THE FALLACY OF NATIONALISM
An Address by PROP. W. L. GRANT, M.A., Queen's University, Kingston, before the Empire Club of Canada, April 12, 1912.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,-
As the President has said, I make my bread and butter by teaching Imperial history, and I should perhaps have been better advised had I chosen a subject more directly historical. For example, I might have taken a couple of hours to correct the view given of our treatment at the hands of the Mother Country by Mr. J. S. Ewart in his "Kingdom Papers"; but for the present it may be enough to sum up my view of Mr. Ewart, as an historian, by a sentence from the late Mr. Goldwin Smith--who has said, and said very truly, that nothing can stand against a really resolute quoter.
The subject on which I wish to speak for a few moments is the Fallacy of Nationalism; but in spite of my title, I shall have little to do with Mr. Bourassa. Of him I shall only say in passing that I wish we had more like him. He is a courageous and honest man who says what he thinks, who is willing to confute and to be confuted. From such a man more good than harm is bound to come. From what Edmund Burke called, "Such a generous contention for power on such manly and honourable maxims" I have no fear of harm. I have fears for Canada from the men described by Burke in the same quotation as those "who have first deluded the people by professions above the level of human practice and have afterwards incensed them by practices below the level of vulgar rectitude."
My friend, Colonel Denison, once said of certain arguments that he would answer them only sword in hand. I would not like even today to meet the Colonel sword in hand, but I think that on that occasion he was' wrong. I have such confidence in the spirit of truth that I am willing to hear any man's opinion who is willing to hear mine; let in enough light on it and the false soon dies. Our danger in Canada does not come from the man who openly and honourably puts forward his opinions, however mistaken; we can answer them and trust to the spirit of truth; our danger does lie in the man who conceals his inherent scoundrelism beneath a spurious patriotism. Our danger lies much more in the man who holds secret shares in a dredging company, and who covers it over with patriotic verbosity. I am not in the least afraid for Canada of Mr. Bourassa, but I am very much afraid for Canada of--well, you can fill in the names for yourselves. (Applause.) '
This, question of Nationalism is in the modern sense rather a new thing. Territorial sovereignty, dynasty, empire, state-all these are very old things; but a nation, in the sense of a people with coherent boundaries awakening to a common consciousness really took its rise only after the French Revolution.
As long as the armies of France had only the monarchs to contend with, they swept resistlessly across Europe and brought in their train many of the blessings of civil and religious liberty. It was only when they had aroused the, national spirit of Spain, Germany, Austria, and greatest of all, of England, it was only when they had not merely the monarchs to contend with but the nations in alliance with the monarchs, that Napoleon was overthrown.
At the Congress of Vienna, which closed the great Napoleonic struggle, the diplomats-always the class of men most inaccessible to new ideas,-tried to confine the new stream of life within the old bounds, and much of the history of the nineteenth century consists of the struggle of the nations to win the unity which diplomacy had denied them. In its best known examples, Germany and Italy, it was a struggle for a larger unity. These countries had been left in 1815 mere geographic expressions. So recent and so remarkable is the present German unity that many of us forget that within the lifetime of men not yet old, the States of the present. German Empire were engaged in bitter internecine strife. On this side then we have the struggle for larger unity; but there was also the side of dismemberment; the tearing away of Belgium from Holland was, as is the desire of Hungary for separation from Austria, a struggle for complete independence which too often degenerated into mere tribalism.
All these nationalistic strivings in Europe were based on the desire for self-sufficiency, the desire to move uninterrupted in the national orbit. Now, in this there was much that is good, much that is splendid; it meant that the people who were striving were willing to confront the ultimate issues of life and death, to give the last full measure of devotion; it was a spirit which hardened the fibre and turned gristle into bone.
In that sense Nationalism would do us in Canada no little good. There is widely spread in Canada a vague feeling that if anything turns up we shall be protected by a curious combination of the Monroe doctrine and the British navy. I object, in that sense at least, to the word protection. When I lived in England, one heard of a certain type of ladies who lived in some parts of London under the protection of certain gentlemen. Theirs was a profession considered to be more lucrative than honourable, and I have no desire that this country of mine should be either the kept woman of the United States, or the harlot of the Empire.
Seeing the good which this Nationalism did and how strongly it made the red blood flow through the veins, certain political thinkers have felt that in Nationalism the last word has been spoken and have upheld it as the final goal of political effort. They have felt that the ideal for the British Empire was to be divided off into a number of small independent unities, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Egypt, India, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales--each working out its own little destiny, each giving its picturesque little part to the great world process. They went back to ancient history and pointed out that the little city states of Greece were much more interesting than the great empires of Macedonia and Rome, which trampled out the individual and the picturesque, as beneath the great damp foot of a hippopotamus.
