"A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things that, in reality, are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, the other in the present. One is the shared possession of a rich legacy of memories of the past, the other is a consent in the present, a desire to live together, a will to continue to make the most of the undivided heritage. Human beings, I tell you, are not made overnight. The nation, like the individual, is the culmination of a long history of effort, of sacrifice and of devotion. . . . A nation is therefore a vast solidarity, constituted by knowledge of the sacrifices that we have made in the past and of those we are willing to make in the future. It presupposes a past. In the present, however, it amounts to a tangible fact, which is consensus and the clearly expressed desire to pursue a common life. The existence of a nation is (if you will excuse the metaphor) a daily plebiscite, just as individual existence is a perpetual affirmation of life."
Ernest Renan, What is a Nation? (A Lecture given at the Sorbonne, March 11, 1882)
Recent Dialogue Canada discussions have considered the meaning of the word "nation" and whether it makes sense to apply the term to Quebec, aboriginal peoples, what Rob Kish refers to as CSQ (Canada sans Quebec), and/or Canada as a whole. Using Renan's lecture as a lead in, I'd like to discuss these issues some more. I shall also refer to an excellent book that I am currently reading, called Reimagining Canada: Language, Culture, Community, and the Canadian Constitution, written by a law professor at McGill named Jeremy Webber, and published by McGill-Queen's University Press in 1994.
When Renan delivered his lecture in 1882, his aims were to challenge traditional conceptions of nationhood based on race, language, religion, geography and dynastic rule as an appropriate basis for nationhood in a modern democratic state. He also wanted to challenge the idea that nations could exist on the basis of common interests alone. Since few in Canada today would regard religion, geography or dynastic rule as an appropriate basis for nationhood, I will only summarize Renan's argument regarding ethnicity, language, and common interests.
With respect to ethnicity or race, Renan explained (based on European history) that: "The truth is that there is no such thing as a pure race and that to found politics on ethnographic analysis is to base it on a chimera." France, he noted, is Celtic, Iberic and Germanic. Germany, he explained, was Germanic, Celtic and Slav. And of Britain, he added: "what we improperly call the Anglo-Saxon race is neither the Briton of the time of Caesar, nor the Anglo- Saxon of Hengist, nor the Dane of Knut, nor the Norman of William the Conqueror. It is rather the result of all this." Thus,he concluded: "Race, as we historians understand it, is . . . something that is made and unmade."
With respect to language, he argued that: "Language invites unity, without, however, compelling it. The United States and England, Latin America and Spain share the same languages, but do not form single nations. Conversely, Switzerland, so solid because it is based on the consent of its various parties, has three or four languages."
Rejecting both ethnicity and language as the basis of democratic nationhood, Renan emphasized something far more important to the existence of nations: human reason and will. Speaking of race, he stated: "Human history differs in essence from zoology. Race is not everything, as it is among rodents or felines. . . Beyond anthropological distinctions, there is reason, justice, truth, beauty that are the same for everyone." Likewise, of language, he argued that: "There is in humanity something superior to language; it is will. The will of Switzerland to be united, despite the variety of its tongues, is much more important than the similarities often obtained by means of persecution."
Nonetheless, Renan also emphasized that reason alone, in the form of common interests, was insufficient as a basis of nationhood: "Common interests are surely powerful bonds between human beings. But do interests suffice in creating a nation? I do not believe so. Common interests bring about trade agreements. But nationality is also partly a matter of conscious feeling; it is simultaneously body and soul; a customs union is not a homeland."
Instead, as the quotation at the outset indicates, Renan regarded democratic nations as political communities whose existence is ultimately based on a "solidarity" and a "desire to pursue a common life". Thus, he concluded: "A great gathering of humans, healthy in mind and warm of heart, creates a moral consciousness that we call a nation."
Given Renan's conception of democratic nationhood, is it possible to regard Canada (meaning the country in its entirety, including Quebec) as a "nation"? For now, it seems, we can.
Twice over the last fifteen years, a majority of Quebecers have demonstrated their continuing "desire to pursue a common life" with other Canadians by voting "non": first to "sovereignty-association in 1980 and most recently to sovereignty with the promise of an economic and political partnership in 1995. In each of these referenda, the "oui" vote would not have been anywhere near as high had it not been for the promise of continued connection with the rest of Canada implicit in the words "association" and "partnership".
More importantly, despite recent polls indicating that a slight majority of Quebecers would vote "Oui" if the question in last fall's referendum were asked again today, more than 60% of respondents indicate that they want Quebec to be a province within Canada. When Quebecers are asked whether they would prefer sovereignty with a promise of an economic and political partnership or renewed federalism, 58% support the latter. Finally, poll after poll indicates that Quebecers have a strong attachment to Canada.
