Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
TO explain Ireland as it is today I must go back rather more than a quarter of a century. I do not think the intellectual character of the Irish revolution has been understood outside Ireland. The cables are in love with battle, murder and sudden death. For all these there is a broad highway, but not for beauty, not for the spirit, not for the cultural forces which are the inspiration of great movements and lie at their inception as the seed at the root of the great tree.
I think if the intimate history of the past quarter of a century in Ireland was truly told it would be one of the most fascinating of stories because of the variety of character, the poetry, beauty, imagination and thought which had been awakened. The heights as well as the depths of national life were stirred. There was heroism as well as devilry in it. Poets, scholars and economists contributed to the resurrection as well as politicians and fighters. There were movements in many directions which seemed dissociated from each other but which worked in a harmony which can now be recognized. The unborn State might have been the invisible captain of the host. They all contributed to the fire which went on blaze in Easter, 1916. I shall endeavor to show what the forces were and their interaction on each other, and later how far the ship of state which was launched found itself and the direction in which it is moving.
It might be thought in a country in which for over a century so many millions of Irish emigrants found a home, that the character of the Irish revolution would be well understood, that these millions would explain everything. But during that century or more in which Ireland sent out so many millions of its people there had been an alien domination over the Irish soul. It had become almost oblivious of its own past. The emigrants could tell indeed of the lamentable state of the country they had left. They could speak truly of contemporary history. But they could not speak about the soul of Ireland, about that which endures from century to century. Why could they not speak about that? Because state policy in Ireland had operated to crush out the Irish culture and language, that is, to extinguish national memory. Our rulers had not the wisdom to make the country bilingual, to enrich it by knowledge of a language so widely spoken as English, which would have given access to a world culture, while at the same time preserving the national language, which would have permitted access to the ancestral self of the nation. The language faded out from city and field until it became the dialect of a dwindling folk on the western seaboard.
In losing their language the Irish last century lost memory of their own past. They were like a man whom some accident has bereft of memory and who has to begin life over again. A hateful youth was imposed on our people. You may imagine the loss if you suppose of the Romans, Persians or some other conqueror of Greece that they had substituted Latin or Persian for Greek, that the Greeks could not read the records of their own past history and culture, that Homer, Pericles, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Plato had become names without significance and even the scholars could not read them. In the century during which millions of Irish left Ireland the emigrants in the cultural sense were almost denationalized. In the political sense they were passionately national, that is, they desired to be self-ruling. But in the spiritual sense they had lost character, race memory, history, culture, tradition, all that binds a people from century to century and makes the present a unity with the past. Fundamentally it was because of the re-emergence of that cultural and spiritual nationality that the Irish revolution took place. If you are to understand that revolution you must know something of the ideas which were the inspiration of its leaders. The average man may not understand fully the thoughts that move his kind, but he has the same elements in his being and when the banner is displayed he becomes self-conscious and reels after the shepherds who call.
Towards the close of the last century the river of nationality which had been so long submerged, which had run like an underground river, welled up again in shining springs. What had happened? The scholars had been at work. There were many translations from the Irish, and the effect was like the rising of a fog. Instead of a vision blurred beyond almost contemporary history, immense vistas began to open. There are few nationalities in Europe with so ancient a culture. The Latin domination over Europe had obliterated in France, in England, in Spain, wherever it reached, almost all traces of the culture which had preceded it. In Ireland, which was never a part of the Roman Empire, this was not so. It is a sign of immense cultural antiquity when a nation has its own cosmic and creation myths, and literature in Gaelic is so ancient that its Sagas go back to a period comparable with the Homeric stories in the character of the civilization they reveal. There are three cycles of legends gathering about three periods of that ancient Irish civilization, and there is also a rich mediaeval literature and poetry, and much of that ancient literature stirs the imagination as deeply almost as anything in the Greek mythological cycles. Those who have read Lady Gregory's two volumes of translations, "Gods and Fighting Men" and "Cuchulain of Muerthemore," will realize the beauty and imaginative powers in those ancient stories. Why do I go back thousands of years in order to make you understand a revolution which took place yesterday? Because the men who were the prime agents in that revolution were men in whom that ancient culture had been re-incarnated. I might say of Padraic Pearse, who was the leader of the insurrection in 1916, that he had made his soul out of the Gaelic tradition. He might be called its last militant champion. He and the men who were with him sounded the last trumpet for the Gaels and the dead were raised from the graves of fear, unbelief or despair by their sacrifice.
