Peter Brimelow writes: This was the title of my much-denounced but completely unreported speech to ProEnglish’s breakout panel on “The Failure of Multiculturalism” at the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, which we post here in adapted form.
“Yawn”? Of course, I don’t really think the subject is boring. I think the public choice consequences of America’s creeping institutional bilingualism are profound. I think someone could be elected President by opposing it.
[See also Beware Bilingualism! The Catastrophic Canadian Case by Peter Brimelow]
Thank you, Bob [Robert Vandervoort, ProEnglish’s Executive Director].
Ladies and Gentleman:
Unlike Dr. Porter, [Rosalie Pedalino Porter] I’m still struggling with one language! So it may be that some of you may not be able to understand me, particularly in the back. If anybody can’t hear me just indicate in the usual way.
I want to thank ProEnglish for inviting me today. It’s very brave for a number of reasons. In the way back, you’ll see we have some copies of the Social Contract Magazine’s Winter 2006-2007 special VDARE.com issue which you can pick up for free. I don’t want them floating around my office anymore!
If you cross the border into Canada anywhere, you’re going to see bilingual signs in the airport and you’re going to conclude from this that there are a lot of bilingual and French-speaking people in the country. But this just isn’t true.
Less than a fifth (17%) of Canadians speak both languages. That number has not changed for many years. As far back as 1931, it was 12%. In spite of nearly 50 years of intense social engineering, since the Official Languages Act of 1967, that number hasn’t significantly increased.
And most of those bilinguals live in Quebec or its immediate environs. Above all, there are essentially no French-speakers, and very few bilingual Canadians, west of the Lakehead. For nearly 2000 miles, there is almost no French spoken in the home.
But nevertheless, at the moment, there is a bill being considered in the Canadian Parliament demanding that all Supreme Court Justices be able to hear arguments in French.
That doesn’t mean having a translator and listening to a French-language argument—it means the judges themselves have to be French-speaking, have to be bilingual.
Of course, this also means, as a practical matter, that there are going to be no more Western Canadians on the Supreme Court. And that’s really the main point to grasp about institutional bilingualism: it’s about power—it’s about the distribution of power and perquisites in a society.
I lived in Canada as a young man and I wrote a book about Canadian politics (The Patriot Game: Canada and the Canadian Question Revisited). Canada is a really interesting society. It’s responsible for a inventing a great number of modern political diseases that have subsequently infected the entire world.
One of them is multiculturalism, which in a nutshell is the determination of the elites throughout the First World not to press immigrants to assimilate—unlike in the U.S. in the early 20th century, where they had “Americanization” campaigns. Now it’s the direct opposite. The elites encourage immigrants not to assimilate.
Another of those modern political diseases is “bilingualism”.
As I said earlier, this is fundamentally about power. People like to say, “Well, it’s a great thing to speak more than one language.” I think this is hogwash, myself. I’ve never felt the absence of more than one language (I know Dr. Porter would disagree with me!) I do feel the absence of math. I wish I were better at math than I am. I think that’s because of the scientific world we live in.
But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about institutional bilingualism—requiring the government of the state, and institutions within it, to function in both languages on demand.
That’s exactly what’s happened in Canada. As a result of the 1967 Official Languages Act, the Federal Government, right across the country, now functions in both languages. And that means, as a practical matter, that it is substantially staffed by Francophones from Quebec. Institutional bilingualism has made a huge difference on the Federal Government’s hiring practices.
In certain areas of the county, for example, in Newfoundland where my first wife was born, or in the rural West, the Prairie provinces, a major thing that kids did in those areas was to go into the RCMP—the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. But that’s very difficult to do now, because of these bilingual requirements. As a practical matter, people do not learn two languages unless they’re in an environment where they hear both languages spoken. And most Canadians are not.
But the demographic realities in Canada are that only about 17% of the population speaks both languages. And over half of those are “Francophones”—Canspeak for people who speak French in their home. One out of every three Francophones is bilingual. But only one out of 15 of Canadian “Anglophones” are bilingual. So it’s a highly asymmetrical situation. Institutional bilingualism puts the majority language community at a serious disadvantage.
