Foolish expectations

If more of us had the common sense that Jeremy O’Grady of THE WEEK displays here, there would be a lot less fractious debate and consequent anxiety produced by this wretched pandemic. There would be a much healthier public square as well.

In the current issue he writes in his Editor’s Letter:

In the endless dingdong between Us (the people) and Them (the Government), it’s always Them as carries the can. Yet I wonder. If departments of state are dysfunctional, the same is surely true of the public. It isn’t “fit for purpose”: its expectations of what ministers can feasibly be expected to do are out of whack with reality. We blame Them, for instance, for lacking the foresight to equip health services with sufficient resources to cope with a pandemic. But see what happens when They do. In anticipation of the H1N1 flu epidemic predicted for 2009, France’s health minister did put her nation in readiness: years before it struck, she procured billions of top-quality masks and drew up a plan to impose social distancing. Alas for her, the epidemic never materialised, and as Theodore Dalrymple relates in Law & Liberty, she was then widely derided for wasting public money. So much for fore­sight. When a pandemic does strike, however, a similar misalignment of expectations occurs. All too aware of what we expect of them, the politicians can’t afford to let us in on the extent of their own ignorance and uncertainty over how to deal with it. They can’t level with us because they’ve a myth to sustain: that there exist relatively painless solutions to all our problems and that They alone can deliver them. It’s not their myth, though: We invest in it even more than They do. We vote in the poli­ticians who are best at boosterism, best at selling optimism. Then, when their solutions turn out to be painful and the myth exposed, we rage. The wisdom of the electorate? Pah!

Jeremy O’Grady

Pulling the wool over our eyes

Gript’s recent post on education pressure groups reveals more about the shenanigans of politicians who are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

We should be grateful for this platform which helps us keep our feet on the ground on matters that matter.

David Mullins takes on this cadre of so-called social warriors who maintain that

Most parents are only a hair’s breadth away from storming local Board of Management meetings in a wave of progressive protest at the ‘stranglehold’ of religious ethos on the teaching of sex-ed at primary and secondary school level.

He writes:

That is not true, of course.

But that still hasn’t stopped a majority of politicians, particularly those on the left, from hyperventilating on the issue in recent years or from seeking to position themselves as the semi-messianic voices of ‘oppressed’ parents and radical sex-ed advocacy organisations.

But the reality is different

During the ten-year period from 2011 to November 2021, a mere 60 ‘communications’ have been received by the Department of Education which feature complaints involving “a perceived restriction on the teaching of Relationships and Sexuality Education as a result of the ethos (or characteristic spirit) of schools.”

60 ‘communications’ on ‘perceived’ restrictions because of ethos. In a decade.

Not quite the ideological storming of the barricades that we have been led to believe is happening, is it?

This information was revealed as part of a series of replies to parliamentary questions from the Rural Independent TD for Laois-Offaly, Carol Nolan. Deputy Nolan also happens to be a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

As things stand at present, The Education Act 1998 provides “that boards of management of schools shall manage schools on behalf of patrons while upholding the characteristic spirit of the school as determined by the cultural, educational, moral, religious, social, linguistic and spiritual values and traditions which inform and are characteristic of the objectives and conduct of the school.”

It is now clear, that most ordinary parents have no problem whatsoever with this.

In fact, if anything is an actual issue for parents it is the attempt to do away with this vital provision that allows for the teaching of a compassionate and well-grounded age-appropriate curriculum based on a faith informed vision of human dignity.

All of this reflects the insight put forward last week by Carol Nolan’s colleague in the Rural Independent Group, Michael Collins, during a debate on the Social Democrats rehashed version of a People Before Profit/Solidarity Bill on ‘objective and impartial’ sex education.

Here is what Deputy Collins said:

“We are forever discussing issues in this Dáil that are never raised with me as issues in my constituency. When it comes to the education of our children, this debate is a prime example of that. We are discussing this Bill instead of discussing the lack of special need assistants and teachers in our classrooms and how will schools fill their oil tanks. Schools have to face those challenges on a daily basis. I am on a school board of management and I know difficult it is to get funding to address these issues.”

The Cork-South West TD went on:

“We should be discussing how funding will be secured to fix a school roof where State funding has not been given. Instead, we waste our time discussing the Social Democrats’ agenda seeking that young people and children can access sexual education. The Social Democrats similar to its sister party, the Labour Party, has gone on to attack religion in our schools with a whole load of blah blah blah, as similarly happened during COP26, where it is all talk and has no solutions.”

Now, thanks to the work of genuinely in-touch constituency TD’s like Carol Nolan, we know that these are also the priorities of most parents.

A similar issue was reflected this week when it emerged that a paltry 4% of Trinity College students engaged in the entirely self-regarding ‘referendum’ on boycotting the Irish Times because of its apparently transphobic editorial stance.

