The Language of Resistance

Author Madeleine Bunting reflects on place, language and capitalism, and the influence of gaelic in the creation of George Orwell’s Newspeak.

The haunting brilliance of George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty Four was his insight that some ideas become literally unthinkable when we lose the language to express them. The point about the continuous redacting of Newspeak, the language of the totalitarian state, was to remove words so that people could no longer imagine certain possibilities of resistance and human freedom.

He wrote these words, as is well known, in an attic of the farmhouse at Barnhill in North Jura. A typewriter still sits at the desk where he worked, and from the window, there is a magnificent view east to Argyll across the water. He would have been well aware of the relevance of lost language to his crofting neighbours with whom he worked on the hay harvest. When you lose a language, you lose the world view that it encapsulates, and in the case of Gaelic, it is one which challenges some of the most deeply embedded assumptions of modernity such as capitalism and individualism.

Orwell would have known the importance of language and memory as sources of identity and resilience in the Gaelic island communities around him, but it’s not something the critics comment on; few Orwell scholars have much knowledge of Gaelic and the Scottish West Coast, and they have simply described Barnhill as remote and Orwell’s decision to move there as evidence of his eccentricity. They have missed the moments in Nineteen Eighty Four, one of the most influential books of the twentieth century, when Gaelic culture must have been in Orwell’s mind.

The reason why I see this influence on Orwell, is down to the generous conversations on my visits to the Hebrides to research my book, Love of Country, when I spent many hours sitting in peoples’ houses hearing about the importance of Gaelic to them.

“Iain Crichton Smith poignantly wrote that the Gael is ‘ born inside a language.. it is not we who make the language, it is the language that makes us.. The imperialism of language is the most destructive of all. For the islander to lose his language.. would be to lose to great extent the meaning of his life, and to become a member of a sordid colony on the edge of the imperialist world.’”

I’m well aware of the wider political debates across Scotland about the cost of supporting a language only spoken by 1.1 per cent of the population; I’ve heard the bitter comments of those who think its absurd to have bilingual signposts in the Lowlands where Gaelic might not actually ever have been spoken. But what intrigued me was a different set of issues – and it goes to the heart of Orwell’s insight – about how Gaelic provides a language of resistance to capitalism; it is inherently counter cultural, challenging central concepts such as the notion of private property.

Take the word dùthchas. There is no succinct way to translate it because it incorporates a rich set of ideas. My Gaelic dictionary translates it as ‘place of origin’ or ‘homeland’. But in Lewis, I was told it means much more. It’s a collective claim on the land which is reinforced and lived out through the shared management of that land. It is a right which is grounded in daily habits and activities and it is bound up with relationships to others, and responsibilities. It gives rise to the idea, identified by the scholar Michael Newton, that ‘people belong to places rather than places belonging to people’. Gaelic turns notions of ownership on their head.

Curious about this subversive quality to the language, I looked up ‘belonging’ in an English dictionary; tellingly, the first definition was a matter of property as in ‘belongings’. The next definition was status as in ‘having the right personal and social qualities to be a member of a particular group’. A very English concept. But dig deeper and the word orginates in an Old English term ‘gelang’ which means ‘at hand, together with’. Buried in the etymology of the word is an understanding of touch, physical closeness and how that generates solidarity. The sentiment cropped up in a conversation with Agnes Rennie who has a croft on Lewis: ‘I couldn’t conceive of living on this land without getting my hands dirty. It keeps me connected to the place.’

These ideas of place and relationship were completely at odds with the idea that land could be bought and sold by strangers in lawyers’ offices in Edinburgh and London. The rest of course is history; at the time of the clearances, dùthchas had no legal significance, the term was reduced to meaning heritage. A similar process of corrupted translation was used in many colonies across Africa and Asia to expropriate land.

The Lewis poet Iain Crichton Smith poignantly wrote that the Gael is ‘ born inside a language.. it is not we who make the language, it is the language that makes us.. The imperialism of language is the most destructive of all. For the islander to lose his language.. would be to lose to great extent the meaning of his life, and to become a member of a sordid colony on the edge of the imperialist world.’

