Blanshard, Paul (1892–1980), journalist and author, was born 27 August 1892 at Fredericksburg, Ohio, USA, one of twin sons of Francis George Blanshard, a congregational clergyman, and his wife Emily (née Coulter), both of whom had been born in Canada. His maternal grandfather came from Co. Down. His twin brother Brand Blanshard was a distinguished philosopher. Paul was educated at high schools in Edinburg, Ohio, Bay View (Michigan), and Petoskey (Michigan), and at Detroit central high school, before entering the University of Michigan (1910–14). During his university years Blanshard replaced the fundamentalist protestantism of his upbringing with a form of theologically liberal Christian socialism. After graduating he joined the Socialist Party and decided to study for the congregational ministry. He undertook graduate work at Harvard combined with pastoral work in east Boston, preaching ‘more socialism than Christianity’, fervently advocating birth control as a remedy for poverty, and intervening in several strikes. In 1916–17 he served as a congregational minister to a congregation at Tampa, Florida, but resigned after deciding that he could no longer in conscience consider himself a Christian.
Blanshard married first, in 1915, Julia Anderson (d. 1934), a journalist, with whom he had two sons. (He later married Mary W. Hillyer (d. 1965) in 1936 and Beatrice Enselman Mayer in 1965.) After leaving the ministry, he briefly studied sociology at Columbia University and the Union Theological Seminary, before working as a labour organiser for the Amalgamated Textile Workers (ATW); in 1919 he spent a month in jail at Utica, New York, for his union activities, and his anti-capitalist speeches from this time were often resurrected in later years by his opponents. He next spent five years as an educational officer for the ATW, and published An outline of the British labour movement (1923). He then became field secretary to the League of Industrial Democracy, a body resembling the Fabian Society (1925–33). During this period he visited China and Russia and served as an associate editor on the left-wing weekly The Nation (1926–9), which became his principal journalistic base for his later campaigns on catholicism.
In 1933 Blanshard resigned from the Socialist Party because he believed its pacifism an inadequate response to the growing threat of fascism and Nazism. For the remainder of his life he regarded himself as a social democrat, believing that no-one should earn more than $50,000 a year and regarding the Wall Street stock market as ‘legalised gambling’. He accepted in 1933 the position of New York commissioner of investigations and accounts under the reforming Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia, and made a national reputation for exposing municipal fraud and corruption. He resigned in 1937 in an ill-fated attempt to establish a career as a creative writer. After leaving the Socialist Party Blanshard became active in the American Labour Party, based in New York, in which he fought communist influence. He was economic analyst to the Caribbean commission of the US department of state (1942–6), an experience which inspired his book Democracy and empire in the Caribbean (1947).
From the late 1940s Blanshard's writing was dominated by works attacking the influence of the catholic church in America and worldwide. His first book on catholicism was American freedom and catholic power (1949), originally published serially in The Nation from 1947. This work, which attacked catholic medical and sexual ethics, was widely denounced and boycotted by American catholics, which only confirmed Blanshard's view of catholicism as a threat to American freedom. It was followed by Communism, democracy and catholic power (1951), which drew on Blanshard's experiences as The Nation's Rome correspondent during the holy year of 1950; here he equated catholicism and communism as foreign-controlled dictatorships and threats to American freedom. These books sold 300,000 copies between them and made Blanshard one of the most controversial figures in America.
Accused by American catholics of reviving older forms of anti-catholic nativism, Blanshard replied that his criticisms referred only to catholicism as a ‘power structure’ and not to its ‘devotional’ aspects. He promoted the withdrawal of state funding from catholic schools, the closing down of catholic medical facilities that refused to provide birth control and perform therapeutic abortions, and the condemnation of catholic attempts to maintain cultural separation as contrary to public policy. He argued that American catholic bishops should be forced to register as agents of a foreign government, that American cardinals should lose their US citizenship for participating in the election of a foreign head of state, and that Americans serving as Vatican diplomats should also forfeit their citizenship. In May 1953 Blanshard filed with the US embassy in Dublin a memorandum calling unsuccessfully for the revocation of the American citizenship of Archbishop Gerald P. O'Hara, papal nuncio to Ireland (1952–4).
Much of Blanshard's writing took Franco's Spain as typifying the catholic ideal of church–state relations. After seeing a review in Studies (1951) that presented Ireland as proof that there was no incompatibility between catholicism and democracy, Blanshard decided to investigate Ireland as a ‘pilot model for a future Catholic America’. Between May 1952 and 1953 he visited Ireland and conducted exhaustive research on church–state relations with the assistance of Owen Sheehy-Skeffington (qv) and Hubert Butler (qv). He combined extensive research in catholic and secular periodicals with interviews with public figures, including Seán MacBride (qv), William Norton (qv), Lord Brookeborough (qv), and the leaders of the integralist catholic group Maria Duce. Éamon de Valera (qv) spoke frankly with him (perhaps because The Nation had supported the Irish cause in the war of independence) and startled Blanshard with his view that a united Ireland could and should maintain absolute prohibitions on divorce, abortion, and birth control, while he conceded that literary censorship might have to be relaxed. Blanshard's reminiscences of the meeting emphasise de Valera's blindness and describe him as having become ‘only a symbolic shadow of Irish nationalism and Catholic faith’ (Blanshard, 230).
His findings were embodied in The Irish and catholic power (1954), which provoked extensive controversy. Its reception in Ireland was not assisted by the fact that it contained a long discussion of the Northern Ireland question, which was on the whole more sympathetic to the unionist than the nationalist case. The book was widely criticised (even by critics of catholic clerical authority in the republic) as a simplistic account whose portrayal of Irish politicians as straightforwardly subservient to episcopal diktat ignored the complex grey areas between church and state; Church and state in modern Ireland by J. H. Whyte (qv) can be seen as a liberal catholic rebuttal to Blanshard. In later years, as Ireland became more secularised, some scholars argued that Blanshard's views had some justification. Blanshard later claimed some credit for the theological liberalisation of catholicism after the Second Vatican Council. He died 27 January 1980 in hospital at St Petersburg, Florida.