Book reviews

The Next City
December 22, 1997

The Battle over Multiculturalism: Does It Help or Hinder Canadian Unity?

Edited by Andrew Cardozo and Louis Musto
(Pearson Shoyama Institute, 1997. 216 pages) $14.95

CONTRARY TO CLAIMS BY CONTRIBUTORS to The Battle over Multiculturalism, official multiculturalism has made little if any contribution to national unity. This government program primarily funds ethnic elites, such as the Canadian Ethnocultural Council (Andrew Cardozo is its former president), that are out of touch with the constituents they purport to represent. In the Charlottetown debacle, the council assured the government of the overwhelming support of the “millions” of Canadians for whom it speaks; no such support materialized.

To help his national unity strategy, then prime minister Trudeau decided to fund the National Action Committee for the Status of Women. The strategy backfired. After a number of confrontations, NAC and the Fédération des Femmes du Québec parted ways. Increasingly preoccupied with its own myopic fringe feminism focus, NAC turned destructive on Canadian unity — in the 1995 referendum, while hundreds of thousands of Canadians gathered in Montreal in a last moment appeal for unity, NAC, like its allies in the Canadian Labour Congress, stayed in Ottawa. In a recent book, former NAC president Judy Rebick offered a “feminist” analysis of the Montreal rally: “‘Please stay’ was like the last-ditch effort of a neglectful husband who respects his wife’s announcement that she’s leaving him by bringing home flowers and saying, ‘I’m going to be good, and I’m going to come home every night and take care of the kids.'” Rebick has frequently boasted of NAC’s role in sinking the Charlottetown accord.

Government funding has created an incestuous milieu of ethnic and gender activists intent on trashing our country’s history. To this book’s contributors, Canadian history involves little more than white anglophone males fighting with their francophone counterparts. “Ethnic minorities had not been involved in any significant way in constitutional development before the 1980s,” states the Canadian Ethnocultural Council’s Emilio Binavince, ignoring the prominence of national leaders such as Edward Schreyer, a Ukrainian-stock former Manitoba premier and Canada’s youngest governor general. York University history professor Irving Abella questions whether Canada even existed in any meaningful sense since efforts to assimilate immigrants “through the 1950s [failed because] there was nothing for the immigrants to assimilate into. There was no Canadian nationality, no discernible culture, no unique identity, no myths, no ethos, no overweening national heroes.” Amy Go, who sits on NAC’s executive and chairs the board of directors of the Chinese Canadian National Council, claims Canada “has a long history of oppression” and is “inherently sexist, classist, and racist.” She attacks Trinidadian-born writer Neil Bissoondath’s best-seller, The Cult of Multiculturalism as “part of the anti-immigrant and racist backlash the right wing has launched.”

Bissoondath believes that Canada is not deeply racist, and polls support him: Eighty-five per cent of Canadians support government action to oppose racism, and other Canadians think racism can best be countered through personal actions. To explain the lack of real world evidence of serious bigotry — and justify funding its eradication — the antiracism lobby invented “new racism,” a catchall phrase for any Canadian who doesn’t see Canada as Alabama North. For example, Li Zong, a University of Saskatchewan sociologist, believes that those who oppose official multiculturalism seek to coerce immigrants to assimilate to Anglo-Saxon culture. Her static view of culture misses the point. Opponents do not urge us to take afternoon tea in Victoria while reading Shakespeare; they do welcome a universal, color-blind Canadian culture that has flowered from Anglo-Saxon roots.

Yet Canada has retreated from the vision of a Canadian culture. Former multiculturalism minister Sheila Finestone declared on national TV, “Canada has no national culture.” In the government mantra, immigrants should see themselves not as Canadians but as members of “cultural communities.”

NO ONE WANTS TO ELIMINATE MULTICULTURALISM, but does it warrant endless government meddling, philosophical incoherence, and rank political opportunism? Witness the government’s hypocrisy when it comes to the one certifiably distinctive group in Canada — aboriginal peoples, whose traditional, land-based culture is at profound odds with industrial society. In the 1960s, as minister of Indian affairs, Chrétien — in his commitment to resource development in the north — aggressively tried to assimilate Canada’s first nations into the mainstream. On a recent Team Canada mission, the Prime Minister praised the similarity between Canada’s and Indonesia’s multicultural policies, noting that both countries had citizens with a variety of linguistic backgrounds. But the Indonesian regime actively suppresses minorities. In the words of a recent Le Monde editorial: “The forgotten freedom fighters of East Timor are emblematic of the struggle by Oceanic civilizations to prevent themselves from being ‘pacified’ and to defend the extraordinary cultural diversity that is their great hallmark.”