There are other Gaelic words which give a deep insight into a dramatically different world view embodied in the language. ‘Cliù’ is also hard to translate exactly because it incorporates reputation, but also ‘usefulness to the community’. It’s a term which conveys how identity is held in tightly knit small communities where everyone is intimately known. Crichton Smith described this as a sustaining force in which one is ‘held up in its buoyancy as a swimmer in water.’ Identity is not the individual project evident on Facebook, in which you must learn to sell and promote yourself with all the brittle narcissism that can entail.

Gaelic has a different sense of time, purpose and achievement: the ideal is to maintain an equilibrium. A saying from South Uist expresses it beautifully: ‘Eat bread and weave grass, And then this year shall be as thou wast last year.’ It’s close to the philosopher Hannah Arendt’s definition of wisdom as a loving concern for the continuity of the world.

It was precisely because Gaelic expressed a different world view, that for centuries it was scorned as the language of a backward people. Famously, Samuel Johnson described it as the ‘rude speech of a barbarous people’; James VI of Scotland referred to Gaels as ‘wolves and bears’. London and Edinburgh asserted notions of cultural superiority to legitimize their supremacy and their dismantling of the Gàidhealtachd. The Anglo-Irish poet Louis McNeice openly admitted in the first pages of his travel book, ‘I crossed the Minch’ that he didn’t know the islanders spoke a different language.

By then, Lewis and other parts of the Gàidhealtachd had already been involved for more than a generation in a bitter struggle to reassert their culture and identity. During my interview with Agnes Rennie, her husband Frank reached down a book to quote an astonishing confrontation between the millionaire businessman Lord Leverhulme and a crowd of islanders in 1919. Lord Leverhulme was promising jobs in his fish canning factories, new homes, electricity and railways, but what he was not prepared to do was give them land. He had almost won his audience over, when a crofter spoke up, ‘You have bought this island. But you have not bought us, and we refuse to be the bond slaves of any man. We want to live our lives in our own way, poor in material things it may be, but at least it will be clear of the fear of the factory bell; it will be free and independent.’

Famously, Lord Leverhulme could not persuade the islanders to his vision of economic progress. Frank Rennie’s point was that this spirit of resistance is evident today; this is not just a matter of history, but of how the islanders are increasingly confident about shaping their own future. Half of all the land in the Hebrides is now owned by community land trusts; two thirds of all Hebrideans live on community owned land. It’s an historic shift which goes some way towards easing the bitter past.

Part of that confidence also comes from winning two major battles to protect the Gaelic understanding of land and place in the last two decades. The first was the fight over the Harris superquarry which would have effectively removed an entire mountain. The Leicestershire-based quarrying company pursuing the application had come to Harris expressly because planning guidance for England and Wales had ruled out quarries of this size for fear of public opposition. Harris was seen as a remote periphery with a small local population, more amenable to cajoling and persuasion.

There was a fascinating contrast between the quarrying company’s approach and how the Harris residents mounted their opposition. The company used maps which removed all the Gaelic names and replaced them with numbers; they stripped the land of identity. Bizarrely they cited Sir Walter Scott’s impressions (from his boat) of the Harris skyline, (‘I have never seen anything more unpropitious,’) to argue for their lack of cultural significance. Words such as ‘wild’ ‘remote’ and ‘empty’ were used in a deeply political way to suggest the land had no value.

In contrast, Harris residents drew on words such as dùthchas and còraichean to express how the people belong to the land and how the land was richly associated with memory and thus their identity. One submission to the inquiry summed it up: ‘another reality prevails in Harris: language, religion, culture – the whole of everyday life – are embedded in tradition not in consumption. Tradition should not be confused with the past; it could better be described as the meaning of the past, distilled into the present and cared for, with a view to handing it on to further generations.’ Despite the tantalizing promise of local jobs from the project, the application was refused.

“Capitalism requires a placelessness to ensure the smooth flow of capital, people and resources to achieve economic efficiency. The critic John Berger wrote that ‘the historic role of capitalism itself is to destroy history, to sever any link with the past and to orientate all effort and imagination to what is about to occur.’ When Gaelic culture resisted this, it was belittled and dismissed. The radical sociologist Manuel Castells sums it up: ‘elites are cosmopolitan and people are local.’”

