In an attempt to analyze the phenomenon of the American Irish politician, Edward Levine utilizes a third of his book to survey cultural, social, and political aspects of Irish history from the Reformation to modern times. The genesis of the IrishMoreIn an attempt to analyze the phenomenon of the American Irish politician, Edward Levine utilizes a third of his book to survey cultural, social, and political aspects of Irish history from the Reformation to modern times.
The genesis of the Irish identity is examined and related to the centuries of religious persecutions, political privations, and economic discrimination under British rule, which endowed the Irish with a keen, if not perverse, appreciation of power. The fact that predominantly rural immigrant Irishmen became part of a political power structure as eastern urban dwellers, rather than as midwestern farmers, does not seem unusual to the author.
As cotters or squatters most of them never had been part of the propertied agricultural class in Ireland.The chapter entitled Symbols of Irish Identity and Alienation will be of special interest to the social historian and behavioral scientist alike. Levine views the power ascent of the Irish clergy within the American Catholic Church as one of the key factors delaying the structural assimilation of the Irish into the general population.
And he convincingly demonstrates the culpability of the parochial school in preserving Irish ethnic identity. Conservatism isolated the Irish further, inhibiting their attitudes on nearly everything from abolition to political reform. In addition, Irish assimilation was also hampered by forces in middle-class Protestant America which were inimical to a working-class Catholic, alien group. Despite discrimination the Irish regarded even such extreme nativist groups as the Know-Nothings preferable to some German immigrants who were imbued with atheistic Marxist doctrines.
Apostacy was more reprehensible than heresy (P. 91).Levine is strongest on the subject he knows best, the phenomenon of the contemporary Irish politician. In the urban setting, the saloon and the police department are seen as institutions which figured prominently in the politicization of the American Irish social structure. Using the example of their church, Irish political organizations naturally became hierarchical and authoritarian. However, in the 1960s Levine sees traditional traits gradually dying out. Mayor Daley of Chicago is viewed as a transitional Irish politician, who can now assume status roles inconceivable a few decades ago.
Generalizing upon his findings among the Chicago Irish, Levine concludes that the current generation of Irish politicians is probably the last of its kind. Admittedly, his conclusions are too thinly supported by the evidence which he offers, but his contribution is valuable in that it provides the prologue for some future Handlin-like work on the Irish in Chicago.