It may be noticed that, as the processes of late modernity increasingly envelop the planet, many traditional ideas, notions, and concepts, are undergoing radical revision. Certainly, the ideas of treason and patriotism have been subject to enormous shifts since the beginning of the twentieth century.
Ideas of treason and patriotism are important to the Canadian situation for a variety of reasons. Much of traditional English-Canadian identity is bound up with the profession of loyalty to the Sovereign or Monarch. A person who fails to profess loyalty to the Sovereign or Monarch is, in the traditional conception, being disloyal to Canada. At the same time, there have been a number of times in current-day Canada when Québécois nationalists have been accused of treason. One should examine these accusations in the light of current thinking about what constitutes treason, in Canada as well as elsewhere.
Ideas of treason and patriotism seem to be most pronounced in societies which could be called traditional. The manifest showing of disloyalty to a country or nation, or its chief symbols, has often met with severe censure or punishment. At the same time, making common cause with one’s nation’s enemies, typically in the forms of espionage, sabotage, or extremely vocal agitation, was often considered “high treason,” punishable by death or long and harsh prison terms. Looking at the history of the second half of the twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty-first, it is hard not to conclude that, for Western societies at least, “treason is not what it used to be.”
The questions of loyalty as between Church and State have always been particularly difficult. According to English historian Edward Gibbon, much of the persecutions of Christians under the Roman Empire stemmed from the latter’s intransigence to make even the slightest recognition of loyalty to the Emperor (i.e., burning some incense before a statuette of the Emperor) which was interpreted by Christians not as a civic or patriotic ritual, but one of idolatrous recognition of the divinity of the Emperor rather than that of Christ. Christians would face the most severe tortures and death, rather than submit to this ritual.
Much later, English Catholics and French Protestants were almost invariably suspected of treason against their respective countries, and subject to the severest persecutions. The Huguenots of France – after such calamities as the St. Bartholomew’s Night Massacre — were almost entirely expelled in the end – becoming part of Protestant societies. The brief Catholic ascendancy of Queen Mary in England was continually characterized by Protestant English historians as a period of bloody persecution. Arguably, it was her Protestant successor Queen Elizabeth who carried out far more extensive persecutions of Roman Catholics. The so-called Test Acts introduced at a later period called for every person in the realm to receive communion in the Church of England two or three times a year, or be stripped of all civil and political rights. At that time, it was well-known that very few sincere and devoted Roman Catholics would consent to do that — so these were an odious vehicle for deliberate, mass disenfranchisement. One of the best indications of the ingrained anti-Catholicism of the English or British state were its habitual, derogatory references to “Popery”, or “the Romish church” (with its “Jesuit spies” and “Spanish Inquisition”), seen as “enemy number one.”
Nevertheless, Roman Catholicism in England managed to attract a long and illustrious lineage of intellectual apologists, such as Sir Thomas More, many of whom faced martyrdom.
The anti-Catholicism of the English or British state was largely transferred to America. In virtually any era of America’s history, one could point to periodic outbreaks of severe anti-Catholicism. Indeed, Roman Catholics have been under almost constant suspicion — whether from Protestant or secularist critics — of being “un-American.” At the same time, it must be pointed out that probably one of the largest desertions from the U.S. army occurred during the Mexican-American War, where the Mexicans were able to raise the so-called San Patricio battalion from Irish Catholic U.S. deserters and prisoners of war. The U.S. army unsurprisingly immediately hanged upon capture any identified member of this formation.
One of the most savage, modern armed conflicts between Church and State was the uprising of the so-called Cristeros in late-1920s Mexico – against a ferociously enforced secularization. There is a very recent major movie depicting this conflict – For Greater Glory.
