Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pontificating to the Pagans: Might as Well Whistle "Dixie"

I am speaking as only an intermittently observant Catholic (and a philosophically Tridentine one at that, as the Inquisitorial motto you see on the upper left will attest), but I do wish His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI were doing something productive--like rubber-stamping annulments--rather than preaching Catholic doctrine to a people who are even less receptive to the Catholic world-view than the indigenous Nauset tribes who looked on in horror as the Pilgrims disembarked from the Mayflower.

American popular culture has produced the most supinely relativist and crassly nihilist zeitgeist ever to exhale from the bowels of Western civilization. The lifestyles of opulent excess that our southern cousins pursue and the degrading forms of media entertainment that they consume communicate values and priorities that would have revolted even the most dissipated of the worthless court sycophants who cavorted with the teenaged Nero in the taverns and bathhouses of ancient Rome. Americans should thank God that Man is a fallen, wretched creature, otherwise their culture would not be the eminently lucrative and exportable commodity (and the key pillar of their global influence) that it is.

The Pope's U.S. visit treats us to the edifying spectacle of an essentially liberal people being instructed by real conservatism, one descending not from the pages of Thomas Paine and Milton Friedman, but from the pages of Origen, Aquinas and Thomas à Kempis. The Pope puts it decorously:



"It is not enough to count on [America's] traditional religiosity and go about business as usual, even as its foundations are being slowly undermined," he warned the bishops gathered at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The "American brand of secularism," he said, "can subtly reduce religious belief to a lowest common denominator."

Of course, the American brand of secularism can reduce (in fact must reduce) everything to the lowest common denominator. This is entirely a deliberately enacted consequence of the levelling process of American democracy, by which nobody can claim to be "special" (though Americans do self-confer the privilege of being collectively special).

Americans despise unearned privilege. Yes, their habit of elevating to quasi-divine status "celebrities" who impress only by their uselessness suggests that the American definition of the verb "to earn" is an odd one indeed, but their anti-aristocratic impulses are unquestionable. The problem is that truth, like beauty, maintains itself only through privilege. For the truth to be truth (that is, not an option among "truths" but rather the "Truth"), it must be sovereign; it cannot depend on anything for its power, not even on reason. Made ancillary, truth no longer belongs to itself, but to us; and what belongs to us, we may do with as we please. As soon as truth becomes the product of private ratiocination or of public argument, it becomes a man-made object--a commodity; and, in a democracy, commodities are all equal--equally provisional, equally exchangeable, and equally expendable.

Truth is intolerable to republican laissez-faire societies. Conservative author Yukio Mishima once argued that it had become impossible to speak the truth in liberal post-War Japan because the Emperor was no longer divine: in the past, one swore an oath to the Emperor, and where there is no Emperor, there can be no oath. Where oaths are impossible, there is no Truth.

Truth is feasible only for societies with a tradition of privilege, such as monarchies. This is why, despite its rapid secularisation over the last few decades, Europe is still the centre of Western philosophy: Truth, while no longer a sovereign force for them, retains a world-weary, Elvis-in-Vegas-like authority as an object of nostalgic respect. Conversely, America is the first great power in Western history to fail to produce a single indigenous school of philosophy (Transcendentalism and Pragmatism being derivatives of British prototypes). Americans are a practical people, and even the intellectually gifted among them have always recognised the futility--even the danger--of pursuing something that has been placed under social proscription.

No doubt, many conservative Americans--Catholic and non-Catholic alike--will applaud Benedict's critique of relativism, oblivious to the fact that relativism is a foundational feature of their society and now serves as America's primary cultural export. Likewise, most of them are quite unprepared to understand that it is precisely that relativism (rather than America's wealth, power, or "freedom") which frightens and intimidates fundamentally conservative societies--such as Islamic ones.

Certainly, none of them would acknowledge that a society whose pornography industry enjoys a per-annum gross higher than the GDP of many European nations and that provides massive mainstream audiences for execrable monuments of degeneracy like Saw and Hostel needs to ask itself the kinds of uncomfortable questions that would help Americans discover whether they are even still part of the Western civilisation that Pope Benedict represents or whether, like Turkey and Russia, they jumped the rails a long time ago.

Of course, many Americans would find presumptuously ludicrous the notion that anyone could speak on behalf of the Truth in the first instance, as if someone could hold a monopoly of access to a transcendent power that, in any event, may not even exist--as if anyone has the authority to determine (ex cathedra, as it were) what we must believe and what we must reject.

