Once upon a time, American republicans were fond of pointing out the flaw in the French republican motto of “liberty, equality & fraternity”: it is not possible to pass a law to make someone one’s brother or to equal their possessions with one’s own. But, in theory, it is possible to legislate for “liberty” if one remembers one fundamental point: liberty means that some things were not meant for legislation! That is why efforts at positive discrimination rarely if ever work. One might expect that, in time, our generation, or maybe the next, will discover the same thing. Trying cancelling one thing or another in an attempt to create a level playing field and all one ends up doing is creating a new inequality or aristocracy of right for a minority. Make it a hate crime to either criticise or laud an aristocratic minority and heads will inevitably roll. That’s a lesson in history that may have been forgotten in our day. Or perhaps there have always been those who take a perverse pleasure in having the power, through legally enforcing an initial inversion of rights, to make others’ heads roll.

If I had the liberty to work fulltime on history this year I would love to have delved deep into nineteenth-century Irish commentaries, but personal responsibilities have meant that my own historical work has had to be shelved. After all, people are more important than books. Yet perhaps the more time one has for reflection the better it will be for a book in the long term, once the opportunity to work on it arises again. At least one can hope…

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