I confess I did not realize where the new movement was tending, though I became aware of a new spirit in Ireland at the close of last century. Through all that century the Irish people had their eyes turned to Westminster, where they sent a hundred members to state the case for the Irish nation. On the whole they stated it eloquently and well and they did secure many reforms in the government of Ireland. Through them came the downfall of feudalism in Ireland, the acts which brought about the transfer of land from landlord to tenant. That was the greatest achievement of Parliamentary Nationalism. But towards the close of the last century as if by an instinct or a conviction that little more could be accomplished by sending even the most eloquent advocates to the Parliament of another country, a number of Irishmen operating in many different directions began to turn their eyes from England. They did not believe in patriotism by proxy, in electing men for five years to be patriotic on their behalf. They were believers in direct action. It was the beginning of Sinn Fein, which is a word whose significance is self-reliance. That spirit began to manifest in many ways. There was the economic movement promoted by that great Irish statesman, Sir Horace Plunkett. Instead of talking to farmers about what the state might or should do for them he showed them what they could and ought to do for themselves. He made them self-reliant. He brought over a thousand farmers' associations into being, dairy and agricultural and credit societies, with trade federations binding them together. Those associations were all trying to manufacture and market their products efficiently. Instead of working individually, every man for himself and the devil take the rest, they began to work together, to buy together, to manufacture together, to market together. The agricultural atoms conspired to create an organism so developed that there arose in it that consciousness of identity of interest which was the ancient Greek conception of citizenship. It was not only a great economic achievement, but a great moral achievement, and the spirit engendered in that movement overflowed and affected Irishmen in other movements.
I, as a worker in that movement, went much through Ireland and I became aware of another movement whose agents were also in every county. That was the Gaelic movement which was trying to do in the cultural sphere what Sir Horace Plunkett's Agricultural Organization was doing in the economic sphere. By direct action, by the sacrifice or devotion of young men and women, they were trying to create or rather to revive a native Irish culture. I did not realize what intensity of feeling, what a poetic passion was at the service of the Gaelic League, until about thirty years ago while I was in a little Galway town I found that Douglas Hyde, poet and scholar, the president of the Gaelic League, was there. He asked me to come and speak at his meeting and as I listened to that thrilling voice I realized how great a fire was being kindled. He was evoking the soul of Ireland, bringing into nationalism those spiritual and cultural elements without which politics are arid, bringing into life the beauty for which men are ready to die. Though he was never a politician, to him more than to any other man was due the reawakening of the true spirit of nationality. He is an old man now, but when I see him in his quiet old age I am reminded of Wells's story of the Food of the Gods and of the scientist who discovered it, little knowing what a gigantic brood would arise to dominate the earth. In Wells's story that scientist in his old age was wheeled about in an invalid chair and people pointed him out whispering, "That is the man who invented the Food." When I meet Hyde, for all that he never was a politician, I see in him the fire bringer, who piled the wood which made so great a blaze when it was kindled.
