David Granville reviews Irish Freedom; the history of nationalism in Ireland by Richard English, Macmillan, ISBN 1-978-1-4050-4189-8, £25 hbk
STEEPED IN the contentious theories of nationalism propounded by Benedict Anderson, the reactionary historical analysis of Fukuyama, and the right-wing philosophy of Karl Popper, English's new breeze-block sized tome is a less than thinly-veiled assault on socialism in general and Marxism in particular.
Along the way, he does raise some important questions, such as the lack of consideration given by many Irish nationalists of Catholic background to that section of the national community for whom Protestantism and allegiance to British imperialism dominate.
Unfortunately, his desire to highlight nationalist 'failure', and to undermine the most progressive elements of Irish history (the progressive republicanism of United Irishmen and others or the socialism of Connolly and Larkin), leave the reader with unedifying and distorted analysis of the historical and political facts.
English concludes that while the nationalist project to free Ireland from the domination of English/British colonial rule has not only failed but that those who have pursued it have done so with futility. His other major point appears to be that nationalism itself remains a complex beast and is set to remain a major force in the world for the foreseeable future.
The key question for progressives and internationalists, however, is whether nationalist forces within a particular context play a progressive or reactionary role in relation to the anti-colonial/imperialist, social, political and economic struggles of the day.
Sadly, given that English's multi-layered thesis is based on the assumption that nationalism has effectively 'seen off' socialism and communism, there is little here which can help the reader out in this respect.
Weighing in at over 625 pages, including index, notes and extensive bibliography, English's Irish Freedom multi-disciplinary study will no doubt thrill and delight liberal academics and those of a pro-imperialist, anti-socialist bent.
For those who continue to challenge Britain's colonial role, in Ireland and around the world, or for whom a significant degree of class analysis is a key element of any historical, philosophical, economic or political work, this book is definitely one to be avoided.
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Copyright © 2007 David Granvilel