Desmond Fennell and American left liberalism

Published in 20th Century Social Perspectives, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Feature Article, Issue 3 May/June2013, Letters, Volume 21

Sir,—Desmond Fennell’s concern with ‘ideological contamination’ and ‘colonisation’ of Ireland (HI 21.2, March/April 2013, Letters) seems well placed. This has indeed been on such a scale that lack of comprehensive treatment seems explicable only because other events in recent decades, and reinvigorated interest in the Revolutionary period, have captured the imagination of historians more than erosion of our culture has.

Another factor is that the phenomenon is as contemporary as it is historical. If TV was the Trojan horse in the 1960s, the internet and social media now constitute rampaging Hellenes inside the walls, so the best historical treatment can be only less incomplete than odd theses and dissertations on the shelves of university libraries—no more than an interim report.

Mr Fennell misnames the ‘contamination’ as ‘American left liberalism’. The strictly American element is the earliest and remains the most obvious, the Hollywood penetration that the late John Healy denounced in one of his essays in No one shouted stop, in which Mayo children celebrate Batman and ignore the real hero practising handball down the road. But far more insidious today is the faux-liberalism that sprouts out of the Marxism grafted onto our culture by political correctness and other subterfuges. The Catholic Church may have brought many of its problems down on its own head, yet it did an incalculable amount of good in this country and was an essential part of Irish culture. But that the peddlers of opium of the masses could have done anything but ill cannot be admitted in the brave new post-Catholic PC Ireland, hence RTÉ’s pillorying of Fr Kevin Reynolds last year.

‘American left liberalism’ cannot account for this. Trial by denunciation is rare in American history, whereas it is quite in the Marxist tradition; and not even Joe McCarthy dismissed evidence as ‘irrelevant bourgeois detail’, as Ché did, and as RTÉ clearly believed it to be in Fr Reynolds’s case.

It is worth bearing in mind that any culture or ideology is organic and therefore has a lifespan. Perhaps, however it may grieve Mr Fennell or me, the one in which we grew up is dying. In Translations, Brian Friel’s character Hugh observes: ‘it can happen that a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of . . . fact’. Friel is speaking of the Irish language, but even the English vernacular is under assault today, and cultural pollution is such that in Gaeltacht areas one hears American obscenities intruded into conversations in Irish. ‘Semantic association’ blunts meaning to the point where something not merely alien but evil gains trendy acceptance: a restaurant chain (Mao’s) named after the greatest mass-murderer in history, for instance.
Yet language is our best defence against such contamination. We can resist the cultural erosion of semantic association and dine somewhere else; respond to a greeting with ‘I’m well’, not ‘I’m good’; watch films, not movies; eschew smarmy, wordy, pretentious euphemism in favour of plain speaking: a ‘sex worker’ is a prostitute (chicken-sexers excepted) and ‘at this point in time’ means now.—Yours etc.,

Co. Dublin



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