Conor Cruise O'Brien, R.I.P.:

I just learned from catching up on The Corner that Conor Cruis O'Brien recently passed away (there are several O'Brien posts there over the past few days). I've tried to read his book on Burke, but having commenced it, I confess that it turned out to be simultaneously too much Burke and too much O'Brien for my taste (which I guess proves that I'm not actually a Burkean at heart). I understand from those who have made their way through the book that it is really quite good.

Instead, O'Brien's passing brings to mind one what is one of my most memorable (and probably my earliest true "intellectual") experience as a Freshman at Dartmouth. Dartmouth has a marvelous program called the Montgomery Fellows program that brings visiting scholars to campus for any time from a few days to a week or two. And they reside in a house just off campus for their duration.

Well my Freshman year I decided not to treck all the way home to South Carolina for Thanksgiving Break, and somehow was chosen with another student to have dinner at the Montgomery House with Conor Cruise O'Brien. I confess I had not the slightest idea who he was. But it turned out to be an utterly entertaining and engaging evening. The hightlight of which I recall at one point O'Brien calling for "a basket" to express his disapproval of someone else's views on the Frech Revolution (the allusion was indeed quite funny at the time). And I recall him triumphantly whipping out a pen at one point and declaring it to be his "word processor." Anyway, a fascinating and charming fellow, and utterly gracious to clueless 18-year old me.

I never saw him again after that, but that evening has been one that has remained with me for over 30 years now. Quite an impression.

iolanthe (mail):
The IRA are now largely seen in the Irish Republic and elsewhere as a criminal gang with political pretensions and this development is courtesy of many things, not least 11 September 2001. But for a long time they were regarded by mainstreamn Irish politics as having some sort of legitimacy and Conor Cruise O'Brien was one of the very few people in Ireland to point out the practical and ethical flaws in trying to force a majority population in Ulster to join with and Ireland they wanted no part of. He got some things wrong though, most notably his (not unreasonable) concern that the IRA/Sinn Fein would never be part of a Northern Irish Government and that Ulster would become a hibernian balkans. On balance though he deserves to be remembered as having been more right about Irish politics than most.
12.22.2008 6:56pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
O'Brien also wrote a history of Israel -- The Siege (1986) -- which is quite good, though obviously now dated.
12.22.2008 7:45pm
guy in the veal calf office (mail) (www):
NRO also makes available his very interesting review of Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France

He points out Burke's perspicacity on the (then peaceful & promising) Revolution in France and among other quotes offers this:

....I should therefore suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France, until I was informed how it had been combined with government; with public force; with the discipline and obedience of armies; with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue; with morality and religion; with the solidity of property; with peace and order; with civil and social manners. All these (in their way) are good things too; and, without them, liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and is not likely to continue long. The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: We ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risque congratulations, which may be soon turned into complaints. Prudence would dictate this in the case of separate insulated private men; but liberty, when men act in bodies, is power.

A nice reminder that an idea is not a form of governmnet. Well worth reading the entire piece.
12.22.2008 7:59pm
MikeS (mail):

I just learned from catching up on The Corner that Conor Cruis O'Brien recently passed away

Congratulations! Learning something by reading The Corner is not easy to do.
12.22.2008 8:07pm
BobDoyle (mail):
MikeS, there are remedial reading programs available to help you with your problem.
12.22.2008 9:09pm
David Post (mail) (www):
R.I.P. O'Brien was an interesting thinker and a fine writer -- though I have to say, not to speak ill of the dead, that his book on Jefferson and the French Revolution ("The Long Affiar") struck me as a pretty pedantic and heavy-handed hatchet job.
12.23.2008 10:43am
Ted F:
I always preferred David Letterman.
12.23.2008 11:58am
MikeS (mail):
I meant, of course, reading the Corner to learn things that are true. "Learning" that interracial marriage is practiced only by Communisms is another matter entirely.
12.23.2008 4:32pm
BarryJ (mail):
By odd coincidence I have a similar recollection of the evening at a retreat sponsored by the IHS when I shared a few beers with a fascinating, charming and utterly gracious law professor named Zywicki.
12.24.2008 1:32am
Rory Connor (mail):
I placed some material in the National Archives in Ireland re CC O'Brien, including some correspondence I had with him in the 1990s concerning the Catholic Church. The following is one item. (I strongly agreed with Conor Cruise about the IRA and Israel while totally disagreeing with him re the Church.

(10) Conor Cruise O'Brien and Mary Raftery.
Article in Irish Independent by CC O'Brien on 15 May 1999 "Child Abuse Issue must be Fearlessly Confronted Now". Conor Cruise compares the treatment of children by the Catholic Church with the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. "The holocaust took six million lives, mostly over a three year period. The abuse of children took few actual lives, it did take some but it inflicted great suffering on many thousands of children over several centuries." Again "Sexual deviance is not a modern innovation but has been around for thousands of years. And the celibacy of the clergy an institution which needed to be protected from general information about the deviation had been around for centuries. So I suspect these abuses and accompanying cover-ups have been going on for about 600 years: since the middle ages."

So the great friend of Israel and scourge of anti-Semites makes allegations that could have come out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Conor Cruise wants to "fearlessly face up the past" and ends by saying that "Catholic archivists, for some of whom I have a great respect, could play a central role in that. I hope to discuss this with at least one of them and then return to this important subject."

I have been unable to find any follow up to this article. Conor Cruise seems to have written nothing in the period November 1999 to January 2000 when Breda O'Brien demolished Mary Raftery's lies about the death of Patsy Flanagan. He was similarly silent during the hysteria surrounding the exhumation of the body of William Delaney in April 2001. And again silence when Mannix Flynn claimed that there had been a "holocaust" at Letterfrack (Sunday Independent, 22 December 2002). Did the Cruiser realise that his allegations were rubbish but instead of apologizing, decided to evade the issue? His anti-clerical friends were happy not to ask him any awkward questions. What a pity that some are anti-Semites as well!
12.28.2008 5:28am
Rory Connor (mail):
Further to the above maybe I should explain:

I am an amateur historian and for the past decade I have been studying false allegations of child abuse, with particular reference to accusations of child murder made against Catholic Religious in Ireland. As many of these claims relate to times when no child died of any cause, I coined the phrases "Murder of the Undead" and "Victimless Murders". (Try Googling these!)

This form of hysteria only got well under way about the middle of 1999. (I am aware of only one case before that.). Accordingly Dr. O'Brien was not so much the victim of this hysteria, as one of its creators.

I suspect that when Dr. O'Brien then spoke to his "Catholic archivist" friend about

* a 600 year record of clerical sexual deviancy
* involving child abuse up to and including the killing of children

the archivist mentioned the phrase "Blood Libel" and the great supporter of Israel decided that he would not pursue the subject any farther! (Of course he should have apologised but that was never the Cruiser's way.)
12.29.2008 3:00am

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