For many years now Canadians - at least those who are interested
in their country's history - have been exposed to countless books
and articles about the Canadian-American relationship. Most of the
authors inevitably concluded that Canada was slowly but surely drifting
into a closer relationship with the United States. In fact, some
writers even predicted that Canada's ultimate destiny was nothing
less than complete absorption into the American republic. In Fire
and Ice, Michael Adams challenges what he calls the existing
"myth of inevitability" and advances "the rarely
heard, and even more rarely substantiated, thesis that Canadians
and Americans are actually becoming increasingly different from
one another" (p. 4).
Adams is quite aware
that most Canadians may not, at first, believe him. He readily admits
"that Canada is increasingly dependent on the U.S. economy
and that Canadians consume increasing amounts of American popular
culture, products, services and imagination" (p. 140). He also
points out that in a recent public opinion poll - taken in 2002
- 58% of Canadians thought that "Canada had been becoming more
or less similar to the United States during the preceding ten years"
(p. 3). He also fully acknowledges that the two North American nations
do have, indeed, much in common, including such things as common
founding principles and similar political institutions.
However, Adams also
wants his readers to know that there are, in fact, some very fundamental
differences that have developed between the two countries over the
years. For example, he refers to the 'revolutionary tradition' in
the U.S.A as opposed to the 'counter-revolutionary tradition' in
Canada, the contrasting attitudes Americans and Canadians have towards
the roles of government, and the quite different beliefs they have
about the role of religion in their daily lives. As one reads each
chapter in Fire and Ice, one begins to believe that Adams
is onto something and that his thesis is not a mere flight of academic
fancy but rather a thoroughly researched and carefully constructed
The book is filled with
a vast array of statistics that he and his colleagues at Environics
compiled while conducting over 14000 individual interviews and numerous
focus groups and surveys. Based on these findings, Adams argues
that "fundamental values, motivations, and mindsets were changing"
(p. 7) in recent years in both Canada and the United States and
that these changes in peoples' social values have, in fact, created
two distinct societies in North America. The author, who is more
a social scientist than a historian (Seymour Lipset seems to be
his much admired role model) believes that much of what people say
when they are asked specific questions during public opinion polls
tends to reveal only how they feel about specific issues. Furthermore,
he argues that these polls generally do not involve the social value
assessment criteria that are required in order to elicit peoples'
more fundamental beliefs and values.
Adams makes skilfull
use of the social scientist's repertoire as he examines a variety
of areas of social change that have taken place in Canada and the
United States including religion, multiculturalism, immigration,
the status of women, patriarchal authority, consumerism, social
welfare, gun-control and many others. In the final analysis, Adams
concludes that his research data clearly establishes that Canadians
and Americans "embrace a different hierarchy of values"
(p. 147) and that the two nations "are socio-culturally distinct
and will remain so for many years to come - perhaps indefinitely"
Some of Adams' conclusions
may well be seen as quite provocative and will probably not endear
him to some readers - especially those who espouse the neo-conservative
vision for the Canada of the future - when he suggests that the
United States is becoming a country "where we find values of
nihilism, aggression, fear of the other, and consumptive one-upmanship"
(p. 72). While he supports the commonly held view that the United
States is "a more competitive society than Canada" and
that Americans are "more innovative", he also describes
America as being "more violent and more racist" (p. 115).
He suggests that "Americans worship money and success more
than Canadians do" but he also admits they are "more willing
to take risks in the hope that they might win than to ensure against
disaster in fear that they might lose" (p. 115). Meanwhile,
Canada, according to Adams, is showing "increasing flexibility,
openness, autonomy and fulfillment" (p. 74) and is perhaps
"becoming the home of a unique postmodern, postmaterial multiculturalism,
generating hardy strains of new hybrids that will enrich this country
and many others in the world" (p. 143).
Fire and Ice
is a clearly written and carefully researched book. In his introduction
the author spells out what he wants to say and in the subsequent
six short chapters he does what he said he would do. For the amateur
social scientists in us he has included seven appendices (60 pages
in length) which provide ample information about the social values
methodology that was used to collect and interpret the vast amount
of data. In addition, the book has a useful Trend Glossary, a carefully
prepared index, several humorous but thought-provoking cartoons
from the New Yorker, numerous graphs, and a short bibliography.
As far as usability in the classroom is concerned, Fire and Ice
is a "must read" for teachers and students who study the
Canadian-American relationship because it provides a compellingly
different view from the traditional interpretation as to where Canadian
and American societies are heading.
In my opinion, Fire
and Ice richly deserves to be the winner of the Donner Prize
as the best book on Canadian public policy in 2003/04. Perhaps this
paragraph - found at the end of chapter four of the book will best
sum up Michael Adams' message: "In my nightmares, I may see
the American fire melting the Canadian ice and then dream of the
waters created by the melting ice drowning the fire, but this will
not happen - at least not in our lifetimes. The two cultures will
continue side by side, converging their economies, technologies,
and now their security and defence policies, but they will continue
to diverge in the ways that most people in each country, I believe,
will continue to celebrate" (p. 126).