February 01, 2006

Lions and Tigers and Straussians, Oh My!

Via the NRO Corner comes an amusing article on the Canadian Left's latest (but not the last, we can bet) attempt to discredit the newly-elected Conservative government. The new story is that the new Prime Minister, Stephen Harper is part of the "Calgary School" of Canadian academics, who are denounced for being advocates of an "un-Canadian" brand of politics, particularly as followers of the demonic Leo Strauss and F.A. Hayek. (How one can simultaneously follow Strauss and Hayek, who are at opposite ends of several axes of political and philosophical thought is beyond me, but I guess what they mean is that neither of them are in agreement with the Canadian agenda as defined by the Canadian left. I.e., thoughtcrime.)

There's an easier explanation available. There have been several identifiable political temperaments in Anglosphere political tought for at least the past four hundred years, and probably longer. At different times these temperaments have surfaced in various different political movements and philosophies. Many of the basic underlying cultural regions of the Anglosphere have been marked by the dominance of one or more temperaments over long period of time. Each of the various nations or confederations of the Anglosphere have encompassed a number of these cultural regions or parts of them. Since these different political temperaments are found in different proportions in the various Anglosphere nations, the political calculus and balance comes out differently in each. This difference is often taken to represent an underlying typical "culture" for each nation, but that is quite wrong. There is actually a substantial variance in political outcomes and sentiments from region to region in most Anglosphere nations. Different regional values overlap quite strongly with regions in other Anglosphere nations.

In the Canadian case, the Anglosphere temperament that values stability, paternalism, and ordered freedom is stronger than the competing strand that values individualism, enterprise, and a more liberatrian concept of freedom. In the UK, the two temperaments are roughly matched. In the USA, the former temperament is a distinct minority and the latter is more prevalent. This causes many people to believe that one temperament is or should be seen as expressive of a "national culture". But the members of the minority temperament are also part of national life, and each have created a valid expression of that temperament's values in national politics.

Locally, especially in federal systems like Canada's and the USA's the minority temperament may bee the majority. So you have provinces like Alberta with a "red state" mentality (in American terms) and blue states in the US like Vermont or Massachusetts. (Red state convservatives have a tendency to call native New England conservatives "liberals" or "moderates", which is a mistake. There is a native and distinct New England conservatism which actually has some things in common with eastern Canadian conservatism.)

The "Calgary school" is a valid expression of a native Canadian tradition, which has run as a minority but important tradition throughout Canadian history. Its values of individualism and enterprise have also been important in building Canada, and its natural orientation toward cooperation with the US is as natural and as Canadian as the traditional alternative strategy of cooperation with the British Empire (which today takes the form of an orientation to the semi-mythological "international community".) Most Canadians have in practice tended to go with a pragmatic mix of the two strategies.

Toward the end of the Soviet empire, the state adopted the practice of labeling its critics as mentally ill for disagreeing with the system. The Canadian left has taken to labelling its critics as "un-Canadian", a diagnosis which hopefully doesn't involve involuntary institutionalization or psychotropic drugs.

The actual Harper coalition is itself a mixture of the two temperaments, as the link explains, and its policies are likely to be a pragmatic mix of their respective solutions. In which case it will be closer to the historical Canadian norm than the policies of its critics.

Posted by James C. Bennett at February 1, 2006 04:57 PM

A very thoughtful post on the different strains of culture running through the Anglosphere. As a conservative in the New England region of the United States, I am very sensitive to accusations from "red-staters" that I am not a true conservative. Certainly I emphasize different elements of conservative and Anglospheric thought, but this neither makes me more or less conservative, just conservative of a different sort.

Posted by: tacitean at February 1, 2006 08:00 PM

Question: what influence did the Catholic church have on British North America's temperment? An interesting secular tidbit was that a year after the Conquest, the officiers of the British 'occupation' force favoured a codification of North American French laws on the Justinian model?
This question can then be asked about say India with Hinduism and Islam.
My question centres on how do the various local cultures shape the Anglospheric temperments?

Posted by: xavier at February 1, 2006 08:08 PM


In such cases, I think that depends upon the ratio of inhabitants from Anglosphere cultures to the prior-existing culture, and their role -- whether occupier, settler, or sojourner looking to enrich themselves and then go home. Also to what extent the settlers worked side-by-side and day-by-day. Texan Anglosphereans, for instance, blended in many ways with the Mexican inhabitants. I don't get the impression that the inhabitants of Westmount acquired that many Quebecois habits. Perhaps the interesting blend there was between the Irish immigrants and the Quebecois.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at February 1, 2006 08:57 PM

This is an excellent piece, Jim. It's noteworthy that those two strands of temperament have never been in balance in Canada's political culture at the federal level. In fact, I would argue they have never been in balance within the Canadian conservative movement itself; that indeed, the former strand (the "Red Tories") has dominated federal conservatism throughout our entire history. Until now that is, until Stephen Harper came along. That's why this represents such a seismic shift. We've never had a prime minister who philosophically fully represented the latter strand. Ever.

Posted by: Michael J. Smith at February 1, 2006 10:20 PM

Good analysis. I agree with you except about the psychotropic drugs.

Posted by: Daniel at February 1, 2006 10:33 PM

It's noteworthy that those two strands of temperament have never been in balance in Canada's political culture at the federal level.

It's also noteworthy that when the Tories dominated Canada in the 19th century they represented the stability, paternalism, pro-British Empire and order strain while the Liberals were the pro-US, continentalism and free trade party.

Posted by: John Thacker at February 1, 2006 10:57 PM

Indeed, John. And that 19th strand still exists in the present Conservative Party, though they are no longer the dominant faction. There's an immense gulf between the "progressive conservatives" and the social/neo-conservatives in the current Harper coalition, though each do not fit neatly into the separate strands that Jim talks about. Red Tories or PCs do believe in fostering an enterprising spirit, smaller government and lower taxes and Canadian neo-conservatives are not as anti-traditionalist as they are made out to be. The strands overlap, though they may be more purely separated depending on what region of the country you are talking about.

Posted by: Michael J. Smith at February 2, 2006 09:55 AM

I don't mean to just chirp this every few weeks, but one of the few books as influential as DHF's to me has been Joel Garreau's The Nine Nations of North America. Written in 1984, it's a touch dated, but still essentially dead on. I knew he understood what was up when he cut SW Connecticut out of New England and added the Canadian Maritimes. As a New Hampshireman with a grandfather from NS, I could relate. Some of Garreau's other nations include Ecotopia, along the Pacific Coast from San Jose to Juneau, and The Foundry, from New Haven to Chicago with lots of Ottawa, and The Breadbasket, culturally similar from KC to Winnipeg.

I certainly see that in my travels. New Brunswick seems more like home to me than Indiana or South Carolina. Yeah, even with the kilometers and the signs in French.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at February 2, 2006 07:38 PM

Thanks. I concour about the Irish and habitants. In fact, one of the Heritage Canada commercials points out that during the potato famine, many Irish orphans came to Quebec. It appears that the habitant families adopted them but allowed the kids to keep their names. That's one reason why many Irish names are still around
Also, there was a recent exposition at the McCord university (and a book) on the Scots and their influence on Canada illustrating Montreal as a point of departure.
The book review was quite interesting.

Ok did Indian culture influence the Brits? I would suspect so from a superficial overview. The Brits fell in love with India(though I don't know if the Indians reciprocated the same admiration)

Posted by: xavier at February 3, 2006 09:53 AM

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Posted by: grants money free at May 1, 2006 10:54 PM
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