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Canadian Review of American Smdies/ Revue nmad1emu• d'etudesamencame,~ Volume 27, Number 3, 1997, pp. 35-50 Politics after Nationalism, Culture after "Culture" Iody Berland 35 English Canadian nationhood and its occasional eruptions into patriotism carry little resemblance to the nationalisms I see described in newspapers or 111 social or L~tilturaltheory. It doesn't matter whether such theory analyses the classic modernist nationalisms of an earlier era, or mc,re contemporary themes informed by postcolonial theory. It also seems to make no difference whether the 'nation' in question is posited as an imperial or as an anttimperial entity. Either way, Canada upsets the pattern. This makes it frustrating or, more positively, challenging, to draw on such theory, for the study of nationalism in other countries sheds only partial light on the changing constellations of state/culture/nationhood which now confront us. Nevertheless, a comparative reading does reveal several important truths. However distinctive (English) Canadian nationalism may appear to be in its genealogy and goals, it is not exempt from the essentially paradoxical nature of all nationalisms in the modern period. Like other nation-building projects, it simultaneously promotes and resists modernization-and thus, dclocalizat1on -in its institutions and social practices. It ultimately affects both distinction , or the production of difference, and accommodation, or the equalization of policies with other government or corporate institutions, in its policies ,rndpolitics. 1 The second "truth" which has informed this reading (but perhc1ps it is the same as the first) 1sthat the idiosyncrasies of Canada's na- 36 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadumne d'etudes amerrcames t1onal formation have been variously beneficial and disastrous for the evolution of cultural autonomies within its territorial borders. The third, followmg rnther unhappily from these preliminary truths, is that we have to learn new strategies and discourses if we wish to advance or even to maintain the public resources and democratic assets-cultural and otherwise- which were built in the last half a century in its name. You will need no reminder of the stunning violence of the current economic and political assault on public space. In the present climate of globalizing and privatizing frenzy, the premise that governments should represent the rights and interests of its citizens-historiL~ally, in Canada, the common foundation of economic, political, and cultural nationalism-is widely represented as anachronistic and simple-minded. (Coincidentally this 1salso the case in much contemporary social theory.) Nationalism is dearly problematic in new ways, and its evocation today points to wildly diverse political implications. In Canada, government has historically been seen (however inconclusively or even hypocritically) as the appropriate and necessary context for political action against injustices of the market economy and the imperialist tendencies of mainly continental corporate monopolies. For over a century, this has been a central difference between Canada and the U111ted States, where the "imagery of a judicial elite visiting judgement upon a subject people doesn't sit well in a country where government is widely presumed guilty until proven innocent," as Henry Louis Gates Jr writes in a recent commentary (1997, 12). Canada's distinct and implicitly oppositional (i.e. nationalist) consensus about the rights of government has contributed to the creation of a sociopolitical sphere which is in some ways quite unique. When established expectations for government advocacy and intervention in Canada, Europe, and other locations are foreclosed by continentalist and/or global corporate and trade policies, nationalist politics are reduced to the sentimental residual expression of a political axiom properly (it is implied) relegated to the past. In the post-North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) climate, different rules apply. Today, Canadian nationalism is more readily manifested as a symbol of political autonomy, than as a basis for genuinely different political direction. The way nationalism is signified in beer commercials and patriotic government promotions parallels the way many other values-family, art, love, nature, loyalty, redemption-function fodv Be,/a11d I 37 c1strans1t1ve signs in commercial discourse rather than in the context of negotiable programmes for their realization. In this situation, Culture comes to stand in for the political trajectory which is already lost. We may not have fiscal or political autonomy but we do have our...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 35-50
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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