sectarianism and education

Sectarianism is rarely levelled as a term of endearment. It would be difficult (though certainly not impossible) to praise any position for its sectarian virtues. Nonetheless, the centrality of sectarianism to Stormont politics in the North of Ireland / Northern Ireland (whichever you prefer) is such that one’s sectarianism is worn as a badge of honour. Reading, in a different context, Paulo Freire’s Education for Critical Consciousness (discussing the Brazilian political context in the 1950s and 1960s), I stumbled upon and through the following quote:

Unfortunately, the Brazilian people, elite and masses alike, were generally unprepared to evaluate the transition critically; and so, tossed about by the force of the contending contradictions, they began to fall into sectarian positions instead of opting for radical solutions. Sectarianism is predominantly emotional and uncritical. It is arrogant, antidialogical and thus anticommunicative. It is a reactionary stance, whether on the part of a rightist (whom I consider a “born” sectarian) or a leftist. The sectarian creates nothing because he cannot love. Disrespecting the choices of others, he tries to impose his own choice on everyone else. Herein lies the inclination of the sectarian to activism: action without the vigilance of reflection; herein lies his taste for sloganizing, which generally remains at the level of myth and half-truths and attributes absolute value to the purely relative. The radical, in contrast, rejects activism and submits his actions to reflection.
The sectarian, whether rightist or leftist, sets himself up as the proprietor of history, as its sole creator, and the one entitled to set the pace of its movement […] The sectarian wishes the people to be present at the historical process as activists, maneuvered by intoxicating propaganda. They are not supposed to think. Someone else will think for them; and it is as protégés, as children, that the sectarian sees them. Sectarians can never carry out a truly liberating revolution, because they are themselves unfree. (Freire, 2008: 9)

Despite Freire’s over-reliance on ‘rationality’ and ‘thought’, and his demonisation of the affective, this extended quote raises some important questions. Is sectarianism necessarily anti-communicative, rather than the very “stuff” of politics (i.e. conflict)? Could there be a politics without sectarianism? Are self-identified revolutionary sectarians, by definition, self-proclaimed prophets of history? One cannot, at present, imagine a Stormont without sectarianism. Is is it therefore impossible, as Freire argues, for there to be a Stormont with communication?


Freire, Paulo, ‘Society in Transition’, trans. by Myra Bergman Ramos, in Education for Critical Consciousness (London: Continuum, 2008), pp. 3-18