From The United Irishman, January 5, 1901
Philosophers have discovered in the course of their gropings after truth that this world is permeated by many a cross purpose. Some of these investigators have incontinently seized the particular phase of life which most drew their attention, and have made of it a law and a dogma to which all else is utterly anathema. Rather they should endeavour to reconcile the seemingly contradictory issues and resolve them into a harmonious entity, as nearly perfectly correct as might be. Thus it is that many writers and speakers on the subject set up Liberty as a foe to Authority. These, in brief, would preach what is supposed to be the theory of so-called Anarchism – a maximum of Liberty with a minimum of Authority. This is seeming fair, but on examination will prove all too vague as a working doctrine. Liberty, which is the major factor, has received many definitions, and has been moulded in many a philosophic matrix to a delicate ideal. One writer would claim that it is the natural state of man, and that all restrictions are an encroachment on man’s natural rights, and ought therefore to be jealously warded off. This would say that every single man is a world to himself. Another writer would define Liberty as the right to do anything whatever, provided we do not usurp or invade the rights of our neighbour. This definition would bring our neighbour into the purview, and instantly raises the question as to who is to decide the delimitation of our neighbour’s rights, so that we may use our fullest liberty, or to decide what restraints are to be put on our rights to do what we please, which we are told is the fundamental canon of Liberty. The distinction between the definitions is a philosophically nice one, but it shows itself day by day in the declarations of public men, or in the manifestations of irresponsible individualities.
If we are prone to dive into the question of the Rights of Man as forming the foundation of all Liberty, we can very well essay to ask what are these Rights, and how come they to reside in any individual? Admitting that all the formula would claim on its terms, the new-born babe possesses as much or as little of rights to Liberty as man in his prime. For what does man in his prime possess that of it entitles him to inborn rights which the babe does not possess? Is it wealth? – then the poor and destitute are slaves. Is it education? – then the illiterate have no rights. Is it experience? – then the cunning city man possesses far more rights than the innocent countryman come to town with the last load of hay. In fine, there can be one reason only why the full grown man has rights to a greater extent than the babe, and that is because of his becoming a useful member of the state. It cannot be on account of inborn rights, for then the babe ranks equal with the man. It is solely because man is born to be a citizen, and as a citizen possesses liberties in common with his fellows which are agreeable to the interests of the Commonwealth. And that which decides what is or is not agreeable to the interests of the Commonwealth is – Authority.
In applying these considerations, philosophic though they be, yet wholesome withal to sounder thinking, to the case of public affairs in Ireland, it behoves us to discern clearly the true and right path of public duty. We Irish claim the existence, in point of historic right if not of actual fact, of an Irish Commonwealth. We claim that the Irish nation is a separate entity, yet yoked, unwillingly and rebelliously to its desires, to the neighbouring Government of England, which is the focus of a straggling, ill-digested empire. We claim that the voice of the Irish people is or ought to be the supreme Authority within these four shores, and we do not recognise the right or justness, even if w have to admit the operation, of any external government which usurps the authority of the nation. For us, Ireland is the State. For us, Liberty consists in doing all that is consistent with the interests of Ireland. If it so happen that our fellow-countrymen do aught that we consider inimical to the weal of Ireland we can only, under the present regime enter a protest. But we cannot deny them rights, which only the supreme authority of the nation duly set up and recognised could do. We must be very careful how we speak with regard to that control of government which is so irksome at present when imposed on us by foreign rule, but which in itself is meet and proper, since it is the only guarantee and safeguard of the public liberty of the citizen. In this regard it is more or less demoralising to the public spirit of the nation when “law and order” has become degenerated into a shibboleth at which every public man in Ireland who would be popular flings a jeer. The man who flaunts law and order, and makes of it a party cry of the enemy, recks little of the evil that is wrought by his words. He should think of that coming day when the people hope for a native Irish State, and surely he would not have law and order excluded then. Consistency is a jewel, but nothing is more precious than the public spirit of a people who, in seeking after their proper liberties, preserve high and intact the best traditions of the moral code, without which no nation can hope to attain lasting eminence as a nation. We have in England, today, a specimen of a nation that has thrown all moral sense of international rights to the wind. In breaking faith with the Transvaal, in surreptitiously sending troops to the frontiers of the Republics, outraging all sense of international law and order, she sowed the seeds of her own destruction. The lawlessness of the English people showed itself when they refused a hearing and used unseemly violence to speakers of the Peace Party. Their statesmen are wafted on seas of blood towards an Imperialism which crushes all expression of individual opinion. The lesson ought not to be lost on us in Ireland, and we should gather from it that when a people abandon all self-restraint and divorce themselves of their sense of honour and fair play, it is but a step to despotism.
The issue for the Irish people, then, is that they should do nothing which would militate against their own right to set up a competent authority when this country shall be separated from England. For instance, the members of the police force are regarded as enemies of Ireland, which to a limited degree, and a limited degree only, they are. But the evil of this cast of thought is that the people may regard a police force of any kind as an evil to be combated, and that thus when a native government sends forth its decrees, which can only be enforced by a competent police force, it may find itself confronted and thwarted by this feeling which is in our day so well nurtured in the hearts of Irishmen. It might be urged these considerations are premature. They are not. Nothing is premature that tends to build up the public character of this nation, and if the national character were trained and made fit for self-government the result would be such a united demand for the whole Irish People that it would resound through the world like the ring of the Mauser of the sturdy Boer. But as it is the character of the nation is buffeted and beaten upon by a thousand orators from Press and platform, and things are not put as they really and truly are, but only as it suits the passing hour. This is why the need of a new school has arisen, to go out into the wilderness and preach to the people who are straying for want of a true political compass, to teach them the true bearings of national prestige, liberty, and power, to ground them in the elements of national honour and self-respect, so that when the hour of need comes they will be men of a true mould and not puppets of the street corner, to tell them of that goal, that true and only goal, to which they ought to tend, and to guide their steps in the way, so that being men as well as patriots they can be trusted to do and dare as only can be trusted true men!