...[Y]our country, and particularly your conservative movement, is a light and an inspiration to people in this country and across the world.The delivery here is so unforced, so unaffected, that one is tempted to conclude that Harper actually believed what he was saying--that he had actually seen Canadians lovingly hang upon their living-room walls watercolour portraits of Newt Gingrich, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and Jerry Falwell. This is odd, as the Canadians I knew tended to greet any mention of those names with either a derisive chuckle or the ejection of their breakfasts.
Harper continued his rhetorical guoualante:
Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it. Canadians make no connection between the fact that they are a Northern European welfare state and the fact that we have very low economic growth, a standard of living substantially lower than yours...Here, Harper managed to boil into a bilious stew all that has served as the main ingredients of Calgary School, libertarian-continentalist rage for fifteen years: two transparent facts--that Canada is very "European" and that it is a social-democratic "welfare state", and two egregious falsehoods--that Canada suffers from low economic growth and that her living standard falls below that of the United States.
The resilience of the latter two myths among our lib-con elite and their acolytes can be explained only as an obdurate insistence upon taking Canada's "inferiority" as an a priori assumption in total disregard of the available evidence, as both myths are effortlessly debunked. Canada has been outperforming the U.S. and her other OECD partners in economic growth throughout the last decade, and Canada's overall quality of life has been besting America's for years .
Incidentally, the U.N. Human Development Index (HDI) calculates quality of life according to a data set that actually matters (e.g. life expectancy, access to health care, crime rates, etc.) rather than a lone, crude GDP-per-capita criterion, a dishonest technique much beloved of right-wing "think-tanks" like the Fraser Institute. Naturally, the fact that Canada's GDP-per-capita ratio is lower than America's has practically no quality-of-life implications, as OECD economist Peter J. Nicholson explains:
Of course, very few people apart from economists would think to equate their standard of living with their country’s GDP per capita. It is a pure abstraction. And while per capita output does correlate with most social and economic indicators of well-being and development, the relationship is not strictly one-to-one within the group of advanced countries...In fact, the United States lags both Canada and the OECD average on many social indicators, probably reflecting the more unequal distribution of income in the United States than in Western Europe and Canada.In any event, using such a criterion as a quality-of-life standard provides some odd results indeed, with nations such as Qatar, Brunei, Singapore and Cyprus apparently enjoying a standard of living far higher than Canada's. This is the kind of gibberish to which libertarian-continentalist cultists are willing to lend credence. Embarrassing.
Now, having disposed of the most predictable and dismissible features of Harper's anti-Canadian diatribe, we may now move onto the more curious and less often voiced lib-con a priori delusion--which Harper no doubt felt safe expressing to a reliably Europhobic group of nativist, exceptionalist Republicans--that Europe is a stagnant shambles of inefficiency, sloth and cultural decline. Like so much of the lib-con hallucinatory repertoire, this belief requires a scrupulous refusal to apply elementary logic to the key data.
I was reminded of this when I read about the "World Happiness Rankings" compiled by researchers at Holland's Erasmus University. The study ranks nations according to how happy their inhabitants are with their lives and how hopeful they are for their futures. The top tier is dominated by the social democracies of Northern Europe and correlates almost exactly to the top fifteen of the U.N.'s HDI. On both lists, Canada is in the top ten, while America is not. Additionally, on the latest Foreign Policy Failed States Index, the same group of European nations monopolise the top positions (are thus the most successful states), with Canada in the top ten and the U.S. quite far behind.
Canada's proximity to the nations of Northern Europe on these kinds of socio-economic indices may suggest, indeed, the kind of cultural propinquity that so deeply disturbs Calgary School jihadis like Harper, yet I doubt if such affinity as exists between us and Northern Europe has been deliberately cultivated. Those of our post-war initiatives that had European prototypes--socialised health-care, military unification, free trade--were pursued virtually without reference to their Europeanness, even, in many cases, without significant public awareness that they were, in fact, European ideas (free trade, for instance, is seen as a basically "American" idea, in apparent ignorance of Adam Smith, not to mention the Hanseatic League, whose practices anticipated his theories by about three hundred years).
Ultimately, our European instincts are the product of Anglo-French cultural foundations and a social superstructure that has been enriched by massive immigration and has been keener to pursue progressive (i.e. European) initiatives than regressive ones. These instincts flow from our cultural DNA. Harper can rage against them, but he might as well rage against the sun for rising.
