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A Critique of Ricardo Duchesne’s “Canada in Decay”

(Leah Hennel/Post Media)

“Wouldn’t the French-speaking Quebecois have more in common with, say, francophone Roman Catholics from Haiti who happen to be black? To avoid this conclusion, Duchesne shows a truly ugly side by just biting the bullet and claiming that skin color and race matters.”

Some of the most furious debates in the political world today are over immigration and social homogeneity. Two of the most dramatic developments in recent years—the United Kingdom’s forthcoming exit from the European Union and the election of post-modern conservatives such as Donald Trump—were prompted in no small part due to anxieties about these issues.

For many on the left and in the neoliberal center, high and even escalating levels of immigration are to be accepted and even welcomed. For those on the left, this is often understood in a moral way. Accepting greater numbers of immigrants has both symbolic value in expressing a commitment to moving beyond the West’s racist past towards a more tolerant and multicultural future. Immigrants also add to the diversity of our society, opening new avenues for expression and cultural self-discovery that may not have been available before. This is the argument of writers like Canada’s Will Kymlicka, who became an intellectual superstar for claiming that liberalism is fundamentally about eliminating arbitrary social hierarchies, including those predicated on race, ethnic status, and culture. For neoliberals, immigration is also a boon to society, but for different reasons. They understand the virtues of immigration primarily along economic lines; the most efficient labor market would be an open one which enables firms to hire who they wish regardless of their national background. This argument has long been convincing to free market enthusiasts in the center and the right, such as the National Post’s Andrew Coyne.

For a long time this generally pro-immigrant standpoint constituted the status quo; indeed, some advocates continue to think it is “impossible” to halt immigration due to the immense economic and demographic pressures which encourage people to migrate.

This pro-immigration stance has increasingly come under attack on the post-modern right, spearheaded by populists such as Nigel Farage, Viktor Orban, and, of course, Donald Trump. Trump infamously began his Presidential campaign through scaremongering about Mexican migrants, before ramping up paranoia about Muslims, Haitians, and Africans. Farage has claimed that immigrants do not benefit the economy, and has flirted with xenophobic rhetoric and imagery throughout his political career. And Orban famously claimed that Europe was “under invasion” by migrants.

Against this trend towards greater insularity and ethnocentrism, Canada may seem like a bastion for proponents multicultural. With a population of 35 million, Canada accepted almost 300,000 migrants in 2016.  This included 46,700 refugees, many fleeing the Syrian conflict. For many, these were adopted not just because of Canada’s economic and humanitarian commitments. They come from a deeper and more principled rejection of nationalist principles. Many, including myself, have argued that Canada has no need for a distinct nationality. This includes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has called Canada the world’s first “post-national state.”

Professor Ricardo Duchesne’s Canada In Decay: Mass Immigration, Diversity, and the Ethnocide of European Canadians is intended to disrupt the narrative that abets these trends and argue for a more ethnocentric approach to Canadian identity and migration policy. It is written as an often venomous polemic against those who wish to shift Canada’s identity away from its alleged heritage and towards a less ethnocentric and pluralistic future. In this review, I will discuss Professor Duchesne’s arguments in some depth before detailing why I think he is entirely wrong on many of these points. Doing this might be useful not just in pushing against specific arguments for a more ethnocentric Canada, but in opposing more general anti-immigrant sentiments.

The Cuckish Demand for Consistency

Professor Duchesne’s book was published in 2017 by Black House Books, which is well known for publishing texts from the radical edges of the political spectrum, including fascists and anarchists. It is written in a clear but very aggressive style, which belies Duchesne’s aim of both reaching a wide audience—and his sense of himself as a lone academic dissident crying out in the wilderness. The clarity is admirable; the polemics and paranoia far less so. The book includes innumerable references to shadowy oppressors like the “Multiculturalist party” “Globalists,” “cultural Marxists” the “Left,” “traitors” and so on who are said to dominate the social agenda in Canada.  Sometimes Duchesne’s even refers to these figures and institutions as “totalitarian” oppressors. Much of this is in keeping with the recent wave of right-wing authors, including many of those on the so-called intellectual dark web, who present themselves as persecuted dissidents. That many of them, including Duchesne (who is a tenured Professor of Social Science at the University of New Brunswick), seem to have little difficulty disseminating their message to eager listeners is rarely accounted for. Nor does Duchesne do himself any favors by consistently criticizing academics as lazy and out of touch, since one immediately wonders why he alone rises above the pack.

