- Not Quite Us: Anti-Catholic Thought in English Canada since 1900 by Kevin P. Anderson
Earlier this year, I was invited to appear before a Canadian parliamentary committee examining online hate. Its task was to reconsider the inclusion of web-based hate speech and action in revising the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. My task was to comment, specifically, on the ways that anti-Catholicism manifested online and how Roman Catholics experienced it. This opportunity forced me to think deeply about the topic in its contemporary form, but, as Kevin P. Anderson’s path-breaking work shows, it is hardly a new phenomenon in English Canada. [End Page 80]
Anti-Catholicism is not an exception within Canadian history, but, rather, a routine function of both British and civic nationalism that “othered” Catholics as compatible with neither liberal values rooted in the British Protestant experience nor a modern open, pluralistic nationalism characterized by the “neutral” state. Anderson builds his intellectual history not by focusing on fringe figures, but rather by analyzing the political discourse of “respectable” Anglo-Protestant religious leaders, politicians, intellectuals, and private citizens. Anderson chooses an array of colorful figures from the right (e.g., George Drew and Charlotte Whitton), the left (e.g., F.R. Scott and Eugene Forsey), the nationalistic center (e.g., Arthur Lower) and from across the country (but, as the author concedes, with the strongest focus centered on “central Canada”). Anti-Catholicism, then, has broad expression. It is a lens that shows how nationalistic discourses of both British and civic nationalisms are not oppositional forces and, in the instance of the latter, claims to “universal” values are predicated upon Protestant conceptions of liberty, the individual, and democracy. In both cases, anti-Catholic discourse was predicated upon a fundamental belief that Catholics, through exercise of their faith tradition, lacked the rational choice to participate fully as citizens and thus were “others” in Canadian society.
Two excellent recent works that provide interesting, though perhaps not obvious, comparisons for Not Quite Us are James Chappel’s Catholic Modern and Kathleen Sprows Cummings’s A Saint of Our Own. In the case of Chappel’s study of Europe, he shows how the challenge of totalitarianism forced Catholics to develop unique, if contested, understandings of modernity—precisely as the Protestant subjects of Anderson’s work exclude Canadian Catholics, during the same period, for the perceived incompatibility of their Catholicism with a modernity understood as a natural teleological progression for state and society. With A Saint of Our Own, Cummings adeptly argues that saint-making helped Catholics in the United States Americanize their faith tradition, which, in turn, helped Catholics fit more squarely within the mainstream of their country’s social and political landscape. Save [End Page 81] for within some quarters within the Liberal Party, Anderson’s work argues that normalizing Catholicism is not possible for nationalists on either the political left or right, who, furthermore, have a vested interest in keeping Catholics as “not quite us.” Though these works examine different national contexts and have very different approaches, they have also, I believe, much to say to one another.
Not Quite Us is mature, well-written history by an emerging scholar. It does not feel (or read) as the doctoral dissertation that it was based upon, and it tackles an important subject with sophistication that has, perhaps surprisingly, a parsimonious historiography for English Canada.