Among Canada's aboriginal peoples, I have not seen any polls. Nonetheless, among their leadership, it is clear that "self-government" is conceived to be within the structure of the Canadian federation, so that aboriginal governments would constitute a third constitutional order of government distinct from the federal government and the provinces. If these views are widely shared among aboriginal peoples, it follows that aboriginal peoples as well "desire to pursue a common life" with other Canadians.
Finally, among other Canadians, a continuing desire to live together is clear. Among Canadians living outside Quebec, a recent poll found that fully 91% want Quebec to remain within Canada. Although I have not seen any polls on the subject, I assume that a vast majority of all Canadians want aboriginal governments to be part of Canada, not separate sovereign states.
Likewise, this desire to live together is not simply a desire for some kind of common market along the lines of the NAFTA or the EEC. (Indeed, the crude attempt to "sell" Canada to Quebecers in this way in the referendum last fall by emphasizing only the economic costs of separation is, I believe, one of the main reasons that the "none" side almost lost). Rather, our "solidarity" is deeper than this, reflected in the emotion of the unity rallies in the week before last fall's Quebec referendum, the passion with which Canadians have joined unity groups in the months after the referendum in order to work toward keeping this country together, and in the principles and policies that Canadians have devised over the years such as equalization payments to less affluent provinces.
To be sure, this solidarity is increasingly strained. Among French-speaking Quebecers, already maintaining a strong sence of solidarity within Quebec itself and frustrated by a lack of recognition for this fact in the rest of the country, increasing numbers appear to be losing their "desire to pursue a common life" within a broader Canadian political community. Aboriginal Canadians, frustrated by historical injustices and their current place within the Canadian community, are likewise increasingly receptive to separatist thinking. Similarly, among Canadians from Atlantic Canada and the West, frustrated by a history of economic exploitation and political marginalization by Central Canada, solidarity with Canadians in Ontario and Quebec is increasingly restrained. Indeed, among all Canadians from coast to coast, fiscal and economic pressures appear to have greatly weakened our bonds of social solidarity.
In this context, all of us who love and believe in this country must work together to restore or renew the "moral consciousness" on which democratic nationhood must ultimately be based. We must be sensitive to feelings of rejection and exclusion experienced across this country, and devise ways in which all Canadians_English and French- speaking, aboriginal and immigrant, Quebecers, Western Canadians, Atlantic Canadians, Central Canadians and Northern Canadians_can find in this country a "common life" worth pursuing. In so doing, however, I believe that we have to begin by addressing a crucial issue that Renan did not consider: whether people can belong to more than one "nation" at the same time.
In Canada, as in other countries, people often feel a deep sense of solidarity - a "desire to pursue a common life" - within two or more communities. Thus, for example, while French-speaking Quebecers clearly maintain a deep attachment to Canada, they are also deeply attached to Quebec itself as a "homeland" in which their language and culture are that of the majority rather than the minority, as they are within Canada as a whole. Likewise, while most aboriginal people appear to favour self-government within a broader Canadian political community, many aboriginal peoples regard their own cultures and communities as their spiritual homes.
For other Canadians, the same may also be true, though generally to a lesser extent: Newfoundlanders may regard "the Rock" as their spiritual home, British Columbians may regard "Lotusland" as their spiritual home. Nonetheless, among these Canadians, including recent immigrants who have voluntarily come to Canada, the main focus of solidarity is probably Canada as a whole.
Regardless of how these Canadians may feel, the reality is that many Canadians (and probably a majority of French- speaking Quebecers and aboriginal peoples) experience a deep sense of solidarity_a "desire to pursue a common life"_with more than one political community.
Given this reality, a major problem with Renan's idea of nationhood, as with most conceptions of the term, is its apparent emphasis on exclusivity. Although Renan does not explicitly address the subject, the implication seems to be that people can only belong to one nation at a time. In our own discussion group, Bill Frampton expressed this view most directly on April 12, 1996, when he wrote: "Either Canada is one nation or two. It can't be both at the same time."
There are two problems with this argument. First, it denies to people the reality of their own experiences of dual or multiple loyalties. It tells them that they are wrong to think_and feel_the way thay do, that they must choose, and, if they fail or refuse to choose, that they are traitors. Second, the logic of the argument leads either to assimilation or to separation. Since nations require absolute allegiance, citizens must either abandon all other loyalties in favour of the larger political community, or abandon the larger political community in favour of a more particular loyalty.
To expect French-speaking Quebecers and aboriginal Canadians to abandon their particular loyalties in favour of absolute loyalty to a superior Canadian nation is, I believe, unrealistic, unjust, unwise and unnecessary.
It is unrealistic because French-speaking Quebecers and aboriginal Canadians have a deeply-felt attachment to their own particular cultures and political communities in which they constitute majorities despite being minorities within Canada as a whole. For French-speaking Quebecers and aboriginal Canadians to abandon these particular loyalties in favour of a absolute loyalty to a superior Canadian nation would be to lose the security that these particular communities provide within a broader Canadian context_a context which historically has often proven unsympathetic to the particular claims and aspirations of French-speaking and aboriginal Canadians.
Furthermore, since Canada has always recognized the role of these particular communities as a focus for the collective aspirations of French-speaking Quebecers and aboriginal Canadians, any attempt to deny these loyalties today would constitute a breach of faith. Recognition of Quebec's special role with respect to French-speaking culture in North America goes as far back as the Quebec Act of 1774, when Quebecers were guaranteed the freedom to practice their own religion (a controversial subject at the time) and assured that French civil law would apply in all matters of "Property and Civil Rights". In 1867, Quebec was guaranteed that civil law would continue to apply by the designation of "Property and Civil Rights" (the same wording as appeared in the Quebec Act) as provincial powers under subsection 92(13) of the BNA Act. As well, section 93 of the BNA Act granted authority over education to provincial governments_a crucial power for French-speaking Quebecers to ensure that a French- speaking culture would continue to thrive in future generations.
With respect to aboriginal peoples, recognition of their allegiance to their own particular communities is implicit in the negotiation of treaties between colonial and later federal governments and particular aboroginal peoples. More recently, this acknowledgement is apparent in the recognition of "aboriginal and treaty rights" in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
Third, to require French-speaking Quebecers and aboriginal Canadians to abandon their particular loyalties in favour of aboslute loyalty to Canada as a whole is unwise because it compels members of these communities to choose between their owne particular communities and Canada_a choice that they, for the most part, do not wish to make, but, if pressed, may make in favour of their particular communities rather than Canada. In other words, by demanding exclusive allegiance, Canadians risk pushing French-speaking Quebecers and aboriginal Canadians into becoming separatists.
Finally, requiring French-speaking Quebecers and aboriginal Canadians to abandon all particular loyalties in favour of absolute loyalty to Canada as a whole is, I believe, unnecessary to the existence of a meaningful "common life" at the level of the Canadian political community as a whole. As Jeremy Webber writes (Reimagining Canada, p. 25) of French-speaking Quebecers: "It doesn't matter that they have a strong allegiance to Quebec, as long as their allegiance to Canada is strong." The same may also be said of aboriginal Canadians. Indeed, the attachment that French- speaking Quebecers and aboriginal Canadians feel for Canada as a whole is likely to be greater where the broader Canadian political community is commited to the continued vitality of their particular communities.
In our own discussion group, I believe, we have seen the logic of relying on exclusive conceptions of nationhood in Rob Kish's conception of Canada (again, meaning the country as a whole, including Quebec). In one of his more recent contributions (dated April 24, 1996), Rob argues that: "This country of ours includes the nation/people of Quebec, the nation/people of Canada and the people of the first nations." Here, Canada (meaning the country as a whole, including Quebec) ceases to be a "nation" and is reduced to the status of a mere "country". Nationhood, in contrast, is accorded to Quebec, to aboriginal nations, and to the remainder_CSQ (Canada sans Quebec) -- which, as Rob proposed on April 17, 1996, "we could assume . . . is our specific `nation'."
The problem with this approach (which, I believe, stems from the exclusive conception of nationhood that Rob appears to employ), as Jason Agouris has emphasized in his responses to Rob, is that it leaves no room for the idea of Canada as a whole as a shared "moral consciousness" that in some way embraces all of these all of these particular communities and particular allegiances within a broader whole. This idea of Canada, as Jason observed on April 17, 1996, involves a "vision of our country that protects one another's cultural aspirations while encouraging our sharing of one another's diverse cultures through which we all can grow and prosper."
To think of nationhood as exclusive either rejects cultural diversity (except as a purely private matter which cannot be expressed in the state_an illusion, since the state necessarily reflects a particular culture) or compels it to conform to the boundaries of separate nations. That one might, as Rob Kish proposes, imagine that these "nations" continue to inhabit the same "country" does not deny this result: while physical boundaries may not be guarded as carefully as international borders, social boundaries will deepen. Where the solidarity of which Renan speaks exists only among the constituent "nations" and not at the level of the whole, the "desire to pursue a common life" in the country as a whole will wither and die. As a result, the "country" which Rob Kish imagines would be little more than a customs union_a sovereignty-association among Quebecers, aboriginal peoples, and the rest of us.
In addition, I think, this exclusive conception of nationhood has another profound defect. Part of my identity as an English-speaking Canadian (a term with which I, unlike Rob Kish, have little difficulty, since the "English- speaking" part merely distinguishes me from members of the other major linguistic group in the country, while the "Canadian" part does most of the work, above all by distinguishing me from Americans_a point which Rob seems to have missed), I believe, depends precisely on a shared experience with French-speaking and aboriginal Canadians within a political community called Canada (meaning, the country as a whole, including Quebec).
Whether or not we, as individuals, have actually visited Quebec or an aboriginal community, or become well-acquainted with people from these communities, their presence, their struggles to maintain their particular identities within the Canadian context, have shaped our shared political community and in tuen our character as individuals.
Some in our discussion group have scorned the suggestion that Canadians are, in general, humble, peaceful and tolerant people. Yet these virtues resonate with Canadians and are regarded as Canadian characteristics throughout the world. Where did these characteristics come from? The British? The French? Aboriginal peoples? Canadians of other origins? Surely, the answer is: from all of us, but above all, from the interaction among us. Thus, as Jeremy Webber writes (Reimagining Canada, p. 319), it is "the conversation that we have had in this rich and magnificent land" that "makes up the soul of our identity as Canadians."
To end this conversation, I believe, would not, as Rob Kish suggests, result in a stronger and more cohesive "Canada" (CSQAAP - Canada sans Quebec and Aboriginal Peoples), but a smaller, meaner, less interesting place which many of us, sadly, would no longer recognize as our spiritual home. Likewise, whether Quebecers and/or aboriginal peoples would experience it immediately or sometime down the road, I believe that the same may be said of Quebec and aboriginal communities were they to end their conversation with the rest of us.
Nonetheless, we must recognize that too often over the course of our history, it is the rest of us (not French- speaking or aboriginal Canadians) who have done most of the "talking" in this "conversation". Because of this, it is not surprising that many in these communities believe that their conversations might be more fruitful without us. Ultimately, I do not believe that this is true, but in order to persuade members of communities that this is true, we must work on becoming better conversationalists. This, I believe, is what Dialogue Canada is all about.
You may have noticed in the previous section that, although discussing Renan's concept of nationhood, I generally stopped using the word "nation" to describe the political community (particular communities or the Canadian community as a whole) about which I was speaking. This was deliberate.
Although the concept of nationhood can, I believe, be understood without adhering to traditional ideas of exclusivity and_as Renan himself argued_without regard to determinants of ethnicity or language, the very discussion in our group suggests that ethnicity and exclusivity are widely regarded as constituent elements of the concept of nationhood. For these reasons, as Jeremy Webber argues (Reimagining Canada, p. 24), it is probably best to avoid all this "baggage' associated with the term "nation" by using the more flexible concept of "political community" which, as Webber explains, allows us to talk more easily about "multiple communities and multiple allegiances."
As well, I think, avoiding use of the term "nation" makes it easier to think of communities and the peoples that comprise them not as homogeneous and static collectivities which are largely impervious to the influences of other communities and peoples, but as the living organisms that they are -- subject to growth or decay, depending on their internal and external influences. To think of Canada as a country comprised of different communities and different peoples, is not to suggest that these communities and peoples do not interconnect (this, I believe, is Rob Kish's conception of the "country" of Canada). On the contrary, it is, as Jason Agouris put it, to imagine a country that "protects one another's cultural aspirations while encouraging our sharing of one another's civerse cultures through which we all can grow and prosper." Indeed, it is to imagine this shared project as the "soul" or "spiritual principle" of our "common life" as Canadians.
Finally, then, what do I have to say about Des Connor's initial question that begin this discussion? Like Tom Jorgenson, I question the use of the word "nation" to describe Quebec, and endorse the idea of "un peuple". Moreover, if this is the term that French-speaking Quebecers (including Bouchard) use, I see no reason to make things more complicated by using the word nation.
As for aboriginal peoples, the logic of my argument suggests that I should oppose the use of the term First Nations (though I might argue that it represents a useful and accurate historical description). I must say that I am uncomfortable with this conclusion_particularly, since aboriginal people have clearly chosen to describe themselves in these terms. Before reaching a judgement on this issue, therefore, I would like to hear from aboriginal people.
With respect to CSQAAP (Canada sans Quebec and Aboriginal Peoples), again, I resist the designation nation. This is not a nation but only part of a nation, and I believe would only become a nation unwillingly and with great sadness.
Finally, what of Canada as a whole. Again, the logic of my argument suggests that the word nation may be inappropriate. Note, however, that my concern here is not one of principle (I think the concept of nationhood is flexible enough to admit multiple loyalties), but one of practice: that we not raise the stakes so high on Canadian loyalty to deprive Canadians of their particular loyalties, e.g. as Quebecers, as Mohawks, as Nisga'a, etc. Our task is to build this "nation" in people's hearts, not to force it upon people with words which may be misinterpreted to denote exclusivity. For now, I think, words like "the country", "the Canadian political community" or simply "Canada" should suffice.