Conor Cruise O’Brien, at least on the international scene the radical-liberal intellectual par excellence, has recently published a new collection of articles and speeches, Writers and Politics. As a United Nations official effectively in charge of the UN’s Congo operation, and later as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana during a period of great unrest, he has been intimately involved in activities usually unfamiliar to Western intellectuals. What makes O’Brien’s example all the more salutary is that he is not merely a diplomat, not merely a political scientist, nor a mandarin in the international movements for progressive education; he is also a literary man—a distinguished critic and literary historian.
O’Brien, who originally entered the UN in the service of Ireland, is deep ly concerned with Irish history and intellectual life. His book includes several long studies of Irish historical figures. In his introduction he examines the peculiar relationship between Ireland’s orthodox institutions and the characteristic stance of her intellectual avant-garde. The following passage illustrates O’Brien’s brilliant gift for analysis…...
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