I felt rather the same way when I heard a certain semi-literate Texan bark to the world, "You're either for us or against us!". Americans, though, seemed disappointingly comfortable with this crude moral and intellectual blackmail. Perhaps too few of them understand that, although they are pleased to place the tin wreath of Petrine supremacy upon their Chief Executive, the world is not, and that those of us who still believe in Petrine authority prefer the real one.

30 comments:

Ti-Guy said...

Maybe you were paying more attention than I was, but I felt the Pope was struggling with his discourse on moral relativism a few years ago. Do you think he's found his voice on this issue? I noted a few days ago, while listening, on Democracy Now to an interview of him on the plane trip over, that he was careful to point out that the pedophilia scandal was distinct from the issue of homosexuality.

Anyway, this is a very thoughtful post. There are American libertarians, some whom I really enjoy (like Roy Edroso at Alicublog) who, when arguing this issue, cause me, a liberal, to become kind of mystified. It's as if one's life as a thinking American liberal must be dedicated to a millennium long human project to permit "The Truth" to emerge and that challenges to that higher calling are anti-democratic, illiberal or elitist.

It's remarkably grandiose, if anything. In any case, it strikes me as entirely reactive. The search for "The Truth" is not simply an exercise in highlighting what you believe isn't "The Truth," although that is usually an exercise that requires less effort.

I've been revisiting the critique of post-modernism in the last while, based on a clearer sentiment expressed by some (Morris Berman, for one) that some academics of a certain age/certain socialisation, had decided that not only was the truth a construct (which it is) but one independent of evidence, and that, for this reason, they stopped looking for it.

I really don't know; Despite having been in the Humanities, I escaped post-modernism during university. Probably because I was mystified by it.

Sir Francis said...

It's as if one's life as a thinking American liberal must be dedicated to a millennium long human project to permit "The Truth" to emerge...

Ah yes...the libertarian "market-place of ideas". I've always assumed that those who believe in such a market are more interested in sustaining the market itself than in finding the Truth about anything. If, like any other market, it relies on scarcity and the law of supply and demand, then it must be said to be governed by anthropogenic mechanisms, which would make it a vehicle for provisional, self-serving "truths" rather than a legitimate path to Truth.

...some academics of a certain age/certain socialisation, had decided that not only was the truth a construct (which it is) but one independent of evidence, and that, for this reason, they stopped looking for it.

Western philosophy has been stalled by an apparently unbreachable dead-end: the hypothesis that meaning is always mediated by language, and that language obscures the meaning it conveys as much as it reveals it. I thinks this begs a few questions; most importantly, it assumes that Truth is a function of meaning, operationalised only during a cognitive apprehension of it. I'm not sure this needs to be the case. Truth could be seen to be more complex than that. Most of the world's great religions speak of "living the Truth" or "dwelling in the Truth", implying that the Truth can be understood as something existentially wider than a merely semiotically mediated phenomenon.

Ti-Guy said...

Western philosophy has been stalled by an apparently unbreachable dead-end:

Indeed it has, and will remain so until we can somehow determine how constructs of truth, belief, knowledge etc. are experienced by people other than oneself; otherwise, it'll remain purely speculative at best, mystifying for most of the time, and frightening at worst, as with the neconservative insistence that there are entirely different truths for different people. Per Irving Kristol:

"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn’t work."

I still think this one of the most malign things I've ever read.

The truth comes with different degrees of evidence, detail, abstraction, etc. and is imparted or experienced or sought according to need. The very idea of different truths makes me wonder just what kind of fantasies the neoconservatives have been labouring under.

Sir Francis said...

"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people."

Neocons proceed according to a virulent contempt for the very notion of truth.

Their Holy Grail is the Straussian >"noble lie"--a collective myth powerful enough to mobilise the masses on behalf of the élites' agenda. The neocons' project is defined by their need to find such a myth and to propagate it--the absurd "clash of civilisations" being an obvious example.

Peter Burnet said...

sir francis, it certainly is great fun watching you re-fight the War of 1812 so eloquently, but I suspect our mutual hero George Grant might caution you against using so much bile and stridency that you leave the impression Canadians are that much different or want to be. Let us recall his observation late in life that it was a very bizarre experience to witness masses of European youth marching in the streets against American imperialism while sporting stylish U.S. university sweatshirts. He didn't call his most famous work a lament for nothing. And I suspect that if he were still around today, he might quip that, while it is indeed true Canada never broke with Western Europe, unfortunately Western Europe did.