Joseph McCarthy is today one of the most highly vilified figures in U.S. history. At the time he was active, however, many persons supported his crusade against “Communist traitors.” What precisely was McCarthy’s greatest crime? At the time he was active, America was indeed locked in a ferocious struggle with Soviet Communism. Were not those willing to be members of the U.S. Communist Party at that time, at the very least, very suspect elements? Should such persons have been allowed to continue to hold positions of high cultural and scientific influence? Should such persons have been allowed to continue to burrow their way into influential government departments? How much suffering was prolonged for decades in the Eastern Bloc by the fact that so many Western nuclear scientists of the 1940s and 1950s took it upon themselves to reveal as much as they knew about U.S. nuclear programs to the Soviet Union — presumably because they felt the U.S. was “unworthy” of exercising global power responsibly? Were these not legitimate security concerns of that day? McCarthy’s chief failing was grossly overplaying his hand in the end, which has subsequently made him appear as some kind of inquisitorial monster. Yet, it should also be remembered, how utterly inconsequential the social penalties meted out to most of these persons were, e.g., “not being allowed to direct big-budget Hollywood movies for ten years.” On the other hand, these persons were frequently not some milquetoast social democrats, but out-and-out apologists for Stalin, professional deniers of the many genocides carried out by Soviet Communism, and representatives of a then-active and dangerous evil. Unfortunately, the left-liberal friends of the far left have been able to utterly transvalue the meaning of McCarthy’s efforts to the point where “McCarthyism” has become a very sharp term of opprobrium. In reaction to the ever more amplified excesses of McCarthy, America became extremely skittish about properly identifying, condemning, and punishing treason.
This tendency was exacerbated in the Vietnam War era, because of the possible moral ambiguities of that conflict. What some Americans at that time saw as one of the most odious acts of treason in their history was Jane Fonda’s trip to Hanoi, where she manifestly “gave aid and comfort” to an enemy. The fact that Jane Fonda remains unpunished to this day for such manifest treason may be one indication of how far America’s self-conception as a nation has sunk. In some of the more recent spy-scandals, importantly placed moles who have done enormous damage to U.S. intelligence efforts, and actually betrayed other agents to death by torture, have received punishments which amount to being little more than symbolic. Is this how a nation that believes in itself behaves?
In the case of Jonathan Pollard, ever-increasing levels of mendacity have been reached. Because Pollard spied on behalf of a U.S. ally, it is often considered that he did nothing wrong. But what if Israel took that highly-sensitive information and used it as bargaining chips to obtain concessions of various sorts from regimes hostile to the U.S., e.g., the Soviet Union? Pollard had a large number of very prominent supporters in the U.S., who continued to press for his release, and eventually got their way.
Britain, of course, has had its own problems. A book about the famous Cambridge spy ring was very acerbically titled, “spies, lies, buggery, and betrayal.” The treason of the so-called “best and brightest” certainly attests to the decay of at least a part of Britain’s traditional ruling elites. John Le Carré, who was among the best-known writers of espionage novels in the world, was nourished on this kind of climate, and, although writing with enormous skill, tried to pretend that there was no moral difference between the Soviet Bloc and the West. His writing has certainly played a part in what has been called by critics, “the relativizing of treason.”
Canada was so innocent of the realities of the Cold War, that when Igor Gouzenko made his heroic defection in 1947, many Canadian government officials thought he was simply a lunatic, and considered sending him back!
Considering a figure like Igor Gouzenko, it may be noted that the Soviets, of course, saw him as a traitor, and sentenced him to death in absentia. So to say that a person should be bound by the obligations of loyalty towards a state, regardless of its ideological complexion and political realities, is fallacious.
One thing that can be noted right away is that no totalitarian state like that of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union throughout most of its history can legitimately and unquestionably claim the adherence of its population. In the case of authoritarian regimes, however, the admonition to reject and resist such a regime is less clear-cut.
