principles of freedom chapter 4
BROTHERS AND ENEMIES
Our enemies are brothers from whom we are estranged. Here is the fundamental truth that explains and justifies our hope of re-establishing a real patriotism among all parties in Ireland, and a final peace with our ancient enemy of England. It is the view of prejudice that makes of the various sections of our people hopelessly hostile divisions, and raises up a barrier of hate between Ireland and England that can never be surmounted. If Ireland is to be regenerated, we must have internal unity; if the world is to be regenerated, we must have world-wide unitynot of government, but of brotherhood. To this great end every individual, every nation has a duty; and that the end may not be missed we must continually turn for the correction of our philosophy to reflecting on the common origin of the human race, on the beauty of the world that is the heritage of all, our common hopes and fears, and in the greatest sense the mutual interests of the peoples of the earth. If, unheeding this, any people make their part of the earth ugly with acts of tyranny and baseness, they threaten the security of all; if unconscious of it, a people always high-spirited are plunged into war with a neighbour, now a foe, and yet fight, as their nature compels them, bravely and magnanimously, they but drive their enemy back to the field of a purer life, and, perhaps, to the realisation of a more beautiful existence, a dream to which his stagnant soul steeped in ugliness could never rise.
On the road to freedom every alliance will be sternly tried. Internal friendship will not be made in a day, nor external friendship for many a day, and there will be how many temptations to hold it all a delusion and scatter the few still standing loyally to the flag. We must understand, then, the bond that holds us together on the line of march, and in the teeth of every opposition. Nothing but a genuine bond of brotherhood can so unite men, but we hardly seem to realise its truth. When a deep and ardent patriotism requires men of different creeds to come together frankly and in a spirit of comradeship, and when the most earnest of all the creeds do so, others who are colder and less earnest regard this union as a somewhat suspicious alliance; and, if they join in, do so reluctantly. Others come not at all; these think our friends labour in a delusion, that it needs but an occasion to start an old fear and drive them apart, to attack one another with ancient bitterness fired with fresh venom. We must combat that idea. Let us consider the attitude to one another of three units of the band, who represent the best of the company and should be typical of the whole; one who is a Catholic, one who is a Protestant, and one who may happen to be neither. The complete philosophy of any one of the three may not be accepted by the other two; the horizon of his hopes may be more or less distant, but that complete philosophy stretches beyond the limit of the sphere, within which they are drawn together to mutual understanding and comradeship, moved by a common hope, a brave purpose and a beautiful dream. The significance of their work may be deeper for one than for another, the origin of the dream and its ultimate aim may be points not held in common; but the beautiful tangible thing that they all now fight for, the purer public and private life, the more honourable dealings between men, the higher ideals for the community and the nation, the grander forbearance, courage and freedom, in all these they are at one. The instinctive recognition of an attack on the ideal is alive and vigilant in all three. The sympathy that binds them is ardent, deep and enduring. Observe them come together. Note the warm hand grasp, the drawn face of one, a hard-worker; of another, the eye anxious for a brother hard pressed; of the third, the eye glistening for the ideal triumphant; of all the intimate confidence, the mutual encouragement and self-sacrifice, never a note of despair, but always the exultation of the Great Fight, and the promise of a great victory. This is a finer company than a mere casual alliance; yet it makes the uninspired pause, wondering and questioning. These men are earnest men of different creeds; still they are as intimately bound to one another as if they knelt at the one altar. In the narrow view the creeds should be at one another's throats; here they are marching shoulder to shoulder. How is this? And the one whose creed is the most exacting could, perhaps, give the best reply. He would reply that within the sphere in which they work together the true thing that unites them can be done only the one right way; that instinctively seizing this right way they come together; that this is the line of advance to wider and deeper things that are his inspiration and his life; that if a comrade is roused to action by the nearer task, and labours bravely and rightly for it, he is on the road to widening vistas in his dream that now he may not see. That is what he would say whose vision of life is the widest. All objectors he may not satisfy. That what is life to him may leave his comrade cold is a difficulty; but against the difficulty stand the depth and reality of their comradeship, proven by mutual sacrifice, endurance, and faith, and he never doubts that their bond union will sometime prove to have a wise and beautiful meaning in the Annals of God.
