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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

O'Bradaigh versus Adams
Classicism versus Historical Consciousness

Father Sean Mc Manus January 14, 2003

Theologians point out that the best way for Catholics to understand the change brought about by the Second Vatican Council (1962- 1965) is to see it in terms of a shift from classicism to historical consciousness.

It has struck me, over the years, that this is also the best way to understand the shift in Irish republicanism -- as typified by Ruari O' Bradaigh (classicism), former president of Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams (historical consciousness), current Sinn Fein president.

Classicism views reality in terms of the immutable, the never changing. It uses the deductive method of reasoning: from the universal to the particular. This is best illustrated by the following syllogism, which was taught in Scholastic logic to every student for the priesthood, up to the mid 60's:

All human beings are rational.
Seamus is a human being.
Ergo (therefore) Seamus is rational.

Classicism uses the DEDUCTIVE METHOD of reasoning. It seeks conclusions that are always true, in all situations: If it was true in 1962, it is true in 2002.

Historical Consciousness

Historical consciousness uses the INDUCTIVE METHOD of reasoning: from the particular to the universal. The conclusions it reaches (from the ground up, so to speak) will be based on changing circumstances and history. It does not seek absolute, dogmatic certitude but settles for moral, practical certitude.

O'Bradaigh, therefore, can be seen as the Cardinal Ottaviani of Irish republicanism. (0ttavani was the supreme classicist of the Second Vatican Council. As the orthodoxy-watchdog for the Curia he resisted all change -- and lost).

Adams can be seen as the leader of the " new theologians" (historical consciousness) who pushed for change at the Second Vatican Council -- and won.

The "new theology" of the Second Vatican Council led to " liberation theology ", which emphasizes that the Church must not just work to change sinful hearts, but all sinful structures that oppress human beings.It stresses that God loves justice and wants to deliver the poor and oppressed from injustice. It also stresses " praxis", as opposed to theory -- that the way to come to the truth is to be totally involved in the struggle for liberation, and not just studying it in books.

"Sell- Out"

The Second Vatican Council began in 1962. That same year Ruari O'Bradaigh, as Chief of Staff of the IRA, issued a public statement that " all arms and other material have been dumped", bringing to an end the IRA Border Campaign launched in 1956. Before and since that time, 0'Bradaigh has lived in the South of Ireland. Adams, on the other hand, has lived all his life in Belfast --the hub of the struggle.

It has been my observation, over the years, that it is often the people who have been least involved -- in this country and in Ireland -- who are of the quickest to cry "sell-out". Something which emphasizes again the importance of " praxis".

After The Second Vatican Council ended, Archbishop John Charles Mc Quaid (another famous classicist) arrived back at Dublin airport and declared, "Nothing has changed". After the Good Friday Agreement was signed, David Trimble declared "Nothing has changed, the Union is safe". Ruari O'Bradaigh declared, in effect, "Too much has changed and everybody but me and my few followers have sold out".

Adams, I believe -- because of his historical consciousness and his praxis (staying in the North, and putting his life and liberty on the line every day for justice and peace) -- has got it about right. And Irish-Americans owe him an eternal debt of gratitude for not leading us into another cul-de-sac of Irish history.

Ed Moloney

If Ed Moloney had understood these matters better he might have written a real history of the IRA.

Classicism tends to use a static model. Historical consciousness uses a dynamic model. So for example, the classicist will argue "English rule was the problem in 1962. There is still English rule on the island of Ireland in 2002. Therefore nothing has changed".

But if we use the dynamic model, here is what we get: The cold war is over and the British Government can no longer scare the United States about the danger of Ireland becoming "another Cuba"; the European Union is changing the face of Europe; the old Empire-culture is almost dead in Britain and the Unionists have no longer great blocks of old English families/industrialists/generals backing their supremacy; the stature and the involvement of the Irish Government have grown in leaps and bounds; the confidence (and numbers) of the Catholics in Northern Ireland knows no bounds and for them there is no turning back; and Irish America is sophisticated, strong and organized.

So instead of nothing having changed, a million things have changed

The former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Jim Molyneaux (and mentor to Jeoffrey Donaldson) memorably -- and very revealingly -- said the IRA cease-fire was the most destabilizing thing that had happened to Northern Ireland. The veteran Irish-American activist (and classicist) George Harrison regularly says, "Irish freedom will only come by the gun". Indeed, the only thing that can stop the inevitable march to justice and peace in Ireland is the gun. Why else are the Unionist Parties/Unionist Paramilitaries trying to force the IRA into breaking its cease-fire?


The author is the president of the Washington D.C. Capitol Hill based Irish National Caucus. The Caucus is nonviolent and has no foreign principal.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
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Index: Current Articles

19 January 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Fair Trial Not a Farcical Travesty
Bernadette Sands McKevitt


For Whom the Bells Toll
Anthony McIntyre


The Republic: Of Connolly, of Costello, of Kearney and Campbell

Terry Harkin


O Bradaigh versus Adams
Classicism versus Historical Consciousness

Father Sean Mc Manus


Beyond the Border
Annie Higgins


17 January 2003


No Rights For Humans
Anthony McIntyre


The Fight For America's Soul

Julie Brown


The Bloody Streets of New York
Mike Davis


The Left Betrays the Iraqi People by Opposing War
Nick Cohen


Missive To America
Annie Higgins


The Letters page has been updated.




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