Which is to say, that away from the megaphone politicking and advocacy on these and similar issues, most parents just want their child to be educated with common-sense and dignity even if that involves (horror of horrors) learning about such things from a Catholic or denominational perspective.

The push to marginalise faith schools, to ‘get them out’ or to liberalise and fundamentally reshape the sex-ed curriculum from junior infants up, is not coming from parents.

It is being driven by the radical ideological positions favoured by most Irish political parties and versions of international law as interpreted by the left. We now have strong indicative evidence to support that.

Read more here.

What Greta should do next…

Poor Jeremy Clarkson. I’m sure he is very upset this morning – after the barrage of abuse he has received for his very reasonable suggestions to Greta Thunberg as to what she should do next in her campaign to cool us all down. The main outrage is about what he though her parents should be doing about her – because what he proposed is against the law in most of those countries which have converted themselves into interfering nannies.

This is what Jeremy proposed in his Times Newspapers (London) column:

If Greta and her pals really want to get results, they should try protesting in Tiananmen Square Greta Thunberg is now kayaking back to the Swedish port where she left her bicycle, having spent the week outside a conference centre in Glasgow, swearing a lot and being interviewed by BBC journalists who fawned like they were soap stars being introduced to the Queen. They didn’t call the annoying little bucket of ego: “Your majesty”, but you could see they were thinking it.

I simply don’t get the Thunberg phenomenon. She has no knowledge of how the world works, no manners and no letters after her name because instead of going to school, she’s been busy sailing round the world so she can be mardy and abusive to grown-ups. What she needs is a smacked bottom.

Rod Liddle calls her the “Swedish doom goblin” which is, of course, brilliant, but she’s worse than that. She’s a pest. A 4ft maypole around which the deranged and the weak and the unemployable can dance and chant and make a nuisance of themselves. However, she did come up with one idea last week that struck a chord. In essence, she said that there was no point listening to whatever the f*** the Cop26 politicians were saying inside their important meetings because the people outside knew what had to be done and could just get on and do it.

Absolutely. I already know that I should not buy palm oil or products that come with unnecessary plastic packaging, and that I should not use wet logs in my wood-burning stoves. I also know that if my journey’s less than a mile, I should walk rather than use the car and that I should make more of an effort to understand what goes in the recycling part of my bin and what doesn’t. I don’t need Joe Biden to wake up from one of his naps and tell me.

So here’s a tip, Greta: lecturing me on what needs to be done is pointless. It’d be like standing in my bedroom every morning ordering me to wear clothes. I know already. What you should be doing instead is cycling to countries where people are perhaps less well aware of what should be done. China for example. That I’d like to see. Greta standing outside Zhongnanhai with her parka and her Glastonbury backpack and her microphone, lecturing the leaders about their policies on coal and trees and so on.

Maybe she could be joined by those Extinction Rebellion halfwits who go to the middle of London to tell Barnes people in Teslas to be more green, rather than going to the slums of Calcutta where two million people, living in poverty, cook their supper every evening on chulha stoves, which blanket the city in a thick yellow fog. These are the people Tarquin and their sexually ambiguous mates should be targeting. But they’re not.

I saw a map, last week, of where the world’s methane is coming from. And let me tell you that billions of tons of the stuff is pouring into the skies from India and China. And not a single hairy person in Liberal Democrat shoes is over there with a placard complaining about it. Because they’re all here, moaning about how my cows burp too much and how there’s a turd in the River Evenlode.

It’s the same story with the loft insulation protesters. There was a photograph in my newspaper on Friday that showed them blocking the path of a lorry that was actually delivering loft insulation. So again, they’re inconveniencing the lives of people who are already doing their best. They too should be in China because I’d dearly love to see that. Especially the footage of the Chinese police ungluing the hands of a vicar from the tarmac in Tiananmen Square. “Oh no, Reverend. All your skin’s come off.” And now you’ve hit your head on the police car. I’d also like to see them daubing the words “racist” and “murderer” on statues of Chairman Mao, but of course, this would never happen because they know they would not be treated with respect and reverence by China’s news crews. And neither would they be invited with Greta and the Lib Dem vicars round to President Xi’s for some nuclear free vegan peace food.

This is why they’re not protesting in countries where protest might do some good; because they’re timid and wet. Greta turns up in Glasgow so she can bathe in some adulation for a few days, rather than getting sent to a labour camp for a few decades. That’s what these protesters need to get through their knitted hats and into their thick skulls; that if you want to get something done, and I mean really done, you’ve got to be uncomfortable. And you’ve got to be surrounded by people who don’t like you, not those who do. You’ve got to talk to Fox News, not CNN or the BBC. Look at Gandhi and Mandela. They were prepared to undergo unimaginable hardships to further the cause in which they believed.

