Tutti in coda (I)

[An Italian editor, of the magazine, Tempi, recently asked me to explain Canada to his readers. How did this most timorous and bashful of nations come to be at the cutting edge of the international “gender revolution,” and related monstrosities of social engineering? My answer was published, here. Should any of my readers feel uncomfortable in Italian, I publish an English version, below.]


With a French Canadian friend, and a talented portrait photographer, I once contemplated writing a coffee-table book about Canada. The idea was to travel coast-to coast — from the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland to the farthest rock on Vancouver Island — seeking mischief, and taking pics. There are plenty of coffee-table books on Canada; ours, of course, would be different. It would tell wayward histories of places, including the element of farce; dig into ancestral culture and cuisine; and interview the saltier characters, while maintaining a tone of backhanded affection. It would subvert various national clichés, and shoot some sacred cows.

But we fell out quickly. I found my proposed co-author too forgiving of English Canada; he found me too forgiving of Quebec; the photographer found us both naïve about the Indians. I was allergic to the picturesque and romantic (which sells). Nor did I wish to echo the pretension of depth in the title of a once-famous journalist’s survey, Canada: The Unknown Country. In fact I proposed, “Canada: The Stupid Country,” in an effort to appal everyone.

Years have since passed, and far from having been completed, this project has yet to start. Perhaps I am writing the introduction only now.


It would be easy to say Canada is not a country at all, or not a country any more, but a quilt of a few spare American regions, stitched whimsically together. It has no organizing principle that any of its inhabitants could articulate. On the one hand, the dominant ethnicity, speaking English by birth or convenience, is itself merely a northern extension of English-speaking North America, otherwise known as the United States. Most of our people live within a short drive to the USA border. There are climatic reasons for this, and they are unanswerable. Our own regional differences, east to west along this thin strip, are greater than those of any with its adjoining American region. When our nationalists assume their opponents want Canada to become “the 51st American state,” I contradict them. No, we would become the 51st through 60th states.

But too, we have consciously discarded our old British, “Crown-in-Parliament” political identity, which did make a difference. For what formerly distinguished us as a nation was the fact that our ancestors had lost the American Revolutionary War, to those frisky “Patriots.” We were the “Loyalists” who, in 1776, violently refused to rebel, then marched into the northern wilds to free ourselves from the tyranny of popular government. (“Better one tyrant, three thousand miles away, than three thousand tyrants one mile away.”)

Indeed, both sides were cantankerous, wilful Yankees; ours was more racially varied. But we have since copied various USA institutions, from the Supreme Court, to the lamentable sport of baseball, while abandoning our old enthusiasm for the Crown, and replacing it with democratic cant and blather. The vestiges that remain of our distinct identity are thus now foreign to us. We’re apt to apologize for them.

Margaret Atwood, the American-style feminist, once wrote a book (Survival) in which she got the history of our country prior to her adulthood precisely backwards. She presented us as victims of Imperialism. But we had always been perpetrators: Imperialists ourselves, and quite proud of it. Our one frustration was that aged English granny was still clinging to the reins. And then, when it was our turn to run the Empire, the silly old woman gave it away.

Until recently Americans, like Europeans, were taught their national histories and mythologies in school. Present-day Canadians have no clue about ours. The younger graduates think it began in 1982, when Pierre Trudeau declared independence, and freed the slaves. If anything happened before, it must have been shameful, as our authorities confirmed last year, when we were supposed to be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the actual foundation — of our fair “Dominion,” as it is no longer called. (It’s now a “federal government,” just like USA.) It was a grim, year-long festival of liberal-progressive virtue signalling, through which we apologized to the Indians, for having apparently stolen their land.

This yielded many unintentionally comic moments, that were typically Canadian. We love to apologize, and are good at it. Apologizing for crimes in which no living person could possibly have participated, is what we do best.

