“I contemplate a people which has had a long night, and will have an inevitable day. I am turning my eyes toward a hundred years to come, and I dimly see the Ireland I am gazing on become the road of passage and union between the two hemispheres, and the centre of the world. I see its inhabitants rival Belgium in populousness, France in vigor, and Spain in enthusiasm” – John Henry Newman
A Mythos Pervades
There is consensus among many, both domestically and internationally, that the Irish Nationalist tradition is inherently left-leaning. Owing to Ireland’s historical position as a subjugated and conquered nation vis-à-vis a domineering neighbour, this is unsurprising. For the Left is identified, almost universally, with the camp of the oppressed.
The perpetuation of this myth is unacceptable. A glance at Griffith’s preface to the ‘Jail Journal’ would be sufficient to dispel any notion of similarity between the Irish struggle and the Left’s liberation ideology. Griffith stated: “The right of the Irish to political independence never was, is not, and never can be dependent upon the admission of equal right in all other peoples”.
To those who assert this lie, contemporary Irish Nationalists need only proclaim, in a bold and proud tone, the following names: John Mitchel, Arthur Griffith, Fr. Edward Cahill, Fr. Denis Fahey, D.P Moran, Francis Stuart, Desmond Fennell, Sean South, W.B Yeats, Alfred O’Rahilly, and Dan Breen. Men who thought and fought for Ireland, may their names and legacy persist in glory.
The Left desecrates the memory of these men, through omission, condemnation, or distortion of their views. Indubitably, there is a left-wing Nationalist tradition, but its proclamations of monopoly are false. At best, it was represented by men such as Connolly, who died a proud son of Ireland – it should be noted that Connolly rejected the admittance of Belgian Refugees in 1914.
At worst? One could adduce countless quotes from contemporary left-Republicans signalling their fidelity to Anglo-American anti-racism, but that would be child’s play. The descriptive “worst” is owed to a statement by Peadar O’Donnell: “We haven’t a battalion of IRA in Belfast, we just have a battalion of armed Catholics”. Remember, it wasn’t right-wing Nationalists who refused to defend Catholic Belfast from Loyalist mobs.
Who was Aodh de Blácam?
The subject of this essay, Aodh de Blácam, is another spanner in the works for the Left-Nationalist narrative. Without exaggeration, one could declare that Aodh de Blácam is the most underrated Irish thinker of the past century, and that his memory-holing has been a disaster for the Irish Nation.
Harold Saunders Blackham was born in 1891 to an English Protestant family in London. He converted to Catholicism in 1907 and Gaelicised his name. Henceforth, he would be known as Aodh de Blácam. This decision was impelled by his interest in the Gaelic League.
However, Ireland was not merely another exotic culture for him to immerse himself in – he was not destined to be a backpacker or tourist. From 1915 onwards, Aodh concerned himself with political issues pertinent to the Irish Nation.
During the War of Independence, Aodh wrote Nationalist articles and he was eventually interned in 1922. He continued writing articles after the war. Initially for the Irish Times and then later for the Irish Press under the alias ‘Roddy the Rover’. The Irish Press was set up as a Nationalist alternative to mainstream quasi-Unionist publications, such as the Irish Times, which littered Ireland’s media landscape after the Free State was established.
Aodh was a prolific writer who produced a diverse output: poetry, biographies of saints, and politically-orientated material. Although diverse, Aodh’s fixation on Gaelic Ireland and its renewal formed the basis of his corpus. His political viewpoint was explicated in the following works: ‘Sinn Féin and Socialism’, ‘What Sinn Féin Stands For’, and ‘Towards the Republic’.
The Decline of the West
A few months before the end of World War One, the first volume of Oswald Spengler’s magnum opus, “The Decline of the West”, was released to the public. It captured the spirit of the age like no other work, past or present. Its mark was left upon innumerable thinkers and men of import during the postwar era. Aodh de Blácam was not an exception.
Spengler employed a seasonal metaphor to describe the morphology of civilisations. Each season corresponded to a different stage in the rise and fall of a civilisation. To illustrate: spring was the youthful stage, characterised by “ballads, epics and heroic tales – compositions which reflect their own virile, wholesome life”. Rustic rural life dominates during this period.
Contrastingly, winter was a phase in which “the ideals have perished and the whole people is given over to materialism; henceforth there is no more literature, no art of any worth. The practical man rules. Material expansion is the single thought. Invention follows invention; the craze for speed consumes vital energy, and so the race plunges forward to destruction.”
Each civilisation was self-contained, fundamentally. Demarcated by its own prime cultural form, which gives rise to distinct cultural forms that bear its mark. For Spengler, it wasn’t an accident of history that Western Civilisation produced Gothic cathedrals and put a man on the moon – it was the expression of an underlying Faustian impulse toward infinity, which marks every outward expression of the West.