But what if we were bereft of an indigenous cultural orientation--as lib-con ideologues insist we are--and had to choose one? What would be the wisest choice? Does the United States not offer a preferable model? Has the current state of Europe not demonstrated the barrenness of the European cultural project?
Frankly, I find it difficult to see how one could resist conceding to Europe a vast superiority over the United States in every quality-of-life category of real significance, as the above indices indicate (here, I am speaking of the "Old", Western Europe that Donald Rumsfeld petulantly deplored , not the "New" Europe--that dilapidated, corrupt, Third-World wasteland and "GWOT" warrior--to which Rumsfeld is so grateful). The states of Northern Europe especially, after more than five centuries of modern development, have retained identities unchanged in their essentials--have, most of them, even retained unbroken royal dynasties (as have we)--and have managed to graft onto this sustained ancientness an economic dynamism fully as potent, if not proportionately more so, than that of the United States.
In general, Western Europe's most comprehensive modern cultural transformations (democratisation and secularisation) have not altered its fundamental nature. It remains a region where savoir vivre reigns. Its overall cultural disposition--valuing literature, the arts, philosophy, and good wine over the corporate ethic of obsessive acquisition, porcine consumption and febrile over-production--would be easily intelligible to Charlemagne. America has about eight hundred more years to go before it evinces a comparable longevity.
A few words must be said about that part of Europe which most thoroughly commands the respect of a Canadian Tory (and especially a Popish one!), as it most brilliantly displays the one European talent which is so necessary to us--that of weaving a living indigenous tradition together with an advanced, modern economy.
As Northern Europe crawled out of the Dark Ages, the Irish braved the ruthless depredations of marauding Vikings and turned their island into the cultural headquarters of the Western World. Their monasteries bred the missionaries that converted the pagan masses of England and the continent and, as centres of scholastic research, attracted men of learning from around the known world. The sheer energy and commitment with which the Irish pursued their evangelising mission preserved the Latin tradition at a time when it was under serious threat of irrecoverable extinction.
A thousand years later, Catholicism is still Ireland's pre-eminent cultural engine, despite decades of creeping secularism. Many will regret that abortion is still outlawed there, that divorce has only recently been legalised, and that the school system is still run entirely by the Church. Nevertheless, this represents a stunning cultural continuity and must render nugatory the preposterous proposition--constantly iterated by our Europhobes--that Europe has not a vestige left of its heritage.
While cherishing their heritage, the Irish have pursued a sophisticated programme of cultural exportation, arguably coming second only to Americans in the intensity of their aggressive cultural exploitation. Their mixed economy has allowed them to achieve social-democratic objectives, with state interventionism much deeper than ours, while experiencing incredible rates of economic growth--between 6% and 11% throughout much of the last decade. Ireland, still ancient in so many ways, has nevertheless placed within the top ten in the U.N.'s HDI rankings over the last few years.
Ireland offers a gladdening threading together of savoir vivre, respect for tradition, progressive social policy, and economic power--something very much like the path we have taken, though the Irish have been free to make their journey unfreighted by the mortmain of an elite full of self-hating cranks perpetually bleating their certainty that the fruits of their national development are just not good enough and never will be until they acknowledge their irremediable unfitness for nationhood (actually, Ireland was plagued by such people, until Michael Collins liquidated them all).
Thus, the choice, were we forced to make it, would be clear. Fortunately, we needn't worry: we are, perforce, as European (in the best sense) as we could possibly be, quite by happy accident. As George Grant reminds us, it is precisely our anti-revolutionary maintenance of the Western European tradition that inscribes our uniqueness upon the North American soil. So far as we have moved away from that tradition--and we have moved farther away than I would like--we have been dragged by the gravitational pull of the United States, for most about Canada that is inimical to the European ethos is of American manufacture. To those of you who will object that America is a worthy component of the Western tradition, not some freak lying outside of it, I reply that, if you really believe that the culture that produced the Louvre, St. Paul's Cathedral and Le Nozze di Figaro is the same culture that produced Las Vagas, Wal-Mart and "Fuck Tha Police", you understand little about either of them.
The annual Global Peace Index has just been released, ranking Canada as eleventh on a list of "most peaceful nations"--a list whose top echelon is dominated, unsurprisingly, by Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Last year, Canada was eighth; we slipped because of our involvement in Afghanistan and because nineteen more nations were added into the calculations. Our current ranking places us beside Switzerland and Sweden.
The U.S. comes in at ninety-seven, behind Kuwait, Nicaragua and Libya. Then again, ranking nations according to their commitment to peace is inherently anti-American...