Now, there are basically two ways in which you can become an institutionally bilingual country. One is, you can bring a lot of immigrants in who speak a different language and persuade them not to assimilate. This is what the Americans have been working on since the 1965 Immigration Act. It has come a long way and it has created a whole new minority—“Hispanics”.
If you look in detail at the numbers, you see that 1990 was the first time the US census reported a category of native-born Americans, individuals born in the country and over the age of 14, who couldn’t speak English. It had never been picked up before.
The Census has another category, too: “linguistic isolation”—the number of families in which no one over the age of 14 speaks English. When I last looked at that, in the 2000 census, that number had doubled. And now it appears to have doubled again.
So we are steadily working on building foreign-language enclaves in this country.
But the second way you can move toward institutional bilingualism is to have a large part of your national territory that is entirely inhabited by people who don’t speak the majority language and don’t want to learn it.
The Canadians had this in the province of Quebec, where essentially all the Francophones in Canada live. Quebec is a nation-state in every sense except for political independence, and it’s very close to that now.
The Canadian elites, for reasons we can speculate about, were desperate to keep in Quebec in Confederation. So they decided to bribe it with, among other things, this Official Language policy. It created jobs all over the country. And it also had serious consequences for Canadian political discourse.
Now, the Americans are working on this second method too, of course, by considering the idea of bringing Puerto Rico into the union and making it a state. As far as I can see, every single Republican presidential candidate is in favor of this—not having given it two seconds’ thought, of course.
If Puerto Rico comes in to the Union and becomes a state, I don’t see how, under the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution, it’s going to be possible to stop institutional bilingualism spreading across the country. (We have an article about this on VDARE.com this morning)
I said earlier on that institutional bilingualism has a serious effect on political discourse. When Canada’s Official Language act was passed, it immediately became sacred, rather like the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the U.S. It was bitterly opposed at the time, for cogent and legitimate reasons, but once it was passed it became sacrosanct, a sacred cow. It is impossible for any public official to criticize the Official Language Act in Canada.
In the early 1970s, I was an editor for the Financial Post in Canada. And a young man came to see me who was running for the Progressive Conservative leadership—the equivalent to the Republican Party in the U.S. I asked him about the then-hot issue of free trade between the US and Canada. Free trade was a hot issue, but it was fiercely opposed by the Canadian Nationalists.
The young man immediately fell apart. He said, frankly, that he didn’t know anything about free trade—this was only the most important economic issue for Canada over its entire history that he didn’t know anything about. He said that, when he went into politics, he had to choose between learning French and learning economics. And, he said, “I chose French".
He was from Western Canada. And, you know, to learn a language so you can function and debate as an adult, is no mean task. It’s very time-consuming. I wasn’t surprised he didn’t have time to study economics.
So, anyway, I promptly lost interest in him. And he went on to win the leadership and, eventually, to become the Prime Minister of Canada. His name was Joe Clark.
But note this effect on Canadian public debate. At the time Clark said this to me, in the middle 1970s—none of you will remember this now, not even Bob—socialism was really on the march. Everybody thought that we were going to move to a permanently socialized society, with government-mandated wage and price controls. Nixon introduced wage and price controls here, long-time Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had given a speech in which he said, the free market doesn’t work, we need to have wage and price controls. We all really thought we were going to move all the way to a social democratic state.
And no one was opposing it, least of all Joe Clark, who just went along with the flow.
It’s hard to remember that now because it’s all been blown away by the great inflation of the early 1980s and by Ronald Reagan, God rest him.
But Canada was very slow to get that message. And one reason was the way in which their political climate was so messed up by this language stuff.
