Talk to an educated Irish person in a global city today, and you will quickly discover that they hold the twin ideologies of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland: a vague sentimental remnant of the Irish ethno-nationalism of the revolutionary period and the internationalist and multicultural open society values of Google.
Point out that these are contradictory in any way, like mentioning Ireland’s role as an international tax haven or asking why there are so many Irish nationalists living in London, Berlin and San Francisco and so few living in Dublin, and you will be met with defensive anger.
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As a former colony, historically unsullied by the sins of slavery and imperialism, Ireland’s national identity has been largely free of the culture of pathological self-hatred found across most of the liberal West today. An uncomplicated sense of national pride has remained the default, even and sometimes especially on the political Left. But all of that is about to change.
“Toppling statues is just the beginning”, ran a recent Irish Times headline, if the goal is “How to make Irish culture less racist.” As self-flagellating stories about the Irish public’s racism are set to now become a daily part of life, Ireland’s elites can breathe a sigh of relief. Any populist pressure they sensed brewing while overseeing a deeply economically unequal society with skyrocketing homelessness, rents and outward youth migration can now be replaced with an imported moral narrative that turns the spotlight around on the reactionary masses who must, in the name of equality, learn to think of themselves as privileged.
While educated Irish young people in Dublin copied the Black Lives Matter protests from America, our culturally progressive and economically Thatcherite Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, recently singled out the statue of Irish Republican Sean Russell as a problematic target. Russell fought in the War of Independence and died trying to secure arms from Germany in 1940.
Wrongly thinking that historical facts could ever stand a chance against the wrecking ball of the current international woke cultural revolution, some Republicans correctly pointed out that he was not doing so out of any allegiance to Nazism, having tried to secure arms from any nations that might give them. Protesters still vandalised the statue anyway, painting it with the gay pride rainbow flag with added black and brown to mark their support for Black Lives Matter.
Having uncritically adopted the fashions of American academia, Ireland’s new young educated elite have started parroting the imported language of “white privilege” versus “people of colour”, and the dangers of nationalism versus the superior multinational capitalism-friendly values of openness.
There is little reason to think the cultural revolution sweeping across Europe from America will stop and listen to the “but we’re on your side!” pleas offered by Irish Republicans about how they supported the anti-apartheid movement in the Eighties or how our nationalist heroes were anti-imperialists or that our Republicans today are economically left-leaning and pro-immigration.
Anyone who thinks these details will matter, and that any remnant of Irish cultural nationhood will be immune, is simply not paying attention to the unstoppable internal logic of the current cultural revolution underway. This new generation of elite aspirants are already showing that they make no such distinction and simply recast the native Irish as “white people” whose privilege needs to be checked and ultimately dismantled.
It is worth asking why the woke cultural revolution sweeping Irish society would spare a single one of our national statues, monuments or heroes. One could go through the entire list of signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and find cancellable and problematic thoughts uttered by each of them in different contexts. The deeply Catholic Constance Markievicz cited the “anti-Irish ideals” of “immorality and divorce” against the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Patrick Pearse explicitly wrote of blood sacrifice and the Irish race, saying that, “there can be no peace between the body politic and a foreign substance that has intruded itself into its system” which must be expelled or assimilated through war.
Why wouldn’t our literary heroes also be wiped from the canon and from the public space? The continued dominance of Irish literature in our universities is certainly open to the accusation of being exclusionary and too white. What about George Bernard Shaw, who once wrote that “Any competent historian or psychoanalyst can bring a mass of incontrovertible evidence to prove that it would have been better for the world if the Jews had never existed”? What about W. B. Yeats, who preferred fascism to democracy? Who will be left in our compliant little colony of Silicon Valley to defend any of these figures a few years from now after the woke cultural revolution has replaced the unsuspecting old guard with the new?
What about the special place given to the Irish language in state institutions, which it could be easily argued excludes and discriminates against foreigners? What about the explicitly ethnocentric Irish right of return policy, which grants people with Irish grandparents the right to citizenship? Irish liberal media used to love showcasing the young children of immigrants playing hurling or speaking Irish, which offered a vision of the future in which anyone could be Irish through adoption of the national culture, but what happens when those young people are filled with poison in the indoctrination camps of university and taught to fear and resent the native population as white racists?