A decade later, Lewis’ Barabhas Moor was the subject to a massive wind farm application. It would have been the biggest in Europe with 234 proposed turbines, each had wings the size of a jumbo jet and needed huge concrete bases and connecting roads. Again, the language became charged with political significance; to the outside developers, the moor was ‘empty’ and represented economic opportunity. To the local protesters, the project would destroy a well known and richly storied landscape which also happened to have several national and international designations for environmental significance. The project provoked passionate controversy but was finally defeated and Lewis has gone on to develop smaller community owned wind farms.

Geographer Joseph Murphy, a professor at Glasgow University, walked 1200 miles along the Irish and Scottish coasts exploring the use of Gaelic to resist the imposition of big commercial developments in both countries. He recognizes that huge pressure can be brought to bear on these ‘resource peripheries’ as the dynamics of capitalism come up against profoundly different local cultures and precious natural environments.

The conflict is epitomised by how land is seen. Many developers depend on the Geographical Information System which combines huge databases with mapping and modeling. It is used to identify suitable sites for wind farm development by processing information on wind speeds, existing electricity installation and detectable noise levels. In contrast, Gaelic culture has a practice of dense naming of the landscape ‘even to areas the size of a spade’. They are both ways of knowing the land, one is about value extraction, the other is about memory, relationship and identity.

Capitalism requires a placelessness to ensure the smooth flow of capital, people and resources to achieve economic efficiency. The critic John Berger wrote that ‘the historic role of capitalism itself is to destroy history, to sever any link with the past and to orientate all effort and imagination to what is about to occur.’ When Gaelic culture resisted this, it was belittled and dismissed. The radical sociologist Manuel Castells sums it up: ‘elites are cosmopolitan and people are local.’

The success of the campaigns in Lewis and Harris was in my mind a year ago when I was reporting on the anti-fracking protests in my own home country in North Yorkshire. The campaign was energetic and determined in this picturesque rural area, but ultimately unsuccessful and the application was approved. It seemed to me that the local resistance was hobbled; either they were citing a catalogue of fine detail over disposal of waste and lorry movements, or they were warning of nightmare scenarios of earthquakes and pollution. What they struggled to articulate was a concept of custodianship of the land; the planning authorities insisted the national interest overrode local objections.

I visited the head offices of the company who won the fracking application – the first in the UK – in their offices in London. They had hired a few rooms in an anonymous office block, but they were about to move – everything was in boxes – it summed up this kind of capitalism. It is transient; it morphs into new corporate entities, it moves offices.

Only now are we beginning to grasp the implications of how this model of economic development with its unapologetic language of exploitation of resources. Perhaps that will bring new respect and consideration for the heritage of human intelligence and ingenuity represented by Gaelic.


Love of Country, A Hebridean Journey, by Madeleine Bunting is published in paperback by Granta in July 2017:

“The Hebrides hold a remarkable place in the imaginations of Scotland and England. Bunting considers the extent of the islands’ influence beyond their shores, finding that their history of dispossession and migration has been central to the British imperial past. Perhaps more significant still is how their landscapes have been repeatedly used to imagine the British nation. Love of Country shows how their history is a backdrop for contemporary debates about the relationship between our nations, how Britain was created, and what Britain has meant – for good and for ill.”

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Sunday Herald. in 2016.

Comments (25)

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  1. Peter Clive says:

    A wonderful article. I wish Gaelic was used beyond GME and in the workplace.

    My love letter to Gaelic:

  2. Ian Miles says:

    A very interesting, plangent & persuasive read. I am a Sassenach European linguist though had a lowland Scots paternal grandmother. I know many other communities have evocative words for their ties with the landscape (& nostalgia for it if forced away), e.g. the Welsh with their ‘Hwyl’ [?] and the German sense of Heimat that ran somewhat awry a few generations back.
    In another capacity I am in my 10th year as organist at the village church in whose graveyard ‘Orwell’ lies buried ~ so we get quite a lot of pilgrims from all over the world, and the Orwell Soc now has an annual act of commemoration at the graveside with a reading from the man’s work chosen & given by his stepson Richard.
    In another & somewhat prior capacity again, as a younger graduate linguist 30-odd yrs ago (around its centenary, as happened), I dabbled quite seriously in Esperanto, an ‘artificial’ language whose origins and structure have far more human depth than that label might suggest. I believe there is some evidence that Orwell had lodged with an Esperantist family/household (the language was popular not least among left-leaning internationalists of the interwar years, though its adherents were feared & persecuted for that very reason by both Stalin & Hitler) … and Orwell being Orwell, a wordsmith & all that, might well have allowed himself to be persuaded to have a go at it. Its compact, intentionally internationalist agglutinative structures bear striking resemblance to Newspeak, or rather vice versa.
    I fully take your point about the Gaelic (not one of my languages, alas) but it seemed pertinent to share these wider perspectives at a time when ‘1984’ indeed ‘Animal Farm’ have been jolted back onto the agenda by current events (e.g. Simon ‘Squealer’ @ the White House) … !

