College Quarterly
Winter 2004 - Volume 7 Number 1

Thought Across the 49th Parallel

by Howard A. Doughty

Books Discussed:
  • Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, Michael Adams.
    (Toronto: Penguin, 2003);

The relationship between Canada and the United States has been a subject of controversy since Benedict Arnold was a pup.

The American Revolution, after all, created two countries: one immediately and by revolutionary means, the other eventually and by evolutionary processes. At the heart of the political culture of the United States was a form of eighteenth-century liberalism that embraced the philosophy of John Locke, the primacy of private property, a distaste for monarchy and, in time, some concessions to democracy. Liberty was accepted; equality was rejected; and fraternity was rarely discussed. Canada was built upon a reaction to and a rejection of the perceived principles of republicanism and democracy.

The United States endorsed a limited, decentralized government, a concept of individual political rights that took precedence over notions of social order and harmony, and an unfettered free market in which citizens could compete for “happiness” (the Continental Congress’ code word for property). Canadian history gives testimony to a greater respect for authority, a recognition of the role of the state in guaranteeing “peace, order and good government,” and a skeptical attitude toward human nature which devalued individual rights as contributory to debauchery, depravity and social dissolution. The United States was an experiment in Lockean liberalism; Canada was an exercise in Burkean reaction.

Canadian antipathy to what sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset would later call “the first new nation” arose from the incompatible ideologies of its founding cultures. Pre-revolutionary, rural and pious Québec on the one hand, and counter-revolutionary, tory Canada on the other hand, built on the conservative ideas of United Empire Loyalists and produced a combination of contempt for and fear of the aggressive, expanding USA. Representative of the contempt was High Tory leader John Strachan’s description of Americans as “vain and rapacious and without honour,” and obsessed with “licentious liberty.” As for francophones, the journal Le Canadien, likened Americans to Goths and Vandals and denounced their alien capitalist culture, which threatened to spill into the eastern townships, to swallow up a serene, noble, agrarian society and “Yankifier le Canada.”

The hectoring of Americans would continue until well into the twentieth century, long after effective Canadian sovereignty had been compromised. Despite occasional military feints in the direction of Canada, it was economic infiltration rather than armed occupation that determined Canada’s destiny. In 1970, Kari Levitt’s book Silent Surrender revealed that American direct investment in Canadian industry had made this country a US economic hinterland by World War I, no matter that the Union Jack still flew and young Canadian men would volunteer by the thousands to die in ditches for King and Country.

In 1970, as well, political scientist Gad Horowitz would reprint an iconic essay as the opening chapter in his book, Canadian Labour in Politics. Distressed by the Vietnam conflict and other displays of what would cautiously be called American Imperialism, and spurred on by unanticipated sense of centennial-inspired nationalistic exuberance, Canadians began to debate quite seriously whether they were fated to be a relatively prosperous but politically supine province of the US behemoth.

Horowitz’s contribution to the debate twisted the theme of Harvard historian Louis Hartz’s book The Founding of New Societies, and advanced the thesis that the dominantly liberal political culture of at least English Canada was different from that of the USA. True, the proximity of the US combined with the urbanization, industrialization and secularization of Canada to expedite the Americanization of Canada; nonetheless, though Canada became increasingly attracted to the liberal ideology of possessive individualism, the country retained a “tory touch.” Canada is “etched with a tory streak coming out of the American revolution,” Horowitz declared, and the consequence was not only the maintenance of a genuine conservative heritage but the addition of a socialist alternative as well. Ideological diversity in Canada was possible precisely because the “tory touch” involved feudal, organic, collectivist views. It was uninterested in the checks and balances that limit government power and had no wish to place sovereignty in “the people.” As such, it was legitimately conservative as opposed to merely “whig” or “right-wing liberal.” Whereas American liberalism was increasingly hegemonic—at least after the Civil War when the last holdouts against pervasive competitive individualism were crushed—tory thought in Canada provided enduring ideological variety. So, when English and European socialists migrated to North America in the late nineteenth-century, two very different welcomes awaited them. In the US, the fundamental political culture was exclusive and well established. To become an American was to abandon socialism. Canada demanded no such renunciation.

