Nationalism, cosmopolitanism, Pierre Trudeau and Canada

I have commented before about nationalism, especially in the context of Justin Trudeau’s notion that Canada is a “post national state” which I see as being rooted in his father’s expedient anti-nationalism in which, I believe, he cloaked himself, starting in the late 1940s, because he knew that he had made a dreadful moral choice, by supporting the crypto-fascist and anti-Semite Abbé Lionel Groulx in 1940 and 41, and then, in 1944, going to Harvard, to hide from the war, while other French Canadians were, bravely, defeating fascism and defending freedom for all.

Now, I am immersed in a series of sometimes provocative articles in Foreign Affairs which are groups under the heading of The New Nationalism. Dr Gideon Rose, the editor of Foreign Affairs, introduces this series by saying that “The nation-state is so dominant today that it seems natural. But no political arrangements are natural, and any concept with a hyphen has a fault line running through it by definition. States are sovereign political structures. Nations are unified social groups. What does each owe the other?  …[and he adds that] … The claims of the state are obvious: it has a host of practical responsibilities and legions of technocrats working to satisfy them. But the claims of the nation are less clear, and they come with ugly echoes. The advocacy of those claims—nationalism—drove some of the greatest crimes in history. And so the concept became taboo in polite society, in hopes that it might become taboo in practice, as well. Yet now it has come back with a vengeance.

The first article, which I heartily recommend for anyone who wants to understand what brought Donald Trump to the White House and what will keep the Trump Party alive after he is long gone, needs to read the opening article, which Dr Rose calls “bravura survey of two and a half centuries of American national consciousness,” by Professor Jill Lepore of Harvard, who begins here survey by saying that “In 1986, the Pulitzer Prize–winning, bowtie-wearing Stanford historian Carl Degler delivered something other than the usual pipe-smoking, scotch-on-the-rocks, after-dinner disquisition that had plagued the evening program of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association for nearly all of its centurylong history. Instead, Degler, a gentle and quietly heroic man, accused his colleagues of nothing short of dereliction of duty: appalled by nationalism, they had abandoned the study of the nation … [he said that] … “We can write history that implicitly denies or ignores the nation-state, but it would be a history that flew in the face of what people who live in a nation-state require and demand,” Degler said that night in Chicago. He issued a warning: “If we historians fail to provide a nationally defined history, others less critical and less informed will take over the job for us.”” Dr Lepore concludes her article by saying that ““The history of the United States at the present time does not seek to answer any significant questions,” Degler told his audience some three decades ago. If American historians don’t start asking and answering those sorts of questions, other people will, he warned. They’ll echo Calhoun and Douglas and Father Coughlin. They’ll lament “American carnage.” They’ll call immigrants “animals” and other states “shithole countries.” They’ll adopt the slogan “America first.” They’ll say they can “make America great again.” They’ll call themselves “nationalists.” Their history will be a fiction. They will say that they alone love this country. They will be wrong.

Of course Dr Lepore is, as Professor Degler was, a liberal, but each, in their writings, looked well beyond any particular point of view and presented American history, warts and all, to the world. One wonders what Professors Degler and Lepore might have made of Pierre Trudeau who, while wrapped in the banner of anti-nationalism, was, in fact, a very narrow, parochial French-Canadian nationalist of the most committed sort. Pierre Trudeaus overarching goal, in everything he said and did, was to advance the interests and influence of the French speaking people of Canada. He knew little and cared even less about Canada beyond the St Lawrence basin ~ that immense place that noted Canadian historian Michel Bliss called, in 2000, New Canada. In fact, far from being a committed anti-nationalist, Pierre Trudeau was, as I said above, simply using the anti-nationalist rhetoric of the the late 1940s and early 1950s as an expedient cover for his own, parochial and quite illiberal, ethno~nationalist views. His narrow, provincial world-view blinded him to the changes that were, then, and are, now, making Québec, in particular, and French speaking Canada, in general, less and less dominant in confederation.

Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, of Princeton and New York Universities,  takes up a theme with which former Prime Minister Stephen Harper dealt in his recent book, ‘Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption,’ wherein he devotes a whole chapter to the idea, pioneered by British journalist David Goodhart in 2017, that people can be classed as either “Somewheres,” those  for whom, Stephen Harper says, “nationalism is more than just a strong emotional attachment,” because “if things go badly or if policy choices [usually made by others] turn out to be wrong,” they “cannot just shift their lives to live somewhere else,”or “Anywheres” who Harper defines as “globalists [and] cosmopolitans“who he says can live and work anywhere and have only a loose attachment to their home nation-state. Dr Appiah explains that “Cosmopolitanism was born in the fourth century BC as an act of defiance, when Diogenes the Cynic—who came from Sinope, a Greek-speaking city on the Black Sea—first claimed he was a kosmopolitês. The word, which seems to be a neologism of his own, translates more or less as “citizen of the world.” Diogenes was fond of challenging the common sense of his day, and this word was meant to have a paradox built into it: a politês was a free adult male citizen of a polis, one of the self-governing Greek towns in southeastern Europe and Asia Minor, and the kosmos was, well, the whole of the universe. It would have been obvious to any of Diogenes’ contemporaries that you couldn’t belong to the universe in the same way as you belonged to a town such as Athens, which had some 30,000 free male adult citizens in his day (and a total population of perhaps 100,000). It was a contradiction in terms as obvious as the one in “global village,” a phrase coined by the media theorist Marshall McLuhan a little more than half a century ago. Village equals small; globe equals enormous. Cosmopolitanism takes something small and familiar and projects it onto a whole world of strangers.

