The true nature of republicanism, democracy & culture

Sally Richardson reviews The Republic, a journal of contemporary and historical debate. Issue three: Culture in the Republic edited by Finbar Cullen and Aengus O Snodaigh, Ireland Istitute, 10 euro/£7.00

IN A 1945 essay 'To Hell with Culture' the art critic, poet and anarchist Herbert Read argued for in favour of a democratic culture, which, he said, was 'not the same thing as democracy plus culture'.  This  volume of essays goes beyond a narrow 'arts' agenda to explore the ways in which culture can both reflect and challenge the society that produces it.

A democratic culture must address itself to the issue of inclusiveness, and ensure that majority or dominant sectors of the population do not exercise tyranny or impose uniformity.  Philip Pettit discusses how the state can produce a climate where a vibrant culture can flourish.

As Gerard Delanty points out, a thriving culture "is not based on consensus but on the capacity... to negotiate differences".  This theme is taken up by Paul Delaney in his essay on Travellers, arguing that a nomadic way of life is central to Traveller culture, and that we need to accommodate and facilitate this instead of treating it as a problem.

Brian Trench's essay discusses the way science has been marginalized, in spite of Ireland's impressive contributions in this field.  The Field Day Anthology "found no place for scientific texts or writings about science" - an omission surely as serious as its exclusion of women.  Trench argues for more dialogue and less division between the arts and sciences.

Mary Shine Thompson reminds us of the often-overlooked marginalization of children.  The Irish constitution's 'profoundly patriarchal' conception of the family regards them as "conduits for the rights of parents rather than as a group of well-defined citizens".  She makes a persuasive case for including children as much as possible in participatory citizenship.

I have to take issue with Alan Titley's Irish-language article (a resume in English is provided) which asserts the right of all ethnic groups or 'peoples' to autonomy.  This is dangerous as it so often leads to the marginalization of those who fall outside the core group.

This journal continues to provide us with high-quality, relevant and accessible debate, from a broad range of experts.  In Ireland, where many people from many different sectors of society on both sides of the border feel marginalized, this debate is vital.

All too often republicanism in Ireland is defined in its narrowest sense (especially by its detractors) and mistakenly confused with nationalism.  This journal shows that republicanism, far from being rigid and doctrinaire, addresses the basic questions of rights and citizenship that confront us in our pursuit of a fairer society.  Its elasticity, which is at once accommodating and cohesive, it needed as much as ever.

Issues 1 and 2 of The Republic are still obtainable.  The Ireland Institute can be contacted at 27 Pearse Street, Dublin 2, Ireland.

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