Thich Quang Duc was prepared to go even further. Had this Buddhist monk stepped out of his Austin A95 and glued himself to the road to protest about the South Vietnamese government, it’s virtually certain that no one would remember his name. And I wouldn’t have been able to recall what sort of car he had. But he didn’t glue himself to the road. Instead, he set himself on fire and sat there, in the middle of a busy intersection, until he was dead. Then you have Emily Davison who, to further women’s rights, leapt under the king’s horse at the Derby and was killed. And the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and William Wallace. I think it’s safe to say that if the blue-faced agitator had fought for Scottish independence by gluing himself to a tree, Mel Gibson would have been less inclined to make that film.”

Crusader Clint

The latest edition of an interesting review, Church, Communication & Culture, published by the prestigious academic publishers, Routledge, has now been posted online. This is the academic review of the Communications School of the Pontifical University of Santa Croce in Rome, which specialises in studies related to dialogue between religion, communication and culture.

That all sounds a bit po-faced – but a look at its list of contents suggests that it is anything but. For example, is that where you might expect to find a learned article on the cinema of Clint Eastwood. But there it is. Not only about Clint but about Clint’s oeuvre and the daunting task of “absolving American guilt”, finding forgiveness and purification.

In this piece Antonio Sánchez-Escalonilla explores the guilt-ridden characters who stride through film after film in Eastwood’s cinema. Why, he asks, is the guilt-ridden character a recurring premise in Clint Eastwood’s films, recognisable in the inner conflicts of the protagonists of iconic titles, such as Unforgiven (1992), Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Gran Torino (2008)? 

A double purpose is suggested. On the one hand, it highlights the purification sought by the protagonists and its relationship with the Christian moral context in which the characters arise. On the other side of the picture you see him exploring the extension of this on the social level in the context of that fragile entity, the American Dream.

Another article related to film culture takes a look at a recent pope’s impact in this regard. It is entitled ‘Promoting culture and spirituality in an audiovisual society: Pope Saint John Paul II’s teachings on cinema’. It suggests that this pope’s teaching combines respect and admiration with critical analysis, trust with warnings, the defense of freedom with the call to social responsibility for film industry professionals as well as for viewers. 

The author, Alejandro Pardo, hopes that his initial work may open the way to future studies on the relationship between cinema and society, also on the links between the transcendentals of being (beauty, truth, goodness) and the artistic, socio-cultural and industrial approaches to cinema.

And as if all that was not enough we also have an article on popes and the wider popular culture. ‘Pop goes the Pope: religion and popular music in Italy’ by Paolo Prato tries to find common ground between pop and rock culture and the Christian world. He enriches his analysis with three case studies representing different points of view. One might be tempted to say, ‘Good luck with that’. 

Finally, in the context of Pope Francis’ latest media outing this morning on BBC’s  ‘Thought for the Day’ we have Jasbeer Musthafa Mamalipurath leading a discursive analysis of Pope Francis’ TED Talks – ‘Postsecular rhetoric of the Pope’. 

The review is edited by Prof. Enrique Fuster and can be accessed at

A whistleblower we foolishly ignore

I have just watched, belatedly, a GB News interview and panel discussion with Dr. David Thunder, broadcast on 8 October. I was deeply impressed. I have been a bit of an ostrich in all this. And I’m not saying that ostriches are necessarily always stupid. Sometimes it is sensible to do just what you are told when you can trust the people telling you to do it. In this case – Covid – I have, up until now, found myself secretly wishing that all those in the Resistance would go away and just let us grin and bear our travails while they lasted. David, whom I know personally, was one of those who kept me aware of his resistance. I was of the view that he was squandering his considerable talents on a nine-day-wonder.

I was wrong. Here is what convinced me.

I am now grateful to him for his rational voice and am appalled at his treatment by the various media platforms which have denied him the freedom which we need him to have. He has suffered for us.

He has told me all about it.

“It’s been a difficult and stressful experience to be marginalised and shut out of newspapers (I am now persona non grata at The Irish Times, can no longer even publish in my local regional newspaper on anything critical of Covid measures), Twitter (for speaking out against vaccinating the young with no net benefit to them), & occasionally Youtube (my account remains open but I now veer away from direct statements against their politics). My blog is on a largely uncensored platform, substack, and I’ve also opened a Telegram and Rumble channel for sharing uncensored commentary.”

What is alarming about this experience goes far beyond our current crisis. It is that an entire media and scientific establishment has so readily imposed on our society a blanket gag on speech and thought. Who, in the months and years to come will join David Thunder in trying to pick up the pieces of our freedom and put them together again.

Trust matters

Words which Joseph Conrad once wrote about his motives as a writer might well be taken as a manifesto by any serious and responsible journalist – or we might wish that they would.

