Friday, September 19, 2008

On this ROC we have built... (Bibilical themes in contemporary English Canadian nationalism)

I'm not sure that the rhetoric of national covenant (based on the original precedent at Sinai) played a huge role in the development of English Canadian identity. Sure, Protestants everywhere talk like that when they are being irritable, and we all know how irritable the original Canadian Protestants could be. But the over-arching original conception was of Britishness expressing itself in a non-British space. It probably owed more to Rome than to Jerusalem.

If we then look at the post-WWII need to reconceive Canadianism (provoked by the termination of the British Empire, the extreme power of the US, and the threat of Quebec nationalism), the key biblical rhetoric comes from the Babylonian captivity, not the establishment of the covenant. Grant laments for an ideal that he insists was impossible from the outset.

Our lamentation, unlike Jeremiah's, is not caused by disaster and ruin, but by uncertainty and loss of purpose. It is more comfortable, and therefore harder to take seriously. But with an ironic inflection, we arrive at a deutero-Isiahian synthesis. Our god, like Israel's in the captivity, can no longer be located in his home. But, as with Israel in the captivity, this homelessness makes our god all the more powerful. Our uncertainty becomes our weapon against the Americans and against the Quebec nationalists: they can never truly be liberals because they have identified themselves with too concrete a substantial liberalism. We can be faithful to liberal modernity because our loyalties are negative (not-American not-Quebec).

Of course, our anxiety does not solve the fact that someone (albeit someone invisible) must continue to negotiate an accommodation with all the substantial nationalisms -- American, Quebecois, aboriginal and new Canadian. Just as a corporation is a placeholder for all the contracts it negotiates with others, so too the ROC ("Rest of Canada").

Upon this ROC, though, someone built something. We will have to explore what at a future time.

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