ICYMI – Douglas Todd: The dangers of a ‘postnational’ Canada

Douglas Todd wades into the post-nationalist debate and framing Canada in terms of common values, as does PM Trudeau, rather than on an ethnic basis.

Before digging further into the influences behind our over-heated housing markets, however, I’ll make a case for healthy nationalism.

Avoid extremes

The first thing to keep in mind is to not judge nationalism by its extremes.

As G.K. Chesterton once said, condemning nationalism because it can lead to war is like condemning love because it can lead to murder.

In recent years many regions have developed generally positive forms of nationalism, Scotland, the Czech Republic, the U.S., Argentina, Japan, Sweden to name a few.

Healthy nationalism encourages diverse people to cooperate.

“Patriotism is what makes us behave unselfishly. It is why we pay taxes to support strangers, why we accept election results when we voted for the loser, why we obey laws with which we disagree,” writes Daniel Hannan, author of Inventing Freedom.

“A functioning state requires broad consensus on what constitutes the first-person plural. Take that sense away, you get Syria or Iraq or Ukraine or — well, pretty much any war zone you can name.”

Though Canada’s particular style of nationalism is fluid and not simple to define, it’s part of what makes the country attractive to immigrants, who often arrive from dysfunctional regions torn by corruption and cynicism about national officials.

Many immigrants seem to realize that it’s not normally nationalism that foments catastrophic division, it’s religion, race or tribalism.

In contrast, some of the world’s most economically successful and egalitarian countries have a sense of mutual trust and appreciation for good government that is in part based on the glue of nationalism.

People in proud Nordic countries, for instance, often decorate even their birthday cakes with their national flags. At the same time Nordic nations are generous to their disadvantaged and in distributing foreign aid.

Michael McDonald, former head of the University of B.C.’s Centre for Applied Ethics, thinks Trudeau’s belief that Canada is the world’s first “postnational state” emerges out of his concern that it’s dangerous to “affirm a dominant culture that suppresses and marginalizes those outside the mainstream.”

But even though the ethics professor believes it’s important to protect minorities, he isn’t prepared to overlook the value of nationalism.

McDonald believes being Canadian is like being a member of a community, or a big family.

“Some are born into the family and others are adopted. There is a shared family history — interpreted in diverse ways,” McDonald says.

“Not everyone is happy being in the family. Some think being a family member is important and others do not. But we are shaped by our families, and we shape ourselves within and sometimes against our families. So also with our country.”

Transnationalist dangers

Embracing McDonald’s view that Canada is a giant, unruly but somewhat bonded family, I’d suggest Trudeau contradicts himself, or is at least being naive, when he argues Canada is a postnational state.

On one hand Trudeau claims Canada has no “core identity.” On the other hand he says the Canadian identity is quite coherent — we all share the values of “openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice.”

Can it be both ways?

Most Canadians don’t think so. Regardless of what Trudeau told the New York Times, a recent Angus Reid Institute poll confirmed what many Canadians judge to be common sense: 75 per cent of residents believe there is a “unique Canadian culture.”

Less a contradiction than a refinement of what is common to Canadians (imperfectly, of course).

Source: Douglas Todd: The dangers of a ‘postnational’ Canada

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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