Quebec nationalism, though providing important moments of revolutionary struggle (i.e. the Front de Libération du Québec), was by-and-large a false revolutionary nationalism. While it is true that the francophone sovereigntist struggle emerged in response to anglo-chauvinism, it was still the product of a nation of losing colonizers. The French arrived to settle, enslave, and genocide this hemisphere’s indigenous population––just like the English––they just happened to lose a colonial war and become a nation of subjugated colonizers. Even when they were under the economic domination of the Anglophones, they remained a parasitic settler-colonial nation: they would send their police to smash indigenous resistance, their sovereigntism was most often a denial of anti-colonial struggle because the only national struggle it recognized was a struggle of settlers. And this nationalism is, to paraphrase Fanon and Cesaire, ultimately nothing more than “a war amongst brothers.” . . . Hopefully the Bloc’s humiliating defeat in these recent federal elections will finally exorcise the ghost of that predatory nationalism that has lingered over the mass graves of indigenous peoples since its emergence.
We are used to nationalism being glorified by Conservatives of every ilk. Jingoism is one of the favorite Conservative pastimes, as we all know. You want to get people to die enthusiastically and for free? Nothing achieves that goal better than waving around a piece of painted fabric.
Here, however, we see a leftist blogger provide an extremely romanticized vision of nationalism. The right to nationalism, according to this blogger, has to be deserved. There are “pure” nationalisms based on the “legitimate” possession of the lands the nation claims as its own. Such nations have to be able to lay claim to struggles, persecutions and exploitations because without them they will never be pure enough to merit their own nationalism. These nationalisms that have cleansed themselves in the purifying ritual of true persecution can be applauded and supported in their nationalists struggles. This pure ideal, however, can be sullied easily by illegitimate nationalisms who take the sacred name of the nation in vain. Their claim to the lands and to the history attached to these lands is illegitimate. Their record of suffering is not nearly strong enough to put them on the same level with the kinds of nationalism that have proven their worth.
Of course, this is all bunk. There is no dichotomy of “legitimate” versus “illegitimate” nationalisms. A nation is always an “invented community,” a myth. No amount of research will be able to prove definitively who was where first and whose possession of which lands is “rightful.” A nationalism will either win or lose not on the basis of whether its claims are “righteous”, but, rather, based on whether it will be able to make its myth attractive enough to a significant number of people. How much truth goes into the myth of a nation is completely immaterial.
It is curious how people of seemingly different political persuasions use the same rhetoric to decry the evils of “false” nationalisms and exalt the redeeming features of the “true” ones. In the above-mentioned quote, the author attempts to disqualify Quebecois nationalism by mentioning the mass graves left by the French colonizers on the territories that the Francophones of today see as their homeland. It is self-evident, of course, that nowhere in the world will you be able to find a nationalism without its own share of mass graves and genocides. As Zygmunt Bauman pointed out in Liquid Modernity, a community cannot be constituted without an act of violence that would lie in its origins.
It might seem very progressive and even revolutionary to range nationalisms by the order of their presumed legitimacy. However, all such efforts achieve is a reaffirmation of nationalism as a pure and romantic ideal. A critique of nationalism as an ideological construct would be a truly subversive act. However, it would knock one of the most useful tools of manipulation out of the hands of both Conservatives and Liberals.