I recently picked up a copy of The Left Tribune, the Labour Youth freesheet. (I work in UCD, and a heap of them were left lying in one of the hallways.) I read through the entire issue. I did this because I don't want to be a ghettoised conservative Catholic, never opening my mind to other streams of opinion.
I remember I was enough of a socialist in my youth to feel a sense of jubilation-- mild jubilation, mind you, but jubilation-- when the Spring Tide brought a record number of Labour TD's into the Dáil in 1992. In my college years, I was even more of a socialist (in my own uninformed and inactive way), but I was already getting sick of the liberal, progressive and identity politics that seemed to be tangled up with the red flag. I remember approving very much of this old trade union slogan, when I came across it in a book:
Eight hours work, eight hours play,
Eight hours lie-a-bed, and eight bob a day.
That was enough socialism for me, and never mind all the political correctness.
Even now, as a two-fisted traditionalist conservative-- though I fear I might alienate some of my readers in admitting this-- I feel a lot more affection for socialists than I do for libertarians or anarcho-capitalists. If conservatism is the worship of the free market, then I would rather not be conservative. Thankfully, it's not, and we don't have to choose between a naive belief in the infallibility of private enterprise and an equally naive belief in government intervention as the answer to every problem.
However, in the Ireland of 2012, it seems that there is no left outside the liberal left, as the April '12 issue of The Left Tribune shows.
The very first photograph (if you don't count an ad) in the twenty page journal-- a photograph that accompanies an article headed "How is Labour Shaping Society?"-- shows a demonstrator whose placard reads "Did we Vote on your Marriage?". The text of the article includes the sentence "Some progress has been made. Particularly welcomed by most Labour supporters was Minister Ruairi Quinn's push to end the patronage of schools by the Catholic Church...this element of progress will hopefully produe strong social dividends to come." Later on, the article laments Labour's failure to introduce same-sex marriage.
The first article of the publication is headed "What Will Labour's Legacy Be for Single-Parent Families?". The article deals almost entirely with welfare entitlements. A post-script mentions that Census 2011 shows that there are 215,300 families "headed by lone parents with children, 87 per cent with mothers". But the article nowhere asks why there are so many fatherless and motherless families, and how this can be reversed. It seems government intervention only involves picking up the pieces.
The third article, by a UCC student, is a call for abortion to be introduced in Ireland. It describes the ambiguous legal position after the Supreme Court's X-Case ruling, and says: "In a debate so steeped in moral and religious bias, it may be the difficult to have an articulate debate on the issue of reproductive rights." (Religious bias is bad enough, but imagine dragging moral bias into an issue like abortion!) "Taking the lonely trip 'on the boat' to England is not the ideal situation either psychologically or financially for a woman who is already dealing with a traumatic situation, and yet it is a lonely trip that is made by about 10 or more Irish women every day. Worse still is the growing trend of women and young girls buying unregulated abortifacients online or seeking other DIY solutions. Women should be supported by both the state and the medical system in such a case, even if it is unpalatable for some."
As with most abortion-related discourse on the liberal left, the writer simply assumes the agreement of the reader. The moral case for abortion is not argued at all-- the only justification invoked are court rulings. Talk about legalism!
A whole-page article opposite sets out its stall pretty plainly: "Life-Saving Abortions Aren't the Only Abortions we Should be Legalising." In chillingly calm terms, the young woman writes: "Discourse on abortion should stop focusing on saving women's lives and start focusing on the most common reason for seeking an abortion-- a woman simply does not want to go through with the pregnancy." Well, at least the pretence is dropped-- finally, after decades of subterfuge.
Later on in the article there is a surprising admission: "If we accept that a foetus is not a life, then the X-case doesn't go far enough. If we think that it is a life, then rape, incest, or the threat of maternal suicide are no reasons to end it." But once again, the question goes a-begging. It seems that all members of Labour Youth are on the same metaphysical page when it comes to the definition of human life.
Which should have been borne in mind by the writer of the article on page nine: "A Mature and Republican Approach to Diplomatic Relations with the Vatican". The writer blusters: "Recently in Cork, local Fianna Fáil councillor O'Flynn claimed that the closure [of Ireland's embassy to the Vatican] was to satisfy the godlessness of the Labour Party, to which he was throughly and comprehensively rebuked by our own Cllr Michael O'Connell. It would almost be amusing if it weren't such an insult, considering the numerous people of all faiths within the party, and the values we hold that can be considered Christian among others".