In the case of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, conflicts have inevitably emerged between loyalty to a nation, and loyalty to a regime, and the degree of permissible collaboration with a regime while claiming to be serving one’s nation. One highly controversial case is that of Boleslaw Piasecki, who, in pre-World War II Poland, was the fanatical though extremely intellectually energetic leader of a small, extremist, far-right party, at the margins of Polish political life. However, there is still disagreement among historians as to how little – or how much – of an influence he had on pre-World War II Polish politics. After the war, he embarked on a painful strategy of collaboration with the new Communist authorities, which was perhaps an involuntary course, as his young son was under permanent threat from the Communists – and of course, he himself could have been shot – or gruesomely tortured to death — immediately, out-of-hand. Indeed, his son was eventually kidnapped, and brutally murdered, allegedly in a “ritualistic” fashion. The father was taunted for over a year with the possibility that he might yet ransom his son. Yet, the accusation of gross, opportunistic collaboration is often made against Piasecki, especially considering that men and women of clearly greater stature endured torture and death rather than show any kind of allegiance to the Soviet-imposed system. And it was only rarely possible to withdraw into a quite, apolitical life, even if one were so inclined. The Polish patriots were hounded by the Communist regime.
The Polish conservative journal Stanczyk (named after the famous, sixteenth-century court jester of the Polish Kings, known for his political wit and wisdom), had in an issue some years ago drawn attention to what they considered the questionable actions of a few post-World War II Polish émigrés in the early 1950s, who signed an agreement of cooperation (at the small Bavarian town of Berg) with American military intelligence, in exchange for monetary compensation. In the opinion of the Stanczyk journal, such an agreement then fatally compromised the Polish-Government-in-Exile in London, England. If so much of the Government-in-Exile’s funding was dependent on U.S. goodwill, it could not convincingly argue for such initiatives like a nuclear-free zone in Eastern Europe, something which might have potentially had enormous importance for Polish survival had war actually broken out. It turned out, furthermore, that the signatories to the agreement diverted much of the funds for their private use, thus exposing the underground network of Polish patriots working on their behalf in Poland to unnecessary risks, suffering, and, sometimes, execution. Indeed, the journal sees the signatories of this agreement with the Americans as real traitors.
There is also some division of opinion expressed in the journal concerning Colonel Kuklinski, who was among the highest-ranking East Bloc personnel to defect to the West. Some argue that, after the breakthrough of 1956, the Polish People’s Republic was an authoritarian, not a totalitarian regime, and that the weakening of Polish military capability vis-à-vis the West was not an unqualifiedly positive action. It later emerged, for example, that in the late 1950s to early 1960s, U.S. military planners had conceived a strategy for fighting in Europe called “Plan Vistula”. While some Poles, when hearing the plan’s name, might naively think this meant an offensive drive to liberate Poland, what it actually entailed was the creation, through nuclear saturation bombing, of a “zone of death” of about 200 kilometers wide across the breadth of Poland, in order to prevent Soviet armies from quickly reinforcing their main lines in East Germany. This would have resulted in the deaths of at least 20 million Poles. So U.S. military planning of that time absolutely disregarded the anti-Soviet potential of the Polish population. It took a surprisingly long time for U.S. grand strategy to see the peoples of Eastern Europe and Russia as potential allies, rather than enemy assets, in the Cold War conflict.
The Soviet Union had always had an uneasy relation with Russian nationalism. During the NEP (New Economic Plan) period, the regime was able to diffuse some of the Russian émigré opposition by appealing to Russian nationalism, and contriving to suggest that it would soon transform itself into a “true organic conservative” regime. These émigré supporters called themselves “the Changing Landmarks movement.” Many of them were lured back to their homeland, and soon thereafter disappeared. The NEP and disinformation strategy gave the Soviet Union a breathing space before its next lunge into totalitarian madness under Stalin. Indeed, the so-called kulaks (or more prosperous peasants) — who were the typical targets of massive campaigns of genocide under Stalin – had themselves largely come into existence as a result of the more relaxed period of the NEP. However, especially after Stalin’s death in 1953, the history of the Soviet Union did indeed move increasingly away from totalitarianism in the direction of authoritarianism and Russian nationalism.
It is by no means the case that only the claims to loyalty by totalitarian and authoritarian regimes are subject to question. It may be noted that some liberal democratic regimes in late modernity have evolved away from what was once the residual traditional content of their culture. There has emerged, therefore, the problem of “a tyranny from another direction”, not from the far right or far left, but perhaps from “the center.”
Around 1998 in the United States, there erupted a debate around a symposium sponsored by the journal First Things, edited by Richard Neuhaus. Father Neuhaus (at that time a Roman Catholic priest, formerly a Lutheran minister) had once been a close aide of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, as the U.S. situation soured over the decades, Neuhaus became increasingly rightward-leaning. The main theme of the symposium was the criticism of so-called “judicial usurpation”, i.e., that the various decisions of the U.S. Courts were driving the country in a direction undesired by the majority of the population. Laws supported by enormous majorities in the country were struck down by “activist” Courts, whereas any popular initiatives to change the direction of the country, were also being immediately declared unconstitutional. In the flush of debate, some of the symposium’s participants suggested that, if the popular will continued to be so manifestly blocked, perhaps armed insurrection was not out of the question.
The responses of the so-called neoconservative wing of the U.S. Right to these ideas were unreserved and ferocious. The symposium participants were accused of an “anti-Americanism” comparable to that of the Sixties’ Far Left. It seemed to have escaped the notice of the neoconservatives that pointing out the apparently illiberal and undemocratic nature of the current U.S. system has been a staple of conservative ideas in the U.S. since at least the 1960s.
From a traditionalist and/or conservative standpoint, there is precious little democracy or popular will left in a regime dominated by the managerial-therapeutic system of mass-media, Big Tech, mass-education, mass-bureaucracy, juridical legalism, etc., which seems to be exerting all efforts to make any kind of conservatism virtually impossible. Must then even the most patriotic American offer support to this system? In the 1990s, the burgeoning so-called Patriot Militia movement might have suggested the direction where the most patriotic-minded Americans were conceptually migrating. And it may be noted that left-liberals were not unwilling to deploy the sharp coercive arm of the state (elements of the FBI, BATF, etc.) against those they considered their enemies. Ironically, when the former “Sixties’ rebels” (i.e., mostly Baby Boomers), more-or-less achieved control of the government in the 1990s, including its coercive instrumentalities, far less attention was paid to “CIA/FBI wrongdoing” in that time. And today, left-liberals virtually worship the U.S. intelligence apparatus, which conservative critics have called “the Deep State”.
It could be argued that President Obama had combined the continuation of George W. Bush’s “War on Terror” abroad – in order to pacify neoconservative criticism – while pursuing an increasingly radical domestic agenda. No matter how many drone strikes and bombings he ordered abroad (to the applause of the neocons), the Left was also cheering him on, because it was getting what it wanted at home. Among Obama’s highly questionable actions in domestic policy have been the choosing of and continuing support for a highly egregious Attorney-General; the enactment of what amounts to an “administrative amnesty” for illegal immigrants – in a flaunting of Congress’s unwillingness to bring in such measures through legislation; and the nomination of very divisive figures to the Supreme Court.
So one may indeed be arriving at a stage in history when one may well begin to question the legitimacy of the U.S. regime, despite its apparently emphatically democratic nature. Would the rejection of and resistance to the current U.S. regime necessarily be considered as treasonous by American patriots? What kinds of rejection and resistance may be seen as legitimate, and which as illegitimate?
In terms of any potentially emerging civil conflict in the Canadian context (i.e., Canada vs. Quebec), the stance of the Canadian armed forces, as is the case in any such situation in any country, would be very important. Until the election of the Conservative government in 2006, Canada’s stance towards its military was one where it most manifestly diverged from traditional notions of patriotism. The funding of the military had been punitively cut over the last four decades, to the point where defence spending had reached little more than 5% of the annual federal government budget. The point had virtually been reached where the Canadian armed forces were “a joke”, yet they were still being continually assailed and devalourized in the mass media, academic, and government circles. At that unfortunate time, considering that probably over half of the combat-worthy land forces were French-Canadian, very many of them might have been tempted to cross over to the Quebec cause, where they might have thought they had better chances of receiving widespread social respect, decent pay, and up-to-date equipment. Furthermore, most of the rest of the military were English-speaking Canadians of British descent. Liberal Canada had been waging a long war against British traditions in Canada, proclaiming itself a multicultural society, and aggressively devalourizing straight white males. Would they have wanted to lift a finger to defend this new Canada which had continually repudiated and assailed them? So Harper’s revitalizing and re-valourizing of the Canadian military should be seen as one of the most important achievements of his government.