What of the question asked in the book’s title? Does multiculturalism help or hinder Canadian unity? The answer from Quebec is unequivocal: It rejects official multiculturalism, preferring instead to pander to Quebec nationalism. As put by Premier Lucien Bouchard, “Canada is divisible because Canada is not a real country. There are two people, two nations, and two territories. This one is ours.”

There is an unavoidable lesson to be drawn from more than 25 years of official multiculturalism. Government largesse has contributed not to national unity but to a culture of grievance politics. The beneficiaries of such largesse are well represented in The Battle over Multiculturalism.

Responses to Martin Loney’s review

Lorne Almack, Claremont, Ontario, responds: January 27, 1998

Your title is a gross understatement. Multiculturalism and it’s sibling bilingualism, which were foisted on the Canadian people by a misguided genius prime minister, have probably destroyed Canada — at least no savior is in place, certainly not Jean Chrétien.

Canada survived, admittedly as two solitudes, for one hundred years until we elected Pierre Trudeau, a prime minister antipathetic to anything British, which was well illustrated by his appearing adorned with the Nazi swastika during WW2 when his Canadian peers were joining the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Regiment of Canada, and the Royal Navy.

After Trudeau’s arrogant repatriation of the constitution without Quebec’s concurrence, Brian Mulrony tried to put Canada back together again. But once again the evil genius surfaced; Trudeau, abetted by his apprentice Clyde Wells, defeated the Meach Lake Accord and Canada’s hope for reconciliation.

So we are left with a very divided country. Leadership aspirants like Joe Clark and Jean Charest are vilified as appeasers. Preston Manning, who embraces Trudeau’s vision of Canada, is the present neocon idol.

To understand Canada and diagnose the Trudeau folly, Professor McRobert’s analysis titled Misconceiving Canada is the most authoritative and best researched book.

Before bilingualisum, muticulturalism, repatriation of our constitution, and the proscribing of our rights and freedoms under a charter, Canada was doing quite well. Sure we were “Two Solitudes,” but each solitude was Canadian and willing to repulse the American invasion of 1812.

The French were French Canadians and proud of being a founding nation. They and British Canadians welcomed Italians, Swedes, Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, and Greeks and were assimilated with them. Leadership roles emerged for Deifenbakers, Hnatyshyns, Mazankowskis, Mulroneys, and Pearsons. Canadians also welcome Asians and Africans.

Canadians of all origins were proud to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Navy, the Royal Regiment of Canada, measure their property in English feet and inches, and be governed by English law and parliamentary government. British Canadian tradition had its roots in the Magna Carta, habeas corpus, and an independent judiciary.

The founding nations (French and British) do welcome a universal color blind Canadian culture that flows naturally from Anglo-Saxon roots. Government-supported ethnic communities are divisive and injurious to Canada. That which is unacceptable to Quebec should be unacceptable to Canada.

The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism Before Its Triumph

by Albert O. Hirschman
(Princeton University Press, 1997. 153 pages) $18.50

THOUGH CAPITALISM HAS TRIUMPHED across the world, Albert O. Hirschman’s The Passions and the Interests attempts to lessen its impact. In the 20th anniversary rerelease of this classic book, Hirschman, a left-wing academic at Princeton, mixes political philosophy with economic history to explain how the world changed from communal “passions” to self-indulgent “interests.”

Concentrating on the works of well-known thinkers such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Bernard Mandeville, Thomas Hobbes, Baron de Montesquieu, and Adam Smith, The Passions and the Interests examines our innermost thoughts in economic gain, the quest for power, and the rights of the individual. The picture that Hirschman paints is hardly pretty. He spends an entire chapter on Montesquieu and Smith, emphasizing more their reservations of capitalism than their classical liberal policies, and criticizes, almost with disdain, how the “old masters” interpreted capitalism.

