September 9, 2005
Seminar: Irish Studies, 535
Meeting Date: September 9, 2005
Chair: Mary McGlynn
Speaker: Prof. Sunil Agnani
Assistant Professor of English, University of
Title of Talk: “Edmund Burke on Ireland and India: ‘The Protestant
Ascendancy’ and ‘Indianism’ as Global Phenomena.”
Rapporteur: Prof. Terry Byrne
Attendees: Terry Byrne (The College of New Jersey); Robert St-Cyr;
Thomas Ihde (Lehman College, CUNY); Martin J. Burke (Lehman College and
CUNY Grad Center); Abby Bender (Princeton Univeristy); Rita Loughlin
(American Irish Teachers Association), Peter M. Leahy, Joseph Lennon
(Manhattan College); Anna Brady; Michael O. Shannon (Lehman College,
CUNY); Seamus Blake (WFUV Radio, Fordham University); Joseph V.
Hamilton, Esq.; Gertrude Hamilton (Marymount College of Fordham
University); Clare Carroll (Queens College, CUNY).
“Edmund Burke on Ireland and India: ‘The Protestant Ascendancy’ and
‘Indianism’ as Global Phenomena.”
The following is a synopsis of Prof. Agnani’s paper.
Prof. Agnani opened his talk with observations on
the many links between India and Ireland from the eighteenth to the
twentieth centuries. He then moved on to explain his interest in
Burke, as a figure whose resistance to the French Revolution was a
puzzle and a disappointment to Prof. Agnani at first. In part,
Burke’s issue with the French Revolution was that its Jacobinism
assumed an abstract man, one who was free from a network of cultural
practices, which he calls “prejudices.” The second great evil of
his time, he thought, was what he called “Indianism,” while the third
evil that that he took up was “the malignity of the principles of
Protestant ascendancy” in Ireland.
Indianism is a term that not only describes the
worst excesses of British rule in India, but their consequences in
Britain: the creation of a dynamic class of men who gained vast
fortunes, detached from traditional impediments and filiations.
This is also what Burke sees Jacobinism in France leading to.
Both Jacobinism and Indianism are for Burke generalisable terms—they
emerge in one specific context but are used to name and describe events
in another. According to circumstance and the audience, one is a
worse evil than the other. Writing to Sir Hercules Langrisshe,
Jacobinism is concern, because it is more pertinent to the Irish
context; writing to Loughborough, Indianism and the Hastings
impeachment trial are to the fore.
The delegitimisation of force is a concern that ties
his discussions of France, India, and Ireland together. The use
by the state of excessive force lays bare the institutions of force
underlying the state, and reveals the constitution to be little more
than a militarised entity. Indianism means for Burke the
expedient, but not moral, use of law and force. Both France and
India are ruled by “men of talent,” free from impediments and
responsibilities, who represent the worst excesses of government free
Joseph Hamilton: As Burke was against Jacobinism, he is incorrectly
identified as a conservative. (He was for the American Revolution
but against the French Revolution.) He had revolutionary
ideas but his approach was realistic rather than idealistic.
Sunil Agnani: Modern day conservative appropriation of Burke is
dubious. In my opinion, Burke would be a liberal in the
present-day context. His late writings are the most strident—he
opposed complete revolution in favor of reform. Burke’s notion of
“custom” is the anthropologist’s notion of “culture.”
Martin Burke: Is Gibbons’ use of Burke vis-à-vis property
in Ireland correct?
Mary McGlynn: Would the Protestant Ascendancy qualify as an “end
run” around the proper order of accession to power in Burke’s thinking
(re: Burke’s use of “Indianism”).
Agnani: Burke would probably oppose changes in property laws (in
Irish context). He was influenced by Jesuit writings, notably
Clare Carroll: Suarez had an influence on Irish thinking,
particulary vis-à-vis the idea of “natural law”. He was
translated into Irish and also influenced English republican
thinking. He even advocated regicide in certain circumstances.
Seamus Blake: Cruise O’Brien wrote about Catholics converting to
Protestantism to retain property rights.
Agnani: Burke wrote extensively about the legitimacy of forced
J. Hamilton: Burke was cartooned in the English press as a
Jesuit. There may be a connection between the Irish and the
French philosophes through the idea of “natural law”