Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

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[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On the rattachistes

I may have overstated my annoyance with the willingness of many Americans to favour the annexation of Canada into the United States. This 2002 poll reporting that 40% of Americans favoured the annexation of Canada does suggest that annexationist sentiments are soft and ill-formed.

"I wouldn't worry about the army coming," said Christopher Sands, director of the Canada Project for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

"I don't think there's any manifest-destiny thinking much in the United States anymore. People don't want to just acquire territory."

Sands said he was somewhat puzzled by the "high minority" of Americans who said Canada should be annexed. However, he speculated the responses were an indication of goodwill and welcome towards Canadians should the government ever decide on its own that it wants to join the United States.

Canadians are no longer the strangers to Americans they once were, added Sands. So Americans are now more accepting of the cultural and political differences between the two countries than they were in the past and they aren't in a rush to launch a takeover of their neighbours to the north.

Harold Waller, who teaches U.S. politics at McGill University in Montreal, said Canadians should view the poll result as more of a curiosity than a real window on how Americans see us.

"I doubt if the average American knows enough about Canada to make a reasoned assessment, what the pros and cons might be," said Waller. "There's really an abysmal level of ignorance about Canada in the United States so I don't know what conclusions you can reach."

The sentiment of these Americans, I'd argue, is comparable to the rattachistes who would like to attach this "cap le plus nord-nord-est de la France" to France following the dissolution of the Belgian state, perhaps (as Réseau Voltaire suggested) as a way to compensate France for the Federal Republic's annexation of East Germany. I doubt that the French would mind annexing Wallonia, that region's rust-belt industries and high unemployment aside.

This sort of mindset--the belief that smaller territories populated by your perceived kin shyould be added to your own nation, the better to enhance its glory and make things better for everyone--is less ominous than Russian nationalist argument that Ukraine is Malorussia, or the People's Republic threatening war if the Taiwanese declare independence, or--most famously--the permanent gloom cast upon the idea of assimilating Austria into the German federal state by the events of the 1930s and the 1940s. It's rather unlikely that Liège or London (in Ontario) would be conquered, for starters, and mass deaths among civilian populations would be unlikely. Even so.

Even so, these various irredentist tendencies--soft or hard, demcoratic or murderous--all make the slighting assumptions that inconvenient national identities (Canadian, Walloon, Ukrainian, Taiwanese, Austrian) are ultimately products of false consciousness, illegitimate and not of equal value. And really, isn't this tendency to favour the voluntary expansion of one's nation into areas which should belong to it just the time-honoured strategy of dealing with internal problems by engaging in foreign expansion? The assumption that these peoples should naturally belong to "us" is also problematic, particularly in contexts where democratic choice is rejected. What do you do to errant people who deny their obvious membership in your nation? What can be done?

What's particularly interesting about the rattachiste tendency is that small minorities in the populations slated for annexation support it. Take Canada, formed in response to threats from a post-Civil War United States (see the Annexation Bill of July 1866) and marked by endless controversy over what was known as reciprocity in the first century of Canada and as free trade. It's a central tenet of Canadian identity to fear that Canada is at risk of becoming the 51st state; back in the War of American Independence, Canada nearly became the 14th. (Nova Scotia as the 15th would have taken some work, given the dispersion of the New England settlements and Britain's naval strength.) And yet, some prominent Canadians have supported annexationist movements, or at least an intensification of Canadian-American relations. Why? Supporting the annexation of Canada is, for these people, a way of contesting the actions of the Canadian state by denying its very legitimacy. This legitimacy, in turn, depends on how well the state works: Eastern Ukraine is more likely to break away to Russia than southern Ontario is to become the 51st state for a reason.

What do I think of the rattachistes, at home and abroad? They mean well, certainly, and I am flattered. I just don't think that it will work, or that it should work. Small nations are good, too.
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