Conducting an analysis of some of the most candid interview materials ever gathered from former Irish Republican Army (IRA) members and loyalists in Northern Ireland, this book demonstrates through a psychoanalysis of slips of the tongue, jokes, rationalisations and contradictions that it is the unconscious dynamics of the conflict — that is, the pleasure to be found in suffering, failure, domination, submission and ignorance, and in rivalry over jouissance — that lead to the reproduction of polarisation between the Catholic and Protestant communities. As a result, it contends that traditional approaches to conflict resolution which overlook the unconscious are doomed and argues that a Lacanian psychoanalytic understanding of socio-ideological fantasy has great potential for informing the way we understand and study all inter-religious and ethnic conflicts and, as such, deserves to be further developed in conflict-management processes. Whether readers find themselves agreeing with the arguments in the book or not, they are sure to find it a change from both traditional approaches to conflict resolution and the existing mainly conservative analyses of the Northern Ireland conflict.
Using interview material, this chapter examines the rationalisations involved in the imaginary dimension of republicans' relations with socially and politically significant others, principally members of the Protestant community. Imaginary relations are revealed in the primary operations of the ego, namely negation (where whatever is repressed may make its way into consciousness on condition that it is denied), projection, and splitting. Otherwise, imaginary relations are revealed in contradictions, jokes, mistakes, absences, silence, re-takes, hesitation, cuts in the text, etc. It is typical of the interviewees to represent the religion of ‘the other side’ as being a non-issue, a matter of indifference. Bigotry in relation to Protestants, which is consciously denied by republican interviewees, surfaces in this way in imaginary relations. Members of the Catholic community wish to believe that Protestantism is not an issue for them in contrast with Protestants whom they wish to present as being obsessed with Catholicism, fearful of this and bigoted against Catholics to the extent that they instil this bigotry into their children. The notion that republicanism precludes sectarianism and bigotry is an illusion.
Three substantial works see the Protestant and Catholic communities as being central to the conflict in Northern Ireland: John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary's Explaining Northern Ireland: Broken Images (1995), Joseph Ruane and Jennifer Todd's The Dynamics of Conflict in Northern Ireland: Power, Conflict and Emancipation (1996), and Fionnuala O'Connor's In Search of a State: Catholics in Northern Ireland (1993). In keeping with Jacques Lacan's emphasis on the centrality of aggression in the construction of identity, this chapter examines the literature that explains the Northern Ireland conflict in terms of communal identity and, in this process, notes the republican self-interpretation. It argues that the explanations offered are either inadequate or insufficient to effect significant change in the dynamics of the conflict and that Lacanian psychoanalysis is required to explain the conflict. McGarry and O'Leary cite the conflict between Protestants and Catholics, rather than religion and culture, as the cause of political violence, political stalemate, and political antagonism in Northern Ireland. Ruane and Todd maintain that the conflict is essentially a matter of historic communal division.
Jean-Paul Lederach is a leading proponent of transformation type conflict resolution who contends that conflict tends to occur where there are ethnic, regional and religious differences and arises over ‘long-standing animosities rooted in a perceived threat to identity and survival’ and thus armed conflict has security as its goal. Cohesion is seen as a desired goal of conflict by Lederach, and the irony, according to Lederach, is that the existence of division contributes to this desire. But cohesion, in Lacanian psychoanalysis, is a mirage. Diane Francis notes that conflict arises because injustice and oppression ‘characterise a substantial proportion of human relationships’. She places her emphasis on conflict resolution with active non-violence and highlights power and justice in this framework. For John W. Burton, conflict is not caused by power rivalries or ideologies and interests but by needs and values. He highlights the centrality of identity, security, and recognition to conflict. This chapter discusses traditional approaches to conflict resolution and their application to the conflict in Northern Ireland. It also explores Jacques Lacan's approach to change in the socio-ideological fantasy.
According to Anthony Elliott, psychoanalysis ‘powerfully accounts for the...essential and primary foundations of all human social activity’, namely representation, fantasy, identification and pleasure. It ‘highlights the fantasmatic dimension of cultural practices, social institutions, political norms’. For this reason, Elliott is correct in his contention that one must consider the place of the psyche in our understanding of human subjectivity if one is to bring about social and political transformation. For Elliott, the social world will never be the same again after reading Jacques Lacan because ‘his theories capture something of the strangeness that pervades the mundane and familiar in daily life’. It would be hard to argue that Lacanian psychoanalysis has little to say about socio-ideological fantasy, the denial which it involves, and the conflict it gives rise to. This chapter discusses Lacanian psychoanalysis; Lacan's Imaginary order, Symbolic order, and the Real order; the unconscious; rationalisation, socio-ideological fantasy and jouissance; jouissance and aggression; and the constitution of the ego and subjectivity.
