TOPICS OF THE DAY
IRISH ULTRAS AND ENGLISH RADICALS.
THE Irish Land Leaguers treat England to a good deal of criticism which is unusually frank and • explicit. We are not disposed to complain of such criticism, even when it abounds in such mild adjectives as " brutal," " cowardly," " ferocious," and " detestable," for whether these adjectives represent the real convictions entertained by the Land Leaguers of the British rule, or not, they, at least, represent the impres- sion which they wish the Irish people to take of those con- victions, and there is nothing which is more important to the people of this Island than to understand clearly how gravely the Irish view of Irish politics differs from our own, and how much it concerns us to come to some workable compromise with the Irish as to the practical policy to be pursued. But while we are not disposed to fly into a passion with the Irish Irreconcilables for the singular string of violent epithets which they shower upon our statesmen and the policy endorsed by the English people, we must say we could wish to see some faint indication that the very sincere effort made by Englishmen during the last twenty years to enter into the Irish view of Irish politics, was likely to be met by some corresponding effort on their part to understand the English view of Irish politics ; for, rave as they will, the end must be some kind of compromise to which both peoples agree, and it is no more possible for Ireland to force upon Great Britain a policy which to us seems simply iniquitous and base, than it is for England to force upon Ireland a policy which the Irish think iniquitous and base. There is too much reason to fear that the leaders of the violent party in Ireland refuse to see this; that, to their own minds, they seem to gain an advan- tage, instead of losing one, by steadily shutting their eyes to all views of the situation except their own ; that, like self- willed children, they persuade themselves that if they do but scream long enough to make their friends apprehensive of their going into convulsions, they will get what they ask for, be it wise or be it foolish, be it just or be it unjust. We wish we could persuade them, what it is very necessary for the success of the party which calls itself the popular party in Ireland that they should really learn, that this is very far from being the case,—that the English popular party will go so far in concession to Ireland, and only so far, as their con- science and reason sanction ; and that beyond that, let the Irish popular party pose or scream as it will, Liberal England will not go. They can reach us thfough the reason, and through all sober appeals to our national sympathies and sense of justice. They cannot reach us by merely senseless outcries, and as England has at least a very substantial amount of force on her side with which to back up her own convictions, what Irish politicians with the faintest tincture of statesmanship in them ought to do, is to endeavour to make some rational impression on these convictions, instead of going through a display of frantic gestures, which, to us, whether through our fault or our misfortune, seem either ex- pressive of wholly unfair and unprincipled desires to plunder a class, or simply unintelligible and enigmatic. With the view, then, of helping the Irish popular party to understand, if they desire to understand, the English position, as much as we desire to understand theirs, let us explain to them how their Manifesto of Tuesday affects the minds of English Liberals who have for twenty years fought for a Land Act such as we have now obtained for them, nay, for even more, for absolute fixity of tenure, with an earnestness which seemed for a long time as dreamy and Quixotic to other English Liberals as the national aspirations of Italians appeared five-and- twenty years ago to Austria, and the national aspirations of the Poles appear to Russia now. The Irish may, we think, take for granted that, whether we are right or wrong, those claims of theirs which the Spectator finds utterly immoral or unintelligible, the great mass of the English Liberal Party will think immoral and unintelligible too ; and as Ireland must, in the end, reckon with England's political convictions, whether they be right or wrong, it is at least worth the while of Irishmen to observe how their Mani- festo affects the thoroughgoing English Radical, and appre- ciate what the kind of obstacles are which they are now deliberately planting in the way of their own cause, and of its chances of ultimate success. We do not even ask the Irish leaders to assume for a moment that we are right, but only as much as this,—that, whether we are right or wrong, our view represents that of the high-tide mark of English
Radicalism in relation to these subjects, and therefore that they must either convince us, or at once resign the hope of getting any help at all from any section of English opinion in the absurd crusade on which they have embarked.