Anyway, tally-ho. I really do think we should get together for a nice lunch to discuss further what we must do to fend off the rapacious Yankee trader. MacDonald's?

Ti-Guy said...

Of course, to bring this up risks emasculation through the use of words such "bilious" and "strident."

Why do people always hold up fashion and junk food as saying far more than they really do? For a long time, I went to MacDonald's for the simple reason that it was quick, cheap and, more importantly, was the only thing around.

When I lived in Europe, my European friends most often sought out MacDonald's when they were traveling in another country; it posed few barriers in terms of language and familiarity with the products, and the service (at the time, terrible all over Europe) was at least indifferent (and not hostile). Does that really say more about European embrace of American values? I don't think so. I think it says more about the imperatives of American capitalism to exploit conformity at the expense of excellence; something even MacDonald's has had to confront in the last few years.

Peter Burnet said...

Sure, food and fashion are symbols, always have been, but they are symbolic of something. So how about American Idol, People, Deal or No Deal, etc.? I could go down a slippery slope into all kinds of other muck, but unlike you and sir francis, I would see another slippery slope of quality, intellectual and cultural excellence and freedom I am grateful to climb. There are probably more good and bad adjectives to describe America than anywhere else. That's kind of what the place is all about.

But Ti-Guy, why do folks always claim to eat at MacDonald's because of things like familiarity and convenience, etc.? It reminds be of the types who used to insist they only read Playboy for the articles. Why are we all so embarassed to admit we think Big Macs are delicious? I can think of no other issue that turns the left into elitest toffs so quickly. Well, maybe DisneyWorld.

Ti-Guy said...

I would see another slippery slope of quality, intellectual and cultural excellence and freedom I am grateful to climb.

That's the logic I'm familiar with; unfortunately, it's the great myth of the class-stratified society that is the US, where class mobility is decidedly less fluid than in other, more middle-class societies. One is of course, never allowed to talk about that, but it's a reality that escapes few Western foreigners.

Sir Francis and I come at this from different directions; my fundamental objection to MacDonald's is simply one of a common sense understanding of what is meant by restauration and nutrition, neither of which are experiences you can get authentically at MacDonald's. Its success, we have to admit, comes largely from the fact that it responds to needs of harried parents who need a place to take over-stimulated children whose taste in food is pandered to because it's easy and because a lot of families simply don't cook; they heat. It presents mealtime as an endless series of birthday parties (complete with toys) that make typical mealtimes seem excruciatingly dull.

Of course, MacDonalds has every right to respond to that need, but we see where it leads; obesity, children who don't know how to behave in restaurants, noisy restaurants generally and a conformity that is stultifying.

I grew up with MacDonald's (although we still had A&W, which provided a useful comparison)...I worked at MacDonald's (my parents could not and would not dole out the spending money I wanted in high school); I'm not a cheap snob looking down on what people do (which is in fact at the root of your class-conscious reaction). I just think that it's an uninformed choice for people, especially parents, given what we know. It's certainly a poor economic choice for low income people.

One of my sisters, more by circumstance than by design (she loves to cook and specialises in quick, yummy meals) never took her kids to MacDonald's. By the time she did, they found the food simply unpalatable.

Why are we all so embarassed to admit we think Big Macs are delicious?

I used to think that until I learned how to cook myself. Now, eating a Big Mac guarantees indigestion.

Sir Francis said...

...it certainly is great fun watching you re-fight the War of 1812 so eloquently...

Yes, Canada is so passé, isn't it? So...19th Century.

I've always been fascinated by the habit of Canada-hating continentalists to interpret Canadian nationalism as "re-fighting the War of 1812", as if Canadian nationhood could be understood only as a quaint, obsolescent curiosity.

I wonder if they see the illegal immigration controversy in the States in similar terms. Are the Republicans re-fighting the Alamo?

...it was a very bizarre experience to witness masses of European youth marching in the streets against American imperialism while sporting stylish U.S. university sweatshirts.

You must find it odd to hear Americans declare their essential difference from China and listen to them piously denounce China's human rights record while sporting Made-in-China sweaters and buying Made-in-China everything.

Granted, globalisation is truly a strange thing, though I fail to see how consuming a culture's products makes us a replica of the producing culture. The notion that this occurs is a reductive feature of nationalism that I've never espoused. American democracy is the product of the French and Scottish Enlightenment, but I think Americans can safely consider themselves beyond the shadow of French and Scottish cultural "imperialism".

He didn't call his most famous work a lament for nothing.