Ireland’s Answer to the Decline of the West
Aodh took Spengler’s claim that the West had entered its winter phase seriously. However, Spengler’s prophecy was not met with pessimism on Aodh’s part. Like Francis Parker Yockey —the Irish-American author of the Neo-Spenglerian tome ‘Imperium’ which was written in Brittas Bay in 1948 — Aodh saw hope in Spengler’s assessment.
However, unlike Yockey who viewed a Pan-European empire as the solution to the Decline of the West, Aodh believed that hope lay in a culture which had not been corrupted by Anglo-American civilisation: the Heroism of Gaelic Ireland.
In ‘Heroic Ireland’, his response to Spengler’s ‘Decline of the West’, Aodh states: “the literature of the Gael is one of the springtime. The stories and poems which our people have cherished are heroic. The civilisation of Ireland was heroic until its fall under foreign might. The heroic ideal was never abandoned; the intruding civilisation of scepticism and materialism never was accepted. Always the Gael resisted the urban system”.
In the face of Anglo-Ireland and its smothering materialism, Aodh called for a return to the spirit of ancient Ireland. In the place of laziness and consumption he sought the fomentation of discipline and strength. For Aodh, Ireland was more akin to the Greece of Antiquity than to its nearest neighbour. “The heroes of Homer have virtues, rare in the dying urban civilisation, which are identical with those of our Fenian heroes”.
In his ‘Philosophy of an Irish Ireland’, D.P Moran laments that “we are all Palemen now”. Aodh views the Gaeltacht as the last vestige of an old, yet spiritually youthful, tradition from which Ireland can re-invigorate itself away from this sick tendency to imitate the worst of England. “Our people of the countryside; sea-taming, earth-conquering, unspoilt men, await writers who shall reflect their life and stir them —writers who will give Ireland a vision and a second spring.”.
Aodh perceptively notes that he is not alone in his call for a New Ireland, founded on the wellspring of our race’s still vital roots. Pearse, in Aodh’s eyes, is emblematic of the Heroism, in thought and deed, which is necessary for Ireland to inculcate: “His writings ring again and again with the word heroic, and his life and death were heroic in the truest sense. He brought back a heroic inspiration and many followed him, so that the last chapter of Irish history has been as noble as that of the mediaeval heroes”.
Liam Mellows was in agreement with Aodh when he stated: “We would rather have this country poor and indignant, we would rather have the people of Ireland eking out a poor existence on the soil, as long as they possessed their souls, their minds and their honour. This fight has been for something more than the fleshpots of empires!”
Aodh’s sympathy with Vital Heroism as the solution to the West’s crisis was pre-figured by the French Syndicalist George Sorel. Zeev Sternhell sums up Sorel’s attitude: “the notion of class struggle now represented an ideology in which vitalism, intuition, pessimism and activism, the cult of energy, heroism, and proletarian violence —sources of morality and virtue— had replaced Marxist rationalism. In addition, violence, from being an impersonal technical tool, became a source of morality and greatness, a barrier to the decline of the West into ruinous degeneracy”.
We can speculate that Aodh embraced Gaelicism and Catholicism at an early age as a reprieve from the stuffiness of Anglo-Saxon materialism. We cannot condemn him for this youthful revolt. It was a revolt based on good instinct. The aim of the revolt was renewal, toward a new spring for Ireland and for Western man. May we live to see its dawn.
The Spanish Civil War had a polarising effect upon European Society. It was an international war which involved more than just the domestic actors. Foreign brigades flooded into Spain in the name of either side. The majority of British intellectuals and literati supported the Republicans. However, the pro-Franco side was represented by the cream of the crop. T.S Elliot, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound all supported Franco’s side.
Again, Aodh was not an exception. He unequivocally supported Franco’s side. He is at his most explicit in his ‘For God and Spain: The Truth About The Spanish War’ — the title alone leaves little room for misinterpretation. Aodh did not interpret the war in narrow terms. Both sides were emblematic of differing fundamental worldviews. Worldviews which vied for hegemony.
Aodh states: “Let all remember that Spain is fighting for the cause of all Christendom when its soldiers strive to hold back the atheistic materialism of Moscow, and the church-burning, culture-destroying fury. For the freedom of our Faith, and for the life of our own grave, Christian civilisation, the parties of the Right and their soldiers are waging the Last Crusade.”
For Aodh, the “cause of the Right is the salvation of Spain from Russia’s plight.”. The atrocities committed against clergy foreshadowed what could’ve come on a larger scale. In his essay on the Anglo-South African poet Roy Campbell, Kerry Bolton states: “Seventeen Carmelite monks were herded into the streets by the red forces and shot. Among them was the Campbells’ Father Confessor who died with a smile and the shout of ‘Long live Christ! Long live Spain!’”
Aodh was not out of step with his contemporaries. The Irish people were overwhelmingly supportive of the Nationalist side in the Spanish civil war. There is a famous picture of thousands of Irishmen listening to a Pro-Franco and Anti-Communist Speech at College Green, Dublin.
