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The Ulster exception

I’ve talked quite a bit about how left-wing politics in Britain is related to non-Conformism, but there is an exception to that rule—Northern Ireland.


In Northern Ireland, the non-Conformists, the Presbyterians, like the redoubtable Ian Paisley, are on the right—on the radical right, in fact.


Yet their non-Conformist counterparts on the mainland, namely the Liberals, were for Irish home rule—because it fitted with the sentimental idea, “universal love” and sympathy for the weak outsider (the Irish peasant).


The answer to this question is that non-Conformist Christianity can be tempered by reality. 


The Ulster Protestants are basically a colonial people—they’re in “Indian country” and menaced by the natives. This is clear in the way the PIRA will identify with leftist guerrillas—paint up murals of Che Guevara—whereas the Loyalists might identify with Trump (who comes from a similar Scots Presbyterian background).


When confronted with reality, the non-Conformist defends his interests—his fanaticism and belief is directed against a concrete enemy (think about Paisley railing against popery). But in decadent times, this emotionalised belief fixates on abstract issues (like, for example, home rule for the Catholic Irish peasant—who actually has no relation to you, and is hostile to your co-religionists in the north).


This is why you see a tension between Ulster unionists and Conservatives. Nominally, the Conservatives should love the Ulster unionists—but they actually back away from them, as you might back away from some mouth-frothed preacher on the street. 


That’s because the Ulster unionists are not Conservatives. They’re not people who are just for king, tradition, blood—or for slow, reasonable change—they’re fanatical believers in “Orange Ulster”. And that’s more like the left, more like their non-Conformist cousins in the Labour Party (“the Labour Party owes more to Methodism than Marxism”). 


An important cleavage between left-right is between wisdom and belief: wise people deal with things that are concrete—things that can be touched, felt, seen, and smelled. Unwise people deal with abstractions—such as sentimental abstractions about “the Afghan peasant who deserves our Christian love” (as Gladstone spoke of), or today’s “climate refugee”.


Any situation that brings you “back to reality” will temper how far to the left you are—being an embattled settler minority in “Indian country” will make you much more realistic, and your emotionalised tendency to preach will be directed at the hostile out-group (which makes it realistic). 


Imagine another Ulster, one at peace, where a man like Paisley had no “popish terrorists” to preach against—would he have, instead, begun to preach about the need to extend Christian love to the world, to the Afghan peasant? I think it very likely.





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