...nor did he work and write tirelessly on behalf of Canadian sovereignty for nothing. You should read the prefaces of later editions of Lament where Grant explains the purely rhetorical intention of much of the book's despairing tone.

I suspect that if he were still around today, he might quip that, while it is indeed true Canada never broke with Western Europe, unfortunately Western Europe did.

There's no reason to suspect anything of the kind. How do you think Europe "broke" with itself (assuming that would be possible?). By allowing in so many brown people? Grant's notion of Europe, which would have included the crucially important North African Church of the early Patristic Era, had nothing of that sort of crudity.

MacDonald's?

Nah. Let's go get some Chinese or Indian food, and we can rail against rapacious "Oriental" raiders.

As far as meaningful cultural symbols are concerned, I'll take the fact that we've embraced a system of health care that even moderate Americans would dismiss as "communistic" over the fact that an American transnational provides us with toxic "food" at an affordable price (as it does to the Chinese, as well). The former says something about us; the latter does not.

I can think of no other issue that turns the left into elitest[sic] toffs so quickly. Well, maybe DisneyWorld.

I can think of no belief that betrays contientalists as elitist toffs so transparently as the insistence that refusing to eat mass-produced trash is indicative of "elitism" rather than of common sense.

I would see another slippery slope of quality, intellectual and cultural excellence and freedom I am grateful to climb...

That slope is indeed slippery, and very steep. In fact, Americans have been yet unable to climb it themselves, but, if you would like to take a crack at it, be my guest, and good luck.

liberal supporter said...

Why are we all so embarassed to admit we think Big Macs are delicious?
I am a vegetarian and periodically McD's has some variant of McDlt or something on offer which I'll try till they discontinue it but typically I only get the over salted fries if really hungry.

When traveling I will seek out the McDonalds solely because I am guaranteed a reasonably clean washroom. They actually do check hourly and they make a point of keeping it cleaned. Other places do too, but in my experience, anywhere, it is always true at a McDonalds.


So it appears we have segued all the way from the Pope to poop!

Peter Burnet said...

I don't believe this. The man features a gorgeous painting of the British burning Washington on a spectacular blog page that features the names of 19th century Canadian nationalists and several quotes jabbing at U.S. and then gets all testy when he is teased about fighting the War of 1812. Sir Francis, do you divide the world into people who think just like you and "Canada-hating continentalists"?

However you may like to interpret his preface, there is little doubt that his whole thesis was that building on tradition to avoid being subsumed by American technological culture was impossible, a point made even more strongly in Technology and Empire a few years later. Jacques Ellul said much the same and heavily influenced Grant. I'm not saying I agree but it is hard not to conclude the last forty years has provided plenty of evidence of that.

As to Western Europe, c'mon, with the possible exception of 19th century Japan after Perry (they really are contagious, aren't they?), when in history has there ever been such a wholesale rejection of political, religious and cultural building blocks than in Europe? I think the only time they boast about their heritage nowadays is when they are playing one-upmanship with Americans.

Ti-Guy, frankly I can't abide the place. What I can't figure out is why, if I can't abide the place, I find myself there so often.

liberal supporter said...

The only ones who might want to re-fight the war of 1812 would be the ones who LOST that war.

Sir Francis said...

The man features a gorgeous painting of the British burning Washington...

...which was conceived and executed, not by myself, but by fellow blogger Red Tory. You are right, though; it is beautiful. I'm aesthetically hopeless and could never create something like that.

...several quotes jabbing at U.S.[sic]

Great. So Jeremiah is "anti-American" now. Christ: what isn't these days?

...do you divide the world into people who think just like you and "Canada-hating continentalists"?

Not the world--just the country.

...a spectacular blog page that features the names of 19th century Canadian nationalists...

...and quite a few 20th-century ones, as you conveniently fail to mention.

...his whole thesis was that building on tradition to avoid being subsumed by American technological culture was impossible...

Grant is explicit that, while we cannot think outside of technology (in the Heideggerian sense), a critical disposition towards it is still possible, even necessary. In fact, dwelling within that critical mode is what Grant considered the act of philosophy to be. Grant's overall world-view was not mechanistic, so the notion of tradition being "impossible" was alien to this thought.

...when in history has there ever been such a wholesale rejection of political, religious and cultural building blocks than[sic] in Europe?

How about in America, between 1780 and 1980? Unless of course, you see the modern United States as the perfection of the Founding Fathers' prototype. Let's see...what were their views on standing armies, interventionist foreign adventures, corporate combines, etc.?

Peter Burnet said...

