The Religion of Humanity, or Human Catholicism.
The Western Republic.
Lascia Dir le Genti.
[That dense population in extreme distress inhabited an island where there was an Established Church which was not their Church, and a territorial aristocracy, the richest of whom lived in distant capitals. Thus they had a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien church; and, in addition, the weakest executive in the world. That was the Irish question. Well then, what would honourable gentlemen say if they were reading of a country in that position? They would say at once, the remedy is revolution. But the Irish could not have a revolution; and why? Because Ireland was connected with another and a more powerful country. Then what was the consequence? The connection with England thus became the cause of the present state of Ireland. If the connection with England prevented a revolution, and a revolution was the only remedy, England logically was in the odious position of being the cause of all the misery in Ireland. What, then, was the duty of an English Minister? To effect by his policy all those changes which a revolution would do by force. That was the Irish question in its integrity. The moment they had a strong executive, a just administration, and ecclesiastical equality, they would have order in Ireland, and the improvement of the physical condition of the people would follow.—Extract from Mr. If Israeli's Speech in 1844, as given in Lord Russell's Letter to Rt. Honble C. Fortescue, M.P.]
I requote this passage, quoted in a pamphlet entitled Ireland, which I published in 1868, as an useful introduction to what follows, as it places us at once in the very heart of the matter. One material change has been effected since the above date; ecclesiastical equality has been given. The grievance of the alien church has been removed. With this exception the words are as applicable now as in 1844, or in 1868.
For, old and yet ever new, the Irish difficulty is again upon us in its full intensity. The disestablishment of the Irish Protestant page 2 Church and the Land Act of 1870, which to many seemed a final settlement, are shown to have been ineffectual, as it might have been foreseen, as it was foreseen, that they would be. The gain from the former act is evident. It takes away a complication and so leaves the true issue more distinct. There has been also gain from the land legislation, but the principal advantage derived from it is indirect. More active treatment is proved, by the comparative inefficiency of that legislation, to be necessary.
I may remark that had the treatment of the Irish Church been more drastic, more consonant to principle, a greater progress might have been made in regard to the land. The funds of that intrusive and unjust institution should have been, with due regard to vested interests, applied in aid of a wise handling of the land question, such for instance as that proposed by Mr. Bright.
Be this as it may, the land question is still open, and to its settlement will be directed the efforts of our statesmen. I shall not touch it here in any of its details, for I think, as a whole even, it is subordinate to other considerations. Whilst a wise and bold measure of change might do much as a palliative and procure a healthier atmosphere for the discussion of further advance, I conceive the time to be past, if there ever was such a time since the Revolution of 1688, when any particular measure of reform could satisfy the requirements of the Irish nation. There has been an instinctive consciousness of this fact underlying all the more recent relations of the two countries, betraying itself from time to time in the deliberate as well as in the more impatient utterances of our public men and writers, and forming the ultimate impulsion of the successive leaders of the Irish nation.
The strong political discontent, which now confronts the English Government, derives support and energy, but not its origin, from the physical distress which is recognised as existing. As time passes, that discontent assumes more definite shape, and reveals more plainly its true source. It presents itself under two aspects, the interconnection of which is easily seen. It is at once social and political. It aims, that is, at a very great change in the existing order of society. It aims also at national independence in some adequate form. And as its character and aims, so its origin is twofold. As social, its root is in the hereditary, deepseated, and growing dislike to the exceptional land system of England which has been forced upon Ireland. As political it arises, no doubt, primarily from the patent evils which the dependence on a stronger power has occasioned and occasions, but it is also an outcome of the wholesome craving for a separate state life, which, in spite of existing counteractions, is the permanent characteristic of European political order, distinctly traceable in all the great Western nations—both historically and actually.
The connection of the two aspects above given, and of the two demands which correspond to them, lies directly herein, that, without a large amount of national independence, the social changes page 3 which are desired are unattainable; the efforts made to attain them seem in the immediate future useless; they are a hope ever anew deferred. For a settlement of the land question of Ireland in accordance with the actual demand must react on Great Britain; and the territorial aristocracy of Great Britain is not slow to see that this is so. It is not the Irish only who are a dislanded and "dishorned" nation, but the English, Welsh, and Scotch; and the wiser the scheme propounded for securing the end to be kept in view, viz., "the remarrying the land of Ireland to the people of Ireland," the more certain is it to tell on the other three home constituents of our composite Empire.
