Monday, March 30, 2009

Conservatism is a creative renewing of previous covenants and centres of attention

Saturday's National Post profiled Jason Kenney: This man wants to reinvent Canadian multiculturalism:
The higher profile matters - the Galloway issue, the scuffle with Arab groups, the language abilities of immigrants - form the early marks of a pattern of what is to come. Rejecting the [Canadian Arab Federation]'s support for Islamic terrorists and arguably anti-Semitic messages, Mr. Galloway for financially supporting Hamas, calling for newcomers to better integrate: These are of a piece with efforts to fortify what the Conservatives would call The Canadian Identity. It is, Mr. Kenney makes clear, a vision for a country that stands up for its pluralism, but also for its core liberal traditions of tolerance, democracy and secularism. "We can't afford to be complacent about the challenge of integration," he says. "We want to avoid the kind of ethnic enclaves or parallel communities that exist in some European countries. So far, we've been pretty successful at that, but I think it's going to require greater effort in the future to make sure that we have an approach to pluralism and immigration that leads to social cohesion rather than fracturing."
Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis this week called Mr. Kenney "intolerant" for raising the issue of enhanced language requirements. The Arab Federation has painted him a Zionist lackey.

But there are those, many of them within Canada's ethnic pockets, who support such a muscular approach.

"What is different with him is, with previous [Conservative] immigration ministers, both have been pussycats; this guy is a tiger," says Tarek Fatah, an author, prominent Liberal supporter and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress. "He's standing up for Canadian values. I would like every politician to stand up for this country the way Jason Kenney has."

Before being elevated to Cabinet last fall, Mr. Kenney spent two years shuttling between community halls, temples and church basements, building support networks in Sikh, Hindu, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Jewish and Arab communities, as Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity. His mission: to break a near lock his Liberal opponents have had on ethnic support since Trudeaumania.

Come last October's election, the payoff arrived: The Tories upset numerous Liberal strongholds surrounding Vancouver and Toronto by converting Asian, East Asian and Middle Eastern voters from red to blue. Mr. Kenney's predecessors, including Diane Finley and Monte Solberg, were ministers of immigration. When Mr. Kenney got the job in October, the Prime Minister added the "and multiculturalism."
Multicultural maven is a curious role for a pale, Reform party pioneer raised in Saskatchewan, educated by Jesuits, deeply socially conservative, who came to politics primarily with an agenda for fiscal restraint (Before becoming a Reform MP in 1997, he headed the Canadian Taxpayers Federation). But political opponents looking to brand him as too redneck for the sensitive immigration file find it hard to land a punch. In his diverse Calgary Southeast riding, families speak fondly of Mr. Kenney's efforts, long before he became the minister in charge, in helping them sort out immigration issues; his key staffers, including a Tibetan, a Muslim and an Armenian, resemble the dessert lineup at the UN cafeteria. He spearheaded the government's efforts to recognize the Ukrainian Holdomor, its apology to the East Indian community for the Komagata Maru incident, he has defended Chinese Uyghur Muslims and paid his respects at the Mumbai Jewish centre attacked by terrorists. On his office wall hang portraits of abolitionist heroes William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln.
"The irony is that as a white, Catholic kid, he's very cosmopolitan. Maybe the most cosmopolitan minister we've had," says Mr. Solberg, now an advisor for government relations firm Fleishman-Hillard in Calgary.
That line gave me a chuckle, a reminder that maybe the real provincialism in Canada is that old Protestant sensibility that once openly painted the Papists as unworldly backwoods Irish and French Canadians, even if in the control of some ultramontanist clergy and the big bishop in Rome. Or maybe the implied joke is that curry- and kimchi-chomping Kenney is not even Jewish! In any case, my sources tell me that Canadian Catholicism today, at least in many urban churches, is very cosmopolitan, at least full of immigrants from the global church, giving face to Catholicism's aspiration to a universal anthropology.

But, jokes and innuendo aside, the point is we all still have trouble articulating the basis for the unity that makes whatever pluralism we have in Canada sustainable. And this is what makes Kenney's initiative interesting as it is becomes a direct challenge to the left-Islamist alliance that would represent the likes of Hamas-friendly George Galloway or the Canadian Arab Federation, not as the backwoods bubbas I think they are, but as avatars of some ostensibly global popular movement opposed to some supposed American/Jewish hegemony in the global marketplace. Kenney is challenging Canadians to ask, who do you want to represent your "multiculturalism".

