In one of the most dramatic shifts in recent memory, the last thirty years have seen a shift from the characterization of liberal democracy as the only surviving ideology at the “end of history,” to claims that it is facing calamitous threats like never before.
The emergence of nationalist populist movements across the globe-what I have called the rise of post-modern conservatism elsewhere—has been met with claims by major intellectuals that liberalism has “failed” and needs to be replaced by other political forms such as “conservative democracy.” Despite its relative tranquility, Canada has not been immune to these seismic developments.
Prime Minister Trudeau, widely admired and loathed in equal measure, has become something of an icon for those wishing to defend the liberal order and its affiliated institutions and norms: multiculturalism, internationalism, and of course, post-nationalism.
This last norm refers of course to Trudeau’s (in
Canada’s Strange National Identity
This Trudeauism infuriated numerous conservative critics, who quickly responded by claiming that Canada does have a national identity, and formulating various theories on just what that happens to be.
Conrad Black’s March 2018 article in the National Post is a paradigm case:
The influence of these two founding cultures is ubiquitous across our institutions and value systems. For some
As I have discussed elsewhere, I feel that these conservative arguments are deeply flawed. They tend to regard national identity as an organic identity which pre-exists the state, when in fact the opposite is often true.
Especially in the Canadian context, immense efforts were made by state institutions and officials to try and engender a sense of national identity.
It was very much an orchestrated process to achieve a delicate harmony, and I do not mean to dismiss its importance in the country’s early history. But there is no sense in which national identity existed before the state, and is now somehow being artificially torn asunder by post-nationalist policies imposed from above.
But my primary purpose in this article is not to look at these historical and moral issues.
Post-Modern Culture and Canadian Nationalism
In outlets such as Quillette and
What I call post-modern culture has emerged in neoliberal societies in conjunction with the socio-political, economic, and technological transformations which defined developed states in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Post-modern culture is characterized by a growing sense that identities we previously cherished are being destabilized by forces beyond our control.
For many on the political left-like Trudeau-the reaction to these cultural conditions has been to simply abandon any firm commitment to identity at all.
For a long time, many assumed that post-modernity was exclusively the purview of the political left. And indeed, many still characterize figures like Trudeau this way.
What is less appreciated is that the nationalist strands of Canadian conservatism which are gaining traction are just as much a product of this post-modern condition.
Their reaction to Trudeauism isn’t to try and develop a new kind of politics which would move beyond the post-modern destabilization of identity.
The efforts to generate a shared national identity based on Canada’s English and French heritage, while engaging in politically correct efforts to wipe it clean of any historical sins, is a case in point.
As is the relative blindness to more complicated stories about the cultural participation of Aboriginals, Chinese laborers, Ukrainian farmers, and so on who contributed a great deal to the formation of Canada.
Post-modern conservatism in Canada, as elsewhere, is an artificial effort to resolve bigger problems that it remains unwilling to consider holistically.
Instead, post-modern culture is caricatured as just a problem with a few leftist extremists and an eccentric but shallow Prime Minister.
If only things were that simple.
The pastiche like nationalism in vogue today may seem like an easy solution to transparent problems.
I would argue it is at best a placebo substituting for a good hard analysis of real challenges.