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tions about the ˜linguistic turn™, but political ones about the national
past.71 I can only say that I approach such debate as an outsider. This
does not mean that I am either more or less objective than anyone else,

68
T. M. Parsinnen, ˜Association, convention and anti-Parliament in British radical,
politics, 1771“1848™, English Historical Review, 88 (1973), 504“33; Biagini, Liberty,
chapter 1. Interestingly, this ˜anti-parliamentary™ tradition lived on in the Liberal Party
Organization of the twentieth century and was quite evident between the 1960s and
1981, especially with reference to the strategy called ˜community politics™: see B. Keith-
Lucas, ˜The Liberal party, local government and community politics™, in V. Bogadnor
(ed.), Liberal party politics (1983), 242“59.
69
Cruise O™Brien, Parnell and his party, 354. 70 Ibid., 355.
71
B. Bradshaw, ˜Nationalism and historical scholarship in modern Ireland™, Irish Historical
Studies, 26, 104 (1989), 329“51; R. F. Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch: connections in Irish
and English history (1993), introduction and chapter 1; D. G. Boyce and A. O™Day (eds.),
The making of modern Irish history: revisionism and the revisionist controversy (1996).
24 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

but simply that I consider the relationship between Nationalists and
Liberals with the same degree of personal involvement (or lack thereof)
with which I would approach, let us say, the relationship between
Hungarian and Austrian liberals in the days of the Dual Monarchy
(Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein, would have approved of the
comparison).72 I do not play down the national question in Irish politics,
but am not affected by the ˜English obsession™ in Irish historiography.
The present book approaches its subjects within two contexts “
European history and the history of the British Isles. Any reference to
˜the British Isles™ may raise additional political questions: as Comerford
has written, such a language ˜has long posed problems for many Irish
nationalists™, who see it ˜as implying a concession of political and/or
cultural unity of the archipelago™.73 It is a delicate question, but I should
like to stress that at the time the whole of Ireland was an integral part of
the United Kingdom and that the existence of a centralized parliamentary
state had a major influence on Irish as much as on British politics and
culture. If there was no cultural unity, there was at least, in Comerford™s
well-chosen words, an ˜overlap between the cultures of modern Ireland
and those of England™74 “ a most apposite observation both because of the
notion of ˜overlap™ and because of the emphasis on the plurality of the
cultures in question.
The European context is important, for British democracy and Irish
nationalism is based on the rejection of ˜exceptionalism™, namely of inter-
pretations which argue that the historical development of modern Ireland
(or, for that matter, Britain) was ˜exceptional™, ˜peculiar™ or ˜different™
from that of other European countries. Far from suppressing national
˜peculiarities™, this approach stresses that all countries are ˜peculiar™ or
˜exceptional™, though each in its own way. But although each has its own
Sonderweg, none is special to the extent of making essentially comparative
and general concepts such as ˜liberalism™ or ˜nationalism™ inapplicable to
its distinctive history. There was no ˜exceptionalism™ in Ireland™s excep-
tionalism. The Irish Sonderweg was shaped, not by colonialism but by the
Famine and mass emigration. Both had political implications and the
latter continued to do so throughout the twentieth century. It operated as
a safety valve, removing surplus labourers and potential class warriors
who might otherwise have imperilled the stability of this religious, patri-
otic and agrarian country far more drastically than the Land League or
the IRA ever did.

72
A. Griffith, The resurrection of Hungary: a parallel for Ireland (1904); cf. T. Kadebo, Ireland
and Hungary: a study in parallels with an Arthur Griffith bibliography (2001).
73
R. V. Comerford, Ireland (2003), 12. 74 Ibid., 49.
Home Rule as a ˜crisis of public conscience™ 25

While the ˜colonial paradigm™ has firmly established itself in modern
scholarship, historians looking at Ireland within the broader ˜continental™
context insist that a comparison with the situation within other European
empires is at least as helpful.75 Until 1919 most European ˜small nation-
alities™ were included in multinational empires, and unless we wish to
describe the experiences of, let us say, the Czechs and the Slovenes “ not
to mention the Catalans “ as ˜colonial™, we need to devise broader and less
Anglo-centric models of historical analysis for Ireland. Furthermore,
while aspects of that country™s economic history may be interpreted
through the ˜colonial™ lens, recent scholarship on the Irish involvement
in the British Empire has shown the extent to which they were both
protagonists and victims of imperial exploitation and expansion.76
Thus, my European bias is the main source of some reservations about
the heuristic value of emphasizing Ireland™s ˜colonial™ status and affinity
with other parts of the empire. For example, let us consider the vexed
question of the racialization of the Irish in Punch cartoons, some of which
presented them as subhuman creatures similar to gorillas.77 While the
debate has recently been reappraised by Curtis “ its chief originator “ and
a number of other scholars,78 none of them has tried to examine the
question within its European context. The latter is important because
the racialization of the rebellious peasant was by no means an isolated
Irish phenomenon. Subhuman, ˜bestial™ features were constantly
ascribed to primitive rebels whose actions threatened not only property,
but also the social order, and when their criminal activities endangered
the lives of members of the ruling elite. Perhaps the most famous and
widely illustrated nineteenth-century example is provided by the south-
ern Italian ˜brigands™ in their protracted rebellion against the newly

