Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Grievance Politics: Testing Canadian Confederation's Possible Bifurcation into a Mid-level of Selection

Last post I made a fairly unorthodox speculation that grievance based sacred value creation in divide and rule, weak empire networks, function less as a tool for between-group competition and more as a process tool to stabilize mid-levels of selection.

This post I want to test to see how accurate this idea may be.  I have not idea what to expect. The idea emanated from my reading of Nixon's "Struggle For Power in Early Modern Europe" which analyzes the 16th and 17th century European war of religions through a relational network lens.

Tests will include

  1. Canadian confederation (1800 - 1867)
  2. US confederation  (1790's to Civil War)
  3. US' ~1820's Great Religious Awakening
  4. US 1960's cultural destabilization (or great moral awakening)

I am no great historian so don't expect any great rigour.


French - English wars were foundational to Canadian North America. Protestant - Catholic divides were pronounced. After the Haudenosaunee confederacy's loss of Upper Canada under Tecumseh, Canadian confederation was functionally between two founding nations, the British which dominated Upper Canada and the French which dominated Lower Canada.

That both Upper and Lower Canada were ruled via weak empires under divisional based governance is uncontroversial. Power, the degree of colonial independence throws a wrench into things. Canada was at a long arm's distance from their central empires. After the US war of Independence, British policy was extremely conciliatory with respect to its Canadian colony. France increasingly left Lower Canada to its own devices.

Wikipedia lists a number of influences leading to Confederation. It also has a rather untrustworthy sounding section on the role of ideology in Confederation.

The major failing of this case for my theory is that French and English Canada represented colonial interests of two very different empires. A Quebecois grievance against the Canadian British would produce no special conciliation from their French empire.

Joint governance was always an unlikely scenario. Despite high tensions between the two colonies' politics and customs, a pluralistic outcome emerged. Britain headed off the US' sacralization of independence via extraordinarily generous concessions and "welfare" pay offs.

What seems to have happened is that as the tensions for assimilative compromise heightened, both parties pulled back and agreed upon "good-enough" borders for their cultures and values. During this process, one can argue that Quebecois culture gradually got sacralized. I'm not sure what happened on the English side? A bit of sacralization of "progressive" destiny? Sacralization of english westward expansion?

At any rate, it seems like both sides (potential) sacralizations served to head off the increasing frictions compromise was engendering. Pluralism emerged.

Was this a new level of selection as per my original theory? No.

Well....maybe a little?

Initially though, you ended up with no North American polity sized changes. Both groups largely dissed their old empires. The result of that split didn't really change the polity sizes that were already in play in terms of North America itself. But, one could argue that sacralization prevented immediate assimilation into a single large polity size. It also prevented Balkanization back into "city" sized sub-states. Population centres, Eastern Canada, and the territories, were able to connect with one of the founding nations. The line, "clear lines make for good neighbours" comes to mind. Canada has functionally stabilized at a two polity sized solution.  It is currently tending to a three-nation confederacy under strong federalism.

I think it is more than a bit of a stretch to say Canadian confederation supports my supposition that sacred value emergence in weak empires facilitates mid-sized polity size development and stabilization. However, I don't think the Canadian case disproves things. There just isn't enough information to support either conclusion. Arms-length colonialism split between two rival empires also confounds things.

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