“Art itself”, he wrote in the preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus, “may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect”. He accepted that his task should be this: “by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see!” Success for him would be that  “you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm – all you demand; and perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask”.

More than a hundred years later we still look for these high standards from writers, journalists included. Do we reach them? This was what Pope Francis was looking for when in his recent book, Let Us Dream, he spoke about the role journalists have played in helping us to cope with the woes inflicted upon us by the latest visitation to our world of the horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

Journalists have had a key role in helping us to make sense of what was happening, to balance and assess different accounts and opinions. The best reporters took us to the margins, showed us what was happening there, and made us care. This is journalism at its most noble, helping us to conquer our existential myopia, and opening up spaces for discussion and debate. 

But a role is one thing and the execution of a role another. The evidence to be found in the agencies whose chosen and vocational job it is to bring to us our “deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm – and that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask” show that all too often, they fail us, succumbing to what the Pope calls their pathologies.

But the media also have their pathologies: disinformation, defamation, and a fascination with scandal. Some media are caught up in the post-truth culture, where facts matter much less than impact, seizing narratives as a way to wield power. The most corrupt media are those that pander to their readers and viewers, twisting the facts to suit their prejudices and fears.  

He writes that the media in this way cease to mediate and become intermediaries – presumably meaning that some in the media have  ceased to try to stand apart and have just become the mouthpieces of vested interests or loudspeakers for whatever bubble to which they happen to subscribe, obscuring our view of reality. For him, categorically, reporting that rearranges the facts to support ideology for financial gain is a corruption of journalism that frays our social fabric.  

But it is encouraging in some way to realise that the public is not fooled all of the time and that in the detritus of bad journalism which surrounds us there may lurk the seeds of redemption. While it has been said, with some accuracy, that no one ever lost money underestimating public taste, bad products do eventually self-destruct.

A Reuters Digital News Report published last year gave us the results of a survey of 2,000 people in the Republic of Ireland. It found that 48 per cent agreed they could trust most news most of the time, the same percentage as in 2019. That’s not a high level of trust. It is just about a pass mark in most people’s books.  But elsewhere, it got worse. In the UK findings showed trust levels in the news there to have fallen from 40 per cent to 28 per cent. In the US, trust levels dropped three points to 29 per cent. In the UK trust levels have plunged most among news users who lean to the political left, while in the US, it is right-leaning people who are much more likely to mistrust the news. This Reuters Report showed that the international average was 38 per cent, down four percentage points since 2019.

The question is how low can you go before you implode? We can only hope that sooner rather than later someone will shout “stop!’ and that glimpses of the truth are not going to cease to be part of the human experience.

Aunt Sally again…

Michael Deacon in the Daily Telegraph:

For the life of me I can’t see why people are so angry with Sally Rooney. She may have refused to let an Israeli firm publish her work. But that’s not an insult to the Israeli people.

Quite the contrary. It’s great news for the Israeli people. Because now they won’t have to read her books.

Far from an affront, we should view what she’s done as a noble act of self-sacrifice. The Israeli people have quite enough to worry about as it is, without having to endure these insufferable, humourless, dreary, sullen, adolescent, jumped-up bonkbusters. So it’s thoughtful of Ms Rooney to spare an embattled nation from additional misery. She may not approve of the Israeli government, but for the benefit of ordinary Israelis she is willing to forgo a no doubt considerable sum in royalties. The decision does her great credit, and all supporters of Israel, and indeed lovers of literature, should applaud this principled stance.

I only wonder whether she can be persuaded to extend her boycott to British publishers. After all, she must have an opinion on the British Empire, or Oliver Cromwell, or at the very least Brexit. If not, we could easily send her a helpful summary of this country’s most grievous historic excesses, in the hope that she will take a principled stance against us. Perhaps a member of National Trust staff could be enlisted to help.

Ms Rooney is evidently a very tolerant and forgiving person, but with a little effort, I see no reason why we shouldn’t convince her to stop her books being published here, too.

Colonisation – a lazy stereotype?

(Image from Terence Malick’s The New World, courtesy of New Line Cinema)

A crew of pirates are driven by a storm, they know not whither; at length a boy discovers land from the topmast; they go on shore to rob and plunder; they see a harmless people, are entertained with kindness; they give the country a new name; they take formal possession of it for the king; they set up a rotten plank or a stone for a memorial; they murder two or three dozen of the natives, bring away a couple more by force for a sample, return home, and get their pardon. Here commences a new dominion, acquired with a title by divine right. Ships are sent . . . the natives driven out or destroyed; their princes tortured to discover their gold; a free licence given to all acts of inhumanity and lust; the earth reeking with the blood of its inhabitants: and this execrable crew of butchers employed in so pious an expedition is a modern colony sent to convert and civilize an idolatrous and barbarous people.