Deep in the very constitution—the aristocratical constitution—of the English Government lies then the real Irish difficulty. This is true historically—it is true also in practical politics; and when to enable them to deal with it, the Irish seek for autonomy (the word is manifestly as applicable here as in Bulgaria or in Roumelia), there comes in the one great national prejudice, fundamental and most powerful, that, come what may, Ireland must remain in her present connection with England, an integral part of the Empire, not a self-existent nation. No English Government will venture in face of this prejudice to propose repeal. All Irish statesmen who see the necessity of repeal must use language and avow ends which are open to the charge of sedition.
Hence the relations of the two countries, I might say of the two Governments, the informal Irish and the highly organized central Government, are under these conditions very difficult. For any English ministry with the best intentions—and I do not believe that the responsible statesmen of either party have of late had other than good intentions—and with the clearest insight which can conceivably co-exist with the above-mentioned national prejudice,—will yet possibly find itself unable to carry the measures which it may deem advisable. Whilst the Irish statesmen who see that national self-existence is the ultimate goal of their exertions, must feel that they are face to face with a resistance against which all the ordinary methods of political influence break without effect. On both sides, the greater the insight the less would seem the hope.
Where is the exit from this political blind alley, all violence being set aside, and only such measures advocated as are within the province of peaceful statesmanship, such statesmanship, however, being conceived capable of a revolutionary vigour?
The spirit of coercion is abroad—of violence that is from the side of the established Government. To their honour, the present occupants of power stem as yet the rising exasperation, though unfortunately yielding to it so far as to institute this ill-advised prosecution. Be the result of that act what it may, it is, as force as been justly said to be, no remedy. Have we not seen, each half generation, to say the least, these coarser means applied, and a page 4 temporary lull secured; and, the pressure removed, as with our Government it cannot but be, the resurrection of the spirit which had been exorcised, the renewal in louder tones of the previous demands? This has been the political experience of the last half century—the almost exact period during which even the intention of justice on the part of England can be traced. It is this perpetual recurrence of the evil which is the peculiar opprobrium of our statesmanship, and the indication of the true direction for its future efforts.
Less than ever do temporary imperfect remedies hold out any prospect of advantage. For, of late years, there has been introduced an additional complication, many additional complications I might truly say. Three I will name. First, the greater rapidity of communication and consequent increase of publicity. The whole human family has become more highly organic, so that each part's suffering is more instantly felt by the other parts. Secondly, and in part as a consequence, the influence of opinion is more sensitively felt, the opinion of other people as well as home opinion. Europe has sought to make this influence powerful in regard to Turkey—but it is a motor evidently available elsewhere than in Turkey, and the proverbial secular mismanagement of Ireland is brought to the bar of national judgments in the Eastern and the Western world, in Asia, no less than in Europe and America. Thirdly, the Irish famine has left our statesmen a legacy. In shortsighted satisfaction, we exulted over the removal by emigration of a large proportion of the Irish people. So the then Government saw with pleasure the expatriation of the soldiers of Cromwell. But a century later and the recoil came. American independence was in no obscure manner connected with that expatriation. So, but without the slow lapse of a century, comes the punishment in the present case. The Irish in America are a constant stimulus to their nation which will leave it no rest till it stands free and its own mistress, in full possession of itself, at home upon its land.
I write as an Englishman, from the standpoint of our national duty, appealing to the higher conscience of this nation, to its sense of shame for past misdeeds, past neglect, past lukewarmness, to its consciousness that the effects of such a past can only be slowly cancelled, to all the latent nobleness which I believe in, and which duly evoked might issue in a resolution that, cost what it might to its pride or its interest, the true advantage of Ireland, and Ireland only, should be the rule of its action.
I urge no special measures. I confine myself to the more general, comprehensive issue. It is for the Irish people when made sui juris, mistress of its own destinies, to decide on the best mode of its agricultural settlement. It is to the making it sui juris that I direct myself—to the gratification of the supremely just demand that Ireland be an independent nation with full self-control.
