Although our goal as an archive is to mainly preserve the works of Irish nationalists, there have been many foreign writers and works that have been highly influential in the development of Irish nationalism. These influences are ideologically varied, and some are in direct conflict with others, yet it is worth studying all these influences to better understand Irish nationalism. This article will provide an analysis of many of these authors and works and how their works have influenced Irish nationalism.
The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
It is the nature of conquest to turn everything upside down. – Rights Of Man, Part 1, Chapter 3
The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine is one of Western civilisation’s most influential works, written as a rebuttal of Edmund Burke’s famous Reflections on The Revolution of France, it is one of the foundational texts of Western liberalism.
Paine’s work was particularly influential in Ireland, and was revered by the United Irishmen republican movement. Paine, who in fact shared long-standing sympathy with the Irish cause, was friendly with some of the leading United Irishmen, particularly Lord Edward Fitzgerald. The ramifications of Paine’s work on the ideological development of the United Irishmen can be seen in the group’s secret manifesto, titled Manifesto To The Friends of Freedom in Ireland, published around June 1791:
This society is likely to be a means the most powerful for the promotion of a great end. What end? The Rights of Man in Ireland. The greatest happiness of the greatest numbers in this island, the inherent and indefeasible claims of every free nation to rest in this nation — the will and the power to be happy, to pursue the common weal as an individual pursues his private welfare, and to stand in insulated independence, an imperatorial people.
The greatest happiness of the Greatest Number. — On the rock of this principle let this society rest; by this let it judge and determine every political question, and whatever is necessary for this end let it not be accounted hazardous, but rather our interest, our duty, our glory, and our common religion: The Rights of Man are the Rights of God, and to vindicate the one is to maintain the other. We must be free in order to serve Him whose service is perfect freedom …
‘Dieu et mon Droit’ (God and my right) is the motto of kings. ‘Dieu et la liberte’ (God and liberty), exclaimed Voltaire when he beheld Franklin, his fellow-citizen of the world. ‘Dieu et nos Droits’ (God and our rights) — let every Irishman cry aloud to each other the cry of mercy, of justice, and of victory.
Paine’s Rights of Man can be found here.
Country is not a mere zone of territory. The true country is the Idea to which it gives birth; it is the Thought of love, the sense of communion which unites in one all the sons of that territory. – On The Duties of Man
Described by Klemens von Metternich as “the most influential revolutionary in Europe”, Giuseppe Mazzini was the architect of the reunification of the Italian nation state during the early 19th century, through his republican and insurrectionist organisation Young Italy. His influence extended beyond Italy, influencing similar nationalist movements in Poland, Germany, the Balkans and Turkey.
Ireland was no exception, and the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s took heavy inspiration from Mazzini and his work. The organ of Young Ireland, The Nation, was described as heavily Mazzinian:
Like Mazzini, Young Ireland saw the nation in political terms, striving to overcome historical disunity through the forging of a new political present.
In his 1994 biography of Mazzini, Denis Mack Smith identifies key features of Mazzini’s political thought: an emphasis on education; a justification of violence (at least in certain circumstances); a stress on democracy as well as nationality; a sense of duty and wider responsibility that contrasts with the utilitarianism of Bentham or the individualism of Smith; a commitment to art, music and literature as part of the national struggle; and a belief in the necessity of martyrdom. The Nation betrays striking similarities to Mazzinian thinking in a number of these areas.
John Mitchel, in his Jail Journal, and a strong admirer of Mazzini, wrote of him as “that good and noble Italian.” and the Nation often wrote in admiration of Mazzini.
But politics demands, in the interests of each separate nation, guarantees for its independence and continued existence, special regulations to help its progress in culture, prosperity, and power, to build its society into a perfectly complete and harmoniously developed body politic, self-contained and independent. – The National System of Political Economy
Friedrich List was a prominent German economist, generally considered one of the founders of the German school of economics, and is also credited for the development of “the national system” of political economy, which in its hostility to free trade argued in favour of protectionism. His influence in Ireland is most notable in the early Sinn Féin movement, and its leader Arthur Griffith in particular.
Griffith, In The Resurrection of Hungary wrote of List:
I am in economics the follower of the man who thwarted England’s dream of the commercial conquest of the world and who made the mighty confederation before which England has fallen commercially and is falling politically – Germany. His name is a famous one in the outside world, his works are the text-books of economic science in other countries – in Ireland his name is unheard and his works unknown – I refer to Friedrich List, the real founder of the German Zollverein – the man whom England caused to be persecuted by the Government of his native country, and whom she hated and feared more than any man since Napoleon – the man who saved Germany from falling a prey to English economics, and whose brain conceived the great industrial and united Germany of today.
Friedrich List’s works can be found here.
All industrial and commercial centres in England now have a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who forces down the standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker, he feels himself to be a member of the ruling nation and, therefore, makes himself a tool of his aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself…. – Letter to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt
One of the more obvious influences on Irish nationalist thought, particularly the strand of socialist republicanism, Karl Marx is also one of the most influential philosophers in European and world history. Marx’s work and the more native influence of James Connolly, who himself was a follower of Marx, influenced the formation of socialist republicanism intertwining class analysis and a historical materialist approach to Irish history with traditional Irish republicanism.
During the controversy between James Connolly and Belfast trade unionist William Walker, Connolly wrote a piece titled “Ireland, Karl Marx and William” in 1910 in which he cites the work of Marx in defence of his position against Walker.
Marx was acutely aware of Ireland’s situation, and wrote “On the Irish Question” in which he displays an impressive knowledge in his analysis of Irish history. Karl Marx’s works can be found on Marxists Internet Archive here.
CHESTERTON AND BELLOC
“Without Wealth man cannot exist. The production of it is a necessity to him, and though it proceeds from the more to the less necessary, and even to those forms of production which we call luxuries, yet in any given human society there is a certain kind and a certain amount of wealth without which human life cannot be lived: as, for instance, in England to-day, certain forms of elaborately prepared food, clothing, fuel, and habitation.
Therefore, to control the production Of wealth is to control human life itself. To refuse man the opportunity for the production of wealth is to refuse him the opportunity for life; and, in general, the way in which the production of wealth is by law permitted is the only way in which the citizens can legally exist.” – The Servile State, Belloc
The English writer G.K Chesterton and the French writer Hilaire Belloc were the foremost proposers of the socio-economic theory distributism, which itself had its roots in Catholic social teaching. Both devout Catholics themselves, Belloc and Chesterton foresaw distributism as both anti-capitalist and anti-socialist, with worker co-operatives and mutual organisations favoured instead. Whereas socially, distributism re-asserted the teachings of the Catholic Church in regards to the family unit.
Distributism was very much influential in Catholic Ireland, and its influence can be seen in The Path To Freedom by Michael Collins, where Collins proposes an economic system for the new Irish Free State which is strikingly similar to distributism:
The development of industry in the new Ireland should be on lines which exclude monopoly profits. The product of industry would thus be left sufficiently free to supply good wages to those employed in it. The system should be on co-operative lines rather than on the old commercial capitalistic lines of the huge joint stock companies. At the same time I think we shall safely avoid State Socialism, which has nothing to commend it in a country like Ireland, and, in any case, is monopoly of another kind.
This is not an exhaustive list of the many foreign influences that have played a role in the development of Irish nationalist thought, but this should provide a decent insight into the many influences which are ideologically varied and often pertain to specific strains of nationalist thought or eras of nationalist history. Understanding a doctrine often requires to understand the influences that have moulded and shaped that doctrine, and for anyone interested in Irish nationalism, understanding the influences from beyond Ireland’s shores is vital.