Regrettably I must decline your gambit on pure philosophy and concede that set. Political theory is as far as I go and my absolute rule is that at the first mention of Heidegger, I leave to go watch re-runs of Cheers. But one question about that critical disposition stuff--wasn't Grant talking about personal enlightenment and self-awareness (Know Thyself) more than the foundation of a collective political movement or national project?

Your question about the American Revolution is interesting, but the way you posed it even more so. I spent several years involved on an American conservative political blog. Very intellectual, endless scholarly links, all schools represented and even some leftists involved to keep it all spicy. It was like taking a PH.D. and it certainly belied that anti-intellectual, anti-historical myth about them. When they argued the Revolution and the Fathers, I just sat back and watched in awe, but I came to the conclusion Yorktown was just a ceasefire. They are still fighting it.

Your question reminded me of the many times when they would be arguing what this or that Founder intended and I would suddenly feel very far away and say to myself: "Gee, I don't remember anybody ever asking me what I think George Etienne Cartier thought about S 93 of the B.N.A. Act.:

Ti-Guy said...

Ti-Guy, frankly I can't abide the place. What I can't figure out is why, if I can't abide the place, I find myself there so often.

Yes, that is indeed a mystery.

Sir Francis said...

...wasn't Grant talking about personal enlightenment and self-awareness (Know Thyself) more than the foundation of a collective political movement or national project?

Typically, Grant understands philosophy as something that can occur only within a community. This is key to the Socratic/Platonic tradition in which the West has invested so much (and to which Grant was particularly devoted). Naturally, the objective is to "know thyself", but, for Plato, one is primordially a citizen: true self-knowledge is grounded in one's being a responsible member of the polis.

Grant no doubt often makes it appear that this process is a purely individual one (not a dialogue, but rather an "idiologue"[!]). I find Grant to be an unsystematic and rather moody thinker.

...my absolute rule is that at the first mention of Heidegger, I leave to go watch re-runs of Cheers.

I'm sorry to have had to bring him up, but he had a huge influence on the later Grant. It wont happen again!

It was like taking a PH.D. and it certainly belied that anti-intellectual, anti-historical myth about them.

Hmmm...They sound like Federalists. The U.S. Fathers were (most of them) intellectuals, remember--amateur ones, granted (aren't they all?), but intellectuals nonetheless.

That's why Federalism couldn't survive there. Madison, Hamilton and his egg-head ilk never had a chance against Jacksonianism, which was far friendlier to the American, um...cultural orientation.

"Gee, I don't remember anybody ever asking me what I think George Etienne Cartier thought about S 93 of the B.N.A. Act.:"

Stick around here long enough, and you'll encounter questions just like that and many others even more recondite besides.

I suppose what I share with your erstwhile American blog-mates is a particular definition of conservatism--the belief that a nation must be allowed to develop according to the vision of its founders.

There is the danger, of course, of using the foundational vision as a pure, canonical abstraction, the imposition of which may serve to deny the validity of perfectly legitimate results of organic, healthy development. Perhaps the urge to do so is one of the greatest failings of both American and (now largely marginal) Canadian conservative thinking.

I haven't enough distance from my own thought to safely gauge whether I'm guilty of such canonical extremism, but I'm willing to assume that I often am.

Let's put it this way: I am the only person I know who thinks that the Family Compact was an effective administration and that the Mackenzie/Papineau rebellion deserved to be crushed. Take from that whatever conclusions you will.

Ti-Guy said...

Stick around here long enough, and you'll encounter questions just like that and many others even more recondite besides.

You are, bar none, the funniest person on teh Interweb..

Peter Burnet said...

Thank you very much.

What was interesting about this American gang was that despite all their bitter differences, they all took a Genesis approach to the Revolution and saw it as perfection---God's Creation. The arguments were all about whether it had been corrupted or not and who was or was not faithful to the ideals of the Founders. The one exception was the blog host, a very bright, quixotic conservative in the American mold (fiercely patriotic, anti-European, pro-Bush) but also with un-American organic tendencies that made him defiantly pro-immigration, pro-decency based on collective morality, etc. He managed to be anti-neo, anti-paleo and anti-libertarian all at the same time. He was the one guy who would argue the Revolution was a mistake and they would have been better off under the Crown. He saw where all the blood came from, but boy, did he get swarmed!

I hold much more positive views on the Americans today than you, so I won't go there. I suppose what drew me away from the fervent Red Tory years of my youth was I became a bit embarassed by Canadian intellectuals, mainly on the left but also in my gang, who tried too hard to paint Canada as a diametric philosophical opposite to the States when it seemed increasingly clear to me that much of it was historical happenstance and reaction to perceived excesses. Also, the Canadian general public I like to call the decent, muddled middle clearly wasn't all that interested and saw the differences they cherished as much in irrational, experiential matters of everyday life (e.g. our famous "niceness")as in ideological poles. As the Liberals learned recently, Canadian anti-Americanism has a code of conduct and may invite a strong Good-Neighbours-Across-the- Undefended-Border reaction if it goes too far or becomes too virulent. It seems to me that in 2008 most Canadians firmly support a separate route for Canada, as long as it isn't too much. Face it, Sir Francis, most Canadians simply know and like them too much. They may be scary, crazy cowboys, but dammit, they're our scary, crazy cowboys, so back off, Fritz! Frustrating for we men of principle, but there is a lot to be said for it nonetheless from the perspective of the average sweat grinding out a living. My other rule of thumb is to guage my principles in Tim Horton's rather than Starbuck's.

You are right about modern conservative idealogues, by whom I assume you mean the libertarians. Scary bunch, some of them. I always thought putting ideas before people was a leftist hazard, but apparently not. Judging from the blogosphere, it seems the road to glorious, happy, perfect freedom passes through a lot of rage and intolerance.

Sir Francis, enough about the Americans, how about a thoughtful post on Europe and whether there is anything left there worthy of inspiration. It seems to me they have had their own not-so-glorious revolution after 1945 which bought them thirty years of peace and prosperity followed by a rather alarming decline and dessication. They forgot one of the most profound, humbling and perplexing biblical stories of all--The Tower of Babel.

Finally:

I am the only person I know who thinks that the Family Compact was an effective administration and that the Mackenzie/Papineau rebellion deserved to be crushed.

Hmm. Canada-hating continentalists to the left, Canada-hating continentalists to the right, but still Sir Francis stood firm. :-)

Cheers and thanks again.

Ti-Guy said...

I became a bit embarassed by Canadian intellectuals, mainly on the left but also in my gang, who tried too hard to paint Canada as a diametric philosophical opposite to the States when it seemed increasingly clear to me that much of it was historical happenstance and reaction to perceived excesses

Which intellectuals do you have in mind? Since the Mulroney years, this country has suffered an absence of any kind of insightful analysis because the public discussion is undermined by this tedious assertion that talking about Canada itself must somehow be anti-American, a charge that has become as meaningless as accusing everyone of antisemitism every time Israel is mentioned.

Some Canadians appear to me to be living in an existential reality far different from the one I'm familiar with. That might just be an issue of regionalism, but there is something profoundly ignorant about insisting, with an air of intellectual superiority, that a different aggregation of people, inhabiting a place with a different history, a different form of government and a different economy are not entitled to speak about those differences and how they are influenced by dysfunctions manifested in the great power to south of us.

Much of the criticism of America by Canadians is no different than that presented by some of most insightful American critics of America itself. The hostility might not be irritating (and too bad; that just comes with the territory), but compared to the rest of the World, Canada still remains America's friend, in the true sense of the word.

How much longer that can go on, however, isn't clear to me.

Sir Francis said...

Peter:

...how about a thoughtful post on Europe and whether there is anything left there worthy of inspiration.

Coming right up! Expect to see it in the next few days...

Peter Burnet said...

Great, but can I amend thirty to read fifty? Fairs, fair and that was actually quite a run for Europe.

Ti-Guy, I won't go into a full-frontal against Trudeau beyond simply expressing my own belief that his idea of a nationl purpose was that of an French Enlightenment parlour intellectual from L'Ecole Normale and that he failed miserably in all respects, to the near-destruction of the country and to the point where the Mulroney sins of which you complain can best be seen as reactive correctives. But if you want an archetype, there was a fellow whose name I forget who used to play the guest leftist at the National Post. Before Kinsella and much more classically doctrinaire. Shortly after 9/11, he wrote an opinion piece I wished I had kept as the most disgusting and embarrassing example of pompous Canadian fecklessness I ever encountered. His whole theory was that the U.S. and Canada had completely opposite histories and "lessons" to teach the rest of the world, from which it could profit in equal measure. The agends of the American were (surprise, surprise!) the usual nasty agenda of guns, racism, profit, etc., but ours was all about co-oo-operation, internationalism, the UN, human rights, etc. The world could really benefit immensely from the Canadian prespective on ...well, everything! (just as Canadians can never really vote intelligently until they have heard the Austrian prespective) The whole thing could have been cribbed word for word from a press release from the EU, but he seemed to really believe it was all wrapped up in some indigenous national mission. I read it stunned horror and, in those tense time, it certainly sent me into the American camp PDQ.

