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Yankee go home? Is Canadian anti-americanism dead?

1891: The old man looked out over the great audience of cheering partisans gathered to greet him in Toronto. Now 76, his face lined deeply and showing the effects of his regular and too-heavy drinking, the Prime Minister could still stir a crowd, his soft Scottish burr hypnotizing his listeners until, reaching his emotional peroration, he could bring the people out of their chairs, shouting and stamping their feet. Yes, Sir John A. Macdonald told the country, his government had desired reciprocity with the United States, but the idea could not be sold in the American capital. Why? Because Canadian traitors had gone to the U.S. to tell the people there that if they did not try to obstruct Canada's trade, they would never annex Canada. It was a deliberate conspiracy, a conspiracy `by force, by fraud or by both to force Canada into the American union.' In the circumstances, he cried, for the Liberals to call for Unrestricted Reciprocity - complete free trade - with the United States was treason, a betrayal of Canada's British destiny. `We had a free Queen over a free people - governed by the principles of equity, the principles of religion, the principles of morality - which a fierce democracy never had and never would have. Would the people of Canada submit to such a change?' Wilfrid Laurier and the Liberals were readying themselves to sell out Canada to the Yankees, but he would not permit this to happen. The Americans could use their gold to try to buy Laurier an election victory, but `we prize our country as much as they do...we would fight for our existence...' Then, in the greatest lines in all Canadian political oratory, Macdonald smashed the Liberal campaign for Unrestricted Reciprocity: `A British subject I was born, and a British subject I will die. With my utmost effort, with my last breath, will I oppose the "veiled treason" which attempts by sordid means and mercenary proffers to lure our people from their allegiance.'

1991: Edmonton publisher Mel Hurting was outraged by what had happened to his country. In his book, The Betrayal of Canada, he lashed out at those Canadian business and corporate leaders who had supported the Free Trade Agreement of 1988 and, with their contributions, greatly helped Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives win re-election that year. `The FTA means the Americanization of Canada,' he wrote, and `the supporters of the FTA approve of this....' It was time for blunt talk, Hurting added. `The time has come to stop using muddy terms like "continentalism",' which were far too weak. `So many of the voices heard from Canada's elite today are not the voices of continentalism; they are the voices of those who advocate the Americanization of Canada, though they never have the courage to say so. `As much as separatists in Quebec,' he went on, `they are the anti-Canadians. They are the harmonizers, the integrationists, the capitulators, the abandoners of a nation. They are the "Canada-lasters." It seems as if many of them don't give a damn for our country, its welfare or its survival.'

Made exactly one hundred years apart, the two statements had much in common. To Macdonald, just as to Hurtig, those who wanted free trade with the United States were willing, indeed eager, to see Canada absorbed. The stench of treason, explicit in Macdonald, implicit in Hurtig, hung over the free trade forces. Free trade would seduce Canadians from their allegiance and lead either to the physical or psychological absorption of the country by the United States. For Hurtig, the maxim laid down by philosopher George Grant in his 1965 Lament for a Nation remained all too true: `No small country can depend for its existence upon the loyalty of its capitalists.' Anti-Americanism for him was a powerful weapon in 1991 just as it had been for Sir John A. in 1891.

But there were differences, too. In 1891, the power and money of Canada's business leaders was firmly behind Macdonald and his Conservative Party, the creators and defenders of the National Policy of high tariffs behind which Canadian manufacturers sought protection from cheaper American goods. In 1991, corporate Canada supported the Free Trade Agreement that the Progressive Conservative party had negotiated and put into place. Business was delighted to see tariffs done away with, and they applauded every government effort to harmonize Canadian policies with those of the United States.

In the course of a century, the Conservative party had changed from a fierce opponent of free trade into its advocate. Business had made the same transition. Apparently, what had not changed was the anti-Americanism that so many Canadians shouted out at all those who tried to bring the two North American nations closer together. But there was an important difference. In 1891, the anti-American campaign had been brilliantly successful, giving Macdonald a smashing victory as Canadians rallied around the Old Man, the Old Flag, and the Old Policy. In the election of 1988, anti-Americanism had failed to carry the country, and though opposed by a majority of voters, the opposition was split and Mulroney won a substantial parliamentary majority for his Free Trade Agreement. Intended as a call to action, Hurtig's book was only an angry lament for what had already and irreversibly come to pass.

