Nostalgia for the British Empire

8 07 2011

Two recent news items got me thinking about nostalgia for the British Empire in its erstwhile colonies.

1) A recent poll  revealed that 60% of Jamaicans thought that they would be better off today had their country remained a British colony. (Jamaica became independent 50 years ago).

The poll prompted Errol Townshend of Scarborough, Ontario to send the following letter to the editor of the Gleaner, Jamaica’s paper of record.

THE EDITOR, Sir:

May I disagree with your guest columnist Bert Samuels, in his article titled ‘Chase dem crazy bald heads …’ last Friday, that it has been the miseducation of our populace that has caused a majority of Jamaicans in a recent Bill Johnson poll to indicate a preference for colonialism over Independence.

While the poll results are disappointing, particularly as we approach 50 years of Independence, they were not entirely unexpected. What has happened is that our values and attitudes have become so warped that everything now turns on money and materialism. That is the Jamaica of today. Once these become the sole barometers of ‘progress’, one has only to look around the Caribbean today to see which islands are making this ‘progress’: Bermuda, Cayman (our former colony), Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, all outposts of the former British Empire over which the sun has not yet set. Is it any wonder then that our polls should reflect that? ERROL W.A. TOWNSHEND ewat@rogers.com, Canada

One suspects that Mr. Townshend migrated from Jamaica to Canada. If so, one wonders whether material factors such as money influenced this decision.  Materialism isn’t necessarily a bad thing– the real question is whether British rule actually promoted the material interests of Jamaicans.

2) A journal called the Dorchester Review has been established in Canada. Founded by non-academics with an interest in Canadian history, the Dorchester Review appears to be designed as a forum for non-nationalist or anti-nationalist perspectives on Canada’s past.  The contributors to the first issue include C.P. Champion, a civil servant, Conrad Black, a former newspaper proprietor, and D.-C. Bélanger, a historian at the University of Ottawa.

The journal’s mission statement contrasts its agenda with that of the Canadian Forum, which was founded in 1920 “to trace and value those developments of art and letters which are distinctively Canadian.” According to the mission statement, the “mandate of The Dorchester Review is very nearly the opposite. The nationalism that began with the 1920s centre-left has in some ways produced a narrowing effect on the country’s imagination.”

First of all, I don’t think that it is accurate to say that Canadian nationalism was invented in the 1920s. Canadian nationalism was a well-developed strand in Canadian thought before the First World War, although it was perhaps overshadowed by the rival ideologies such as continentalism, imperialism, and the doctrine of Anglo-Saxon racial unity, schools of thought that are with us still. I recall that when the Iraq War started,a national newspaper in Canada argued in favour of Canada’s participation on the grounds of ethnic solidarity, remarking that “Canada was an Anglo-Saxon country”. Needless to say, such an idea is poison to the notion of a pan-Canadian nationalism embracing all inhabitants of Canada without distinction. To my mind, the tragic thing about the career for Laurier is that he went from advocating a pan-Canadian civic nationalism/independence to accepting a British knighthood and supporting Canadian participation in two British wars.

Anyway, the review is named in honour of Guy Carleton, first Baron Dorchester, the British governor associated with the Quebec Act of 1774. “In our choice of a moniker and historical patron we take the name of a bewigged British soldier, an astute and unapologetic colonial governor from the pre-democratic era, in order to underline that history consists of more than a parade of secular modern progressives building a distinctively Canadian utopia. That the King [George III] praised Sir Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester, as ‘a gallant and sensible man’ is no small recommendation.”

Although the editors of the Dorchester Review appear hostile to the Canadian Forum, they do not mention any other publications, such as the Canadian Historical Review, a scholarly journal, or Canada’s History, the popular magazine formerly known as The Beaver.  It is unclear whether the editors of the DR agree or disagree with the perspectives on the Canadian past presented in the pages of those publications.  It is probably safe to say that the agenda of Canada’s History  is to promote Canadian patriotism and the sense of Canada as a “nation”, as it is published by “Canada’s National History Society”. Although the board of Canada’s History contains a Quebec nationalist, Jacques Lacoursière, the main thrust of the magazine is to promote a pan-Canadian civic nationalism. The same cannot be said for the Canadian Historical Review, which contains articles written from a variety of non-nationalist and even anti-nationalist perspectives.

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One response

8 07 2011
trevorparsons

Would it not make sense for Jamaicans to look towards either a recreated union of anglo-caribbean nations that existed during the 1950s or a union with Canada which from my research was discussed before the First World War during Laurier’s and Borden’s ministries.

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