75
T. Garvin, 1922: the birth of Irish democracy (1996), 1, 34“5, 193“302; S. Paseta, Before the
ˇ
revolution: nationalism, social change and Ireland™s Catholic elite, 1879“1922 (1999);
R. English, Ernie O™Malley: IRA intellectual (1998), 172“3; the editors™ ˜Introduction™
to A. Gregory and S. Paseta, Ireland and the Great War (2002); Comerford, Ireland, 12,
ˇ
3, 28“9; P. Hart, The IRA at war, 1916“1923 (2003), 240.
76
S. B. Cook, ˜The Irish Raj™, Journal of Social History, 20, 3 (1987), 507“29; B. Crosbie,
˜Collaboration and convergence: the Irish expatriate community in British India,
c.1798“c.1898™, Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 2005; J. Ridden, Making good
citizens (2006).
77
L. P. Curtis, Anglo-Saxons and Celts: a Study of Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England
(1968) and Apes and Angels: the Irishman in Victorian caricature (1971); S. Gilley, ˜English
attitudes to the Irish in England, 1780“1900™, in C. Holmes (ed.), Immigrants and
minorities in British society (1978), 81“110; Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch, 171“94; see
also R. Romani, ˜British views on the Irish national character, 1800“1846: an intellectual
history™, History of European Ideas, 23, 5“6 (1997), 193“219.
78
See L. P. Curtis, J. Belchem, D. A. Wilson and G. K. Peatling, ˜Roundtable™, Journal of
British Studies, 44, 1 (2005), 134“66; and M. de Nie, The eternal Paddy: Irish identity and
the British press, 1798“1882 (2004).
26 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

unified Italian state from 1861 onwards. Not only northern Italian
observers, but also the southern bourgeoisie referred to them as a ˜crim-
inal class™ “ almost a race apart “ and represented them as possessing
physical features consistent with their moral degeneration.79 In fact,
Cesare Lombroso (1836“1909) built his academic career, reputation
and a whole school of criminal anthropology by postulating the existence
of a ˜criminal type™ distinguishable from a normal person by certain
measurable physical features. He was neither a pioneer nor an exception,
as Louis Chevalier and D. Pick have established with reference to the
Parisian proletariat and ˜faces of degeneration™ elsewhere in Europe.80
This was arguably the ˜racialization™ of crime (and poverty), but in fact
had nothing to do with ˜race™ and instead owed everything to upper- and
middle-class social fear and prejudice, and in particular to their shock and
outrage against the Fenians, who ˜dared to bring Irish violence, hitherto
a remote phenomenon, into Britain itself™.81 In conclusion, when
the Fenian ˜apes™ are examined from a comparative European perspective
it is difficult to escape Foster™s conclusion that class “ far more than
˜race™ “ was the central preoccupation behind the alien identity of the
Irish rural rebel.82
The limitations of the ˜colonial™ approach in the case of the history of
Irish popular movements are perhaps best illustrated by Marylin
Silverman™s splendid work. Paradoxically, she escapes the insularity and
Anglo-centrism of the colonial paradigm “ which she accepts “ because of
her close focus on a regional reality (Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny). Far
from being ˜colonial™, the picture which emerges from her study is
eminently comparable to class (or class/status) realities in Britain and
elsewhere in north-western Europe. Labour organizations, strikes and the
struggle to modify the law, Christian morality as part of both the hege-
monic discourse and the resistance movements of the workers, the
emphasis on cleanliness, respectability and ˜independence™ are all aspects
of social life and class conflict which the Irish shared with working classes
in other national contexts. The legitimacy of the law was contested, not
because it came from a ˜colonial™ power, but because it tended to enshrine


79
A rich collection of cartoons and photographs describing the subhuman, bestial features
of these primitive rebels is in Brigantaggio lealismo repression nel Mezzogiorno, 1860“1870,
intro. by A. Scirocco (1984).
80
L. Chevalier, Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses a Paris pendant la premiere moitie du
` ` ´
XIXe siecle (1958); D. Pick, Faces of degeneration: a European disorder, c.1848“c.1918
`
(1989).
81
O™Farrell, England and Ireland, 41.
82
Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch, 193; see also Romani, ˜British views on Irish National
Character™.
Home Rule as a ˜crisis of public conscience™ 27

