- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 28 Nov 1946, p. 109-121
- Trotter, Professor Reginald, Speaker
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- All free peoples now facing the fundamental problem of how to order affairs within their borders and their relations with others in such a way that freedom may endure. The survival and growth of freedom not to be taken for granted. The need to be ready to defend our freedom. Recognizing the conditions necessary for freedom's survival. Trying to define the margins between freedom and despotism on the one hand, and between freedom and anarchy on the other. The difficulties involved in doing so. Opportunities and responsibilities that Canada's freedom involves for Canadians. Starting with our awareness today that we must be more concerned about freedom than most of us were only a few years ago. The issue of freedom of the individual. Obligations as a free nation. The principles of interdependence and responsibility basic to national freedom. Individual rights involving recognition of obligations to fellow citizens basic to free citizenship in a free community. Canada's war effort. The importance of Canada's active partnership with others in the war and the quality of the goods and the armed effort which were contributed; bringing to Canada worldwide recognition as a nation of considerable account in the world. Dispelling among Canadians themselves the remaining vestiges of uncertain self-depreciation and any surviving lack of adequate self-respect. Being free to be Canadian. Canada's distinguishing qualities as a nation. How Canada obtained her freedom. The process of growth to free nationhood for Canada, and her contributions along the way. The growth of Canadian democracy, and what has influenced it. The similar roots Canada shares with the United States. A look at early Colonial self-government. The spirit of tolerance toward diverse group traditions within the state another element of Canadian freedom which is part of our heritage. The Quebec Act as an illustrative example. Canada's strength of her hold on freedom grows out of her partnership with the past, as well as her present partnership for freedom with numerous other nations. Canadians taking true pride in our own freedom, and pride in our past. Canada's special heritage as a free partner in the British Commonwealth giving us a peculiar opportunity and making it our high duty to combat the delusion that freedom within the state or among the nations can live by policies of isolation and by evasion of denial of responsibilities.
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- 28 Nov 1946
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- CANADA'S PARTNERSHIP IN FREEDOM
AN ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR REGINALD G. TROTTER M.A., Ph.D., D.C.L.
Chairman: The President, Major F. L. Clouse
Thursday, November 28, 1946
MAJOR CLOUSE: Gentlemen of the Empire Club of Canada and our audience of the air.
"Today, in the united effort of many peoples, welded by war into the United Nations, to build a more free and more secure world, the Commonwealth of British Nations holds a place of unique influence and responsibility. In defending our freedom, Canadians have become linked more strongly than ever with all the British peoples and with all other peoples who cherish freedom and whose hearts are strong in its defence".
That paragraph, gentlemen, I am quoting from a book--just off the press--entitled "Charters of Our Freedom"--the author of which is our guest of honour today. A most interesting and authoritative book beginning with the Magna Carta and tracing the steps over many hundreds of years by which our freedom was achieved, down to the present day. No one is more capable of this brilliant analytical treatise and chronicle on the question of civil and political liberty than our guest speaker today.
Reginald Trotter was born at Woodstock, Ontario, but spent most of his boyhood in Nova Scotia. His university studies were at Acadia--McMaster--Yale and Harvard. For the past twelve years he has been head of the Department of History-Queen's U., holding the James Douglas' professorship of Canadian and Colonial History. In 1945 he was a delegate to the British Commonwealth Relations Conference in London. Prof. Trotter is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and also of the Royal Society of Canada past president of the Canadian Historical Association and chairman of the Canadian Social Science Research Committee. It is my privilege to introduce this eminent lecturer and author--Prof. Reg. G. Trotter, M.A., Ph.D., D.C.L., Fellow Royal Historical Society, Fellow Royal Society of Canada whose subject is"CANADA'S PARTNERSHIP IN FREEDOM" Professor Trotter.
PROF. R. G. TROTTER: I am happy to be here today. The very name of your organization, "The Empire Club of Canada," suggests that this is a peculiarly appropriate audience to which to address remarks on "Canada's Partnership in Freedom." For you are especially interested in Canada, and you are also especially interested in that Empire within which Canada grew to free nationhood, that Empire which has become a Commonwealth of free nations setting today an example of partnership unique among the nations of the world. Your special interest in Canada and in the Empire indicate, too, the strength of your interest in the cause of freedom.