Canadians are used to being ignored by their neighbours, but there is some resonance in their definitions of anti-Americanism. Paul Hollander, a leading scholar of the subject, defines it as `a particular mind-set, an attitude of distaste, aversion or intense hostility the roots of which may be found in matters unrelated to the actual qualities or attributes of American society or the foreign policies of the United States.' To Hollander, and to British author Paul Johnson, anti-Americanism whether found among Americans or foreigners is much like racism, sexism or anti-semitism. (1) Two more American scholars, Alvin Rubinstein and Donald Smith, break down the definition even further as an `undifferentiated attack on the foreign policy, society, culture and values of the United States.' They see it as issue-oriented, ideological, instrumental (by which they mean the manipulation of anti-American feelings by a government for ulterior purposes), or revolutionary (in which anti-Americanism arises in groups seeking to topple a pro-U.S. government). (2)

None of these definitions completely captures the unique nature of Canadian anti-Americanism. How could they when the Canadian variant is far, far older than any other? How could non-Canadians understand the central place that anti-Americanism has played in all our history? Who else could believe that Canadian anti-Americanism, just as much as the country's French-English duality, has for two centuries been a central buttress of the national identity?

In fact, Canadian anti-Americanism is both more simple and far more complex to define. It is a distaste for and fear of American military, political, cultural, and economic activities that, while widespread in the population, has usually been benign unless and until it was exploited by business, political, or cultural groups for their own ends. Added to this is a teaspoon - and sometimes more - of envy at the greatness, wealth, and power of the Republic and its citizens and a dash of discomfort at the excesses that mar American life.

In Canada, anti-Americanism began with the understandable hostility that developed when imperial powers and their colonies go to war. It existed in New France, and it flourished when the rebellious Americans invaded British North America in 1775. It became a conservative phenomenon as the Loyalists and their supporters, not least the relatively recent immigrants from the British Isles, employed hatred of the Yankees to justify their detestation of democratic forms and republicanism, a tactic that was reinforced by the War of 1812 and the rebellions of 1837. And, once the Dominion of Canada came together not long after the Loyalist epic had been bolstered by historians and turned into a folk myth, anti-Americanism became the key tool in the maintenance of the established political and economic order, as Sir John A. Macdonald demonstrated so effectively in the Reciprocity election of 1891. But the power of anti-Americanism could never remain constant and unvarying. Over the years, thanks largely to the devastating and debilitating impact of the world wars on Britain's economic and military power, the Canadian governing and business classes adjusted themselves to the presence and enormous power of the United States, though pockets of protectionism relied, in part, on anti-American sentiments to keep them safe. Anti-Americanism remained for the left to exploit, and Communists and social democrats both tried their hand at it. So, too, did elements within Walter Gordon's wing of the Liberal Party, where Mel Hurtig first made his mark. Then there were the Red Tories, that curious Canadian amalgam of social progressivism and conservatism whose anti-Americanism, embedded in the writings of George Grant and Donald Creighton, among others, was arguably the fiercest of any in the last half of the twentieth century.

Anti-Americanism has been found, at differing periods and in differing intensities, across the entire spectrum of Canadian politics and in all segments of Canadian life. All these groupings in Canadian society - the right, the protectionist centre, the Red Tories, and the Liberal, Marxist and social-democratic left - now have largely succumbed to the homogenizing forces of continentalism. Only among the literati, in the cultural industries, and in academe does anti-Americanism remain alive and well in contemporary Canada.

In some ways, then, Canada today is unique in its anti-Americanism, or the absence of it. While Canadian intellectuals and artists largely remain opposed to Americanization, the elites in society no longer resist it. This is not true elsewhere. Virtually all who look at anti-Americanism around the globe pinpoint its greatest strength among the elites and the cultural professions, a curious combination of what British writer Kenneth Minogue labelled `snobbery and socialism.' (3) The elites of Europe and Asia fear and respect American military and economic power, but they dismiss the Americans themselves as uncultured cowboys or loud tourists festooned with cameras and sporting multihued clothing.

