Treason and patriotism in Canada and the current-day world – updated to 2022 (Part One)
By Mark Wegierski
It may be noticed that, as the processes of late modernity increasingly envelop the planet, many traditional ideas, notions, and concepts, are undergoing radical revision. Certainly, the ideas of treason and patriotism have been subject to enormous shifts since the beginning of the twentieth century.
Ideas of treason and patriotism are important to the Canadian situation for a variety of reasons. Much of traditional English-Canadian identity is bound up with the profession of loyalty to the Sovereign or Monarch. A person who fails to profess loyalty to the Sovereign or Monarch is, in the traditional conception, being disloyal to Canada. At the same time, there have been a number of times in current-day Canada when Québécois nationalists have been accused of treason. One should examine these accusations in the light of current thinking about what constitutes treason, in Canada as well as elsewhere.
Ideas of treason and patriotism seem to be most pronounced in societies which could be called traditional. The manifest showing of disloyalty to a country or nation, or its chief symbols, has often met with severe censure or punishment. At the same time, making common cause with one's nation's enemies, typically in the forms of espionage, sabotage, or extremely vocal agitation, was often considered "high treason," punishable by death or long and harsh prison terms. Looking at the history of the second half of the twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty-first, it is hard not to conclude that, for Western societies at least, "treason is not what it used to be."
The questions of loyalty as between Church and State have always been particularly difficult. According to English historian Edward Gibbon, much of the persecutions of Christians under the Roman Empire stemmed from the latter's intransigence to make even the slightest recognition of loyalty to the Emperor (i.e., burning some incense before a statuette of the Emperor) which was interpreted by Christians not as a civic or patriotic ritual, but one of idolatrous recognition of the divinity of the Emperor rather than that of Christ. Christians would face the most severe tortures and death, rather than submit to this ritual.
Much later, English Catholics and French Protestants were almost invariably suspected of treason against their respective countries, and subject to the severest persecutions. The Huguenots of France – after such calamities as the St. Bartholomew’s Night Massacre -- were almost entirely expelled in the end – becoming part of Protestant societies. The brief Catholic ascendancy of Queen Mary in England was continually characterized by Protestant English historians as a period of bloody persecution. Arguably, it was her Protestant successor Queen Elizabeth who carried out far more extensive persecutions of Roman Catholics. The so-called Test Acts introduced at a later period called for every person in the realm to receive communion in the Church of England two or three times a year, or be stripped of all civil and political rights. At that time, it was well-known that very few sincere and devoted Roman Catholics would consent to do that -- so these were an odious vehicle for deliberate, mass disenfranchisement. One of the best indications of the ingrained anti-Catholicism of the English or British state were its habitual, derogatory references to "Popery", or "the Romish church" (with its "Jesuit spies" and "Spanish Inquisition"), seen as "enemy number one."
Nevertheless, Roman Catholicism in England managed to attract a long and illustrious lineage of intellectual apologists, such as Sir Thomas More, many of whom faced martyrdom.
The anti-Catholicism of the English or British state was largely transferred to America. In virtually any era of America's history, one could point to periodic outbreaks of severe anti-Catholicism. Indeed, Roman Catholics have been under almost constant suspicion -- whether from Protestant or secularist critics -- of being "un-American." At the same time, it must be pointed out that probably one of the largest desertions from the U.S. army occurred during the Mexican-American War, where the Mexicans were able to raise the so-called San Patricio battalion from Irish Catholic U.S. deserters and prisoners of war. The U.S. army unsurprisingly immediately hanged upon capture any identified member of this formation.
One of the most savage, modern armed conflicts between Church and State was the uprising of the so-called Cristeros in late-1920s Mexico – against a ferociously enforced secularization. There is a recent major movie depicting this conflict – For Greater Glory.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.