That represented the not so benign view held by Jonathan Swift, the dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, of the fairly brutal way in which mankind spread its wings across the globe. We now call it conquest and colonisation.

Perhaps it was not all quite as barefaced or stark as that but there is no doubt but that the experience of colonisation could be a pretty brutal one. Its legacy is undoubtedly full of the worst excesses our race has on its very blotted record – colonial or otherwise. 

But are we really making too much of it? Or rather, are we mistaking the wood for the trees and in our pursuit of villains are we missing the real evil in our midst? In our excessive preoccupation with this dimension of mankind’s fulfilment of the mandate to multiply and cultivate the earth – whether we identify as post-colonial victims or guilt-ridden colonists – are we failing to deal with the real evils at the root of the miseries we engender?

The great text which for generations now has been seen as the final word on colonisation is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. But even here we should perhaps ask ourselves if we have not read it superficially, proceeding to indite colonisation when in fact we should be inditing something much deeper and closer to home – something in our own hearts. Is the great darkness lurking therein the real source of the evils we load on the scapegoat we call colonisation.

“The horror, the horror,” the words which Colonel Kurtz muttered as he died in physical and moral anguish was a kind of act of contrition. But it was personal, not a confession made on behalf of the King of the Belgians. Raging about, and resenting, what we call colonisation may be no more than an excuse for not doing what we should be doing about our personal surrender to our own evil impulses. It is these which collectively turn the colonialism which we rage against, into something evil.

John Darwin, the great historian of empire – a near synonym for colonialism – writes in his Unfinished Empire, of the complex thing that this phenomenon is.

Few subjects in history evoke stronger opinions than the making of empire. Indeed, some historians of empire still feel obliged to proclaim their moral revulsion against it, in case writing about empire might be thought to endorse it. This, and other conceits he writes about reveal, he says, something interesting: that for all the ink spilt on their deeds and misdeeds, empires remain rather mysterious, realms of myth and misconception.

This, he continues, is partly the result of thinking in monoliths. ‘Empire’ is a grand word. But behind its facade (in every place and time) stood a mass of individuals, a network of lobbies, a mountain of hopes: for careers, fortunes, religious salvation or just physical safety. Empires were not made by faceless committees making grand calculations, nor by the ‘irresistible’ pressures of economics or ideology. They had to be made by men (and women) whose actions were shaped by motives and morals no less confused and demanding than those that govern us now. This was certainly true of the British overseas empire. Far from being the mere handiwork of kings and conquistadors, it was largely a private-enterprise empire: the creation of merchants, investors, migrants and missionaries, among many others. 

The reality is that colonialism and empire-growth do not, like other political phenomena with the suffix ‘ism’ attached which we might rage against, derive from an ideology. Such are Communism, Marxism, fascism, republicanism and nationalism. This particular force of nature has existed ever since the day – or night – on which Adam and Eve were sent packing from their garden. It is a force which has accompanied their descendants ever since, as they made their way across the face of this planet. They had to wander and their wandering was colonisation. But the evil deeds which accompanied that wandering were not in the wandering. They were in the minds and hearts of the wanderers, – manifested in greed, envy, avarice, cruelty and more, generated by the loss they suffered through their own foolish surrender to their passions.

Had they and their descendants traversed the world, mingling with each other as they increased and multiplied, in a spirit moved by virtue – justice, charity, generosity – rather than by vice, then this mingling which we now call colonisation would have been a very benign thing. It sometimes was. It more often, much more often, was not.

Darwin notes that the underlying assumption, on which almost all else hangs, is that empires are abnormal, a monstrous intrusion in a usually empire-free world. No error could be more basic. Empire — as the assertion of mastery (by influence or rule) by one ethnic group, or its rulers, over a number of others — has been the political rule of the road over much of the world and over most of world history: the default mode of state organization. He suggests that empires cannot be seen as the inveterate enemies of cultural and material advance among those they ruled over. He also notes that historians of pre—modern or non-European empires – suggesting that post-colonial trauma and anti-colonial rage are Western phenomena – show few qualms in conceding that, whatever their shortfall in political freedom, they were often culturally creative and materially beneficial.  One of the more subtle explorations of the colonial experience which the art of cinema has offered us in recent years was Terence Malick’s treatment of the Pocahontas story in The New World.

This blind-spot, Darwin also thinks, can lead to a history in stereotypes; to a cut-and-dried narrative in which the interests of rulers and ruled are posed as stark opposites, without the ambiguity and uncertainty which define most human behaviour. It denies to the actors whose thoughts and deeds we trace more than the barest autonomy, since they are trapped in a thought-world that determines their motives and rules their behaviour. It treats the subjects of empire as passive victims of fate, without freedom of action or the cultural space in which to preserve or enhance their own rituals, belief-systems or customary practices. 

