As I look at the partition of Northern Ireland I can’t help but be reminded of the Jim Crowe south. Shortly after partition, the NI government set about creating a system where it was very hard for the Catholics to get ahead socio-politically. They gerrymandered the electoral process so Protestants pretty much held all the power, and manipulated economic conditions in the private sector so it was very hard for Catholics to advance financially. This created a deeply entrenched cast system that saw the country stratified along the lines of religious affiliation. Why? So protestants could be at the top of it.
This system creates strife however. Not only in terms of violence, but an economically ostracized community is a strain on the state as it must rely on government assistance or subvert government law in order to procure the means to live. The protestants upheld this system out of fear however, fear that if the Catholics gained to much power, suddenly they will unite the island and make protestants the minority. This fear is given legs through the conspiracy of Romanism, which holds Catholics ultimately kowtow to the papacy, and to live under a Catholic majority would be to submit to the morally corrupt rule of Rome.
Things are the same in the United States, only instead of religion our caste system is based on race. After the civil war, the deposed southern aristocracy saw newly freed African Americans as a threat to their power structure, so set about creating their own caste system through Jim Crowe segregation. While the ultimate goal was to keep the white aristocracy on top of the social hierarchy, the motivator again was fear given legs through conspiracy. This time it was the eugenics fueled idea that African Americans were ‘violent’ and ‘cruel’ and if not kept in check, they would pursue a warpath similar to the Haitian rebellion, or Nat Turner’s uprising. There are physical connections as well. During the troubles a key advocate of the Romanist conspiracies was Ian Paisley, who spent time in the American South at the university run by Bob Jones. Jones was a televangelist and American pusher of the Romanist conspiracy, who also held the belief that segregation was an act of god.
On a fundamental level this similarity is not an accident. The plantation system in America under which slavery flourished took inspiration from the system applied in Ulster that saw the region become majority Protestant. Furthermore, the fear of the ruling classes and their respective ‘Nat Turners’ if you will, steams from a similar source. The British empire, after 200 eventful years of conquest and genocide, has largely collapsed. The collapse made nothing but sense, long lasting empires have historically been much nicer to the territories they conquered than the British tended to be, meaning progressively more effort had to be put in to quell unrest. With the strain of constant tussles with freedom fighters being to much to bear given the fights Britain was also in with it’s neighbors in Europe, of course it fell apart. Now, staring down the barrel of a global order where Britain and British descended regional hegemons (such as the protestants in Northern Ireland and the southern aristocracy in America) have much less power, there’s anxiety to be had over what the people who spent 200 years being stepped on will do to their former oppressors, now that they are out buying their own boots. Signs are actually good. As formally colonized powers like India and South America are coming into their own, it’s clear that they’re less interested in retribution and more interested with just getting on with business. And the co-equal international arrangements that have risen to prominence in the late 20th century, like the UN, NATO, and NAFTA, clearly demonstrate former hegemons have a seat at the table as co-equal partners. But fear is a powerful motivator, in Northern Ireland it lead the ruling class to oppress the Catholic minority to the point of violence. In America, it informed a decades-long policy of trying to create two parallel societies in the same infrastructure.