A commenter on a friend's blog recently expressed his incredulity at the notion, beloved of our Canada-bashing elites, that "Canadian anti-Americanism is always petty and smug and parochial and morally superior"--that it victimises a blameless people who have earned a higher esteem. Another commenter chimed in to defend this elite view, arguing that Canadian "anti-Americans" always experience their consumption of American stereotypes as "fact rather than... [as] prejudice".
As is usual whenever this topic is broached, the terms of the discussion were hopelessly opaque. Canadian chauvinism is rarely defined properly, as, being so rare, very few samples of it have been available for detailed analysis. Nevertheless, a few assertions may be made with a fair deal of certainty.
First, very few Canadian chauvinists, anti-American or otherwise, exist. They are not allowed to exist. Our civic soil has been salted against the growth of something as elementary as civic consciousness and is utterly incapable of nurturing anything as grand as civic pride or as passionate as its extremity, chauvinism.
Our schools teach that Canada was accidentally confected as a bland stew of disparate regionally and ethnically differentiated ciphers whose greatest achievement has been to agree to disagree. Two of our loudest and most influential provinces (as well as the nation's richest, craftiest, and most ideologically-driven political party) long ago adopted an official "Canada-Sucks" approach to federalism that has had an enormously deflationary impact on our national morale. Virtually every post-war Canadian nationalist who has attempted a public career has been destroyed. Diefenbaker, Gordon, and Orchard are the triumvirs of a tradition that has faced nothing but relentless ridicule, sneering odium and total, ignominious, unmitigated defeat. What is de rigueur for all political hopefuls in the Great American Republic--stentorian, chest-beating, monomaniacal, triumphalist xenophobia--is poison here. An avowed Canadian nationalist who premises his campaign on any kind of xenophobia would have a better chance of winning public office if he produced glossy posters of himself performing a lewd and lascivious act upon the decaying corpse of an infant Emperor penguin and hand-delivered them to the editors-in-chief of each of our major dailies.
Now, many Canadians are indifferent to America; many others see the U.S. as rather odd, funny, or exotic, but such dispositions can hardly be considered actively malign except by those of our continentalist compatriots who share America's glass-jaw ego. I've certainly never met a Swede who is tempted to interpret broad Canadian indifference to Sweden as "anti-Swedishness", and I've yet to see a Nigerian grumble about our crude "anti-Nigerianism". To Americans and their useful idiots in our Vichy milice (who volunteer to help keep us uppity Canucks in our place), all that is not rabid pro-American fealty is seen as sullen belligerence.
True anti-American chauvinism would require a philosophical grounding or a point of analytical departure from which to critique the United States as such, in respect of its foundational rationale, its mission, and the execution of that mission. My own chauvinism (for it is a chauvinism, admittedly) is such a creature. I think America is otiose per se--a noisome latrine filled to overflowing by the worst case of cultural dysentery ever to afflict Western civilisation. It would be idle to accuse me of being anti-American; one might as well "accuse" me of being right-handed. I accept the term as a fairly non-controversial description. Any normal Canadian would flinch at the epithet and attempt to escape it. I do not and will not. In fact, I proudly insist on the appellation: I've earned it in ways that most others who've been saddled with the tag have not and would not try to (actually, I prefer "un-American", but "anti-American", which is always readier to hand to the obstreperous Canada-bashing hecklers who are prone to fling it, will do).
No. Most Canadians who seem anti-American are merely reacting to specific American acts of cupidity, arrogance and fecklessness. It is not "petty and smug and parochial and morally superior" to complain of another nation's stupidity or venality. Otherwise, it would be "petty and smug and parochial and morally superior" of Americans to express concern over Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions. Are Americans uncomfortable because they smugly believe that, while safe in the hands of God-fearing Anglo-Saxons like themselves, nuclear technology is sure to bring the planet to grief if it lands in the hands of a tribe of swarthy, savage, idol-worshipping rag-heads? Well, yes, actually, they are, but that is precisely the point: I do not think Americans hate Iranians per se (though some do, I'm sure); they hate what they are doing. Likewise, most Canadians do not hate Americans per se; but many Canadians hate many things that Americans do.