And yet in this idea there lies a fallacy, and the fallacy is the belief that in this modern world there is any such thing as independence. In this new world, every state is bound to every other state by filaments as impalpable yet as real and as numerous as those which thrill the instruments of Marconi. You cannot touch any part of the network without sending a thrill through every other part. Agadir is an unimportant harbour in the most savage portion of a semi-barbarous state, still so unknown that a week ago a candidate for the civil service examination told me that it was a city in the interior of Egypt; yet in July last an obsolescent German gunboat paid a peaceful visit to this unknown harbour, and Europe found herself on the verge of Armageddon.
How many of us could draw an approximately correct map of the various states which make up the Balkan peninsula? Yet today, as the melting snows throw open those mountain passes, the action of any one of a dozen bands of hardy peasants may bring on a struggle in which first Austria, then Russia, then Germany might well join, and the end of which might be a German gunboat throwing highly unconstitutional shells into the office of Le Devoir, quite heedless of Mr. Bourassa's outraged oratory.
This suggests that vortex of militarism from which we would fain be free. The only answer is that to be free is quite impossible; that, as Sir Hibbert Tupper said, we are already in it up to the neck. We are only at the beginning of Canada; we have only got 8,000,000 people; yet we have already had a tariff war with Germany, and we have big commitments in Mexico and South America; only last night we found out that we had preferential trade with the West Indies; we have made a direct treaty with France; and yet we say we can be independent.
Already we have had a tariff war with Germany. We won it. I question if we would have waged that war so successfully had not the British navy been in the background, been, like the atmosphere, the great though disregarded source of our life.
The Hon. Mr. Lemieux went to Japan the other day and came back with a letter, and as he may not like to tell you how, he got that letter, let me tell you. He went to Japan on a political mission and he was dined and feted, but of what he went for he got not one jot; when he asked for a political concession they gave him another banquet and asked for another speech. At a critical moment the British Ambassador told them that unless Canada got -what she wanted there might be danger; just what happened after that we do not know, but anyway, Mr. Lemieux came back with the letter.
On the west we look out towards Japan and the awakened Orient; on the other side to the nations of Europe; on the south we have the United States. I deny entirely the theory that the United States are to be our enemies, hereditary or otherwise. It is part of the high destiny of Canada to bring to perfection the unity of Great Britain and the United States. But in our dealings with the United States we must show a little knowledge of national psychology, a knowledge which, in their dealings with us, the United States have not' always shown. The United States will not be friendly with a country if it does not preserve its self-respect; the great Republic is not a nation to be on the best of terms with a mollusc.
This does not mean that I have any love for war. War is "mischief on the largest scale;" for one hero it makes ten blackguards. What we have to do, and we can do it in' Canada, is to find a moral substitute for war, and such a substitute should not be hard to find. Take the men in Canada who built the Canadian Pacific Railway, who flung that thin line of steel across the up-, heaved masses of Huronian and Laurentian rock, across the triple barrier of the Rockies. These men showed as high resolve, as splendid a confidence in Canada, as great a willingness to risk all for her sake, as though they had borne up the doubtful battle upon a stricken field. We have problems to solve here as baffling, problems which call for as high a heroism as any which ever faced a commander. But though I would fain hope that we may here do something to create and to maintain an Imperialism of peace, I cannot forget that we live in a world with which we are closely bound up, in which theories of economic self-sufficiency sometimes degenerate into predatory greed. How, in such a world, can we get the most fire insurance at the smallest cost? Surely only by closer union with the great congeries of states with which we are historically connected; not by independence, but by interdependence.
I sometimes wonder if Mr. Ewart in his historical studies has ever really stopped to think what historical connection means. I could tell him something about Nova Scotia, the little province in which I was brought up, and which has an historical connection with the Empire of which we are not a little proud; I wonder if Mr. Ewart really knows what it means to us that as Nelson lay dying in the cockpit of the Victory, it was on the breast of a Nova Scotian stripling that his head was laid. Almost one hundred years ago, on Whitsunday morning, two ships came into Halifax harbour, the Chesapeake in tow of the Shannon; it was a Nova Scotian who commanded the Shannon on that June morning. In the Crimean war there was one man in charge of, a small Turkish garrison who did his duty in such a manner that his name was spoken in every part of the world, for months he and his garrison held out against 50,000 Russians; in one day's fight they left, 6,000 Russians dead outside their walls: and at the last,: when all the powder was spent, they only agreed to surrender if allowed to dictate their own terms. That man was Sir Venwick Williams of Kars, and he was born in a little town in Nova Scotia.
These are a few of the things I would like to tell Mr. Ewart. But perhaps we had better take something that does not rest on sentiment. We are part of this work-a-day world, and we cannot get out of it. We must take our part in the great congeries of states with which we are inter-related and we can do so best by working along the line of historic connection. We are not going to be dependent; we are not going to be independent;