    1. DC says:

      The piece is beautiful, and those here who are attempting to undermine its validity are clearly doing so from a position of deliberate ignorance.

      In reply to Ian, I would suggest the word ‘bro’ as a near Welsh equivalent of ‘place to which we belong’.

      And ‘Cymry’ – our word for ourselves means ‘people together’ – in stark contrast to the ‘Welsh’ (foreigners, outlanders) that we are forced to call ourselves by the established order.

  3. William says:

    I could never understand today’s youth who want to escape the tyranny of their corporate capitalistic overlords, only to run to the tyranny of the anti-capitalistic social state government overlords. Either elite structure, are all too ready tell, even force the masses to conform to their ideas in their thirst for power.

    If Scotsmen search for freedom and the preservation of their culture, embrace “individual capitalism” and “protect your borders.” Otherwise be prepared to kneel to the higher powers of the “1984 style” super state, as they decide your culture and fate.

  4. dougie strang says:

    Wonderful, thoughtful writing. Thank You

  5. IDL says:

    I enjoyed your article. I was delighted to see Iain Crichton Smith remembered.

  6. Crubag says:

    “These ideas of place and relationship were completely at odds with the idea that land could be bought and sold by strangers in lawyers’ offices in Edinburgh and London.”

    Jura was sold in 1607, by the MacDonalds to the Campbells, both Gaelic kindreds.

    “When Gaelic culture resisted this, it was belittled and dismissed. The radical sociologist Manuel Castells sums it up: ‘elites are cosmopolitan and people are local.’”

    It was the Gaelic elites who kept Gaelic cosmopolitan exchanges going (in Classical Gaelic), with the exchange of artists between Ireland and Scotland, as well as intermarriage. It was James VI who sought to break this cosmopolitanism with the plantation in Ulster, Treaty of Iona, etc..

    I’d agree with the general thrust of the article, including the continuing value of Gaelic, but there is the risk of projecting one’s fancies onto something that is appears strange and glamorous, simply because it is a “foreign” culture.

    The actual Gaels of history, including the elites, were in the social, economic and religious mainstream of Europe with all its successes and failures.

  7. Redgauntlet says:

    I am glad Madelaine Bunting wrote this, and not, say, our Lesley Riddoch.

    If Lesley had written it she would mostly likely be getting pelters on the social media for espousing “blood and soil nationalism”….guys like Torrance and the younger Massie would be sharpening their quills, ready to draw blood tomorrow at first light…

    For writers like Lewis Grassic Gibbon and most of the writers of the Scottish Renaissance, the idea of the land, one’s wee bit hell and glen, as being somehow special was viewed with great suspicion, especially in the wake of the ultimate “blood and soil” nationalism which the Nazis embodied. And also Stalin’s Russia…

    The SNP leadership has largely steered clear of this issue, and rightly so. It’s a risky road to go down, which doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid feeling at the PERSONAL level, of course, just don’t bring it into politics, please.

    Likewise, the dismissive contempt of “cosmopolitans” by people like Manuel Castells chimes with Amber Rudd and Theresa May, and that can never be a good thing.

    If we’re talking about writers, Robert Louis Stevenson was a “rootless cosmopolitan”, but that didn’t stop him writing some of the best novels on Scotland ever. Same with Trocchi. Some with Muriel Spark…

    Likewise, James Joyce lived in Paris, Rome, Trieste and Zurich, during which time he floundered in cosmopolitan decadence and wrote the ultimate and unsurpassed Dublin novel which is, of course, “Ulysses”.