As the major global superpower, the U.S. perforce treats its military much better. Yet there, one could see some obvious problems in the 1990s. To many U.S. soldiers and officers, Clinton had very little moral authority as Commander-in-Chief, because of his obvious draft-dodging record. This was not helped by his evident penchant to send U.S. troops on U.N. missions that many Americans perceived as having little to do with real U.S. interests. There was an interesting case where a U.S. soldier refused orders to deploy to the Balkans, claiming that U.S. troops were being put under foreign command and deployed overseas without Congressional approval — a manifest violation of the Constitution. He was quickly thrown out of the military.
George W. Bush gained considerable support when he talked during his campaign of a more “humble” foreign policy. Unfortunately — in the aftermath of ‘9/11’ — his Administration was directed onto a course of war against Iraq. This was clearly a misdeployment of American strength, that some critics have called a “Sicilian Expedition”. Also, the intervention in Afghanistan – however necessary in the aftermath of ‘9/11’ — was built up into a multi-year (or possibly multi-decade) “nation building” undertaking, rather than a quick punitive strike.
In his 2003 hatchet-piece in the “new” National Review, David Frum pointedly accused a disparate group of conservative and libertarian figures critical of unlimited foreign interventions by the U.S., as “unpatriotic”.
It could be argued that Canada is a society which, before the 1960s, was largely more conservative and tradition-minded than the United States, but which, in the aftermath of the 1960s, has become far more liberal and progressive-minded (except for some residues of civility and politeness which should properly be credited to Canadian social conservatism).
It is important to ask how Canadian nationhood was traditionally defined. This is a question which many persons in Canada today are unwilling or unable to ask. Indeed, Canadian identity is today seen as a kind of conundrum or puzzle.
Up until the 1960s, Canada was conceived in far different ways than it is today. At the most basic level, Canada was conceived of as a British country. This was a combination of both the British political traditions (Monarchy, Parliament, the British Common Law), and the fact that, for the last two hundred or so years, persons from the British Isles had formed the majority of the population. The obvious exception to Canada’s Britishness was the province of Quebec, with its large, French-speaking, Roman Catholic population. As Lord Durham had presciently warned in 1840 (although his proposed, fanatically anti-French solution of complete assimilation turned out to be unworkable) this has led to a situation of “two nations warring in the bosom of a single state.” As a kind of response to the prevalent, dynamic, English-speaking culture, French Quebec had largely turned inward, centered on its Roman Catholicism and a largely rural existence. However, in the twentieth century, nascent Québécois nationalism expressed itself mainly in support of the Liberal Party, rather than what were characterized as the “Tory Orangemen” of the Conservative Party.
Once thought as solid as the rock of Gibraltar, the British imperial concept has melted away like snow during a spring heat-wave. It has turned out that this notional system was more-or-less coterminous with the reign of Queen Victoria, and quickly dissipated thereafter. For Canada, the decline of the British Empire, the British Imperial idea, and increasingly now, even of the stature and place of the British Monarchy in England itself, has exacerbated the onset of a permanent identity crisis for English Canada.
Furthermore, the support the federal Liberal Party commonly received from Quebec after the federal election of 1896 (since the end of the nineteenth century) has ultimately allowed the Liberal Party to undertake a thoroughgoing reconstruction of Canada, in opposition to “the British connection.” Beginning in 1965 with the repudiation of the Red Ensign (Canada’s traditional flag, on which the Union Jack figured prominently), the Liberal Party was able to take Canada through a series of radical restructurings, culminating in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. The submission of all Parliamentary legislation to judicial review based on an absolutized written rights document is largely alien to British constitutional principles. The result is the undermining of the cornerstone of the British (and Canadian) system – the Sovereignty of Parliament. Indeed, the influence of the Charter – driven by an activist judiciary and legal apparatus which political scientist Ted Morton has called “the Court Party” — has unleashed a massive tide of multifarious social and cultural change in Canada that has yet to abate.
The question for an English-speaking Canadian traditionalist invariably becomes — to which Canada is he or she expected to hold allegiance? Interestingly enough, the current Canadian Citizenship Oath refers only to allegiance to the Monarchy. Unfortunately, this is increasingly seen as a “dark relic” of the past, and will probably soon be replaced with an oath which will most likely call for allegiance to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and to “Canada’s diversity.” An English-speaking Canadian traditionalist, although a person who sees him or herself as the most ardent Canadian patriot, would have difficulty holding such an allegiance in good conscience. And, indeed, Canadian left-liberals would label persons ambivalent about the very latest aspects and interpretations of the Charter — those who refused to accept this newly-imposed Canadian identity — as “un-Canadian.”
The situation for the Québécois nationalist is rather different. Certainly, he or she holds little respect for the institutions of the old Canada. Much like the case of Irish nationalism, Québécois nationalism is invariably republican. At the same time, the Québécois nationalist also probably holds the legal framework and institutions of the new Canada in contempt. Ironically, the Canadian system of provinces has allowed an enormous degree of autonomy for the province of Quebec, in which the French-Canadians are today guaranteed a large majority of power. Indeed, apart from the Anglophone (English-speaking), Allophone (non-English, non-French-speaking), and Aboriginal minorities in the province, there is no “pro-Canada faction” in Quebec. Rather, there are, generally-speaking, fédéralistes and “non-separatist nationalists,” who think French Quebec’s interests are best served by remaining in Canada, and the Québécois separatists or nationalists or sovereigntistes, who think that Quebec can do better outside of Canada.
The attitude of the new Canadian elites today to Quebec separatism is clear — it is close to “enemy number one.” To the typical member of these elites, Quebec nationalism is today seen as a dangerous tribalism, an atavism, “the fly in the ointment” that threatens to disrupt the dream of the multicultural, new Canadian state. The new Canadian elites are even not averse to enlisting some of the traditional disdain of English Canadians against Quebec, as a weapon to be deployed against the Québécois. On the other hand, the congenital squeamishness of the new Canadian elites in regard to upholding any serious definition of Canadian nationhood, has meant that many actions that would have traditionally been considered treasonous, e.g., the circulation of written materials by a member of Parliament urging military personnel to join a secessionist cause, have met with only a very tepid response. According to English-Canadian ultra-traditionalist criteria, a Quebec
separatist party would in all likelihood not even be permitted to sit in Parliament. Indeed, the standpoint of most of the English Canadian right wing is to stand strongly against Quebec. They are often the ones who are the most likely to fling the accusations of treason against the Québécois separatists.
Yet, a more thoughtful English-speaking Canadian traditionalist would be able to see that enlisting oneself in the new “war” against Quebec separatism, might well be supportive only of the new Canadian elites. As a result of the processes of fundamental transformation carried out since the 1960s in Canada, there is a situation where — as Ray Conlogue argues in his book, Impossible Nation: The Longing for Homeland in Canada and Quebec (Stratford, Ontario, Canada: Mercury Press, 1996) — French Quebec is a manifestly real nation — without a state; whereas Canada has mostly descended into being merely a state — a soulless apparatus — without a solid national definition.
It has been suggested by a variety of persons that a positive resolution between the current over-centralization of the Canadian federal regime, and the complete break-up of the country, might well lie in a major regionalization or “provincialization” — the devolution of many powers to the provinces. Even though typical English-Canadian right-wingers had been strongly opposed to the recognition of Quebec as “a distinct society” (during the battle over the Meech Lake Accords in 1987-1990) they typically also favour massive devolution of federal powers to the provincial level, which might prove a lasting, workable solution to keeping Quebec in Canada. For Canada today, the province or the region might be the best place to build a sense of identity simultaneously more respectful of Canadian tradition, and distinct from the American.
So the distinctions between treason and patriotism in current-day Canada are not as stark, and rather more complex in the weight of meanings and consequences which they carry, than has been the case in more traditional societies and situations.