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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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THE question of Canada's relations to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the problems of whether and in what form a National Commission for UNESCO should be created have been perhaps the most difficult and complex of the matters assigned to us in our Terms of Reference. In the course of our inquiry we have examined the constitution and the operations of UNESCO and the nature of some thirty National Commissions already established in other countries. We have also made use of the varied and informative comments on UNESCO which have appeared from time to time in periodicals dealing with international affairs. Finally, we have received some seventy briefs from voluntary organizations in Canada dealing with the matter in more or less detail.

2. UNESCO has received enthusiastic support, particularly in democratic countries, for a variety of reasons. UNESCO has as its objective a peaceful world, to be made a reality by peaceful means. These means consist largely in conferences and in international exchanges of all sorts, which appeal strongly to social and intellectual interests. UNESCO not only pursues worthy and exciting aims; it invites even those who do not feel that they are very important to help in achieving them. UNESCO helps to relieve the feeling of frustration of those who know too well the results of war, but cannot comprehend the causes. It is an appeal to the best in democratic idealism; everyone is asked to help a little and is assured that every little helps. One of our witnesses stated his conviction that even in a mass-organized world there is a margin left for individuality and for personal initiative and that UNESCO's function is to bring home to the individual not only his opportunity to serve, but his moral obligation to do so.

3. On the other hand, UNESCO has, we are told, been more widely criticized than any other international agency. The enthusiasm of its promoters, convinced that "wars begin in the minds of men", took the minds of men as UNESCO's area of activity. These terms of reference have proved embarrassingly wide. Beginning modestly with one


hundred and forty-seven projects, UNESCO found it difficult to reject the many subsequent proposals that came in, because, even when these were concerned with such matters as the sterility of cattle at high altitudes, they were not demonstrably irrelevant to the minds of men. This catholicity of enterprise has led to high administrative costs, and the consequent curtailments of the budget have tended to narrow the orbit of operations rather than curtail their central administration. UNESCO is therefore accused of doing much talking, of organizinz [sic] too many meetings, of making too many plans and of producing too few results.

4. UNESCO is also accused of launching too many undertakings conceived by those who are inclined to equate long words with practical results. The inquiry "into the distinctive character of the various national cultures, ideals and legal systems--with the aim of stimulating the . . . respect of nations for each other's ideals" elicited the harsh comment that there are some national ideals which no one should respect;1 but the (apparently) resulting project of a UNESCO-sponsored "Scientific and Cultural History of Mankind" goes on. The "inquiry concerning the fundamental concepts of liberty, democracy, law and legality and concerning the influence on ideological controversies of different views of such concepts" came to the conclusion that fortunately all men believed in democracy today but that, unfortunately, they have varying concepts of democracy.2

5. Not all UNESCO's projects are so nebulous, but some of the more popular, such as the "Friendship Flag" and the "International Children's Newspaper", might be regarded even by the benevolent critic as fanciful.

6. UNESCO is criticized moreover, not only because of its soaring projects, but for its somewhat extravagant claims regarding the relevance of these projects to the attainment of peace. A critic who is far from hostile3 points out that literacy, although a necessary preparation to intellectual enlightenment, can be a preliminary to intellectual as well as to political slavery, and has been so in important areas of the modern world. Cultural exchanges, whether of pictures, musicians, actors or ballet dancers, although useful in themselves, do not necessarily resolve political differences. Only a few fanatics had less enjoyment in German or Italian music after 1940 than in earlier years; it will also no doubt be recalled that when in the eighteenth century England and France were engaged in a life and death struggle for colonial supremacy, they had a heartier admiration for each other's cultural achievements than ever before or perhaps since.

7. But the critics of UNESCO go further than these charges of unrealistic projects and of extravagant claims. They question the soundness of UNESCO's philosophic position that "since wars begin in the minds of men", wars will cease on the application of appropriate mental therapy.


Such an assumption, they contend, though superficially attractive, is based on a confusion between two uses of the word "mind". "Mind" may be used to denote man's whole moral nature or to mean simply his intellect. UNESCO workers, it is suggested, use the word in its first sense in their slogan, but in the second sense in planning their projects. At the Paris Conference of UNESCO, eleven out of twenty-seven speakers proposed to integrate a divided world by bringing the objectivity of the natural sciences to bear on social problems. Such pleasant illusions recall the panaceas that will indeed cure almost all those ills that normally cure themselves. "Is it possible . . . to prove scientifically that a society must not sacrifice too much liberty for the sake of security or too much security for the sake of liberty?" The critic answers his own question: even if there is agreement on a rational ideal there will be no automatic agreement on the manner of its application to particular circumstances.4

