On the Republican/Nationalist Gap

In Northern Ireland, three ideas are commonly conflated – Religion, Nation and Politics. This is done for the purposes of division – on one “side” you have the Protestant Unionist Loyalists, and on the other “side” you have Catholic Nationalist Republicans.

I’m not going to talk here about the first; instead jumping straight to the latter half of that debate, which is to question the link between Loyalism/Unionism and Republicanism/Nationalism. This is clearly a divide that comes apart – one can be in support of a non-monarchist tradition while also following a union or federal structure, and one can be a nationalist in defense of a nation that is not itself a Republic.

The operative dynamic is that these labels are supposed to be descriptors of a separation of communities, each of which might be appealing in different ways depending on the mode of engagement that those communities need in order to maintain the sense of connection to the others on their “side”. You have the “ussuns” and “themmuns” functions at work, and while “Irish” or “British” sound nice as names, using concepts that help people relate to those names in a way that pick them apart from those that use the other names is what really helps the division solidify.

So to jump in and start attacking the “Ussuns” sounds a bit weird. I would happily and readily subscribe to the Republican ideal, and am strongly opposed to Loyalist politics. It’s also a bit unusual in that Ireland is not itself anti-Unionist – it is a member of the EU, willingly and to its great benefit, and so a recognition of the value of Union in the functioning of state is built in to what Ireland currently stands for. It’s one of the great promoting functions that the North could, in a Unified Irish state, serve to bring to the debating floor – the North believes strongly in Union, as a consequence of its experiences with isolation, division and national domination, and it believes we are better together than we are insular.

So why is it then that Republicanism and Nationalism are so closely tied together? On one level, when we talk about the “Nationalist” cause in the north, we’re really just talking about “anything related to a tightening relationship between the North and the Irish State” (this is part of why the Loyalists are so jumpy – their “opponent” is enormous). But on another level, as we see in Sinn Fein’s position in wider Irish politics, Nationalism also represents a tighter relationship between citizenship and power. They aim to empower Irish nationals, particularly those that are facing particular hardship under a globalised capitalist world.

It’s natural to see that in a Republic, citizens do have more power via their representatives than in the same state otherwise as a Monarchy or Oligarchy. But it’s one thing to talk about the distribution of power within a state, and another for the individuals within the state do advocate for an expansion of their power in absolute terms, rather than simply in relative terms. I, as a Republican, do not want my interests to be dominated by the mechanisms of state, and believe there is a role for campaigning for both my interests and minority interests under the same threat of domination. For a Nationalist, domination is back on the table as potentially something the state does, and the question is not so much whether I am part of a nation that does not dominate, but more about whether that relation of domination is directed towards the “others” such that I, as a citizen of The Nation, am powerful in absolute terms than in a non-nationalist state.

These two ideas are not exclusive, necessarily. One can see that functioning as a republic can empower a citizenry to work better on a global scale, and particularly when that republic has good authority to speak for its citizens in an effective and honest way, this kind of strong leadership has huge potential for influence in the international marketplace of ideas. A new nationalism, in other words, would do well to found itself on republicanism, and to deviate from it only in as much as it can help define a powerful distinct national identity. Similarly, a strong republic can become something to be proud of, and establishing a potent sense of nation may feel quite natural if the foundations are successfully implemented.

But the distinctions are important as motivations for the state. For a Republican, rather than the nationalist, the principle of non-domination is not just a mechanism that helps establish individual flourishing, but is the essence of the endeavour around which the scaffolding of state is constructed and upon which the rest of the architecture must build as its foundations. The true republic must never allow its perspective to be clouded by promises of wealth, influence or favour – the positive liberty of all citizens and freedom from non-arbitrary interference is not up for sale, even if national glory and riches for us and our friends are waved before us as the rewards of seemingly small sacrifices of principle and integrity.

Perhaps then the other cause for the conflation comes from a certain degree of cynicism concerning this ideal, the reality of the Republic of Ireland as it is presented to us with all of the compromises and little uncertainties that we think come along with it. Motivation is all fine and good, if we take ourselves to be bearers of principle and truth, but when individual power seems to be the primary motivator of the individuals in charge, the collapse of one to the other seems all to easy to presume in someone presenting said principles in aiming to convince and lead.

But then, how much do I really know that Ireland? I see Sinn Fein’s and Fianna Fail’s interpretations of that Ireland, fed to the media through the respective interests of the socialist and conservative perspectives that claim to represent it. I often fail to see even that, recognizing that such address is often filtered through the fog of civil conflict rather than witnessed with the clarity of the engaged, objective scepticism that I often suppose myself to claim. Perhaps, this cynicism might itself be born of the Protestant side of the equation, and perhaps it is not wholly justified in its disregard of the possibility of genuinely authentic collective moral venture.

There is definitely more of that Ireland for me to explore and understand, and as the next few months progress and lockdown reopens them, I hope to be able to do just that.

The Infernal, Antic Spirit

(thanks to Thomas Powers and Robert Stone)

People fight
Because they don’t know
What else they’d do
If they didn’t.

The Diver, knife in hand,
Close to death,
Calls for help
From a passing ship.

The fishers are cautious,
Unclear if they will help him or not
And if they do
Whether that will matter.

Everything is Permissible
In war, just
Go for what you want.
Nobody will be held accountable.

Soon it’s the next day.
Nothing that happens
Can be called a surprise;
The routine indifference.

Whatever caused the Shudder of Terror
Is felt by all things
That live in the dark,
But just for a moment.

In a fallen world
What happens is a matter of Chance,
And Chance doesn’t care what happens.
There it is.

Unwritten: Natasha Bedingfield

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten.

Just a few inspirational words from a great song.  Sometimes when you’re really struggling to give form to your thoughts, it’s great to be reminded that you’re bringing something new and unique to the table, that you can feel that the world has given you this particular and distinct gift of your personal experiences, and that we can always go on to make something wonderful out of it, no matter for our personal hangups or the distance we put between ourselves and the life we want to be living.

Tomorrow’s post will be on Cognition and Pluralism!


Hi All!  My name is Sofie, and I’m a philosopher.

Esoteric, abstract, inaccessible and totally speculative? Well, philosophy has a long and complex history, its ideas can mean different things to different people in different situations, and can be used to generate powerful, controversial and relevant proposals for how we might plan and act in many different areas of life.

I would say that philosophy isn’t actually engaged in very much in general society, as much as those issues that we might have decided or analysed on the basis of philosophical investigation have gradually been taken over by what we now call “Debating”.  And “Debating” has a lot of problems!  It’s a combination of rules and conventions that are supposed to “be persuasive”, rather than an applied science of how concepts relate to one another, and as such it’s subject to systematic abuse by people in positions of authority.

The history of philosophy is full of ideas, experiments and arguments far beyond what might be widely accepted today as “common sense or knowledge”.  And some of these can be interesting and valuable, even when there are things about them that the vast majority of people think make them inescapably weird.

Part of what I’d like to do on this blog is explore these ideas in a more widely accessible way, because if nothing else, philosophy in the age of the “Debate” has a bit of an image problem, but also because “Debate” has many more issues that philosophy can help with.

This is also my blog, so I’ll spend some of it talking about issues that are important to me!  Feel free to read my About Me page for a preview of some of the things I’m interested in.  In particular, I’m working through a lot of problems with the notion of gender both in a social and a personal way, and I know that other people have similar concerns.  I hope to share some of my thoughts and to invite others to discuss these issues!

Peace out for now!