Canadians have a complex relationship with nationalism. It’s not exactly breaking new ground to say that we’re less likely to indulge in flag-waving bravado than our American neighbours.
Ironically, a cornerstone of our national pride has become the view that our country’s nationalism is comparatively lax. But is this a well-founded belief? And is nationalism inherently something to be ashamed of? I will argue that the answers to these questions are, respectively, no and no.
There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your country and asserting your interests on the global stage—even if the pursuit of these interests comes at the expense of those in other countries. The problems with nationalism arise when a sense of national identity becomes rigid and narrow, excluding and inevitably oppressing those within the country’s borders who don’t fit in. This bigotry isn’t just a moral problem, this is a strategic problem, and one which undermines a state’s pursuit of their national interests and thus the foundation of their national pride.
Bad Type of Nationalism
First of all, let’s dispel the myth that Canada doesn’t have the bad kind of nationalism. Putting aside for now the issues of immigration and bilingualism, let’s focus on Canada’s biggest integration problem, the one that is actually worse than other parts of the world—Canada’s continued inability to handle its aboriginal population.
The systemic failure of the Canadian government to pull an entire people out of poverty and despair in one of the wealthiest countries on earth is partially based in the mindset of the Canadian voter. Part of the problem is and always has been the assumption on behalf of many non-Aboriginal Canadians that everything would be fine if the First Nations people just gave up their culture and started talking, acting, and working like we do. This approach, despite being disastrously discredited by the failure of the mass psychological violence perpetrated through the residential schools, somehow remains a common refrain among those who think that the First Nations refuse to “help themselves.”
Whatever the solution to this ongoing tragedy is, it should be clear by now that it doesn’t involve forcing them into the narrow confines of your perception of what it means to be Canadian. Furthermore, the blame-the-victim mentality among the voting population has led to a lack of political willpower to invest in real change in these communities, leaving no end in sight.
But Canada has a good sort of nationalism too. A pride in what we do well. Like our progressive values, our social safety net, our upstanding global reputation, and, yes, our multiculturalism. We should be proud of this stuff. It’s worth waving a flag about. More important than pride, nationalism is a glue that holds us together in our pursuit of our national interests—a logical extension of our rational self interest.
Here’s where I leave the path of the Politically Correct
It’s become unfashionable to say out loud the mindset that every world leader on earth is currently operating under. It’s become impolite to state the main elements of realism in polite company. We aren’t supposed to say that we’re looking out for our own, at the expense of people who are elsewhere. We aren’t supposed to acknowledge that there isn’t enough stuff in the world for everyone to live like the Swedes, and that we need to look after our own friends, family and community first, and then worry about helping those who aren’t part of the team.
It’s considered distasteful. It shouldn’t be. This is how the game is played. This is how it’s always been played, and how it always will be played. The countries (like Canada) who play it the “nicest” are the ones blessed by history and geography and don’t have to be tough or cruel to survive.
Go ahead and try bringing your ivory tower post-modernism to bear on an actual political system.
You can deconstruct the narrative all you want, but if you put an end to realism in governance you’d put your national resources and personal security at the whims of even your puniest and most ostensibly peaceful rival states.
This isn’t about making your leaders wealthy, this is about ensuring an economy that will provide your community with good jobs and personal safety, so as to avoid the same hellish existence of the people on earth whose leaders lost the game. It sounds bad when you say it out loud, but if you’re still part of the system, if you haven’t gone “off the grid” or moved somewhere without a functioning government, then you’ve consciously or unconsciously reached the same conclusion.
Which brings us back to the path of the politically correct. It is certainly within our national interests, and as a result our rational self-interest, to ensure that the bad kind of nationalism is kept at bay. A true realist should support multiculturalism, for several reasons.
Day of Empire
Author Amy Chua, in her brilliant book “Day of Empire,” points out that history’s most successful world powers harnessed the power of multiculturalism to great effect. A diverse power gains the knowledge and expertise of different cultures, a greater pool to draw from in the marketplace of ideas. This is especially the case when the country in question becomes a beacon for the best and the brightest worldwide. In a distinctly modern twist, young newcomers can offset demographic challenges faced in the quickly aging developed world.
Plus, a diverse population allows a country a greater flexibility in its dealings with the rest of the global community. The more languages your population speaks, the better you can be at international business and diplomacy. Finally, there are the substantial quality-of-life benefits of a more diverse selection of food, music, art, philosophy and other enriching effects on the character of a successfully multicultural nation. All of these benefits are only felt, however, if the various groups that make up your population are well treated, well integrated, and well educated.
The consequences of failing at multiculturalism are dire. Mistreatment of cultural minorities is an embarrassment on the international stage. Canada’s treatment of its First Nations people was highlighted by South African journalists as payback for the Canadian government’s criticisms of the Aparthied system. By disenfranchising people at home, a government robs themselves of diplomatic leverage and the ability to stop mistreatment abroad. It’s bad policy.
Having a consistently impoverished minority is also bad for social stability and the economy. For another example, look at how terribly European states have integrated their immigrant populations. The same diaspora communities that have flourished in North America suffer under discrimination and a lack of social opportunities in European capitals, leading to a permanent disenfranchised underclass that only exasperates the prejudices that led to their marginalization to begin with.
It is with this in mind that we turn to increasingly popular subject of our increasingly unpopular government. Moves to cut funding to immigrant settlement efforts, while ostensibly reflecting an effort to cut unnecessary expenses, instead reflect the shocking assumption that immigrant settlement is an unnecessary expense.
Maintaining Canadian multiculturalism isn’t just about appeasing socially liberal voters. It’s integral to our economy, national security, and national pride.