To begin with, the English Liberal remarks that the Irish leaders propose to join issue with what they call " the brutal. tyranny" of the British Government, not by declaring war on that Government and refusing it its taxes, but by making war on a small class to whom the Irish tenant-farmer has incurred_ the ordinary obligations of private contract, and by refusing to discharge, in any way whatever, those obligations till Mr._ Parnell and his colleagues are released. Now, let us suppose,. what most of the Land Leaguers probably believe, that Mr. Parnell's imprisonment is as unjust and insulting to Ireland as. this violent document professes to think it, still, where is the- fairness of visiting this sin on the unfortunate landlords, who- are no more responsible for the arrests than the tenant- farmers themselves, who could not have prevented those- arrests, and could not now cancel them ? The Land Leaguers are acting even more unjustly than the Paris Commune acted in 1871, when it shot the Archbishop of Paris and the other hostages, by way of reprisals on the French Government of the day ; for some of those hostages at least had encourage& the attack on the Commune, while the Irish landlords knew nothing of the intentions of the Government to imprison the Executive of the Land League. To begin with, then, to- an English Radical, the summons to cheat the Irish landlord of even his " fair rent," because the British Government has- done something which the Land League think atrociously' unjust and insolent, is a summons to a deliberate iniquity,. and very much resembles the conduct of the man who re- venges himself on his brother-in-law, whom he cannot hurt,. by persecuting his own wife in that brother-in-law's presence,. and so making the brother smart by the sister's wrong. Be the arrest of Mr. Parnell and his colleagues as unjust as we- believe it to have been just and necessary, still the exhortation. to the tenant-farmer to punish the Government by withholding from the landlord even his fair rent is, to our minds, so grossly unjust, and even base, that we doubt even the Communists of France approving the policy. The Land' Leaguers do not pretend to say that all rent is unjust. Evert now, though they propose to plunder the landlord of all except the rent of the wild land, which is as monstrous a proposal of plunder as any, short of the proposal to strip them quite naked„ can be, they admit the absolute right to that absurd minimum of rent. And by speaking of their reluctance to advise the withholding of all rent till the Land League was decidedly at- tacked by the Government, they imply that some rent was just,. and was owed by the tenant to the man to whom he had con- tracted to pay it. Yet now they advise every tenant-farmer to, withhold that just debt until Mr. Parnell and his colleagues are. released. They might just as fairly recommend every Irishman to defer paying his shoemaker, or his tinker, or his tailor, or,. for that matter, his labourer, the debts justly due to them, until Mr. Parnell and his colleagues had been released. The great Manifesto, then, has this vital blot in it,—that it exhorts the Irish tenant-farmer to commit a gross and very arbitrary in- justice on a particular class, by way of retaliating on a. Government which did not consult that particular class on what it did, and will not suffer any more by its sufferings than it would by the sufferings of any other class of Irish subjects.
In the next place, the English Radical observes that this great Manifesto from the Executive of the Land League makes the Land League at last a distinctly illegal organisa- tion, whatever it may have been in the past. Till it was issued, Mr. Gladstone himself held that the Land League's proposed objects were not unconstitutional,—that it was quite possible to be a Land Leaguer, and yet not desire to break the law. Thisis now possible no longer. After the Executive of the Land League has required all its constituents to withhold their just debts till such time as it shall please a Government over which their creditors have no control, to set certain prisoners at liberty, every honest Irishman who wishes to see- just debts paid must separate himself from that Land League. " It is as lawful to refuse to pay rents," says the Manifesto,. "as it is to receive them." The Land League might just as well say, "It is as lawful to break a deliberate contract as it is to fulfil it." It is not lawful to refuse to pay any debt which the creditor knows to be justly due ; nor is it lawful to conspire to get other men to refuse to pay such debts. Whether the British Government has done well or ill in apprehending Mr. Parnell, the Land League has, at last, adopted an ostenta- tiously illegal, as well as unjust, policy, and pronounced itself an illegal organisation. How is it to justify itself politically, for putting this most effective weapon into the hands of its enemies ?