Canada is a warning. The way in which they imposed institutional bilingualism on federal and provincial [= state] institutions was a terrible thing. It led to the dispossession of people who aren’t bilingual. It’s been highly regressive. It’s meant that the power has remained in the hands of central Canada, when the demographics suggest it should be moving to the West, and specifically in the hands of Quebec, of course. And it’s had a highly regressive social effect. It meant, basically, that the government and the Canadian elite institutions are essentially all staffed by the same types of people—namely Francophones, and bilingual Anglophones, from Montreal and the central Canadian region.
Charles Murray has just written a book (Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 ) that says the elites here are getting out of touch with the majority. Well, that effect is enhanced in Canada by the effect of the Official Languages policy.
But there is also something very good about Canadian language policy which I didn’t think enough about at the time. That is, although the Federal Government institutions in Canada work in French and English, the Quebec government works entirely in French.
Over a period of several years in the 70s and 80s, successive governments in the province of Quebec passed legislation which essentially crushed the use of English in Quebec. You could not require an employee to speak English in most circumstances. You couldn’t even display signs in English in Quebec. So for example, if you go into an English language bookstore in Montreal, you’ll see a sign that said “Romans”— which means “novel.” All the books themselves are in English, but the sign is in French.
It does have this subliminal effect that you see in reverse when you go into the Vancouver airport. You forget about the presence of any Anglos in Quebec, in Montreal—although that’s a city which they essentially built, it was an English speaking city until very recently.
I think this example of what the Quebeckers have done, although it’s not pretty, is most interesting. It has actually completely broken the back of the Anglophone resistance to Quebec separatism. If people don’t like Quebec separatism, they leave. in fact the Quebec Anglos are now the most bilingual of all the ethnic groups in Canada. But they tend to be quite sympathetic, or at least resigned, to Quebec separatism.
Montreal was a bastion of the British Empire. It is the city with the greatest number of road signs to Queen Victoria in the world. But now it’s a French speaking city. In 50 or 60 years, Montreal Anglos have gone from being Romans to being Anglo Argentineans. Their ethnic patterns and social lives are slightly different. But they’re essentially assimilated.
I think that something like this Quebec language legislation is going to have to happen here in the U.S.
It’s not enough to have Official English as the government level. I get email all the time, from people in places like eastern Washington State, who say their kids can’t get jobs in McDonalds and stuff because they don’t speak Spanish. This creeping institutional bilingualism is a ferocious attack on the living standards of the American working class, the blue collar workers—just as current immigration policy in general is.
It will take Quebec-style legislation to stop it. They’ve shown us the way.
I will finish up with a hopeful anecdote. My first wife, who died some years ago, was from Newfoundland, which is an island in the North Atlantic. It’s sort of a salt-water Appalachia, really. No French at all is spoken there. But she was completely “bilingual”—that is to say, in Canadian terms, that she spoke French and English.
This was because her father, who like all Canadians thought it would be a good idea to work for the federal government, pushed her through French in school.
But it had the opposite effect of what they thought it was going to do. It had absolutely no effect at all on her attitudes to Quebec—tolerance for them and stuff. She retained all the traditional Newfoundland attitudes to Quebec, which is to say that she thought they were all thieves and should give back the Churchill Falls. (It’s a great rip-off off of Newfoundlanders, it’s rather arcane, we can talk about it later).
The important practical effect was that we had to go to Paris every year. In fact, she was living in Paris when I married her, and she had to come to Washington, for which she didn’t forgive me for a long time.
The moral is that it doesn’t work—these great social engineering programs don’t work.
Even though Joe Clark was a completely useless Prime Minister, nearly as bad as George W. Bush, the fact is that there is a Canadian government now that is predominately from English Canada. It did not require a Quebec vote to win. They’ve assembled a majority out of English Canada alone to win, something which I predicted in my Canadian book 25 years ago would eventually happen.
Now, they haven’t actually done very much about anything—because they’re still under the ideological hegemony of the Liberals and the Official Language myth.
But it’s going to happen.
Peter Brimelow (email him) is editor of VDARE.COM and author of the much-denounced Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster, (Random House - 1995) and The Worm in the Apple (HarperCollins - 2003)