George Jonas, National Post
The Governor-General called on Canadians to embrace diversity the other day. “Saying ‘yes’ to diversity is saying ‘yes’ to modernity,” Michaelle Jean told a Canadian Club luncheon.
Well, yes, maybe — provided that this is the direction in which the world is going. Looking at Europe these days, though, one might be reluctant to make a lavish bet on it. Mind you, I wouldn’t have bet the store on Europe even during the EU’s headiest days–but then I’ve always been a Euro-skeptic.
Maybe that’s because I’ma European. Or maybe (that’s what my mother used to say) it’s because I stopped being a European long ago.
There are actually two things I’m skeptical about: One, that the EU can become an entity like the United States, and two, that it would be a good thing if it did. I suspect it would be a disastrous superpower, aggressive and treacherous, combining the flaws of its constituent nations without any of their virtues.
Luckily, Bismarck (not the herring, but the German chancellor) may have been right in the 1870s when he scribbled on the margin of a letter to Russia’s foreign minister: “There’s no such thing as Europe. It’s a geographic expression.”
Mind you, Bismarck said the same thing about Italy, too. What’s more, some Italians think he was right.
I wonder what the Iron Chancellor would say in 2010 about the Greeks demanding a bailout from their European compatriots to prevent them from going belly-up. Actually, I don’t have to wonder, considering what his successor, the current German Chancellor, said initially. Angela Merkel’s remarks weren’t inaccurate, only somewhat unladylike. Prince Bismarck might be even more unladylike, declaring his refusal to sacrifice a single sausage of a healthy Pomeranian musketeer for all the tenured Greek dogcatchers of Europe.
But Bismarck is gone, and so are the narrow, ethnic nationalisms of the 19th century — maybe. I say “maybe” because we keep attending the funeral of nationalism, and religion, too, only to bump into both at the wake, the picture of health, raising a glass to themselves. But if the future does belong to the post-national state, diversity and modernity may run along parallel tracks, just as our Governor-General suggests.
Such a future might see four or five entities spanning the globe, each organized around some ideological or dynastic principle, with populations remarkably diverse racially, ethnically and linguistically, and remarkably uniform in their belief systems and political culture. In some ways they might resemble Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire, or the fictional “Oceania” in George Orwell’s nightmare novel 1984, fighting mega-wars with each other and committing mega-atrocities against their own people. A hideous vision — but, for what it’s worth, “diverse,” with plenty of white, black, brown and ochre faces singing out of the same hymn-book, spouting the same slogans and platitudes in a variety of dialects and languages.
Diversity is certainly preferable to adversity, though in most parts of the world the first causes rather than prevents the second. The problem with bringing people together is you may have to work hard to keep them apart. Even in such an ideal setting for diversity as Canada, where it has all but become a job spec for the office of the G-G, the usual byproduct of shifting populations is voting blocs, ghettoes and second-class citizens.
I suppose everyone extrapolates from his or her own experience, from governors-general to newspaper columnists. As a Jew in Nazi-dominated Europe, a bourgeois under Soviet-style communism, a DP (displaced person) in Canada in the 1950s and a white male under official diversity, I’m an experienced second-class citizen.
Advancing to second-class in Canada was actually an improvement over my previous status as a pariah in Europe. WASP privilege was as plain as the nose on anyone’s face back in the 1950s, but I saw nothing wrong with founding people having some privileges in their ancestral lands. I wouldn’t have traded a second-class citizenship in a first-class country like Canada for first-class citizenships in many a second-class country.
Canada called itself a “cultural mosaic,” as distinct from America’s “melting pot,” during its twilight as a British dominion. It offered new Canadians freedom, fairness and good economic opportunities, but no promise that they wouldn’t be using the tradesmen’s entrance for at least a generation. Back then, unlike in our Governor-General’s day, the advantage lay with nativity, not diversity.
Still, freedom, fairness and good economic opportunities added up to an attractive deal for immigrants. They must have thought so, too, because they kept coming. By the time the 1960s ended, the country’s transformation from an Anglo-Celtic bastion of clubby comfort to a bizarre bazaar of rainbow reality was well underway.
Canada’s metamorphosis from a family compact to a caravanserai came with a price tag. Along with changing from parochial to cosmopolitan, Canada changed from the land of the free to the land of the regulated. The country of big lakes and big skies and big people became the country of big government.
What price diversity? That price, among others.