The intellectuals take a different tack. Anti-Americanism is, as a Dutch commentator said, `a disease of the intellectuals,' a symptom of their `revulsion against Western society...' (4) and, in some cases, until the collapse of Soviet Communism, of their foolish admiration for Moscow and all its works. Above all for both elites and intellectuals, to be anti-American, as one German journalist noted, `is to defend one's right to protect one's own tradition against the presumptiveness of the markpetplace psychology, the insistence on selling and reselling one's cultural values as if they were so many washing machines.' The world recognizes that it is being Americanized, and it worries about the process. It also recognizes that the process of seduction is not wholly unpleasant.

Americanization, in other words, is much like the curate's egg - parts of it are good and parts are not. Most people outside the United States admire American dynamism, modernism, democracy and labour-saving devices. Many of them fear the sometimes misguided energy of the United States and worry about the impact of American popular culture on their own, the elimination of the croissant by the donut, in effect. No one should be surprised that people worry about this process that continues to sweep all before it. (5) `Always blame the Americans,' advises one of the characters in Costa-Gavras' political film thriller, Z, `Even when you're wrong, you're right.' (6)

Canadians too recognize that they are being Americanized, fret about the process (while ordinarily grasping eagerly for the rewards), and readily blame the Americans for foisting Americanization upon them. (7) These sentiments are usually latent. They combine with and merge into a sense that the line dividing Canadians from Americans is small, that in fact, Canadians really are Americans. It is a sense that Canadians conceal from others and also, most vigorously, from themselves. Perhaps that is why their expressions of anti-Americanism have sometimes been so strong.

As North Americans, Canadians have tried to create their own distinctive society on the continent they share with the United States; as Canadians, they have been obliged to wrestle with their vastly richer and more powerful neighbour, so much so that they have come to define themselves for most of their history not as they were and are, but in contradistinction to that great and grasping neighbour. Novelist Hugh MacLennan put it well in 1946: `It took me a long time to accept the fact that in the eyes of the average American this whole continent - at least all of it that is worth much - belongs to him.' (8) Canadian views of the United States are informed by the American presence - so big, so familiar. That is what MacLennan saw, and many Canadians shared his perception, more than enough to demonstrate the fundamental truth of the definitive comment on this country's tradition of anti-Americanism. The Canadian, wrote historian Frank Underhill, `is the first anti-American, the model anti-American, the archetypal anti-American, the ideal anti-American as he exists in the mind of God.'

The Canadians, as Underhill observed, were the first and the model anti-Americans, if only because the habitants and the Loyalists both wanted to remain free of the United States. They were the ideal anti-Americans because, unlike many in Europe and the Third World, they actually understood the United States and appreciated its idealism and passion while simultaneously rejecting much of the American ethos. They were the archetypal anti-Americans because, even if the world has failed to realize it, Canadians had set the terms of the debate - virtually everything said of the crassness and violence of American society today, for example, was first uttered by 19th Century British North Americans who looked down their noses at the mobocracy to the south.

All this is certainly true. Yet, given the enormous influence of the United States on every aspect of Canadian life, we might ask, along with journalist Rick Salutin, why Canada is today `probably the least anti-American country around, around the Free World anyway, those countries which fall under direct US influence.' (9) Certainly Salutin is right if the global definitions of anti-Americanism are applied to Canada. Moreover, as Canadians regularly write, say, and apparently believe that they define themselves against the United States, why is it that they have never produced any sustained critiques or appreciations of the United States? Why is it that the French, their culture protected by history, language and the Atlantic Ocean, have defined, written about and devoutly practised anti-Americanism in this century, (10) and not Canadians? Why is it that, since the Reciprocity election of 1911, anti-Americanism has never been victorious in political warfare in this country and scarcely won any triumphs of any kind?

In the circumstances, is what remains of Canada's anti-Americanism anything more than a defensive reaction from a people who in fact are not simply North Americans, but Americans in all but name? The Canadian, some might argue in this vein, is only an American with medicare and without a President, a Congress, a foreign policy that mixes violence and altruism, and a domestic policy that apparently fosters murder, ghettoes, and widespread illegitimacy among blacks and whites. A kinder, gentle American, a different American, in other words.