The world has just been through an ordeal by battle in which the central issue at stake was the very survival of freedom anywhere. And today all free peoples are obviously still faced by the fundamental problem of how to order affairs within their borders and their relations with others in such a way that freedom may endure. In our generation we have watched many peoples who seemed well on the road to freedom give ear to false prophets and lose their way. Others we have seen overwhelmed by the forces of despotism. By virtue of victory, freedom survives and opportunity continues for its growth, but we are compelled to recognize now, if we did not recognize it before, that the growth of freedom and even its survival are not to be taken for granted. Freedom has no automatic permanence anywhere. Its tenure on life is always precarious. If we would preserve it, even for ourselves, we must not only be ready in a crisis to defend it; we must take thought concerning it, see it for what it is, and recognize the conditions necessary for its survival.
Much discussion of freedom is properly given to trying to define the margins between freedom and despotism on the one hand, and between freedom and anarchy on the other. It is obvious that in a genuinely free society there must be effective authority acting in the general interest and restraining individuals from conduct that would impair the freedom and the welfare of their fellows. But the proper scope of authority and the proper limits on the individual are difficult to define. These lines are hard to draw whether we think in terms c f the civil rights of the individual or of his political rights. They are hard enough to draw in the abstract. It is harder still to relate them effectively, to the complication of actual living. Difficulty is further increased today by the rapidity of the changes taking place in modern society, in our own state, and in the world at large, which make it practically impossible to keep law and practice up to date. Law-making, policy-making, and administration trail behind the actual needs and conditions of the day. That is to some degree inevitable. One result, and a wholesome result, is that much discussion of our institutions of freedom is critical, it concentrates on shortcomings. Often, however, and unfortunately, it centres so completely on the contrasts between the perfection of the ideal and the imperfections of the actual, that it neglects the positive values of the freedom that we do enjoy till these tend to drop out of sight and sometimes seem to be forgotten. Free discussion is a fundamental necessity of a free society, but its opportunity is only partly used if we confine attention to the shortcomings of our institutions and our traditions. We need also to give thoughtful attention to their positive values. It is by these that they should be measured as well as against ideals of perfection. For improvement will most surely be made by using these as foundations so far as we can, not by seeking their destruction. The best friends of freedom in our society are not those who would destroy all that is short of perfection but those who would cherish what we have that is good and build on it to make it better. What have we then, in our existing system, to give up hope that we can maintain our freedom and build it larger in the future? How did we come by the freedom that we have? What conditions must be met if we would preserve it? What opportunities and responsibilities does Canada's freedom involve for Canadians? These are large questions for a short talk, altogether too large to cover completely, but may I touch briefly on a few matters that such questions suggest?
We start with our awareness today that we must be much more concerned about freedom than most of us were only a few years ago, when we took for granted that freedom was our own sure and permanent possession and when we were confident of its continuing increase in the world at large; when, therefore, it did not seem to matter whether or not we were confused in our thinking about it, or whether we even thought about it at all. It was better, generally we assumed, to give our attention to more pressing problems. So we let ourselves remain confused about the nature of the citizen's freedom within the state and also about the free position of our nation in the world and the conditions on which its existence and growth depended.
As for freedom of the individual, was it not perhaps the case in those days that we too easily and too often acted on the assumption that it was to be measured merely in terms of immunity from restrictions upon individual conduct and from any more than nominal obligations to the state? We have learned by hard experience in our crisis of national survival that the necessary responsibilities of the citizen to his fellow-citizens and to state set sharp limits to his individual freedom of action and may impose upon him arduous duties and heavy obligations. It was obvious in the crisis of war that the common good, your good and my good alike, required that we work together and sacrifice together if there was to remain for each of us the essential freedom that we cherish. This sort of truth has been made so clear during our recent ordeal for freedom, that we are never likely to go back all the way in our individual relations within our own national community to the old principle of "each for himself and the devil take the hindmost."
