Canada 150, Ricardo Duchesne, and the Genocidal Impulse

My university harbors a white supremacist.

Dr. Ricardo Duchesne is a tenured professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of New Brunswick, on its Saint John campus. Duchesne’s belief system is based on a belief in the uniqueness of “western civilization” and the inherent superiority of “European” and white culture in relation to others. Duchesne, proceeding from this position, has attacked “multiculturalism”, “mass immigration”, and, most famously, was involved in a spat with a Vancouver city Councillor after Duchesne described Vancouver as being transformed from a “serene, community-oriented, British city” into “a loud, congested Asian city (still attractive only because of the architectural and institutional legacy of past White generations).”

While there are numerous covert and overt white supremacists within Canadian academia, I have chosen to single out Ricardo Duchesne in this article for three reasons:

1) He is attached to the same institution as I am (though in different capacities, I am a student and he is a tenured professor).

2) He has chosen to act politically on his beliefs, founding an organization called the Council of European Canadians, which exists to “defend the interests of European Canadians,” which apparently has members across Canada.

3) Duchesne’s ideas represent an interesting example of how white supremacy operates in Canada and North America more broadly. That is, in a settler-colonial society which has come into being through the domination and genocide of indigenous peoples.

Purpose

I hold no illusions that this piece will convince Duchense to abandon his disgusting views, in my experience such people will only renounce their colonial mythologies when directly and aggressively pummeled into renouncement (and even then, very rarely), and I am not in a position to do that as of now. What I do hope is that this will help the reader understand and deconstruct the logic of Eurocentric, white supremacist views by narrowing in on a particular case. I especially hope some fellow UNB students, especially on the Saint John campus, will be aware of the paucity of Duchesne’s worldview.

Duchesne has an advantage over those who might criticize his views from a liberal standpoint in that his work is steeped in political economy (at one time his thesis supervisor was Marxist historian Georges Rude). Liberals often assume that racists are unintelligent or ignorant (often creating classist stereotypes of rednecks and country bumpkins to serve as projections of their own racism), but Duchesne is far from ignorant, however wrong he might be. His philosophy is an eclectic fusion of both right-wing Hegelianism and banal ethnocentrism with interesting appropriations from Marxism and Dependency Theory (in a grossly bastardized form, of course). In an ironic way, Duchesne demonstrates the effectiveness of historical materialism as a method, employing it selectively to bolster his ideas of European superiority and give them an air of objectivity. In order for there to be a  “left” response to such claims, we cannot cede the territory of objective political economy and retreat to postmodern relativism. As such, it is my goal here to begin to criticize Duchesne’s philosophy and epistemology with historical and material facts.

I should note that Duchesne is an immigrant from Puerto Rico. This presents some challenges to the approach of Liberal identity politics, which tends to attribute perspectives to the sum of people’s identities. By this logic, it might be assumed that Duchesne would default to anti-racism because of his experience as a non-European immigrant, yet this is clearly not the case. I will not speculate on why Duchesne holds the views he does, but I will attempt to disprove them.

Faustian Civilization, the underlying myth

In order to criticize though, it is first necessary to understand. Duchesne believes in a “Faustian impulse” at the heart of everything western. The abstract, and historically quite arbitrary, concept of “western civilization” is united by this “prime-symbol” of expansionism, of “pure and limitless space” (Spengler, as quoted in Duchesne, 2012). In this way, Duchesne unifies historically divergent and often antagonistic cultures – Indo-Europeans, Francs, Vikings, Slavs, Spaniards, and Brits –  into “Europeans”. Not only does this flatten historical differences between these peoples (Slavs historically did not get along with Vikings or Francs, who did not get along with each other), the qualifier for “Faustian impulse” seems quite ahistorical itself.

What constitutes the Faustian impulse? According to Duchesne, it is the Indo-European legacy of a collective, rather than despotic, elite who garnered respect from victory in various forms of mobile warfare. This rather vague generalization apparently constitutes the expansionist spirit which unites Vikings and Romans, who not only warred with each other, but had vastly different socioeconomic realities. Rome was a land empire managed with a centralized military force, while the Vikings were a loose, often divided coalition, focused mainly on raiding their neighbours and not on permanent conquest.

Duchesne’s “evidence” for this Faustian expansionism is hilariously scant. For example, Duchesne claims in both his essay “the Faustian impulse and European exploration” (2012) and his book, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization (2011), he claims that all Europeans inherited the Indo-European knack for map-making and cartographic expedition. Duchesne argues that because there are only 15 non-European explorers out of 274 recorded explorers, the Europeans simply must have been more driven to explore! Again, I cannot emphasize enough how hilariously elementary this “evidence” is.

