Subverting Kant

An Irishman of indefatiguable mind and rare sensibilities.

Issue: Winter 2000-2001

Conor Cruise O'Brien, Memoir: My Life and Themes (New York: Cooper Square Press, 2000).

Clarissa Eden, the Prime Minister's wife, once complained during the 1956 crisis that the Suez Canal flowed through her drawing room in 10 Downing Street. Far more turbulent waterways -- the Bann, the Liffey and the Shannon -- coursed through the parlor and dining room of the distinguished Irish family into which Conor Cruise O'Brien was born in 1917. As the first chapters of his memoir reveal, the young Conor was very early made aware of the gulfs separating some Irishmen from others. These naturally included the antagonism between Catholic nationalists and Protestant Unionists. But the divisions within Catholic nationalism were perhaps at least as powerful and probably more bitter. Dr. O'Brien's family was divided in particular by two deep gulfs: that between constitutional nationalists and "physical force" republicans, and that between nationalists who welcomed Catholic social power and those who resisted it.

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