Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Does Our View of History Matter Anyway?

I don't believe we should remain stuck in the past. Nor should we idolize our forebears. Our ancestors do have lessons for us. But these lessons are based on their humanity: their failings, dreams, struggles and faith. They are lessons we can relate to in our own lives as we seek to move into a better future.

But over the past forty years, most analysis of history and public policy discussions have taken a materialist approach. History books talk about Acts, events, and results, not dreams, grand visions and the emotions of historical figures. Their religion is either scoffed at or ignored.

Fiscal reality, not emotional attachments, governs public policy. Political leaders love to tell us that 19th Century based political and cultural arrangements that 'hamstring' politicians and economic interests don't make sense. The idea that such arrangements were made with full intention of curtailing power of elected officials and economic interests is usually forgotten in discussions about the future of Canada.

We have adopted a materialist approach that says feelings, dreams and emotions do not matter. Politicians and political theorists have relegated symbols such as the Crown, flags, and anthems to political fluff that to be changed 'at will' without any concern for the effect this has on citizens' attachment to their country or on the structures safeguarding citizens' rights. International relationships are simply utilitarian.

This view says Treaties and constitutional arrangements regarding language, religious rights and the role of provinces or the role of the Crown or its representatives don't matter to us, because we weren't born when those arrangements were made. We can change them even when they leave out an original party to the agreement -- as Quebec was left out 1982. (Change is seen as good. Waiting for agreement and timing that works for everybody is deemed not necessary.)

But the vision that built Canada was based on dreams, faith and big ideas. It was also based on on consensus of peoples and regions. 19th century 'political elites (especially in London), colonial administrators, and capitalists' rarely thought of the rights of individuals. The idea that colonists could keep political and cultural arrangements they loved -- and sometimes died to protect -- and turn themselves into nations was unthinkable to the guys who hung around gentlemen's clubs in London and New York. Why not sell out the rights of colonists in order to facilitate trade across the Atlantic?

But the colonists dared to dream impossible dreams. They believed that it did not matter what the 'money men' said. They could turn Rupert's Land and British North America into a sovereign nation without war and without severing ties to the rest of the Empire. (These visions of interdependence and peaceful transformation remain key parts of the Canadian identity.) They believed God could intervene in impossible situations.

By the mid 1880's their faith and hard work not only had made their dreams reality, it was beginning to change their Empire into sovereign nations (dominions) within the Empire. While the bureaucrats in London thought this was merely a change in status for 'their' colonies, colonists from Canada to Australia were dreaming that their nations would be equal in status to Britain and that they, and their fellow colonists from many nations, would have as much protection from the Queen's government as the Lords, Ladies, and Financiers of the realm.

This is what the Commonwealth of Nations is actually intended to be, but it goes a step further by recognizing that groups such as the Indigenous peoples of Australia and the First Nations of Canada ought to have protection equal to their 'colonist' neighbour. And that the poor should be protected as much as the rich.

This is why we continue to see Our Queen and her representatives visit hospitals and espouse the rights of the poor and minorities. It is also the reason The Crown recognizes the accomplishments of artists, writers, theologians, innovations, community leaders and even individual acts of heroism. It is why the Queen quotes Bible verses and speaks of role of many faiths in the lives of people throughout the Commonwealth -- and only a few radical materialists protest that she is the embodiement of the union of 'faith and public life.' Why? Because, in Canada, it is the Crown's role to acknowledge that there is more to life than 'materialism.'

The Fathers of Confederation recognized that politicians and businessmen should not have total control of the nation. They recognized that one class or one part of the Empire should not run over the rights of others. It was a world changing dream, based more on poetry than rationalism. (And no they didn't get it perfect, but that is a post for another day.)

My next post will talk about some of the dreamers who created our country and consider what role 'Dreams and Grand Visions' still play in this nations of 'dreamers, innovators and poets.

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