Again, even suppose for a moment that, in a revolution, the most unscrupulous measures ought to be judged rather by their results than by their intrinsic morality,—an assump- tion we utterly detest, and only make hypothetically, in order to exhaust the points of view from which the Irish popular party may probably attempt to apologise for the Manifesto. Still, where is there the probability of success ? An unjust revolu- tionary blow may be struck by a strong revolutionary power, but in Ireland the strong revolutionary power does not exist. Some may tell us that, in the case of the tithe war, passive resistance triumphed, so that it was found impossible to col- lect the tithe by military force. Granted ; but then the con- science of the nation was heartily opposed to the tithe. The Irish felt, and felt most justly, that it was monstrous to tax a people of one religion in order to pay a clergy whom they thought heretical,—teachers of mere falsehood,—for the inculcation of those falsehoods. There is no such leverage for a passive popular resistance now. No one can even pretend that the payment of fair rent is held, even by the most extreme Parnellite, to be intrinsically unjust and immoral. The Land Leaguers themselves do not profess any such doctrine. They ask the tenant-farmers to suspend paying rent only till a par- ticular event happens, which they do not suppose they can bring about in any other way. Well, that makes the case of a passive popular resistance to rent utterly different from the case of a passive popular resistance to tithe. The debtor's "conscience fights against this proposal, not with it. Public opinion outside Ireland, however Liberal and however Irish in its bias, is against it, not with it. And, of course, as a consequence, the justifiable timidity of the Irish farmer will fight on the same side as his conscience. It takes a very strong central power to strike the sort of blow involved in a policy of deliberate confiscation ; and in Ireland no such power exists. The resistance to tithe was not a policy of confiscation. With the fear of eviction—a perfectly just eviction—before the Irish farmer's eyes, will be allied his secret sense of justice, and his absolute certainty that even if this policy of arbitrary confiscation succeeded for a moment, it would only be to render the revolutionary Ireland of to-morrow a much less desirable place to live in than even the oppressed Ireland of yesterday. A powerful Government like the Govern- ment of the French Revolution may secure popular assent to a policy of sharp confiscation, because it can protect those who profit by the confiscation. But, in order to gain any chance for an unscrupulous revolutionary policy, you must secure a visible and impressive revolutionary power. Depend upon it, as soon as the Irish farmer is convinced that he is not to be asked for what he thinks an unfair rent, he will infinitely prefer securing his position by discharging his con- fessed obligations and placing the law on his side, to following violent counsels by which he is well aware that he cannot permanently profit. If Ireland were a republic to-morrow, the payment of rent to somebody must at once begin again ; and what that rent should be would be necessarily determined on the kind of principles on which it is proposed that the new Land Court shall determine it. This the Irish farmer knows perfectly, however much the sense of recent injustice may have perplexed and confused him. He will not relinquish the substance to snatch at the shadow, at the bidding of a set of men all lodged in Kilmainham Jail.
We say, then, of this great Manifesto, that it is, in the first place, grossly and ostentatiously unjust and base, in visiting the supposed sins of the Government on a small class, in no way responsible for those sine ; that in the next place, it com- mits the gross mistake of confessing to all the world the illegal and immoral objects of the Land League ; and in the last place, that it makes the fatal blunder of declaring a revolu- tionary policy, before it has got hold of any revolutionary power by which to carry out that policy,—appealing, indeed, to a timid and wholly unarmed class to consummate a great act of confiscation, without any security for their impunity. Is it not certain that Englishmen,—even of the extreme Liberal school,—will refuse to listen for a moment to the Irish popular leaders, when they recommend such a policy as this ? And yet how are the Irish to throw off what they call the yoke of Great Britain, without convincing even the section of the English people most in sympathy with them, that it is injus- tice, and not justice, against which they are struggling,—that it is fair play, and not foul play, that they want I