Perhaps this explains why Canadian anti-Americanism always was so much milder than the virulent varieties that afflicted in varying degrees Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. `Yankee Go Home?,' the title of this essay, is deliberately used in an ironic way as the question mark suggests, but in the parts of the world exploited by American corporations and with their regimes owing their survival to Washington's military support, it remained the epithet of choice until very recently. Even so, the characteristics of anti-Americanism in the world at large have their variants here. John Diefenbaker, like John A. Macdonald and Robert Borden before him, used anti-Americanism for instrumental and electoral purposes. Canadian communists and fellow travellers like the Rev. James Endicott were every bit as ideological in their denunciations of American imperialism as their Soviet masters. George Grant was intellectually and philosophically anti-American, and Walter Gordon, determined to control the inflow of American capital and foster domestic investment, was the very model of an issue-oriented anti-American. Strange bed-fellows these.

But Canadians have never been revolutionary anti-Americans, nor have they ever been given to burning United States Information Agency libraries, killing American diplomats and tourists or taking them hostage, or storming Washington's embassy and consulates on their soil. Even during the Vietnam War, when crowds demonstrated in front of American diplomatic offices, Canadian responses were so bland that American draft resisters complained about the unrelenting passivity of their hosts.

While it often has had that distaste, aversion, and unreasoning hostility to all things American that Paul Hollander sees as characterizing anti-Americanism generally, proximity and a shared heritage made the Canadian variant generally more understanding of the United States than that practised abroad. Sixty-five years ago, McGill University law dean Percy Corbett noted that Canadians had `a network of intimate friendships' with Americans, but at the same time `a widespread distaste for Americans in general.' (11) More recently, Charles Doran and James Sewell characterized anti-Americanism in Canada as mixing derision and affection. (12) The late Canadian economist Harry Johnson was more scathing in his condemnation of the `genteel hypocrisy' and immaturity with which Canadians practised their anti-Americanism. Johnson pointed to the eminent Canadians loudly expressing their admiration and warm friendship for the American people while advocating schemes for depriving some of them of control of their property, and professional-explainers of Canada to the Americans begging the Americans not to be offended by the nasty anti-American remarks they are about to hear, because we're just having a friendly argument among ourselves, and really we love them. (13) Some of our best friends are Americans, in other words, but we wouldn't want our sons and daughters to marry them - though they do!

These comments precisely reflect the contradictory nature of Canadian attitudes to the United States. Even as we revel in the differences between our societies (or, at least, those that we assume favour us), we continue to observe the Americans with a sympathetic if dubious gaze. Canadians, even the Loyalists, the red hot Britannic imperialists of the late 19th Century, and the crusaders of the Committee for an Independent Canada in the 1970s, have always been ready to listen to on-going American debates and, when they arose, to take the best American ideas and put them into practice. Canada's federal system, for example, was designed during the American Civil War to be a more perfect form of the structure created by Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and Adams. Our national parks were modelled on those established by the United States. Prairie Progressives in the 1920s, like Ontario populists thirty years earlier, modelled their policy prescriptions on American thinking. Our schools regularly followed American trends, for good and often for ill, and Pierre Trudeau's Charter of Rights and Freedoms introduced what many consider to be American concepts of individual rights and litigiousness into our hitherto more ordered society. Should we be surprised at this? Canadians are Americans, after all, shaped by and shaping the North American environment so that the lives we enjoy are much like those of our cousins to the more prosperous south.

Historians and politicians naturally have focussed on the difficult periods in Canadian-American relations, the years in which anti-Americanism flourished. The barometer of public opinion measured the recurring storms that troubled relations along the border and, whenever the mercury dropped, the threats from Washington invariably produced expressions of Canadian determination to resist the damn Yankees to the last man - or to strike a special deal with the United States by reminding Washington that the Dominion really was its best friend in the world. There were always enough genuine grievances and irritants on both sides of the line to keep the weather, for those who always worried about the climate, unstable in good times and bad. In general, despite the efforts of those who wanted to keep the border closed, most Canadians and Americans have got on better than almost any two peoples anywhere.

Even at its periods of greatest intensity, anti-Americanism in Canada tended to be limited to plucking the occasional feather from the eagle's tail. It has always been more defensive than offensive. It also has been much more of a chimera than Canadians have been led to believe, a useful, even powerful, political, economic, and cultural tool at times but, in the era of the FTA, NAFTA, and massive cultural domination by New York and Hollywood, one whose power has faded into insignificance.

