Archive for August, 2008

Harvey Mansfield on Canada

Professors Harvey Mansfield, Bradley Watson, and Robert P. George are calling on the American Political Science Association to reevaluate its selection of Toronto for its 2009 conference.

The contention is that Canada’s restrictions on certain forms of speech put controversial academics at risk of being prosecuted. Friends of academic free speech should boycott this country. Ouch!

Now I hear that the women’s caucus of the Canadian Political Science Association is calling for a motion censuring Peter Russell for allowing offensive speech at CPSA meetings. The matter will be discussed at the CPSA Board meeting in December.

Russell chaired a session at the 2008 Learneds (UBC) at which Frances Widdowson read a paper on the use of aboriginal methodology in the study of aboriginal history and society. I’ve read her paper, which Katherine Fierlbeck kindly forwarded. (Thank you Katherine.) The argument is that to adopt the aboriginal worldview uncritically, violates principles of sound academic inquiry. Among those Widdowson describes as unhelpfully wedded to use of aboriginal methodology is Kiera Ladner, a Canada Research Chair at the University of Manitoba. Ladner was present at the session; a heated exchange ensued. Ladner seems to have been arguing that Widdowson’s contention amounted to an intolerant and intolerable rejection of the aboriginal worldview. We do not know just what was said.  But apparently the discussion was vigorous!

Russell allowed the exchange “as academically legitimate debate.” The phrase, “academically legitimate debate” is Katherine Fierlbeck’s. It sounds like something Peter Russell would say.

So: Ladner called Widdowson for “offensive speech;” Widdowson defended herself. And Russell’s up for censure.

Widdowson’s paper is entitled, “Native Studies and Canadian Political Science: The Implications of “Decolonizing the Discipline.” It’s a strong, well-written article, with fascinating quotations, references and instances. There’s a discussion of hiring in Aboriginal Programs. A discussion of SSHRC funding for Aboriginal Studies. Who gets hired, who gets funded?

Frances Widdowson and Albert Howard have a book coming out with McGill-Queen’s this November: Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry, The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservations. The argument is that policies put forward to address the problems of Canada’s native peoples are contributing to their misery. Katherine Fierlbeck tells me that the Women’s Caucus is calling for a motion censuring McGill-Queen’s!

Wait till Mansfield hears.

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Academic Rage

I’m at work on the new edition of G.P. Browne’s Documents on the Confederation of British North America. And again, for the umpteenth time, I’m compelled to explain that the British North America Act (1867) is now entitled the Constitution Act (1867).

I’m seized by a fit of “academic rage.” In the entire history of humankind there has been only one country with the right to call its founding document, “British North America Act.” And in 1982 – and who consulted us? Who gave the matter more than a passing thought? – a faceless somebody decided it should be renamed. “Constitution Act”! Any country can have a Constitution Act. Probably most countries do. Our distinctive title was lost and lost forever.

(I should be ashamed of myself. Getting upset about a petty matter.)

George Breckenridge has lent me Victor Klemperer’s I will Bear Witness, A Diary of the Nazi Years. I’m half way through the first volume. From the back cover; “Struggling to complete his ambitious history of eighteenth-century France, Victor Klemperer loses his professorship, then his car, his phone, his house, even his typewriter, under the ever tightening Nazi grip. ”
Klemperer’s rage: “If one day the situation were reversed and the fate of the vanquished lay in my hands, then I would let all the ordinary folk go and even some of the leaders, who might perhaps after all have had honourable intentions and not know what they were doing. But I would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest; they would be left hanging from the lampposts for as long as was compatible with hygiene” (August 16, 1936).
(History of French Literature in the 18th Century, vol : 1: the Century of Voltaire was published in 1954, six years before Klemperer’s death. Volume 11: the Century of Rousseau appeared after his death. The Diary of the Nazi Years came out in 1996.)

The Top Forty

We’re listening to National Public Radio more often these days. We’re in flight from the CBC. And we’re not alone. You can’t spend a lunch hour, an evening with someone without the question coming up: so, what do you think about the changes at the CBC?

Sam and Janet are taking the high road. Fans of classical music in Canada have had a good run at the public expense. It’s time to say thanks and go elsewhere.  Elsewhere is often National Public Radio. In our part of the country, WNED, from Buffalo.  I phone to renew my membership. “We’re in flight from the CBC,” I say. “Oh, we know, dear,” whispers an ancient voice with a Boston accent. “We’re all so sorry for you.”

So now at lunches and dinners the talk is about how to persuade one’s cable company to include WNED in the radio package. And about how to get NPR stations in the Mid-West and California on the web. Not to mention the BBC. We’re becoming global citizens.  And there’s You Tube. We go to a klezmer concert, come home and watch on You Tube, clips from 14 past performances by the same group. We’re having a good time!

I’m grateful to the CBC for years of enjoyment, for introducing me to contemporary composers, for In Performance, for the Winnipeg New Music Festival, for the fall roundup of summer-time concerts.  I still listen to Tom Allen and to what’s-her-name in the mornings. Usually. Otherwise, it’s so long and goodbye.

Listeners at WNED recently chose their Top Forty classical favourites. No. 1: Dvorak, Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”).  No. 2: Beethoven Symphony No. 9 (“Choral”). American sentimentalism wins out over German universalism!

Recasting Citizenship

I’m reading the Fall 2008 catalogue from the University of Toronto Press.  Recasting the Social in Citizenship, a collection of essays edited by Engin F. Isin (Open University) comes out this December and purports to show “how citizenship has increasingly been determined by social behaviours rather than by civil or political affiliations.” Well, we all knew it. Here’s a handy source to cite.

Political scientists used to argue that law and the constitution defined citizenship. Now – “recently” – they argue that it emerges from our “social activities,” our “everyday struggles,” our “debates over multiculturalism.” Indeed the argument is that it should emerge from social activities.

In Reimaging Canada (1994), Jeremy Webber described Canada as a “conversation.” Canadians learn what and who they are, what’s expected of them and what they are entitled to through an on-going national conversation. Webber was writing about the difficulty of drawing up a list of Canadian values to include in a “Canada clause” for the Charlottetown Constitutional Accord. We can’t constitutionalize our values and sense of citizenship, he argued, we can’t cast them in stone, because our values and the definition of citizenship change and change again as the conversation goes on.

Recasting the Social in Citizenship
should be a useful book, telling us the way things are. At the moment.

But as political scientists what we really want to know is whether the development Isin describes is “choiceworthy.” (“Choiceworthy.” One of Allan Bloom’s favourite terms.)

Should we regret the fact that scholars less often understand citizenship in the old terms?

Yes we should. In a system that relies on social debates and “everyday struggles,” to define citizenship, the first comers, the early immigrants, the largest and best-organized ethnic groups, the loud voices, the moneyed cliques, the bullies have a decided advantage. Shy retiring types go to the wall. Resentments abound and all feel threatened. When the debate is about who are the “real” Canadians, the more Canadian Canadians, the more “citizenly” citizens, things can get nasty. Who’s entitled? Who belongs?

What we want is a system where every citizen is equally entitled to the protection of the law and the benefits of the law, no matter how well equipped they are to take part in the Canadian social conversation. We want a system where someone who walks out of the citizenship court is, by the fact of having gone through the process of acquiring citizenship, just as entitled to that protection and those benefits, and just as obliged to respect the law, and to incur the punishments associated with infraction of law, as someone whose ancestors arrived a generation ago, six generations ago, or before recorded time.

We want a definition of citizenship grounded in the constitution and long-standing law.

Re-inventing Discourse

It’s the long weekend and I’m at the old job: clearing out papers from my university days.
Here’s a pamphlet from the University of Waterloo, dated August 2003, advertising a conference on The Rhetorical Tradition. Scholars in English, Philosophy, Film Studies, and Communication Studies are invited.
The objective is to “explore the transfiguration of the rhetorical tradition taking place across the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences.” To “create new methods of reading the historical archive, to invent new narratives of the history of rhetoric, and discover new sites of rhetorical inquiry.” Hmm.
Narratives about “narrative.” Talk about talk. Well, why not?
I note that the participants were not merely proposing to recover the rhetorical tradition; they were “re-inventing” it. So they were not just talking about talking. They were out to discover new ways of talking about talking. New ways of discoursing about discourse.
Sounds like fun. Why weren’t the lawyers and political scientists invited?

Reading Donald Smiley

I’m rereading Donald Smiley’s The Canadian Political Nationality (1967). What a master Smiley was! I miss him. We need him. (And now, he’s lost his “prize” status with the Canadian Political Science Association. Pity.) Here he is on parliamentary government.  Note the second paragraph, especially.

“Stable, majoritarian democracy is incompatible with the existence of permanent minorities. If a self-conscious group is always outnumbered and if its members perceive that most of the issues resolved by government are decided contrary to its vital interests, it will almost inevitably regard democratic institutions as the instrument of oppression and strive to undermine and eventually to replace them. But established democracies are not like that at all. They are sustained under circumstances in which there are a great variety of actual and potential cleavages (majorities and minorities) in society and where public policies are the resultants of struggles between various combinations of sentiment and interest, some of them relatively stable and others forming and reforming as particular issues arise.

“As a citizen I am in the minority today, tomorrow it may be otherwise. Certain aspects of my interests are badly attended to by the public authorities, in respect to others I do well. Those I oppose on this issue, I join as allies on that. In my political behaviour I am pulled in one direction by the traditional loyalties of my family and in the other by the dominant sentiments of those with whom I work, and I end up by not feeling or acting positively in one way or another. In brief, democracy proceeds by the rule of “tolerable” because ‘varying” majorities.’”

John A. put it this way: “In all countries the rights of the majority take care of themselves, but it is only in countries like England, enjoying constitutional liberty, and safe from the tyranny of an unbridled democracy, that the rights of minorities are respected” (Canadian Legislative Assembly, February 6, 1865). As I’ve said before, by “minorities,” Macdonald means the groups and interests on the opposition benches.

Smiley was thinking about constitutions, political institutions and the tradition of constitutionalism in the decades when the majority of political scientists were in flight from constitutional studies and were trying to turn themselves into sociologists. I thought of heading this note “the defeat of Donald Smiley.” But he’ll be read long after the would-be sociologists are forgotten. Well, he’ll be read if there remain copies of the book.  The Canadian Political Nationality is typical of many from Canada’s centennial decade: the paper’s yellowing – browning, in fact; the ink’s fading; in the paperback version the spine’s cracking. My copy is held together with elastic bands – like my old copy of Lord Durham’s Report (Craig’s 1963 edition, and G.P. Browne’s Documents of Confederation.