In those old days did we not also sometimes fall short of salutary realism in thinking about our freedom as a nation? Sometimes we talked as if it's fullness and security could best be attained by isolating Canada, apparently on the assumption that national freedom was synonymous with utter independence from everybody else. The attainment of independence, in man or nation, is of course thoroughly wholesome when it means outgrowing and abandoning dependence upon others for what one becomes able to do and ought to do for himself, but it is hardly a wholesome evidence of maturity if it expresses itself in a determination to be freer than ever of responsibility. In the years between the wars it was, in my belief, wholesome that the independence of our national status should be more definitely established than it had been in earlier years. But sometimes that necessity of our growth seemed to bring perverse consequences, when there appeared an unwholesome tendency to try to use independence merely as a means of attaining a national position that should be quite irresponsible. Once we had secured full recognition of national status, not only in the British Commonwealth but also in the League of Nations and finally by the United States, it seemed to be our chief care to whittle away formal commitments and to repudiate any idea that obligations might exist in any direction. Sometimes we seemed determined to take advantage of, the recognition of our independence in order to establish in reality a new and quite irresponsible dependence. But growing crisis shocked us into realism, and then this line of argument proved to have been only superficial dreaming. We proceeded to demonstrate that it was as false to our national ideals as it was inconsistent with our vital interests. We were quick, by our own action, to assume a full national share in meeting the crisis; however we may have talked beforehand, we acted now not on principles of isolation and irresponsibility but on principles of interdependence and responsibility. After that experience with reality we as a nation are henceforth no more likely to forget that these principles of interdependence and responsibility are basic to national freedom than we are likely to forget that the individual citizen can enjoy genuine rights only as he recognizes that obligations to his fellow citizens are basic to free citizenship in a free community.
There is no need for me here to dwell on Canada's war effort, by whose character and scale we demonstrated how misleading had really been our apparent waverings and negative uncertainties of the years between the wars. But it is pertinent for me to remind you of certain inescapable and highly significant facts. At the beginning, Canada was among that small group of nations which by their own positive action took their stand in 1939 shoulder to shoulder in the active ranks of the fighters in the cause of freedom. When the western democracies on the European continent were overrun in 1940 we were not among those on the side-lines, who thought that the battle was lost; rather, as Britain's most powerful associate in the conflict for many months after the fall of France, we stuck to our guns and redoubled our national effort. Throughout the war we proved ourselves ready to co-operate more widely and more intimately than ever in the past with our partners in the Commonwealth, among them most of all the United Kingdom, also with our next-door neighbour the United States and, as time went on, with other nations as well. It was in these partnerships from the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and the Canada-United States Joint Board on Defense to the operations of our forces in integral association with others on every front and in various economic aspects of the war effort, that we found opportunity to demonstrate that we had really come of age.
The importance of our active partnership with others in the war and the scale and the quality of the goods and the armed effort which were our contribution, brought to Canada full and worldwide recognition as a nation of considerable account in the world. It was no supersensitive assertions of status or isolationist stand-offishness that brought this recognition, but practical achievement and attention to the job in hand and unexcelled readiness for active partnership with others all along the line, wherever it could strengthen the cause in which victory was essential if freedom for men and nations was to survive and still find opportunity to grow. Of course in working out the details of co-operation in various directions there were sometimes new questions of definition to be dealt with and adjustments to be made, but these were incidental matters. Certainly it was not by standing on technical details that Canada won the recognition of her stature that the world now gives her. It was the weight of our cooperation and its wholeheartedness that woke the world to the actualities of our national position, a position of genuine independence, but a kind of independence unusually consistent with attitudes and practices of partnership.
The obvious general recognition of Canada's strength and acknowledgment of the reality of her position among the nations has perhaps done more than anything else to dispel among Canadians themselves the remaining vestiges of uncertain self-depreciation and any surviving lack of adequate self-respect. Like our musicians and our writers and our artists, of whose rank we have often been convinced only after the outside world has recognised them, so our national position has acquired increased respectability in Canadian eyes now that it has so fully received recognition in the outside world. We are now set at ease about ourselves and are therefore no longer really bothered when, for example, some outsider, friendly or otherwise, asks why we remain in bondage under a royal despotism. There is now hardly a Canadian left who does not feel that to such a demonstration of political illiteracy the appropriate reaction is not sensitiveness or annoyance but rather superiority, perhaps tempered with sympathy. The fact that our institutions are not just like those of our neighbours but are our own and are ours by our own choice, becomes a mark of distinction and a source of pride. We can be confident now that we best serve ourselves, our partners in the Commonwealth, yes, and the true interest of our great republican neighbour and the world of nations, by being ourselves, frankly, unashamedly, even, if you like, with decent pride. We are most truly free when we are thus ourselves, not when we would try, as there have sometimes been Canadians who would have us try, to obscure our distinguishing qualities behind a mask of subserviency and sycophancy in order to present to an alien observer as nearly as possible a reflected image of himself.
