Thursday, November 22, 2012

Some Questions for Young Ireland

OK, OK, OK. After my last post, I realize that I have to be strict with myself if this friendly debate on the question of nationalism is not going to degenerate into a long monologue, with poor Young Ireland unable to get a word in edgeways.

Therefore I am going to skip past the account of how my views on nationalism developed from the days when an Irish flag had become, in my eyes, like a red rag to a bull. This is a grievous sacrifice, since such an account would be of absorbing, compelling, gripping interest-- to me, that is. Unfortunately it might be so boring to everyone else that the Minister for Communications would shut down this blog, drawing wild cheers from everyone, including all the libertarian groups and committees for free speech.

So I'll summarise. Basically, I came to appreciate my Irish nationality, and to become a cultural and social nationalist, by looking at it from the outside. It was a little like the astronauts on the moon looking back at the glowing marble of the Earth and realizing, only then, just how precious it really was.

I was an Anglophile and a lover of all things English. It grieved me when Irish people insulted England. However, it grieved me even more when English people insulted England, or even spoke dismissively of her. It seemed like a betrayal. And slowly it dawned on me that I was doing the same thing to my own country.

And, when I took a wider view of the world, the same emotion struck me, except with even more force. I realized how much pleasure it gave me that there were so many different nations in the world with their own languages, customs, sports, foods and historical memories. Wasn't every single one incredibly precious-- including Ireland? This realization was a little bit analagous to the moment when a teenager discovers, with a thunderclap of astonishment, that his parents are people, too.

So what if nationalists exaggerated the role of national culture? What if we did all go to pretty much the same supermarkets, watch pretty much the same TV shows, listen to the same music, and wear the same clothes as people in America or Canada or Australia or Germany? Did that make nationality more contemptible-- or more precious? If national distinctiveness was imperilled, wasn't that all the more reason to cherish it and protect it? Wasn't abandoning it when it was in danger like putting your dog down when it got a broken paw?

Besides this, I was increasingly struck with a sense of trusteeship. It wasn't just my own parents and grandparents (on both sides) who had poured so much of their efforts and hopes and lives into the dream of an Ireland that was (as Patrick Pearse wrote) "not Gaelic merely, but free also; not free merely, but Gaelic also." It was hundreds of thousands of my Irish ancestors who had done so; millions, even. The virtue that the Romans called pietas seemed to me a natural one; it was also enjoined on us by the Fourth Commandment.

Of course, there were dangers. Nationalism, both political and cultural, had led to millions of deaths in wars down the ages. It had also played an enormous role in the various heresies and schisms that had riven Christianity, especially the Great Schism between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and the Reformation of the sixteenth century. But "abuse does not negate use". Wife-beating does not invalidate the institution of marriage.

So these are my questions for Young Ireland, and I am genuinely interested in his answers:

1) My first is something of a rhetorical question. I can't imagine you answering "no", but I will put it anyway. Would you be grieved at the prospect of the various nations, their languages, customs, cuisines, art-forms etc. being replaced by one world-wide culture with a common language, political system, legal system, sport, and so forth?
2) In a less drastic vein, are you perturbed at the idea of different national cultures becoming less distinctive-- do you find anything to regret in cultural globalization?
3) If you do prefer the continuance of different national cultures, do you think this is a goal that we should consciously pursue (for instance, by trying to protect national traditions, sports, languages, and so forth) or should we simply let history take its course?
4) You object to compulsory Irish in the Irish education system (and you may be right). Would you draw a distinction between efforts to preserve and strengthen national cultures that are voluntary, and those that are imposed by law?
5) How important do you think this whole subject is, in the grand scheme of things?

I hope those questions are not too restrictive or point-missing. Feel free to answer them in any way you like-- and to ignore any that seem beside the point to you.

I apologize for writing at such great length in these posts. I rather let my subject carry me away!

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