We return to Joseph Conrad, by way of Abdulrazak Gurnah who has just won the Nobel Prize for literature, and whose novel Paradise has been read as a re-mapping of Conrad’s 19th century journey to the “heart of darkness”. Paradise is a tale narrated by 12-year-old boy, Yusuf, who lovingly describes gardens and assorted notions of paradise and their corruption as he is pawned between masters and travels to different parts of the interior from the coast. Yusuf concludes that the brutality of German occupiers of that time in East Africa was preferable to the ruthless exploitation by the Arabs. Differences count.

The depth and the extent of the miseries we perpetrate on each other originate in the hearts and minds of the human agents who make history. They only exist in the systems we devise only in so far as they are brought into them by us. The lesson we fail to learn when we blame systems for our misdeeds is that we must change before our systems can change. 

Today we are dealing with a new wave of mass movement of people on the planet, people fighting for survival with the only option at their disposal – migration. This is a new colonisation. In the nineteenth century Darwin gives figures for the mass movements of that era – again of people fighting for their lives.

The first great outflow from Europe to underpopulated parts of the planet was after 1815 at the end of more than twenty years of world war. In 1832, for the first time, Darwin recounts, the number who left in one year exceeded 100,000. In the 1840s and 1850s the terrible calamity of famine in Ireland drove up the figure to astonishing heights: 1.7 million people left between 1841 and I850; a further 1.6 million between 1853 and 1860; and just under 2 million between 1861 and 1870. In each of the years 1853 and 1854, more than 1per cent of the population departed. In the 1850s and 1860s, migrants from Ireland were still the largest body of leavers: after 1870, the English took over. The total fell back a little in the late 1870s, but from 1880 until the end of the century, it usually exceeded 200,000 a year and never fell below 140,000. Then in a huge burst up to 1914, more than 3 million people left the British Isles, just under 400,000 in I913 alone. 

The moral and ethical response every single human being had to make then and has to make today, if involved in any way in this phenomenon, is what will make it good or bad. This is what should enrage us – or sustain our hope in humanity. Stopping people fleeing from a burning building is not an option. Human ingenuity, political skills and decision-making – again with moral implications – were not fit for purpose to save the lives of all those Irish who died in the Great Famine. That same moral failure caused millions more to have to take flight to save their lives. That was one side of the ethical coin. The other side was the question of the response of the immigrants who landed on foreign shores to the indigenous peoples they found there.

Indulging in rage against a facile “ism” solves nothing for humanity. Unless we return again to a vision of ourselves which places responsibility for our actions firmly on our own shoulders, to forming consciences adequate for the task of living with each other as we should, we will continue to inflict misery wherever we go to solve our problems and on whomsoever comes to us looking for help.

We may never reach the Utopian standard of just governance so bitingly satirised by Swift in the passage of Gulliver’s Travels which follows that with which we began. But a community populated by persons who try to be personally true to the moral principles of the Christian faith, will find themselves in a world less in need of such biting satire.

But this description, I confess, does by no means affect the British nation, who may be an example to the whole world for their wisdom, care, and justice in planting colonies; their liberal endowments for the advancement of religion and learning; their choice of devout and able pastors to propagate Christianity; their caution in stocking their provinces with people of sober lives and conversations from this the mother kingdom; their strict regard to the distribution of justice, in supplying the civil administration through all their colonies with officers of the greatest abilities, utter strangers to corruption; and, to crown all, by sending the most vigilant and virtuous governors, who have no other views than the happiness of the people over whom they preside, and the honour of the king their master.

A troubling metamorphosis

A strange and sometimes terrible thing seems to happen to ideologues when they cease to be outsiders and become insiders. This seems particularly so when they are political animals. History is full of examples of this uncanny metamorphoses. Seemingly idealistic freedom movements slouching to their goal, when once they reach it, turn into either apathetic onlookers of the very evils they formerly raged against – or worse, they become replicas of the very monsters they formerly fought tooth and nail.

Modern republicanism probably begins with the French Revolution. The American Republic is of a gentler lineage, bred out of a pragmatic response to a frustrating contre temps with a myopic British parliament and a somewhat disturbed king. The French version was similar in some ways but was fatally laced with an ideological potion which for a time led it down the path of wanton savagery, rescued only to become another kind of tyranny under the aegis of the practical genius who was Napoleon Bonaparte. But while it pursued its Rousseaunian ideological course, and gained power, it truly became a monster. It was the first of a long line of idealist ideologies to do so in modern times. The latest example of this degeneration is now again exercising its mad and lethal power on a people to whom it would have initially presented itself as saviour – the People’s Republic of China.