Michael Taube

Only the Paranoid Survive:
How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company and Career

by Andrew S. Grove
(Currency Doubleday, 1996. 210 pages) $37.95

THE CEO OF INTEL, Andrew Grove, has written an insightful manual on how to survive our scary leap into the information age. Grove is justifiably “paranoid” because he has lived through many examples of what Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction,” when the old way dies to make way for a new approach. Intel itself has nearly fallen victim to such evolutionary events. Not only has Grove survived what he calls Strategic Inflection Points, he has so thrived in them that his company may soon become the most profitable corporation in America.

To Grove, stability only comes from fully accepting uncertainty. As Grove puts it, “sooner or later, something fundamental in your business world will change.” Its cause can be just about anything: new regulations, a new attitude in your customers, or even a seemingly modest change in technology. His book explains the really tricky parts, such as how to perceive and identify Strategic Inflection Points, and then how to surf them, even when critical allies may not share your perception as to the seriousness of the threat or opportunity.

Malcolm Crerar

The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia — A Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy

by Robert D. Kaplan
(Vintage Departures, 1997. 476 pages) $21

ROBERT KAPLAN HAS A REAL TALENT for visiting the world’s biggest “hellholes”; most are in the throes of a population explosion, wracked by violence and surreal corruption, and blighted by endemic diseases and ecological disasters of unbelievable magnitude. Kaplan argues that the world is dangerously disassociated, suggesting that official state boundaries and economic policies, especially in Africa and Central Asia, increasingly give way to ethnic, tribal and religious divisions, informal parallel economies, and various irregular forces. This book emotes fear of enormous, unchecked forces in the “underground” of the planet that may simply overwhelm the carefully built-up edifice of Western civilization, with all of its various comforts that are today so casually taken for granted.

Mark Wegierski

In Pursuit of the Public Good: Essays in Honour of Allan J. MacEachen

Edited by Tom Kent
(McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997. 207 pages) $29.95

IN PURSUIT OF THE PUBLIC GOOD is largely concerned with the retreat of government in the past couple of decades and what to do about it. “In a democracy, our agent for our public good is government; what else is democracy?” the book’s editor Tom Kent writes. “But discussion of the public good today must begin with the recognition that, for a decade and more, governments almost everywhere have been in retreat.” Kent later intones, “We will do what we should for Canada’s children only if we pay more taxes.”

Other contributors include Pierre Fortin, professor of economics at the Université du Québec à Montréal, and R. Kenneth Carry, senior fellow of Green College at the University of British Columbia. Historian Michael Bliss (University of Toronto), who contributes a chapter on the story of the “visible hand” (as opposed to the laissez-faire’s invisible hand), seems pleased with, among other things, government mandated “tolerance.” The “feminist-driven human rights revolution of recent years” and the “wonderfully expanding conceptualizations of the meaning of human rights” make him glow.

Preston Jones

Democracy’s Oxygen: How Corporations Control the News

by James Winter
(Black Rose Books, 1997. 199 pages) $23.99

THE STEREOTYPE OF THE CANADIAN MEDIA — big, bad moguls who want to control the way we think about the news — is the starting point of Democracy’s Oxygen by James Winter, an associate professor of communications at the University of Windsor. Winter sees “Media Think” in the reporting of the daily news, which has allowed the neoconservative and neoliberal agendas to control our mind-set in a natural and schematic fashion. This book only points the guilty finger at right-wing media types in Canada: Ken Thomson, Paul Desmarais Sr., and, of course, Conrad Black, who gets the brunt of the attack.

Interestingly, Democracy’s Oxygen engages in its own little bit of left-wing “Media Think.” The media is oddly characterized — the Toronto Star as small l liberal, and the Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson as a writer of “frequently fairly right-wing” columns. Winter spends two chapters promoting Project Censored Canada — of which he is a member — and lamenting unreported exposés of the political right. In this conspiracy-theory-laden work, he urges unhappy media consumers to act through boycotts and social justice coalitions while supplying students with subscription information for the alternative media.