One of the interesting things about representation, no less representations that attempt to appeal to wide swathes of people, is that they depend not simply on abstractions that anyone can learn, but on the potentially iconic integrity of the individual (who is rooted in a particular time and place) producing, sharing, or transforming them. And since the basis of any successful representation is some implied unity that allows the representation to be shared (and transformed), what are representations of Canadian values really? Are they abstract concepts or individually incarnated and exemplified ways of being? Or how are they both? As we become better at answering such anthropological questions we will better realize the conditions of a true "multiculturalism", i.e. one that provides us new ways of understanding what unifies us in a shared national covenant.

To this end, another politician worth watching may be someone I only learned about today, a member of the Ontario Provincial Parliament, Randy Hillier, now running for leadership of the Ontario Conservatives. Here are some excerpts from his leadership candidacy announcement (HT: Catfur):
Every society known to mankind is comprised of individuals.

It’s evident that if individuals are responsible, self-reliant and independent, their society will also be responsible and self-reliant.

But we have strayed from this concept.

We have passed countless laws that diminish the individual’s responsibility, removes their good judgment and places it into the hands of a regulatory body.

We have become a “nanny-state” of dependence.

We are no longer responsible for our actions when we allow ourselves to blame others for our actions.

We now have over half a million provincial regulations.

Many of them diminish individual responsibility.

Many others blur the line between private and public property, and allow government to intrude where it has no business.
We were a province that was home to the most equal and blind system of justice on Earth, namely, “Common Law”.

It is now just another costly legal system where we let special interest groups hijack our courts and paralyze our legal system.

It has become a legal system that preys on the financial weakness and ignorance or common people.

It’s now a never-ending system of little justice where a guilty plea is less costly than a strong defence of innocence.

We have built a regime of countless review boards and commissions through which faceless bureaucrats dressed in quasi-legal robes hand down “kangaroo” verdicts that suffocate our natural rights as individuals, and extend false privileges to collective bodies.
Where the Liberals are blind to the future and ignorant of our past, we must show people a defining vision – one seen through the clear lens of hindsight and history.

We must show them that we are not here to manage their affairs, but that they are here to manage the affairs of government.

That the people are the true guardians of democracy and those of us lucky enough to have been elected to Parliament are their subjects.
My campaign will be driven by ideas and ideals, while being anchored by the three central principles of Freedom, Justice, and Democracy.

Freedom strengthens commerce, creativity, industry, education, and the most important element of our society – the family.

When the rights of government overtake the rights of the farmer, the worker, the doctor, or the parent, all of society suffers.

As Premier I will immediately introduce the Freedom of Association & Conscience Act, an act to protect the rights of the individual to not be compelled or coerced into actions or associations that that they find objectionable.

We’ve created private monopolized and special interest governments such as the Ontario Medical Association and Law Society of Upper Canada.

We compel people to join business and industry associations that collect dues but do not represent them, and we provide no protection for freedom of conscience.

Justice is only just when it is truly blind.

When the law is applied unequally – and absent of due process – the law can become an instrument of harm rather than justice.

One of the worst examples of this has been the Ontario Human Rights Commission and other quasi-tribunals.

As Premier, I’ll make sure those violating human rights appear before real judges in real courts, where civil rights and due process are not distorted by the balance of probabilities.

The Human Rights Commission and other quasi-tribunals will be rendered redundant under my government.
Such ideas appeal to universal truths that anyone can take up and incarnate. They are the real basis of a pluralistic society, not the claims from the left that "multiculturalism" has to understand itself in opposition to some supposedly invidious hegemony or established centre/covenant (some conspiracy of power) that necessarily excludes the rest of us. It's true that every centre or attention, every institution, every national covenant relies on at least some degree of violent closure: even a maximally free society has to begin by defining what it is not, by giving formal closure to its representations, so that the individual can be a particular someone (e.g. distinctively a Canadian) in relationship to universal values.

The left often implies that all one needs is the abstract universal value, and that we don't need to be someones defined, in our shared freedom, by some "arbitrary" act of closure, or judgment of right and wrong (e.g. that there is no room for friends of Hamas in Canada). But the universal can only really be incarnated from a particular historical position that is potentially exchangeable with other covenanters, and that necessarily excludes some other part of humanity ("brotherhood", or "sisterhood", becomes a meaningless Utopian concept when we try to articulate a universal sibship): a shared contract must set terms, and the personal integrity needed for successful renewal or representation of any contract/covenant means that one can't be all things to all people; one can't be a cipher. And similarly, neither can be the political and secular institutions of a free society: they too must incarnate a distinctive history in their search for universal truths.

