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)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Let’s drop ‘secular’ and start saying ‘liberal’ again

The Quebec government’s latest initiative to keep Quebec safe will be called a Charter of Quebec Values. It’ll be color-blind; it will only decide how you must appear in public institutions. Preventing religion and its weird trappings from ever again contaminating the state is its stated purpose. However, Sophie Cousineau in the Globe and Mail offers an interesting twist:

“The Parti Québécois campaigned heavily on identity issues during the last election, which struck a chord with its traditional supporters. Ms. Marois promised to establish a secular charter for the province’s public institutions. However, her minority government stopped referring to the plan as a secular charter last spring after it discovered that appealing to values would sound more positive and would resonate with Quebeckers.”

This is progress, darkly.

With “Quebec values,” we have a slogan to energize, hopefully, both the liberal and illiberal forces in Quebec.  

After all, the “secular state” is a bloodless abstraction. Many in Quebec probably don’t know what it means literally and, in their guts, its antagonism toward religion must seem a tiny bit forced. In truth, the religion—in Quebec and elsewhere in the West—that does threaten rational, civil (liberal, right?) discourse is nationalism.

People who connect the nation-state of Quebec, or Canada, or Holland, Germany, America, and England, for instance, to the word values are slipping away from reason—from the political enlightenment they secured collectively and, on tragic occasions, put aside.

They are being pulled, not by a ravenous new religion but by that old winner: nationalism.

Quebec’s touchiness about marginal religious practices and outside cultures is not fueled primarily by fear. As elsewhere, it is born by a certainty that Quebec is better and already worldly and sophisticated enough.

The Parti Québécois dreams of a seat at the United Nations, amongst history’s greatest assembly of minor gods.  

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