In 1970, people such as Levitt and Horowitz confronted the issue of the day, which was whether American economic, political and cultural hegemony was to be resisted or embraced. The matter was most dramatically expressed in the New Democratic Party’s self-destructive squabble over the expulsion of the left-wing nationalist contingent amusingly known as “The Waffle.” More generally, Canadians from Doris Anderson and Margaret Atwood to Larry Zolf and Mark Zwelling (mixed in with the likes of Maude Barlow, Pierre Berton, Ed Broadbent, June Callwood, Dalton Camp, Wallace Clement, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Danny Drache, Walter Gordon, Cy Gonick, Peter Gzowski, Mel Hurtig, Leo Johnson, Bruce Kidd, Steve Langdon, various Laxers, the ubiquitous Lewis clan, Ian Lumsden, George Martell, Robin Mathews, Jack McClelland, Farley Mowat, Tom Naylor, Madelaine Parent, Satu Repo, Stan Rogers, Abraham Rotstein, Kent Rowley, Jack Scott, Charles Taylor, Gary Teeple, Mel Watkins, Bob White and so on) contributed to a grand discussion about nationalist and socialist principles over the next decade or two. The moral centre of the debate was provided by George Grant; his lament for the nation would stand as a collective obituary.

Fewer and fewer would care.

With principled anti-nationalists such as Pierre Trudeau and opportunistic continentalists such as Brian Mulroney in charge, Canada prepared to enter the rudderless 1990s and the terror-stricken new millennium with a growing sense of inevitability. Much as it was pleasant to feel morally superior to our neighbours to the south, and much as it was delightful to be named the nicest place on earth to live by the United Nations, a declining standard of living was too real to ignore, the economic, social and political implications of covenants such as the NAFTA were too blatant to disregard, and the sense of national malaise was too ominous to overcome. As the Canadian Alliance, the Business Council on National Issues and The National Post combined to tell us, closer integration with the United States (a strategic first step to absolute globalization) was inevitable, inescapable, and ultimately in our own self-interest. The consensus, encouraged by the media and experienced in the shopping malls and living rooms of Canadians, was that Americanism had insidiously insinuated itself into the material and symbolic fibres of our collective being. The Canadian Football League expanded (if only temporarily) to include Schreveport and the Grey Cup actually wound up in Baltimore for a year. For shame! For shame! On the other hand, the World Series was twice purchased in Toronto. Excelsior! What could be left?
Plenty, it seems, if Fire and Ice, a new addition on the book-shelf of pop sociology, is to be believed. Michael Adams, CEO of the polling company, Environics, has gathered public opinion data on both sides of the border that challenges the easy assumption that Canadian and American values are converging, that Canada is simply a marginally distinct region in a homogenized North American culture, and that it is no more than an antique conceit to imagine otherwise. It is true that strident beer commercials, unassimilated aboriginals, putatively postmodern Québeçois, and shrinking social programs are not an adequate foundation upon which to build a national identity. It is also true that neither discretely chuckling when a prime ministerial aide called President George W. Bush a “moron,” nor taking a genuinely scrupulous position on the attack on Iraq are enough to maintain national sovereignty. Mr. Adams, however, insists that there is more to the distinctiveness of Canada in North America and that the distinctiveness is growing.

This, of course, is not good news to the more-or-less united right in Canada, which has been preaching continental integration for some time. It is, however, instructive to read ex-Bush speechwriter David “Axis of Evil” Frum, on the subject of Adams’ thesis. Writing in the right-wing US magazine, National Review (9 November, 2003), Frum abjures all ideological argument and comes up with, of all things, a methodological critique. Michael Adams’ analysis is faulty, Frum says, because he broke the first rule of survey research: to get comparable data, you must ask people the same questions. Adams didn’t do this, so he seems to wind up comparing McIntosh apples and Florida oranges. Frum also points out that many of the questions Adams does ask (a small sample of which are available on his website in case readers want to see their own attitudinal profile) are “tendentious.” I’d call them egregiously biased and ultimately misleading. Adams, for example, concludes that Canadians are more generous on the issue of immigration because a great majority disagreed with the statement: “Overall, there is too much immigration. It threatens the purity of our country.” No doubt, there are a few neo-Nazis around who would endorse this view to a pollster on the telephone, but Frum is correct to believe that such distorted questions do not tell us much about what Canadians actually think.