There seems to be a contradiction in this publication's attitude to Catholicism. On the one hand, it assumes a support for abortion and gay-marriage that is impossible for a faithful Catholic to share. On the other, it asserts that the Labour Party contains members of "all faiths"-- including Catholicism.
If you cannot be a social democrat-- or a radical or a progressive or whatever other term the members of Labour Youth might use to describe themselves-- without supporting anti-traditional marriage or the murder of the unborn child, surely Catholics have the right to insist on core values, too? Are the liberal left the only believers who are permitted to hold dogmas?
This writer, however, does make some effort to moderate his anti-Catholic stance: "the Catholic Chuch has been an institution fundamentally linked to what it means to be Irish since the failure of the secular-pluralist rebels of 1798. Irish nationalism, a driving force even today, was increasingly linked to Catholicism by both nationalists themselves and the British once the Anglican church was disestablished here. It has been argued that the Church usurped the role of the monarchy once such a vacuum was created after the Treaty. [I wonder why a republican thinks that the abolition of monarchy would create a vaccuum?] Hospitals, schools, care of the poor, these roles were fulfilled by the Church where there were no other groups or societies to do so. For that reasons, the radicals arguing that we must spend far more money than we need to in order to have an embassy can be understood, if not agreed with."
On the debit side of the ledger, the writer then makes the inevitable (and fair) point that the power of the Church in Irish society facilitated the clerical abuse scandals, and follows it with the usual round of hysterical anti-Catholic allegations: "Coupled with the nature of the Vatican as a state, an extremely rich enclave in Italy that was effectively created by Mussolini, and the damage done by the church with regard to the AIDS epidemic in Africa, the other sort of radical advocating ending diplomatic relations with the Vatican can also be understood, and again, if not agreed with."
The Mussolini slur is cheap and hilarious. As for the mention of the AIDS epidemic, I'm always bewildered by the attitude of Church-bashers on this topic. The Church forbids the use of condoms, it is true. She also forbids sex outside marriage. If African Catholics are so much in thrall to the Vatican on the one, surely they would also comply with the other, which would hardly give much impetus to a sexually-transmitted epidemic.
The writer of the article seems to be the only person in Ireland who believes that the Vatican embassy was closed for economic reasons-- ah, the sweet naivety of youth!
He admits that "the fact of the matter is that most Irish people continue to claim Catholicism as their religious viewpoint, no matter how serious they are about it." Amusingly, he adds: "Futhermore, many of our new Irish from Easter Europe are Catholics as well. It would be extremely disrespectful to them to snub the leader of their church in such a way while other, more productive options are available." Multiculturalism trumps anti-Catholicism-- at least for the moment.
The writer concludes that "the approach of our government has been quite correct on this issue, and indeed, is the only mature one in sight". A little earlier, he had written: "We already have a building in Rome for diplomatic activity in the form of the Italian embassy. Indulging the Vatican's absurd position on joint embassies at large expense is not reasonable in any sense of the word." Except, perhaps, if the Vatican is the one (relatively) safe place on Earth that the Church has to stand upon, surrounded as it is by a whole cordon of countries that have tried to trample on Catholic rights within living memory. Is it so ridiculously that the Holy See feels the need to assert its independence and sovereignty, even symbolically?
Even this article doesn't exhaust this twenty-page newspaper's anti-Catholic swipes. A review of James Plunkett's Strumpet City doesn't miss the opportunity to mention that "the hypocrisy and culpability of the Church is highlighted in the compelling storyline facing the ambitious but naive Father O'Connor and the deeply troubled Father Giffley, whose ham fisted attempts to make a change are but an endeavour to make up for a life spent in self-loathing and alcoholism".
There is also an article on the proposed constitutional convention-- which seems to take the line that our constitution should be tinkered with just because it is seventy years old. (If it's not broke...break it, I guess.) It supports the removal of "socially conservative anachronisms" (such as any mention of blasphemy, traditional marriage, and the special role of women in the home) but then complains that "while all of these proposals are welcome, they are not exactly revolutionary." (Why should they be?)
What is interesting is that the newsletter's articles on more bread-and-butter topics, such as the Fiscal Treaty and the proposals to re-introduce student fees, are written in a much more open-minded and factual manner. In fact, the article on student fees supports their re-introduction (with grants for poorer students) and there is an article supporting the Fiscal Treaty, as well as one opposing it. I wonder if any consideration was given to pro- and con- articles about abortion or same-sex marriage?
To ask the question (as they say) is to answer it. The core values of the left in our age are not social democratic but liberal and secularist. The real enemy, it seems, is not the multinational company, or poverty, or exploitation. The real enemy is the baby in the womb and the old man in the Vatican.