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New Left Review I/213, September-October 1995

Terry Eagleton

Ireland’s Obdurate Nationalisms

Interviewer: What have you got against Roman Catholics? Belfast Protestant: Are you daft? Why, their religion of course.

Things in Ireland can be even worse than that. Sectarianism from a Belfast Protestant is nothing new; but even Irish liberal pluralists can be a bitterly partisan bunch, excoriating traditional prejudices with a virulence so unremitting as to involve them in a kind of performative contradiction. In this articulate, claustrophobic, intensely combative culture, theoretical enquiry is now so locked into political doctrine, power and discourse so intimately intertwined, that even Michel Foucault might have been driven to put in a word for disinterestedness. There are commentators on Irish affairs today who would be simply incapable of giving a fair review to the work of their political opponents. And much of this is in line with a history which, given the relative absence of an industrial middle class, the depth of ethnic division and the dominance of a corporatist Catholicism in the island as a whole, never produced any very flourishing liberal tradition.

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