Adams also doesn’t help his case by making a number of rather dopey asides. His vast experience as a market researcher leads him to conflate moral values and brand loyalty. Accordingly, he explains that he is seeking to describe and explain the “mental postures of people who vote Liberal vs. Alliance, jog versus bird-watch in their spare time, buy Toyotas versus Fords, drink Coke versus Pepsi, read The New Yorker versus Chatelaine, believe in angels or are atheists, run PCs versus Macs.” Theological positions, voting patterns and consumer choices cannot, I think, be so facilely telescoped. Furthermore, an obvious supporter of the Canadian gun registry, he editorializes that the second amendment to the US Constitution “has recently been recast by Attorney-General John Ashcroft as the codification of the God-given right of every man, woman and toddler to pack heat,” with the consequence that “Americans kill themselves and each other with the use of firearms at ten times the rate Canadians do.” You don’t need to be a member or the National Rifle Association, a gopher-hunting farmer or an antique musket dealer to appreciate the factual and logical problems with such hyperbole. Finally, Adams advertises himself as “a sociologist, weaned on the writings of Karl Marx, Max Weber and Marshall McLuhan. I have,” he boasts, “always relished the big picture.” Well, he may be in the thrall of the “big picture,” but he could hardly have picked three more disparate characters to claim as his intellectual forebears. Marxists, Weberians and McLuhanites do take big pictures, to be sure, but they reveal very different landscapes and Adams is primarily an abstract expressionist. His emphasis is clearly upon the exploration of “values” as the prime motivators of humans in action. The absence of any serious mention of political economy parks him a good distance from Marx. The dearth of discussion of social institutions excludes him from Weber’s following. His lack of interest in the relationship between technology and culture leaves him out of consideration as a disciple of McLuhan. Instead, it would be less pretentious and more accurate for him to place himself squarely in the tradition of modified behaviouralism. He would be better off to restrain himself by limiting his intellectual pedigree to the previously mentioned Marty Lipset. As an intellectual heir of Lipset and market research, “mindsets” or “values”—beliefs, preferences and prescriptions once nebulously identified in the rare air of pure ideas but here dubiously linked to social reality and described as “motivated cognition”—become central to his account. The best that can be made of such stuff is an occasional correlation; causal analysis is markedly absent.

So, with his descriptions and explanations deemed wanting, we are entitled to ask if there is anything of merit in Adams’ portrait. It is no endorsement of his flawed methods to answer in the affirmative. The very fact that an ideologue as committed as David Frum shies away from a substantive criticism is telling. Thus, while Adams’ rather sloppy methods put the empirical veracity of his analysis at risk, there is something intuitively congenial about his conclusions.

The case for partial salvation, a sort of social scientific limbo, is in the details. Whereas some of his generalizations are suspect, others seem both accurate and insightful. One of some interest is his discussion of religion. The messianic strain in American politics has been apparent since the founding of the republic. It remains not just in the apocalyptic preoccupations of President Ronald Reagan or the virtually Manichaean pronouncements of President George W. Bush but also in the modified social gospel of President Jimmy Carter and the Christian opposition to the current leader. As I write (on Sunday, December 28, 2003), a copy of today’s New York Times Op-Ed page lies before me. Therein a preacher named Jim Wallis castigates the Democratic Party for foolishly laying aside the faith card. Plainly a progressive, Wallis summons up the role of religion in advancing the abolition of slavery and the winning of female suffrage. He invokes the name of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Poverty, neglect of the environment and fighting pre-emptive and unilateral wars, he says, are religious issues. “Such issues could pose problems for the Bush administration among religious and non-religious people alike—if someone were to define them in moral terms. The failure of the Democrats to do so is not just a political miscalculation. It shows they do not appreciate the contributions of religion to American life.”

