Iggy’s Uncle George
Date: Wednesday, November 01 2006
The precocious nephew cannot be left to fulfill the uncle’s prophecy
What is really at issue with Liberal party renewal is whether its continentalist right-wing will prevail and be led by a pro-American leader like Michael Ignatieff or; can it be moved to the nationalist left and led by more credible candidates like Stephane Dion or Bob Rae?
The challenge for progressive Liberals is to rescue the party from its jaded and seditious right wing.
If the continentalist Liberal right prevails both Quebec and Canadian nationalism will become quaint anomalies. The Liberal party will be in total retreat from real governance and whether Canadians choose to vote Liberal or Conservative becomes a meaningless exercise.
Quebec Liberals may see some advantage in supporting Michael Ignatieff in his woefully irresponsible proposal for Quebec nation status but they should realize by now this claim is utterly fatuous. Ignatieff, in trying to use constitutional measures for partisan advantage deserves censure not support. He in particular, as a professor of human rights, should know better. Yet he is pulling the same despicable antics as Brian Mulroney.
No country can allow its constitution to be used by politicians for partisan advantage. We only have to look at what is happening in the US–before our very eyes- to see the tragic gutting of a constitution by ruthless ideologues.
It is no coincidence Michael Ignatieff has strong support among the Liberal party establishment. These are the continentalist Liberals who are quite content to see Deep Integration, NAFTA Plus and North American Union adopted as natural (though covert) policies of the Liberal party. They do not see any contradiction in Ignatieff’s fawning love for the American empire as they share it. They are afflicted with the same seditious pragmatism. These truncated Liberals are unable to conceive of the very plausible duality of a unique and sovereign Canada that at the same time enjoys a salubrious and mutually beneficial relationship with the US. Instead of pursuing comity between nations they lapse into a servile apologia.
Like the Harper conservatives they suffer a sycophantic colonial mindset that leaves them handicapped and retreating from governance rather than fulfilling their obligations on behalf of Canadians.
Where Ignatieff claims to be a Trudeau Liberal he has slandered Trudeau’s legacy by pandering to Quebec separatists.
Then too, there is his famous uncle, philosopher George Grant. If Grant were alive today he would no doubt have a few words of advice for his precocious nephew.
Grant is most famous for his 1965 book, Lament for a Nation. It is a book that is pivotal, provocative, hugely prescient, and is rightly referred to as “a masterpiece of political meditation.” It was written in both anger and sadness. It was a lament for its time and still holds great relevance today as the prophecy is in its final confirmation. But that prophecy can be blocked by a simple exercise of political will.
Grant documents in clear and compelling terms how Canada went from colony to protectorate without ever achieving true nationhood. He saw Canada as a country unable to come to terms with the sweep of technology and modernism. “Modern civilization,” he stated, “makes all local cultures anachronistic.” Under the additional crushing hegemonic power of the US, Canada was all too willing to defer its ambitions of nationhood in favor of continental values.
This failure according to Grant was largely self-inflicted:
The power of the American government to control Canada does not lie primarily in its ability to exert direct pressure: the power lies in the fact that the dominant classes in Canada see themselves at one with the continent on all essential matters.
For Grant there is a heavy price to be paid for the reckless adoption of continental values:
The society produced by such policies will reap enormous benefits, but will not be a nation.
As the precocious nephew is so willing to grant Quebec nation status the wise uncle challenges our very existence as a nation in convincing fashion.
For the sake of argument: Can a non-nation grant nation status to one of its provinces? Why are we so obsessed with these internal nationalisms and so unwilling to address the larger and most important Canadian nationalism that fosters these internal nationalisms? A partial answer is the economy of pain and apathy. If the larger nationalism collapses so too will the internal ones.
We do know a dominant culture can certainly erase the sovereignty of a local culture; especially when the elites are so compliant.
As to the Liberal legacy Grant writes:
The debt that we owe the Liberals is that they have been so willing to be led. The party is made up of those who only put one condition on their willingness: that they should have personal charge of the government while our sovereignty disappears.
Michael Ignatieff is one such Liberal and that is why he is the “official” candidate of the continentalist Liberal establishment.
In his book, Ignatieff’s World, historian Denis Smith says of Ignatieff:
Grant saw Canada’s inability to survive in independence beside the United States as a tragedy; Ignatieff has embraced the American monolith as a benefactor while Bush demolishes the rule of law at home and abroad. Ignatieff shows no comprehension that Canada’s history and character could possibly lead us in different directions from the United States or that there can be any directions to take in the modern world apart from those America has divined.
There is a profound schism in Ignatieff’s thinking. On one hand he is more than willing to pander to Quebec on nation status; on the other, there is convincing evidence that should he lead the Liberal party he would finalize his uncle’s prophecy and destroy the last remnants of Canada’s sovereignty.
In the last lines of his book Smith makes a direct appeal to the Liberal party to reject Ignatieff as leader. Ignatieff, Smith urges, would be destructive to the party and to the country. Smith, like Grant, delivers his indictment with authority and devastating insight. We are seeing that even as a candidate Ignatieff has become a national wrecking ball.
Grant was accused of being a pessimist in writing his lament but his brilliant analysis and the prescience of the book blunts this criticism now more than ever. He suggested that an event like 9/11 could accelerate the process of assimilation. It happened and it has. He also anticipates the arrival of an American leader who will, “not be a gentleman who truly cares about his country’s past.”
One of the precepts that he lived by was;
“ ‘It always matters what each of us does’- In the most practical sense, he held this to mean that even when caught up in powerful historical forces, human actions can always make a difference.”
This is a notion Liberals collectively might adopt. Grant is right that our loss of sovereignty is largely self-inflicted and for the most part Liberals have presided over this loss. It can though be contained by a more progressive Liberalism.
Where the wise uncle edifies, the precocious nephew is part of the problem and cannot be left to fulfill the uncle’s prophecy.
Quotations: Lament for a Nation, George Grant, 40th Anniversary Edition, McGill-Queen’s University Press
Additional quote from: Ignatieff’s World, Denis Smith, James Lorimer and Company Limited