landlord and farmer interests.83 If anything, the imperial nature of the
state helped to modify official attitudes to rural unrest: paternalist con-
cession went hand in hand with coercion. If the latter feature seems to
support the colonial comparison, it must be remembered that most other
imperial states in contemporary Europe adopted a similarly paternalist
approach (for example, the Austrians and Russians with their Polish
peasants).
In contextualizing such traditions the present book operates on three
parallel, but distinct levels: (1) ideas, values and rhetoric which were
shared by radicals throughout the British Isles, including personal liberty,
self-government and a non-confessional state; (2) geographical context
and cultural meaning “ for example, the rural setting of much Irish or
Scottish Highland politics in contrast to the often urban focus of English
radicalism “ and the way this accounts for some of the differences and
contrasts between these movements, including a commitment to sectar-
ian education in Nationalist Ireland and Presbyterian Scotland; and (3)
the interplay both between these two levels and between rhetoric and
class interests. Gladstone, Chamberlain and Parnell were skilled at hand-
ling this dimension of popular politics, but, I argue, the task proved more
difficult than any of them had anticipated.
Unlike Liberty, retrenchment and reform, the present study is not primar-
ily concerned with working-class liberalism, but explores both the tension
between elite and popular understandings of rights and liberties and the
ambiguity between status- and class-based politics.84 The latter was at
the centre of Liberal practice and Gladstone himself encouraged it “ as
Jose Harris has noted “ by moving ˜enigmatically™ between the rhetoric of
party and that of social conflict.85 It was a creative ambiguity and enabled
liberalism to operate not only as a party language, but also as a set of
cultural and ideological tools which reformers belonging to either gender
and different social groups could appropriate to promote their own
particular programmes. Thus political economy had been adopted by
the trade unions from the 1850s, when another liberal orthodox creed,
free trade, was being turned into an effective device for increasing the



83
M. Silverman, An Irish working class: explorations in political economy and hegemony,
´
1800“1950 (2001); see also F. Lane and D. O Drisceoil (eds.), Politics and the Irish
working class, 1830“1945 (2005).
84
I use the expression ˜status™ politics in the Weberian sense highlighted by Peter Clarke
(˜Electoral sociology of modern Britain™, History, 57, 189 (1972), 31“55), to denote a
situation in which political alignment and allegiance were inspired by religion, ethnicity
or locality, in contrast to economic differences.
85
J. Harris, Private lives, public spirit: Britain, 1870“1914 (1993), 16.
28 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

power of consumer pressure groups.86 Later the extension of the parlia-
mentary franchise was achieved by means of a gradualist strategy which
incorporated the liberal discourse of respectability and independence,
but insisted on the democratic, ˜neo-roman™ values of participatory citi-
zenship. The fact that such values and related rhetoric were shared by
many Liberal leaders further contributed to establishing a viable inter-
class alliance87 and encouraged links with Irish nationalism “ which itself
emphasized a similar understanding of liberty.
This raises the question of whether the notion of ˜popular liberalism™
can be used at all in the Irish context. In the first place, were there in
Ireland the preconditions for a democratic culture (whether liberal or
not) to emerge? In the 1920s Kevin O™Higgins expressed the view “
widely shared by British observers at the time and since “ that behind
Irish ˜democracy™ there was merely ˜[a] mixture of feudalism and brig-
andage . . . and a deplorable amount of grabber and gombeen morality™.88
This interpretation has been challenged by Bill Kissane, who has persua-
sively argued that throughout the nineteenth century ˜the functional
specialization of civil society, and an increasing pluralism in nationalist
politics™, ˜regular local and national elections, administrative structures
increasingly subject to popular control, and a parliament at times respon-
sive to Irish public opinion™, all contributed to the general politicization
and democratization of Irish society.89 Meanwhile, friendly societies
effectively disseminated ˜the rudiments of democratic practice™ among a
growing section of the Irish labouring population and promoted values
˜such as thrift, self-reliance, reciprocity, self-government and civility™.90
Theo Hoppen and others have made a good case for the strength of
Catholic liberalism in Daniel O™Connell™s days, and Vincent Comerford
has established the extent to which it was still healthy during the election
of 1868.91


86
E. F. Biagini, ˜British trade unions and popular political economy, 1860“1880™, Historical
Journal, 30, 4 (1987), 811“40 and ˜Popular liberals, Gladstonian finance and the debate
on taxation, 1860“1874™, in E. F. Biagini and A. J. Reid (eds.), Currents of Radicalism
(1991), 134“62.
87
E. F. Biagini, ˜Neo-Roman liberalism: ˜˜republican™™ values and British liberalism, ca.
1860“1875™, History of European Ideas, 29 (2003), 55“72.
88
B. Kissane, Explaining Irish democracy (2002), 79. 89 Ibid., 113.
90
Ibid., 87“8. For the role that similar developments had in the growth of popular liberal-
ism in mid-Victorian Britain see A. Briggs, Victorian people (1954), chapters 5 and 7;
T. Tholfsen, Working class radicalism in mid-Victorian England (1976), chapters 7“10;
Biagini, Liberty, ˜Introduction™ and chapter 2.
91

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