Live Well, Do Good

Time to Awaken Our Inner Patriot

Brandon Sun, June 28, 2021 - David McConkey

This Canada Day, let’s awaken our inner patriot. What? Isn’t patriotism for bolder, more confident countries? Isn’t patriotism inappropriate for us self-effacing, we-are-sorry Canadians? Isn't patriotism just like nationalism, the scourge of times past and more recently of Donald Trump?

Well, no. I would like to share some ideas from several thinkers about patriotism and related concerns – just before Canada Day.

First: George Orwell. In his 1945 essay, Notes on Nationalism, Orwell ruminated on topics that he later brought to life in his novel 1984. And Orwell drew a sharp contrast between patriotism and nationalism.

“By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life,” Orwell wrote. “Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally.”

“Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power,” Orwell said. He likened nationalism to domineering ideologies like fascism and communism. And nationalists are consumed by negativity. As Orwell put it, nationalists are “endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge.”

Now for some thoughts from Canadian public intellectual John Ralston Saul. In his book, A Fair Country, Saul asserts that Canadian culture grew from a blend of Indigenous and European heritages. We are a “Métis civilization,” Saul says; we value inclusion and fairness, we appreciate complexity.

I think these ideas suit us Canadians. Ours is a gently rugged patriotism: grounded in “our home and native land,” rooted in good values and mindful of facts and nuance. We don’t disparage other countries, yet we are fond of Canada.

And now is a good time for us to awaken our patriotism. For one thing, an awakening can help us place into a larger context such events as the recent incidents of anti-Muslim bigotry and the racism of Indian residential schools. Incorporating our sympathies into a broader perspective is essential to figuring out how to do better in the future.

Awakening our patriotism now can also help us to defend ourselves against bad ideas, especially those coming from the U.S. I am thinking of noxious ideas from both the left and the right. Among them are concepts that are identified as cancel culture, critical race theory, racism of low expectations, cult of Trump, disinformation and conspiracy theories.

The American left and right are both moving toward a kind of postmodern nightmare – dedicated to destruction and devoid of truth and goodness. As “Dilbert” cartoonist and Trump enthusiast Scott Adams gloats, Trump was a leader who “ignored facts, science and even common decency.”

Today’s bad ideas are expressed in social media and in real life with bullying, shaming and stigmatizing. One manifestation imported from the U.S.: mobs tearing down statues. Recently at Ryerson University in Toronto, a mob toppled a statue of 19th century Canadian educator Egerton Ryerson. (Ryerson developed ideas about public education but also about Indian residential schools.) After the mob pulled it down, the university announced that the statue would not be replaced.

Let me interject here to say that I am all in favour of rewriting history to make it more accurate. And – when appropriate – I am also in favour of removing monuments and changing the names of landmarks. (Like here in Brandon, I have proposed changing the name of Earl Oxford School.) But these changes should be done in ways that are thoughtful, dignified and graceful. If not, we will witness a degradation of our society rather than an uplifting.

We know where we are headed when hooligans set the agenda. In the U.S., mobs have not stopped at tearing down statues of Confederate generals. They have proceeded to tear down statues of admirable historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. (The latter was a 19th century African American who escaped slavery and became a great orator, writer, abolitionist and social reformer.)

Our culture and our politics are created each day, by each citizen. We are challenged to rise above resentment and simple thinking. We are challenged to recognize the facts and that reality is complicated. And we are challenged to be compassionate and to remember that people are imperfect. This includes people of the past who struggled to make the best of their times and their circumstances.

And so we return to awakening our patriotism. As American historian Timothy Snyder writes in his book, On Tyranny, a patriot “wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves.”

I invite you to participate in this discussion. The books mentioned are at the Brandon Public Library. This opinion page and “Sound Off!” on Page 2 are open for your letters and submissions.

Happy Canada Day!

* * * 

See also:

On Tyranny: Learning Lessons From History

What's in a Name?

Look at Broader Context Before Removing Building Names

What Should We Remember of Our History?

Should We Be Worried About “Cancel Culture”

Telling the Truth Today

Getting to Good Ideas

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