Saturday, July 1, 2017
Dominion Day 2017
It's sometimes argued that one of the sad legacies of colonialism is a bunch of national borders that were drawn for the convenience of colonial powers and not the people who have to live in these freakish countries. Iraq, for example, is a country that has no historical heritage of existing as it does and whose borders yoke together a number of peoples who have every reason to hate one another. And I can see that. If that is true, however, it immediately raises a question: why does Canada work as well as it does? For it is a country that has no historical heritage of existing as it does and whose borders yoke together a number of peoples who have every reason to hate one another.
Despite that, we Canadians have it very good and we have had it very good for a long time. This is a stable, sensible country founded on the values of peace, order, and good government. In addition, it is founded on a very British understanding of personal liberty that, while it was not spelled out in the constitution, was guaranteed by literally thousands of laws and precedents and the larger political culture that Canada inherited from Britain. This may strike you as boring but, trust me, in politics boring is good. Confederation was founded on the solid English notion that government should be phlegmatic and we've done very well out of that.
Canada did not start to exist in 1867. What happened that day was that a government was created for the country. It wasn't even the first government for the country. That's important for what is celebrated is an event, not a thing. "Canada Day" is vague and meaningless. There already had been people calling themselves "Canadiens" and "Canadians" for a long, long time. What happened in 1867 is that this people got dominion over their country by having a government formed for them. And that's important: Reagan was absolutely right when he said that the point is to be a country that has a government and not a government that has a country.
The embarrassing thing is that this government was not established with the consent of the people. Historians largely agree that if there had been a referendum on the constitution proposed in the British North America Act it would have been soundly defeated. It worked because it was founded on solid, British principles for balancing liberty and order. Principles that the Brits themselves didn't always uphold with any great consistency and principles that modern progressives would do away with if given the opportunity. That is what works.
All of which brings us back to the question I raised at the beginning: Why does Canada work so well? This is not a troubling question in the sense that we don't know how to answer it. It's a troubling question because the only answers that make sense are cultural ones. The only answers that make sense require us to believe that some cultures are just better than others. Canada's success says that you can even have a successful multicultural country but that you can't mix just any set of cultures and expect to succeed. The cultures you see in this shield, for example, can be made to work with one another with a lot of hard work.
Other cultures, see Iraq, may never work no matter how hard you try. That, as I imply above, is, or should be fairly obvious on empirical grounds. We, however, live in an era that desperately does not want to reach that conclusion.