On Canada Day five years ago, Trudeau made a statement about Canada, the nature of its citizenship, and immigration. I’ll paraphrase the statement below, and if you wish to see the full context, please watch the video, here.
The paraphrase is as follows:
One of the great reminders to me, as proud as I am of being Canadian, as proud as I am of Canada, I didn’t get to choose this place. I was born here, and I can almost take it for granted. Anytime I meet people who got to make the deliberate choice, whose parents chose Canada, I am jealous because I think being able choose it rather than being Canadian by default is an amazing statement of attachment to Canada… This is [their] country more than it is for others because we take it for granted, we default into this place.
This statement from Trudeau is marvelous in its ability to compress numerous overly educated mid-wit liberal tropes together. It has the total lack of appreciation of one’s heritage; the self-flagellation; the condescension to the immigrant, and it has the self-congratulatory moralism of someone who thinks he’s made a discovery of a deep truth.
There is so much to be said here, but I’ll target one point: the cosmopolitan ethos.
Out with the In-group: The Cosmopolitan Challenge
In 2015, after winning the election, Trudeau dropped a whopper of a statement on Canadians when he asserted the ‘[t]here is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada,’ and as a result that ‘makes us the first post-national state.’
This declaration seems all the odder when coupled with Trudeau’s insistence on ‘Canadian values’ – these shared ideals of ‘openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice.’
Curious, indeed. But let’s give this position the fair shake it deserves.
What Trudeau and his fellow travellers are proposing is a cosmopolitan view of nationhood, belonging, and human co-existence. The story is as follows:
While it has been understood that humans are empathetic creatures whose affective responses are more intense towards in-group members, it is also the case that humans are rational creatures whose use of reason can cut loose some counter-productive evolutionary baggage.
To do this, we’re to use reason to adopt an impartial view of things and also extend our empathy such that we can act to maximise the good of the sentient beings we encounter. By doing so, we’re to transcend our traditional kinship loyalties and expand the circle of our moral community to the whole of humanity.
This is a rejection of the traditional understanding of citizenship and belonging which held that ‘the nation’ was the appropriate object of loyalty and membership. One is born into a nation and that confers upon one an identity, history and heritage, culture, et cetera. Some people are ‘in’, some are ‘out’; there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.
For the cosmopolitan, we are all ‘citizens of the world’ who are members of a universal liberal moral order. It is universal because it includes all humans into a single human community, and it is liberal because its membership is constituted by voluntary opt-ins amongst this global polity.
On this view, the primacy of the nation is rejected for two inter-related reasons.
First, the nation is an inappropriate entity for loyalty and benefit since one’s nation, by definition, is what one was born into and thus was not something that one voluntarily chooses.
Secondly, while people are involuntarily included in the nation by dint of their birth, so too are people excluded from the nation they may wish to be a member of. Even if they are admitted into the nation, they, as a non-native, are informally excluded from the native identity, and thus are ‘othered’ nonetheless.
These two points come together to illustrate that the nation is arbitrary and is thus an inappropriate entity for loyalty and exclusion. People should be able to reflect on their values, goals, and ideals, and thus find a community that suits them. Thus, given the involuntary nature of national identity, the cosmopolitan thinks that it should be subordinated to higher principles of human communion.
Canada’s values of openness and inclusion, compassion and respect, are all suited to this noble endeavour, and anyone who shares in them and their project is welcome to come aboard to be counted as ‘Canadian’ with the rest of us.
A Considered Response
So how is one to deal with these challenges from the cosmopolitan? Is its prospect plausible? And would we be better shucking off the baggage of nationhood and become cosmopolitans of the Trudeau variety?
First, we need to get past the more wishful thinking. There is a reality we have to contend with, and that reality will put limits on even the most ungrounded idealist.
When we look around – either in our own communities, across the country, or across the world – are we seeing evidence of the cosmopolitan project succeeding? Clearly not. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated this with the lockdowns on international travel and so-called ‘vaccine nationalism’, and the Ukraine-Russia war is demonstrating this in stark relief, too. Instead of a single human community forming, we see nationalist impulses being expressed.
What these two significant cases show – amongst others – is that talk of a ‘global polity’ is cheap when there are threats to one’s own polis. There is an ‘us’ and there is a ‘them’ and the duties to the former outweigh those to the latter.
