Canadian Nationalism: Power or Ultimate Destruction?
Nationalism is one of mankind’s most powerful emotions. Theses emotions can bring the best and worst out of people. Many reputable scholars differ on the importance of nationalism. For instance, in Birth of a New Ethnicity by Matthew Mendelsohn, it is clear that the author views nationalism as a force necessary in holding a Canada together. However, Northrop Frye counters that an excessive use of nationalism may lead to separatism, the absolute nightmare of all democracies. Preface to the Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination also brings an interesting point on unity. This notion of unity is what makes Canadian nationalism powerful. If unity gets associated with culture, the whole aspect of nationalism then becomes a destructive force.
To make sure that nationalism remains powerful. Canada must not become uniform. It is physically impossible for everyone to be the same and it would be catastrophic for people to hate one another simply for their differences. This strong patriotic fever can have many advantages. Individuals can learn about new cultures while learning more about themselves. However if nationalism were to be mixed with uniformity or had a goal of making everyone the same the consequences would be astonishing. In a sense when individuals try to repress another culture, this often will backfire. Instead of creating uniformity or one identity this creates an unwanted separatist movement. As Frye describes in his essay “assimilating unity to identity produces the kind of provincial isolation which is now called separatism.” (Frye 4) Frye’s essay was written in the early seventies, when the FLQ (Front de Libération Québecois) was still a violent treat. Nowadays the separatist movement is not as extreme as it used to be, however it still has the goal of returning to the past. Frye describes this time as “the habitant rooted to his land with his mother church over his head, and all the rest of the blood-and-soil bit”. (Frye 6) Many Quebec residents cannot accept living in a society that isn’t their own. This refusal is what led to the separatist movement and the major political instability in the province of Quebec. When the people of Quebec will be able to put aside culture, language and religion their province will be able to grow and unite with the rest of Canada. However the problem with our Francophone neighbours is that they want to be different. It is like they are afraid of moving on. One can generalize this thought to nationalism. Many feel insecure with immigrants and refuse to change their opinion. They rather distort reality. As Mendelsohn describes, “ They seek out an anti-immigrant backlash that never materializes and refuse to acknowledge the reality of the country… some remain uncomfortable with the changing face of Canada and project their own insecurities onto the country.” (Mendelsohn 10) Many insecure with change prefer to blame others than themselves. Mendelsohn puts emphasis in this case on the older generation as opposed to younger Canadians. Both Fry and Mendelsohn agree that Quebec is an exception when it comes to uniformity and unity. Mendelsohn describes the beauty of the 1981 Charter of Rights with the exception of Quebec “The introduction of the Charter of Rights was explicitly designed to unite all citizens…and it worked. Outside of Quebec…” (Mendelsohn 5) whereas Frye talks about the devilish nature of the FLQ. Only Frye’s essay really brings a solution to combat uniformity as Mendelsohn’s is too positive and centers too much on being “Canadian”. (Mendelsohn 6) In Frye’s closing remarks he explains how “Unity…is the extra dimension that raises the sense of belonging into genuine human life”. In a sense by accepting each other for who we are, Canada and society will be able to utilise nationalism has a tool. Thereby uniformity must be replaced by unity.
It is clear that Frye and Mendelsohn have both very different meanings of the word unity. Frye suggests that when unity becomes too big it transcends into uniformity. He puts emphasis on the local aspect of unity. For instance “ [T]he question of Canadian identity, so far as it affects the creative imagination, is not “Canadian” question at all, but a regional question.” (Frye 1) Mendelsohn on the other hand, sees a utopia in Canada only if unity is on the national scale. This utopia is possible through the Charter of Rights “the Charter of Rights was explicitly designed to unite all citizens.” (Mendelsohn 5) He even gives his opinion in the closing remarks of his paper on how the Charter made Canada “exactly what we’d hoped for” (Mendelsohn 16). By giving his own opinion, Mendelsohn drowns his essay with subjectivity. Frye’s objective approach is the best to ensure that Canadian nationalism remains strong. In a sense Frye understands that it’s impossible for certain people to embrace other regions values. He explains that “[i]denty is local and regional…” (Frye 2) People should find themselves and then try to find what they have in common with others. When this is achieved nationalism is at its best. However, Mendelsohn takes into consideration many attributes that Frye seems to judge unnecessary, for instance time and age. Mendelsohn points out that many of the problems caused by nationalism and conformity are due to age. Older generations often time have problems uniting with different cultures but “virtually no one under the age of 30 thinks that a similar background is important when choosing a spouse or a friend.” One can infer that today’s newer generation are more open then it’s previous one. Frye’s essay was also written in the 70s implying that certain aspect of his ideas might need to be updated. Both agree however that culture should not be a deciding factor in deciding of one’s national pride.
In conclusion both authors bring opposing view on how to define nationalism. Frye has a more regional perspective where Mendelsohn’s view is more national. Both are correct in their respective timeframes and many of their ideas can still be applied today. In order to improve the power behind nationalism one must not let his own culture get in the way of others. Canadians should find what they have in common with each other, not the opposite. With this simple rule Canadians from all across the country could unite and be one.