Atticus Finch…LetsGetAlongerist

In Glasgow and Edinburgh, this weekend, I kept seeing copies of “Go Set A Watchman” (Harper Lee) Well to be fair, I spent a lot of time in Waterstones, WH Smith and other bookshops. That might explain it.

The publication of the book and the book itself , are two different stories.

I have not really followed either in detail.

But it seems simple enough. “Go, Set A Watchman” is set twenty years after “To Kill A Mockingbird” but it was written BEFORE “Mockingbird”. And now published six decades after “Mockingbird”

“Mockingbird” is a classic of both American Literature and American Cinema. And I suppose Harper Lee is living proof (she is now frail and elderly) that there is a “book inside all of us”. In material terms, she had no need to ever write another book.

There ARE issues. Is “Watchman” (written first) a draft of “Mockingbird”? Is “Watchman” the intended third part ofa Trilogy?….Is the intended canon….”Mockingbird”, a second novel and rounded off by “Watchman”?

As the premise of the recently published “Watchman” is 35 year old Scout returning to Alabama to visit her father and discuss issues arising from a period decades before…the discovery that Atticus Finch was not so liberal minded after all…it suggests that the young Harper Lee had a foresight beyond her years.

I am always wary of making too much of the parallel between the American Civil Rights movement and the Norn Iron Civil Rights movement.

But I do recognise a LetsGetAlongerist when I see one. And I suspect Atticus Finch Was at heart…a LetsGetAlongerist. A lawyer who did his best for his clients against a background of a set of laws, he would like to change…but not radically.

The Law Library in Belfast was full of such people….so-called “liberal unionists” in the 1960s. Richard Ferguson was one. So arguably was Robert Porter. So arguably was Basil McIvor.  But ultimately an alleged sense of “British” decency did not prevent Ferguson being a Unionist MP before defecting to Alliance. Nor did it prevent Porter being a Unionist Stormont MP who was Minister for Home Affairs. Nor did it prevent McIvor from serving as a Minister under Brian Faulkner before 1972.

Ferguson went to London to further his legal career. Porter and McIvor left Politics to become Judges.

But Ferguson, Porter and McIvor are usually described as “liberal unionists” and no doubt would have wanted to see Norn Iron develop along non-sectarian and British lines….but at a controlled pace.

And no doubt that there were decent, white lawyers who would have wanted to see Alabama adopt a non-racist and mainstream American way of life. But most were lukewarm about radical change. Yet I think this truth….that most “liberals” have limits to their “liberalism” is unlikely to have been known by a young  Harper Lee.

There is a generational factor. And I think that Harper Lee would have been unaware of this. I dont necessarily believe in a cliché that radicals and liberals become more conservative as they…we …getolder. Every journey is different. Maybe most people get less motivated by ideas and are guided by pragmatism. I never believed there was an End to History (that was an idea that came with the end of the Cold War and went with the Twin Towers).

But ten years ago, I might have believed there was an End of Politics. I was wrong. The Collapse of the Economy in 2008, Israel-Palestine, Ferguson (Missouri), Greece, the Confederate Flag, Angela

Merkel, ISIL, Taliban, Migrants drowning in European Waters, Cameron’s Tory Government, Bush-Obama-Clinton…Sanders!!!….Donald Trump.

I was very wrong. I am more politically motivated in 2015 than at any time in my life.

So Atticus Finch? Aside from the first draft, the fifty years of silence, the controversy around the publication itself…..has a more accurate version of Finch been unwittingly revealed in “Watchman”?

On balance…I am iinclined to think he was a decent lawyer with a desire to do the right thing legally. He might have wanted a fairer society but as Saint Agustine might have said “not yet”.

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6 Responses to Atticus Finch…LetsGetAlongerist

  1. Kev Hughes says:

    Hi John,

    First of all, welcome back to posting, you’ve been much missed.

    I think you’re on to something about Atticus Fitch and letsgetalongerists, at heart they are as shallow as a puddle and when push comes to shove, they aren’t nearly as liberal as they may like to imagine.

    I am mindful of Guardian pieces for the 2010 general election where one guy from the North of England (his name escapes me) went to North Down claiming it was the North’s most ‘liberal’ constituency. I can see what he means, but I suspect this is not really the case (a look around Newtownards at the moment would suggest otherwise).

    People, or should that be ‘tribes’ (in the loosest sense of the word) can be as liberal as can be among their own, however, when we introduce another group that may not have the same interests then you will see a bit of sea-change in opinions.I do not think it is coincidental that most of the trouble or flashpoints in the North are in areas where their is something approaching parity of numbers between two tribes. North Belfast and North Armagh spring to mind (as you and I have or still do live in the latter).

