Canadian Nationalism is Back, and It's as Dangerous as Ever

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Thanks to President Trump, Canadian nationalism has returned with a vengeance. What is worse, it appears to be reifying into progressive navel-gazing, much as it did in the 1970s. This makes it doubly dangerous.

Canada Day op-eds virtually everywhere signaled the shift. In a lengthy Globe and Mail piece on what it means to love one's country, grad student Kaleem Hawa postulated a difference between nationalism (bad) and patriotism (good), and then advised his fellow Canadians to "think of patriotism as duty to community and to country, as one of the most potent forces driving justice and progress in an increasingly divisive time and as a tool for empowering immigrants, new residents and refugees alike by generating a more inclusive definition of citizenship." In a lament about the incursion of U.S. news organizations into Canada, the Toronto Star's Heather Mallick insisted that "American consultants have no idea what drives Canada: language, Indigenous voices, multiculturalism, health care for all, respect for intellect, courtesy, and of course, peace, order and good government." Mallick's colleague at the Star, Thomas Walkom, astutely pointed out that Justin Trudeau, like his father, is not temperamentally inclined towards nationalism and has until now resisted old-school protectionist palliatives like Cancon regs or NEP-styled energy policies. But Trudeau the younger, again just like his father, is a shrewd enough political operator to know that when the wind is blowing in a left-nationalist direction, and there's an election on the horizon, it's a propitious time to raise the mainsail.

As the mental gymnastics of Hawa's Globe piece demonstrate, left-nationalism remains something of an oxymoron. It is no easy matter to square the progressives' love of diversity with the patriots' love of country. This is because, by definition, nationalism privileges one collectivity vis-à-vis others. It protects the in-group from the outsiders. Seen from the perspective of liberal individualism, nationalism is fundamentally unjust—irrespective of whether it is bundled with high-minded appeals to "imagined communities" or any other such fiction. "A nationalistic government is by nature intolerant, discriminatory, and, when all is said and done, totalitarian," Pierre Trudeau wrote. "A truly democratic government cannot be 'nationalist,' because it must pursue the good of all its citizens."

As the sudden reappearance of former PM Stephen Harper on the international stage reminds us, there is more than one way to be a Canadian patriot. Left-nationalists and other progressives who just a few years ago loathed Harper's version of Canada as a warrior nation should be the first to acknowledge this truth. In the words of the great British poet Mark Knopfler, "We have just one world/ But we live in different ones."