Civic Nation Good, Ethnic Nation Bad

A certain Ramsay Cook, the one who called me a “national socialist” in the late sixties, defines the ethnic nation as having “a language, history and culture that marks them out as a separate people,” while “a civic nation” has only “common civic values” (Globe & Mail, November 10, 2006). In Quebec, says Cook, many “allophones” and Anglophones don’t share the French language and culture, and only some of the history. Therefore, if the Quebec nation is deemed to have a common language, etc., that would exclude the “allophones” and anglophones.

I’m confused. Is the U.S. not the very model of a civic nation? Does it not have a common language, culture and history? Do immigrants not over time, while retaining aspects of their original heritage, take on American culture, etc., as their own? If many “allophones” don’t share Quebec’s French culture, etc., is this perhaps because they actually form part of the formerly dominant English Canadian minority? If Quebec were not a Canadian province but a country, would this non-sharing continue to be sustainable?

Maybe I’m confused because it’s actually not so easy to make a sharp distinction between “ethnic” and “civic.” Let’s hear it for fuzzy boundaries!

In the universal homogeneous state, civic nations are gooood, ethnic nations are baaaad. Is Tibet an ethnic nation? Bad! Not to worry, though, the Chinese Capitalist Party is loading Tibet with Han Chinese. Soon, ethno-religious Tibet will be just another pavilion in the global civic Disney World.

Is Ukraine an ethnic nation? Bad! Is Scotland a civic nation? I asked my colleague Don Forbes. “Of course,” he replied. “Oh, really? What quaint ethnicities does it contain?” “Obvious,” said he, “the MacTavishes, MacDonalds, MacAllisters, MacPhersons, Camerons, etc.” “So,” I said, “Scotland is not an eeeevil ethnic nation, like barbaric England!”

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