The wider Catholic community's experience of the Real in Northern Ireland is evident in the literature. In Them and Us?: Attitudinal Variation Among Churchgoers in Belfast, the writers note that over two-thirds of church-goers who support Sinn Fein have had someone close to them killed or injured in the conflict. These statistics provide us with some indication of the experience of pain of the republicans. The authors also remark that ‘Among churchgoers, Catholics are three times more likely to have been intimidated and twice as likely to have had their homes bombed as Protestants’. Interviews with former members of the Irish Republican Army make it clear that they had all suffered as a result of their being caught up in conflict. There is tragedy, fear, moral confusion, pain and fragmentation at the heart of the interviewees' self-interpretations. A number of the interviewees try to make sense of hurt and pain by blaming others for what they experience as negative. Against this backdrop, victimhood is what offers the interviewees wholeness.
This book asks why the conflict (‘the Troubles’) in Northern Ireland endures and argues that the reason for this is the function of the unconscious in the reproduction of antagonism and communal division. The recognition of this dimension has important consequences for a theory of conflict management. The book draws on some of the most candid interview material to date with former members of the Irish Republican Army, recorded during the 1994–1996 ceasefire. It presents an outline of Lacanian psychoanalysis and demonstrates that its development of the unconscious dynamics of identity construction helps explain the reproduction of socio-political conflict as participants indulge in fantasy and rival over jouissance. It contends that the unconscious fantasies underlying the constitution of the political identities of republicans and loyalists are central to the reproduction of the conflict in that they nurture the desire of Catholics and Protestants to expand their economic, political, social, and ideological sense of self or identity, leading to domination, dependence, inequality, and the Catholic and Protestant threat.
This chapter considers the depiction of Northern Protestant identity in the literature, with special emphasis on loyalists and proposed resolutions of the conflict in Northern Ireland, and draws conclusions about the reproduction of conflict from a Lacanian perspective. Peter Shirlow and Mark McGovern's presentation of the key features in the construction of the ‘Protestant People’ include the community's stress on unity over dissension, their stress on ‘British civility’ over ‘Irish barbarism’, and their removal of the Irish Other from their historiography. These are attempts at self-idealisation. Added to these, the authors note that the Protestant People see their norms and beliefs as immutable, which evokes the immutability of the imago in Lacanian psychoanalysis, which the child perceives in the mirror and confuses with itself in the mirror stage. This chapter also discusses the views of Brian Graham, Alan Finlayson, Colin Coulter, Jennifer Todd, Sarah Nelson, Anthony Kimbley, and Susan McKay. Moreover, it examines some of the rationalisations in the self-perception of the Protestant self-interpretation, as well as the function of the Catholic Other in this self-interpretation.
Symbolic relations are the relations republicans have with the Other, out of which they invent themselves. Bruce Fink refers to these as ‘one's relation to the Law, to the law laid down by one's parents, one's teachers, one's religion, one's country’ or ‘the way people deal with ideals that have been inculcated in them by their parents, schools, media, language, and society at large’. This chapter examines violent republicanism, the legitimation of republican tradition, the morality of republican violence, and ideals such as liberation and non-sectarianism as they apply to the conflict in Northern Ireland. The self-idealisation that republicans are in possession of the truth and that this is innate perhaps explains why they feel they do not require a mandate even though the need for wider support in the community is constantly felt.
This book has shown that the dynamics of the conflict in Northern Ireland are more than simply a matter of two ethnic groups (Protestants and Catholics) suffering from constitutional and political insecurity that causes them to clash over their different national aspirations (John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary's view), or a struggle for national freedom (the republican view), or defence of the status quo (the loyalist view). The interpretation and self-interpretation of any group is complex: the formal articulation of their views is never the whole story. Ethno-national issues must be seen within the wider framework of the Symbolic, Imaginary and Real. The interplay of all three orders results in totalising socio-ideological fantasies based on self-idealisation and illusion that hide both communities' unconscious desires from themselves and reproduce division and antagonism. An examination of the unconscious unearthed some of the rationalisations that these fantasies involve. A Lacanian psychoanalysis of the unconscious in situations of conflict helps remove the cloak that communities unconsciously use to protect themselves.