Wallis’ admonition may make strategic as well as spiritual sense in the American context, but Michael Adams presents a compelling case that such attempts to “put God back into politics” would win few supporters in Canada. George W. Bush’s evangelical affirmation that America “is the greatest force for good in history” strikes Canadians as hideous hyperbole sustaining what Robert Jay Lifton has so elegantly called “the malignant synergy” of the President’s “apocalyptic death dance” with Islamic fundamentalism. Adams has disclosed (despite methodological glitches) that religion means something different to people on opposite sides of the border. Adams has ferreted out some provocative findings about the different meaning and purpose of religion for people in Canada and the USA. To Canadians, he contends, religion is “a means of confronting the mysterious aspects of our lives.” In the alternative, to Americans, it is “a way of eliminating rather than exploring mystery … [It is] one big answer rather than as a collection of venerable questions … the end of dialogue, not its beginning”

Mapping the topography of social values in both countries, Adams perceives not only difference but also increasing divergence in terms of compacted clusters of values. Americans (even before the much ballyhooed 9/11) were tending toward concerns that Adams lumps under terms such as “intensity,” “exclusion” and “survivalism.” Canadians, by contrast, lean toward beliefs and behaviours that embrace “idealism,” “autonomy” and personal “fulfilment.” In the US, both political conformity and a willingness to express and accept violence are far greater than in Canada. For their part, Canadians accept not merely cultural but also ideological diversity. Called a “postmodern” country by Adams (with Québec being its most distinctively postmodern province), diversity permits disagreement without encouraging hostility.

An especially revealing item (which was surveyed in both countries) was the response to the question of whether the father of a family must be master in his own house—a marker of “social conservatism” if there ever was one. Patriarchy is not only more strongly endorsed in the US but seems universally so. In New England (the most socially “liberal” region in the US), 29% agreed with paternal mastery. The centre of the “Eastern liberal establishment” thus displayed a significantly more “conservative” attitude than Alberta (home of Canada’s most unambiguously “conservative” citizens) where only 21% let daddy rule the roost. At the extremes, 71% of respondents in America’s “deep south” agreed that father knows best, whereas only 15% of the people in Québec were willing to agree with the principle of patriarchal authority. If these and many similar numbers are at all reliable, it is plain that, despite television viewing habits and any other aspects of popular culture we might wish to name, something else is going on that makes for an enduring and growing disparity between Canadian and American ideas and ideals.

Adams believes that “the possibility of economic integration and strategic interdependence without the loss of cultural integrity and political sovereignty” is a genuine possibility. He attributes this to the resilience and durability of Canada’s “founding values, historical experiences, and political institutions” which, he says, “have a greater influence on Canadians’ contemporary values than the much vaunted forces of globalization.”

It would have been nice if his explanations rose above the level of tautology (“we are really quite different societies because we are really quite different societies”). It would have been very nice if his data and analysis met more rigorous empirical standards.

It would be very, very nice if Canadian college curricula paid attention to social, political and cultural matters. Instead of eliminating Canadian Studies, liberal arts and the educational efforts that frequently labour under the demeaning label of “general education,” it would be good to consider distancing ourselves from the uncritical ideological acceptance of the corporate global agenda as the inspiration for our various educational missions. After a couple of decades of passivity, Adams may not give people interested in authentic Canadian education a great place to start, but at least it is a platform of sorts upon which thoughtful discussion might begin and upon which constructive action might be based. If, that is, anybody cares.

Howard A. Doughty, B.A.(York), M.A.(Hawaii), M.A.(York), M.Ed.(Toronto), teaches in the Faculty of Applied Arts and Health Sciences at Seneca College, King City. His email address is


• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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2004 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology