Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Canada Day!

But before you get too excited, time for Andrew Cohen's annual finger-wagging. The pompous arse has taken a different approach this year. Where usually he picks a random nation and explains why it's so much better than Canada, this year he sneers at your red mittens, timbits, and hockey.

Nonetheless, he's right about some things (though I'll never understand the anger the name "Canada Day" generates in some people). But Canada Day is a time to celebrate. To celebrate the fact that you either won the cosmic lottery and were born here, or were fortunate enough to make it here from somewhere else.

So have a wonderful day, drink some wonderful Canadian beer (Hoptical Illusion from Flying Monkey's in Barrie is my choice), and celebrate this wonderful place.


  1. The pompous arse has taken a different approach this year.

    Like all of the Benthamite liberals of the Coyne/Granatstein/Steyn school, Cohen really believes that finding Canada lacking by way of a facile and overdetermined standard of national integrity gives him the right to expatiate on the fragile, inauthentic and "unfinished" nature of Canadian nationhood. This tedious, patronising game has been going on for over a century and a half; William Lyon Mackenzie thought Canadians were beneath him, too. When Cohen writes, "we still do not know who we are," he's projecting his own pitiable identity confusion onto a nation that is largely free of it (I don't spend too much time being unaware of who I am, and neither do you, I would wager).

    In this, he is merely symptomatic of elite consensus opinion. Notice how he uses "we" when enumerating the ways Canada is allegedly becoming more American despite the fact that the listed items (fixed election dates, judicial hearings, etc.) are not only culturally trivial but are also largely CPC initiatives and thus wildly unrepresentative of mainstream Canadian dispositions. According to Cohen's logic, CPC support for the invasion of Iraq, a position that Canadians overwhelmingly rejected, would stand as evidence of the Canadian "Americanisation" he thinks he detects.

    And the guy's the president of The Historica-Dominion Institute! Imagine Noam Chomsky appointed chair of The American Enterprise Institute.

    Incidentally, I hadn't realised you're an Ottawa lad until now. As a conservative, you might get a perverse kick out of something odd about our Valiants Memorial on Confederation Square (I presume you've had occasion to inspect it closely at least once).

    Notice anything missing from that collection of statutes designed to honour all those who've played key roles in Canada's military history? I blogged about this farce last year. Here's a hint: the most senior member of the committee that selected the statues was Jack Granatstein, Canada's crankiest anti-political correctness champion...! Think about it.

  2. When Cohen writes, "we still do not know who we are," he's projecting his own pitiable identity confusion onto a nation that is largely free of it (I don't spend too much time being unaware of who I am, and neither do you, I would wager).

    An excellent point, and one I think we discussed with Ti-Guy at Red's several times. Nobody on the Hill yesterday was particularly confused. I didn't see anyone collapse with a severe case of cognitive dissonance after being confronted with instances of Canadian culture, or historical traditions, or Christopher Plummer's professed love of his country.

  3. This whole “unfinished country” obsession, a staple of our chattering classes on the left and the right, is one of my (many) buttons, perhaps because it's something I took seriously as a young man just coming into political consciousness—chiefly because my teachers did.

    The absurd premise is that other nations have an existential groundedness that we lack and will never have, with the U.S. typically adduced as a counter-example. It rarely occurs to our deep thinkers that a nation that has been able to negotiate the inevitable and traumatic socio-cultural changes that have roiled the West throughout the 19th and 20th centuries without resort to civil wars, lynchings, riots, frequent political assassinations, and routine politically and criminally motivated mass murder is quite obviously far more comfortable with its identity than a nation whose history is blotted by the self-infliction of those calamities. Look closely at the cultural divide exposed by the hysterical response to Obama's relatively mild health-care reform and tell me how "finished" America is.

    Anyway, back to my little quiz. The missing Valiants Memorial statues are those of Wolfe and Montcalm. But who wants to be reminded of the unpleasantness of the Plains of Abraham, even if it did represent the foundation of our country?

