Globalization and the Future of Canada

By Taylor, Charles McArthur | Queen's Quarterly, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Globalization and the Future of Canada


Taylor, Charles McArthur, Queen's Quarterly


CHARLES TAYLOR is Professor of Philosophy and of Political Science at McGill University. He held the Chichele Chair at Oxford University (1976-78), returning to Canada to participate in the referendum campaign of 1979-80.

Is the nation-state really near the end of its useful life? Many have predicted that this venerable institution, which has proven so adaptable in the past, is growing hopelessly obsolete as we move into a new millennium of rapid globalization. But the democratic nation-state has survived fascism, Bolshevism, and legions of despots. Perhaps we should not count it out just yet. Here Charles Taylor reflects on the troubled Canadian federation, and argues that the nation-state has provided both the ideals and the practical tools to enable us to realize our potential as citizens of this country; now the time has come for us to broaden those ideals and collectively devise the tools that will see us realize our potential as citizens of the world.

TODAY, the word "globalization" has come to be thrown around a lot, and it is used much too narrowly. When people talk about the present stage or process of globalization, they generally mean the penetration of the market everywhere into different aspects of life within our societies. They mean a market that is much more international that in the past, one that penetrates states that until very recently maintained a strong autocratic position in the world - the communist and formerly communist states. Some states, like India, have a history of being relatively democratic and open, while still maintaining quite firm boundaries of control at their borders, but they are experiencing now the same sort of opening out.

Globalization also involves the development of world media spaces. The media now reach into all but the most remote societies. They throughly permeate these communities, and many media organizations are constantly casting about the globe, collecting their select audiences, those groups of people who are fixed on certain images and programs. Along with this, and not entirely separate from it, there is a world public sphere and the development even of world civil society in terms of public opinion. Think of the tremendous importance in our world today of organizations like Amnesty International.

But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of globalization is the tremendous increase in international migration and the consequent diversification of the populations in many countries. A few decades ago a country like Canada had a population - speaking just of religion - that was Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. Today, every major religion is represented in substantial numbers within the Canadian population. And with this comes the development of another striking phenomenon, something we might call a diasporic consciousness. People now live in imagined spaces, spaces where they see themselves situated within a certain society, and more and more of these spaces straddle borders and other boundaries. You now have people who are in many ways fully integrated as citizens of their new countries, but at the same time retain active interest and contact with people in their country of origin. Their interest in the politics of one country feeds into their interest in the politics of the other, and they are linked also to their country-of-origin compatriots settled in different nations all over the world.

All these things have to be in your mind when we speak of globalization - even if it becomes a bit of a blur - because that is the context in which the modern nation-state has to operate.

We hear often these days that the nation-state, the central national government, is being bled of significance, made much less important. Some people believe we are reaching the point where we can do without this level of governance altogether. To me, this is complete nonsense because until we replace it with something else functionally equivalent - and that is not going to be easy - the democratic sovereign state we know, with UN membership and a web of international associations, is the only instrument of democratic control. …

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