This doesn't mean we should choose unnecessarily violent forms of exclusion; indeed, the course of history is one where we tend to move from more to less violent forms of closure, as we Westerners today seek forms of closure in which sundry others can readily share. And if the historically- and culturally-rooted Catholic eucharist, the sharing in the Christian idea of a divine/personal sacrifice to end all human sacrifice, is a meaningful way of learning something of this paradox of a particular/universal personhood, so be it. However, it seems to be teaching Jason Kenney a way of doing politics that is not the same as calling all Canadians to recognize the Christ Jesus.

The unity on which Kenney's secular "Canadian values" are based would seemingly be found at both some more primitive or common level of human cultural history and in the historically modern (and readily exchangeable) incarnations of Canadian secularism. A proper multiculturalism will be an accepting recognition of all that helps individual people bridge the gap between the primitive and modern (e.g., many forms of Christianity), while closing the door on that which does not.

But this means that national renewal will have to entail a new discipline that can truly mediate leftist fears of unfair or violently arbitrary exclusion, while recognizing the conservative truth that there are some things that have to be excluded in order to maintain freedom and order. It seems to me, as an observer of Canadian politics, that despite some pragmatic successes of Canadian society, there remains room for improvement in the forms of "politically correct" closure we impose on ourselves. There are still some unnecessary or ill-conceived intellectual limits/government regulations/kangaroo courts in the way of a freer society, amidst fears that people with power or influence generalize about certain groups or identities too much, or too little, as we measure reality and discuss the paradoxical basis of the closure that allows us to be open and free. Successful politicians and thinkers will be those who learn to stow unruly passions and resentments in measuring and illuminating present realities while showing us a yet better way to mediate the paradox of closure/openness, unity/diversity, Canadian values/multiculturalism, so as to increase our shared freedom and marginalize those who hate it.


MacD said...

Karygiannis needs to go back to Macedonia or wherever he crawled out from. When not supporting anti-Semites and terrorist groups he's now saying that Canadians wanting newcomers to speak our language is "intolerant". Mr Karygiannis has shown over and over that he is far more concerned with ANYONE who is not Canadian than with the Canadian people.

truepeers said...

Yes, but not only does Karygiannis pander to the neo-feudal elements, the self-appointed chiefs of our "multicultural communities", he talks as if, whether right or wrong in this instance, the government has no legal right ever to make the decisions it is making regarding the CAF and Galloway.

In other words, even if you think Kenney and company have made the wrong decision, why imply that our cult of multiculturalism means the government, i.e. our duly elected political leaders, never has the right to stop funding to a group it thinks is beyond the pale or ban entry to someone it thinks is a supporter of terrorism?

Karygiannis says we can't "politicize" such funding and "free speech" decisions. But politicize them we must in a free and open society. The responsible, representative government has a necessary executive authority to make such decisions. And then we have a necessary responsibility to review the decision and hold our leaders to account.

If our elected government doesn't have any executive authority, we don't have any kind of representative democracy, only dictatorial rule by politically-correct lawyers and judges.

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Eowyn said...

"And since the basis of any successful representation is some implied unity that allows the representation to be shared (and transformed), what are representations of Canadian values really?"

I would say just the ones you articulated, truepeers, which are the same now, as they ever were: honesty, personal responsibility, compassion, the work ethic, and so on.

The problem began, and continues, when these are allowed to be ~parsed.~ I look to the Judaic tradition here, and there simply is no room for dilution of core values if they are to BE core values. And, core values are cornerstones.

Canadians' fault, and sublime virtue, is to absorb, reflect, and then act. (As opposed to Americans, who, heretofore, have heard just enough and then pull out the six-guns until things are straightened out ...)

Canadians' great strength is their ability to absorb, integrate, tolerate and accept. Indeed: If humanity as a whole has any hope at all of ~getting along,~ it is due to the Canadian mindset. Canada has become, de facto, the petri dish of the possibility of unity. But, in the famous words of someone, "there are some things up with which I will not put." And those are attacks against core values. There's no sense in allowing termites to undermine the foundation of a house you're trying to keep intact. (Not to mix metaphors.)

Dag said...

I did a quicky search of "Churchill on Prepositions" and found this site, which is quite good:

I first heard the "rule" as not ending a sentence with a preposition, to which Churchill responded it is one rule up with which he would not put.

