Friday, March 28, 2008

Nationalism a la Canada: Jocelyn Letourneau's pragmatism

I've been listening to this CBC podcast featuring prof. Jocelyn Letourneau about nationalism, Canada and Quebec. It is an interesting discussion of 'nationalism a la Canada', from the perspective of an intellectual living in Quebec.

According to the producers, Letourneau represents a new wave of intellectuals trying to move beyond the idea that Quebec - and Canada - have two and only two options: centralized federalism or independent sovereignty. Letourneau himself argues that there are always more than one single alternative, and that we should not let our past decide our future, although one has to know the past and has to realize its symbolic importance.

There is at least one argument about nationalism that caught my eye, and that has to do with the web of ideas I refer to as nationalism. There is no destiny inscribed in histories or in nations for that matter. A nation without a sovereign state is not a failed nation. In fact, a society may have different ways of self-government, and we need to explore the options that work towards keeping the future open, as Letourneau says.

Letourneau defines himself as a pragmatic. His discussion of nations and nationalisms in Canada and Quebec is imprinted with pragmatism: it's about the ways in which we can make the best of our future, without being chained by the past.
The only thing which still bothered me was the equation between society and nation, the Quebecois or the Canadians. From the same perspective as Letourneau, I'd like to ask: is the nation the only alternative? Do we have to equate society with a nation, whether ethnic, civic, multicultural or any other kind? Can we have a society premised on a different type of collective self-imagining?

I wonder if the definition of what a 'nation' is changes. I think it does, because for one, the definition of the word itself has changed throughout time. But there's still something deeply disturbing and threatening, at least to me, about any type of community which seeks to define who you are first and foremost through the communal. And I am not sure the definition of the nation has changed in this respect.

Photo credits: alexindigo

1 comment:

hollmanlozano said...

One of the most interesting issues that Letourneau raises is the particular reading of history that Quebec has followed. It is not that the facts to which they are emotionally attached did not happen, they did happen, however, the past should not determine the present in such a fix way. However, mistakes like the exclusion of Quebec from the discussion of the constitution should be avoided. It is not a matter of embracing Quebec as part of Canada and neglecting them, when they try to be part of the everyday life of the country. The unity of the diverse, rather than the microhistories of the difference should be the social stories in which the construction of Canadian identity should be built. However, it still puzzles me, how much of Letourneau's analysis is a symple academic perspective that has not made its way to the social identity of Quebec, or how much of it, is actually taking place on the Frech Canadians construction of collective identity.


Hollman Lozano

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