Consider the Nation & Other Sacred Cows of the Left

By Hayford, Alison | Canadian Dimension, May-June 1993 | Go to article overview

Consider the Nation & Other Sacred Cows of the Left


Hayford, Alison, Canadian Dimension


Montreal Reader's letter to Canadian Dimension (Jan./Feb. 1993) shows the kind of unexamined nationalism that has made adequate discussions of Quebec almost impossible for the Canadian Left.

The Left has treated nationalism largely as axiomatic rather than a subject of political debate. In all the years I've heard people talking about "the nation," I've never come across a definition that is useful in trying to imagine a truly just society. This, however, has not stopped nationalism from being central to much left politics in Canada. Yet without understanding what the nation is we can scarcely talk meaningfully about rights or self-determination. It's clearly time to reconsider the nation.

Litany

Montreal Reader's letter includes a familiar litany of unquestioned nationalism: "Quebec's right to self-determination," Quebec's existence as a nation and its subsequent rights," and Quebec which "...is NOT even a 'special' or 'distinct' province -- but ... Quebec people have national rights. . ."

What distresses our comrade in Montreal is that Dimension has seemed a tiny bit critical of these axioms. A mere hint of less-than-orthodoxy about Quebec's nationhood is enough to make MR withdraw support from the magazine.

Yet Dimension hasn't really questioned Quebec's nationhood. Like most of the Canadian Left, Dimension takes nationalist ideas for granted -- that there is such a thing as a nation, that nations have rights, and that among these rights is something called "self-determination."

It's just that Dimension can't help wondering about what's going on in Quebec; even the code phrase, "national self-determination," can't blind us completely to some of the less pleasant aspects of the attitudes of the Quebec government and the Parti Quebecois towards minorities, environmental issues, and so on. Dimension's analysis of these, however, has been limited by its generally uncritical use of concepts of "nation" and "nationalism."

Questions

Perhaps in raising questions about the nation I'm stepping over some invisible boundary marking what is acceptable in Canadian progressive politics, but I really would like to know the meaning of many of the ideas that the Left takes for granted. What, for example, are these national rights that Montreal Reader talks about so easily, and what political/ social factors are they subsequent upon? What is self-determination -- who constitutes the "self," and what does this "self" determine, and how? The phrases are great, but what do they mean in practice?

There are other questions that come to mind, at least to mine, once I start thinking about the nation critically rather than axiomatically. How many people does it take to make a nation, and how do they do it? Is a nation an objective reality or a matter of subjective identity, or both, or neither? Is it a matter of culture, of blood, of experience? Must one be born to a nation? Is it possible to leave one?

These are not just the questions of a nitpicking social theorist looking for scientifically acceptable analytical categories. We don't have to look beyond the front pages of the daily newspapers to see the terrible consequences of "the nation" as a political force.

Nationalist political discourse and action reflect an assumption that nations are things rather than elements of political discourse. But by treating particular combinations of elements of culture -- language, religion, and so on -- as fixed entities, nationalists fetishize them and make the idea of the nation more rigid than the social reality it purports to express.

What is a nation?

What, then, is a nation? The idea seems to draw on some notion of an historically constituted group of people, bigger than a town, smaller than the world, who have some kind of ethnic/cultural identity in common. But how big? What kind of culture? What degree of similarity? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Consider the Nation & Other Sacred Cows of the Left
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.