What, then, are our distinguishing qualities as a nation? What is it, particularly, that has enabled Canada to contribute as remarkably as she has done to the security and the progress of a free world? Many things would enter into a complete answer to that question, but you will agree with me that one important factor is to be found in the peculiarities of our particular brand of freedom. The peculiar and essential fact in Canada's national freedom is that it has been obtained in a way that did not involve the delusion that national independence is necessarily synonymous with isolation. Despite our frequent emphasis in pre-war years on the negative aspects of defining our status we never actually repudiated the tradition of community and interdependence within which our nation had achieved its maturity. The process of growing up involved, it is quite true, putting an end to colonial subordination to imperial authority, in our case by agreement and collaboration with the Imperial Government but that has been only one aspect of our historical relation to the Empire. More significant than the need of the transforming subordinate to equal status has been the fact through the years that the Empire was for us a framework in which the institutions and the spirit of freedom were so inherent and so strong that they insured their growth in Canada and the eventual development of Canada to national maturity.
In the process of growth to free nationhood Canada certainly herself made important, indeed essential, contributions. But of course to this audience it does not need to be pointed out that no Canadian conversant with his country's history would claim that by ourselves we invented freedom. Yet, as you are well aware, among the popular delusions that have not yet wholly died on this continent is the delusion that freedom was invented in the New World. As a matter of fact our own country, and the United States no less, owe their traditions of freedom, both personal and political, and the fruition of those traditions in their national independence as two free societies living side by side, to the heritage of freedom which was brought across the Atlantic in the early days of English colonization and became established in the old English colonies to a degree unique in history, long before some of them broke away and became the United States. It is quite true that conditions of life in our New World frontiers of settlements have done much to mould the pattern of democracy as it exists on this continent, but the basic principles of its design were imported. If North American democracy could be explained merely by the presence of frontier conditions, what about other great frontier regions which were settled in the same era, such, to cite a single example, as Siberia? It is, to say the least, a curious coincidence that those frontiers settled from Europe where free institutions have flourished have been preeminently, if not exclusively, in regions now comprised in the United States and in the British Dominions, and it must not be overlooked that most of these dominions became the free nations that they are, while they were still so remote in every way from the United States and its particular form of democratic experiment that their democracy can certainly not be attributed to American example. In the growth of Canadian democracy the influence of frontier conditions similar to those in the United States, and even the influence of American example, have been incidental compared to the more fundamental fact that we, like the Americans, and like the peoples of the other dominions, are heirs of a free tradition.
It is a point worth further emphasis that the large and fortunate community of life and outlook which we as Canadians enjoy with the American nation is not primarily because we live side by side and have many dealings with one another. These circumstances facilitate our contacts and intercourse but many nations which are close neighbours in the physical sense are far less alike than we are and enjoy far less mutual good will. Much more important for us is our historical community of traditions and institutions and ideals within which we both live. Our American friends may have repudiated the Empire by the manner in which they asserted their independence, but in so far as they have sometimes tended in later years to identify their liberty with antagonism to Britain, that is a perverse tradition, for in fact they built their constitutions, federal and state, and they shaped their bills of rights, basically on older English models and they built representative government in their republic on their own long colonial experience with free institutions as colonies in the old Empire. In short the roots of their freedom and the roots of freedom in our own land and throughout the British Commonwealth are very much the same.
