Quebec's Premier Marois is proposing legislation that, in the interest of uniting the province, would include a ban on religious headwear for public employees. (See Pauline Marois: 'Charter of Quebec Values' Will Help Unite Province.) That the imposition of this type of homogeneity may serve to further unity may have some validity. This type of argument -- that greater uniformity within a given population would foster unity within that population -- actually has historical precedence.
Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, included this type of argument in advocating for the expulsion of the Jews (and Moslems) from Spain in the late 15th Century. He contended that their heterogeneous ways impacted negatively on the harmony of the nation. Of course, Premier Marois is not promoting a similar expulsion of people who have different practices from Quebec but the principle she is applying is the same: differences cause disunity and, as such, unity is promoted through the removal of differences.
Many communist countries also shared the same viewpoint. Their argument was that the development of the collective -- which is built on the principle of the absolute unity of the whole -- is served, in a great measure, by the minimization of individual distinction. As such, there was even a value, in some countries, in a monolithic dress code. Again, the argument is that, if we all act the same, we will see ourselves as all the same and this will further bind us together.
The reality is that this argument is not necessarily incorrect. It is logical to assume that a homogeneous population will be more easily unified. The real question is: at what cost? There is also great value in individuality -- and, as Spain and many communist countries eventually found out, there is actually great cost in the push for uniformity.
There is no doubt that greater individuality and heterogeneity also increases the challenges we must face in order to meet our goal of unity and harmony. The increased effort required to achieve unity cannot, however, lead us to forget the equally important value we ascribe to individuality.
Further, we must recognize that a unity built on homogeneity does not even begin to compare to a unity that includes heterogeneity. No, unity here cannot be at the expense of individuality. The very greatness of our value system in Canada is that we, as a country, strive for a unity that celebrates heterogeneity.
I have no doubt that Premier Marois truly believes her argument that her plan will foster unity in her province. Yet, what kind of unity will that be and what will be the cost of it?