Wednesday, November 16, 2005


The role of the nation

I believe the role of the nation is important in society. Nowadays it appears to be trendy to knock the role of the nation as we're living in a world where the role of the nation-state seems to be diminishing while the European Union gains more and more influence. I still believe the nation is very relevant to us. Allow me to first look at what the nation gives us from a social perspective, how this relates to Ireland and lastly the role of the nation in the future.

First of all, I think the nation plays an important part in helping maintain stability in society. Contrast a human being in the 20th century, who would more than likely have been part of a nation of some kind, with someone from the Middle Ages, who would have been without a nation. There's a marked difference. I look on the nation as being akin to a family. It gives the individual a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose. Some people are of the view that it is foolish to love a nation because you can't do anything about the nation you're born into. You can't choose it in other words. Well, the same is true of family! We can't choose what family we're born into but surely no one would begrudge us showing love towards our families? I believe the nation is an essential component of society. A nation is defined as 'a large community of people of mainly common descent, language, history, etc., usually inhabiting a particular territory and under one government'. The connection that people feel for one another within a nation is important from a social standpoint as it makes life under a State's authority far more pleasant and tolerable.

With all that being said, let's analyse how this relates to Ireland. Ireland is a divided nation. It contains many similarities to a divided family, I feel. A longing to bury the old enmities, a desire to feel a shared belonging once more with one another and the desire to be rid of that unwanted feeling of sorrow as a result of such conflicting attitudes. This goes right to the very heart of Irish nationalism. I believe that most Irish people have, at some point, felt a sense of injustice having looked up at a map of Ireland and having had to see a divided nation stare right back at them. I believe it has plagued Irish people for generations since the border's very inception. It has become a part of who we are. It defines us. Like a son who wishes to make amends with his father, nationalists wish to make amends with their unionist compatriots. A failure to do so will always eat away at nationalists as it would the lowly son who yearns for a bond once again with his father. That is why the desire for Irish Unity continues to exist. It is human nature to want to build bridges. Therefore it should be acknowledged that the nation is a powerful social construct. Something highly emotive and very significant.

What then for the role of the nation in the future? Well in contrast to some other political thinkers, I do feel the nation will continue to have a role. I do believe that the continued expansion of the European Union is a grave threat to nation-states throughout Europe, and particularly small nations like Ireland. Nevertheless I think the rejection of the despicable European Constitution by French and Dutch voters highlights a desire to maintain the nation and to not see it subsumed by a European national construct. To once more use the analogy of the family, while it is good to be part of a large family, we still tend to live in smaller family units. A good relationship with cousins, aunties and uncles is welcome but you don't necessarily want to live with them! Likewise, a good relationship with our European neighbours is also welcome but we don't want the relationship to extend beyond that point. We seek to stay within smaller national units in the way that we seek to stay within smaller family units.

All in all, I think the role of the nation will continue to be paramount in society. It gives us a sense of belonging - when it is damaged, so too are we, and I think it will retain its significance as we continue to deal with the threat of European expansion.

"Territory is but the body of a nation. The people who inhabit its hills and valleys are its soul, its spirit, its life." - James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States


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