    So, frankly, this division between “cosmopolitans” and “locals” doesn’t even to begin to stand up to scrutiny…it’s just nonsense….and why are cosmopolitans necessarily part of the elite? Complete nonsense…The word “cosmopolitan” is loaded with contempt, nobody would call Syrian refugees “cosmopolitans”, would they?

    And it was Dwelley, the Englishman, far from his own “dutchas” who single-handedly compiled the first comprehensive Gaelic dictionary…

    Frankly, this is the article is the kind of dewy-eyes, woolly brained thinking which could only issue forth from the pen – if we are going to trade in foolish labels – of a “metropolitan”….and I say that as a consummate “cosmopolitan”…

    PS: “All of us are exiles wandering strange and foreign lands….” (Roberto Bolaño)

    1. Good point Redgauntlet, though I don’t think you should dismiss the rest of the article on the single hook of the Castells quote?

      1. Redgauntlet says:

        Bella, I am merely asking whether it is in fact true, or if indeed there is any reliable evidence whatsoever, which would sustain Madelaine Bunting’s assertion that Orwell was influenced by Gaelic culture when he sat down to write “1984”.

        As far as I know, Orwell knew nothing about Gaelic culture at all. Or about as much as Madelaine Bunting does: not a lot. Orwell knew almost nothing about Spain and Spanish culture either when he arrived in Spain in 1936, by the way…

        Madelaine Bunting offers no hard evidence for a link between Orwell’s “1984” and his experience on Jura, which is the central assertion of this exert from her book – maybe she develops it later on in “Love of Country”?

        Surely Orwell’s experience of totalitarianism and his keen interest in politics, coupled with the historical moment he was writing at, would be enough to account for “1984”, without recourse to any some half-baked interest of his in Gaels and Gaelic culture?

        As for the article being “beautiful”, well that is in the eye of the beholder. Whether there is any real evidence of a link between 1984 and Gaelic culture is a matter of hard fact and some kind of evidence.

        Is there any evidence? I would be amazed if there were.

        And you know what? 1984 is not even a book about capitalism, it’a a book about the totalitarian State…so what are we talking about exactly? It’s all really tenuous, Bella….

        1. I’ve read other stuff by Madeleine that makes me think its a credible and interesting connection, specifically about how he developed the idea of Newspeak.

          Why dont I ask her to expand and develop that?

  8. Willie says:

    Made me think and realise the concepts that we have cast by the way.

    Lovely to read this piece. One of the best in Bella for a long time.

  9. Neil McRae says:

    Took me a while to realise this was a puff for a book!

    Celebrated blogger Gilleasbuig Aotrom, see, poignantly says: “It’s all a bit Celtic twilighty, isn’t it?”

    1. Its not a puff for a book, but we do mention authors upcoming books – is there some reason we shouldn’t do this Neil?

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Yon scriever disnae seem tae ken muckle at aw aboot Scotlan’s predominant indigenous langage, i.e. Scots, whit is oor ain an main indigenous langage an that isna taucht tae ony bairn in Scotlan thanks tae Holyrood an thair ‘Langage Meenister’ slingin it a deifie . Thon’ s the actual cultural doon-hauden noo that Gaelic haes ‘official’ status (e.g. an Act, TV channel, uni degree, Highers, public £50m cash/yr, a regulatory Board etc). Guid sonse tae Gaelic, an weel duin thaim Gaels, but whit aboot Scots?

        1. Would it be possible Alf to write an article about aspect of Scots language and not make reference to Gaelic?

          And is it not possible for someone to write an article about Gaelic and not make reference to Scots?

          1. Alf Baird says:

            Point taken, ed. I found the article very interesting, especially in terms of “the relevance of lost language”, given the way that language determines the way we think and act, i.e. our culture. Loss of language therefore implies a loss of culture, or a very significant part of it. Which further suggests the Gaelic language/culture is different from the Scots language/culture, which is different from the English language/culture. The cultural oppression I refer to relates to the fact that, unlike English and Gaelic languages which Scots learn by law, Scots speakers are deprived from being formally taught how to read and write in Scots language, which must inevitably lead to an erosion of (Scottish) culture. Given the findings of the article itself, this must also imply that most Scots will be unable to fully comprehend their own culture, by virtue of the fact they remain only partially educated in their own language.