Those roots go farther back than even to those days when early British colonists and the governments and commercial companies that sponsored their settlements took for granted that personal freedom and some degree of representative government should characterize the new colonies. Colonial self-government in those early days was decidedly limited but it took root quickly and grew vigorously. That it existed at all, and still more that it grew as it did, are phenomena which we tend so much to take for granted that we sometimes forget that they were unique. To see it in true perspective one need merely notice the contrast between British practice and that of other early colonial powers, in whose systems there was nothing of the sort. The contrast is easily explained. England had the good fortune, even in the Middle Ages, to be able to establish legal safeguards of personal liberty and to place limits on Royal power by developing a representative parliament to a degree that on the continent it had proved impossible to establish or maintain. All the peoples of Western Europe were co-heirs of the ancient world where Hebrew, Greek and Roman had all contributed to the foundations of Western Civilization. Many of our ideas of law and government come from those early Mediterranean peoples. But through long vicissitudes of history, when in most countries the ancient roots of freedom withered, England, perhaps partly because of her protecting moat of narrow seas, proved able to assert early the principle that the law is above even the king, and was also able through the centuries to enlarge and make more firm the freedom of her people. Liberty of the subject under laws that restrain not only his fellow citizens but his rulers from violation of his freedom, has been a growing principle of English law for more than seven centuries since that famous encounter at Runnymede beside the Thames when Anglo-Norman barons and clergy wrested Magna Carta from a reluctant King John. For almost as long, the influence of the people through parliament, in making laws, in authorizing taxes, and in choosing and rejecting rulers, has been growing with little intermission, till today the British system of government is as free, as flexible, as responsive to the national will and at the same time as stable as any democratic system in the world. In some respects, indeed, it is pre-eminent.
Another element of the freedom that is our heritage, which began to show itself very early in the British story, was the spirit of tolerance toward diverse group traditions within the state. There is a long and sometimes troubled story behind the fact that the United Kingdom itself is today a union of nationalities in which diversity is not only tolerated but fostered. The growth of this tradition with the British state itself helps unquestionably to explain the unique degree to which the history of the overseas Empire has been marked so largely as it has been by tolerance and indeed encouragement of local diversity and by increasing promotion of the growth of Colonial self-government. In the area that is now Canada, even before the American Revolution, such principles were established. Quebec was then without representative government such as had begun already to function, if somewhat imperfectly, in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, but in Quebec a great and unprecedented departure was made by Parliament in the Quebec Act, guaranteeing to the French Canadians the preservation under law of their own way of life.
I have said enough to remind you that while Canada is today significantly a partner for freedom with numerous other nations in various forms of partnership, the strength of her hold on freedom also grows out of her partnership with the past. She is peculiarly fortunate that the form of her independence and the manner in which it was attained have not meant denying the interdependence of her freedom with that of other nations today or forgetting the continuity of her freedom with its historic origins. In some countries, pyschological obstacles created by such denials and forgettings stand in the way of forming easily those voluntary and close partnerships with other nations such as all free nations must somehow secure and maintain. That we in Canada labour so little under difficulties of this sort is not so much to our credit as it is our good fortune. Here is a case where what has sometimes been deplored as an unfortunate time-lag in Canadian development compared with that of the United States actually worked out to our advantage. For us the growth to national independence, to full national stature, did not come till Britain herself had so enlarged and matured her own institutions of freedom, and had so developed the ideals by which they worked, that the adjustments which change our former colonial relationship to our present equal partnership could be made by mutual agreement and by common action. Thus Canada was born into a world that needs a full sense of comradeship among the nations, with the good fortune that she had attained her own national maturity within a framework of interdependence and by virtue of it, rather than by denying this principle which must today be the cornerstone of freedom.
In a perilous world, much of it far from free, we may well be thankful as Canadians for our especially rich heritage of freedom and for the many links which unite us in interdependence with all those who cherish freedom for men and for nations. But we can rightly be proud of that heritage only if we continue to hold to its ideals and still shoulder eagerly our share of the responsibilities that they entail. True pride in our own freedom today means pride in our past. Our special heritage as a free partner in the British Commonwealth gives us a peculiar opportunity and makes it our high duty to combat the delusion, wherever it may survive, that freedom within the state or among the nations can live by policies of isolation and by evasion or denial of responsibilities. Our Canadian heritage challenges us to stand ever for the ideal of partnership in freedom, to work from day to day with all who are freedom's builders, and to march shoulder to shoulder with those who have the vision and the will and the courage to be its defenders.