From The United Irishman, May 5, 1900.
Since Catholic Emancipation allowed Irish Catholics to become members of the British Parliament there has been talk of a spirit which the said members and their satellites of the Leagues and Registration Associations have been pleased to call “Advanced” Nationalism. Now there is no earthly reason why the adjective should be applied, for the objective towards which this spirit is directed is nothing more than that for which all the labours of the last seven centuries have been given. “Advanced” Nationalism, so-called aims at nothing more advanced than a Irish nation – that is to say, an Irish state, governed, controlled, and defended by Irishmen for Irishmen. “Advanced” Nationalism is in truth no petty, compromising propaganda, which talks of healing the wounds of centuries, or guarantees the aid of Irish arms for Imperial buccaneering, “if our rights are conceded.” It is indeed no convenient creed which would toast a foreign queen or flaunt the Union Jack in College-green for the privilege of being allowed to concoct a drainage scheme, or pass an authority for a railway cutting through Cork or Connemara. It is no temporising, time-serving, half-hearted sentiment which fears the future, but likes to take advantage of the present, trusting to the forgetfulness of the popular memory to overlook any vacillation from the right road: It is a spirit which takes something more than an antiquary’s interest in the struggles and belief of the past, which does not talk of the superior advantages of our fathers to excuse inaction or indifference today. It is, in fine, the spirit of Irish Nationality which recognises nothing short of supreme and entire independence as the limit of Irish hopes and aspirations.
From a broad National standpoint there is nothing “advanced” in this spirit. It could not look for less and remain National; it only deserves its name by the assertion that the active operation of all essentially Irish energies and influences is alone Nationality. Anything short of that may possess some traces of Nationalism but is not Nationality. One cannot lop off any member of the human frame and pretend that it is still a complete and healthy body, and though a wooden leg may have its uses it is by no means as effectual or as wholly in sympathy with its wearer as his own proper adornment. In every phase of human thought, political, scientific, or otherwise, there will, of course, always be wide divergences of opinion, there will always be thinkers in advance of their fellows, always men more daring than others, and always cautious, careful individuals, who whisper that it is better to suffer some few inconveniences than to risk the loss of life in an endeavour to attain the right of Nationhood. There is room, even in Ireland, for all classes of opinion, but there ought to be no toleration for anything which seeks to masquerade as a thing which it is not, which is unnecessary, and, in the strict meaning of the term which it qualifies, superfluous. One never hears of “advanced Nationalism” in connection with any free country. A Belgian, a Dane, or a Swiss peasant would scarcely be considered a patriot, if he advocated less freedom for his countrymen than they at present enjoy. The Greek or the Dutchman who would seek to confound the administration of Turkish or French laws from his capital with Nationalism would be laughed at by his countrymen. The things are as distinct as the stars, and have hardly as much bearing on each other as the planets.