About the same time Irish literary men began to declare their spiritual independence. Standish O'Grady, Yeats, Synge, Lady Gregory, Douglas Hyde, Edward Martyn, Alice Milligan, Katherine Tynan and later Padriac Pearse, Lennox Robinson, Padriac Colum, Seumas O'Sullivan, James Stephens, Dunsany, Austin Clarke and a score of others grew to repute. The greatest of these found their inspiration not in English tradition but in Irish tradition. I could see the effect upon them. Yeats when he was a boy was imitating Shelley. Then he discovered the Gaelic tradition, he came to himself and out of one of the most famous of Gaelic stories he made his first wonderful poem, "The Wanderings of Usheen," which made lovers of literature know that a great poet, the peer in genius of Shelley, Keats or Coleridge, was living. I remember talking over Synge with Yeats. We believed Synge had talent, but he had written nothing in evidence of that. Then Synge went and lived among the Gaelic speaking people in the Aran Isles and came back with the marvellous "Riders to the Sea," "The Playboy of the Western World," and we knew that Ireland had given birth to a dramatist of genius. Lady Gregory had been writing books of gossip. She also studied Irish, and another great dramatic talent was born out of the contact. James Stephens in his boyhood was imitating Browning. He also, affected by the Gaelic revival, studied Irish literature and wrote those enchanting fantasies, "The Crock of Gold," "Deirdre" and "In the Land of Youth." All these and many others became as people reborn after they had bathed in the Gaelic fountain. Besides these there were other Irish not of that fold, men like George Bernard Shaw and George Moore, who had won international repute, and a new pride was born in Ireland over all these. They were proof of the quality of intellect and imagination in the Irish and Anglo-Irish stock. We knew that no country in the world was producing literature of finer quality than our own, and that fact also was contributing to the new self-confidence of Irish nationality.
An Irish theatre was started which since its inception has produced nearly three hundred plays, many of which have been translated and acted in Europe and some have come to America. I mention the names of Synge, Yeats, Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, George Moore, Bernard Shaw, Lord Dunsany, Padriac Colum, Lennox Robinson, Sean O'Casey, T. C. Murray, all of them known outside Ireland. The starting of that Irish theatre, like the starting of Sir Horace Plunkett's agricultural societies, like Douglas Hyde's branches of the Gaelic League, was direct creative action. Ireland had begun to act from its own will and its own centre.
Labor whose organization in Ireland had long been feeble also stirred and began to create a solidarity of itself, drawing into its unions the agricultural workers, and to evolve its own conception of an Irish civilization. All these movements were unconcerned about party politics, yet they were intensely national, and early in the century a journal, the "United Irishman" whose title later was "Sinn Fein," was started by Arthur Griffiths, a man of most powerful and logical intelligence, who, if he had sold his pen, might have made a great fortune for himself; but he had but one idea, the political, economic and cultural resurrection of his country, and for twenty years he labored in poverty and obscurity until the political ideals associated with his journal became the ideals of the majority. He had no hope of achieving political freedom by appealing to Westminster. He also had the conviction that the political salvation of Ireland must be wrought in Ireland itself.
During the first decade of this century every one of these movements had evolved ideals of its own, conceptions of an Irish state, of an Irish culture, of a social order and civilization. The farmers had begun to see the possibility of a rural civilization with its workers organized in a coöperative association for purchase, manufacture and sale, using the profits to build village halls, to endow libraries, creating little village republics with presidents and cabinet directing the business, linked together by national federations into a solidarity of interest and effort. Labor, though far less powerful in Ireland than it is in highly industrial communities, had begun through James Connolly to formulate its own ideals of a coöperative commonwealth, in which the workers coöperatively organized in the cities would link up with the farmers through joint use of the same federations. The manufacturers were founding Industrial Development Associations, while the leaders of the Gaelic revival and of the Anglo-Irish literary movement were trying to create a new soul for the country in which there would be a marriage of the national culture with the new and the aged thought of the world.