    I wrote a post lambasting this bit of Stalinist revisionism, taking Jack Granatstein (author of Who Killed Canadian History?, as you probably know) specifically to task. He wrote me an angry e-mail in reply, without acknowledging the stupidity of what he'd done. What a hypocrite, and how typical: he still hasn't admitted that his support for Dubya's Mesopotamian morass was geo-politically imbecilic.

  4. For Canada Day, I actually decided to read some excerpts from Grant's Lament For A Nation .

    The way I read Cohen is that his conclusions he makes are due to the wrong reasons whereas Grant's points on the rise of continentalism were eerily prophetic and couched in deep historical and philosophical analysis. It is very easy to claim that there is this void of unfinished Canadian identity, but in relation to what SF notes, it is a constructed crutch on which the likes of Coyne, Wells, and Steyn are able to interpolate their own opinions and value judgements in the Canadian historical narrative. I would almost say it has become a relativistic playground game of "who can revise history the best." The unfortunate result is that such musings are taken as actual observations of Canadian historical development, even though one could point out the discontinuities by simply going back far enough. After all, it was Conservatives who created the CBC and other nationalized industries that now stand as the bĂȘte-noire to the neo-Conservatives who now appeal to a return to a supposed time where Lockean virtues shone brightly. I guess one day they will explain to me just how Sir John A. MacDonald's policies of protecting domestic industries through tariffs embody those neo-liberal ideals such as free trade.

    I think it both annoys and delights the Cohens and the Coynes that Canadian identity cannot be reduced to bullet points of modern political thought because the prospect of reinvention is particularly alluring to those who attempt to speak as the vanguard of Canadiana. I don't doubt that the Canadian identity is secure in its own integrity, but I do submit that this sense of identity is more instinctive, which risks the loss of reflective and historical memory. The political establishment is the result of multiple ideological and policy shuffles largely due to the challenges of modernity and the rise of neo-liberalism in particular. So, when it comes to articulating this identity, the Cohens and Granasteins rush to fill the gaps of their own creation.

    The reality is that under this superficial political discourse, there is a solid yet intricate interplay of political ideas, stemming from Canada's history. It is just a matter of bringing it more to the fore, since I am still met with dropped jaws to any CPC supporter when I tell them that there are actually adherents to Burkean philosophy in the NDP like Bill Blaikie.

  5. JKG:

    Long time, no write!

    For Canada Day, I actually decided to read some excerpts from Grant's Lament For A Nation.

    We're in a long weekend, and LfAN is a slim volume: surely you can handle the whole thing. ;)

    Seriously, it's worth reading in its entirety. If you find it to your liking, I would suggest Grant's Technology and Empire as your next book; it's deeper and more satisfying (in my view) and far less apocalyptic.

    I guess one day they will explain to me just how Sir John A. MacDonald's policies...embody those neo-liberal ideals such as free trade.

    To their credit, many Canadian neo-cons freely admit that they are totally ideologically unconnected to the Tory tradition and are, in effect, Victorian liberals (or "classical" liberals, as they tend to dub themselves in order to lend their creed a cheap gravitas).

    I am still met with dropped jaws to any CPC supporter when I tell them that there are actually adherents to Burkean philosophy in the NDP like Bill Blaikie.

    You're lucky. Whenever I utter the words "Burkean philosophy" to a CPC supporter, I am met with blank stares.

  6. Sorry SF, I actually did read your post on the Memorial when you wrote it.

    I spotted this book the other day at Chapters. From a cursory glance at the flap, and some vague knowledge of the author's previous book, it might represent a "Conservative" getting off the boat and paying homage to his true liberal ancestry. It seems to be an effort a linking current Conservative ideals to Laurier. That said, he might be being a bit tricky, trying to convince "progressive" Canadians that they should get behind CPC policies because Laurier was a good guy. Then again, I could be completely off base!

  7. That said, he might be being a bit tricky, trying to convince "progressive" Canadians that they should get behind CPC policies

    I think it is best to maintain that skepticism. I haven't read his other book, but from what I read in the summaries and in the reviews, Crowley is a free market economist trying to assert that pre 1950s Canada embodied many neoliberal principles.

    This is exactly the kind of historical interpolation I fear is happening. There is no doubt that his second book will be well received as well due to its well framed arguments. But any time I see a Hayekian scholar start making cases for Canadian policy grounded in supposed historical precedence, I tend to raise an eyebrow.