We are also world leaders in queuing. We like to form polite and patient lines, for everything from bureaucratic forms, to Tim Horton’s coffee. A “cultural difference” may have emerged in this area, for Americans still don’t like to wait. They would much rather shoot you. But Canadians like to organize themselves in long, winding, respectful lines, for which, alas, there is no Olympic medal. And unlike Americans, we don’t talk to strangers, so there’s none of the socializing you get, south of the border, if a bus is late. Talk to the next Canadian in line, and his first impulse is to call the cops.

Rather than boast about this accomplishment, we simply radiate smugness and self-satisfaction. Recent immigrants learn: how, for instance, to walk like a Canadian, and apologize to a lamp post, should you happen to collide with it.

I am making this point because it is crucial — crucial to understanding what we might call the Canadian “atrophy.” We are a people going nowhere in particular, and thus, unhurried. We have a few pushy capitalists, to be sure, but they are a product of nature. The rest are accepting, even of the weather; for these days we can fly to Florida when it becomes insupportable.

An American friend, after a long visit, told what would happen if you drove your car right over a Canadian, dividing him in two. The top half would drag itself up to your car window. It would say: “Excuse me, sir, you should watch for pedestrians.”

This is crucial because it explains why Canada seems, to distant observers, to be in the vanguard of progressive “human rights,” drug toleration, and the “gender revolution.” It is not because Canadians are exceptionally depraved. The average Canadian would die of boredom before participating in an orgy. We’ve had “gay marriage” here for fifteen years, but hardly any takers. We have human rights tribunals, reminiscent of the Star Chambers in centuries gone by, and now laws governing our use of pronouns, but no one pays them any mind. And should they run afoul of them, they will go quietly, and write apologies to everyone. We have had legal abortion, seemingly forever, without even nominal restrictions, and sure enough we also have a few “pro-life” activists; but nobody likes them because they’re so unCanadian.


Perhaps I should mention that what is true today, wasn’t in the past. Canadians certainly did their share of the damage in two World Wars and Korea. From German memoirs, one learns that our troops — Methodist farm boys from Ontario and the like — filled them with terror. They’d be psychopathically aggressive to a fault, then suddenly stop for tea. The same was generally true through my parents’ generation. They would make scenes when they weren’t being served; you didn’t want to cross them. Our feminist tradition was from pioneering women who cleared rocks and tree stumps before planting wheat. You wouldn’t have had to explain their rights to them. But all that faded.

The story of post-modern revolution is certainly not a Canadian story. As befits our ancestry, centrally Norman English and Norman French, we were for God, King, and Country, and if English-speaking, extremely quick to sign up for wars. The French of Quebec were famously defeated on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, and have sometimes moaned about that. But there was continuity at the heart of their experience, too. From their first landings to the present day, they have lived under one monarch or another; his ethnicity didn’t matter much. Only in 1960, suddenly and almost unaccountably, they awoke from their mediaeval slumber and overthrew … their own Catholic Church.

Since that “Quiet Revolution” — nobody hit, even by a snowball — they have entertained a Separatism that is paradoxical and odd. Having destroyed their own heritage, they demand that it be protected from immersion in the “Anglo” culture all around them: the very one they so eagerly embraced. Hence oppressive language laws, with bureaucrats who actually measure the point-size of any English that may be visible on a sign or label; and other unbelievably petty impositions, instantly waived for American tourists.

That is how it came to be, that in the vast reaches that speak English only, public services are bilingual; but in the bilingual areas, they are French-only. The national capital, Ottawa, speaks English in the streets, but French in all the government departments. This is very Norman: England was like that, too, in the twelfth century. And it is very Canadian: for people here take everything lying down. Or more precisely, we line up for it.

And this is why Canada has advanced, to the “cutting edge” of contemporary depravity: because no one — French or English or assimilate “multicultural” — would think to complain. I am of course exaggerating. It is not quite everyone. There are a few exceptions. But I think I know them all.

[Continued in next post, above.]