Archive for March, 2008

Jean Louis De Lolme

There’s a new edition of Jean Louis De Lolme’s The Constitution of England, a book that influenced many in the late eighteenth century. The first French edition appeared in 1771, the first English edition in 1775. De Lolme identified himself as a Citizen of Geneva. (Familiar?) It’s a scholarly edition, not just a reprinting, available from Liberty Fund.

The editor, David Lieberman, has included a list of works De Lolme read and notes on some of his famous readers. But I could spit! There’s not a single mention of British North America or Canada anywhere in the scholarly apparatus. I understand that De Lolme was avidly read in Europe, Britain, and the United States. He was an academic bestseller. Yes. But he was also read in the British colonies. Both French and English Canadians relied on him. He was superbly, undeniably influential in this country. I call him Canada’s forgotten mentor.

I’ve written Guy Laforest at Laval. I’d like to know for one thing whether there are (still) copies of the French editions in Quebec’s university libraries.


Quebec City’s 400th, Empire

In the National Post Father Raymond de Souza reminds us that what is being celebrated this summer is truly remarkable: “Four centuries of stable settlement and the achievement of a vibrant, peaceable, prosperous French-speaking city … a bona fide historical success, a key part of the history of North America writ large, and Canada in particular.” We hear this kind of tribute too seldom.

Should Canadian scholars turn or turn again to imperial history? Why aren’t we the ones writing fat books about imperialism? Why are we leaving it to the Brits? Canada was the senior Dominion in the modern world’s greatest empire.

If/when we come to write those books let me suggest that instead of talking in the usual way about the impact of imperial rule on the dependencies, we use our perspective as one-time colonists to think of ways in which the effort to rule the dependencies affected the Metropolis. We might think about whether the attempt to incorporate a French-speaking province derailed British notions of cultural superiority.


In the Literary Review of Canada (July/August, 2007), Mark Proudman reviews Robert Bothwell’s The Penguin History of Canada under the heading, “Why Canadian History is Boring.” Proudman doesn’t ask if/whether Canadian history is boring. No. According to Proudman it’s boring and everyone knows it. It’s not Bothwell’s fault that he’s written a boring book. “The fault is in the subject.”

So, are we a boring bunch? Well. There are worse things to be. But I think the trouble with The Penguin History of Canada lies elsewhere. The history it describes isn’t Canada’s real history. In Proudman’s words, the Penguin History shows readers, “The development of a conservative imperial nationalism into an often left-leaning anti-American nationalism.” And it’s true that many Canadians see their country this way. They’re convinced that we began as as a Conservative enterprise and continue today as a left-leaning one, laced with anti-Americanism. But the Canada envisaged by the Fathers of 1867 was not meant to be conservative. It was not intended to give members of the Conservative Party a boost. It was not intended solely for those who thought like members of the Party.

There were Conservative nationalists in British North America at Confederation. So what? There are left-leaning anti-Americans today. Of course. But the lean to the left and the anti-Americanism do not define us as a nation. You don’t have to be anti-American to be Canadian. Bothwell has missed the story. And Proudman’s in the same boat. I admit the history they describe is a staple in general history books and in texts in political science. But it is a fabrication. It was invented in the 1950s and 60s by Donald Creighton, Harold Innis, George Grant and Gad Horowitz, Seymour Martin Lipset and Louis Hartz.

So, what’s the real, the exciting history? More to come.

Welcome to Janet Ajzenstat’s Idea File. It’s chiefly about Canadian affairs: old, new, borrowed, and blue. Some items derive from my books. Some don’t. Help yourself to anything that takes your fancy.