Thus, the distinction is key: chauvinism is unconditional hatred of other nations on principle, even when they are at their best, while circumstantial critiques of another nation's collective gestures are not only legitimate in all cases but are inevitable and probably necessary when the offending nation is at its worst. Two cases may help to illustrate how to apply the rule governing this distinction.
In the first, we will rend the veil of charity that has been drawn around this fiasco, and recall that, in retaliation for France's refusal to become part of the "Coalition of the Willing" (aka "The Rag-Tag Gaggle of Ex-Warsaw Pact Kleptocracies"), French fries were re-named "Freedom Fries" by Congressional fiat in an act hitherto unequalled for sheer, pettifogging parochialism.
Let us assimilate, slowly, the full meaning of this event. On the day this childish tantrum occurred, the most powerful nation on Earth felt so aggrieved and threatened by France's supremely commendable act, that its House of Representatives pushed aside trivial national concerns such as poverty, crime and health care in order to wash the stain of "France" from the nation's psychic undergarments through a Stalinist re-christening of some of its junk food. This is how the legislative body of the world's sole superpower spent part of its day. Rest assured that this folly was not limited to the nation's elites; in a stirring example of the can-do spirit of enterprise that distinguishes America's grass-roots, restaurants throughout the nation had already begun to use the Francophobic phrase for the fries. Many have kept the name to this day.
Now, think of what triggered this self-abasing idiocy: the French government had merely respected the will of the overwhelming majority of the people at whose pleasure it serves; France's polite and legitimate refusal to wage a fraudulent war of choice was the fruit of its adherence to democratic principles. France is not averse to military interventions (witness its recent operations in Cote D'Ivoire and elsewhere), but this was a restrained, cautious France--France at its best, and, as such, it was demonised by American chauvinists (who, naturally, would still have reflexively vituperated the French as effete surrender-monkeys even if they had joined the pro-war mob). Ultimately, this vulgar comedy needs to be seen as a nation at its worst heaping scorn upon a nation at its best; this is chauvinism, and it forms part of the circumstantial unease that many Canadians felt towards post-9/11 America.
The second example hits closer to home. We will recall that, within hours of the WTC disaster, American media began to report a Canadian connection to the hijackers. To my knowledge, the origin of this urban legend has never been identified (I doubt if anyone has even looked for it--strangely, as I find the question fascinating), but its consequence was that, within a week, millions of Americans were convinced that the hijackers had infiltrated the U.S. from Canada. Despite John Ashcroft's later assurances to the contrary, this myth proved enormously resilient, propagated as it was by squalid right-wing talk-radio hacks and Canada-hating Republicans. As late as 2005, Newt Gingrich was still keeping it alive.
As not a shred of evidence was ever produced in support of the myth, it is hard not to assume that its noxious spores were spread by a visceral American fear and hatred of the "Other", and of a particular "Other"--that "commie-loving", secular, collectivist Siberia where all colours and creeds are allowed to mix promiscuously in an ungodly, insalubrious mélange adultère de tout ungraced by the discipline of the American Way of Life. The myth was a Scarlet Letter threaded upon an eccentric misfit by ignorant and frightened townsfolk.
The rationalisations came later, after Washington was forced to admit the obvious. The hijacking might not be our can to carry, but Canada had a "porous border", we were told. Our immigration policies were too lax; we let too many people in, many of them probably undesirable, some of them probably even "anti-American". We were told to clean up our act and tighten the tap on our newcomers (this from a nation that admits to having around twelve million illegal aliens).
Thus we were resented, not for doing anything actually dangerous, but for having a liberal immigration policy, the kind of policy Americans think they have--the one expressed by the kitsch mawkishness of the Statue of Liberty ("give us your non-Muslims, your huddled Caucasians yearning to breathe free") and gauzy, nostalgic visions of Ellis Island. Americans, at their vindictive, parochial worst, resented Canada for a liberality fully within the tradition that America was once a part of (and affected to lead), and some of us (Carolyn Parrish, for one) reacted with a vehemence born of understandable exasperation, not at America as such, but at its pettiness. This, too, illustrates the difference between rank chauvinism and contextual critique.
Chauvinism is an art. It's the one art Americans take seriously, and, thus, they excel at it. Someday, we may be competitive, but I doubt it. We're far too nice...to others, that is; we hate each other.