A Dialogue on Leadership & Nationhood

Posted October 14th, 2014 in Culture, Leadership by Dr. William (Bill} DeMarco

                     A Dialogue On Leadership & Nationhood
                                     Dr. Bill DeMarco

One of the defining moments in a society’s history is when it comes to terms with the issue of “why and how we govern”. In most countries, such defining moments are immortalized in historical documents, national holidays, artistic renderings, symbols of nationhood, and codes of law. There are no right or wrong answers to the question of “why and how we govern”. That is because the “correct” answer in each case is culturally dependent. If we define culture as “the sum of the history, folklore, and values that, taken together, make up the unique identity of a society at a given point in time” (DeMarco, 2003), we can begin to appreciate the complexity of answering such a simple question. The values describe what a society stands for, while the folklore looks at the symbols and stories that best embody those values. The history is the kaleidoscope of people, events, and institutions that help frame the culture. With all of this as living subtext in the great debate around “why and how we govern”, participants in the great drama of nation building debate issues of governance structure: federation…confederation…monarchy… republic… parliament… chambers of government…and the all important “who has the right to participate in decision making?”. Ultimately, the debate focuses on the culturally dependent governing principle: who, how, and why we serve. This is where issues of “governing and the governed” reside. The “debate” always takes place, but sometimes it is not as explicit as it needs to be!
As challenges to the governing construct emerge, societies revisit their governing principles. History is replete with examples of such challenges: the Anarchist Movements in Europe and North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries… the post WWI Red Scares…post WWII Cold War…the post WWII end of Colonialism…civil disobedience and Civil Rights movement in the U.S. in the 1960’s and 1970’s…the 1960-1970 FLQ challenge to Canadian sovereignty…the Basque Separatist movement in Spain…the Irish Nationalist Movement…the Sinn Fein—Ulster Unionist confrontations in Northern Ireland…China’s “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”…and, of course, September 11th (2001) to name just a few examples. In each case, societies looked at “who, how, and why we serve”. In each case, the answers to the seminal question of “who, how and why we serve” led to structural reforms. These reforms were usually led by leaders who may not always have been right, but were always single- minded of purpose. They acted in service of the values they believed were core to their respective cultures.

Robert Harris’s painting depicting the 1867 Meeting of the Delegates of British North America, also known as The Fathers of (Canadian) Confederation

At this time of year, citizens in many jurisdictions have an opportunity to celebrate their nationhood by participating in the voting process. Rarely, if ever, are we asked to put our lives on the line for this privilege.  That is reserved for those noble souls who engaged in the great debate of such big issues as “why and how we govern” and “who, why, and how we serve”. Unfortunately far too many of us trivialize the process by engaging in mundane banter over entitlement and personal interests, if we engage at all, It is time for societies to once again engage in the great debate of nationhood.  We seem to have lost our way.  As Tip O’Neil, the late, great Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, famously said time and again: “All politics is local!”.  Now is time for all citizens to again engage in the great debate about “why and how we govern”. This debate needs to start with each of us at the local level. It is our right and our responsibility to do so!

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