Professor Appiah says that in a speech she gave to her fellow Conservatives, in 2016, British Prime Minister Theresa May asked for both a sense of citizenship and “also for patriotism, an attachment that is emotional, not merely procedural. Yet there’s no reason a patriot cannot feel strongly in some moments about the fate of the earth, just as a patriot can feel strongly about the prospects of a city. Managing multiple citizenships … [city, province, nation] … is something everyone has to do: if people can harbor allegiances to a city and a country, whose interests can diverge, why should it be baffling to speak of an allegiance to the wider world? My father, Joe Appiah, was an independence leader of Ghana and titled his autobiography The Autobiography of an African Patriot; he saw no inconsistency in telling his children, in the letter he left for us when he died, that we should remember always that we were citizens of the world … [and he says] … That thought is one my father probably got from Marcus Aurelius, the second-century Roman emperor whose Meditations lived alongside the Bible on his bedside table. Marcus wrote that for him, as a human being, his city and fatherland was the universe. It’s easy to dismiss this as so much imperial grandeur, and yet the point of the metaphor for Stoics such as Marcus was that people were obliged to take care of the whole community, to act responsibly with regard to the well-being of all their fellow world citizens. That has been the central thought of the cosmopolitan tradition for more than two millennia.” But it also goes badly wrong. He explains that “The German intellectual historian Friedrich Meinecke explored the modern philosophical origins of this idea in his 1907 book, Cosmopolitanism and the National State. Through a careful reading of German intellectuals from the Enlightenment until the late nineteenth century, he showed how the rise of German nationalism was intimately intertwined with a form of cosmopolitanism. In the late eighteenth century, Johann Gottfried Herder and other cosmopolitan thinkers began imagining a German nation that brought together the German-speaking peoples of dozens of independent states into a union founded on a shared culture and language, a shared national spirit.” But we know that, not even a quarter century later some Germans were on the march towards Das Dritte Reich, the Third Reich, with all that entailed.

There was also something of the provincial cosmopolitan, if I can use that term, in Pierre Trudeau: his Frenchness was all important to him. He could not imagine himself as “just” a Canadian, he had to be a hyphenated French-Canadian (a citizen of a nation-state). That, and the ideas that he picked up in Harvard, from Carl Joachim Friedrich, the great apostle of written constitutions, and, at L’Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris and at the London School of Economics, where he was greatly influenced by the Marxist Harold Laski, have shaped Canada for the last fifty years. Pierre Trudeau seemed, to many, to be an exemplary cosmopolitan, but he has always seemed, to me, less interested in the world at large than he was on ideas that he could apply in Québec to his French Canadian “home.” He was, as I have said, a “hedgehog,” in Isiah Berlin’s terms, with one idée fixe: how to promote French-Québec within Canada. I don’t think Pierre Trudeau cared much for the world, or for Canada, come to that, except that it (Canada) provided the framework within which Québec had to exist … I believe his constitutional studies, under Friedrich, convinced him that nations, like Québec, could prosper within larger states and unions, like Canada and like the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and China, both of which I suspect he saw as stepping stones to a truly “post-national state.” It is not an incoherent idea, Kwame Anthony Appiah says; in fact he says that “nationalism and cosmopolitanism are, far from being incompatible, actually intertwined.”

Kwame Anothony Appiah concludes, and I agree, fully, that “As populist demagogues around the world exploit the churn of economic discontent, the danger is that the politics of engagement could give way to the politics of withdrawal. A successful cosmopolitanism must keep its eyes on matters near and far, promoting political systems that also work for localists. The Anywheres must extend their concern to the Somewheres. But forgetting that we are all citizens of the world—a small, warming, intensely vulnerable world—would be a reckless relaxation of vigilance. Elsewhere has never been more important.” Pierre Trudeau was, at bottom, a classic ‘Somewhere,’ his all important, central somewhere being Québec, but he could, I think, imagine an elsewhere, too, some political and constitutional construct that could contain more than just one nation. It’s a pity that his 1982 Constitution was so parochial, so focused on one issue ~ language rights ~ and so lacking in a vision for the future.

More on nationalism and Canada to follow in the coming days.

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