8. There are many who will agree on the superficiality of a philosophy which assumes the "purely rational character of all judgements which men make about each other, about their common life, and finally about the meaning of human existence itself".5 In tacit or overt recognition of this superficiality, men have from time immemorial developed religious creeds which cannot be logically or scientifically either proved or disproved. All historic cultures are more or less intimately associated with a religious creed and with a community. Yet the advocates of UNESCO in their optimism not only ignore but almost defy historical fact in their certain expectations of success: "I . . . have faith in the intelligence of men who are becoming aware that, although religions have failed, although states have failed, and political parties have failed . . . violence is an odious weapon . . ." 6 Thomas Hobbes said much the same thing, but the conclusions he drew thereafter would certainly be repudiated with horror in UNESCO circles. These criticisms point perhaps too harshly at the weaknesses of an organization which in the face of much cynicism and lethargy is striving to revive and to put in the place of extravagant nationalism one of the oldest and finest traditions of western Europe: that mutual understanding and sympathy is a moral obligation laid on all rational beings and that the fulfilment of this obligation can be an important contribution to international goodwill and harmony. In repeating the criticisms we have no thought of ranging ourselves with the cynical and the lethargic. On the contrary we believe with the authority whom we have quoted that an honest recognition of the causes of weakness in this important organization must bring home to every thoughtful person his obligation to give the greatest possible support to this cause.

9. We are particularly grateful to all those who have shown us the value of the practical work done by UNESCO and its usefulness in making men everywhere aware of their international rights and responsibili-


ties. The post-war world and its international organization would be hard to imagine without some agency specially charged with promoting and aiding intellectual and cultural exchanges of every sort. It would be folly to let the exuberant foliage of projects conceal the fruit of their achievements: educational relief to devastated areas, educational missions to backward countries, arrangements for the freer distribution of books, the offices of scientific co-operation, exchange fellowships and a host of other admirable and practical ventures. It is also only fair to recall that the urgent needs of devastated countries, together with the necessity of securing the active co-operation of specialists of all kinds, encouraged the original directors of UNESCO to be hospitable to the many varied plans of great interest to a variety of energetic enthusiasts.

10. For five years UNESCO has been struggling to carry out and make effective projects for which almost any budget would be inadequate; and the claims of its more ardent supporters have done it ill service. Its best friends hope that projects and claims may be reduced to reasonable proportions, and that as a balanced organization it may show a normal growth. A more businesslike administration would dispel much criticism; and a concentration on specific and attainable objectives would attract many friends who may now be repelled. Intellectual and cultural exchanges between Great Britain and France are in themselves an immediate and definite good, even if they do not solve the vexed questions of the moment; and a contribution from Canada to lessen illiteracy in Haiti is good both for Canadians and Haitians even if it does not ensure world peace. Peace, like happiness, is a by-product of efforts directed to other proper ends; and the great advantage of a concentration on immediate and worthy ends is that men of goodwill of all creeds and philosophies can join in them heartily. Another not unimportant advantage is that well-intentioned individuals skilled in arranging intellectual and cultural exchanges to the profit of all concerned will be less likely to bewilder some of their hearers and alienate others by such incomplete statements as: "Genuine agreement and understanding among men is possible because the ideas in men's minds, insofar as they are true ideas, are all aspects of one universal objective, Truth".

11. We have thought it necessary to make these lengthy comments on UNESCO since we have found that Canadians, although generally approaching the matter in a sensible and moderate manner, are somewhat inclined to press for unqualified support for UNESCO as a good thing without attempting to determine what UNESCO does and why. We did notice, occasionally, a rather vague idealism. "UNESCO is to promote peace through understanding". This was a favourite theme. Or in more detail, we noted, and even less precisely: "We feel that UNESCO as an idea is an expression of the latest development in philosophic thought;


I would say, today's philosophic expression of the present position in the long history of the struggle for world peace". On the other hand, there were several implied and one very specific statement that co-operation with UNESCO, although right and proper in all good works, should not be taken as an indication of Canada's acceptance of an anti-Christian or at least of a non-Christian philosophy.

12. There were also very frank admissions from many groups that they did not know as much as they should about UNESCO and that they were not in a position to give either praise or blame. They knew UNESCO as an organization for the peaceable development of peace; they knew that Canada was a member and made a substantial yearly contribution; and they were inclined to regret their lack of knowledge. There were complaints that no orderly means existed for obtaining publications by and about UNESCO, that the responsible department of government did not keep voluntary agencies in touch with what was being done in their fields of interest, and in particular, that civil servants were sent to UNESCO conferences rather than citizens at large who would be able to return and help maintain the "grass roots" contacts to which UNESCO attaches such importance.

13. These complaints were usually climaxed by demands for a National Commission for UNESCO, on the necessity for which the fifty groups appearing before us were almost unanimous. When asked what would be done by a National Commission not now being done in some other way, some replied in very general terms, others made definite proposals.

14. A UNESCO Commission, for instance, could be responsible for disseminating information, especially through a publication service. At present, UNESCO publications are inefficiently distributed and no adequate effort is made by the government department responsible to keep voluntary organizations informed of UNESCO matters. Canadians, we have been told, are no doubt failing to co-operate in many worthy projects for lack of information which a National Commission could give. Interest was expressed by various groups in aid to backward countries, in scholarship projects and in exchanges of learned persons.6

15. The most serious inconvenience arising from the lack of a National UNESCO Commission in Canada is apparently felt by those who are interested in the summer conferences and seminars arranged by UNESCO. Educational organizations and libraries showed particular interest in these gatherings and explained very clearly the existing drawbacks. To receive the maximum benefit, delegates should be selected some months (perhaps as much as a year) in advance. Early nomination is necessary in order to find the right person and to give him adequate time for preparation. Moreover, several organizations may be interested in the same conference and may wish to send a joint delegation. This is of particular importance


where funds have to be raised from private sources to meet expenses. In the past, information on conference and seminar plans has often come too late for proper action to be taken. Organizations feel a natural reluctance even to imply a criticism of individuals who, at the last moment, have agreed to represent them, often at some inconvenience. There is no need, however, to labour the point that the present lack of system greatly decreases the value of these important international gatherings to everyone involved; this, to many of our witnesses, seems to be avoidable.

16. Apart from certain practical advantages which are stated to stem from Canadian participation in UNESCO activities, the establishment of a National Commission for UNESCO was argued on the basis of moral, if not of legal obligations. According to Article VII of the UNESCO Constitution:

"Each Member State shall make such arrangements as suit its particular conditions for the purpose of associating its principal bodies interested in educational, scientific and cultural matters with the work of the organization, preferably by the formation of a National Commission broadly representative of the government and such bodies.7

17. According to this article, the only alternative to a National Commission is some other suitable arrangement for "associating its principal bodies engaged in educational, scientific and cultural matters with the work of the organization". Groups appearing before us not only asserted that no such arrangements had been made, but supported with detailed evidence their view that Canada's policy in this matter shows a want of firmness and consistency.

18. The case for the establishment of a National Commission, it seems to us, is expressed clearly and moderately by the Canadian Social Science research Council:

"It is essential for the vitality of Canada's own intellectual life and for the fullness of her contribution to that of the world that this country shall co-operate whole-heartedly with international efforts to promote education, science and culture. Whatever the shortcomings of UNESCO may be it is already highly important as a channel of communication and has great possibilities as an instrument for promoting understanding and co-operation. Canada should implement her membership as effectively as she can."8

19. On the composition of the proposed National Commission we received varying proposals. One organization would like to see a Bureau of Cultural Affairs with UNESCO as one of its concerns. Ten groups suggest a National Arts Board in one form or another which would, more or less directly, perform the functions of a UNESCO National Commission. Six others would like to see one National Commission representing in Canada all United Nations agencies and associated bodies.


These point out that it would be difficult to avoid duplication and overlapping if central organizations were established in Canada for the various agencies of the United Nations. This is particularly likely in Canada where many voluntary organizations have varied interests. Since the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization and other agencies contemplate National Commissions in the member states, it would seem prudent to forestall any waste of money and effort by establishing one central clearing house for information and co-operation.

20. In all, eight organizations or individuals proposed separate National Commissions for UNESCO and gave suggestions on their composition and functions. The most elaborate proposals came from two individuals who have had an unusual interest in and experience of the working of UNESCO. This plan proposes a General Assembly of forty-two, meeting once a year, composed of twenty-four representatives of voluntary societies, plus twelve from the appropriate government departments, and six members at large. The Executive Committee of nine is to meet three times a year and to establish special committees. There is to be an ample Secretariat (budget $75,000) with a General Secretary receiving a salary of $10,000. Special committees are to be allowed $10,000 a year; and the total annual budget amounts to $105,000.

21. Other plans, although less detailed and elaborate, follow in general this pattern: a fairly large body is to meet annually and to be representative of voluntary societies. The problems of relations with the government departments concerned with UNESCO do not receive much attention and the problem of constitutional relations with the provinces in educational matters is largely ignored. Most witnesses seem to prefer the representative commission of the United States and continental countries to the small unspecialized commissions of Great Britain and Australia.

22. We think it proper to conclude this section by repeating that voluntary organizations have shown some lack of critical comprehension of the general aims and methods of UNESCO and that they also are usually vague on matters of detail. This vagueness they frankly admit, but they deplore a governmental policy which they claim has left them in this unfortunate position. The general view in Canada is that UNESCO is doing good work, that Canada should co-operate more fully, and that it is undignified for our country to continue as a quasi-member of this excellent organization.

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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