Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Of State and Nation

According to recent projections from Statistics Canada, the population of visible minorities (a polite euphemism for non-white) in Canada is expected to double by 2017, the sesquicentennial of Confederation.

Jill Mahoney's article in today's Globe and Mail is full of numbers but barely even hints at the questions our changing demographic picture raises.

Western Europe is now coming face to face with the effects of a rapidly shrinking native European birth rate combined with a rising influx of Islamic immigrants with higher birth rates. The flourishing of radical Islam in Western Europe has belied the hopes of politicians that its "guest workers" from Turkey and Algeria would become good Frenchmen, Dutchmen and Germans.

Hopes, it might be added, that were held alongside the creed of multiculturalism and cultural equality in an incredible display of cognitive dissonance--all cultures are equal, but naturally people will choose Western culture.

But those who defend and study the official Canadian policy of multiculturalism assure us that there is nothing to be concerned about:

Jeffrey Reitz, head of the ethnic studies program at the University of Toronto, noted that immigration policy has "produced constant demographic change over time," as waves of people have arrived in Canada from every corner of the world.

"At each phase, people have expressed concern that increasing diversity was changing Canadian identity and producing potentially disruptive consequences and yet here we are."

"And so you could say that this is just more of the same, and in fact that the Canadian identity can't be changed by increasing diversity because that's what the Canadian identity is."

Read that last sentence again:

The Canadian identity can't be changed by increasing diversity because that's what the Canadian identity is.

Nations tend to identify themselves around a common blood or common creed, religious or secular. Where there is no common blood (as in Quebec, or Poland, or Sweden), a common civic creed will do just as well (as in the United States or Switzerland). Indeed, a common civic creed can encompass all manner of people as long as they agree to adhere to it, hence the United States' incredible success in assimilating people from all four corners of the earth and making them American.

But where there is no common blood or creed, states need to rely on their own force to hold together disparate groups, a force that relies on people's acceptance of the current situation, often for no better reason than that all of the other alternatives are worse. Think of the Austrian Empire in this regard.

But what defines the Canadian identity?

Put another way: if the Canadian state ceased to exist in its current form, would Canada continue to exist?

Poland lost her independence and suffered the ignominy of partition amongst three rival empires as hostile towards Poland as to themselves. Yet the Polish people themselves did not, would not, disappear into their conquerors.

A common language, history, culture, traditions--all of these ensured the survival of the Polish nation.

Does Canada exist in the hearts of its people in the same way that Poland does?

I am not so sure.

Liberal governments have socially engineered away respect for our history and traditions prior to about 1965, and substituted in its stead something called "Canadian values"--values that remain defined by a political party's policy, and thus shift with the winds.

These values find their expression in our social welfare state, through the existence of certain government programs. It matters not that these programs are often economically inefficient and deliver inferior services. If they cease to exist, it is argued, Canada itself ceases to exist.

Thus the incredible zealotry in the defence of the current system of medicare. Its most fanatical defenders know that it doesn't work, but it has become as sacred to Canada as Jerusalem to Israel.

In the absence of a strong sense of our own identity, it is also easier to define ourselves by what we are not. Thus the reflexive anti-Americanism, out of fear that our own cultural defences are just not that strong enough to assert themselves against the most powerful cultural force in human history.

Again, if America did not exist, had never existed, how would we define ourselves as Canadians?

A nation does not exist because a state exists; a nation exists in its people's hearts and minds. Take away the Canadian state, and do we have a Canadian nation?

I return to the example of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which, in its final form, arose out of the Ausgleich (compromise) of 1867. As long as the Habsburgs could enforce their writ, and as long as it remained to Europe's advantage to let them do so, the Empire could exist despite the forces of a dozen nationalities pulling against it. There never was, in any sense, an Austro-Hungarian nation, merely a state.

But when it could not hold its own in World War I, the Habsburgs were forced to abdicate, and the Empire dissolved into dust.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire had a great unity in diversity, but that unity rested on the strength of the Habsburg dynasty. So too does our unity in diversity rest on the current state ideology and apparatus. Take it away, and there may be nothing else to hold the Canadian state together.

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