Thoughts on nationalism and patriotism

Today is the 150th anniversary of Canadian independence and on Tuesday it will be the US’s turn. But the celebrations will be quite different in these two neighboring countries. On the program On The Media host Bob Garfield talked with Stephen Marche about how Canada’s lack of patriotic fervor has enabled it to withstand the vicious xenophobia and divisiveness that is endemic in the US and parts of Europe. In addition, it has “a flourishing economy, an effective single-payer health care system, and a Prime Minister with a philosophy of tolerance.”

Marche talked about how even the conservatives in Canada are not nuts and proclaim the virtues of multiculturalism. He also said that when his mother fell and needed emergency surgery, she got it for free, of course, because they have a civilized system. As he left the hospital with her, he noticed a guy across the street selling hot dogs and it pleased him that if he should ever need it, that hot dog guy would get the same treatment. He ends with why patriotism is so muted in Canada.

“Patriotism is the excuse that countries give to themselves for their failures. If you want patriotic displays, go to Russia. You’ll find one every week. But their life expectancy is going down, their economy is crumbling. They need patriotism. Canadians kind of don’t need it. We have hospitals.”

The same show had a very interesting piece about Aaron Copland. Copland is considered the quintessentially American composer, who composed things like the Fanfare for the Common Man that is a staple of American music and played on patriotic occasions. And yet, and I did not know this, he was one of the people blacklisted during the McCarthy era because Copland’s vision of patriotism was infused with left-wing politics.


  1. Matt G says

    I happen to be north of the border right now, but to attend a wedding. I saw a news program last night talking about the celebration, and multiculturalism is one of the things mentioned. Doesn’t seem to be “controversial” like it does in the States. I am staying in a middle class neighborhood of fairly new buildings in Mississauga. My hostess is of Indian descent and from Guyana. The Jamaicians next door are celebrating an engagement, and the East Asians in the house behind were playing basketball yesterday. The Indian women next door is very friendly, as was the Arabic-speaking guy I saw with his daughter yesterday. My sister-in-law’s Japanese uncle is in Ottawa for the 150th. Canada -- the country America is supposed to be.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … blacklisted during the McCarthy era because Copland’s vision of patriotism was infused with left-wing politics.

    Worser even than that, Aaron Copland was -- brace yrselves! -- gay.

  3. Matt G says

    I’ve heard nationalism described as “my country, right or wrong”. With patriotism, you add “when right, to be kept right, and when wrong, to be set right”.

  4. jrkrideau says

    Multiculturalism “controversial”? Eh, as we say in Canada?
    It’s the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; part of our constitution.

  5. jrkrideau says

    Today is the 150th anniversary of Canadian independence

    To be pedantic, that is not accurate.

    Confederation on July 1, 1867 saw the creation of the Dominion of Canada by joining the original four provinces, ( who had been dragged kicking and screaming to the negotiating table, in true Canadian fashion). It was more like a first step in the creation of the modern nation.

    Canadian “independence”, ( what a weird term to a Canadian, at least of my generation) was a long slow evolution culminating, more or less, in the Treaty of Westminster in 1935 and even after that there were certain functions left with the UK Privy Council.

    I am not a constitutional expert so I may be mangling things a bit.

  6. says

    Most of us in Canada may love our multiculturalism (make no mistake, there are many who don’t and some of them are in government or hoping to be), but we tend to be very silent on the genocide that built this country and the effects it’s still having today. Too many people wish the First Nations would just be quiet and stay miserable on their reservations until they finally die off and we can pretend we didn’t steal this land.

  7. rojmiller says

    jrkrideau: I would say our independence wasn’t finalized until we finally got our own flag in the 60’s, and then when Pierre finally “patriated” the constitution in the 80’s (up until then stuff still had to be rubber-stamped by the British parliament).

  8. jrkrideau says

    @ 10 rojmiller
    I’d go for that but I I was to lazy to go into it and I was a bit pressed for time.

    I tend to regard the flag as somewhat incidental to “independence” but it was good publicity and may have distracted some of Mike Pearson’s critics from more substantial matters that he was pushing.

    Oh I was around for the flag debate. Dief the Chief was even more livid than usual.

  9. says

    I utterly fail to understand nationalism. So, someone is born within certain imaginary lines on a map -- that makes them a “whatever” and then they’re supposed to cheer for “whatever” and go beat up on other people because they’re not “whatever.” It’s an accident of birth that I’m a “whatever” and someone else is not -- how can I lord my “whateverness” over anyone else?

  10. springa73 says

    I think of patriotism as meaning that you like and care about your country, while nationalism means that you dislike/look down on other countries. It’s a little odd to see them used as synonyms.

  11. rojmiller says

    @11 jrkrideau
    I was around for the flag debate as well. Interestingly, I regard it as the time Canada really became independent. Even though my background is 4th generation Canadian but entirely from the UK, I have never been pro British in any way. I never liked the Union Jack, and could never understand the defense of it. Having our own flag eventually got rid of that large core of folks who seemed more attached to Britain than to Canada, from my perspective. And that was the real birth of Canada, in my opinion.

  12. WhiteHatLurker says

    @jrkrideau, #8
    That isn’t pedantic -- the original post is off the mark, and what you said needs to be said. As well, love of one’s country is going to be expressed differently in different cultures (thankfully our culture is different from our southern neighbours’) and I decry the comment “Canada’s lack of patriotic fervor” (and not just because fervour is misspelled).

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