But the men of different creeds who stand firmly and loyally together are a minority. We are faced with the great difficulty of uniting as a whole North and South; and we are faced with the grim fact that many whom we desire to unite are angrily repudiating a like desire, that many are sarcastically noting this, that many are coldly refusing to believe; while through it all the most bitter are emphasising enmity and glorifying it. All these unbelievers keep insisting North and South are natural enemies and must so remain. The situation is further embittered by acts of enmity being practised by both sides to the extreme provocation of the faithful few. Their forbearance will be sorely tried, and this is the final test of men. By those who cling to prejudice and abandon self-restraint, extol enmity, and always proceed to the further stepthe plea to wipe the enemy out: the counter plea for forbearance is always scorned as the enervating gospel of weakness and despair. Though we like to call ourselves Christian, we have no desire fornay even make a jest ofthat outstanding Christian virtue; yet men not held by Christian dogma have joyously surrendered to the sublimity of that divine idea. Hear Shelley speak: "What nation has the example of the desolation of Attica by Mardonius and Xerxes, or the extinction of the Persian Empire by Alexander of Macedon restrained from outrage? Was not the pretext for this latter system of spoliation derived immediately from the former? Had revenge in this instance any other effect than to increase, instead of diminishing, the mass of malice and evil already existing in the world? The emptiness and folly of retaliation are apparent from every example which can be brought forward." Shelley writes much further on retaliation, which he denounces as "futile superstition." Simple violence repels every high and generous thinker. Hear one other, Mazzini: "What we have to do is not to establish a new order of things by violence. An order of things so established is always tyrannical even when it is better than the old." Let us bear this in mind when there is an act of aggression on either side of the Boyne. There will not be wanting on the other side a cry for retaliation and "a lesson." We shall receive every provocation to give up and acknowledge ancient bitterness, but then is the time to stand firm, then we shall need to practise the divine forbearance that is the secret of strength.
But with only a minority standing to the flag we cry out for some hope of final success. Men will not fight without result for ever; they ask for some sign of progress, some gleam of the light of victory. Happily, searching the skies, our eyes can have their reward. We shall, no doubt, see, outstanding, dark evidence of old animosity; we shall hear fierce war-cries and see raging crowds, but the crowds are less numerous, and the wrath has lost its sting. Men who raged twenty years ago rage now, but their fury is less real; and young men growing up around them, quite indifferent to the ideal, are also indifferent to the counter cries: they are passive, unimpressed by either side. Rightly approached, they may understand and feel the glow of a fine enthusiasm; they are numbered by prejudice, they will become warm, active and daring under an inspiring appeal. Remember, and have done with despair. Think how you and I found our path step by step of the way: political life was full of conventions that suited our fathers' time, but have faded in the light of our day. We found these conventions unreal and put them by. This was no reflection on our fathers; what they fought for truly is our heritage, and we pay them a tribute in offering it in turn our loyalty inspired by their devotion. But their errors we must rectify; what they left undone we must take up and fulfil. That is the task of every generation, to take up the uncompleted work of the former one, and hand on to their successors an achievement and a heritage. Youth recognises this instinctively, and every generation will take a step in advance of its predecessor, putting by its prejudices and developing its truth. Every individual may know this from his own experience, and from it he knows that those who are now voicing old bitter cries are ageing, and will soon pass and leave no successors. Not that prejudice will die for ever. Each new day will have its own, but that which is now dividing and hampering us will pass. Let the memory of its bitterness be an incentive to checking new animosities and keeping the future safe; but in the present let us grasp and keep in our mind that the barrier that sundered our nation must crumble, if only we have faith and persist, undeterred by old bitter cries, for they are dying cries, undepressed by millions apathetic, for it is the great recurring sign of the ideal, that one hour its light will flash through quivering multitudes, and millions will have vision and rouse to regenerate the land.
Happily, it is nothing new to plead for brotherhood among Irishmen now; unhappily, it is not so generally admitted, nor even recognised, that the same reason that exists for restoring friendly relations among Irishmen, exists for the re-establishing of friendship with any outsiderEngland or anotherwith whom now or in the future we may be at war. Friendliness between neighbours is one of the natural things of life. In the case of individuals how beautifully it shows between two dwellers in the same street or townland. They rejoice together in prosperity; give mutual aid in adversity; in the ordinary daily round work together in a spirit of comradeship; at all times they find a bond of unity in their mutual interests. Consider, then, the sundering of their friendship by some act of evil on either side. The old friendship is turned to hate. Now the proximity that gave intimate pleasure to their comradeship gives as keen an edge to their enmity; they meet one another, cross one another, harass one another at every point. The bitterness that is such a poison to life must be revolting to their best instincts; deep in their hearts must be a yearning for the casting out of hate and the return of old comradeship. Still the estranged brothers are at daggers drawn. Sometimes the evil done is so great and the bitterness so keen that the old spirit can apparently never be restored; but while there is any hope whatever the true heart will keep it alive deep down, for it must be cherished and kept in mind if the whole beauty of life is to be renewed and preserved for ever. It is so with nations as with individuals. Once this is recognised we must be on guard against a new error, which is an old error in new form, the taking of means for end. The end of general peace is to give all nations freedom in essentials, to realise the deeper purpose, possibilities, fulness and beauty of life; it is not to have a peace at any price, peace with a certain surrender, the meaner peace that is akin to slavery. No, its message is to guard one nation from excess that has plunged another into evil, to leave the way open to a final peace, not base but honourable; it is to preserve the divine balance of the soul. It may be further urged that we are engaged in a great fight; that to try to rouse in men the more generous instincts will but weaken their hands by removing a certain driving bitterness that gives strength to their fight. Whatever it removes it will not be their strength. In a war admittedly between brothers, a civil war, where different conceptions of duty force men asunder, father is up against son, and brother against brother; yet they are not weakened in their contest by ties of blood and the deeper-lying harmony of things that in happier times prevail to the exclusion of bitterness and hate. When, therefore, you teach a man his enemy is in a deep sense his brother, you do not draw him from the fight, but you give him a new conception of the goal to win and with a great dream inspire him to persevere and reach the goal.
If, then, beyond individual and national freedom there is this great dream still to be striven for, let us not decry it as something too sublime for earth. It must be our guiding star to lead us rightly as far as we may go. We can travel rightly that part of the road we now tread on only by shaping it true to the great end that ought to inspire us all. We shall have many temptations to swerve aside, but the power of mind that keeps our position clear and firm will react against every destroying influence. In the first stage of the fight for internal unity, when blind bigotry is furiously insisting that we but plan an insidious scheme for the oppression of a minority, our firmness will save us till our conception of the end grow on that minority and convince all of our earnestness. Then the dream will inspire them, the flag will claim them, and the first stage in the fight will be won. When internal unity is accomplished, we are within reach of freedom. Yes, but cries an objector, "Why plead for friendship with England, who will have peace only on condition of her supremacy?" And an answer is needed. If it takes two to make a fight, it also most certainly takes two to make a peace, unless one accepts the position of serf and surrenders. But this we do not fear; we can compel our freedom and we are confident of victory. There is still the step to friendship. Many will be baffled by the difficulty, that while we must keep alive our generous instincts, we must be stern and resolute in the fight; while we desire peace we must prosecute war; while we long for comradeship we must be breaking up dangerous alliances: literary, political, trades and social unions formed with England while she is asserting her supremacy must be broken up till they can be reformed on a basis of independence, equality and universal freedom. While we are prosecuting these vigorous measures it may not seem the way to final friendship; but we must persist; independence is first indispensable. Here again, however, while insisting among our own ranks on our conception of the end, it will grow on the mind of the enemy. They may put it by at first as a delusion or a snare, but one intimate moment will come when it will light up for them, and a new era is begun. In such a moment is evil abandoned, hate buried and friendship reborn. There is one honest fear that our independence would threaten their security: it will yet be replaced by the conviction that there is a surer safeguard in our freedom than in our suppression; the light will break through the clouds of suspicion and a star of stars will glorify the earth. For this end our enemy must have an ideal as high as our own; if thus an objector, he is right. But if in the gross materialism and greed of empire that is now the ruling passion with the enemy there is apparently little hope of a transformation that will make them spiritual, high-minded and generous, we must not abandon our ideal: while the meanness and tyranny of contemporary England stand forward against our argument and leave our reasoning cold, we can find a more subtle appeal in spirit, such an appeal as comes to us in a play of Shakespeare's, a song of Shelley's, or a picture of Turner's. From the heart of the enemy Genius cries, bearing witness to our common humanity, and the yearning for such high comradeship is alive, and the dream survives to light us on the forward path. We must travel that path rightly. We can so travel whatever the enemy's mind. More difficult it will be, but it can be done. That is the great significance and justification of Nationalism: it is the unanswerable argument to cosmopolitanism. If the greatness and beauty of life that ought to be the dream of all nations is denied by all but one, that one may keep alive the dream within her own frontier till its fascination will arrest and inspire the world. If this ultimate dream is still floating far off, in its pursuit there is for us achievement on achievement, and each brave thing done is in itself a beauty and a joy for ever. For the good fighter there is always fine recompense; a clear mind, warm blood, quick imagination, grasp of life and joy in action, and at the end of day always an eminence won. Yes, and from the height of that eminence will come ringing down to the last doubter a last word: we may reach the mountaintops in aspiring to the stars.