Why is this? I think it is because the ‘nation’, and the resultant national identity, carries more power than the cosmopolitan would have us believe. And that is because the nationalist has a better story to tell.
Such a story, as presented by philosophers and social scientists alike, is certainly complex and providing a fleshed-out examination is beyond my paygrade, but I’ll give a rough sketch of some of the ideas, here.
Taking some points from Ricardo Duchesne, Clifford Geertz, Roger Scruton, Anthony Smith, and Pierre van den Berghe, and hearkening back to Plato, the nation can be conceptualised as having a tripartite nature consisting of a native character, a native spirit, and a native aesthetic. These, together, have the power to bind natives who have died with those who are living as well as who are yet to be born through a continual transmission of socio-biological inheritance, forming kinship.
This process of transmission produces and sustains attitudes and affectations that are, themselves, phenotypic extensions of our primordial passions for familial bonds which are rooted in the natural history of our moral development, as a species.
These affectations and attitudes inform and interact with symbols fashioned by the natives’ experiences with the domestic and foreign ecology, geomorphology, and anthropology – the tales of which communicate native understandings of thin moral/ethical concepts (such as right, wrong) through more textured particularities of thick moral concepts (courage and selfishness, compassion and cruelty, for example). These thick moral concepts include further concepts of virtue and vice and are further fleshed out in mythical and mundane explorations of good and evil, praise and blame, kinship and destiny, ugliness and beauty, as well as sympathy and shame.
Through the cultural communication of this symbolic culture, as well as the genealogical propagation of kinship loyalties, an ethnic group, or nation, is formed, and patterns of life emerge which, in turn, cultivate a moral ecology which promotes pro-sociality by encouraging natives to develop virtuous characters which, in turn, empathise with others in their nation – sometimes at the expense of, or in conflict with, other nations. This is because, all things being equal, cooperation is correlated with ethnicity, and conflict arises from competing interests which are exacerbated by ethnic difference.
These moral ecologies of nations are characterised by certain traits that engender loyalty by both describing, as well as make demands on the native and his nation.
Some of these traits may be sufficient for nationality/ethnicity such as ancestry and birthplace. These are not acquired/rejected by one’s own critical reflection – to the chagrin of the cosmopolitan. There are also other traits may be necessary and acquirable/rejected by one’s own deliberation such as common language, history, and customs – also to the chagrin of the cosmopolitan.
Such properties clearly exist and yet re-establish the kind of categories denied by the cosmopolitan. As such, we have good reasons to reject cosmopolitanism, here. Additionally, if Canada is a post-national state, then the loyalty-conferring traits of the nation are not present within it. And so, there is no loyalty to be given. Given this, we have good reasons to reject post-nationalism, too.
All in all, the story provided above seems to be more factually correct than the cosmopolitan case, but it is also more morally robust and predictively accurate.
It is more factually correct because (a) it describes the facts of the matter better; it is more morally robust because (b) it takes seriously the thick moral concepts that motivate our moral behaviour and judgements; and it is more predictively accurate because of (a) and (b) – it has a better grasp of actual human psychology and morality and takes seriously human difference and values, and conflict.
A Black Pill and Some Cautious Hope
It seems clear that one can reject cosmopolitanism. But just because one doesn’t believe in cosmopolitanism doesn’t mean that cosmopolitanism doesn’t believe in you.
Indeed, when reflecting on the existing conditions in Canada, I cannot help but feel as though the above formulations have little purchase, here. After all, of what use is the appeal to ethnos and nationhood when both have become so diffuse and unmoored?
The previous section was meant to express a neutral picture of ethno-genesis – the formation of ethnos which is meant to be organic – and currently, in Canada, there is an ongoing ethno-terminus – which is dissolution of ethnos which is inorganic.
Not only is this process happening in a demographic sense via replacement migration and sub-replacement birthrates, but its being also aided by accompanying psychological conditioning to make Euro-Canadians believe that they’re unworthy of a home and inheritance unique to themselves. This is evidenced in Trudeau’s statement that ‘immigrants are more Canadian than the native-born’. Such a crystalline expression of Roger Scruton’s concept of ‘oikophobia’: the repudiation of inheritance and home – has yet to be seen from another leader.