  10. James Thompson says:

    Really enjoyed this article. A beautiful piece of writing.

  11. Ian Crichton smith once wrote about the ‘ tone and language’ of his present book at the time: ” I had three choices… write in Gaelic but my audience would b limited… write in English with Scottishisms…. or write in plain English … I have decided to write in plain English”…. the choice of all gaelic/ welsh writers… joke it up to give a ‘ flavor’ of authenticity …or just write in plain English

    1. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

      Of course IC Smith thankfully chose to write a wide range of material in plain Gaelic also. Particularly short stories, in a style which was spare, limpid, modernist, humanist:

      “Chuir e sìos an telefon, ‘s chaidh e chun na h-uinneig. ‘Se oidhche bhoidheach shamhraidh a bh’ ann, ‘s chitheadh e na daoine a’ falbh air na sràidean mòra, ‘s chluinneadh e an cuid bhrògan a’ tàirneanaich air a’ chloich. Os cionn nan tighean bha an solus uaine, is grian òir anns an adhar. Air oidhcheannan mar seo shaoileadh duine gun robh an saoghal gun mheang mar leug phrìseil. Muillionan de dhaoine a’ gabhail seachad, mar rionnagan anns an iarmailt, muillionan de dhaoine. . . . Smaoinich e air an adhar, gun fhios nach robh, aig an àm ud fhèin, rocaidean. . . . ‘s an iarmailt a’ coimhead cho neochiontach! Stad e. Bha gnog aig an doras.” (‘An Solus Ùr’, c 1963, An Dubh is an Gorm, Oilthigh Ghlaschu, 1969)

      Though I must say that over the decades it has been a starkly poignant line from his long sequence-poem ‘Deer on the High Hills – A Meditation’ (Penguin Modern Poets 21, 1972) which has most remained fixed in my own mind:

      “There is no metaphor, the stone is stony”

  12. Henry Holland says:

    A moving, informative and scholarly article, from which I learnt a lot. The disturbing thing is some of the chauvinistic and ill-informed reactions that individuals decided to tag on to it, and which have sweet FA to do with what Madeleine wrote. @ William: what the hell are the scare quotes doing in your faux-Braveheart utterance that: “If Scotsmen search for freedom and the preservation of their culture, embrace “individual capitalism” and “protect your borders.”? Either you believe that utter tat, in which case you should at least come out and say it without the scare quotes, or you should state what you actually think more precisely. “Protecting borders” has less-than-nothing to do with what a decisive majority in the independence movement want the project of an independent Scotland to be about, namely: internationalism, inclusiveness, and an absolute rejection of ethnicity and of outdated, discriminatory categories of citizenship being used as the basis for future Scottish citizenship. You must obviously have meant something quite different when using your scare quotes. @ Redgauntlet: whatever do you believe qualifies you to make your condescending and bullying put down of Madeleine’s essay? “The SNP leadership has largely steered clear of this issue, and rightly so. It’s a risky road to go down, which doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid feeling at the PERSONAL level, of course, just don’t bring it into politics, please.” The essay is certainly not principally about whatever the author may be “feeling” about the issue, but is rather a well-researched elucidation of how a particular linguistic community has conceived of and negotiated its land use over centuries: an entirely valid political issue. You have either deliberately misrepresented the complex and contradictory ways in which “writers like Lewis Grassic Gibbon and most of the writers of the Scottish Renaissance” wrote and thought about land, in an attempt to lend your arguments a legitimacy that they direly lack; or you haven’t bothered to read these writers properly. Grassic Gibbon unquestionably rejected a jingoistic and uncritical relationship with the land, but it’s nonsense to reduce his position, as you do, to one in which there is nothing special in the interrelation between land and people. The scene at the end of Grey Granite (1934), the final novel in his masterwork trilogy A Scots Quair, describes Chris, the protagonist, laying herself down to die on the very farmed land she grew up on. (@Bella readers: don’t trust Redgauntlet on Gibbon, trust Grassic Gibbon on Grassic Gibbon; full free text of Grey Granite here: A most special scene indeed, and one of a series of key scenes in the trilogy in which the land is a dynamic and decisive presence. As Redgauntlet casts smears not only at Madeleine but also at many other individuals who are infinitely more worth reading than R.G. itself, it might be best simply to ignore such trolling tactics. Yet the disinformation against Manuel Castells is particularly galling, and should not stand. When R.G. claims that “the dismissive contempt of “cosmopolitans” by people like Manuel Castells chimes with Amber Rudd and Theresa May”, it must be added that it can only “chime” for people who haven’t bothered either to read Castells, or to accurately analyse May’s discourse. Can RG provide a single example where May names “elites” in a critical fashion, or provides a convincing critique of their sociological composition? This is what Castells does in the thinking that Madeleine Bunting has given us an excerpt of: “‘elites are cosmopolitan and people are local.” A level-headed thinker, Castells has no interest in attacking “cosmopolitans”, a group he would immediately agree to being a part of, living, as he does, between Spain and the US. Rather, he aims his critique at the behaviour of elites, a behaviour he characterizes as “cosmopolitan” to mean unfettered by nation-state borders or regional variations in its quest to accumulate more capital; this he contrasts with the “local”, a category that most people on earth — including people in the community of Scottish Gaelic speakers — have no choice but to be co-determined by. The resonances between Bunting’s writing on local co-governance of land on the Hebrides, and the work of Wolgang Streeck, a prominent European economist, are also striking. Streeck also writes and researches on tensions between “the local” and global capital. A good, critical essay on Streeck’s work is available free online at the LRB:

