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Home Uncategorized A Different Kind of Republic

A Different Kind of Republic

Andreas Hess
Terrorists, Anarchists, and Republicans. The Genevans and the Irish in Time of Revolution, by Richard Whatmore, Princeton University Press, 478 pp, £34, ISBN: 978-0691168777 In Ireland, republican rhetoric has become a victim of its own success. While it is part and parcel of a ritual reaffirmation of identity, it has no practical significance in everyday life whatsoever: it does nothing to alleviate burning problems in areas such as housing, health, transport, environmental pollution or having no pension. Irish notions of republicanism don’t necessarily have to remain as ritualistic, flat and uninspiring as they appear at present. There are histories of republicanism on offer which provide other perspectives and from which one can learn, some of them even touching base with Irish conditions and experiences, even though they never became part of the history canon of this Republic. Richard Whatmore’s magnificent account of the New Geneva experiment in Waterford, just published by Princeton University Press, offers such a new vantage point. Whatmore describes a complex macro-historical constellation – the Atlantic Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century ‒ and how it impacted on a micro environment: the small Genevan republic and the fate that awaited it after the attempt of the civic humanist opposition, mainly composed of artisans and watchmakers of republican conviction, to reform and thus save the polity from oligarchical influences. How Ireland got involved in this attempt to save civic humanism is the subject of this fascinating historical study. The author of the New Geneva study is professor of modern history and co-director of the Institute of Intellectual History at the University of St Andrews. He has published widely on republican traditions and how these relate to the emergence of the political economy of France, Switzerland, Britain and North America. The so-called Cambridge School, with whom Whatmore largely identifies, has contributed significantly to giving the history of ideas a more solid foundation by studying the societal, political and intellectual conditions and contexts under which ideas become meaningful and sometimes even thrive. Today, its pioneering approach is practised in almost every history department around the world, at least in those faculties which still value and teach the history of ideas. Most people interested in Irish history, and more specifically the history of republicanism on this island, treat the history of New Geneva as a mere footnote. That is somewhat unfortunate because the failed Geneva experiment was, as Whatmore…



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