Joined: 30 Oct 2006
Location: Nova Scotia
|Posted: Mon Mar 12, 2007 12:49 pm Post subject: The Republic of Northern America
|The Republic of Northern America
TheStar.com - opinion - The Republic of Northern America
Disenchantment and growing irritation with the U.S. South could lead northern American states to seek a union with Canadian provinces, writes Stéphane Kelly
December 26, 2006
In 1891, the intellectual Goldwin Smith caused a furor when he published Canada and the Canadian Question. He suggested that if Canadians believed in the democratic ideal, they must accept the inevitable: Annexation of Canada by the American republic.
The writer noted that the divide created by the English Civil War, which pitted Puritans against Cavaliers, had replicated itself in North America. Canadians embraced the aristocratic ideal of the Cavaliers while Americans held dear the democratic ideal of the Puritans.
Who would have thought that roles would have reversed themselves a century later? That the United States would be seen as a society with an affinity for aristocratic values while Canada would be perceived as an alternative model, because of its attachment to democratic values?
This reversal could change the political landscape of North America.
American society's slide toward the aristocratic ideal risks exacerbating the anger of the northern states, and possibly convincing them to leave the union.
In this context, among the political possibilities that face Canadians in 2020, it would not be far-fetched to include political integration with New England.
But before looking at how events and trends could make this possible, let's try to understand why the South and the North have become like two different nations.
For a long time, the northern states have been irritated by the attitude of the South. For a large portion of American history, these two regions have quarrelled. Wily and glib, southern politicians have often succeeded in manipulating Washington.
Certainly, the North succeeded at times in blocking them. But the latest southern offensive, begun in the last third of the 20th century, is without precedent. It is taking away almost all hope that northern electors have for living according to the ideals of the founding fathers.
Economically, the South and the North are almost exact opposites. Based on natural resource exports, the economy of the South is characterized by ridiculous wages, minimal taxation, and indifference toward technological innovation and ecological balance.
With their social-democratic leanings, northern Americans reject these parameters. Their economic philosophy has remained true to the idea of the New Deal. However, in the eyes of several southern conservative politicians, it makes perfect sense to compare President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Russia's Joseph Stalin.
Another front upon which these two regions are divided is religion. The influence of evangelical Protestantism on the South alienates it from the religious sensitivities of the North.
From the beginning of the 20th century, Protestants have become less of a force in the North, where Catholic and Jewish faiths have grown markedly. The growing pluralism of this region has marginalized religion in the political culture.
In the South, the weakness of other religions has allowed the Anglo-Saxon majority to closely associate the American way of life with evangelical Protestantism.
Hostile toward any socially progressive reform, this vision reinforces the aristocratic vision of southern society.
The North and the South also have opposing philosophies with regards to security and defence.
Southerners espouse a martial ethic which uses repression to deal with criminality, believes in the freedom to carry weapons and embraces an imperial attitude about national defence.
The historical evolution of the United States could have been moulded by an erasure of the division between the South and the North. Development of other regions, such as the Pacific, could have established a better balance. But this was not the case.
Perhaps societies like taking on social projects to better organize their development. But their real evolution is often subject to other factors. In fact, the North and the South have remained victims of their old demons. When the next cataclysm occurs, there will be no Lincoln to stop the bleeding.
If the annexationist vision is imaginable, it is because there is a good historical ground for it to thrive upon. And we have underestimated this ground for a long time. We wrongly thought Canadians had always been anti-American.
After the Revolution of 1776, the elite of the Loyalist colonial towns of New England changed their point of view on the matter. In Canadian towns, people started distinguishing between bad Americans (southerners) and good Americans (northerners). These Canadians criticized southern politics, subjugated as they were by the radical republicanism of the Democratic party under Jefferson and Madison (allied with Revolutionary France). Northern Americans were judged acceptable because of their sympathies to England.
As well, in New England towns, resentment toward Canadian Loyalists ebbed. The Federalist party, popular in the northern states, valued the moderate virtues of the British model. This party was repeatedly defeated in the American Congress by the Democratic party. In the eyes of the Loyalist elite, there were friends of England in the United States: These were the federalist elite of the northern states.
Throughout the 19th century, there were often annexationist politicians and journalists in the towns of the northern states. The annexationist ideal was espoused for different reasons: to increase commercial trade, weaken the power of the South, unify the Anglo-Saxon race. Some radical Irishmen (Fenians) even embraced this cause to get rid of the Crown on the North American continent, as a first step toward independence for Ireland.
In Quebec, there were some prominent annexationists. The most famous was Louis-Joseph Papineau, who was desperate to establish a republic in the 1840s.
So did the anti-clerical Liberal, Louis-Antoine Dessaulles, who published Six lectures sur l'annexion in 1851. Let's not forget the red radicals opposed to clericalism and colonialism, after Confederation; people such as Arthur Buies, Louis Fréchette, and Honoré Beaugrand. The annexationist ideal was seriously and energetically defended by Republicans or Liberals living in regions connected to American economic networks (Montreal, Richelieu Valley, and the Eastern Townships).
English Canada also had a surprising number of annexationist elite. Many English Liberals in Montreal, Toronto, Halifax, Saint John, believed that annexation was a desired political solution in the absence of a commercial union (free trade). The protectionist politics of John A. Macdonald upset certain regions of the country, as well as certain social classes. Many farmers, merchants and artisans who had established ties with New England towns dreamed of a full or partial removal of the economic and political barriers separating the two countries.
If a movement for the union of Canada and the Northern States is formed, it will be born under a name other than annexation. People will speak of fusionism, insisting on the consent of the future states.
What conditions would be necessary to give this movement strength? Five big conditions must combine, in a short period of time, in order to crystallize fusionist forces.
The first condition is a deterioration in the conflict that pits North against South. Such an event is not inevitable. There could be a détente. However, under the conflict scenario, southern Conservatives would cause a national crisis, which threatens the union. Republicans create chaos, which legitimizes their actions when they choose to follow an imperial model. In so doing, they base their actions on southern philosophy and alienate a growing number of electors in the northern states. The Conservative wing of the Republican party, believing in an imminent catastrophe, throws caution to the wind in launching a crisis.
The second condition is the failure of the Quebec sovereignty movement. As long as this movement represents a threat to federalist forces, few politicians will want to think about other political alternatives. If the proponents of sovereignty do not succeed in obtaining a majority in the next referendum, it will lead to deep reflection on this issue. Another defeat could mean the demise of sovereignty. The Americanophiles could then find sympathy for the fusionist ideal, in the sense that it would guarantee political and cultural autonomy to its founding states.
The third condition requires an aggravation of differences in English Canada over the principles of the regime created in 1982. Indeed, Canadians are not unanimously satisfied with the ideas contained in the Constitution. Most of the key elements of the regime of 1982 (the Charter, multiculturalism, bilingualism, equality of the provinces) are contentious issues in the country's different regions. It is possible that the conflict between the pro-1982 and the anti-1982 faction could become worse and lead to the search for a new synthesis, one that could emerge from the fusionist movement. Accepting the failure of the repatriation of the Constitution in 1982 would be fertile ground for the good reception of such a political path.
The fourth condition is the acceleration of the world energy crisis. The northern American states and the provinces of Central Canada have similar economic and ecological points of view, halfway between economic liberalism and social democracy. Over the years they have learned to look for common solutions and as such have created two entities: the Conference of Governors of New England and Premiers of Eastern Canada; and the Council of Great Lakes Governors. With regards to natural resources, these states are complementary. It could be that several northern states are more sympathetic to fusion, rather than a simple secession, in order to better benefit from Canadian energy resources.
The fifth condition depends on the action of the middle class of the northern states and Central Canada. For a generation, these two middle-class groups have been weakened by the migration of economic activity toward the West and the South.
The middle class in the northern states already is well aware of the economic consequences of the South's power in Washington. As for the middle-class in Central Canada, this awareness is probably less advanced.
Economic power has certainly moved toward Calgary and Vancouver over the last generation. But until recently, political power was split over the triangle of Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal.
The success of Stephen Harper's Conservatives will accelerate that reflection, for Canadian conservatism is now solidly entrenched in the West.
If such a movement started, it would likely unite first the Eastern Canadian provinces and the New England states. Depending on the success of the enterprise, it could spread like wildfire.
Alberta would undoubtedly be the main Canadian province to resist the fusionist movement. On the American side, the Great Lakes states and the Pacific states could join the movement, because they belong to blue states (ones that vote Democrat).
Many American states in these regions would be happy to see the foundation of a political community that marries the environment and the economy.
It would be difficult to precisely imagine the contours of such a political union. But it would undoubtedly be more secular, more social democratic, more pacifist and more ecological than its southern neighbour.
The citizens of the northern states, as much as those in Canada, feel uncomfortable with the aristocratic regression that has affected the American nation for the last 25 years.
The growing wealth gap changed this society even more – a society once considered to be the cradle of modern democracy.
By abandoning its ideal of a middle-class democracy, the republic seems to be heading toward decline. This perception, shared by citizens of the northern states as well as those in Canada, will cause much anxiety in the future.
These sentiments could become strong enough to incite citizens on both sides of the border to reinvent democracy in North America.
This is not an ideal scenario, in my opinion.
But American upheaval, characterized by class struggles, a declining standard of living and urban violence, could cause several regions in North America to choose the lesser evil in terms of solutions.
This sort of reaction would seek to preserve, whatever the cost, the thing that made this part of the continent great; that is to say a reasonable dose of social equality, economic prosperity and political liberty.