“The Wind That Shakes the Barley” – how to betray the revolution

I do not intend to spoil anyone’s enjoyment in the movie with boring philosophical discussions, but I think that the following few points from Yeats and Macintyre may actually make the watching a bit more interesting. At least they did for me.

Is every modern nation like the tower,
Half dead at the top? No matter what I said,
For wisdom is the property of the dead,
A something incompatible with life; and power,
Like everything that has the stain of blood,
A property of the living; but no stain
Can come upon the visage of the moon
When it has looked in glory from a cloud.

W.B. Yeats, Blood and the Moon

“The modern state and those who inhabit it and seek to uphold it confront a dilemma. It has to present itself in two prima facie incompatible ways. (…) The citizen of the modern state is thus invited to view the state intellectually in one way, as a self-interested calculator, but imaginatively in quite another. The modern state presented only in the former light could never inspire adequate devotion. Being asked to die for it would be like being asked to die for a telephone company. And yet the modern state does need to ask its citizens to die for it, a need that requires it to find some other set of images for self/representation.”

“At certain moments the Irish Free State had become transparently in key part a constitutive imagination, promising to restore the traditional forms of communal order. Yet, on the other hand, the end result of that work was a modern bureaucratic state, the outcome of negotiated and calculated sets of accommodations in which the skills of bargaining had displaced the virtues of heroism. The Irish Free State had provided an arena for individuals to make whatever they will and can in the world, an arena for individual calculation, ambition and aggrandisement, in which success and failure have a measure that has that has remarkably little to do with common good.

The predicament of the Irish Free State was that it had to present itself as meriting the allegiance of those whose political imagination formed in the movement that led to towards Easter 1916, while at the same time functioning effectively as a form of imposed bureaucratic order. It confronted the problem of all modern postrevolutionary states, that of how to betray the revolution while appearing as its air and guardian. And, that is to say, what it confronted was not in any way a problem peculiar to Ireland. It was indeed just one more version of that incoherence for the masking and disguising of which Burke’s images were especially well designed, the incoherence involved in the relationship of the state as bureaucratic mechanism to the state as object of imaginative allegiance.”

-Alasdair Macintyre, “Poetry as Political Philosophy: Notes on Burke and Yeats”

See also:

Alasdair Macintyre, Is Patriotism a Virtue

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

Hannah Arendt, On Revolution

William T. Cavanaugh, Killing for Telephone Company: Why the Nation-State is not the Keeper of the Common Good

BTW, the movie is named after a traditional Irish ballad, which can hear in the following video beautifully arranged by Dead Can Dance:



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