Extracts from a syndicated 1905 speech by Arthur Griffith on the subject of Friedrich List and the cultivation of the national economy in Ireland. This text and others has been dutifully resurrected by the recently launched nationalist archive An Cartlann.
The Anglicisation of the Irish mind is exhibited in its attitude towards economics. The system of economics which Adam Smith and his successors invented for the purpose of obtaining control of the world’s market for England, is taught in our educational system and believed by the people to be the quintessence of wisdom. It does not matter that all Europe has rejected it. England still holds on, and because England holds on, Ireland, under the British system of education, perforce concludes the “as-good-and-as-cheap” shibboleth must be a gospel. Well, with the remainder of English impositions and humbugs we must bundle it out of the country.
I am in economics largely a follower of the man who thwarted England’s dream of the commercial conquest of the world, and who made the mighty confederation before which England has fallen commercially and is falling politically – Germany. His name is a famous one in the outside world, his works are text-books of economic science in other countries – in Ireland his name is unknown and his works unheard of – I refer to Friedrich List, the real founder of the German Zollverein – the man whom England caused to be persecuted by the Government of his native country, and whom she hated and feared more than any man since Napoleon – the man who saved Germany from falling a prey to English economics, and whose brain conceived the great industrial and united Germany of today. Germany has hailed Friedrich List by the title of Preserver of the Fatherland, Louis Kossuth hailed him as the economic teacher of the nations.
There is no room for him in the present educational system of Ireland. With List – whose work on the National System of Political Economy I would wish to see in the hands of every Irishman – I reject that so-called political economy which neither recognises the principle of nationality nor takes into consideration the satisfaction of its interests, which regards chiefly the more exchangeable value of things without taking into consideration the mental and political, the present and the future interests and the productive powers of the nation, which ignores the nature and character of social labour and the operation of the union of powers in their higher consequences, considers private industry only as it would develop itself under a state of free interchange with the whole human race were it not divided into separate nations. Let me continue in the words of this great man to define the nation. Brushing aside the fallacies of Adam Smith and his tribe, List points out that:
“Between the Individual and Humanity stands, and must continue to stand, a great fact – the Nation.”
The Nation, with its special language, and literature, with its peculiar origin and history, with its special manners and customs, laws and institutions, with the claims of all these for existence, independence, perfection, and continuance for the future, and with its separate territory, a society which, united by a thousand ties of minds and interests, combines itself into one independent whole, which recognises the law of right for and within itself, and in its united character is still opposed to other societies of a similar kind in their national liberty, and consequently can only, under the existing conditions of the world, maintain self-existence and independence by its own power and resources. As the individual chiefly obtains by means of the nation, and in the nation, mental culture, power of production, security and prosperity, so is the civilisation of the human race only conceivable and possible by means of the civilisation and development of individual nations. But as there are amongst men infinite differences in condition and circumstances, so are there in nations – some are strong, some are weak, some are highly civilised, some are half-civilised, but in all exists as in the unit the impulse of self-preservation and desire for improvement.
It is a task of National Politics to ensure existence and continuance to the Nation to make the weak strong, the half-civilised more civilised. It is the task of national economics to accomplish the economical development of the nation and fit it for admission into the universal society of the future. I now take List’s definition of a normal nation such as we desire to see Ireland. “It should,” he says,
“…possess a common language and literature, a territory endowed with manifold natural resources, extensive and with convenient frontiers and a numerous population. Agriculture, manufactures, commerce and navigation must be developed in it proportionately, arts and sciences, educational establishments, and universal cultivation must stand in it on equal footing with material production. Its constitution, laws, and institutions must afford to those who belong to it a high degree of security and liberty, and must promote religion, morality and prosperity. It must possess sufficient power to defend its independence and to protect its foreign commerce.”
Sir, in the economy of Adam Smith, there is no place for the soul of a nation. To him the associations of its past possess no value; but in the economy of the man who made out of the petty and divided States of the Rhine the great Germany we see today there is a place, and it is the highest. True political economy recognises that prompt cash payment, to use Mitchel’s phrase, is not the sole nexus between man and man – that there is a higher value than a cash value, and that higher value nationality possesses. When the German Commercial League 60 years ago exhorted all to stand together for a Germany such as we see today, it appealed to what its great economist had taught it was the highest value in economics – nationality. Can we imagine our manufacturers addressing our people as these German manufacturers did? Perhaps we can; but we can only imagine it as occurring at some distant period when they have realised the value of a national spirit. Listen –
“Every misfortune that we have suffered for centuries past may be traced to one cause; and that is that we have ceased to consider ourselves a united nation of brothers, whose first duty is to exert our common efforts to oppose the common enemy…. More beautiful than the spring of nature – more beautiful than any picture created by poetic imagination – more beautiful even than the death of the hero resigning his life for the benefit of his country, is the dawning of a new and glorious era for Germany. That which has been gradually vanishing from us since the days of the Hohenstauffen Emperors – that which is indispensable to enable us to fulfil the destiny marked out for us in the history of the world – that which alone is wanting to render us the mightiest of all the nations of the earth – viz: the feeling of national honour – we are now about to recover. For what object have our honoured patriots been striving? To imbue the people with the feeling of national honour.”
I shall detain you with Friedrich List, because he is unknown in the country which now needs his teaching most. We in Ireland have been taught by our British Lords Lieutenant, our British Education Boards, and our Barrington Lecturers, that our destiny is to be the fruitful mother of flocks and herds – that it is not necessary for us to pay attention to our manufacturing arm, since our agricultural arm is all-sufficient.
The fallacy dissolves before reflection – but it is a fallacy which has passed for truth in Ireland. With List, I reply: A nation cannot promote and further its civilisation, its prosperity, and its social progress equally as well by exchanging agricultural products for manufactured goods as by establishing a manufacturing power of its own. A merely agricultural nation can never develop to any extent a home or a foreign commerce, with inland means of transport and foreign navigation, increase its population in due proportion to their well-being or make notable progress in its moral, intellectual, social and political development; it will never acquire important political power or be placed in a position to influence the cultivation and progress of less advanced nations and to form colonies of its own.
A mere agricultural state is infinitely less powerful than an agricultural-manufacturing state. The former is always economically and politically dependent on those foreign nations which take from it agriculture in exchange for manufactured goods. It cannot determine how much it will produce – it must wait and see how much others will buy from it. The agricultural-manufacturing states on the contrary, produce for themselves large quantities of raw materials and provisions, and supply merely the deficiency from importation. The purely agricultural nations are thus dependent for the power of effecting sales on the chances of a more or less bountiful harvest in the agricultural-manufacturing nations. They have, moreover, to compete in their sales with other purely agricultural nations, whereby the power of sale in itself is uncertain – they are exposed to the danger of ruin in their trading with agricultural-manufacturing nations by war or new tariffs, whereby the suffer the double disadvantage of finding no buyers for their surplus agricultural products and of failing to obtain supplies of the manufactured goods they require. An agricultural nation is a man with one arm who makes use of an arm belonging to another person, but cannot, of course, be sure of having it always available. An agricultural-manufacturing nation is a man who has two arms of his own at his own disposal, and the relative cultivation of the agricultural and manufacturing arms of a fertile country will support in comfort thrice the population of a country developed in agriculture alone.