Among the more apathetic exemplars of this withering of idealism might be found the Republic of Ireland.

In the late 18th century the Irish patriot, Theobald Wolfe Tone, was in France seeking to enlist the forces of the French Revolution to help liberate Ireland from the laws imposed on it by the British Crown. Unlike Edmund Burke, Tone saw no hope of reforming the system which had imposed murderous penal laws on catholics and manipulated an exclusively protestant land-owning class in Ireland as its willing tool in keeping the status quo.

It is hard to read accounts today of what the people of XInjiang province or of Hong Kong are experiencing and not hear echoes from the suffering of the Irish of the 18th Century. These were set upon and oppressed by the victors of England’s own ‘Glorious Revolution’ of the late 17th century, another movement claiming freedom as it goal but then morphing into a woeful tyranny. 

Wolfe Tone, the acknowledged father of Irish republicanism, succeeded in getting French help. His and their efforts were, however, a miserable failure. He was captured, convicted of high treason and condemned to death by hanging. He asked to be shot as a soldier and when this was refused, died by his own hand. Nevertheless, he lived on as a potent symbol of republicanism for 150 years and has served as such for the eventual republic which Ireland became.

The late Seamus Deane, poet and literary critic, in an essay on Wolfe Tone (now published in Small World – Ireland 1798-2018), examines the motivation which drove this Irish hero in the direction which he took. At the heart of Tone’s political experience was his acute analysis of the condition of Ireland and the Irish – a condition he defined as one of slavery. Deane universalises this and says that all republican theory is permeated by this “whole concept of dependence and slavery… To be dependent on the wish, caprice, or undelegated authority of someone else is to lack autonomy and to be a slave. It is corrupt and corrupting, especially when sustained by violence and an endless bombardment of propaganda and threat.” This, he says, was Ireland’s condition. Such, history shows, is the ground in which so many ideologies bent on achieving freedom for peoples are nurtured. What, however, can explain the subsequent degeneration of so many of them to a condition where they now tolerate and cooperate with perpetrators of the very oppression they fought against so heroically? Or worse, how can so many of them perpetrate on their own people the injustices they once raged against?

Mao Zedong was a hero for his people – and for a time in the West, to young idealists, seemed also to be a hero. But he then turned into – and turned his Republic into – a cauldron of death. Xi Jinping can only be described as a worthy successor. What is happening in Xinjiang province, documented now in increasing detail, can only be described as slavery.

Ruth Ingham, in a recent post, quoted Geoffrey Cain, author of The Perfect Police State, who earlier this month gave evidence at the second series of hearings of the Uyghur Tribunal in London. He detailed how China’s access to an arsenal of intrusive novel technologies has enabled the state to monitor the minutiae of everyday life of each one of its citizens. These means are nothing more or less than the modern equivalent of the cadre of informers Lord Castlereagh used to dismantle Tone’s insurgency in 18th century Ireland. With these weapons the CCP, in its war on its insurgents, are spying on 15 million or so potential “terrorists” and “extremists” among the Turkic peoples of its North Western Frontier. Cain explained how these people are spied on “from the moment they leave their house, whether from the back or the front door, whom they meet, whom they might text or call on the way, what they might download on their phone and who might have sent.” All is monitored. And that is just the spying operation. The ‘re-education” atrocities come afterwards.Wolf Tone’s Ireland took 150 years to complete its journey to full republican status. Today he must be turning in his grave. The Irish Republic not only turns a blind eye to the atrocities in China, it actually cozies up to its leaders. It builds Confucian institutes on its university campuses which serve as apologists for the very evils Tone railed against when he died an ignominious death in a Dublin prison.

Alexander Dukalskis and David Farrell, political scientists in University College Dublin, in an Irish Times piece have put in focus the threats to academic freedom in Irish universities posed by China. Charles Moore, in the Spectator and in the Daily Telegraph, has been highlighting what he sees as the sad and dangerous manipulation of Cambridge University by the same kind of fellow travelling.

Dukalskis and Farrell tell us that “In February 2021, this paper reported that the head of Huawei Ireland wrote privately to Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, regarding an academic article by our colleague Dr Richard Maher about the Chinese telecoms giant. The letter said that academic freedom was a “two-way street” and requested the Minister’s “full support in mitigating the damage that has been done”. He secured a meeting with the secretary general of the department to discuss the matter. When the School of Politics and International Relations privately signalled its concern to the university leadership, the university president described our concerns as an overreaction.”

They then recount how in July 2021, the Irish Times reported on a story that involves the Irish Institute for Chinese Studies (IICS), a spin-off of University College’s  Confucius Institute, which is teaching a class in Chinese politics for UCD students. The School of Politics objected because Confucius institutes are Chinese state-affiliated entities.  The IICS and the UCD Confucius Institute were established at the same time, have the same director, the same email address, the same phone number, the same building, overlapping senior staff, and share the same mission to promote Chinese studies.