Anti-Americanism in the mid-1990s is at its lowest ebb ever. It was never an idea that could bear the weight assigned to it by generations of Canadians. Hating the Americans was a fundamentally unworthy attitude, a barren, soul-destroying conceit that Canadians employed to explain their slower growth and lesser power to themselves. Today, with Confederation threatened, with separatist sentiments waxing, Canadians need a new unifying and positive national mythos. We need to shed the habit of seeking unity by letting politicians and cultural leaders denounce our neighbours. Instead, we must begin to understand what makes Canada unique. That is easier to say than to do, of course. What is certain, however, is that anti-Americanism now cannot, indeed could never, provide the glue to hold the nation together.

What lies beyond anti-Americanism? Only when Canadians begin to understand their land and their origins, when they can assess their national history of truly great achievements without a search for politically correct victims, and when they become confident of their own worth and their limitless future, only then will the Canadian identity become truly defined without resort to glib, mindless prejudice. Like other peoples in a world of global corporations and giant trading alliances, Canadians are searching for ways to preserve a national identity in the McWorld that threatens to swamp them. This is no easy task in North America, to be sure, but the one certainty is that anti-Americanism is not the vehicle of choice to achieve it.

Two hundred years after the Loyalists came to British North America, we are finally outgrowing our reflexive anti-Americanism. It will be a tragedy if Canadians cannot use their new maturity to resolve their domestic problems. The real challenge for Canada, something vitally important for our survival as the other North Americans, will be to continue to resist absorption, formal or informal, into the American empire that threatens to engulf us. A healthy Canadian nationalism - in the best sense the desire to preserve an independent but interdependent nation - remains as necessary as ever.

(1) . Paul Hollander, Anti-Americanism: Critiques at Home and Abroad, 1965-1990 (New York 1992), viii; Paul Johnson as quoted in James Simmons, Americans: The View from Abroad (New York 1990), 209. Henry Fairlie noted the strength of anti-Americanism - anti-Amerika even - in the intellectual life of the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Perceptively, he observed that, `anti-Americanism in America...is in some its aspects a reflection of Americanism. It is as agitated by the symbols and myths and metaphors of the "American experience" as others ... are consoled by them,' `Anti-Americanism at home and abroad,' Commentary, December 1975, 30.

(2) . A.Z. Rubinstein and D.E. Smith, `Anti-Americanism in the third world,' Annals, 497 (May 1988), 35.

(3) . Kenneth Minogue, `Anti-Americanism: a view from London,' National Interest, 3 (spring 1986), 48. British anti-Americanism is now said to be weak and especially so among those of highest social class. See Hugh Brogan, `The cost of absurdity,' Times Literary Supplement, 5-11 October 1990, 1076-8; United States Information Agency, Opinion Research Memorandum, 11 May 1993.

(4) . J. Van Houten, `Europe,' Wall Street Journal, 3 August 1983, 19.

(5) . Erwin Scheuch, `Hating America - the world's favorite pastime,' Atlas, 19 (September 1970), 19-20; Fairlie, `Anti-Americanism,' 38.

(6) . Quoted in Simmons, Americans, 208.

(7) . `This is the meaning of anti-Americanism in Canada - opposition to the Americanization of Canada whether in economic, social, cultural or political terms,' W.M. Baker, `The Anti-American ingredient in Canadian history,' Dalhousie Review, 53 (spring 1973), 58.

(8) . Hugh MacLennan, `How we differ from Americans,' Maclean's, 15 December 1946, 9.

(9) . Rick Salutin, Living in a Dark Age (Toronto: Harper-Collins 1991), 25.

(10) . On French anti-Americanism, see, inter alia, Tony Judt, Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956 (Berkeley: University of California Press 1992); D. Lacorne et al, eds, The Rise and Fall of French Anti-Americanism (London: St. Martins 1990); David Strauss, Menace in the West: The Rise of French Anti-Americanism in Modern Times (Westport CT: Greenwood 1978); and Richard Kuisel, Seducing the French: The Dilemma of Americanization (Berkeley: University of California Press 1993).

(11) . P.E. Corbett, `Anti-Americanism,' Dalhousie Review, 10 (October 1930), 295.

(12) . Charles Doran and J.P. Sewell, `Anti-Americanism in Canada?,' Annals, 497 (May 1988), 106.

(13) . Harry Johnson, `Unlovely Canadianism,' in William Kilbourn, ed, A Guide to the Peaceable Kingdom (Toronto: Macmillan 1970), 208-9.
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Author:J.L. Granatstein
Publication:Behind the Headlines
Date:Sep 22, 1996
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