A curious section of his work on Spain concerns Franco’s employment of North African soldiers in his army. Aodh laments Franco’s decision to employ “dusky troops in Europe”, but defends it on the ground that “Franco struck with the weapon at his hand”, that being North African troops.
That the Left levelled this critique against Franco will surprise modern readers who expect anti-racism to be a perennial leftist fixation. However, the early 20th century in Europe was marked by a racial comity which is inconceivable now to those who grew up learning of Europe’s “evil” actions around the globe. This sense of unity among European peoples was expressed clearly by the refusal of the Trekboer, Paul Kruger, to employ African troops against the British during the Boer War.
Aodh and Economics
Reading the chapters on Socialism in ‘Towards the Republic’ would leave one with the impression that Aodh de Blácam was a crypto-Marxist who couched arguments in a Catholic mirage to deceive believers.
However, his aforementioned work on Spain reads as if it was written by a member of Maria Duce —an organisation which certainly had a dearth of crypto-Marxists. 18 years lapsed between each text being released. But it didn’t take 18 years for Aodh to re-orient his economic views —it took 3. His economic perspective was explicated in ‘What Sinn Féin Stands For’.
Marxism radically punctuated the socialist tradition. Up until its advent, Socialism was a moralistic and idealistic tradition. Marxism, in contrast, had anti-utopian pretensions. Its justification lay not in principles, but in terms of class interests, science, and history.
Marx believed in a linear history of the world —the telos of which was a stateless communist society. History was the negation of previous modes of production, and therefore superstructural class domination and cultural ephemera (family forms, religion, beliefs, etc.) which the mode of production underlaid, by newer modes of production.
This was the basis for Marx’s belief that Capitalism was a fundamentally revolutionary phenomenon, which re-orientated the whole of society. However, Marxists believed that Capitalism had exhausted its revolutionary role in world history. The stage was set for the Proletariat to play their role as the movers of the historical wheel.
Marx was not completely consistent with his historical viewpoint. Yockey noted that Marx breached his theory of history: “in the preface to the second Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto, a theory was put forth by Marx and Engels according to which Communism could come directly from Russian peasantry to Proletarian Dictatorship without the long period of bourgeois-domination which had been absolutely necessary in Europe.”
Marx justified this on the basis of the Russian ‘Mir’. The Mir was a serf village community. Marx argued that the experience living in such a community fomented a socialist spirit which would be in line with actual Socialism. Therefore, Capitalism could be bypassed.
But if certain stages could be bypassed, owing to historical cultural practices, does that mean that Socialism isn’t determined by historical necessity in a linear fashion. Further, if Marxists had, through the pretence of crafting an empirical science, abrogated the utopian and idealist normative arguments in favour of Communism, then what arguments remained when their historical theory proved to be wrong?
Aodh argued along similar lines as Marx did in his preface to the Manifesto. For Aodh, Ireland had a strong communal and collective spirit which could be drawn upon for a renewal of the nation away from Anglo-Saxon individualism. “The communal instinct finds its principal expression in fervent patriotism, in enthusiasm for leagues, associations and societies”.
Aodh differs from Marx due with respect to the latter’s ostensible determinism. Aodh states “To us the capitalist order is not a mere result of mechanical or naturalistic evolution. We hold it to be unnatural, like the drink curse and many another evil that afflicts fallen humanity, and we believe it to be the outcome of a false philosophy adopted at the date of the Reformation. We repudiate belief in ‘spiral progresses’ and ‘the inevitable victory of the proletariat.’”
The repudiation of Capitalism has been common among the European Right for centuries. One of early exponents of this view was Adam Müller, the German Romanticist critic of economic Liberalism. Muller was an antecedent to the later Austrian critic of Liberalism and Marxism, Othmar Spann.
The denominator between both is that they are Organicists. They believe that the state is akin to a body, with its own cells and organs. If the constituent parts of the body do not work in equilibrium and harmony the whole body is harmed. From the Organicist perspective, the individualism of Liberalism and the class war of Marxism are disorders and pathologies to be combatted.
Aodh also views the economy from an ethical and organicist perspective: “Individuals cannot be moulded together like pieces of putty, but they can act together as a true organic unity”. It’s unsurprising that Aodh is an organicist. The Catholic Church officially endorsed the organicist approach to the economy in a number of encyclicals.
In sum, Aodh de Blácam is one of the most underrated writers that Ireland has ever produced. He has written on vital subjects, ranging from Ireland’s destiny to the economic system which is congruent with it. There is a current of idealism in his thought which is surprising for those who associate rightism with dour warnings and forebodings. He managed to place the Nationalist tradition on a firm footing, providing both a lofty ideal for us to aspire to while not also forgetting the practical aspects of a state, such as its economy.
Aodh is a man who dreamt of a resurrected Ireland and no man articulated such a dream as well as Thomas Moore did when he stated:
“The nations have fallen and thou still art young;
Thy sun is just rising when others are set;
And though slavery’s cloud o’er thy morning hath hung,
The full noon of freedom shall beam round thee yet”