That for a time there remained a formal dependence on the page 5 English Crown, a connection of some kind or other, would be indifferent, if the completeness of independent state existence, the essential object, were secured. All must acknowledge the difficulty of the intermediate steps. But with an avowal of readiness to accept the ulterior end, with an avowal of the determination to work towards such end, the intervening stages would become indefinitely easier. The order, to all so desirable, would be more certainly attainable, disorder having lost its sole temporary justification or palliation. The irritation of ultimate denial removed, temperate discussion of the best form of outward union, or of the best mode of effecting separation becomes possible. Mutual conciliation on the part of two states in such close juxtaposition would equally in the present, and with an eye to the future, be the dictate of good sense, and the furtherance of the interests of both, in the fullest signification of the term, would be the common interest of both.
The task is: to reconstitute a state with whose separate existence and self-growth we have so long interfered, without any success in transforming it into the image of ourselves, as has been desired. It is a task which is being undertaken elsewhere, and with certainly not stronger motives. Its urgency in each several case is matter for consideration. When the actual condition is tolerable, such condition may well endure till the deeper changes have been wrought from which this particular change, viz., the restoration of political independence, will spring as a perfectly natural consequence. In Ireland, the condition is not tolerable. More than half the nation, I take the cautious estimate of a very moderate statesman, idolizes the man who is demanding a new state of things.
In Ireland we have but one choice,—are we not becoming convinced of it,—the choice between a revolution effected peacefully and one accompanied by violence. No doubt we may tide over this particular explosion as we have tided over others, but if we read aright the facts of the case in all their integrity, we may be sure that it will return upon us. The tenacious memory of the Irish people, daily evidenced to the most inattentive, their geographical position, the circumstances of the whole political world in which we are living, all the doctrines which are current, the vague doctrine of nationality co-operating here with the determinate doctrine of the state as conceived by a sound political philosophy, all point to the conclusion, that, sooner or later, the solution I am advocating must be adopted, and if so, why not at once, with all due deliberateness and precaution?
The empire of England is of most composite order, an aggregate of elements which have not been as yet, nor can ever be, welded into one organic whole. This, I feel sure, is a conviction the force of which grows daily, as the result of our dominant philosophical thought, and of the practical experience of our better statesmen. We are, however, appealed to, and the language goes home to the vast majority as yet of both parties, not to be inferior to our fore- page 6 fathers who won that empire, to defend it, and to hand it on with all that it involves as a great inheritance to our children. Variously interpreted by different minds, this is the general substance of the appeals to which we have been accustomed.
I will enter on no criticism, confine myself to no mere negation of the prevailing form of Imperialism. I put forward quite a different form, one assuredly of not less noble aspiration, nor making less demand on our intellect and morality. Not unmindful of the past, whilst we would rise superior to it, we should bend ourselves to the work of repairing what has been wrong in it, supplying its deficiencies where it has been weak; not exerting a merely defensive energy, but the higher energy of reconstruction, of creation, of organizing within the limits which we have reached a new and better order. Not, then, any longer as the centre of an oppressive system,—oppressive in some cases as regards its parts, in others, as regards other nations,—oppressive, that is, within itself, and in proportion to its success tending to be oppressive without,—but as the free originator of a new life for a number of independent states, should the England of the present and succeeding generations at once atone for, and justify, its glorious but chequered antecedents.
More immediately, and especially, is it desirable that this should be done for Ireland, and the first condition of its doing is that, as a people, we renounce all determination to hold Ireland against her will—a most difficult act of self-renunciation, but one that, if accomplished, is full of promise.
One serious objection will be urged. It is a matter of self-defence to us to hold Ireland. Independent, she is a danger. I should not accept this contingent danger as a sufficient dissuasive. But neither do I think that there is any real danger. Independent of England, and independent on the hypothesis of her being so by the aid of England, why should Ireland be hostile to England? Why should she, in the second place, invite a foreign power to make her the basis of its operations, and if seized against her will what value would there be in her as such basis? What power again is there into which, if her own mistress, she would be willing, given all her past history and character, to incorporate herself? It is impossible to shut out all contingencies, but within the bounds of moderate prevision is there really any sufficient danger to warrant those who accept this ground for her retention? I add that, if separate from England, there would cease all the motives for other nations interfering with her, which are connected with her dependent position. She would be as little involved in any English concerns as Switzerland; of very far less interest to England as a question of danger, than some of the other minor Continental states. Are we not, in our feelings and reasonings, on this head too much under the influence of older political associations and ideas, which are undergoing, if with extreme slowness, a transformation, and adapting themselves to the new order page 7 which is felt to be appearing in the horizon. Prudence may require us not to ignore too soon the old, but political wisdom has ever consisted in a due apprehension of the new which is being brought to the birth. But, as I said above, the possibility of ulterior danger would not weigh with me as an adequate deterrent from the policy I am advocating.
That there are grave difficulties in the state of Ireland itself I am well aware. There have always been such in the way of great changes. The establishment of the Union was not an easy task, nor the means by which it was effected delicate. Bring to the efforts of repeal and consequent reconstruction an equal energy, and the obstacles would not be found insurmountable.
In our government all resolves itself into a determination of the national will to uphold such change as the best deliberative wisdom, be it of one man or many, may think desirable. All resolves itself therefore into a modification of the national feeling and judgment. To this end each in his degree may contribute.
It were no mean result to have done with this festering sore in our national existence, which weighs upon our conscience and enfeebles our action. It were a gain of a high order to Humanity to have restored to its due perfection one of her immediate organs. I say restored, for the time was when to the general welfare of Europe Ireland largely contributed. She was a luminous spot in a darker world. The nation which through its statesmen shall make her the equal of others in a world which has become brighter will need no extrinsic compensation for any sacrifice.
In the complex organism of Humanity, as in the simpler organism of the human body, all members suffer when one suffers. The more perfect each is, the more it contributes to the welfare of its adjacent members and of the whole. In the past the rough processes of state unification have interfered with the unities which have been crowded into one political bond, and there has been a consequent blanching of the parts and diminution of their separate vitality. This may have been necessary. Is it so any longer, or are there not cases in which it is not so, in which the counter-process is indicated? It is my contention that Ireland is precisely a case of this kind, a case for the revision, in the interests of Humanity, of an unwholesome union. If rising above the bias of patriotism, as it is usually understood, we place ourselves at the standpoint of our aims and obligations as men, we shall have little difficulty in arriving at this conclusion, however various may be our judgment as to the immediate means. To the servants of Humanity all will be welcome that enriches and beautifies her continuous existence, and we can hardly question that it would he enriched and beautified by the re-integration of one of her organs, by its recovery of its own life, not, it may be feared, without considerable pain, but with an overbalance of ulterior good. In this spirit the surrender of cherished feelings which her service often page 8 involves, the progressive effort which it demands, will equally be accepted. Many have to surrender much in regard to Ireland, and the effort of her reconstitution Will be great, but our past imposes both upon us, and in the acceptance of this inherited combination lie at once our duty and our wisdom.
Richard Congreve.17 Mecklenburgh Square, W.C. 28 Frederic 92. (1 December, 1880.)
P.S.—It is clear that repressive measures will be proposed when Parliament meets. All will depend on their character and accompaniments. Order and coercion are different ideas, and the firm maintenance of order, in its due measure, will be easy in proportion as it is kept distinct from all admixture of political compression, in proportion, that is, as it has no taste of the permanence of English rule and Irish dependence; in a word, in proportion as it is order pure that is the aim. It needs no prophetic power to foresee that whilst those other ideas are dominant there will be war between the two countries, not peace; war in one form or another. Whilst the Austrians held Italy we could accept and admire the social interdict enforced against them by the Italians. Why should we not allow for a similar social interdict aimed at our own intolerable supremacy—intolerable to the Irish, I mean. It is the only form of war left to a people held down by superior strength, a tenure of Ireland which would be as repulsive to us as to the Irish were we true to our history and professions. Yet even moderate men like Mr. Shaw-Lefevre tell us that the primary consideration is the upholding of the Queen's Government—which means, can mean, nothing but the absolute denial of the Irish wish for national independence. The outlook must be gloomy with such teaching in the ascendant.