    Given Laurier's zeal for free trade and liberalized economics, it doesn't surprise me that Crowley is using him as a link to the past. The stumbling block is, of course, to realize that Laurier was a Liberal.

    I haven't read this book you mentioned, Shiner, but I am going recklessly to speculate that the book will be involve a certain bait and switch much like Socrates in his cross examination of Meletus.

    Laurier's Liberals were seen as a departure from the policies that were shaping post-Confederation Canada. Furthermore, the Liberals, with a few politically expedient contradictions, were the early adopters of neoliberalism. Crowley will have to address why this is something seen as a deterministic and inherent trajectory for Canada. There was no doubt that Progressive Conservatives, up until the eighties at least, opposed these neoliberal policies as they brought Canada closer and closer to American hegemony. However, the crux of Crowley's arguments will be that neoliberalism was always a mainstay in the Canadian institutional memory. To do so is to deny the efforts of pre-Reagan/Thatcher era contributions of Progressive Conservative Prime Ministers like Diefenbaker. Or more to the point, that these policies were either aberrations or that they somehow fit into Crowley's model of the True North, Strong, and Neoliberal Free. He might just wish away such glaring contradictions to his thesis by saying that all parties eventually embraced neoliberalism, demonstrating a retroactive invalidation of any predecessors who did otherwise.

  8. P.S.

    A hint I found about this is in the reviews of his first book :

    According to Crowley there is an Old Canada (Confederation-1950s) and a New Canada (1960s-present). The Old Canada is a making state, characterized by small and limited government, personal independence, personal responsibility, commitment to the family as the most important social institution, and productive citizens of strong character and work ethic. By contrast, the New Canada is a taking state, characterized by big government, rent-seeking, personal dependence on social assistance programs, the breakdown of the family structure, and a large proportion of unproductive citizens.

    (as a little side note, I will give you three guesses as to who provided the foreword for Crowley's first book :) )

    Notice that mysteriously, Diefenbaker's time is noticeably absent. The bait and switch occurs by redefining pre 1960s Canada as the epitome of Laurier's neoliberal vision, even though Grant made an explicit case against such revisionism. This then sets the baseline to make the case that Canada lost its way, even though it was only in recent history, that a distrust for nationalized industries and communitarianism has surfaced. Since such positions are now considered "leftist," painting them as the anathema of the Canadian spirit helps advance this narrative that Canada should positively embrace globalization and neoliberalism, policies that have largely plunged America into the financial state that it is in.

    I know it is irresponsible say as much as I did without reading the books, but I am just putting out there my musings because this authour was in fact my motivation for what I wrote over at SF's place. I will keep an open mind when I read them, but I am certainly not going to be uncritical. And those above things I am going to watch for.

  9. Shiner and JKG:

    I've heard of but not read the book. Its scholarly credibility is destroyed, of course, by its being tied to the agenda of a libertarian-continentalist think-tank/pressure group. Explore the website and note how totally the institute's leadership is dominated by some of the luminaries of Canada's "movement" conservatism (John Robson, Neil Reynolds, William Watson, etc.).

    I wonder if Crowley's book mentions that Laurier was not Canada's fist champion of free trade and that Canada pursued virtually unrestricted reciprocity with the U.S. from the 1840's until 1866, when the U.S. cancelled the treaty to punish us for the weakness of Britain's support for the Union cause during the Civil War.

    I wonder if Crowley mentions that the massive period of economic and demographic growth that occurred under Laurier happened under the aegis of Macdonald's protectionist National Policy, which Laurier maintained (and even strengthened) during his prime ministership.

    I wonder if Crowley realises that Laurier pursued free trade in 1911, in the context of an early-20th-century continental economy and not in the context of an early-21st-century globalised economy, and that Laurier's view of the viability of the Canadian state in our present conditions would be very different from the perspective he took in 1911.

    My guess is that Laurier would have taken much the same tack that our most recent Laurieresque Liberal leader, Pierre Trudeau, took during his era—that is, liberal when feasible and protectionist when necessary.