Trudeau’s comment is ridiculous, and the logic is clearly self-defeating. But pointing this out doesn’t matter because more and more people are believing it for the two reasons listed above.
There may be an is-ought gap, but there is a sturdy ought-is bridge that allows those in power to shuttle their ideals from the realm of the intellect and into social reality. From mass migration to post-nationalism to LGBT children – there is clear evidence that the mechanisms of cultural transmission can be just as successfully utilised by culture-distorters as by its originators and preservers.
Now, I don’t want to make too much of these sweeping statements. But I cannot help but think that Justin Trudeau is right. Canada is the world’s first post-national state. There is no mainstream, here. And any semblance of a ‘mainstream’ is merely manufactured for political manipulation.
We saw this demonstrated during the turbulence of the Coronavirus pandemic when we were told to mobilise to protect the ‘common good’ – which meant listen to the ‘experts’ and submit to their medical authoritarianism. We also see this manipulation with regards to Ukraine.
While we’ve been instructed to dust off our patriotism and put is on display for Ukraine, our culture, patriotism, national identity and character have been put on the chopping block of deconstruction.
Additionally, we are to look at their own nation of Canada and, on Canada Day, acknowledge that ‘Canada [Day] is literally a celebration, in one respect or another, of the genocide that happened’. In fact, we, as Euro-Canadians, are told to reflect on whether Canada Day should be scrapped altogether in the favour of embracing our own condemnation by an accusatory party that provides neither conclusive evidence of their accusations nor the opportunity for the accused to provide exculpatory evidence. All of this is being propagated by an all-too-eager government-funded press.
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I won’t be spoken to in that tone of voice.
Our leaders don’t seem to care about their respective populations – nor do they care about the people of Ukraine – in any sense over-and-above those populations’ capacities and interests in shoring up the global neo-liberal order.
Furthermore, we see deep regional divisions in this country. This regionalism isn’t new, and the conflicts will never be mended at the national level as our political apparatuses are centralised in the east – often at the expense of the west – and its the ruling class has seen little need to compromise with competing interests. A resultant collapse into regionalism, therefore, may be the most likely option, and that would further divide our country. So, perhaps ‘saving’ the country is at odds with preserving our own identities in a nation filled with competing regional interests. But why would one want to ‘save’ a post-national state?
No matter how the nationalism-regionalism scenario plays out, we are still in a battle for the reins of cultural transmission – and taking over those reins will require not only that people be persuaded to our side, but also an acknowledgement that things are going to get worse: ecologically, politically, demographically, spiritually.
Now, in every age, people have thought that they’re living in particularly gloomy times. I hear that. One mustn’t get too doomy. But this time where we find ourselves in is unique, and a sufficient amount of doomy thinking should prompt productive thinking and action.
We’ve seen some promising resistance à la the Freedom Convoy. Additionally, though I am not in favour of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (despite Russia’s behaviour being an intelligible response to Western hubris and aggression), the dormant appetites for nationalism that the war has awakened may also show some promise – not in the sense of committing Canada to war, but rather that Canadians will think in more nationalistic ways and begin to ask more pressing questions about the global neo-liberal order.
Finally, there is growing resentment and protest directed at Drag Queen Story Hour events that target children with LGBT propaganda, and we do, apparently, have a growing recognition in the Canadian public that Euro-Canadians are being replaced through mass migration.
These instances may not seem to be obviously connected, but I think they are examples of people becoming more cognizant of what is being done to them by elites who care little for their interests and values. As such, these cases may be suggestive of some possible societal trends of pushback.
The current crop of culture-distorters controls the spaces for discourse, analysis, intellectual formation, rebellion, and finally, developing alternative ways of living, as well as the acceptable range of discussion – and they refuse to believe that they do. And as our lived reality begins to diverge from the promises of these people, we must point out this fact. We must point out that those who are in charge are taking us down a path of their making and refusing to take responsibility for the decline they intend to manage.
Not only must we point out the facts, but we must protect and cultivate that which worthy of loyalty – take the efforts to find others and form closer bonds which, hopefully, turn into communities – and, especially in this coming political season, accept nothing less from potential leaders.
There may be no mainstream in Canada, but there are tributaries. And in our turbulent times, we must ferry these waters with care and perseverance.