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THE TWISTED ROOTS OF IRISH PATRIOTISM: ANGLO-IRISH POLITICAL THOUGHT IN THE LATE-EIGHTEENTH CENTURY STEPHEN SMALL The term “patriot” was widely used, highly contested, and consistently powerful in the eighteenth century. It is, however, an ambiguous label; defining it is more problematic than the ease and regularity of its use might suggest. In Ireland it was used by Whiggish MPs, Volunteers, and radical republicans in a manner that conceals a wide and evolving set of attitudes to parliamentary reform, the connection with Britain, and the inclusion of Catholics in the political nation. Indeed Irish patriotism was sometimes such a broad political description as to be almost meaningless, especially during the agitation for free trade and legislative independence when almost everyone wished to be called a patriot. It encompassed social and political conservatives concerned primarily with economic improvement and legislative rights, as well as radical reformers and tentative advocates of separatism. This article examines the underlying languages of an eclectic and at times incoherent Irish patriotism in order to make sense of this breadth, before focusing on those elements that pushed many patriots in the direction of radical reform. After introducing eighteenth-century patriotism as a general concept, the first part of the article describes five key political languages that formed the classic expression of Irish patriotism in the era of the American Revolution: Protestant superiority, commercial grievances, ancient constitutionalism, natural rights, and classical republicanism. This unique combination of languages gave Irish patriots a radical vocabulary that tended naturally to revolutionary republicanism under certain conditions . However they also articulated deep tensions in Irish patriotism that inhibited genuine radicalism in the 1780s. The second half of the article examines these fundamental tensions, especially that between classical republicanism and Protestant superiority. In short, by unraveling the ANGLO-IRISH POLITICAL THOUGHT IN THE LATE-EIGHTEENTH CENTURY 187 twisted roots of patriot rhetoric, the article sheds light on why some Irish patriots developed into radical republicans in the 1790s—and why getting there was such a tortuous journey. INTRODUCTION: EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY PATRIOTISM Eighteenth-century patriotism should first be distinguished from nationalism .1 For though patriotism encompassed certain ideas that could develop into nationalism (such as a love of one’s country, people, and institutions ), patriots tended to have a more liberal outlook than nationalists did. They could be motivated by a desire for national success at the expense of another country, but they were less likely to claim the intrinsic superiority of their own countrymen—and many patriots were genuinely cosmopolitan .2 Richard Price’s patriotism is firmly in this vein, combining universalist conceptions of rights and liberties with a genuine love of country.3 In contrast, nationalism tends to rely on the perceived superiority of one group over another using some combination of ethnic, linguistic , cultural, religious, or historical characteristics. The distinction between patriotism and nationalism is not a precise one, but it is important in the Irish case (as Jacqueline Hill has pointed out) in order to distance Irish patriotism from unhelpful teleological assumptions about its development into nationalism.4 Nor was patriotism simply an early or mild form of nationalism, for it had a distinctive attitude to power, liberty, and the structure of the state not found in nationalism.5 Patriotism was often based on a “republican” opposition to “tyranny,” and this had profound implications for domestic politics that have no parallel in nationalism. Dryden identified this republican edge to the patriot as early as the late-seventeenth century, ANGLO-IRISH POLITICAL THOUGHT IN THE LATE-EIGHTEENTH CENTURY 188 1 M. Viroli, For Love of Country: an essay on patriotism and nationalism (Oxford, 1995). 2 Eighteenth-century English patriotism did have a populist, bellicose dimension, which could be xenophobic, and French patriotism had quasi-nationalist roots in the humiliation of the Seven Years War, but neither carried the ethnic or racial overtones prominent in nineteenth-century nationalism. 3 Richard Price, A Discourse on the Love of Our Country (London, 1790). See also M. Fitzpatrick, “Patriots and Patriotisms: Richard Price and the early reception of the French Revolution in England,” in M. O’Dea and K. Whelan (eds.), Nations and Nationalisms: France, Britain, Ireland and the eighteenth-century context (Oxford, 1995), 211...


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