January 23, 2018

The vanity of Irish exceptionalism...

I voted agained Brexit, but I believe in democracy. The Brexit vote and the disentagling process can be critiqued, but many commentators and papers have taken a sneering and condescending approach to those who favour separation from Brexit.
Perhaps the worst have been the Irish commentariat, who have positively revelled in Brexit - taking every opportunity to demean the revolting masses who dared to vote for national sovereignty, and taking an alarmist reading of every development.

Fintan O'Toole wrote:
"Brexit and the English nationalism that underlies it are redefining England for the rest of the world as an angry, hostile, unlovable place. And it’s vital for Ireland that we are clearly distinguished from that new English identity. 
We have to define ourselves for the rest of the world as not-England. This is not just about being a separate space; it is about being an opposing kind of space."
He continued:
"Not that Ireland is enclosed but that it is open, not that we have a monolithic religious and ethnic identity but that we are enthusiastically pluralist, not that we look inwards but that we look outwards…"
He also tweeted after the Irish referendum on abortion:
"Another reason to be cheerful is that Ireland is the first Anglophone country to face the full panoply of Trump/Brexit/Bannon tactics and withstand that onslaught."
And also:
"I don't like to upset anybody but I am so pleased that #RepealedThe8th will have shattered the "Irishness" of Bannon, Kelly, Mulvaney, O'Reilly, Hannity etc."
The Irish Times in the article, 'The Irish in Britain in 100 moments', recounted anti-Irish sentiment from the early 1900s:
"“The menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality” says a 1923 report sent to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland."
But of course would never would the paper note that James Connolly wrote in February 1916:
"Since the passing of the military service law and its coming into force in England this country has been flooded daily with fresh hordes of English and Scotch, who have run away from military service in their own country and settled down like a swarm of locusts upon Ireland."
I know many who voted to Leave, and pro-Brexit does not mean bigot. As David McWilliams wrote:
"Last week, this column was written from England and maintained that lots of people who voted for Brexit are not racists, nationalists or little Englanders. 
Many look at the EU and see a deeply undemocratic set of institutions that appear to believe more in their own narrow interests than the fact that they are supposed to represent the people of Europe. 
Indeed, the vindictive reaction of the EU Commission in the past two weeks has been revelatory."
Yet the Irish Times publishes headlines like 'Brexit is a collective English mental breakdown'. And I responded with a letter they published, 'Pathologising Brexit'.

In that piece I was especially irked at how the Irish have enjoyed kicking the Brits and the English while they've been knocked a little wobbly. The Brexit process for me has shown that Anglophobia, something that Fintan O'Toole said in 2011 had died with the visit of the Queen, is alive and well.

Brexit should be a time for stable and reliable support from Ireland. As Edward Carson said: "England's difficulty is not Ulster's opportunity, England's difficulty is our difficulty." And David McWilliams took just such a line in June 2016 (unfortunately he has changed his tune of late), writing:
"If Britain goes and the EU reacts vindictively by throwing up barriers to that country, it is an attack on Ireland. Make no mistake about it. Our government can’t for the second time in five years behave like the model prisoner of the EU, accepting EU nastiness over common-sense diplomacy. We are not Poland, Italy or Greece; we need Britain. In the event of Brexit, if Germany commercially attacks Britain, as its overbearing finance minister said it would yesterday, that constitutes a declaration of war on the Irish economy.
Our trade with Britain is €1 billion a week. It is our biggest import market and second biggest export market; we are its fourth largest trading partner; there are more English people with one Irish grandparent then there are Irish people with Irish grandparents. When Jon Walters scores tomorrow, will you care that he’s pure Scouse – Irish blood, English heart? Last time I checked we didn’t have any Prussian lads playing up front. Our ties with England are too deep for us to be marching to a German drum. 
Ireland’s overwhelming interest is in open borders with a post-Brexit Britain. We have vetoes in crucial areas of national policy. If we have to use them, we must. If there are areas where we need to get qualified majority voting, we had better start lobbying fast. 
Ireland faces a choice post-Brexit: act in our self-interest, or assume the position. Which pose do you think Official Ireland will adopt?"
But even more irritating is the Irish doublethink. They recoil in horror at the uncouth English nationalists, all the while the gallantry of Irish nationalist - revering the blood and soil republicans ("economically illiterate") of 1916. As George Orwell said:
"Why is it that the worst extremes of jingoism and racialism have to be tolerated when they come from an Irishman?"
Brexit has shown Ireland's vanity and belief in Irish exceptionalism. Repeatedly we are told all of England is lost to a horde of racists, while Ireland stands against the rising tide of nationalism as an oasis of tolerance and broad-mindedness.

Ireland should be careful with its smug congratulatory tone post-Brexit.

I have noted here and here that Ireland's belief in its virtue and exceptionalism has led to some awful outcomes in the past. Fintan O'Toole wrote, as I noted in my first post:
"Meet an egomaniac and you know you are also meeting a deeply insecure person. People who are uncertain about themselves sometimes deal with their anxiety by creating an exaggerated image of superiority. 
And it is the same with countries – our own for example. There is a certain irony to Ireland’s badness – it arises in part from delusions of grandeur. This place became so vicious partly because of a hysterical insistence on its unique virtue – a habit of mind that has never gone away. 
It’s easy to understand why Catholic Ireland became so hyper-virtuous. A long history of denigration, humiliation and subjection creates a profound distortion. It is not enough to be as good as anybody else – you have to be better, indeed the best: uniquely wonderful. But this fantasy is not harmless. At best, it feeds a deluded detachment from reality. At worst, you have to hide, exclude, deny, those who threaten to spoil the picture of perfection. 
Unlike the extreme versions of such dark utopias in Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union, independent Ireland did not actually exterminate the spoilers of its unique purity. But it did get rid of them – mostly through emigration but also, notoriously, in its vast system of “coercive confinement”."
In the second post I noted that O'Toole writes against Ireland's belief in its virtuous exceptionalism as a warning to pro-Independence Scotland:
"The superiority complex in Irish society came from the desperate need of an insecure middle class to have someone to look down on, an inferior Other against which to define its own respectability."
But finally, in the Irish Times, someone took a more balanced view of the present and past as Brexit pertains to Ireland.

As John McManus wrote in the Irish Times, 'English deserve a break over Brexit':
"Ireland is the one country that should best appreciate the atavistic urge driving the English on to blow up their economy. And we should make no mistake it is the English, not the Scots or the Welsh, that want Brexit. The reason we should be a little more sympathetic is the parallels with Brexit of our own moment of destiny: the Easter Rising and all that followed. The similarities should not be overstated but they exist all the same. 
Lurking behind both events was a a powerful sense of national exceptionalism that made participation in a larger entity unpalatable. In the case of Brexit it is tied up in the notion of Britain’s’s imperial grandeur and in the case of Ireland our own unique history."

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