At that time, a few years before the beginning of the European war, Ireland was heavy with dreams and imaginings about itself. It was like a cloud charged with electricity from which the flash must soon come. Everywhere there was being stored up that intensity of feeling which must translate itself into action. Men were so obsessed by their ideals that they were prepared to make any sacrifice for them, even of life itself. I began to hear of Irish volunteers, of bodies of young men who were drilling and arming in secret as if they had some inner prevision that the world would soon be at war, and the graves of nationalities might be opened by some miracle, and the buried nation arise if so be there was courage in the living to strike a blow on their own behalf. I have spoken about the cultural and psychic character of the revolutionary Ireland because we were still in the cultural stage, concerned more with what was within than what was without. We had not externalized our culture in a mechanism or civilization, and the leaders of the revolution as I knew them were all on fire with ideals. I confess I did not at first take this militant nationalism very seriously. I was temperamentally a pacifist, more interested in the national culture than in the state. Besides, we had listened to wild talk about fighting for freedom which never came to anything. Most people who heard that kind of oratory had grown cynical. We had no means of gauging the sincerity of these young men who looked back to Wolfe Tone, to Emmet, to Lord Edward FitzGerald and to John Mitchell, the heroes and martyrs of a hundred years before. Then the World War broke out, all Europe was ablaze and the heat was felt in Ireland. It might never have set Ireland in a blaze but for the fact that there were two movements in which men had been brought to despair. Padraic Pearse, the poet and a leader in what I may call cultural nationalism, felt that if another generation passed and nothing was done the national and Gaelic soul of Ireland was doomed. The language would be gone beyond resurrection, and, that gone, the Irish nation would be dead. There would be people living in Ireland of course, but not an Irish nation. He was ready to face death for his ideal. Then there was the labor movement which had just emerged defeated from the greatest strike ever known in Ireland. They were desperate, and their leader, James Connolly, a sombre concentrated man with a powerful character and intellect, felt, I think, that labor, defeated as it was in its own objects, might yet become the savior of the nation, it might raise its status in Ireland by sacrifice, and it was Connolly and his friends I believe who first determined on an insurrection. These two hopes and these two despairs united. Connolly communicated with Pearse, who, after considering for a day, decided to come in with him, he and all he could influence among the volunteers. I was told this later by my friend Constance Markieviez, who acted as the gobetween. But of all that was stirring few people in Ireland were aware, for there were but a few who were wrought up for so desperate an enterprise. There were only eleven hundred men in that insurrection which broke out at Easter in 1916 and who became the masters of Dublin for a week. I had no suspicion of this enterprise. Rumor generally has a thousand tongues in Ireland, but now they were stilled and bragged nothing. I went away to the country for two or three days holiday and returned to Dublin to find a pillar of fire and smoke rising heavenwards from the heart of the city where these few hundred desperate men fought for the freedom of their country against the soldiers of the most powerful empire in the world. I need not repeat the history of that insurrection. The cables are in love with battle and revolution, and the external history was told as elsewhere abroad. So sudden and desperate was the enterprise, so great a shock was it to the nation, that the first general feeling I think was of anger. Then came the execution of Pearse and Connolly, MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett and other leaders, and the feeling changed. These men had died for their country. None could laugh at them any more. They had spoken greatly, but life cannot utter greater words than it can meet by sacrifice. High talk with them was equalled by high fate. The price was paid, and all over Ireland young men who had thought but lightly of the leaders of that revolution while living, recoiled from their cynicism and brooded on the heroes and martyrs of their country in pride and penitence.
For a year after there was little outward sign of a change of feeling. It might almost have been thought the sacrifice was unavailing. But I knew it could not be so. A year after the insurrection I walked in Sackville Street and looked on the ruins, and remembered that a year before men I had known intimately had been there, and had died for their country, and my heart was melted and I wrote some verses embodying I think the new feeling which had arisen in Ireland about Pearse and his comrades:
Last year at Easter there were faces pale and bright, For the Lord had arisen from the grave which is fear. Hearts were airy, eyes filled with inner light; It was wrought, this miracle, among the ruins here.
Among the ruins here last Easter year awoke The timeless immortal, and for a sheaf of hours It was fearless, wilful, laughing, though on it broke The wrath of the iron age, the weight of the iron powers.
They were not vanquished, the stars were on their side, The hosts of stars that glitter about their heavenly goal They see, as torch from torch is kindled, the fires flash wide, A host of kindling spirits in the dark of Ireland's Soul.
