Monday, May 28, 2012

Wither The Peacable Kingdom?

When asked to describe his vision of the new Dominion of Canada, John A. MacDonald famously quoted Isaiah:

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
   the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
   and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
   their young shall lie down together;
   and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
   and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
   on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
   as the waters cover the sea. 

And thus was born the myth of Canada, the Peaceable Kingdom.

Like MacDonald, Stephen Harper  is hard at work propagating a myth. It's as old as Isaiah. It's the myth that austerity is good for the soul -- and the nation. And, in propagating that myth, Harper has taken direct aim at MacDonald's vision of Canada. Paul Litt writes that Harper believes in a diminished Canada. That is why he is cutting support for culture, which Harper believes is none of the government's business:

From a long-term perspective, we are witnessing a significant redirection of cultural policy. Forty years ago a national identity was being constructed on social justice values. The Canadian “Peaceable Kingdom” was a bilingual and multicultural welfare state with claims to being a kinder, gentler America. Robust programs to support a commensurate Canadian heritage and culture were part of the project. They were inspired by the humanist conviction that communities are sustained by the cultural capital of shared knowledge and collective memory.

Harper is no enemy of nationalism; in fact, he relies on it to market his wares. But he does have a starkly different vision of Canada and of the utility of culture in sustaining it. The Harper nation is embodied in state instruments of power such as the military, legal and penal systems, the basic disciplinary infrastructure required to facilitate commerce. In this new order the peacekeeping myth has been retired in favour of militaristic fables of a nation melded in the crucible of war.

The Pearsonian vision of Canada the Peacekeeper has been replaced by a vision of Canada an Energy Superpower -- a nation which rejects the instruments of soft power and, instead, inserts itself into conflicts. For the Harper government, the best defense is a strong offense. And, these days, it is determined to be as offensive as possible.

From henceforth the wolf shall go for the lamb's jugular.


Anonymous said...

"From henceforth the wolf shall go for the lamb's jugular."

One thing that worries me about Harper's more bellicose foreign policy is Canada's relative weakness when it comes to "hard" power. It's as if he thinks we're a lion, when really we are (or rather, he has made us) a lamb with a bad attitude.

Owen Gray said...

That's an excellent way to put it, Anon. But, then, Mr. Harper has no idea how ridiculous he looks in that flight jacket.