Castlereagh: The Irish Brit

The daunting challenge for politicos is reconciling realism to morality.  Without ‘Natural Rights’ doctrine, this cannot be done!  All the more difficult when your Lord Casterleagh, the man responsible for the creation of Presbyterian ‘Orangemen’ that ran the ‘Troubles’ in the north.  I must say, such a reconciliation is far easier when performed from inside a pure ideological grasp of history, one that views ‘stability’ as the final good.  But what of the Arab Spring?  What of revolutions that seek to ground a regime in natural right?  What of the conventions of the majority?  What of the rights of the minority?  Although Madison and the Americans got much right, how is one to reconcile the achievements of Metternich or Casterleagh outside moral realism.  Tricky right!

Being an Irish Catholic, I was hard pressed when reading John Bew’s biography of ‘Casterleagh:  Enlightenment, War and Tyranny’.  I had the same problem when divining, grasping the motivations of those throughout Southeast Asia who admired the impact that became the Truman Doctrine.  I suppose you just have to judge policy (not individual behavior) from the contingencies of the time.  Fair enough.  And what of the need to reconcile?  Is understanding enough!

My own education shapes me to move past understanding, to something far more less empirical, yet just as true; an understanding of moral realism from within the necessity of expressed power.  Ironically, Lincoln like Lord Acton, both knew this was perilous; might cannot make right!  What if ones understanding of right (moral) fortified a policy of violence?  Then the act of violence must be in defense of moral norms.

None of this clarifies Casterleagh and his tenure of Northern Ireland.  Historians find relief in propping up the necessity that London and its proxies in Ireland should construct a Union as bulwark against Republicanism.  True enough.  But how to make sense of the genocidal grasp the Orangemen had over the Fenians?  Has Ian Paisley the depth of Karol Wojtyla?  Is there more to Ulster Unionism than the necessarily constrained view of besieged settlers?

A citation grounded in ‘historicism’ is simply not sufficient.

I’m left believing that Winston Churchill had a far more sophisticated grasp of Casterleagh’s Orangeman than Casterleagh.

I wonder though, can a truly enlightened perspective, a synoptic view of both the limitations of ‘historicism’ and the necessity of realist power be reconciled?  They can, if we honor natural right.  I have in mind James Joyce.

Presently, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) if often portrayed as illiberal and retrogressive, this stands in sharp contrast to the prevailing cosmopolitan outlook that grounded Belfast Unionism.  How did such benign enlightenment impact Joyce?

Casterleagh died in 1822.  A full hundred years before Joyce.  I understand the horrors of academic ignorance; the kind of pastiche that rules the postmodern sensibility.  I have in mind something practical when I city Joyce as an earnest from which to wade though the impact that was Casterleagh and the need to reconcile both the failure of ‘historicism’ as an answer resolving the need to discern a path through ‘power’ & ‘right’.  Joyce is a modernist.  He hated being Irish.  My previous post of Joyce cannot be cited here, but his world-view portrays a self loathing, a devout hatred that borders the satanic.  For Joyce, their is no grace, no foundation from which an individual can find his/her way in the world.  A remorselessness pervades his pages; a grasp totally at odds with sacramental realism.  Only America (natural right doctrine) solves the passionate partisan tribute that was Casterleagh and its impact that became the misplaced optimism of Joyce.  Toynbee, speaks lovingly of ‘penalization’ and its political, social impact in new lands:  Australia, America come to mind.  I struggle to admit it, but I find only within new frontiers of a ‘promised land’ can the perplexed contorted policy of Casterleagh be resolved.  The only other ‘non answer’ is a sentimental optimism, a reflexive moralism unsuited to the rigors of serious inquiry.

My own need to resolve Casterleagh was discovered in the insight that goaded Churchill throughout his time in Whitehall.  The man had boatloads of character!

It is understandable that Dr. Bew’s biography of an unsympathetic subject is a most difficult endeavor.  I found myself at the end of this biography deeply sympathetic to a most difficult man.

Dr. Bew like Churchill, helped an Irish Catholic understand a man and his perilous times. But for the Grace of God . . .

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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