These were a host now of kindled spirits, young men and women, who began again the struggle. The years before the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in 1921 were terrible years. Through these years Ireland was veritably the country of the Young. Youth dominated the political life of Ireland. Its elders shivered, half fascinated, half terrified by the exploits of youth. There were terrible as well as noble things done. No people can take to war and expect that all their own soldiers any more than those they fight against will be animated by the antique chivalry of legend, by the spirit which made Cuculain and Fardiad pause and embrace in the midst of the combat as told in one of the greatest of Irish stories, or which made the ancient Queen Maeve look over the walls of her city on her enemies encamped about it, and cry out with a glow of heroic admiration, "Noble and regal is their appearance." That ancient chivalry is gone, and nations when they fight claw at the very spirit in their rage, and the smoke from burning cities and houses swirled round the feet of the war god in Ireland. The end of that struggle you know. Our rulers felt they could no longer withhold from the Irish freedom to govern themselves to build up their own civilization, culture and social order, to choose their own heroes and ideals. The price had been paid in sacrifice and the moral conscience of the world was stirred. It felt the quality of unbreakable will in the new Ireland when Terence MacSwiney made that long hunger strike in Brixton prison, dragging himself to death minute by minute, hour by hour, through long terrible weeks while Europe looked on in wonder at that unshaken will, that spirit which burned brightly in the body's lamp to the last thread of the wick. There were heroic as well as terrible things done. It was the price we were forced to pay because a hundred years of peaceful constitutional action with the whole nation behind it had not brought freedom. Those who charge us with violence must remember that there were one hundred years of constitutional agitation without result. Let those who condemn answer why were those millions denied their freedom when for a hundred years they pursued it by peaceful methods, while it was granted when a few thousand men took to arms. I am a pacifist by temperament, but what can I answer when the failure of one movement with millions behind it is compared with the success of that other movement of force with but a few thousand in arms? I cannot reply.
Yet having aroused the war spirit we suffered from it ourselves, for there was an unexpended militarism after the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed and the Irish Free State came into being. After those agonizing years of conflict with Great Britain we had civil war between those who accepted the Anglo-Irish Treaty and those who held out for the full freedom of an Irish Republic. It is only just that I should say here how much during those years of struggle we owe to the sympathy and the practical help received from the citizens of America and not merely those with Irish ancestry. If there had not been this American sympathy openly expressed I doubt that we would ever have had the Irish Free State. I was in London for a week during the years of struggle and sought out Lord Northcliffe, the proprietor of the Times, who remembered that he was an Irishman. He asked me, "What can I do to help?" I said he could bring American opinion to bear upon English opinion, that his vast organization would enable him to get in touch with the leaders of opinion in the United States. In less than a week he had column after column of American opinions in the papers he controlled, the voice of America's prominent statesmen, lawyers and industrialists, and it was so unanimous in favor of Irish self-government that I think it was mainly responsible for the feeling which arose in Great Britain that the Irish question was not only a domestic problem but was a world question. It was due to the lavish generosity of American citizens that our country, so ravished by war, was able to support the derelicts of that war, the wives and children of prisoners, and those whose means of livelihood had been destroyed. Ireland can never forget that America was its Samaritan. It is one country in Europe at least where there is neither fear nor envy of her greatness, but only gratitude.
It was a great tragedy, that civil war, and it was the greater because it was possible to make a reasonable, even a noble case, for both parties in the conflict. Anyhow, the civil war has now come to an end. Those who defended the Anglo-Irish Treaty and those who fought against it have come together at last and are working the same constitution if for different ends. The will of the majority is accepted by both as the expression of the national will.
