What do we think of nationalism?

by Yule Heibel on December 18, 2004

David Orchard is interviewed by Justin Podur for ZNet.

In a larger sense, the question is all about how Canada can keep its distance from a too-close US embrace. Is it an irony of history that Canadian “nationalism” (nationalism being a throw-back to categories rooted in the19th century) should be for us what the EU (with its dismantling of nationalism) is for Europe? I remember researching the immediate post-1945 period in Germany and in France, and it was clear that France was nationalistic to the teeth, with no ability to see that nationalism was one of the roots of evil, while within Germany, many thinkers and politicians (shell-shocked and subdued by the horrors of their supposed 1000-year ultra-nationalistic Realm) debated the concept of national sovereignty as being outdated, and quite seriously argued the merits of abandoning all notions of national sovereignty outright. And today we have: a united Europe, brought together as a non-nationalist political body through a careful dismantling of national sovereignty of its member nations; the United States acting like a rogue nation imperialist out to bully, in the name of sovereignty, any and all other sovereign nations; and Canada poised between blending into the American fold or yanking the old nationalist cloth from the shelf, to drape itself with some measure of protection against the nationalist imperialism of the US.

Justin Podur: Leftist strategy isn’t oriented towards the parliamentary system but towards increasing agitation and eventually some kind of general strike followed by collective, democratic control of the economy. It’s clear that you’re against imperialism, but many radicals see capitalism itself as the problem and wouldn’t be satisfied with a country that was independent but capitalist.

David Orchard: For Canadians, the battle right now is, as it has been so often in the past, to keep the border between the U.S. and us. Once that is gone we are inside the U.S. and we will have no chance to decide what we want for the future. Traditionally we have had a mixed economy, with public and private sectors coexisting. All of those possibilities are foreclosed if we become part of the U.S. Graham Spry and the leaders of the fight for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the 1930s had a slogan: “The State or the United States.” They knew that without the state, there would be no national railways, no Trans-Canada highway, no national airline or public broadcaster. In a country like Canada the state has to be involved. You can’t open your arms to your neighbour when your neighbour is the world’s only superpower. Unless Canada has a different vision, the center of power will just drift south by the very force of that superpower and its economic strength. By design or inertia, we will drift. Our system of public health care, the vital east-west lines of communication in a far-flung country like Canada, a viable public sector, will all disappear when up against the reach of private U.S. corporations, backed of course by these trade agreements and the U.S. state itself. First we have to make sure we have a future as a nation, and then we can decide and debate what that future should be. [More…]


Doug Alder December 19, 2004 at 2:08 pm

That’s an amazing interview. I wish David Orchard had won the PC leadership.

Yule Heibel December 19, 2004 at 3:09 pm

So do I, Doug. Harper is a neo-conservative, which means radical. Orchard is a conservative in the sense of conserving, protecting, vs. radicalising. Infinitely preferable, considering where we’re at.

I know Diefenbaker wasn’t such a prize in many ways, but Orchard is right that he tried to keep Canada distinct at a crucial time when the US was expanding and flexing its muscle. Pearson was much more amenable to playing ball according to US rules, even if he was the socially more progressive guy. Several lifetimes ago I researched Harold Town and Jack Bush, two Canadian abstract painters, and tried to “read” these two through the conservative-nationalist (Town) and liberal-continentalist (Bush) lens. Crude, clumsy methodology, but interesting. Bush won, of course. Everyone in the Canadian art world knows who Bush is, and hardly anyone really remembers Harold Town. It’s a quality issue, too (Bush is more appealing, perhaps), but also it’s a question of Town just not grabbing the big brass American ring when it swung by (in this case Clement Greenberg, and painting the way Clem told Bush to).

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