Duchesne of course produces more “evidence” for his argument but it is based on the above underlying assumption. He praises early Greek cartography while lambasting Indian and Chinese civilization for being “disinterested” in exploration (this argument does not address the existence of the Silk Road or the potential for merchants to act as explorers). To my knowledge, India and China are the only non-European civilizations which Duchesne contrasts with “Western” Civilization. This betrays a selection bias which is wholly racist in its presentation of non-European civilizations as complacent and unmoving. Duchesne might be surprised to learn that other, non-European, civilizations were indeed very interested in exploration and cartography. For example, the Muslim Caliphates were aware of Australia several centuries before the Europeans, and the Pacific Islander indigenous peoples have extensive records of the Pacific Ocean.

Image result for piri reis map
The Piri Reis Map, named for a 16th-century Turkish/ Ottoman (i.e. non-European) cartographer.

Historical Whiteness and White myth-making

All that Duchesne says about “Western” Civilization and “Europeans” sounds hilarious when properly examined because his work projects a collective identity – the European identity – far into the past when, in fact, the idea of Europe is a recent one. There is no unified notion of “Europe” before 1492. There is no Europe and there is certainly no concept of a unified “white race” before the advent of capitalism and capitalist-imperialism. The unity of “Europeans” did not come into being out of a shared “spirit”, but out of the economic realities of the capitalist mode of production.

This also explains why the racial category of “white” is constantly in flux, and indeed reveals further gaps in Duchesne’s Faustian grand narrative of Europe. Slavs, Italians, and the Irish, while “European” geographically speaking, have historically had a contentious relationship with “whiteness”. In fact, the Irish and Italians were never considered whites until midway through the twentieth century (see Ignatiev, 1995), while Slavs continue to occupy a contentious position within whiteness, in many ways now defined by American imperialism’s attitude towards Russia and its neighbors.

Duchesne also neglects the question of non-white European peoples, especially the Roma and the Saami (indigenous people of northern Scandinavia). Are these peoples part of the “Faustian impulse”? Oddly enough, the Roma are the only people who can trace their genetic and cultural ancestry directly back to Indo-European migrants and yet they seem rather disinterested in pursuing their Faustian impulses and more concerned with surviving the state-sanctioned racism directed at them by white Europeans.

If Duchesne’s ahistorical conflation of Europe, whiteness, and the Faustian impulse is false in Europe, it is even more so in the colonies! Take Canada, for instance, Duchesne’s chosen home. Duchesne imagines that Canada is a product of the union of the French and British nations in a historic project and destiny. This romanticism of settler-colonialism is a gross simplification of the actual process of settlement. Most British settlers were not plucky explorers or devout missionaries of the Judeo-Christian worldview, but rather surplus populations that the crown felt did not belong in the capital; orphans (or “boat children”), Irish rabble-rousers, prostitutes, and other proverbial human waste picked off the streets of London and deported. The French for their part had no real settlement program until competition with England over the fur trade encouraged them to establish Quebec and Acadia, again populated with deported surplus populations, especially from the French countryside.

Of course, Duchesne might explain away this population management aspect of colonization as some sort of path to redemption for these dumped populations, as many settler-colonial hagiographies do. However, the persistence of class-based eugenics and social cleansing of the poor and homeless in Canada and the United States well into contemporary times shows that settler-colonial societies have always sought the dispossession and exclusion of designated surplus populations rather than their redemption.

There is one point in Duchesne’s argument that is correct: that the process of settlement created new nationalities out of these populations. It is true that Quebecois, Acadians, Anglo-Canadians, and Anglo-Americans are all national identities distinct to North America and produced by settler-colonialism. But this produces a problem for Duchesne’s epistemology – if these nations are distinctly North American are they still European? Duchesne assumes that they are because they are white nations (because remember, the assumption is that European = White).

Speaking of surplus populations, Duchesne’s mythology most significantly ignores the plight of indigenous peoples in “European” Canada. In a disgusting video on the Council of European Canadians’ website produced by Red Ice Creations (a noted “alt-right” media group which has also promoted Holocaust Denial), white supremacists respond to the supposedly “anti-white” phrase “go back to Europe” by alleging that the territories of the United States and Canada were, basically, won fair and square in some sort of epic war of hegemony. Such a claim would be hilarious if not for the harm it causes to our collective understanding of reality.

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Some of Red Ice’s videos, showcasing their flirtation with sleek-looking white populism and conspiracy theory.

What Duchesne wants to ignore, and what we Canadians are taught to ignore as we are compelled to celebrate this July 1st, is that this land was not claimed by some heroic feat of the Indo-European spirit, but stolen through a series of cheap tricks, broken promises, and mass slaughter of innocents, and it is this series of criminal, hypocritical activities which the collective identity of “white” or “European” rests upon. This country’s history is not a story of European warrior-princes carving out “pure and limitless space”, but of gangsters, soiling the earth in blood in search of the next fix of saleable commodities. Europe was not born out of a “Faustian impulse”, but a genocidal impulse.