What are we to say of this new state which has come into being as the outcome of so many dreams and so much sacrifice and such bitter conflict? This Irish State is the condensation of the fiery cloud, the equilibrium of the storm. Yet the reality appears to many to be so unlike the dream that they are dissatisfied. They do not recognize this as what they fought for, but I think there is a justice in human affairs and it brings to every people what in essence they worked for and loved. A nation is what it loves, and only what it loves can be said truly to be its own. I feel that our love for our own tradition which was so intense had not extended to include with sympathy and comprehension the Ulstermen and their ideals. I think our northern countrymen felt that our claim that they should be included in the Free State was a claim born out of our pride more than out of our affection. They did not feel that Nationalist Ireland understood their economic system or sympathized with their culture and tradition. They thought, I believe wrongly, that Nationalist Ireland would constrain them by force into the mold of the new ideal. They resisted inclusion in our Irish Free State, and so we have two self-governing communities in Ireland. The nation was reincarnated as twins. I believe they are growing friendlier to each other. They are watchful of each other, and in each case with some obscure pride, arising out of their fundamental Irishry, they wish each other well. I believe they can be brought together, but not by force, only by the exhibition in the Free State of tolerance, efficiency and prosperity. Unity must come gradually. I think it will come through some application of the Federal principle, leaving to Northern Ireland its control over things it regards as essential, while joining with the Free State perhaps in a custom union, in agricultural policy, in transport, post and services which do not impinge on culture and tradition, which are strong and diverse in both communities.
But of the Free State itself. What of those rich dreams which were the inspiration of its revolutionary leaders? What has survived the storm of the conflict with Great Britain, the agony of civil war? Two movements have carried their freight of ideas safe to harbor. One movement is cultural, the other economic. The Gaelic idealists have had their way. In every school in Ireland the Irish language is being taught. The next generation will be bilingual. The nation will have access through Irish to its ancestral self. It will have access through English to the thought of the world. An Irish character will be preserved in Ireland. It can never more be the undiluted Gaelic state. The history of seven hundred years cannot be wiped out, the mingling of Saxon, Dane, Norman, with the original stock has brought about a more complex mentality than our Gaelic forefathers had. No one can say, because it depends on the appearance of that incalculable element of genius, whether the complete wedding of Gaelic imagination with world thought will give us a new literature. With Yeats, with Synge, with Hyde, with O'Grady, there was that element of novelty, of surprise in their discovery of the Gaelic culture which excites the imagination. When all is familiar will the imagination be stirred? Will it turn with more intensity than Yeats, O'Grady, Synge, Hyde, Stephens, or Lady Gregory turned to the Gaelic fountain? I cannot say. It is quite possible that the Irish imagination may reach full saturation point with its own culture, and young men may become more excited about the new or the aged thought of the world. Nothing is more certain than this, that no country can marry any particular solution of its problems and settle down to live happily and unchanged ever afterwards. There is a tendency in each generation to revolt against the ideas of the generation before it. While I hope we shall always keep an Irish character I am sure it will be richer and more creative if it is not altogether self-centered, if it accepts science and the aged and new thought of the world. The tendency of islanders is to develop egomania, to dream of self-sufficiency, but I agree with Trotsky in this, if I agree with him in little else, that "anything is national which vitalizes the nation." I am sure we will not lose what is our own by heredity and character if we open our hearts and our minds to the world.
The second movement which has carried its freight safe to harbor was that created by Sir Horace Plunkett for the coöperative organization of agriculture. It had a long fight, but now is accepted by all parties and it has state support. This is the most practical movement of any, and in a sense it is as ideal as any. It makes its ostensible objects the complete organization of Irish farmers for credit, purchase, manufacture and marketing, but it employs for such material ends a principle of brotherhood in industry which insensibly yet surely affects the moral consciousness. It unites the man in the fields with his neighbors through an association for business purposes, and it unites the local associations with the nation by their union in national federations. Even if a man be naturally selfish he must begin to place the welfare of the community before his own when he is in an organization so constituted that when it succeeds he prospers, as it fails he fails also.
In an agricultural country the parish is the cradle of the nation and the ideas generated there overflow into the legislature. That identity of consciousness of interest generated among the farmers by their organization will in the end make men truly citizens of their country. Year by year these associations are becoming more efficient in the technique of production and marketing, and as the founder of the movement, Sir Horace Plunkett, grows old, he has found a true foster father of it in the Free State Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Hogan, one of the ablest men flung up by the Irish revolution.