Like many on the far right, Duchesne’s narrative of personal marginalization and the associated terminology he deploys is both difficult to pin down and to take seriously. Duchesne makes few efforts to explain why multiculturalism is apparently the product of so-called cultural Marxism, or establish clear links showing how the liberal democratic government of Canada is under the sway of far left proto-totalitarians determined to destroy “Western Civilization” by demographically replacing “white” people. Duchesne throws around these hyperbolic and extreme terms and claims interchangeably and with little or no effort to explain how they connect or disconnect. One of the most egregious examples of this is Duchesne labeling or “small L” liberals and even self-identified conservatives as “cultural Marxists” and even “traitors” because they support moderate levels of immigration. At such points, one suspects Duchesne has simply adopted the pseudo-Platonic conceit that all bad features necessarily come together—and that what counts as bad is anyone who disagrees with his opinions concerning Canadian history, identity, and politics.

These stark terminological and descriptive ambiguities belie that fact that Duchesne’s book is very confusing from a structural standpoint. It frequently shifts between extended discussions on Canadian history and immigration policy, contemporary politics and policy analysis, political theorizing about identity, critiques of luminaries like the aforementioned Will Kymlicka and so on. Of course, there is nothing wrong with such interdisciplinary approaches when done well and where conceptual links are clarified. But this isn’t the case with Duchesne’s book, and the lack of a clear logical structure to Canada in Decay makes the overall argument hard to follow. Formally the book proceeds as follows: an opening discussion of Canada’s early history and immigration policies makes up the bulk of Part One, followed by a sustained critique of both left and neoliberal theories and arguments for multiculturalism and assimilation in Parts Two and Three, with a mish-mash of theorizing and further commentaries on recent history and politics concluding the book in Part Four. In the sections below, I will try to summarize the main arguments of the book, while presenting my own critical analysis of their limitations.  

Canada in Decay

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In Part One, Duchesne criticizes the argument that Canada—and many other Western-states were built by immigrants. Instead, he claims that the country was founded and built by the French and the English “pioneers” who later (and begrudgingly) accepted other European peoples into the land with the intention of establishing a “White Man’s Country.” Against the obvious rebuttal that the First Nations, or Native Americans as they are sometimes called, were the original inhabitants of Canada, Duchesne argues that these peoples did not constitute a true state. The First Nations were a plurality of different, mostly nomadic, peoples from different cultural backgrounds, who spoke a variety of languages, and lacked a sufficient level of development and sophisticated forms of political organization to be called a sovereign state. Duchesne also goes out of his way to criticize the “myth of the noble savage,” pointing out that many First Nations were hardly idyllic or peaceful communities.

And even if we accept that a certain level of development and political sophistication entitled one state to seize the lands of another people, what is the cut-off point? Is Japan entitled to invade and appropriate the territory of European Moldova because it is 90 rankings higher on the 2016 Human Development Index?

Why any of this entitled the French and British to take lands inhabited by First Nations is never really discussed. Duchesne doesn’t bother to define what constitutes a sufficient development and political sophistication to qualify for statehood. Based on my inferences, it seems that Duchesne is leaning on the old Lockean claim that they lacked a sufficient sophistication and a level of civilizational achievement to be entitled to any of the rights normally accorded to sovereign states. This argument itself would be highly problematic, given its very ethnocentric understanding of development and political organization, but it is never expressly made by Duchesne.  

I suspect Duchesne is reluctant to come forward with this argument because he knows just how specious it is. Who gets to decide what constitutes a superior level of development and political sophistication? And even if we accept that a certain level of development and political sophistication entitled one state to seize the lands of another people, what is the cut-off point? Is Japan entitled to invade and appropriate the territory of European Moldova because it is 90 rankings higher on the 2016 Human Development Index? Moreover, Duchesne never manages to square this appropriation of the land with his later support for ethnic statehood; or the claim that each ethnicity should be entitled to a country to call its own. If the First Nations were practicing their culture in Canada before the Europeans arrived and had at least some form of political organization, doesn’t appropriating their lands contravene this very principle?

This history is relevant to Duchesne’s argument because he wants to claim that Canada was built by the French, and later English, settlers without substantial contributions being made by people from other ethnic backgrounds. What this entails varies considerably. At some points, Duchesne seems to be implying a different ethnic background means anyone other than the English and the French.  This suggests Canada was founded by a very specific duo of ethnicities, with particular features and characteristics. Later, when discussing the 19th and early 20th centuries, Duchesne broadens his understanding of ethnicity to include any individual from a European background, because they apparently share enough in common with the English and the French to be classed as belonging to the same “European” or “Western” ethnicity. But then how does he deal with the observation that there were very substantial ethnic differences between French-speaking Roman Catholics and the primarily Protestant Germans who settled in Canada shortly before the First World War? Wouldn’t the French-speaking Quebecois have more in common with, say, francophone Roman Catholics from Haiti who happen to be black? To avoid this conclusion, Duchesne shows a truly ugly side by just biting the bullet and claiming that skin color and race matters.

