What should the legacy of World War I, and its great battles such as Vimy Ridge, be for Canadians?
To many current-day observers, Canada’s participation in the First World War, and the great victory at Vimy Ridge in 1917, may often seem like events that happened several centuries ago.
The roaring tide of change in Canada has been so massive, that it could appear that the events at Vimy Ridge occurred in relation to a country which manifestly no longer exists. Indeed, a diehard traditionalist alive today might get the feeling in retrospect that Canada has been under something akin to “foreign occupation” since possibly as far back as 1963. The “occupiers” are not of course “foreigners” — but Canada’s own self-hating, self-alienated intellectual and cultural elites.
Even a person who sees both these elites and virtually all the resulting changes as highly positive, would probably indeed agree, that from the mid-1960s forward, a “new regime” has been constructed in Canada – which has entailed the eclipse or attenuation of the old regime of a more traditional Canada.
Before the 1960s, while the Conservative (or, after 1942, Progressive Conservative) Party rarely held power at the federal level in Canada, the Liberal Party of figures like long-serving Prime Minister Mackenzie King could be characterized as centre-traditionalist, or traditionalist-centrist. While the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the precursor to the New Democratic Party) fought against the obvious inequities of capitalist economics, it was mostly socially conservative, to a large extent upholding traditional notions of nation, family, and religion.
It could be argued that what has occurred in Canada since the mid-1960s, has been a massive social and cultural transformation and revolution, the size and extent of which are mostly imperceptible to most persons today, precisely because all the social and cultural changes have been so huge. The changes have been so massive and overwhelming, that very few persons remember the so-called old ways. And there are in fact huge juridical, administrative, media, and educational infrastructures that serve to maintain the ideological hegemony of the current-day regime. As George Orwell noted, those who can control society’s understanding of the past, control the present, and those who control the present, control the future. Nevertheless, the social and cultural consequences of all this radical change must at some time have an increasingly negative impact on the future of Canada.
It would seem absurd that a straight line of evolution could be drawn from traditional Canada’s triumph at Vimy Ridge, to the enactment since the 1960s of what could be called the “Canada Two.”
Indeed, it could be argued that – insofar as it is holding together today at all – current-day Canada is to a large extent coasting on the residues of genuine patriotism and Christian religiosity, and of the habits of good government and hard work, which the excesses of the new regime have not yet been able to undermine. It may also be considered that Canada being the world’s second largest country in surface area, with huge natural resources, it would take a really special kind of stupidity to run the country’s economy and physical infrastructure into the ground.
However, those who take their bearings purely from economic achievement, and therefore pronounce current-day Canada a success, forget that matters of society, culture, soul, and spirit, are far more important in the world-historical calculus of power-relations between different nations and religions of the world.
Indeed, history teaches us that a confident, exuberant belief in one’s own culture and greatness, can often be a tremendous force-multiplier in the battles and struggles between various nations and religions. Just think of the absolute self-confidence of the Spanish Conquistadors, or of the typical, 19th-century British Imperialist – and, centuries ago as well as today — of the typical Jihadi.
Insofar as Canada today appears to be mostly steered by its self-hating, self-alienated, intellectual and cultural elites, this has not served Canada well during its recent engagement in Afghanistan – or for the chances of Canada itself surviving its current-day, near-total social and cultural fraying and fragmentation.
One finds in Canada’s WASP elites a curious mixture of self-interest and self-hatred. The self-interest is to some extent obvious – they enjoy a standard of living far, far above that of the poor whom they claim to champion, as well as of the “reactionary” lower middle classes whom they usually loathe. At the same time, members of the WASP elites seem to compete among themselves to reach the most absurd extent of self-abasement before multifarious “recognized minorities.” One can almost never find among them the slightest sense of a confident, exuberant belief in a more authentic Canada.
Insofar as one could try to recapture the spirit of Vimy today, it would probably be in some kind of painstaking endeavour of slow restoration of what has been lost to Canada since the 1960s.
Since there clearly have also been positive aspects in Canada’s development since the 1960s, it has been proposed that a more positive evolution of Canada’s future could be termed “Canada Three.” The idea is to synthesize the salutary aspects of traditional Canada with the more positive achievements of the post-1960s period – such as the widely spread prosperity. Insofar as the influences of the stupefying mass media and mass education systems could somehow be mitigated, Canada’s beneficial economic climate could ensure a far worthier, far nobler life for most Canadians – indeed constituting a more genuine prosperity – in a fuller meaning of the term. To a large extent, this would be the recognition of the importance of the non-materialistic ethos of traditional patriotism and religiosity, civic-mindedness, and traditional humanistic scholarship, as well as the imparting of the ability to live within one’s means, and the repudiation of the excesses of the current-day, pop-culture-driven, consumerism/consumptionism.
These concerns can to some extent be expressed today within the ambit of ecological and environmentalist tendencies, however prone they are to political-correctness. Indeed, ecology is about the most obviously positive element of what is conventionally considered the Left that the so-called left-wing can offer to the majority of Canadians.
The main hope is for a society that could be far more stable socially, culturally, and ecologically, yet be technologically advanced and economically prosperous as well.
Canada’s triumph at Vimy Ridge can be an inspiration especially for those engaged in the “culture wars” at home. It could be argued that it will be the social, cultural, and political struggles in Canada itself that will dictate whether the country can actually muster enough confidence to use decisive force, even when confronted by a direct threat to its survival – or if Canada – in any more meaningful sense — will simply disappear from the world-historical scene a few decades from now, with little better than a whimper.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher. Earlier versions of this article have appeared in Enter Stage Right and Quarterly Review (UK).