It’s a question that has plagued the residents of North America north of America for more than a century and a quarter, since a tipsy lawyer named Macdonald cobbled together a coalition of provincial pols and created a political union proclaimed as “One Dominion under the name of Canada” – what is the Canadian identity?
Most countries have some elements of a unique culture – culinary, musical, artistic, linguistic, religious, etc. – but identity needs to be deeper than just culture. It also should be defined in the positive – most University-educated Canadians’ descriptions of our identity end up boiling down to some form of “not American”. Ideally, a national identity should be: a set of values, as shaped by history and culture, that brings unity to a people in times of distress, and strength to a nation as it progresses through time.
In the past century, wars between nations of extremely strong identities caused the world’s intellectual culture to react sharply, and promote a well-meant but ultimately destructive idea: that national identities are a cancer that, once excised, will put an end to wars, and harmony to mankind. Natan Sharansky’s latest book explores this concept in great depth. Consequently, young nations like Canada were discouraged from ever developing a proper identity. Religious identity? Forget about it, wars were fought over religion. British ancestry? Nah, the Brits are on the decline, and that would offend Quebec. New World optimism? No, we’re just as guilty of oppression as the old world, thanks to our treatment of the Natives. With deconstructionism, multiculturalism, internationalism, and other mushy “ism”s ruling the day, developing a Canadian identity has been nearly impossible.
There should be hope. We live border-to-border, sea-to-sea with the world’s strongest identity of the past hundred years – the United States of America. We could have adopted the best of America’s ideals that has granted its people the self-confidence to build the most powerful, most prosperous, most welcoming nation on earth, where people from every country in the world wish to migrate to more than anywhere else on earth. Yet, out of petty insecurity, loyalist resentment, jealousy, and ideological elitism, most Canadians reject anything “American” out-of-hand.
But where might we be if we opened ourselves to the best of America’s values? We could start by coming to terms with a few simple facts:
1) our very existence, and any material success we have achieved, comes almost exclusively from the British colonial/mercantilist system, which introduced the concept of government based on Judeo-Christian morality to the world, enshrining individual freedom into law, and proving that the elimination of slavery is the true road to riches.
2) the American revolution, while a rejection of the particular British regime of the era, was not a rejection of British ways. In fact, it had far more in common with a church schism, in which the breakaway group saw itself as perfecting the original idealism of the system. America’s concepts of free expression, individual liberty, free enterprise, local community autonomy, and proud worldwide proselytism, all come from Enlightenment England, and are simply hardened with a more rigid religious and ideological edge.
3) French culture is not incompatible with this British-inspired Judeo-Christian English idealism. One need look only at the Bayou, where expelled Acadians have survived and thrived for centuries now, deep in the American south.
4) Evil always tries to fill a vacuum, and disaster usually follows. Europe, most affected by the post-war trend towards one-world-identity idealism, is deep in the throes of a demographic nightmare that, if analysts like Mark Steyn, Bat Ye’or, and the late Oriana Fallaci are right, will have Christian and Enlightenment Europe relegated to the history books within a generation. Canada can follow Europe, or it can develop a sustaining identity like America.
How to define Canada’s identity? First, the country needs to be convinced that “not America” is childish and destructive. Then, an opportunity opens wide: the best of American values can be enshrined here, with the advantage of not having the baggage of slavery and Jim Crow as a significant blight on our history.
In the meantime, as we celebrate the holiday formerly known as Dominion Day, don’t forget where the founders got the word “Dominion” from:
Genesis 1:28-29: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”