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Multiculturalism in Canada:
Constructing a Model Multiculture with Multicultural Values

by hugh donald forbes
palgrave macmillan, 317 pages, $59.99

What is the endgame of the woke revolution? The movement is hostile to the old ways. New ways of thinking are emerging. A new way of life is emerging, too—and with it a new understanding of politics. Are these new ways conducive to political life and social peace?

The woke regime is most advanced in Canada, where officials call it “multiculturalism.” Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau added multiculturalism to Canada’s Charter in 1982. Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made it part of statute law in 1988 with the “Act for the Preservation and Enhancement of Canada’s Multicultural Heritage.” The multicultural idea would, in Trudeau’s words, “separate once and for all the concepts of state and of nation and make Canada a truly pluralistic and polyethnic society.” What would this entail? What would it not entail? These questions matter for America, for the same ideology is being enshrined here.

In Multiculturalism in Canada: Constructing a Model Multiculture with Multicultural Values, Hugh Donald Forbes dissects Canada’s multicultural aspirations. Forbes is a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. His book took a long and winding road to publication. It was rejected by four Canadian presses before it landed in Palgrave Macmillan's fine series on Recovering Political Philosophy. This is a deadly serious book in the style of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Demons, with laughs on every page. Multiculturalism in Canada shows the enormous ambitions at the heart of Canada’s new identity. No one fully understood the multicultural regime when it was hatched. As its logic worked out, Forbes shows, it became increasingly hostile to the traditional understanding of individual rights and Canada’s old self-understanding.

Trudeau articulated the political purposes of Canadian multiculturalism in essays during the early 1960s. It was born of two crises: Canada’s loss of identity and the problem of warring nation-states. Canada had been part of the British Empire, which had collapsed. Canadian identity was eroding thanks to the influence of America’s homogenizing, technological empire. Canadian philosopher George Grant even proclaimed that old Anglo Canada was dead in his 1965 classic, Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism.

What Grant lamented, Trudeau celebrated. Before Trudeau entered politics, he thought that “there would be no end to nationalist wars until nations cease to be the basis of states.” According to Trudeau, just as nation-states arose to check the power of the universal church in the 1400s and 1500s, so would the multicultural order check warring nation-states. In particular, Trudeau believed that multiculturalism could stop Quebec's effort to separate from Anglo Canada. But Trudeau had broader ambitions as well.

Multicultural order, Forbes writes, required weakening the connection between sovereign authorities and their “particular communities” by encouraging expression from “dissenting individuals and groups.” At the same time, the multicultural order tied national sovereignty down with thousands of tiny transnational commitments: no world government, but “rational forms of integration,” as Trudeau called them—like air traffic rules, International Monetary Fund commitments, trade deals, nuclear test bans, climate treaties, and so on. Gulliver would lose his strength within while being tied down.

Today, many think that multiculturalism simply recognizes facts on the ground. Our world is increasingly “diverse,” we are told, and our response to this new reality must be openness, empathy, and inclusion. Not so. The multicultural ideology is, as Forbes argues, a “normative framework and foundational values” that shape our reaction to this supposedly new situation.

Canadian multiculturalism, Forbes shows, reflects ideas about how to cultivate diversity, cultural freedom, authenticity, openness. These aspirational commitments contain ambiguities that political authority must resolve. Take diversity. What kind of diversity makes Canada a “truly pluralistic and polyethnic society”? Intellectual or viewpoint diversity? Ethnic diversity? Family diversity? Or take equality, of which there are many iterations—equal opportunity, egalitarian distribution, equality before the law, sexual equality, racial equality, cultural equality, and so on. Sometimes sexual equality clashes with cultural equality, as when sub-cultures endorse female genital mutilation or wife beatings. Like diversity, equality derives “its only relevant meanings from the political projects with which it is associated.”

Practical adventures in multiculturalism also show the need for political authority to resolve such theoretical problems. Forbes tells how the residents of Herouxville, a rural Quebec town, offered playful advice to incoming Muslim immigrants: Please refrain from stoning women for adultery and accept that we locals, male and female, enjoy swimming together in public pools. Such suggestions betray an unwelcoming or exclusive attitude toward Muslim migrants. But the Muslims' ways are an affront to openness and sexual equality. Should the Muslims be more open to sexual equality, or should Herouxville be more open to Muslim difference? Multiculturalism creates conflicts that bureaucrats must manage. It ensures employment for its champions.

Multiculturalism seeks to cultivate openness, an “attitude of receptivity to the prompting of an intuitive or even mystical sense of universal connectedness and obligations.” The new attitude, borrowed from French thinker Henri Bergson, is a “thoroughgoing spiritual reform.” There must be “new myths” and new heroes to support the new world order—and Canada will lead the way. “The truth of multiculturalism . . . is Canadian and global monoculturalism,” where differences between people fade in significance in the face of our common humanity.

Sources of old intolerance give way to a new intolerance, a new exclusivity. Old sources of difference will wither or be made to wither through the micromanagement of national and international organizations. The old tolerance acknowledged difference, and such differences could lead to intolerance and hatred; the new tolerance seeks to eliminate difference and reveal the regime of humanity—to strip away all that is distinctive about ethnicities. It transforms the love of one’s own nation or family into a love of one’s own essential humanity. Those living in the old ways will be badgered by “law courts, tribunals, and other offices of the bureaucracy”—the new clerisy—to drop them. What began as an effort to divorce the nation from the state ended with the creation of a converging global monoculture run through administrative agencies.

The ambitions of this project affect everything. Canada’s transgender empire, perhaps the most advanced in the world, proceeds from this multicultural project. Frightening episodes involving transgenderism multiply in Canada. A Vancouver postman is jailed for speaking out about the state-mandated gender transition of his teenager. A biological male leverages Canada’s human rights laws to force immigrant aestheticians to wax his scrotum and penis.

In these situations, new ideas of gender must be propagated through bureaucracies. If parents do not get on board and raise their children to transcend old ideas, the same agencies that tame ethnicity will cultivate transgenderism. Families reflect the benighted love of one’s own, and hence difference. So the rights of parents have the same status as the rights of local communities to have a say about swimming pools. When parental power indicates attachment to the old, particularist ways, that power is abridged. When parents complain, they are muzzled. When they continue to speak, they are fined or jailed.

No one knew about transgenderism when Pierre Trudeau articulated this new multicultural ideal, but his son and heir, Justin Trudeau, celebrates transgender rights because “all Canadians should feel safe to be themselves.” All the ambiguities of the multicultural project lie within the new Trudeau’s formulation: All Canadians? Certainly not fathers who think it their duty to save their underage children from chemical castration.

The multicultural project is about imposing the right kind of diversity and equality. It delivers internal chaos, as it strikes at natural attachments and cultivates inhumane dreams. Its social glue is none too sticky: It delivers a freedom provided by human rights commissions, the equality of an increasingly deceptive quota system, and an authenticity that masks accommodation and silence. Trudeau’s hopeful vision of a new humanity defined by openness promises despotism.

Canadians have more or less acquiesced in this revolution. There is no mass resistance and little sustained political opposition to the multicultural project. Disobedience is not in the Canadian DNA as much as it is in the American one. Spiritedness for the sake of the old ways is indispensable to resisting such despotism. Still, Americans are finding out that spiritedness against a determined and powerful ideology is not enough. Spiritedness must serve the bond between nation and state, connect citizens to eternity through faith, and be grounded in a manly desire for self-government. Resistance to this despotism promises strife and conflict, but the endgame is worth it, at least.

Scott Yenor is a professor of political science at Boise State University and a Washington Fellow at the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life.

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