    Finally, the big other ingredient is money, or lack thereof. I am a fairly liberal man myself, however, that’s because I am doing well for myself and can solve my problems outside of the constraints of the state and its limited finances. When you have people contesting resources and they are limited, inevitably you will have trouble. Attics Finch could AFFORD to be liberal as he could pay his way out of issues. If Scout was going to be made to go to a mixed school with local African American children, sure he could afford to take them private to something a bit more monochrome where he could bemoan all of the poor people beating lumps out of each other in the poorer school and ask when will we ever have integration.

    There are clear parallels with what happens in the North with letsgetalongerists too, however, they will never send their kids to a Catholic grammar or secondary I suspect, or to a local football club or boxing club as that’s a bit rough or not in line with their stated beliefs.

    Keep up the writing and we’ll have to meet up again for something nice to eat next time I am home.



    • Kevin…Good to see you back commenting also.
      Let me know when you are next in Belfast.
      Time and Health have been issues for me in the last year or so and this makes blogging more hap hazard than before. Scotland was an eye opener …lots to say but finding the time and energy to say it, will be a problem.
      “LetsGetAlongerism” is not confined to Norn Iron. It is a worldwide thing.
      And maybe I am no different. I might have a breaking point also. Maybe that scares me.
      If I could solve Famine in the world by being taxed £1 extra in a year, Id happily do it.
      And £100 would be no problem.
      I nearly brought Womens Liberation into the Post.
      How many women supported Womens Liberation when it was “just” about Contraception. But how many middle class liberal women, house-keeping for rich hubbies really want equal pay. How many would really believe that Child Care or Child Tax Credits are a “womens” issue.
      At heart, maybe Atticus Finch believed in Equal Rights but drew the line at Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Equality itself. Abraham Lincoln was no liberal …he was actually a racist as his 1861 war against the Sioux in Minnesota proves.
      Atticus was in that tradition.
      All Human Rights issues…colour in USA, nationality here, women, economy….theres always a LetsGetAlongerist element.
      If I get a chance tonight (I am fecking exhausted) I will write a blog on how Scotland has changed. If I dont do it soon, I probably wont do it.
      By the way you are totally right about the worst sectarian places to live in Norn Iron are the places with the almost 50-50 population balance.
      I suppose its the same in USA or England.
      Black people probably feel less pressure in Montana than in South Carolina.
      Muslims probably feel less pressure in West Cornwall than in West Yorkshire.

      • Kev Hughes says:

        I don’t disagree with you John with everyone having their limit.

        Living in Germany but working in Luxembourg, I am struck with how similar people are in many ways. To elaborate, I remember Nassim Taleb’s book ‘The Black Swan’ and he notes that it’s not nationality, per se, that makes us similar, but other traits, as in I would have more in common with a lawyer in Peru than the people from my housing executive estate in Craigavon where I grew up (he’s right). Therefore, I SHOULD be incredibly liberal on most things, and you would imagine most of the people I work are kind of similar to myself, but even I find difficulty with others, especially Francophones. I just find their way of work very difficult to deal with, as much as they find an Anglo-Saxon-Celt (as most senior management are Irish or Irish American) to be very difficult to work with. And let me assure you John, there are MASSIVE differences. It is hair pulling stuff at times.

        So,in this area of the world, you have the great irony of people who would be considered adventurous and outgoing and willing to move abroad to a non-English speaking country, who would be easy in their skin dealing with those from different cultures, and many become hardened. I find myself at times like this, going ‘grrrr, that guy is soooooo French’ etc. They are not right, nor wrong, but very different.

        The above is a proper, FIRST WORLD problem, nothing that can’t be sorted, but this I am certain, everyone has some limit that we could find and they would start to feel uncomfortable, like say some SDLP or Alliance MLAs with abortion (not a pot shot, but the aforementioned would be liberal in many ways).

        Will stay in touch John and haven’t forgotten about the stamps I am to send.

  2. playitagain says:

    There was always a school of thought that maintained “To Kill a Mockingbird” was written by Truman Capote, a great friend and contemporary of Harper Lee.
    Wondering how this new book fits into this particular narrative especially when it is reputed to have been written before Mockingbird.

    • Theres certainly a Truman Capote connexion. “Harper Lee” is a character in at least one bio-pic about Capote.
      Another theory is that HarperLee wrote “Watchman” and it was rejected and re-written as “Mockingbird” with a guiding hand from the Publisher.

  3. Political tourist says:

    LetsGetAlongists are alive and well in Scotland.
    See NilbyMouth website.
    And of course all funding comes from Joe Public.
    Nice little earner if you can get it.

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