“Advanced” Nationalism became a bugbear to the “comfortable, well-to-do” Catholics from the first day they were allowed to enjoy the benefits of the British Constitution. There was no mention of it during the days when Ireland was sending her young men to fill the armies of the Continent, and when the tongue of the Gael rang in every court in Europe. There was no confounding of principles then; a man was either attached to the English interest in Ireland, or else all his sympathies were with the boys abroad, and the adventurous spirits who made every creek and inlet around the Irish coast busy centres of intercourse with France and Holland and Spain. No man, however great his reverence for the memory of the Volunteers, can consider Grattan or his fellows Irish Nationalists; they were purely and simply what the colonists of Canada and Australia are today. They armed to protect Ireland for England – not for Ireland. The Irish Nationalists were the men who in 1792 founded the Society of United Irishmen, and who fought and fell in every province six years later. They fought against English law and English influence in Ireland just as the “Wild Geese” had, and just as every previous generation of Irishmen had from the first hour either gained a foothold inside our borders. They were discountenanced by the Grattan party equally as much as by the Court party, and had few opponents bitterer than those who had officered the Volunteers, and who two years subsequently stood proof against all the inducements of the Minister over the Union. They stood for class privileges, not for National rights. Fiercely as they denounced the idea of merging the individuality of the Parliament in that of England, they were equally persistent in the assertion of their loyalty to the “Constitution.” Out of their continued existence would have sprung a recrudescence of the spirit of Tone, but it would have been in spite of them rather than as a consequence of any of their actions. O’Connell’s work, too, was in no sense National; he restored the privileges of his own class; he enfranchised the English Catholics, but practical freedom to the Irish masses he conferred none. They are today just as much the victims of English influence as they ever were – with possibly a less keen appreciation of their disabilities than before he commenced. He did more to confuse the ideal of an Irish nation – to debase the spirit and distort the views of our people – than any leader they have ever known. His view was evidently merely Grattan’s, “the golden link of the Crown” uniting the two nations, Ireland concerning herself with her own affairs, but accepting England’s treatment of all Continental complications – bearing the brunt of all her quarrels, risking her existence on their result, but gaining nothing by any of them. Such a state of things may have been to him the only possible, and a by no means undesirable, settlement of the Irish question. No one would refuse to accept it, but no one ought to make it the final settlement, for apart from the uncertain finality of all human arrangements, it would be an abrogation of all right to separate national existence. On this point it was that O’Connell’s methods and Young Ireland’s differed. He would have been content to fight under the Union Jack, with the Parliament of Grattan restored; they were content to accept that Parliament, but without giving any guarantees to bind the future. They would not make it the limit of Irish aspiration, and hence the commencement of the caballing and secret whispering which eventually broke into open charges of “infidelity,” anarchism,” &c., and finally disgusted Young Ireland with Conciliation Hall. The Confederates, of course, were “advanced” Nationalists in the eyes of John O’Connell and his coterie; but who would dream of including him in a list of Nationalists of any description? The movement of ’48 and Fenianism were decidedly Nationalist movements, but not one whit more “advanced” than any legitimate Nationalist movement has ever been. It is a mistake to call the Nationalism of any period a policy; it is a tradition, a belief, an ideal, an end, but in no sense the means which a policy is most certainly. It has always existed; it shall always exist as long as Ireland rises above the waves of the Atlantic; its means are merely determined by the circumstances of each generation – but it is, beyond everything else, a denial of the right of any foreign State to rule this country – except by force – and continued assertion of the popular belief in the continuity of this country’s individuality.
Those parties whose claims to the title of Nationalist rest upon their acceptance of the Home Rule idea are exceptionally fond of talking of the impracticability of what, as we have said earlier, they are pleasant to call “advanced Nationalism.” They speak of the odds against the possibility of its accomplishment, altogether overlooking the fact that right is right, no matter what the opposition. They forget that, so far from being impracticable, this “advanced” patriotism, in its purest acceptation, takes all the advantages that come and utilises them for the securing of others. It is in no sense inimical to the growth of any influences that may be of use in the future, but it is jealously careful that none of those which have come down to us from the past are allowed to become obsolete through any false shame of their origin or foolish belief in the superiority of manners, methods, or ideas imported from beyond the water. It is decidedly a conservative spirit, but far from an ignorant or intolerant one; it recognises that the past has been full of mistakes, and that much of our misery has been occasioned by ourselves. It accepts the view that physically and morally our people have remained equal to most other nations, but it sees all too plainly that in mental equipment, in national self-respect, in independence of opinion, we are woefully behind the age. These things have grown upon us principally because within this century we have surrendered more of our characteristics than ever previously within our history. We have forgotten the past, and consequently have been at the mercy of every mountebank who chose to screen his real purpose behind an assumption of Nationality. Nationalism is not a variable quantity; it is, or ought to be, today what it ever was – nothing more, nothing less. Its work now is the care of what characteristics we have left, and the preparations for whatever opportunities the future may afford us.