Here's a clever and informative synopsis of how the origin of the prescription (or proscription)came about:

Before the science of language, linguistics, schools and universities taught what is known as 'prescriptive grammar'. Prescriptive grammar is not grammar (the rules of spoken language) at all but a list of "do's and don'ts" prescribing the way those in or striving for the upper class should talk. Because all upper-class private schools of the time emphasized, if not required Latin, 'good' grammar was presumed to be grammar that emulated Latin grammar.

The problem is, English is not Latin, an insight lost on prescriptivists. Latin has cases and every Latin preposition is associated with a case. For example, the word for "wine" in Latin is vinum. However, the prepositional phrase corresponding to "in wine" is in vino (as in 'in vino veritas'; 'wine brings out the truth') ending on the Ablative case marker, -o, because in was associated with the Ablative case. So the suffix of vin-o identifies the noun vin-um as the object of the preposition in and not the object of any other preposition in the sentence; in short, they go together.

Because sentences usually contain several prepositional phrases like this (e.g., "A relative of the fruitfly was doing something like the backstroke in the wine on the table in the library."), it is important to keep up with which noun goes with which preposition. The easiest way to do that is by a rule that prepositions are never separated from their object noun (or noun phrase if the noun is modified by adjectives). Latin has that rule.

Believing that Latin grammar represents grammatical perfection and unintimidated by the onerous task of molding English in the image of Latin, prescriptive grammarians proscribed the use of prepositions anywhere other than immediately before their object noun. For example, one should not say "the prescriptivist John clashed with," but rather "the prescriptivist with whom John clashed", not "the rule John laughed at," but "the rule at which John laughed".

The fact of the matter is, however, English simply does not have case endings on nouns that are objects of prepositions, so the reason for keeping prepositions and their object nouns together is wholly irrelevant to English. You may keep them together or not. You'll never spend a night in jail either way. However, because of the upper-class bias in the rule's history, its use now makes you sound pretentious: "the chap in whom I invested my trust". (Is that you? It isn't me; nor was it Winston Churchill.)

This example teaches us two important lessons about language. First, each and every language has its own set of grammatical rules and everyone who speaks that language knows what they are in his or her region. (They do vary slightly from region to region--big deal.) That is what speech is: the use of grammatical rules to express oneself. Second, prescriptive grammar is based on misconceptions about language and causes far more mischief than good.

Thanks for that, Eowyn. I was looking at a pretty dull evening till you brought this up.

truepeers said...

Yes, binding oneself to rules is always a dubious thing. Maybe you've already heard this old joke, but here goes anyway:

A freshman of non-brahmin background, on his first day in the Harvard Yard, asks a stranger: "Say, can you can tell me where the biology building is at?"

Stranger: "At Harrrvarrrd, we never end a sentence in a preposition"

Freshman: "Can you tell me where the biology building is at, Schmuck?"

truepeers said...


You think so highly of us! Of course for many of us the grass is always greener...

As I see it, Canadians are cautious and sometimes stifling to anything too weird or different. At least, in the not too distant past, we were once rather inclined to know with what not up to put, and were rather good at casting even our own extreme talents out. Many of our intellectual greats and misfits, to the degree we have ever had any, comment on it. Maybe to put it in your terms, we were often too busy reflecting and integrating to act on our genius. Though as Charles says, we are famous around the world for our teachers and maybe that is what comes from watching, dutifully, but being slow to act.

American social history is strewn with Canadians who felt stifled and left. And maybe part of the reason we have embraced the multicultural dream was to run away from our not-very-romantic habits. However, in a funny way I think it may be just these that make it possible to integrate more immigrants per capita than does anyone else. What you see as our pragmatism might reflect the fact that on some level the large majority of immigrants first accept the official myth of multiculturalism while nonetheless assimilating by the second generation. People are offered a chance to buy into the system that has few great pretensions that might define a ruling caste and exclude others, and so most do buy in, thinking and talking like other Canadians rather quickly. There is a reason to our culture that many find reason to conform.

Charles Henry said...

"If humanity as a whole has any hope at all of ~getting along,~ it is due to the Canadian mindset. Canada has become, de facto, the petri dish of the possibility of unity."

Eowyn, being Canadian means being in the shadow of the United States of America, and if we have any openness or tolerance for ideas other than our own, it might be because we've had to live with the fact that such a big neighbor has different ways of looking at things than we sometimes do. It makes us painfully aware that other alternatives exist, and can work rather well thank you very much.

