Catholic is not Irish is not catholic.

Over on Creideamh, Kevin asks:

“…why is there not a definitive account of the relationship between the Irish State and the churches? I’d like to write this book from a theological perspective.”

I’m never going to write that book from a theological perspective but I can from a cultural geography perspective. One of the tricks of secularisation is that it contains a classic bait and switch. What gets your attention is that it promises the realisation of modern subjectivity, freedom, and then sells you a more expensive item: that the view from nowhere is within your personal grasp. By gaining your freedom, you are a different kind of human being. The view from nowhere? That knowledge production will give You perspective on All of the Things. It is why the university could shed its theological roots. It is why people mistake maps for the real world. And it is why drones are built.

The political state encourages a scalar politics that actively promotes the view from nowhere. In Weber’s Politics as a Vocation, the state is defined by its monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Within, and very often without, its boundaries, the state enforces the law using this monopoly across and between scales. It brings the local into play when it collects tax and invokes the national when under threat internally or externally. These scales are not just descriptors which geographers play with. Nor are they spatial containers for social action. Scale is something that occurs in the everyday, bundled together when we walk into a library to borrow a book or watch the war in Syria on television. That the news purports to give us an overview of what is happening in the World brings with it a set of assumptions about the kinds of scalar politics within which many of us live our lives. There is a violence to this process: it strips out the detail of individual pain and death for the conveyance of a story. We are participants in these acts of violence. Scale is similarly obscured in favour of the creation and recreation of a massed public. A public who can be talked at, teased, delineated, probed, analysed and segmented. We are made ‘the public’.

In Ireland we are not particularly good at distinguishing the massed public from a Massed public. Because we didn’t ‘get’ the Enlightenment like Scotland, England or France, social scientific accounts of a political imaginary called Irish society conceive of Ireland as a plurality of homogeneous communities. Consequently, the Irish state tends to be characterised as epiphenomenal, a reflection of a multitude of localisms. Localisms where ‘we all’ have had some control over what the state does in prolonging its violence. ‘Why would you dissent from this position? Aren’t we all in the same boat here?’ ‘Come on, pull on that green jersey cos we are all in this together.’ This may partly explain why the industrial school system persisted for as long as it did: an ideological understanding that there is no system of abuse as such, just the one down the road. There is also a reliance on conflating different senses of ‘community’ across scales. However, the scalar politics of the secular seeks to systematise the local, to plane over the contingency of the local.

An account, definitive or no, of the relationship between the Irish state and the churches ought to work out from an understanding of how publics are created and recreated. It will prompt necessarily political questions and not from a position of Freedom looking back on previous, underdeveloped forms. If it can avoid the unproductive imaginary of ‘Irish society’, it will have made some progress to unravelling the symbolic and actual violence of confusing the Irish state for the people who live here.

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