Monday, 7 December 2015

The Irish Do Not Know What Nationalism Is

The Blether Region caught a few snippets of Ireland with Simon Reeve the other week, an experience that led to something of an epiphany. It is clear that the Irish do not know what nationalism is, with a fair chunk of the population believing that rejecting nationalism is rejecting a) political violence (a recessive tactic rather than an ideology) or b) an overweening Catholic Church (although, ironically enough, that ain't what it once was either). Nor was the feeling limited to zany liberal revisionists such as the man who said that Ireland must become "pan-global", since an equally zany person working for a conservative Catholic radio station also opined that rejecting Catholicism meant rejecting one's "identity".

The number of Catholics in the world, by the way, is estimated at 1.2 billion.

The real loser from this mush of confusion is Irish. Indeed, an acquaintance of the Blether Region hailing from the South but living in the North even stated that he supported the promotion of the language, although he did not like nationalism (which in his case was likely to mean violence). This, although promoting Irish is surely an example of — peaceful and constitutional — nationalism, and the person in question presumably did not think that his part of Ireland should be subsumed back into the United Kingdom.

For its part, the Blether Region is inclined to view nationalism as the foundation of representative government, the engine of democratic revolution in 1848 and after, and the basic bond that inclines us to accept the result of a lost election. It is a misconstruction to believe that this necessarily involves ethnic purity; Abraham Lincoln's policies against the supposed right of US states to maintain and expand the immoral system of slavery were also known as "nationalism" in their day. E pluribus unum and all that. Scotland, which, contrary to what many Irish Nationalists would like to believe, has two major and one minor surviving ethnicities, is an Old World example of a national identity built on citizenship. Indeed, it is for just that reason that Scotland is far more likely to become independent than, say, Wales.

Evidence of how the kind of voluptuous self-doubt described above is killing Irish is furnished by the Irish Times in an article entitled "Death knell tolling for Irish as community language", which predicts that, within 10 years, there may be no Irish-speaking communities left. The culprit, in the view of Professor Brian Ó Curnáin, is "an 'ignoriat', reflected in elements of academia, the media, State administration and politics, which ignores a 'series of detailed and high-quality research' showing evidence of the death of the language in the Gaeltacht." In journalism the basic form of such misinformation is articles by click-bait polemicists making one of two false claims: a) that Irish has survived thus far and will thus doubtless do so in future; or b) that it is already too late to save the language.

The message that friends of linguistic diversity, and, dare I say it, of nationalism, need to spread is that nothing, good or bad, is inevitable. In the case of Irish, the future lies in our hands.

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