Sunday, September 14, 2008

Silly season: election Carnival and the inversion of Society

Perhaps it's just my innate silliness, but I can't associate "Flavelle" and "Liberal" without thinking of righteous pork barrels, not to mention Hogtown snobbery.

I have no idea, beyond the provided biographical note, who the writer Christopher Flavelle is, or from whence he comes. Still, fwiw, silly is what I think of What's the matter with Canada? - By Christopher Flavelle - Slate Magazine which portrays Stephen Harper as some kind of radical evil who is, among other things, only a step away from outlawing abortion, and socialized medicine, and outrageously lowering taxes to the point of threatening budgetary surpluses!

Well, some folks can dream...

The article is not to debate seriously, but I link it because I think it is a worthwhile illustration of the trouble left-liberal politics is having in finding a grand narrative to make sense of our times: I am surely not the only one who sees an increasing reliance on demonization and apocalyptic scare mongering that is out of touch with much of our banal reality.

Perhaps the reason for this loss of touch is because many retain a desire for grand narratives, even when the age of mythical thinking should be ever shrinking and we should no longer be seeking a singular "story of our times" but rather living well in an age of many narratives devoted to protecting and building our shared modernity (the irrational threat to which, from the left-Islamist alliance, helps constitute the only big narrative left, but even then we will eventually win this round against anti-market, anti-freedom forces by destroying their One Big Narrative with more individual freedom for all, even Muslims...).

The desire to understand politics and parties in terms of one big cause for the future (even in Liberal parties that are actually about doing a lot of pork barreling and representing a social and technocratic elite), needs to give way to a greater openness to a truly open-ended modernity that recognizes that the one big cause we all desire, the source of our unity and common humanity, is really something in our past, at the origin of humanity, perhaps only to be known fully again in a heavenly kingdom to come, or maybe not.

Sure, this unity continues to leave its mark on us and on every new instance of our growing intra-cultural diversity; as something forever being built upon, we come to see, and to encourage, its latest twists and turns in good part through engagement in politics. Yet perhaps what well defines a conservative is the belief that our human unity is not what politics should be ultimately about, as some kind of end goal. Our unity is more properly the concern of religion and anthropology. But for many people who don't have a satisfactory religion or anthropology, left-liberal "politics" becomes their religion substitute (as they bravely keep at bay the cynical, if realistic, thought that the "I have a dream of Unity" politicians usually end up with few concrete ideas, beyond pork barreling).

Politics should be about the road to a greater freedom, shared by all. And, as such, is not the desire for a political party with a central grand narrative for our times an anachronism? If so, can today's Liberal Party of Canada re-define itself? Can it become a true big tent coalition that embraces various causes of freedom in ways usefully different from the Conservatives, without recourse to apocalyptic demonization? Isn't talk of Harper's "secret agenda" getting really stale?

I doubt the Liberals are yet close to any such transformation. The mistake of many of them in thinking Stephane Dion was some new era Trudeau (as if that would be a good thing) exemplifies their "national unity" box, so desired and so containing. Our national unity is the precondition for our politics and shared freedom, not its earthly end.

In this light, the lack of piety that Stephen Harper displays for certain Liberal shibboleths is a good thing. And we become silly in our narratives if we take this to mean Harper is at war with all that is sacred and human.

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