Monday, November 01, 2004

WASPism Defeated.

I've never been a big fan of longtime Diplomatic Immunity pundit and Star columnist Richard Gwyn, yet I was mildly surprised at the end of his 1995 offering Nationalism Without Walls.

Digging through a box of my old books, I came across it lodged somewhere between Berton's Klondyke and Wealth of Nations... which may explain why I forgot I even had it. The book was published immediately after the October 1995 election but went to print prior. The catch? It predicted and was somewhat premised on a resounding victory for the 'Non' forces - which instantly relegated it to the Cole's bargain bin.

Faced with a three and a half hour train trip, I hauled it out and forced myself through it. Nationalism without Walls is concerned predominantly with the threats to Canadian nationalism and their underlying forces and actors. Now these books are a dime a dozen and this one didn't fail to disappoint. Yet, I was intrigued by the chapter devoted to English Canadians. By this he doesn't mean english speaking but rather english decent. He seems distraught that this group has lost its ethnic nerve and is content to disappear into the shadows. Gwyn points out that English Canadians established the societal, cultural and political framework that earned Canada tops marks from the UN. He wonders why they are handing over their dominant role in order to be relegated as just another culture in the mosaic.

He attributes this to a slow process of cultural carelessness - or frivolousness - on the part of English Canadians themselves. Their symbols - the dominion, monarchy, military and RCMP - have been marginalized, their economic and social power and dominance eroded (ie. Montreal), and they are becoming ethnic strangers in their own cities. Their political and cultural history based on militarism, survival and collectivism has been deleted from popular culture - even their own. 100 years ago the country and english canadian culture was building massive monuments to Issac Brock, settling the West and sending the young to fight wars around the globe. Today, not a peep. Collective pride has been replaced with apologies and self-doubt.

Gwyn sums up English Canada's current apologetic nature as preparation for impending cultural oblivion. "The hallmark of of an exhausted civilization is that it no longer possesses the self-confidence to reproduce itself: It cannot be a coincidence that the birthrate of English Canadians is well below the replacement rate now."

While I'm not sure whether I agree with Gwyn or not, he certainly raises some interesting questions. This hypothesis could explain why multiculturalism in Canada has so been successful as the natives in the post-war context have been too passive to resist. As english Canada no longer has a centre or cultural capital, it also may signal the end of an ethnic group and an ethnic homeland. Localities on the periphery will continue to exist for sure, but the collective culture will not. Will english Canada become a landless people as Gwyn implies?

English Canada is quickly becoming the ultimate cultural experiment as its dominant culture has been reduced through guilt and ambivalence. It is now simply one of many in the emerging cultural mosaic. I can't help but wonder what will replace it as the dominant culture... and what will become of the old.


Blogger nyc_redneck said...

In the last cailfornia gov race the irish catholic democratic gov was challegned by a repulican hindu, and the man who came in second in the gop primary was also irish catholic. No white protestant in that gov race

8:28 PM  

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