chapter  6
15 Pages

Natural harmony and “true civilisation”

The ideological impact of the Irish Land League on Anglo-American liberalism
ByAndrew Phemister

This chapter examines the ideological tensions wrought by the Irish Land War (1879–1882) on the political thought of the Euro-American world. Within a broader context of an increasingly positivist liberalism and a growing mistrust of democratic republican ideals, the Irish Land League evinced a particular, and competing, vision of civilisation. Drawing on Ireland’s ambiguous relationship with Enlightenment notions of “progress,” the Land League was able to articulate a non-linear conception of civilisation and an alternative vision of modernity. In this view, agrarian life was the root of civic virtue and the locus of an opposition to a diffuse sociological positivism. Relying on conceptions of natural harmony over rational order, the Irish Land League reanimated a transatlantic republican radicalism and spurred the nascent American labour movement. Additionally, the League’s understanding of land as a distinct form of property and as the keystone for diffusing and democratising economic power brought to the fore longstanding contradictions between capital accumulation and Natural Rights theories. In opposition to this (re)assertion of a natural right to land, new definitions of the nature of value, property, and the state were forged. Consequently, this chapter argues that the political thought of the Land League shaped the development of new “social” liberalism and its philosophical underpinnings.