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Science, revolution and progress

The constitutive terrain of anarchist eugenics

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Richard Cleminson

Chapter 2 sets the intellectual scene, both in anarchism and more generally, by providing a discussion of the characteristics of nineteenth-century ‘classical anarchism’ in terms of its reliance on understandings of nature, progress and science as the foundations upon which hereditarian and biological thought were built in the movement. This allows for an analysis of the reception of thought on doctrines such as Malthusianism, with its pessimistic account of the relations between population and resources, and discourses on human degeneration as a biological phenomenon. The chapter moves on to analyse the uptake of theories of evolutionary variation and inheritance within anarchism and to how these ideas dovetailed or conflicted with anarchism’s core values on the ability of human beings to forge their own environment and future. The chapter suggests that such debates, which were transnational within anarchism, provided the bedrock upon which interest in anarchist circles on processes of biological change, the relations between the environment and heredity, and, ultimately, eugenics were built.

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Coleman A. Dennehy

The two constituent parts of parliament were generally self-regulating in their behaviour. With the exception of statute law that did stipulate certain ways for parliament to behave, the Commons and the Lords organised the way they undertook their business and how their members should conduct themselves. This meant that parliamentary privilege for the member and the liberties of each house were jealously guarded. These were certain rights to avoid arrest, to be free from civil actions, and also for the house to dominate certain areas, for example appellate oversight of other courts or finance. The author convincingly asserts that while privilege could well be the domain of the petty and self-interested, its fundamental purpose was to preserve the individual roles and promote their smooth running.

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Coleman A. Dennehy

Petitioning, either as a general call for favour and assistance, or as the opening salvo in a legal action, was a common process in the Irish Parliament and there is strong evidence that it took up a considerable amount of time, frequently much more than legislation did. This chapter considers both the theory and practice of petitioning. It discusses how and why it happened, the methodology and materials of the process, the role of counsel, officers, and members. It also provides the statistical evidence of how the system worked and to what extent certain petitioners and types of petitions were more successful than others.

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Richard Cleminson

This chapter presents the central problematic of the book: the apparent paradox of anarchism having provided a forum for the reception of eugenics. It discusses the main issues that such a contention gives rise to, sets out the methodology and theoretical framework to be followed and places anarchism and eugenics within the historiography of both movements from the late nineteenth century onwards.

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Coleman A. Dennehy

In a book that deals with procedure and focuses a little less on MPs and politics than other works, a chapter on the officers and servants of parliament brings light onto this sometimes forgotten corner of parliament. While nobody could fail to acknowledge the importance of the speaker of either house, this book brings a sharp concentration of the very important roles of the judges and other legal officers, on the all-important clerk and his juniors, and on the lesser officers of parliament. It discusses the role of the officers, their responsibilities, and the capacity for influence on political and other developments in parliament. It also describes the payment and other rewards they received for their work.

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Making law

Mills and acts

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Coleman A. Dennehy

The passing of legislation was of great importance to both government and community in early modern Ireland. It frequently was the mechanism by which grievances were addressed and also how finance was secured. This chapter considers the relevance of legislation and also the relevance of Poynings’ Law to the passage of legislation in Ireland. It also considers the relative importance of the creation of statute law in the Irish legal system. This chapter takes the reader through the various stages of legislation in the Irish Parliament, an area that has been relatively ignored when compared with the focus of studies on Poynings’ Law.

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The Irish Parliament, 1613–89

The evolution of colonial institution

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Coleman A. Dennehy

Traditional histories of parliament, whether Irish or otherwise, have generally treated them as political events. This book considers the seventeenth-century Irish Parliament as an ongoing element within the state. It considers the role of parliament within the context of an overall state apparatus of governance and charts its development over time. While parliament developed in conjunction with the Irish state, local politicians, and local institutions, it was also a colonial institution, taking direction from Westminster on how to operate. Whether by design or by chance, it resembles the Westminster model of parliamentary procedure, but it also had specifically Irish traits in how it dispatched its business. This book describes a developing institution chiefly through the work that it undertook. Most will be well aware of parliament’s work on legislation and the creation of law and also representation of communities and locations, but it spent large amounts of time hearing petitions and undertaking judicial work. It undertook these ever-increasing responsibilities with a growing group of parliamentary officers, who had a wide variety of powers and responsibilities. Naturally this led to a sophisticated set of procedures and privileges in undertaking this work in order to increase its efficiency and productivity. This book discusses topics and describes processes that are still very much a cornerstone for today’s parliamentary democracy in Ireland and will resonate in Irish institutional culture and elsewhere in the common law world.

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Coleman A. Dennehy

Initially, this chapter discusses the position of the Irish Parliament within early modern Irish historiography and whether it has served Irish institutional history well. This is followed by a consideration of the development of parliamentary history in England, and whether there is a potential usefulness of applying such a historiographical model to Ireland. It also considers how an institutional history of the Irish Parliament might be written and to what extent this can be achieved, considering to what extent the relevant source material is available to us. The day-to-day records of the two houses, the parliamentary journals, are discussed in great detail – their original purpose and to what extent they might direct such an institutional study.

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Richard Cleminson

Chapter 4 continues the inquiry on eugenics into the years 1920–1940, covering the ‘hey-day’ of eugenic thought in the 1920s and 1930s both within anarchism and as part of the international eugenics movement itself. It analyses the political, scientific and religious influences that operated upon anarchism in its uptake of eugenics. In particular, questions such as the gendered nature of eugenic projects and their impact specifically on women’s bodies are assessed, as are discussions on the appropriateness or otherwise of the sterilization of the ‘unfit’, the development of ‘conscious maternity’ and the hygienic improvement of the social and health conditions of the poor. The reaction within anarchism to broader political and scientific debates on the acceptability and practicality of eugenics constitutes a thread that runs through this chapter.

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Richard Cleminson

In Chapter 3, the reception of early eugenic ideas within the anarchist movements of England, France, Portugal, Spain and Argentina over the years 1890–1920 is discussed against the backdrop of social and political developments within these different societies and within the eugenics movement itself. It discusses the ways in which early interest in neo-Malthusianism and the environmentally focused theory of Lamarckism configured the early anarchist reception of eugenic thought. The main emphasis in the chapter is placed on the vehicles by which eugenic thought arrived in anarchist movements and on the specific ways in which these ideas were digested in order to justify and articulate ‘anarchist eugenics’. The period covered in Chapter 3 ends with the First World War and its immediate aftermath. This was a fault line period in the reconfiguration of neo-Malthusian thought and its transformation, in the anarchist movement, particularly in France, into explicit support for eugenics. The chapter emphasises the varied and contested reception of eugenic thought within anarchism, in accordance with locality, mechanisms of international knowledge exchange, chronology and type of anarchism, whether syndicalist or individualist.