Nationality and Death

A couple years ago, two of my friends who I greatly respect both recommended within a short time span of one another that I read Michael Brendan Dougherty’s book, My Father Left me Ireland.

I happened to read it during the 2019 federal election campaign.

These paragraphs, in particular, really struck me:

We are used to conceiving of the nation almost exclusively as an administrative unit. A nation is measured by its GDP, its merit is discovered in how it lands on international rankings for this or that policy deliverable. A nation may have a language, but the priority is to learn the lingua franca of global business. Our idea of doing something for the nation is reduced to something almost exclusively technical. Policy wonks are the acknowledged legislators of the world.

But there is nothing technical about the Rising. I see in the Rising that a nation cannot live its life as a mere administrative district or as a shopping mall; nations have souls. It’s a virtue when poetry colonizes our politics, even if today the situation is reversed. The life of a nation is never reducible to mere technocracy, just as the home cannot be, no matter how much we try to make it so. I see that nationality is something you do, even with your body, even with your death.

To some, the description of the nation as “an administrative unit” and “technocracy” might sound just right.

But, as is often the case, juxtaposition brings clarity and there is something attractive in the poetry of the irreducible and soulful idea of the nation about which Dougherty speaks.

What do you think he means when he says he sees nationality as “something you do, even with your body, even with your death”?

Are we missing something if we do not “let the words and deeds of the past weight on [us] and refashion [us]”?

Without pathos for nationality, are we passionate about lesser or greater things?

Yes, there are a great many risks involved with national fervour and yet, rightly ordered, it does seem to be something both human and glorious, earthy and transcendent– insofar as it can make us “refashioned from something outside [ourselves].”

Photo: Irish countryside, summer 2011

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