Surely they’ll let us keep the Marxist James Connolly, one might think, who could be spared due to some often cited quotes that liberals love about the limitations of nationalism without economic equality or against the oppression of women. In fact, the Connolly statue was defaced by anarchists years ago. On May Day 2005, the statue of James Connolly in Dublin was graffitied, and a black bloc hood and mask — the kind associated with antifa today — placed on its head, supposedly in the name of “appropriating” and “reclaiming” the figure; and that was back when the anarchist cultural project was not yet indistinguishable from every elite institution, from academia to the NGO sector to the international capitalist class.
Connolly, the Catholic revert who fought and died alongside ethno-nationalists won’t stand a chance when they come for him next time.
Unlike the republics that can claim to be founded on abstract and universalist principles, sooner or later there is simply no getting around the brick wall of truth that the Irish nationhood envisioned by our revolutionary founders was fundamentally ethno-nationalist. How could it have been otherwise? Historians can offer all the contextualising explanations they like but this will be the awkward truth the woke internationale will use to bury it in shame.
Nationalists will no longer be dealing with a few scattered genteel revisionist intellectuals like Conor Cruise O’Brien, but the full tidal ideological force of the American Empire, with its sophisticated cold war psychological warfare tactics, its world dominating oligarchy and every elite institution at home and abroad on its side.
Ireland is uniquely vulnerable to all of this as a nation without a national economic base, wholly reliant on the whim and will of aggressively ideological multinationals temporarily parked there for tax purposes. After gaining national independence, Ireland had to embark upon the difficult task of making an agrarian economy, which had been shaped and distorted by its role as a colony of the British Empire, independent and backed by an indigenous industrial base. As trade union economist Michael Taft has documented, this project failed at key historical moments and was ultimately replaced by the easier route to modernity of inviting international capital to base itself there using tax incentives.
As a result of the low-tax policies introduced in the late Nineties, Ireland today is effectively a tax haven, hosting the European headquarters of Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and many others. Some of these companies have been found to be paying as little as 0.005% tax. While this project gave Ireland the Celtic Tiger economy, it also produced a deeply unequal society totally subservient to the sovereignty and ultimately the values and culture of the corporations who today are its guiding force. For our obedience, we received surely the lowest of honours just last year when anti-yellow vests French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy congratulated us for being “a people who resist the winds of populism”.
It is a tragic irony of Irish history that, having fought a globe-spanning empire to build an independent Irish nation, and having fought the imperial landlords through agrarian peasant movements before that, giving the world the very word boycott, it stands today as a tax colony of American tech in which the native young leave because of its unchecked speculative landlordism.
While its subservient relationship to the British Empire brought famine and hardship, Ireland’s subservient relationship to an American progressive tech oligarchy brought about the Celtic Tiger and as a consequence we were happy to ignore the truth of the arrangement: that we were simply passing from one form of colony to another. It will now be a second but no less bitter irony that the native Irish working class will soon find themselves in the same position as the British have — despised as reactionary by our own elites and morally and economically blackmailed into accepting their more enlightened values.
Like all doomed traditions, our banal ethno-nationalism has been passively held by the majority while the intellectual and moral foundations that once justified it have been slowly replaced and degraded while nobody was paying attention. When a full confrontation with the liberal internationalism we invited in during the Celtic Tiger years inevitably happens, those foundations will already be gone and we will no longer be able to explain why having any right to a national culture or national sovereignty is anything other than racist and exclusionary.
The small conflict sparked by the Sean Russell statue was a moment of escalation. Whether it was too soon to bring the wrecking ball in or not, to make the Irish too acutely aware of what is coming, remains to be seen, but the direction of the historical winds should be obvious.
The revolutionary generation that gave us the Irish nation understood that you cannot be culturally, intellectually or economically self-directed if you’re ruled from a foreign power. These recent events have started to reveal the irreconcilable and contradictory nature of the official ideology of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, which tried to dress our colonial relationship to international capitalism as a national triumph. The Irish will soon learn that if your economy is ruled from California, your society will start to look like California, a nowhere of the very rich and very poor, but without the sunshine.