Academic Rage

I’m at work on the new edition of G.P. Browne’s Documents on the Confederation of British North America. And again, for the umpteenth time, I’m compelled to explain that the British North America Act (1867) is now entitled the Constitution Act (1867).

I’m seized by a fit of “academic rage.” In the entire history of humankind there has been only one country with the right to call its founding document, “British North America Act.” And in 1982 – and who consulted us? Who gave the matter more than a passing thought? – a faceless somebody decided it should be renamed. “Constitution Act”! Any country can have a Constitution Act. Probably most countries do. Our distinctive title was lost and lost forever.

(I should be ashamed of myself. Getting upset about a petty matter.)

George Breckenridge has lent me Victor Klemperer’s I will Bear Witness, A Diary of the Nazi Years. I’m half way through the first volume. From the back cover; “Struggling to complete his ambitious history of eighteenth-century France, Victor Klemperer loses his professorship, then his car, his phone, his house, even his typewriter, under the ever tightening Nazi grip. ”
Klemperer’s rage: “If one day the situation were reversed and the fate of the vanquished lay in my hands, then I would let all the ordinary folk go and even some of the leaders, who might perhaps after all have had honourable intentions and not know what they were doing. But I would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest; they would be left hanging from the lampposts for as long as was compatible with hygiene” (August 16, 1936).
(History of French Literature in the 18th Century, vol : 1: the Century of Voltaire was published in 1954, six years before Klemperer’s death. Volume 11: the Century of Rousseau appeared after his death. The Diary of the Nazi Years came out in 1996.)

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3 Responses to “Academic Rage”


  1. 1 oonae September 19, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    I love the tidy little “as long as was compatible with hygiene” at the end. It renders the rage both more moderate and more realistic, and it’s charmingly academic. But of course he’s right, exactly right.

  2. 2 Russ Brown September 24, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Klemperer’s rage was often directed to the manipulation of language, and so I would not be sheepish about being enraged over the “renaming” of our constitutional documents. I confess that I am still, 25 years on, irritated about an even more trivial instance of wordplay (the renaming of Dominion Day).

  3. 3 janetajzenstat September 24, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    You’re right Russ. “They” (but who? who exactly?) renamed the country, renamed our national day, our national government (political scientists used to speak of Dominion-Provincial relations), changed the words of our national anthem (more than once), gave us new logos, new letterheads, a new flag. Canada was “rebranded.” We were tidied up, slicked down, modernized. We were not consulted.

    Thanks Russ for the handsome copy of Donald Smiley’s The Canadian Political Nationality. Does your source happen to have a copy of Documents on the Confederation of British North America, ed. G.P. Browne? (Carleton Library No.40)


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