Archive for the ‘History’ Category

On “Constitutionalism”, so-called

Aibreán 28, 2009

The word ‘constitutional’ is one of the most politically warped and deliberately conflated words in the Anglo-Irish conflict.

‘Constitutional movement for reform’ (e.g. referring to the Irish Home Rule Party operating in 19th century Britain) may seem self-explanatory within one particular cultural, political, or historical context; but e.g. in the USA (even in the Republic of Ireland) the word ‘Constitutional’ carries a very different set of contexts and meanings: a foundational legal document granting legitimacy to the state from the people, guaranteeing certain rights to citizens, that preempts all other executive, legislative, and judicial state powers.
This is fundamentally different from the British understanding of ‘constitutional’, which is closer to meaning ‘important constituent law’, but which can be overruled at will by parliament, and thus does not have the same prohibitionary power against state action or legislative fiat.
This is important, not only because the legitimacy of the British State to rule the Irish people was what was (is?) in question, but because the word ‘constitutional’ is often used as the antonym to politically delegitimise ‘physical force’ republicanism historically.
To use the American example again, no one today would describe George Washington et al as ‘physical force republicans’ in opposition to ‘constitutionalism’ or ‘constitutional reform’. No one is referring to Bastille Day as the triumph of ‘physical force republicanism’. That this can be considered appropriate to describe Irish patriots at all, only shows the extent of Orwellian abuse of language for political purposes in Ireland – and that our court historians and commentariat are the primary subversives of the Republic.

There could be another reason for this meme to be so successful in Dublin 4 politics: the political heritage of Daniel O’Connell and his Repeal (of the British-Irish parliamentary union) movement, and their tactically valid but strategically nowhere, intellectually bullshit, endorsement of the idea that “under no circumstances is a nation justified in asserting its liberties by force of arms” as a way of appeasing certain elements of the C19th British power elite. That this is so self-evidently wrong, or at least would appear to many to be in outer la-la land, does not make it so in the doublespeak of Ireland’s current commentariat. They are the inheritors of both cute-hoorish clienteelism, and the ultra-respectable Maynoothism of Catholic elements willing to sell out the country collaborate with powers hostile to Irish national interests, in exchange for the chance of material comforts and low-level advancements. The first is known too much, and is always the brickbat thrown at Fianna Fáil – although they only professionalised what everyone else are amateur enthusiasts at; but the second is like the curse of Cain on everyone from Fine Gael to the Greens, from the Workers Party entryists to the Europhiliacs.

Surely we should substitute the word “collaborationist” with “constitutional”; not only would the sentences not be adversely affected in meaning, their truth-value would increase.