    1. Redgauntlet says:

      Henry, my tone is one of respectful scepticism of the piece of writing, whereas you pass straight to personal insult and invective I see…

      I don’t agree that Madelaine’s piece is “scholarly”, and nor probably would she, but then again, Madelaine Bunting is a journalist, not a scholar, and the first pages of her book, which you can look at on Amazon, point to the clearly PERSONAL nature of her travels and the book she has written.

      There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but obviously hers is not a rigorous piece of cultural or historical or sociological writing, but a kind of travel literature.

      My quarrel is that I see no reason to believe that Gaelic Scotland had any influence on Orwell’s writing “1984”, which is what the caption below the title of the piece states, because not a shred of evidence is offered in that regard. If there is any such evidence, maybe you could point me to it?

      As for Manuel Castells, I haven’t read his work, but all I know is that Madelaine Bunting quotes him without any kind of context. In any case, “Elites are cosmopolitan, people are local” is a patently ridiculous sentence for anybody to utter, anywhere…only a sociologist could come up with such a farcical statement…

      But on the more general issue, I am sceptical about a book which points to the “resistance” inherent in Gaelic and the land issue, whereas anybody who knows the history of the Highlands and Islands, knows that it has been one long series of defeats, until the day before yesterday….an unmitigated catastrophe and well nigh the obliteration of a whole culture…

      Using, learning and speaking Gaelic is indeed an act of resistance; but I find it dubious that there is a “resistance” built into the language, any more than there is built into any other one…

      I get very little from somebody coming up to London and telling us that we have been resisting all of these years, when the SNP still to this day refuse to grant Gaelic the same status as English…and even went so far as to refusing Gaelic on the ballot paper of our independence referendum in the Highland and Islands….

      As for Gaelic being the language of resistance, well its maximum 20th century exponent, Sorely MacLean, put the matter clearly enough without blinding us in so much Celtic twilight:

      “The Highland Clearances constitute one of the saddest tragedies that has ever come upon a people, and one of the most astounding of all the victories of landlord capitalism in Western Europe; such a triumph over the workers and peasants of a country has rarely been achieved with such ease, cruelty and cynicism…” (“The Poetry of the Clearances”)

      The book

      The book is another book about somebody who comes up to the Highlands from London to tell us

      1. You should read Castells Red Gauntlet, you’d approve.

  13. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    Just happened on an Irish version (by historian Vincent Morley) of a line from 1984:

    ‘An té a stiúrann an t-am atá caite’, de réir mhana an Pháirtí, ‘stiúrann sé an t-am atá le teacht: an té a stiúrann an t-am i láthair, stiúrann sé an t-am atá caite.’

    ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ – George Orwell (1903-50), ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

  14. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    Suggested succinct Scottish Gaelic for above Orwell quote:

    ‘Esan a stiùireas na thachair’, ars am Partaidh, ‘stiùiridh e na thig: esan a stiùireas na th’ann, stiùiridh e na thachair.’

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