This large shadow virtually forces us to be open to the likelyhood that we only possess a part of the Truth. Otherwise, why wouldn't the shadow be cast in the other direction, fulfilling the promise that in 1904 we were entering the "Century of Canada", as our Prime Minister Laurier prophecied.

We become so used to holding two versions of many ideas in mind, we take it for granted, which is why putting limits to multiculturalism is such a challenge for the Canadian mindset. The very existence of our country stems from the civilized ideal of agreeing to disagree; as the old saying put it, "you go to your church and I'll go to mine"... otherwise we'd be the 51st, 52nd, 53rd, etc, states of the United States.

Eowyn said...

"(I)t might be because we've had to live with the fact that such a big neighbor has different ways of looking at things than we sometimes do."




Well, you can look at history -- specifically, the Civil War -- and discover that two thought patterns butted up against each other. Namely: An economy based on free will, versus an economy based on forced slavery.

Canada largely escaped this dichotomy, because Mother England forbade it. Slaves were slaves, and that was that. THAT is how Mother England ALWAYS maintained her way of life.

Well ... uppity "subjects" decided otherwise. Never mind that said uppity subjects owned slaves. Of COURSE they would own slaves. That was life.

But life changed.

And it HAS changed.

Has that meant we must allow meanness among ourselves? Must that mean we allow any mean behaviour because all must be allowed?

Charles Henry said...

Canada largely escaped this dichotomy, because Mother England forbade it.

I have to correct you here, Eowyn, because it's a point of pride for us that Canada abandoned slavery quite a few years before Great Britain ended the practice throughout the rest of the British Empire, thanks to the largely-forgotten initiative of Lieutenant-General John Graves Simcoe:

For me the main difference in our thought patterns is revealed in a more fundamental aspect of our respective histories, and what it suggests about our implicit trust in authority (for the better and for the worse):

In the US, the people went west, then the government followed them.

In Canada, the government went west, then the people followed it.

Charles Henry said...

Truepeers is a more knowledgeable historian than I am, and will correct me if I misspeak, but from my layman's exploration of my adopted city of Vancouver and its environs, the oldest homes here in our neck of the woods seem to all be built by British army and navy veterans on land donated by the UK as pensions for their service to the Empire.

The historical cautiousness Truepeers spoke of might be partially explained by the age of those pioneers, compared to the younger age bracket of the American pioneer families heading west, first to Illinois-Kentucky-Tennessee, then later to the "Old West" of Kansas-Dakotas-Montana days.

Dag said...

I recall reading something about a slavery-system in eastern Canada or Newfoundland in the early part of the 20th century, but I rely on our in-house experts to fill in the details. The system was a form of indentured slavery/welfare for widows and orphans and disabled people, as I recall. They were auctioned off to the lowest bidder, the government paying the tab to whoever bought these people and promised to "take care" of them. A good-looking blind woman was bought up for cheap by a farmer. One can imagine.

truepeers said...

Are you talking about North Van, CHarles? I didn't know about homes being given to pensioners though it doesn't surprise me as the city once was something of a retirement centre for imperial servants. There were the Royal Engineers who founded New Westminster and I think some of them settled permanently. But in the City of Vancouver proper, there was first the rough sawmill town and then the commercial town the CPR built. The CPR was given large tracts of land in what became Vancouver and they have been the big developers of several neighborhoods (at a profit). The West End, Shaughnessy, Kitsilano, were CPR developments. And the leading families in early Vancouver were often connected to the CPR - i.e. from Eastern Canada, often Montreal.

Anyway, I think a number of things are important to understanding the Canadian culture, which I imagine was already formed to a significant degree before the expansion out of central and Eastern Canada to the West. The two most important, I believe, were 1) the English and Scottish settlement of Ulster which was in many ways the model of a British settler society; Canadian institutions, like the RCMP, and the Ontario and Western public schools (the relationship of Catholics and Protestants) were modeled on the Irish experience. The second was the American Revolution, from which English Canada largely began as a refugee population of angry, lost, folk who made loyalism a virtue, or perhaps clung to the Crown for security. It is really in southern Ontario that the great gifts of land were made to Loyalists. For example, the geography of Toronto reflects the large land grants that were given along the lakeshore to various important families as the British first tried to settle the country with a landed gentry/aristocracy in control of politics, law, church, etc. That was not entirely a success but it left its mark.


What Dag is thinking about was the practise in the early 20thC of sending British orphans to Canada where the children were basically given to farmers to adopt but, in practise, were often given to them as free labour to sweat.