As I said, an archetype. But if you lived through the 70s and 80s as I did, surely it rings lots of bells?

Ti-Guy said...

where the Mulroney sins of which you complain can best be seen as reactive correctives

I didn't complain of any Mulroney sins.

If your embarrassment is rooted in the Trudeau-era, and an unresolved animus towards Trudeau himself, that's all I need to know. This minority interpretation still has a lot of power in this country, for some reason.

But if you want an archetype, there was a fellow whose name I forget who used to play the guest leftist at the National Post.

Obviously very influential, though not to the extent that one can remember his name.

I can't even begin to take your analysis seriously if you can't provide a reference; in any case, it's the clapped-out cant we've all heard before.

But if you lived through the 70s and 80s as I did, surely it rings lots of bells?

None whatsoever. But then I wasn't part of the demographic that was having problems coming to terms with the twilight of their influence.

Sir Francis said...

...there was a fellow whose name I forget who used to play the guest leftist at the National Post.

The article you summarise sounds like one of Lloyd Axworthy's.

...one of the most disgusting and embarrassing example of pompous Canadian fecklessness I ever encountered.

Perhaps, but no nation has a monopoly of fecklessness, nor do the scribblings of a single Grub Street hack speak with any authority for the national soul.

You should read what Charles Lindberg and other prominent Republican isolationists were saying during the Blitz. They could barely contain their glee that the British Empire was finally getting the coup de grâce and that America was finally getting the chance to take over and inaugurate a post-colonial era of global liberty and justice (which has turned out just swimmingly, you'll find).

That London was being bombed into the Bronze Age at the cost of hundreds of daily deaths whilst the Commonwealth stood alone against the most powerful force for evil the world had ever seen in no way blunted their triumphalist joy. Sitting, watching and gloating over the scene of "Limeys" getting annihilated became the Great American Pastime.

Of course, when the Japanese bruised their colossal ego in late 1941, all of a sudden Americans gave a damn about "fighting tyranny", in one of the least convincing attempts at retroactive virginity ever ventured.

Now that's a truly disgusting little bit of recent American history that rarely gets mentioned on the History Channel, and I doubt if Canada has done anything that could hold a torch to it for sheer odiousness.

Peter Burnet said...

No, it wasn't Axworthy. It was a young academic who I seem to recall was fairly widely quoted (and attacked) and who then seemed to suddenly disappear into the ether. I remember one of his last articles was a complaint about how he had submitted this thesis in expanded form to a major American left-leaning magazine (Harper's?) and was very surprised it was rejected, a rather revealing admission. But it wasn't the substance of his political beliefs that I found embarassing, I just thought they were very wrong. What set me on edge was his efforts to position Canada as some kind of diametrically opposed counterpoint of equal weight and influence leading a global resistance to the dreaded Yanks the rest of the world should follow. Despite our significant differences, I'm listening closely to Sir Francis' arguments about Canada and Canadians and our relationship to the States, but I do hope I never open his site to see he is suggesting our ways are just the ticket for the Congo. Didn't somebody once say something about working hard to know thyself? And isn't one of our timeless complaints about the Americans that they are unable to get their heads around how others in the world think differently than they? That's one of the reasons Americans are much better liberators than nation-builders. (Actually, I think there are many reasons for that. Some do them little credit, but others do them a lot.)

No, Ti-Guy, my animus isn't "rooted in the Trudeau era". I thought far more positively of him when he was around than I do now. Which means I've changed many former perspectives on the basis of much reading, much reflection, much observation and much debate since. Ti-Guy, I've noticed you quite rightly get a little testy when folks suggest they know everything about you and what you believe on the basis of one comment thread. Equal courtesy? I'll be happy to answer any questions.

Sir Francis, actually the anti-British animus of which you complain survived Pearl Harbour. Guys like Lindburgh may have belted up, but the far more influential Chicago Tribune kept whining throughout the war and was a real problem for Roosevelt and the Allies. But look, imagine we are preaching to young Canadians in the 21st century (who may only vaguely know who won WW11) about America and its sins. Isn't it a tough sell to complain how we are mad at them today because they are travelling the globe picking fights and were mad at them seventy years ago because they wouldn't?

Sir Francis said...

Isn't it a tough sell to complain how we are mad at them today because they are travelling the globe picking fights and were mad at them seventy years ago because they wouldn't?

I'm not sure WWII was a "picked" fight for the Allies. I think Germany had more to do with invading Poland, bombing England and setting up death camps than Iraq had to do with 9/11. Don't you?

Peter Burnet said...

Yes, I do, big time. But given the reality of the Lebanon-Syria-Iraq-Iran-Pakistan axis as it existed in 2001, (I am aware they detested one another behind the scenes, but they were coalescing around a virulent anti-Western aggressive stance. Hitler and Mussolini never trusted each other either.) and what their leaders (both de facto and de jure) were doing and saying, I also think there was very menacing fight-picking going on there too. Folks today tend to look back to 9/11 as the measure of that, but I think a much better barometer was Durban.

Don't forget that one of the major question for historians after the war was why we didn't believe exactly what Hitler said and act earlier. Much of the modern criticism of Iraq seems to be based on the argument that we should have known somehow the bastard was lying (you know those Arabs) and it was oppressive to take him at his word. When I hear that argument put starkly, I call racism or at least a supreme cultural arrogance.

Ti-Guy said...

I thought far more positively of him when he was around than I do now.

Well, that's obvious. And it's something I *do* find odd and quite often irritating; I'll be honest about that. How you feel about something as circumstances change in life is not relevant to others with regard to the reality you experienced at the time and how you feel now cannot change events of the past.

It reminds me of all the "former liberals" who went loopy on September 11th, 2001. As someone (I think it was James Wolcott) described their emotional turmoil: "Everything changed on 9/11 and now I'm enraged by Chappaquiddick."

If you're going assert that Trudeau was a complete failure ('he failed miserably in all respects'), you'll have to be more specific.

On the issue of how he could craft a shared Canadian identity, I think he laboured under a few assumptions about social evolution that could never occur by fiat or over the course of his lifetime. But what arose from that..a stronger sense of Canadian as a civic nationality (and now, asserted by a lot Canadians, at least in response to census questions, as a sociological identity)...are present realities.

That of course doesn't sit right still with a lot of Canadians, but I don't know what do about that. As a bilingual Franco-Ontarian, whose centuries-old identity as French-Canadian and Canadien was stripped of all meaning by Québécois chauvinists, it's a better fit when I have to identify myself to outsiders.

I don't believe his ideas of national purpose veered dramatically from the realities that started to shape Canada's role in the World post-WW2 and that are rooted in the traditions dating right back to the beginning of European settlement.

Peter Burnet said...

Ti-Guy:

OK, I'll plead guilty to hyperbole with the "in all respects". His first term had some real accomplishments like the OLA (although not the way it was sold), standing up to the separatists while everyone else was tongue-tied and cleaning out some of the rhetorical dross of the pre-60s "distemper of our times" that the Anglo-Boomers still swoon about today without really knowing why. But thereafter, with respect to the public service, the military, the economy, national unity, resources, the Americans and international affairs (the real ones, not the spin-doctors' versions), he was an elitest hyper-rationalist disaster lost in the anti-establishment thirties, and he was insecure enough to get rid of quality and surround himself with sycophants. His Canadian supporters today, and they are many, really have never faced up to the significance of the fact that, at the funeral of one of the West's longest serving and most publically ballyhooed statesman, the only prominent figures who showed were America's nuttiest, most anti-American ex-President and the most brutal dictator in the Western Hemisphere. Oh yes, and a stricken Margaret. Weren't you moved by her tears, shed on behalf of a whole generation of beautiful people who just loved him and thought that was all they needed?

BTW, does the first paragraph of your comment suggest you mistrust folks who change their views after their youth?

Ti-Guy said...

the only prominent figures who showed were America's nuttiest, most anti-American ex-President and the most brutal dictator in the Western Hemisphere.

That's impossible. Nixon was dead and Pinochet was too feeble to show up.

BTW, does the first paragraph of your comment suggest you mistrust folks who change their views after their youth?

Most people have uninformed views in their youth.

My attitudes to Trudeau were fixed with regard to the expansion of education during that time, the liberalising of laws relating to private behaviour, the decisive response to violent domestic terrorism, the patriation of the constitution and the establishment of The Charter. The economic issues of the time were global and Trudeau dealt with them pretty much the way other political liberals did, all over the World.

I never thought Mulroney was much better or all that worse (although that story is still being told); although I did find his term long and dull. A lot of Canadians did find him lacking, however, and the Progressive Conservative Party was destroyed. In the end, that's how democracies render their decisions about something, not as a result of someone's feelings.

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