Indigenous societies and in defense of their title

Duchesne, and I would speculate most white supremacists, subconsciously know this. They know that whiteness is a fragile identity which they must cling to precariously at the expense of others. They know that what unites German, British, Welsh, Irish, French, Basque, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian-descended North American whites is not centuries-old ethnic consciousness but a manufactured identity which only exists in the context of genocidal capitalism. Duchesne in fact explicitly warns against whites adopting the “shame” of acknowledging historical (and I would add ongoing) genocide in North America, arguing that this would unravel the cohesion of the European identity.

This is compatible with historical accuracy in Duchesne’s worldview because, in typical Eurocentric fashion, he dismisses Indigenous civilizations as “tribes” and ignores their achievements. In a recent talk, Duchesne defended the use of the term “Aboriginals” over “First Nations” because indigenous peoples did not constitute nations on three grounds (1) there was a lack of state-formation in Indigenous societies, (2) the indigenous population was relatively small, (3) they lacked cartographic or exploratory impulses (again with the “Faustian impulse”!).

This is a reproduction of terra nullius (“no one’s land”) ideology, the idea that the space we now call the Americas was “empty” of civilization and thus free to claim by settlers. There are, of course, numerous examples that prove that this is not the case. Not just the mighty Maya and Aztec states to the south, but numerous “Canadian” indigenous states besides; in Duchesne and mine’s own home province, the Mi’kmaq and the Wulastoq/Maliseet possessed a binational state in the form of the Wabanaki Confederacy. We know this because there is explicit recognition of the Wabanaki state as such in the Peace and Friendship Treaties signed with the British, an inter-state treaty agreement. 

A state I am more familiar with (and there is significantly more research on), the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy was territorially significant, comprising much of central-eastern North America, and a centralized state with a monopoly on force, i.e. a state in the Weberian sense. Again, this fact was recognized by the European powers. The Articles of Agreement and Peace signed September 24th and 25th, 1664, between the Iroquois and the British, Articles of Treaty of Peace proposed by Six Ambassadors from the Iroquois to the French signed in 1665, and Article 15 of the 1713 Treaty of Urecht all recognize this.

While the exact pre-colonial population of North America is (and likely always will be) up for debate, recent scholarship seriously contests Duchesne and other academics’ claims that the indigenous population of North America was only a few thousand. Research for Stannard’s work American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (1992), places pre-Columbus North American populations in the tens of millions. It would be a strange occurrence indeed if only a few thousand of these tens of millions lived in the bountiful forests, plains, and mountains of what is now called Canada. Indeed, it would defy everything we know about how populations choose to inhabit space. The current indigenous depopulation is a product of genocide, not a reflection of the “normal” population levels of Indigenous nations.

Finally, while I do not think it is particularly important to establish non-European civilizations as sufficiently “Faustian” to constitute nations, I do have a rejoinder to the implicit assumption of indigenous peoples as primitive and tribal due to their supposed lack of map-making. The work of M.G. Lewis (1998) on native map-making and “charte” art post-1540 shows that many indigenous societies, while not constructing formal maps in the Eurasian fashion, did possess records of places and spatial relations which they found easily transferable to cartography, implying an extensive knowledge of place and explorations into the territory of indigenous neighbors.

Conclusion

Frantz Fanon wrote in Wretched of the Earth (2008) that “Europe is literally a creation of the Third World,” and I cannot think of a discourse where this becomes more apparent then in the deconstruction of white supremacist ideologies. Everything that makes the various white and European nations white and European exists only because of imperialism and colonization, it exists only because of the exploitation and appropriation of resources from other lands and nations, it exists only because of genocide of non-Europeans.

Today, July 1st, marks the inauguration of “Canada” under the British North America Act, which explicitly defines Canada as an instrument of British imperialism and settler expansion. If settlers (or “Euro-Canadians” as Duchesne calls them) are to have a sustainable future, they must work to actively reject “Europe” and whiteness as defining characteristics, and seek collective reconciliation with indigenous people. At the absolute minimum, Canada must become a multinational state in both policy and practice which recognizes the unconditional right to self-determination for Indigenous people.

Duchesne might see the “demographic threat” to white Canadians as a tragedy, but the real tragedy is the demographic threat that the lie of whiteness has posed to indigenous people for these last 150 years. It is high time Duchesne and all Europeanists are thoroughly rejected as having anything good to say about Canada and its future and time the Indigenists take center stage in showing us the way forward.

References

DUCHESNE, R. (2012). “The Faustian Impulse and European Exploration,” Fortnightly Review.

DUCHESNE, R. (2011). The Uniqueness of Western Civilization. Boston: Brill Publishing.

FANON, F. (2008). The Wretched of the Earth. orig. 1961. Trans. Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press.

IGNATIEV, N. (1995). How the Irish Became White. New York: Routledge Publishing.

LEWIS, M.G. (1998). Cartographic Encounters: Perspectives on Native American Map-Making and Map Use. New York: University of Chicago Press.

STANNARD, D. (1992). American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World. New York: Oxford University Press.

 

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