I wrote some time back that discussion of the rights and wrongs of the Easter Rising seemed to be entirely focused on Just War Theory, a theory probably not best suited to judge a rebellion. The discussion still seems focused there, even though the best known proponent of Just War Theory, Thomas Aquinas, draws a distinction between war and sedition (conflict between parts of the state), and states that there is no sedition in disturbing a government which is not directed towards the common good1.
Philosophy of Rebellion – a brief history
This idea has roots in Isidore of Seville’s suggestion that an unjust ruler was no ruler at all, and John of Salisbury’s endorsement of killing tyrants under specific circumstances2. In the natural law tradition the validity of tyranicide was still argued into modern times. Some argued that only judges or the pope could intervene, but others such as Luis de Molina SJ (1535-1600) said that a tyrant who was an usurper or invader ‘can be justly killed by any member of the commonwealth’ as long as the action would not cause greater evil3.
2016 has started with a debate over the ethics of the 1916 Rising, primarily in the Irish Times. The first shot was fired by Patsy McGarry  who argued that the Rising was “an immoral and anti-democratic act organised by a minority within a minority, who, looking into their own souls, saw there what they deemed was right for the Irish people.” McGarry pointed to the messianic leanings of Pearse and the unilateral nature of the violence.
Diarmaid Ferriter wrote a reply  regarding Pearse’s self-image as a Christ-figure and pointing out its parallels in the 1966 (printed 1972) critique of Fr Francis Shaw . But what of the suggestion that the Rising was immoral?
A piece from 2014 in the Unthinkable column had already featured an argument from James G Murphy that the Rising failed the “Just War” test, where to be justified wars must (have: “1) just cause, (2) competent authority, (3) comparative justice, (4) right intention, (5) reasonable prospect of success, (6) last resort, and (7) proportionality.” Murphy concluded: “Private individuals have no business or right to go to war. Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising take note” . Murphy extended the case in 2016, arguing that aspects of the commemoration are deeply problematic, setting the Rising up as the key moment in the establishment of the Irish State, without questioning its violence and divisiveness. He reiterates the key issue regarding the legitimacy of the Rising : Continue reading “Debating the ethics of 1916”
Pádraic Pearse is, of course, best known as the leader of the Easter Rising in 1916, the man who read out the proclamation in front of the GPO. Born on 10th November 1879 at 27 Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse St) in Dublin, he gained a love of Irish from his mother and from his education from the Christian Brothers in Westland Row. He joined the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) in 1895 aged 16, rising quickly through the ranks to become editor of its newspaper An Claidheamh Soluis (“The Sword of Light”) in 1903. He graduated from the Royal College Dublin (now UCD) in 1901 (Flanaghan, p. 276).
Writing in An Claidheamh Soluis from 1903 to 1909, Pearse repeatedly emphasised the need for education reform to secure the intellectual and political independence of Ireland. The Irish language was key: Pearse believed that the personality of a nation is reflected in its language and “by coming into touch with the language, we come into touch with that personality” (Ó Buachalla, p. 73 quoted in Flanaghan, p. 276).
Continue reading “This Man Had Kept A School – Pearse’s educational philosophy”