Rex Murphy’s Canada And Other Matters Of Opinion

The Internet has inundated us with critics and commentators, most of them forgettable when they aren’t outright noxious. How many men or women can express an opinion worth hearing on public policy or sports, pop culture or global finance – let alone all of these, combined? Rex Murphy, the irascible Canadian columnist and former host of CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup, is such a person, and has been for some decades now. Even his enemies and ideological opponents read him with pleasure, if only to express their outrage and disagreement at “the latest Murphy column.” Canada And Other Matters Of Opinion collects almost ten years of his writings, on climate change and smoking bans, Yeats’ poetry and Pamela Anderson’s memoirs; the subjects vary widely, but Murphy’s trademark combination of wit and indignation – a posture nicely exemplified by the cover illustration – provide a unifying theme.

Murphy opens the book by paying tribute to Mordecai Richler, in the language William Wordsworth used to pay tribute to John Milton: “Ah, Mordecai, thou should’st be living at this hour!” If Mordecai is Canada’s Milton – quite a step down, however much you admire the man – does that make Murphy our Wordsworth? Rex Murphy is no poet, though he can certainly turn a phrase, but if he is to be flattered with comparison to a canonical author, it should be Swift, who boasted of using language like a “lash” to “make sin and folly bleed.” Contemporary Canada suffers no shortage of sin, and more than its fair share of folly, and chief among these is our relentless desire to empty our national identity of anything unique or distinguishing, beyond the saccharine commitments to tolerance and empathy and diversity.

Eventually we will tolerate and “inclusive” ourselves into oblivion. We will smudge or abrade our every common characteristic, violate all common sense in doing so, till “being Canadian” is a little more than a vague cloud of barely formed attitudes, a mere mist of politically correct half-thoughts empty of any content.

Alas, these words were written nearly a decade ago, before our current Prime Minister – qualified only to mouth banalities and look pretty while doing so – made them obsolete by declaring, in an interview with the New York Times, that Canada “has no core culture.” Indeed, Trudeau the Second went so far as to declare that Canada had become “the world’s first post-national state,” though how Canadians felt about that – or what, exactly, a post-national state is – was left unsaid. “Politically correct half thoughts empty of content” indeed.

To Murphy’s immense credit, he was one of the lone brave voices in Canadian journalism – in all of Western journalism, truth be told – who recognized the so-called Danish cartoon controversy as a pivotal moment in our history, a true clash of civilizational values, and unlike so many of his peers in the press, he stood firmly on the side of the cartoonists. More than that, he recognized the creeping tendency of “some Muslim authorities,” both outside and inside the West, to act as though they possess “a singular respect and immunity from all negative comment and remark.” He continued: “It is more than curious that those who do not believe in Islam should be expected, by some believers, to uphold the same codes of respect toward it as those who do.” I confess, to me it does not seem “curious” at all that “some Muslim authorities” would take such a stance, but Mr. Murphy is to be credited for having the courage to point out their hypocrisy all the same.

The last and perhaps best credit I can pay Mr. Murphy is this: after the latest campus controversy erupted earlier this month, when a plucky 22-year-old grad student had the forethought to record the shaming she incurred by two professors upset with her for daring to share two sides of a debate with her class, it was Rex Murphy’s column I most looked forward to, his indignation I wished to revel in.