The labor movement has not been so fortunate as those others. Its dreams lie at present in the valley of defeated dreams. In Dail Eireann, the Irish legislature, the labor deputies have now become most able parliamentarians, but the labor unions have, as I think, retrograded and are weaker than before the revolution. The difficulty is not in getting men who can lead, but the rank and file are uneducated, and I fear that labor will not improve its position until a new generation, better educated than the present, takes up the hard task of integrating the workers into the national being.
In literature and drama the creative impulse is still vital. New writers of great ability, Sean O'Casey, Liam O'Flaherty, Austin Clarke, Frederick Higgins, Frank O'Connor, Pamela Travers and others are at the outset of careers which will make them famous.
I have spoken of movements, now I must speak of governments. What of our statesmen? Have they ability? I think Ireland was very fortunate in this, that its revolution threw up at least half a dozen men of great practical ability to form the first government. They found the country distracted after years of conflict. They have made it as peaceful and crimeless as any country in the world. Part of their inheritance from the old régime was about forty Government Boards. They took these and welded them into a few Departments with a logic and practical reason for their existence -- Finance, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Fisheries, Local Government and Justice. They have lowered taxation. The income tax is lower than it is in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They were able to abolish duties on tea, cocoa, coffee and to reduce the duty on sugar. They created a new police force, which with extraordinary moral courage they launched unarmed upon the country while it was yet in a state of civil war. They thought that even the armed opposition would not attack an unarmed police force and their confidence was justified. One of the evils foretold of the coming into power of Irish Nationalism was that there would be an orgy of jobbery. John Dillon, the leader of the old Parliamentary party, thought that when Ireland got self-government there would be twenty-five years of the worst jobbery any country ever saw. But the men of the new movement which superseded his were not of that character. They were ready to face death for their ideals and they were equally ready to face life, to risk unpopularity. One of the first things the new government did was to create a Civil Service Commission, which removed the possibility of patronage out of minister's hands -- and later came a Public Appointments Commission. All Civil Service appointments, all technical or important posts under local government, are filled by these two commissions. Where examinations can test the merits of candidates there are examinations. When the post to be filled is technical, when doctors, engineers, surveyors, chemists, bacteriologists or instructors have to be appointed there are panels of experts who place in order of merit the men with the highest qualifications, and the first in order gets the post. Never, I think, did a government coming to power after a revolution throw over so completely the doctrine "the spoils to the victors." Not in England, not in Europe, and, I think, not in America has there been such a determination to have honest administration. Where a county council or a city corporation have proved themselves inefficient or corrupt, the government has been ruthless in dissolving it. It supersedes any inefficient or corrupt council or corporation, puts in able and efficient commissioners and when the finances are restored and the administrators cleaned up, restores the council to the electors once more. This kind of honesty makes enemies. But our ministers have not sacrificed honesty to popularity. I believe they are making a good tradition to replace a bad one and in a generation the civil service and local government will be transformed. In the past popularly elected bodies regarded the powers of patronage as one of their most valued privileges and only too often were votes bought and sold. That has been put an end to, an end attended with great mourning and lamentation by the corrupt, but it has brought confidence in the new order to all honest men.
Is there a dark side to this colored picture? What are the dangers and defects of the new state? Our great trouble arises from the long neglect of education under the old régime. I think about 80 percent of children who attended the national schools left at the age of twelve, when they had learned to read and write, but before they had learned what thinking really means. That is, they left the schools just at the time when real education ought to begin. It is that lack of education which hampers development in all directions. It is not enough to have agricultural experts in every county, because too many of the farmers' sons who come to lectures have not been educated up to the point where they could take full advantage of the instruction given. Politically we suffer because so many of the electors are hardly emerged from the folk state of mind. Their fathers and grandfathers were fed on folk tales, legends of the King of Ireland's Son or of Finn MaCool and other heroes of folk lore. The folk imagination believes anything. It creates ships of gold with masts of silver and white cities by the sea and rewards and faëries, and when that folk mind turns to politics it is ready to believe anything almost. The pleasantest tale, not the truest, told from a platform wins the vote. But our education, political and economic, is rapidly progressing. The new state insists on attendance at school up to the age of fourteen, and it is reforming technical education and arranging for continuation classes after the primary school. We have to spend a great deal of money on education because we are so poor. I think our people have plenty of natural intelligence, and when they have an edge put on their minds by a better cultural and technical education I believe they will run their country at least as efficiently as the people do in any other state.
