens who polled 8% may be more likely

    And while I have no idea of how much was spent on the German Election I’d hazard a guess that it was probably less than 5% of what was spent on the US Presidential bonanza .

    ‘With people within borders becoming more and more unequal, is competitive downsizing of the public sector and of representative democracy really such a smart idea for stability?’

    Not unless you think the short lived Weimar Republic was a success . It was the destruction of the then German lower middle and working classes that gave Hitler the opportunity to subvert whatever was left of German incipient democracy .

    Could the same happen again ? Of course not with another Hitler per se but with some totalitarian alternative that would drag the State/Government back from being in effect a mere arm of Global Corporations and their multifarious network of tax evading and avoiding off shore capital havens from which they can play beggar one’s neighbour with any government anywhere on the globe with relative impunity .

    A recipe for eventual chaos imo . I recommend a read of Nicholas Shaxon’s ‘Treasure Islands ‘ for those who believe that simple bank reform or breaking up the big banks is all that governments need to do to restore some balance within western societies .


  • son of sam

    I would certainly endorse Mc Slaggarts admiration of Club Tyrone .The culmination of its efforts will be seen next weekend with the official opening of the Garvaghey project.It is to be hoped that this proud day will not be hi-jacked by Sinn Fein for their inevitable photo opportunities.This very practical expression of confidence in the future of the G A A in Tyrone belongs to all the Gaels in the county and not to any particular grouping.

  • Harry Flashman

    “The “Patriotism” Johnson was refering to was that where politicians could use double-think to see the spawn of Parliament’s German puppet as King in place of their own proper monarch who was hounded in exile by their lackeys. Scoundrels indeed!!!!”

    Haha! When is that book of yours coming out? I can’t wait to read it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The negotiations continue, Harry, but then most Irish Publishers are so difficult to pin down in these lean times.

    Len Deighton has a quote from a Hitler Speech of 1940 at the front of SS/GB:

    “In England they’re filled with curiosity and keep asking “Why doesn’t he come?” Be calm. Be calm. He’s Coming! He’s coming!”

    Lets hope I’m more sucessful in my efforts to overturn the Whig Hegemony of over three hundred years.

    And Aquifer, about the funding of political parties, I seem to remember an old saw “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Don’t our masters all to sucessfully clone themselves already? I’d not want them to be the paymasters altogether. Its the system of giving power to representitives that is flawed and needs more popular participation, such as the referrendum culture in Switzerland, as some check on the arrogance of these power drunk fools.

  • Mc Slaggart

    son of sam

    “belongs to all the Gaels in the county”

    I think it belongs to everyone.

    I do like the fact they refuse to call/use it as a Centre of Excellence but call it a Centre of Participation letting everyone use the facilities.

  • aquifer

    “I seem to remember an old saw “He who pays the piper calls the tune.””

    Yes. Big Business and the Unions pay at election times, and in between times it is open season for lobbyists to buy politicians on the hoof. And they do. Private money has the US congress taking money off voters to give to corporations.

    The public should pay to have the public interest represented.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Aquifer, the public already pays for the “representatives” to posture at Stormont, Westminister and the Dáil. And anyone interested pays for them through party dues. So now you think we should pay for their marketing boys also. This would only work to any serious degree if the MLAs, MPs and local Councillors were utterly unable to accept donations of any sort from anyone else. And even then I’d imagine that a culture of brown envelopes passed to disinterested relatives and others might just take the place of open donations. What you are proposing is simply a top-up to party funds.

    You say, “The public should pay to have the public interest represented.”

    I was under the impression that the system was supposed to ensure that the public interest was already represented; otherwise, I am told, “We can vote them out.”

    Think harder! I believe the problem is the word “represented.” Once someone is elected they can pick and choose whom they represent, and it seldom seems to be the people who voted for them.

    Not that the process of steamrollering through the system the needs of vested interests is ever presented as other than representing the “Public Interest”. We have so weak an economy here that it is necessary (we are always told) to bring jobs into the province and if something really awful is in the pipeline that will ruin yet another segment of our quality of life and that might even draw on Public money, you’re going to hear “Anyway, the jobs boost for the ……….(fill in any region in the province) area will more that justify the expense (and damage).”

    In large countries during the nineteenth century the effort to link power to any form of popular participation meant that “representative Democracy” looked like a reasonable compromise. Not any more, not now that once the ballots are over and we leave these people alone up on the hill, the real horse-trading begins out of our sight.

    Wikipedia tells me that we in our wee province had a population of 1,810,863 in 2011. Switzerland with about four times the population is able to practice direct democracy. “Through referendums, citizens may challenge any law passed by parliament and through initiatives, introduce amendments to the federal constitution, thus making Switzerland a direct democracy.” To quote Wikipedia. In effect, anything of importance requires the consent of the population. Rather than giving more public money to party coffers, the money might be better spent on giving some real power to the people in a way that might really be able to constrain the rush of the “Elect” who are our masters at the moment to be the first in the queue to supply the needs of financial interests both local and global.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Tweet. Satireday. 🙂