Benn Steil recently argued that we should eliminate “monetary sovereignty, claiming that most of the worlds currencies are an illusion of autonomy that only gets their holders into trouble (think Argentina several years ago). Poor Canada, this would be the last straw.
Nationhood in Canada has been diminishing quietly for some time now. It is regarded as appropriate for nations to have a military with which to defend the borders that assert its territorial autonomy. Recently, the Danish laid claim to one of Canadas distant islands, and we could barely bring ourselves to rattle a sabre. (Canada has a sabre?)
National airlines have been another way that countries have declared themselves on the international stage. Canadas airline is suffering insolvency. For a moment, it looked like it might be rescued by an investor from Hong Kong. He backed out and now it appears that the rescue will be accomplished by a German bank.
Robust economies are another marker of difference, and here too Canada limps forward. Even little Finland is more remarkable. There are dark rumors about the security of Canadas membership in the G8. There are even questions about whether, over the long term, Canada can sustain first world status.
Culture is often seized upon as a way of defining the national difference. (Deborah Silverman notes that the French did this in the 19th century.) Canada did an especially stupid thing during the Massey commission of 1949 and insisted that the national culture would be anything that popular culture was not (so to distinguish us from the Americans). This was foolhardy and unsustainable.
Sports are sometimes still grounds for national difference. Hockey continues to do its goonish best, but scratch a Canadian exemplar in any other field and almost certainly you will find an athlete trained at an American university.
You could argue that these are small things, that they do not finally matter, that Canadianness exists somehow sui generis. But recall what Lear said when told that he didnt really need the trappings of majesty his daughters were systematically stripping him of, “Reason not the need, else mens lives are cheap as beasts. “Minor differences are major ones without which the world grows mere, dubious and contestable.
Benns argument may make sensationally good sense from an economics point of view, but from an anthropological one, it is dubious. You start by giving up your currency and before long youre on a slippery slope. Before you know it, youre Canada.
Litt, Paul. 1991. The Massey Commission, Americanization, and Canadian Cultural Nationalism. Queen’s Quarterly 98, no. 2: 375-87.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. (Please treat this quote with caution. I have not checked it.)
Silverman, Debora. 1989. Art nouveau in fin-de-siècle France : politics, psychology, and style. Studies on the History of Society and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Steil, Benn. 2004. The Curse of Currency Autarky. Wall Street Journal. April 22, 2004. (Not available on line.)