In speaking of Ireland I have dealt with the thought inspiring it more than with mechanisms or institutions and that was inevitable, because thirty years ago the Irish were the most unorganized people, I think, in Europe. If I had to make a heraldic design symbolic of the people at that time I would have had three figures, the very small farmer, the very small trader, the very small manufacturer, all isolated from each other. We were a late survival in Europe of the cultural state of society, where what is within, the dreams, ideas, imaginations, are more important than what is without. We had not externalized the Irish genius or character in an external mechanism or civilization, as France, Italy, England, Denmark, Holland and other nations had done. We could not do this because the nation could not act from its own will and its own center. It was governed by another country, and as with all submerged nationalities its life was by way of dream and aspiration and action was by subterranean plotting.
The change so long delayed, from the internal to the external, from the cultural to its manifestation in a civilization or economic mechanism, is taking place rapidly. The nation is becoming an organic unity and this process is going on in a hundred directions. It began when Sir Horace Plunkett took the unorganized small farmers and made them combine in dairy, agricultural and credit societies. That began before the Free State came into being. Since its inception the impulse to bring about an organic unity has been accelerated. The farmers are no longer marketing individually or even in societies. They are creating a new marketing association which will market their products nationally. There were half a dozen competing railway companies in the Free State. Now they are amalgamated, there is only one company, and an effort is now being made to coördinate rail and road transport. The small manufacturers are beginning to form combines obeying the law now universal in industry. The government has capitalized a vast scheme by which the water power in the Shannon River will be made to yield electricity for the whole country, and cheap light and power will be distributed from that generating station to every county. The scheme should be in operation by the close of this year, with incalculable consequences to both our economic and intellectual life. Our many political parties have resolved themselves into two groups which have politically swallowed up the rest. The forty odd Boards and Departments are now cemented in a logical structure. What is happening is that an organic unity is coming about in our national life, a political, cultural and economic organization is being created, the mechanism which statesmen can operate and develop for the well-being of the country. No people in the modern world can prosper economically until they have created such an organization, and in the Free State this is being created rapidly.
When we have made ourselves into the highly efficient modern state, shall we lose the cultural and romantic character, the idealism which made Ireland dear to our hearts? I know that Spengler, whose philosophy of history has influenced so many, holds that the soul of a nation is dead when it has externalized itself in a civilization. I think he sees only one curve in the arc and does not see the contrary or balancing curve. I have no doubt there is some incorruptible spiritual atom in the Irish character which will be lit when there is outer darkness. But undoubtedly we are tired of struggle to-day. The mood which is most widely spread is a half cynical, but rather cheerful materialism. It manifests itself in efforts to organize agriculture, to create industries, to have peace at all costs, and the later writers like James Joyce, Sean O'Casey, Brinsley MacNamara, Liam O'Flaherty are the reaction from the generation which, with Yeats as its chief figure, created the most mystical, romantic and idealistic literature in Europe. I take the writers as weather vanes which indicate the way the wind is blowing, and I see among the still younger writers a dislike of that realism and the beginnings of a new idealistic literature, possibly the germ of a new ideal nationalism strengthened by its temporary descent into matter. But to speculate on that is to prophesy and I started to write this rather as the historian of an epoch. It is tempting to prophesy, but I am sure prophecy is not what the Editor asked from me, and I desist at a time when my article was becoming most interesting to myself.