Rick B. joked a while ago that I would be able to adapt myself nonviolently to an American annexation of Canada. Perhaps it looked to him as if my political values - an emphasis on freedom and decentralization - were closer to the American than Canadian mainstream. Yet what he may not have intuited is that loyalty to Canada is not at root a loyalty to any main or minor stream of political thought, but rather to the prepolitical idea that a constitutional monarchy may be better suited to a certain people's needs and culture than is a republic. Now is not the time to explore this question on which I have competing sympathies. But suffice to say that I am a proud subject of H.M Queen Elizabeth II (though when it comes to her heirs and successors there is some trepidation in my heart).
The oft-noted Canadian complaint that our head of state is not even a Canadian or resident here shows what is to my mind ignorance of a great strength of our system. A distant Queen leaves the centre largely vacant - a little like the Jewish proscription against representing G-D - beyond the grasp of mortals. It thus enforces a certain humility on politicians who might presume to embody the state.
While the brilliant Adam Katz recently had occasion to remind me that it is not the President, but rather the Constitution that occupies the sacred center of the American polity, it is nonetheless the case that the American President and First Lady must do more to embody the state than the Canadian Prime Minister. When Paul Martin, in the heat of the same-sex marriage debate that divided his party, recently made the statement that he must defend, as Prime Minister, the rights of all Canadians (i.e. he was asserting the right of homosexuals to marry), I was outraged when he also said that he was the person who had to stand for all Canadians, however divided his party. What he said was a lie, because according to our constitutional conventions, the Prime Minister represents only his government and his party. He does not represent all Canadians, especially not on the scenes of domestic politics. Only the Queen and her Canadian representative, the Governor General, represent all Canadians in all our diversity. I was not surprised when this constitutional issue was ignored by all and sundry. There are other such conventions that the Canadian MSM and the Liberal Party have chosen to ignore.
Anyway, the larger point is that the Canadian head of state is not a political figure but rather a representative of all Canadians, of society as a whole. She embodies the universal truth that there are universal truths that centre the human and that must have emerged prior to our political and social divides. Faith in this truth is an essential bulwark against postmodern nihilism. Diversity could only ever have emerged from an original human unity and is best understood and defended in this light.
Any satisfactory representation of this truth must make it seem a rather abstract and minimal truth; as such it is well served being represented by a distant head of state who visits us only occasionally. And every seven years or so, we get a new Governor General who attempts to communicate his or her personal synthesis or vision of Canada - the universal truth that all national high cultures, in their literature, music, etc., have claimed to articulate, through the lens of a distinctive national experience - as envisioned and represented through the individual's unique lived experience.
Yesterday, Canada was blessed with a new Governor General, Her Excellency, Michaelle Jean. I admit that when Jean, a CBC-Radio Canada personality was first designated as our future GG, I brooded that the last thing we needed was another (third in a a row) CBC type as our figurehead. I consider centralized national high cultural institutions to be largely an anachronism that need to give way to a more decentralized culture. The pro-Liberal, or at least anti-Conservative, party bias of the English CBC testifies to this point. That the taxes of hard-working Canadians should be used to pay the salaries of often smug broadcasting elites who think their politics is somehow more sophisticated and, well, liberal, than many of those hard workers, infuriates me; the CBC has never had high ratings.
However, Madame Jean was largely associated with the French-language Radio Canada (though she was one of those rare talents at ease hosting tv programs in both official languages) whose reputation is less pro-Liberal party as pro-Quebec separatism. Such a bias may now be fading along with interest in separatism among Quebec's elite, but it was nonetheless quickly revealed, once Jean had been designated the future GG, that her husband had made a documentary film in which both he and Jean made statements that, while not categorical, could well be read as sympathetic to separatism.
It had appeared that Paul Martin, in the heat of trying to find a GG - always a tough job - had fallen too easily for the appeal of a beautiful black immigrant woman to appeal to the many immigrant groups to whom the Liberal Party panders, and not least to the Haitians who are key swing voters in Montreal-area constituencies. He had not done his homework and had chosen a closet separatist (or maybe he had done it and was attempting some kind of cynical end-run around the separatists). This was quickly denied by all concerned. What also worried me was the further revelation that Jean's husband was a fan of Michel Foucault, and made him a frequent topic of dinner conversations at the Jean-Lafond household. It's not at all surprising, given the popularity of Foucault among our lefty elites. Still, the thought that the most talented conspiracy theorist and mystifier of the historical process in recent times was to be an influence on the conversation of those representing the apex of Canadian polite Society was a tad depressing. Furthermore, the Liberals' rhetorical positioning which implied that the Canadian experience was typified by the immigrant experience was a bit insulting to Canadian nationhood which is in various respects older than most nationstates on this planet.
So it was with great happiness that I read about Jean's inaugural speech today, a paean to our most important human value - freedom. It soon became apparent to me that Madame Jean's incredible radiating beauty is, as is all great beauty, not to be simply explained as genetic good luck. No, there is a great soul and spirit behind it, and it is giving every indication that it will not be pandering to the victimary thinking that has had a strong foothold in Canadian public discourse in recent decades. God save the Queen and bless Michaelle Jean.
Saturday morning links
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