Today, as I was getting dressed, I found myself pondering on the four subjects above.
I call myself an Irish nationalist. The term "nationalist" has been stigmatised in recent decades, so I very deliberately employ it.
It's a very strange thing. When I was growing up, Irish history was taught as a narrative in which the Irish nationalists were the good guys. This wasn't so true at university level or in intellectual circles, which were already post-nationalist, but certainly in school and in popular discourse.
Even now, historical Irish nationalism seems to get a pass, despite 'nationalism' being a dirty word. Presumably this is because the Irish nationalists of that time were rebelling against the British Empire, and anything that is anti-colonialist is good, in the weird logic of modern progressivism. As Chesterton once wrote, lambasting the inconsistency of the typical 'progressive' in his own day: "He calls the flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble."
To resume my train of thought; I call myself an Irish nationalist, but I'm not really particularly an Irish nationalist. I'm a nationalist who happens to be Irish.
I'm always on the side of nationalism and particularism, so far as it pertains to culture and society. For instance, I am very much on the side of the Slavophiles in Russian history, even though I have no dog in the fight. (I should add the qualification that I believe religion should transcend ethnicity or culture.)
I don't really think there's anything special or exceptional about Ireland, except insofar as every culture is special and exceptional. Growing up, I often found Irish nationalists tiresome in their efforts to demonstrate how ancient, noble, wise, eco-friendly etc. etc. some aspect or other of Irish culture was. The ancient Brehon laws were marvellously enlightened and equitable. The Irish bardic poets wrote a highly accomplished and classical verse which compared well with the mawkish emotionalism of Victorian English poetry. Ireland had the oldest literature in Europe. And so on. And so on.
Now, I don't want to be too harsh on this sort of thing. Nobody blames the husband who says he has the most beautiful wife in the world, the mother who says she has the most adorable baby in the world, the son who says he has the best parents in the world. That's sweet. But you expect them to realise, at some level, that they're using a figure of speech.
I don't really care about how Ireland 'rates' as against other countries. Yes, I'm proud of the history of Irish monks evangelising Europe. But even if Ireland had not been especially distinguished in the history of Christianity, I would revere my Irish Christian heritage just as much.
As readers will know, I've been trying to improve my grasp of the Irish language recently. It's not for some intrinsic love of the language itself. Is Irish beautiful? Sometimes I find it beautiful. Sometimes I find it very beautiful. Sometimes I find it less than beautiful. On the whole, I probably find English more attractive as a language.
Then again, I think most languages have their own beauty. I especially like German and Russian. (I don't like Spanish.)
Nor, for the most part, do I feel any ancestral 'tug' towards the Irish language, or the Irish landscape, or Irish culture in general. Insofar as I do, it's based on nostalgia for my childhood. I'm terribly nostalgic for the conventions of Irishness which were current back then, or the ones I picked up on.
I don't even really believe there is some kind of essential 'Irishness' which stretches from this island's aboriginal inhabitants to today. Maybe there is in some regards, but not in most or all. The history of a nation is not like the history of the Catholic Church, where we can clearly perceive the unity of Catholicism from the Acts of the Apostles to our own time. I agree with Dr. Johnson that there is no permanent national character. Only yesterday, I was reading that visitors to Ireland in the eighteenth century commented on the freedom with which even men would kiss each other.
Nevertheless, the identity of a nation persists, like P.G. Wodehouse's typewriter or the ship of Theseus. We can cherish the memory of those who went before us, and incorporate them into our identity, without believing in some mysterious affinity.
I used to identify with England and Englishness when I was younger. I did this partly out of contrarianism, partly out of a kind of 'black sheep' syndrome, but mostly out of genuine love for English culture-- a love I still feel. However, I began to realise how irritated I was by English people who didn't appreciate and identify with their own heritage, and I began to realise that this could just as well apply to me.
I once encountered a quotation from the Mishnah or the Talmud (I'm thinking it was a misquotation as I can't find it now) which ran thus: "If I am him, who will be me?". I agree with that.
As I've mentioned quite often recently, I'm a big admirer of many figures in the 'new free speech movement' such as Milo Yiannapoulous. However, I'm not sure I agree with them when they loudly proclaim that "the West is the best", or "America is the greatest country that has ever existed". I do understand why they're saying it; they're fighting back against cultural relativism. And I agree with them that we need to be less sensitive, much less sensitive, about criticizing other cultures.
But that doesn't mean I think the West is the best in every respect, or that America is the greatest country in the world. If the argument is that America's Founding Fathers were the wisest and most far-sighted nation-builders in history, I fully agree.
I believe in American exceptionalism to some degree, but ultimately I don't think America is a nation founded on an idea. I don't think there's any such thing. America is a people, a history, and a culture, like every other nation.
The argument against nationalism is that it's jingoistic and it's motivated by a belief that your country is superior to others. I, for one, have no such belief. Maybe I am a romantic without illusions.