They anticipate complaints about their complaints – that it is a storm in a teacup.

“But, you might be asking yourself, what is the fuss? The problem is that the ruling party of China is a profoundly illiberal entity when it comes to the education sector. This has always been the case to varying degrees, but under current leader Xi Jinping the party has turbo-charged its control over intellectual inquiry. As part of its ‘comprehensive reassertion of control’, in the words of expert Carl Minzner of Fordham University, the party-state has focused on the social sciences to strengthen political training for faculty and standardise reading materials. Student informants and placing CCTV in classrooms to monitor teaching have increased. ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ research institutes have proliferated. Students have been arrested on campus for activism. Scholars such as Ilham Tohti remain jailed for criticising party policies.

“Nor is this just a higher education trend. For example, this summer the Chinese ministry of education announced that Xi Jinping Thought will be introduced into the national curriculum. Yes, this is the same ministry that Ireland’s own Department of Education agreed in 2019 was a suitable partner to influence Ireland’s own Chinese language curriculum.” To top it all off, they remind us, the 2020 Hong Kong ‘national security law’ effectively criminalises dissent globally, including on campus.

Part of the answer as to why and how this sad process of aversion and reversion seems to keep occurring is probably contained in another essay by Seamus Deane in Small World. In this essay, ‘Imperialism and Nationalism’, dating from 1995, he examines the complicated relationship between these two primeval phenomena, he finds nationalism’s opposition to imperialism, in some perspectives, nothing more than a continuation of imperialism by other means. Perhaps the analysis can offer an explanation of the strange outcome of so many victories of the oppressed over their oppressors. 

Of nationalism, Deane writes,“It secedes from imperialism in its earlier form in order to rejoin it more enthusiastically in its later form. In effect, most critiques of nationalism claim that, as an ideology, it merely reproduces the very discourses by which it had been subjected. It asserts its presence and identity through precisely those categories that had denied them — through race, essence, destiny, language, history — merely adapting these categories to its own purposes. It also accepts the requirements of ‘civilization’ – modernization, development, and class and gender divisions, which are integral to the system from which it ostensibly seeks to liberate itself. In brief, in the name of emancipation for itself, it joins with the global system of late capitalism and the multinational companies, becoming economically subservient while endlessly asserting cultural independence.” 

The end result, he suggests, leaves us with this: “An intellectual proletariat, with bourgeois pretensions, that claims it has achieved national consciousness is substituted for a non-intellectual sub-proletariat that once was the national consciousness. In such a situation, many forms of reaction are justified on the grounds that they are ‘national’. External domination has been introjected to the point that a nation, so construed, may be said to have learned nothing from oppression but oppression itself.” 

That the Republic of Ireland, tracing its inspiration back to the man who suffered and died to liberate a people from the most abject oppression is cooperating with this Marxist regime should dismay Irish people. It does not. That this Republic, and certain of its established state-funded institutions are now hand in glove with one of the planet’s great oppressors should be seen as a gross contradiction of everything in the inspiration which was of its essence. It is not. Sad metamorphosis indeed.


Then, of course, there is the elephant in the room of the Irish nation and its relationship with oppression – as an oppressor.

First Things@firstthingsmag·

For the first time in history, a nation has voted to strip the right to life from the unborn.

Loss, gain and loss

Just as it was two thousand years ago, the promise in what follows is still a very ‘hard saying’. It is not clear from the account of its original utterance how many walked away, unable to take it on board. Today, among those who have actually heard it, the numbers are, well, considerably greater. And yet, as the author of the book from which the passage comes intimates, the loss incurred in that retreat from reality is enormous.

The gravest danger for the human person and for civilisation is to lose touch with reality. The twentieth century saw what happens when pure fantasy replaces the realism of the good: two world wars, totalitarianism, political breakdown, social chaos, moral disintegration, exploitation of the helpless, disregard for human life at its beginning and its end. In sum it was the century of mass genocide, physical and spiritual, the beginning of civilization’s descent into suicide. Reality is lost sight of when we lose touch with God because God is man’s foundational and ultimate reality. The twentieth century lost sight of God.

The Eucharist and the sacraments put us in touch again with him who touches us through them, re-forming our minds and hearts, bringing them back to reality. Given this, the Church is no optional extra for the pious and reverent, not a footnote to social history, some inconsequential aside non-essential to the text. Rather it can be said that without the Church and sacraments, primarily the Eucharist, the world would cease to exist. For they embody the mercy of God which alone sustains the creation in Christ ‘through whom and for whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together.

From: Maelstrom of Love by Oliver Treanor.