Michael Taube

The Idea of Decline in Western History

by Arthur Herman
(Free Press, 1997. 521 pages) $40

IN THE IDEA OF DECLINE IN WESTERN HISTORY, Professor Arthur Herman, the curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s Western Civilization program, becomes the West’s fierce defender. Unlike today’s trendy academics, Herman claims the West neither is bent on domination nor is it in decline. Instead, he argues, the West has been shamelessly open to other peoples and cultures since the Enlightenment — our forebears knew good things (e.g., Arabic numbers, or Chinese gun powder and printing) when they saw them. Herman believes the men who created the Enlightenment were not “Eurocentric” in today’s sense of the word. While they believed all peoples had the same nature, they also sensed a higher form of civil society. Europe wasn’t perfect; parts were still charnel houses. But its most advanced thinkers called for “tolerance for those of different political and religious views: no more Inquisitions or religious wars.”

Nathan Greenfield

The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture

by Daniel Harris
(Hyperion, 1997. 320 pages) $33.95

DANIEL HARRIS, WHO WADED THROUGH 40 years of dirty magazines, underwear catalogues, and personal ads to research this book, takes his reader on a package tour of an occasionally exotic world. To the right, in the early ’60s, we have porn with “surly (and occasionally felonious) heterosexuals . . . who were often openly contemptuous of the gay photographers who took their pictures.” To the left, in the late ’70s, we have the “deodorized bodies of middle-class professionals who bathe regularly.”

A few malcontents at the back of the bus may be grumbling that a good-natured and knowledgeable guide is all very well, but this was advertised as a Rise and Fall tour. When exactly did the rise stop rising and the fall start falling? Harris never really answers that question. Instead, he points out a hero and a villain, and that they are both assimilation. He loves assimilation when it frees him to meet real gay men, but he hates it as “a process that will ultimately destroy the gay sensibility, eliminating its distinctive characteristics.”

This seems a bit hard on assimilation. After all, the metaphor of the melting pot doesn’t just imply the disappearance of the smaller culture; the larger culture also changes. Even Harris acknowledges this when he says that straight men are imitating gay men by buying sexy underwear.

Actually, the gaying of mainstream culture goes much further. On television, we have gay characters (Ellen and Spin City) and officially straight characters who sure seem gay (Frasier and Friends). And in film, the drag queen road trip (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar) has become a popular subgenre.

Assimilation won’t destroy gay sensibility. Even in the most accepting environment, parents will still want grandchildren and their gay children will still be unlikely to provide them. Gays will still live among heterosexuals, mostly able to “pass” as straights when they so choose, but with a half-inside, half-outside view of society. When gays write books saying that gay distinctiveness is disappearing, don’t take us too seriously.

Steve Hutton

The Ethics of Catholicism and the Consecration of the Intellectual

by André J. Bélanger
(McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997. 242 pages) $44.95

BÉLANGER, A PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE at the Université de Montréal, tells us that an intellectual is “a person who, from the status of public producer of signs and symbols, involves him- or herself in the political arena to express views on the workings of a specific collectivity.” In Bélanger’s mind, an intellectual might be an established dramatist who speaks out on some (almost always) moral or political issue on which he has little real competence. Think of Brigitte Bardot protesting the Canadian seal kill.

C.D. Howe and Fraser institutes experts who pontificate before television cameras on their areas of expertise might be disappointed to discover that Bélanger thinks of them as “far from being intellectuals,” for “they can hardly be compared with novelists, playwrights, and artists who, from a well-established status among the public at large, take it upon themselves to expound on public policies.” Although intellectuals usually lack expertise, Bélanger writes, that has rarely stopped them from engaging in public debate.

Bélanger argues that secularized, residually Catholic countries or provinces like France and Quebec receive intellectuals better than predominantly Protestant countries or provinces like Britain and Alberta. In Catholic tradition, the clergy mediates religious truth. In Protestant countries, on the other hand, every one is his own priest. So, as Catholic countries secularized, with intellectuals like Voltaire, the Dreyfusards, and Jean-Paul Sartre displacing priests, in Protestant countries every man became his own interpreter of events. Daily newspaper readership in Protestant countries is generally much higher than in Catholic ones, a sign of the desire among citizens of predominantly Protestant lands to inform themselves and of the willingness of residents of Catholic, or formerly Catholic, areas to rely on an elite’s insights.

Preston Jones

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