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5 minute read
Charles Krauthammer

JUST HOURS AFTER THE QUEBEC REFERENDUM ON SEPARATION that came within a whisker of breaking up Canada–and may yet do so–President Clinton pronounced. “Ethnic diversity can be the hallmark of a strong and prosperous society,” said his spokesman. “The President has often said that our ethnic diversity here in America is one source of our greatest strength..and hopefully it will be for the people of Canada as well.”

Now, when commenting on an explosive marital spat occurring next door, it is incumbent on a neighbor to be diplomatic and sympathetic. But must one be fatuous too? Here is Canada, a great neighboring country, choking on cultural diversity, very nearly dying of cultural diversity–and the spokesman for the President of the U.S. offers a mindless, mantra-like homily in praise of the very source of Canada’s ongoing agony.

Yes, diversity can contribute to a country’s strength by producing a kind of hearty, hybrid culture and provoking new ways of thought and new avenues to genius. But for every such cultural synergy there are 10 cases–from the Balkans to the former Soviet Union, from Africa to Asia and now to North America–of cultural explosion, where the clash of ethnicities yields weakness, conflict, division, even war. Indeed, the bitterness of French Canada’s drive to amputate its century-old confederation with English Canada tells us much about the unexamined belief in the strength and beauty of the multicultural mosaic.

In their Oct. 30 referendum, half of Quebeckers–and a solid 60% of French speakers–said they want out of their partnership in a culturally diverse Canada. Why? For the answer, Americans might look no farther than Louisiana.

“Cajun” is a corruption of “Acadian,” a region of Nova Scotia that was home to many French Canadians until they were expelled by the British in the 1750s and ’60s. Many emigrated to Louisiana, then a French possession, where their language and culture withered, evolving into a kind of folk curiosity. Quebeckers do not want to go the way of the Cajun. They do not want to end up as some colorful ethnic subculture known for its music or cooking or the odd linguistic twist. Quebeckers are driven by a terror of being crushed by an English-speaking continent of 300 million into a mere cultural curiosity. Hence their hunger for political independence.

Oddly, and sadly, the solution does not answer the fear. Politics is no cure for cultural assimilation. A flag and an anthem do not assure cultural vitality. The faith that they will is as desperate as it is sentimental.

The real problem of Quebec is the problem of all small peoples in a world of irresistibly globalized commerce and culture. That separatism may not solve the problem is beside the point. Separatism is a fact, the single greatest political fact of the post-cold war world. With external enemies removed, with hybrid states no longer held together by hegemonic superpowers, the petty annoyances and existential difficulties of living in mixed-ethnic marriages within nation-states has become increasingly intolerable. From the former Yugoslavia to the former Czechoslovakia to the former Soviet Union, from Sri Lanka to Quebec, the tendency to separation is inexorable.

Nor is the U.S. immune to the attraction of separatism. Look, for example, at the rise of Louis Farrakhan, the leading black separatist in America. Look at the ethnic social policies, the school curriculums, the racially gerrymandered electoral districts that give an official imprimatur to the notion of the primacy of group over nation.

Which is why Quebec’s referendum is not the provincial story it seems. The 60% of French-speaking Quebeckers who voted to sever their political union with bicultural Canada are a herald of the death of diversity. They are a living refutation of the warm and cozy notion, based more on hope than on history, of multicultural harmony and strength. They are a warning.

After all, as former Toronto Sun editor Barbara Amiel points out, if multiculturalism cannot work in Canada, where can it work? If it cannot work in a country as civil, decent and tolerant as Canada–a country where the majority English speakers have been extraordinarily generous in granting all kinds of cultural protections, subsidies, special rights and privileges to the linguistic minority of French Canada–then where?

And if it cannot work in Canada, where the issue is the coexistence of just two (quite similar, one might note) cultures, how will it work in, say, Bosnia, with three, or India or America, with dozens? One looks at Canada and wonders whether the current naive and confident American celebration of cultural diversity–with its insistence on group rights over individual rights, sectarian history over American history, ethnic culture over a common culture–is leading us down a path from which there is no escape.

Canada has an escape. By accident of geography, separation is a real option because the different cultures inhabit different territories. For a country like America, where the different cultures are thoroughly intermixed, there is no such answer. Canada can break up cleanly; the U.S. cannot.

America is proceeding blithely down the path of diversity and ethnic separatism. America’s destination, however, is not Canada, which will find some civil way out of its dilemma. America’s destination is the Balkans.

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