Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

War of 1812 made people mad but it didn’t make Canada

Middling-nation nationalists and their incumbent governments leap at opportunities to “celebrate” significant war anniversaries. Wars harden feelings and kill off collective options. Unlike elections, wars, at least from a distance, seem to settle things and flesh out national narratives.
The Government of Canada, with $30 million and a clutch of professional storytellers, is out to excite Canadians over the War of 1812-1814 between the US and its old belligerent—the British Empire and its northern colonial assets.
That war left Britain’s colonies intact and spent sufficient treasure and blood to close the angry wound between the UK and the US. It made British subjects in Upper and Lower Canada angry with their southern neighbor and more resolved to stick with the British Crown.
Pow! Canadian consciousness got its start.
While Canadians scorn the gross beautification of American history that permits Americans to constantly call America exceptional, they are every bit as accepting of a self-serving narrative of Canada’s birth and persistence as a separate nation.
In this age of nerve racking choices it’s not surprising that many find comfort, even virtue, in believing they are living within a firm coherent story. This temptation is too easily praised and too rarely challenged.
Yet, human history is also about how stories unravel and how people persist in re-opening their choices and discovering new ones. Our generation of Canadians shouldn’t feel less free now to think about our future choices simply because the British didn’t lose the War of 1812.
Along with the 1812 celebrations, the intention of Canada’s Heritage Minister James Moore to support organizations that support Canadian history and at the same time promote Canadian identity should be seen for what it is: a way to turn the real study of history into feel good propaganda. Canada’s future should stand or fall on what’s going on now; studying history should make us more intelligent decision-makers not more ardent nationalists.
Jeffrey Simpson who confessed to not need fresh memories of a “stupid” war to appreciate Canada’s strengths or America’s shortcomings received a scolding by CP Champion of The Dorchester Review.
“Simpson claims to disdain “the cardboard version of history taught in Canada.” But if anything is made of “cardboard,” it is the Globe writer’s imagination. If he cannot see the origins of an independent Canada in the battlefields of 1812-14 after reading Alan Taylor’s The Civil War of 1812 (which Simpson calls “outstanding”), he should pick up a text on basic philosophy: specifically, the principle of potentiality. Just as a tree grows from an acorn, Canada grew from its colonial origins — but only because there was not an American takeover to cut it off.”
The problem in free societies is that potentialities keep happening.
The War of 1812 didn’t settle anything. A liberating and true history of Canada—to date—would also draw attention to the Annexation movements in both Upper and Lower Canada. It would note that John Abbott, Canada’s highly esteemed second Prime Minister, signed the Annexation manifesto of 1849. It might acknowledge that so-called loyal Ontario voted for complete free trade with the US in 1891, despite the existential warnings of Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A Macdonald.
Human societies worth studying are not like oak trees or even English gardens.

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