Thursday, June 29, 2006

Beware of redheads bearing gifts

When Timothy Garton Ash is done speaking, I wonder if there is a single dry seat left in the house.

Yet another thing Canadians and Europeans have in common is an obsession with the United States, and with distinguishing themselves from it, often by crude stereotyping. A Canadian writer observes that his compatriots "love to yell about how modest we are". Just like today's Europeans. Canadians and Europeans enjoy wallowing in a sense of moral superiority towards the imperial hyperpower, while doing rather little to improve the world outside their borders.
His latest opinion column in the Guardian otherwise defies this compelling criticism exactly: he plausts mush about the construction of a democratic future worldwide based on the social principals of Canada – because it has does so much in the past to try to reject the U.S. actions.
He also believes that there is a grand social model of integration that Europeans can learn from in order to deal with one another, based on the fact that Canadians of European origin get along well with one another.
With its carefully balanced federal model, securing the rights of a multicultural society in a bilingual framework, it has unique constitutional experience to offer the many multi-ethnic countries around the world that are struggling to avoid a fledgling democracy becoming a tyranny of the majority - and hence a catalyst for renewed ethnic conflict. Why not share this experience, in a distinctive Canadian version of democracy promotion? Or do we think the promotion of democracy should be left entirely to the Bush administration, while we sit on the sidelines and jeer?

So, in this respect at least, I return from Toronto wishing Canadians would be just a little less European. But then, in this respect, I also wish Europeans would be a little less Canadian.
Imagine that – isolating it to just white people in Canada who are much less of a sample of the world’s immigrant origins as the United States, and as such less philosophical, religious, and lifestyle diversity.
Yet this impotence is self-imposed. The potential power - military, economic and soft - of the established liberal democracies outside the US is enormous. The three largest sets are the democracies of Europe, most but not all gathered in the EU; the Anglosphere/Commonwealth democracies, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada (intersecting with the Francosphere), South Africa and India (the world's largest democracy); and the Hispanosphere and Lusosphere democracies of Latin America. Between us, we have a combined GDP much larger than that of the US, as well as natural resources and specific strengths that the hyperpower cannot match. Instead of sitting round like a bunch of poor cousins, complaining all the time about the behaviour of the rich American uncle, we should be thinking what we ourselves can do to make a difference beyond our shores.
Hoping that this model can actually do for the EU what the EU wont do for itself seems almost as desperate still. Canada rests far more closely on the side of the U.S. in the narrow cultural difference scale between the Atlantic Coasts. At 1/14th the population of the EU, only a portion of Canada that Ash assumes is enamored with the culture of welfare state dependency would care to become an exemplar and emotional prop to a EUvian model. The idea, after all is that he’s looking for affirmation of the efficacy of Europe failed and unsustainable socialist leaning model.
But it would be hard to argue with a straight face that Canada is in Europe. Moreover, with some 85% of its exports going to the United States, and so many of its business, energy and human links running north-south across the border, Canada is increasingly integrated into the US economy. The price the EU demands for opening its internal borders to new members is that they should tighten up their external border with non-EU neighbours. That would be a tall order for Canada, along the longest frontier on earth, with the most powerful neighbour on earth.
Canada has one of it’s feet in the American relationship, and one on the ground of the Brittish Commonwealth. Ash should rather consider that the Canadian reluctance to lean less on the American leg might have something to do with the values he thinks are inherent and bubbling over in the ties they have with the British Commonwealth. They do, after all have a favored trading and migrating scheme that rivals that of the FTAA Agreement, but have much less of a reason to act on them. There is the lack of dynamism, the presence of dictators, and the manipulators of government for business that they’re trying to kill off at home.

Imagining that there can be a fabulous “non-American Anglosphere + Europe” to form a network to export pluralism (first to the EU and then) to the larger world is quite rich. One wonders where the impulse for this hope comes from when the very same chatteratti thought the notion naïve and oppressive only a few years ago. Nation-building was, after all, one of the many “sins of the Bush” that the bruised inner children of the European left had on their list.
It also defies logic that Indians who have firmly rejected the European social model for the market growth model as a method of poverty elimination would really want to play along. The south Asian immigrants to the US and Canada are largely happy and tend to appreciate their autonomy from the statist economic model in the new world.
On the other hand one finds a different set of maneuvers in the UK. Interfaith and intercultural intervention and other bits of cultural pandering aren’t so much more widespread because of the open-ness of the society, but because life is so much more limiting that cultural palliative care is so badly needed.

I do believe that there is such a thing as a coherent model emerging from the Anglosphere of the US, Canada, Australia, and India because they are the more dynamic and less socialistic parts of the English speaking world. They are outgoing, robust, and energetically concerned with the future of freedom. The dead wood in this scenario are the English speakers who take an isolated, communitarian, socialistic approach such as New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, and to a lesser degree from it’s position of great-grandfather, the UK.
We support international organisations. We love multilateralism and abhor unilateralism. We tend to think that men and women should be able to live more or less as they please with whomever they please, irrespective of gender and sexual orientation. We pride ourselves on our diversity. Check, check, check. Welcome to Canada.
in other words, he supports a bunch of social pieties that have failed to produce humanistic outcomes, the moral fiber to not hate those who don’t look like you, and the pandering to narrow political interests. Surely only a cloud or two under Plato’s playground.

The race for the contribution of the Anglosphere to global life isn’t about to start with the qualifiers, it’s already afoot, and the mixed-up cosmopolitans of the chattering class failed to hear the starting pistol generations ago.

No comments: