Stand Up for Democracy

https://www.amazon.ca/Democracy-Chains-History…/…/1101980966

Democracy in Chains written by historian Nancy Maclean has written one of the most important books published within the last 100 years. If you want to see what the enemies of democracy are up to while Trump deliberately distracts everyone then give this a read; while everyone has been distracted by Trump’s antics (and he’s doing it on purpose because if there’s one guarantee its liberals will lose their shit at the least provocation), the Republican Party has garnered 24 of the 30 votes necessary to call a constitutional convention. The last convention was held by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, etc. back in the 1770s.

The objective of the new convention will be to repeal certain amendments. For example, they want to repeal Amendment 17. Amendment 17 was considered a victory by progressives back in the 1930s because it got rid of the practice of appointing senators and introduced the current system of having the People themselves vote for them. By repealing Amendment 17 the practice of appointing senators would be reintroduced and I can assure you that the will of the People will be utterly ignored. What you’ll see is an increase of corporate influence and interference over the organs of government.

You guys: if democracy fails in the United States it is only a matter of time before that sickness spreads to other countries. Quit falling for the distractions, put aside your petty differences, and come together.

Note: for context you need to also read a book published by Mark R. Levin (an influential thinker from the far right in the United States, e.g. The Liberty Amendments. You can see ALL of the amendments that the Right wants to push through. Another amendment is to make it illegal to pass budgets that create deficits. This sounds great in principle (i.e. don’t spend money you don’t have, etc.), however, this will be the Trojan Horse leading to the repeal of social programs like Social Security and Medicare.

One way or another, the United States will not look, feel or be the same following the next presidential election.

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The World Needs More of Canada

My American friend Lane wondered why Canada turned out so different than the United States. While conducting some research for a Canadian Studies class I teach, I came across the following paragraph explaining why Canada followed the direction it did (despite forces pushing it in other directions):

“What was revolutionary in Canada was not so much the arrival of democracy at its conception. Democracy arrived as a broad program of social, political, economic, and administrative policies consciously and intellectually designed to bring together opposing religions, languages and races. What was radical was the idea that a fair democracy could be based not on a definition of race as an expression of a nation state, but on what today we would call diversity; fairness was the key to diversity and diversity to fairness. The second revolutionary fact was that the Canadian movement was based on the rigorous use of political restraint, precisely the opposite of reform and revolutionary movements in Europe (1848) and the United States (1776-1783). Third, the reform movement here would manage to hold on to power while the others collapsed” (Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine & Robert Baldwin by John Raulston Saul (p.5-6)).

Canada’s English elite in 1848 genuinely believed in the importance of a race-based authoritarian form of government (dominated by the English minority); however, two leaders emerged–Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine (a Quebec politician) and Robert Baldwin (from Ontario)–who challenged the notion we had to live in two solitudes or warring tribes by bringing French and English together; these two men faced considerable pressure to give into the temptation to use violence to advance their political vision for the country; nevertheless, they had the courage and foresight to support, unequivocally, a principle of fairness where all of Canada’s stakeholders (relative to the 1840s) were given equal security under the law; and they created a country (and political process) where people were willing to make decisions based on one another’s opinions and well-being instead of one’s origins or tribe.

LaFontaine and Baldwin are my heros. The world needs more of Canada.

https://www.historicacanada.ca/…/heritag…/baldwin-lafontaine

Btw, LaFontaine was Canada’s first prime minister (pre-Confederation).

Teaching White Hatred…Accidentally

There are a lot of websites and videos online illustrating how terrible Europeans were with respect to establishing their overseas colonies or how poorly minorities have been treated in the former colonies of Canada and the United States. These sources are often used in primary, secondary and university classrooms. These ideas have their place in an accurate retelling of Canada’s and every other Western nation’s history.

I wonder though: how effectively is this information being presented? Is it taught in a nuanced way where students emerge with an appreciation for the overall ethical and historical significance of these events? Or is it taught in such a way as to push people towards fascism, towards obstructionism, or to reinforce an ideology like progressivism? Regrettably, the way these things are taught sometimes has unintended consequences.

The unstated premise of “white people have enjoyed unearned privilege and power” could be “white people are the enemy of progress.” I accept, historically speaking, that because of that power white people have inflicted–intentionally and unintentionally–a lot of pain and repression on people of color and other marginalized peoples. Also, I totally support the justice aims of everyone being secure in their person and equal under the law; however, the villianizing of white people will no more establish a culture of tolerance, or a more equitable and sympathetic society, than the repression of marginalized peoples could.

I am white (and a male) but I most certainly did not establish the reserve or residential school system. I never held the opinion that women could not do anything a man could do. I have always argued in favour of Canada possessing a progressive tax regime where the nation’s most vulnerable have access to healthcare or unemployment insurance. My being the prototypical “white male” has nothing to do with the values I hold; a sense of justice isn’t limited by or an expression of genetics.

So, I think it would be great if schools taught the facts–that yes Canada has some sordid periods of history–but avoid teaching this collective white guilt nonsense.

To illustrate: when I learned about Catholic repression of Lutherans during the 15th century when I was in my grade 10 history class, I automatically sided with the Lutherans and came to detest Catholicism. This is because I had no larger context to operate under. I had a knee jerk reaction (typical of emotion rather than reason at work). I just saw injustice in the most immediate sense and failed to see a larger picture (mainly because my history teacher was substandard). Over time I came to see the issue in a more nuanced way and that I did not have to practice self hatred (I was a Catholic) in order to feel fraternity with Protestants.

I have since studied race relations at the university level and had professors tell me only white people are capable of being racist or repressing others. I challenged that notion in class by appealing to racial/ethnic differences being the cause of genocides in Rwanda and Turkey in the 20th century; and I pointed to the fact that the Chinese have an unflattering term used in reference to white people that translates to ‘garbage’ and that during the 1930s and 40s Japan taught master race theory to its people. My professors largely ignored me (one literally telling me to just be quiet).

So it seems I had crappy professors and teachers at every level: myopic intellectuals fixated on the moment or present need, incapable of seeing a larger picture.
If we are realistic we accept the fact any individual can not only experience racism but also be a racist. Schools that teach a limited narrative, that refuse to build an appropriate overall context are inadvertently teaching young white people not only to hold a greater sense of civil responsibility to others but also, potentially, to feel a sense of “white guilt.” This is counter-productive; and while this might appease the emotional requirements for revenge held by some of the more emotionally charged folks out there, it results in the creation of a self defeating fiction.

Effective teaching would not result in this happening. If you go into teaching, please do not do this.

Does the Left Appeal to Guilt as Opposed to Principles?

http://thestarphoenix.com/…/column-why-not-rewrite-the-enti…

Gormley’s article (see link above) is a satirical piece pressing home the point that people need to chill with all the engineering of society through language. For example, there are people who want to change the New Testament so it doesn’t say “Jesus sits at the right hand of the father” because it alienates left handed people. These social justice warriors are well-intentioned people but they:

1). Mistake their own sense of personal indignancy as the standard by which all others should measure what is socially acceptable or unacceptable. The identity wing of the political left definitely shares some behaviors and attitudes consistent with ‘benevolent’ authoritarian regimes.

2). They assume that nuances or any semblance of tradition cannot continue to exist because it reflects white male patriarchy.

I confess I understand what they want to achieve but their activity makes me fearful because good people are afraid to disagree with them since no one wants to appear to be bigoted or prejudiced; whereas if I disagree with them I might, in fact, be reasonable and justified in doing so.

Some Thoughts About the Left

Never has there been an example in history where an ideology (or a group of ideologues) say to themselves: we’ve gone far enough, no further, e.g. identity politics, political correctness, etc. just like National Socialism or communism in the 20th century have a certain grim logic to them that seems to escape its adherents, e.g. when I use the phrase “Boy, it sure is hot out here” and feminists consider the usage of the word “boy” a form of micro-aggression, I think it’s safe to say we are living in a society that has more in common with Orwell’s “1984” than the Canada Baldwin/Lafontaine’s envisioned or the America Jefferson/Lincoln envisioned.

Watch the video below before continuing on.

I suppose this is what Hegel alluded to when he observed history is composed of paradigm pendulum swings where conservatism is ascendant for a time, then the paradigm swings the other way and liberalism becomes fashionable, and so on and so forth. This new “liberalism” isn’t liberalism though; it’s a pseudo-liberalism that smells more like a secular religion than a political philosophy, e.g. if you go back centuries the Catholic Church tried to engineer society by controlling what thoughts and ideas and expressions its adherents used to help save them from hellfire. The politically correct crowd is equally well-intentioned when it comes to “saving” people from oppression it seems; it is something if not ironic that in an effort to combat oppression the political left has become oppressive itself. I abandoned the left primarily for this reason and gladly occupy the center. I’m hoping more people will join me there going forward.

Take heart: maybe liberals will be reminded that everyone is entitled to intellectual freedom, expression, etc….even those they disagree with or the ones who promote unpopular views. You don’t fight terrible ideas by turning your back and not listening or outlawing them from being expressed; you fight lousy ideas by coming up with better ones and communicating them rationally.

The Problem With Refugees

We are a nation of immigrants; it’s a fact: go back far enough every single one of us—European, African, Asian, even First Nations and Inuit—can trace their origins to somewhere other than Canada. Humanity explores, it puts down roots and calls wherever it happens to end up home. People attach a lot of importance to their home; this is where they raise their families, form their worldview, worship, work, play and build a life for themselves. Thus, it isn’t terribly surprising when we encounter strangers living among us one of our first instincts is to become defensive as opposed to open.

Canadians might be awfully polite but they certainly aren’t immune to xenophobia or fear. There were three major waves of Irish immigration to British North America: the first came around the time of the American Revolution in the 1780s; the second took place during the 1840s when a potato famine drove approximately 1.5 million Irish Catholics to Canada. My ancestors on my father’s side arrived in the United States during the third wave in the 1890s; they established a farm somewhere in the American Midwest eventually moving north to Canada to take advantage of free land on offer in the Canadian West. In all three cases, the Irish were not generally well-received: in the context of both Canada and the United States, English Protestants felt threatened by the sudden influx of non-English Catholics to their countries.

The Irish were thankful for the opportunities afforded to them by their adoptive countries; nevertheless, inevitably their presence elicited negative reactions among Americans and Canadians alike. Newcomers always force us into uncomfortable spaces by challenging us to re-evaluate ourselves and our priorities; they compel us to ask questions around what it means to be a people and a nation. In the present day, some of us are responding as well as can be expected to Syrian refugees (and, more recently, to others groups escaping to Canada because of an uncertain future in the United States). Most of our problems when it comes to dealing constructively with one another is the result of a certain inability to empathize with one another. The people best responding to the recent influx of refugees are those capable of seeing something of themselves in these new immigrants—people displaced by famine, war, and repression in their home countries; yet, there are others of us who aren’t responding so well: ironically, some Canadians on social media are using the self-same arguments against Syrians that previous generations used against their own Irish, Norwegian, Swedish, German and Ukrainian ancestors, e.g. these people aren’t like us; they didn’t work for what we have; we owe them nothing; they’re wrecking the country; everything was so much better before they came; they’re stealing our jobs; they’re lazy, smell, speak funny, and don’t look like us real Canadians.

The idea of a real Canadian versus a fake one is a strange concept to me; it’s not like we can freeze time and say there, back in the 1820s (November to be exact) during the colonial period, that is what Canadians should strive to be, we should all be white, English Protestant United Empire Loyalists; or wait it’s 1867 and Canadians can be French Catholic now, just not too French, but it’s tolerated; or it’s 1945 and the end of World War II, England is less important to us and out of compassion we’re welcoming Hungarians and other dispossessed persons to Canada because they need our help, we didn’t like them so much in 1905 but times have changed; or it’s 1965 and we have a new flag and First Nations peoples are no longer willing to be second-class citizens and the majority of Canada’s immigrants are from Africa and Asia and, without us even realizing it, we’ve moved from biculturalism to multiculturalism. We didn’t even notice the change (and certainly didn’t plan it). But we are, and will continue to be, a multicultural society whether critics like it or not.

Friedrich Nietzsche observed humanity is in essentially a continuous state of revolution (or paradigm change); we don’t recognize these changes because what once appeared as revolutionary eventually becomes the basis of a new normal. Thus, a Canadian born in 1840 naturally answers the question “What is a Canadian?” differently than say one born in 1867, 1919, 1945, 1965, 1995, or 2017. If there’s a standard definition of what constitutes a true Canadian, it’s a floating one and it definitely isn’t as simple as saying it is someone who is white, English-speaking, and Christian. With that said, the recent wave of Syrian immigration to Canada is taking place during a time of significant stress: the recovery of the global economy from the shock it received during the Great Recession (2009) is still in doubt and we continue living with its legacy, e.g. wealth continues to become increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, Canadians and Americans are becoming more and more desperate because of a sense of financial insecurity, and where the economy goes so too goes our seeming capacity to practice tolerance and pluralism; also, we are also confronted by the specter of climate change and an inability to deal with it effectively or its secondary effects, e.g. 21.5 million people are currently displaced worldwide and considered climate change refugees (some of whom are seeking refuge in North America and Europe); this number is bound to grow as climate change’s effects become increasingly severe and ubiquitous; and right wing political movements—secular and religious—are growing in popularity as though we’re taking part in some sort of macabre replay or dress rehearsal for World War III; given all that’s going on it’s little wonder so many people have such mixed feelings about helping strange Syrian refugees when existing Canadians themselves don’t feel secure enough about their own or their children’s futures.[1]

So where does this leave us? I suppose at one of those revolutionary periods Nietzsche mentioned. The great irony is we possess all the knowledge and understanding to solve every single one of our problems; yet, it seems we’re doomed to repeat past mistakes instead of learning from them because of a fundamental lack of collective character or imagination to conceive of new ways of living with and treating one another. There’s not much historical precedent when it comes to nations or societies becoming selfless or other-centered in times of significant economic downturn, political upheaval or when confronted by an existential crisis as significant as climate change. However, I would argue we can use how we eventually decide to treat refugees and immigrants as a litmus test for our future prospects. Some political theorists argue history is on the side of democracy. I like the sentiment but I would add the following caveat: history is on the side of those who want to survive. The great irony is most people think survival means circling our wagons, siding with the tribe and pushing strangers out. The truth is the world is a much smaller place in 2017 than it was in 1917. For this reason, I believe, if we’re going to survive we’re going to have to find ways to do it together; it’ll be cooperation not competition that’ll determine humankind’s direction and whether there’ll be a Canada or a United States for future generations to immigrate to.

 

Notes
[1]
http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/syrian-refugees-poll-trump-1.3988716

Westminster: Governing Through Reason, Not Tradition

The Westminster system of parliamentary democracy was established on the basis of reason and not traditional authority: after years of civil war (1642-51) between the middle and upper classes in England forced the Crown to eventually submit to the authority of a written constitution called the Bill of Rights (1688). England became a constitutional monarchy effectively ending the problems associated with either a king or queen changing their mind or a law at a whim. With the Bill of Rights in place, the Crown now governed with the consent of the governed while being limited by the law (reason).

The establishment of constitutional law in England introduced an era of unparalleled stability continuing into the present day. Prior to the Bill of Rights authority was exercised more or less on an appeal to either tradition or power, e.g. family dynasties, etc. and an appeal to God’s will, e.g. Divine Right of Kings. The problem with kings or queens is some of them aren’t particularly bright or well-suited to rule. With the establishment of a functional and well-organized parliamentary system, rulers became accountable no longer to something abstract like a good but to something concrete like the law. No one was above the law any longer.  Not even the king.

Since President Donald Trump assumed the presidency this past January, he has been an executive order writing machine. The executive branch of the United States Federal government has been gradually growing in power since the end of World War II. Although federalists like John Adams and George Washington believed in the need for a strong central government, it is unlikely that they would have approved of any president governing essentially by decree; however, these revolutionary brothers occupied a simpler time when factionalism was only beginning in the new republic known as the United States. In 2017, and with the Congress and American polity so divided, it has become more and more common for presidents to govern less by consent and more by fiat.

The Americans do not have parliamentary democracy; rather, they utilize a republican system that nonetheless possesses certain qualities in common with a parliamentary system, e.g. there are three branches (legislative, executive, judiciary), the government governs on the basis of the rule of law, and the law (and separation of the various branches) ensures no single branch oversteps its power. On January 27th, President Trump signed an executive order effectively banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries traveling to the United States. A federal judge, however, took issue with the constitutionality of Trump’s order and blocked it. Specifically, the judge argued the executive order violated the “establishment clause” of the Constitution (1783). The argument, so far as I understand it, is that the Federal government could not show preferential treatment for Christians seeking asylum over Muslims. The United States, despite assertions to the contrary, is not a “Christian” nation but a “secular” one in which Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. are allowed the freedom of worship and equally secure under the law. President Trump argued the courts had failed the United States. In reality the courts (or judiciary) worked precisely how they’re supposed to by preventing the executive branch from overstepping its authority, i.e. when you become president you don’t become “king of the world”. Your powers are limited (and wisely so).

* * * * *

As early as the 17th Century, democratic ideas like equality and liberty had grown in popularity and acceptance among the peoples of the Old and New Worlds. The Age of Reason (also called the Enlightenment) placed into doubt the wisdom of blindly accepting the authority of either the Church or the Crown. The Enlightenment created a fertile environment for philosophers and politicians to dissent and criticize traditional authority; and with every passing year in France of the 18th century, it became harder and harder for a tiny aristocracy to justify its lavish lifestyle while tens of millions of farmers, laborers, artisans and merchants, etc. all tried to eke out an existence.

Across the Channel in England (1685), King James II attempted to make himself something of an absolute monarch. He believed in and appealed to others to believe in the Doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. According to this superstition, God had made James II king; therefore, if the people wanted to obey God then they would have to obey James. The middle and upper classes of England were not convinced (and disliked the trend of absolute monarchs appearing on the Continent). During the Glorious Revolution (1688), the English people rose up overthrowing James II.  James’ successor was his nephew William of Orange (later known as William III).

King William III accepted the Westminster System of parliamentary democracy when he acknowledged the supremacy of the English Constitution (Bill of Rights (1689)).  Instead of an absolute monarchy, England established the world’s first constitutional monarchy.  Responsible government had arrived as the king could no longer suspend laws, levy taxes, make royal appointments, or maintain a standing army during peacetime without Parliament’s permission. The King was effectively limited by the law. According to the Westminster System, parliament was divided into an upper house representing the aristocracy (House of Lords) and a lower house representing the merchant class and basically everybody else (House of Commons). The wisdom behind the division is obvious: each house represented the interests of their particular class and new laws (taxes) would have to be approved by both houses (ensuring no clique or segment of society could unilaterally rule the nation). This meant that in theory no one segment in society would have more power than another. For a new law to be passed it had to be demonstrated that it was reasonable, fair and did not violate the Constitution. Gone were the days when the king made up the rules as they went along. Arrived now were the days of responsible government whereby the king and Parliament were held accountable for their actions or inaction.

* * * * *

Canadians living in British North America rightly believed England’s political institutions to be some of the most “enlightened” on Earth; however, the colonies of British North America had the misfortune of inheriting not the Westminster but a colonial system of government with the passage of the Constitution Act (1791). The Constitution Act actually increased rather than decreased the power and privilege of the aristocratic and business elite in the Canada, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. The power of the colonial government was so complete that the governor of Lower Canada could be said to possess more power than even the English king exercised in Westminster. The fundamental reason responsible government was not established in Canada was to prevent another American-style revolution. Westminster reasoned that America had rebelled because it had been given too much freedom; therefore, the logical response (to the English at least) was a reduction of freedoms, a turning back of the clock so to speak to less “progressive” times.

Absolute power was therefore given to the aristocracy of Upper (Family Compact) and Lower Canada (Chateau Clique). The reason the British chose to side with the aristocracy was because they were predictable: they could always be counted on to pursue their own self-interest at the expense of the greater population. (Not much has changed to be honest.) To the British Government the elite were “our kind of guys” (so to speak). The masses, unlike the aristocracy, were supposedly incapable of being reasoned with. They had to be controlled. Members of the upper classes argued the poor simply didn’t know what was good for them. Whenever any segment of society possesses privileges not enjoyed by all a condition of class struggle exists; and Canadians in the 1830s no less than the English (1688), Americans (1776) or French (1789) before them desired liberty and responsible government.  Politicians like Louis Joseph Papineau, William Lyon Mackenzie and Joseph Howe, though differing in their means, all wanted the same thing: they wanted the citizens of British North America to enjoy the self-same democratic rights enjoyed by the people of England itself.

In every society (regardless of the century), there is an ongoing struggle between two classes of people: there are those that “have,” e.g. aristocrats, priests, wealthy businessmen, etc. and those that “have not,” e.g. serfs, slaves, plebeians, and industrial workers. The 19th century political philosopher and economist Karl Marx called this condition a class struggle. To him class struggle was a permanent state of affairs; it could only be destroyed by destroying class itself. Further still, Marx argued it was natural for the upper class to try to maintain its privileges. After all, if you were rich, wouldn’t you seek to maintain your standard of living? And it was just as understandable for the lower classes to want to improve their own material and legal situation. Marx argued that the workers and laborers would one day rise up, cast off their chains, and overthrow the ruling class. He further argued that the working class (whom he called the Proletariat) would establish an ideal society where class no longer existed.  Marx of course was completely wrong. There were Marxist or communist revolutions in the 19th and 20th centuries; however, a new ruling class always emerged following each revolution that was successful, e.g. the Bolsheviks formed the basis of an economic elite in the Soviet Union while the inaptly named Communist Party (in contemporary fascist) China likewise forms the basis of an elite.

The colonial system in British North America established through the passing of the Constitution Act (1791) was by its very nature unfair; that is, it placed all the decision-making power into the hands of the few (oligarchy) while completely ignoring the needs of the many. For example, the common person had the privilege of paying taxes but no say on how those taxes might be spent. In such a situation, it was inevitable that the lower classes would regard violence as preferable to the status-quo. The rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada (1837-38) were a catalyst for such change. The rebellions woke the British up to the fact that maintaining “peace, order, and good government” in Canada did not depend upon building an alliance with the wealthy elite. Instead, good government depended upon the reverse: establishing relevant democratic political institutions that empowered everyone—regardless of class—giving everyone a voice in their own government. The English learned this very same lesson in the 1600s when they removed a would-be absolute monarch in James II.  For some reason the British lacked the foresight to apply the same wisdom to the American colonies in the 1770s or its Canadian possessions in the 1830s.

Society, when governed by laws, runs smoothly; it might be counter-intuitive to people in positions of great power but laws are supposed to be inconvenient; they’re supposed to be limiting, i.e. we cannot rely upon the good character or judgement of men or women occupying positions of influence. Instead, we rely upon a combination of a leader’s prerogative while balancing their decisions against constitutional standards of what is lawful and what is not. While I doubt President Trump is much of a student of history (especially legal history), I suspect he learned a valuable lesson when he attempted to push the ill-advised executive order banning Muslims from traveling to the United States through. Specifically, he is not the “boss” of the United States; he’s the “president” and there things he can do and things, constitutionally speaking, he cannot do.