What links the Protestant German and the French Quebecois together is that they are white, and the francophone Roman Catholic from Haiti is not. This position is justified by appealing to a wide variety of questionable social Darwinian sources, which stress that race is responsible for substantial differences in intelligence and individualism. This includes evidence provided by Apartheid apologists and by the American Renaissance, a think tank founded by the white supremacist Jared Taylor. When he cannot find even bad sources to back up his racial preferences, Duchesne will scaremonger by referencing an unspecified, but wide array of alleged acts of violence, rape, and so on committed by immigrants from non-white backgrounds. These references to violence and crime are often presented without providing citations or even exact numbers that could be scrutinized.

The book concludes with a mournful reflection on the past. Duchesne points to a 1947 speech by Prime Minister Mackenzie King-who was himself an anti-Semite-as the tipping point towards Canada’s “decay.” In this speech, King accepted that Canada would take in ever greater numbers of immigrants, while also claiming that Canadians did not want to see the ethnic makeup of the country change substantially. Duchesne observes that King’s belief that immigration could be restricted to preserve the homogeneity and dominance of a given ethnic majority ethnicity was once a common and admirable feature of most liberal democracies. Since then policymakers in Canada and the rest of the Western world have adopted the belief that immigration policies aimed at retaining ethnic dominance and homogeneity are racist. They consequently have opened their doors to “hordes” of non-European peoples looking to take advantage of the high quality of living available in countries founded by European races. This opens the door to the ethnic and racial replacement of Europeans by other ethnicities and races. Duchesne never directly refers to these ethnicities and races as inferior. But consider that he appeals to Apartheid theories about the inferiority of Black Africans at STEM fields, constantly if vaguely references race and IQ, and provides endless and lurid descriptions of the violence committed by non-white immigrants. Contrast that with his hagiographic description of European Canada, which mostly ignores the deliberate starvation of First Nations peoples, its participation in the slave trade, and so on. It isn’t hard to paint a disturbing picture.

Conclusion: Liberalism and Immigration

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Perhaps the weakest feature of Duchesne’s book is his discussion of liberalism and multi-cultural theory as it stands today, as mainly presented in Parts Two and Three of the book. Duchesne’s argument largely pivots around his Schmittian claim that contemporary liberalism lacks a sufficient concept of the political: a sense of who belongs and who doesn’t in a given political community committed to preserving its social homogeneity. For Duchesne, liberal states once had a concept of the political and rightly excluded foreign or incompatible elements from entry or at least participation. But no more. In our modern world, globalist, multiculturalist, cultural Marxist, liberal cuckservative traitors have ruined everything, right down to destroying traditional cuisine by allowing immigrants to set up “overrated” restaurants serving strange ethnic food.

Here, I will ignore Duchesne’s unproblematized invocation of Schmitt, a brilliant critic of liberalism who was also an avid Nazi party member. Instead, I will deal with the far more glaring error: his belief that the restrictive and racist policies adopted by early liberal democracies were consistent with the fundamental principles of liberalism.  I do not believe that they are. Duchesne appeals to a number of early liberal thinkers who held racist views, including Kant and Mill, to vindicate this point. But this argument is entirely specious. Yes, liberal democracies and liberal thinkers initially adopted racist policies. This does not mean a consistent liberalism can support these positions; and indeed Kant and Mill are often criticized for waffling on their stated principles to justify their racist views.  

Liberalism is predicated on the belief that individuals should be evaluated based on their specific merits and demerits, regardless of what Rawls might call their morally arbitrary membership in a certain group. Duchesne wants to muddy this position and claim that liberal individualism emerged precisely due to the merits of that given group which is then entitled to preserve its individualistic culture by excluding other groups on the basis of their immutable collective inferiority or incapability with liberal norms. This is why Duchesne even criticizes the assimilationist thesis that immigrants should be allowed to come so long as they abandon their prior culture and adopt militant liberal principles. Such a belief flows from the liberal tenant-qua Rawls, Kymlicka, and others—that any and all reasonable people should be capable of understanding and living by the basic principles of liberalism. Duchesne has to deny these basic tenants of liberalism if he is going to argue that most people, particularly those from non-white races, are not sufficiently reasonable to ever capably adopt liberal attitudes.

To use his preferred language, Duchesne deploys “collectivist” arguments to claim that large groups of people can never be individualistic enough to live in a country built by a white European collectivity whose group hegemony must be protected if Western individualism is to be preserved. These arguments are made all the stranger given that Duchesne himself is an immigrant from a Hispanic and Anglo background, who came to Canada when he was 15 and whose first language is neither French nor English. It is difficult to know how to respond to such peculiar and self-defeating reasoning.

Matt McManus recently completed his PhD in socio-legal studies at York University. He is currently Professor of Politics and International Relations at TEC De Monterrey. Matt can be reached at garion9@yorku.ca.

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