C.B. Macpherson Prize

The Canadian Political Science Association has announced the ninth biennial competition for the C.B. Macpherson Prize: “The prize was established to honour the life and work of Crawford Brough Macpherson (1911-1987), an internationally renowned teacher and scholar of political theory who served as University Professor at the University of Toronto. The Canadian Political Science Association seeks to encourage the ideals of scholarship represented by this great Canadian political scientist.”

Yes. Macpherson was an eminence. I can understand why the CPSA felt no need to remind us that he never relinquished his admiration for Soviet and African totalitarianisms. I can understand that they did not feel required to point out that he believed these forms of representative democracy as good as or indeed superior to Canada’s liberal democracy. It cannot appropriate to raise such matters in the short biography of a great political scientist.

Banish from your thoughts the millions of state murders in the African one-party democracies and the millions upon millions of state murders in the Soviet Union.

I remember an occasion in the late 1970s on which Macpherson was describing the signal features of the Soviet system. I was then well into the research for my doctoral thesis and steeped in Lord Durham’s account of “responsible government,” the constitutional principle that requires the party in office to answer to the majority in the elective chamber of parliament. As Macpherson continued his exposition of representative soviets, the question was on my lips: “How is the government of the Soviet Union made to answer for its decisions?” But I said nothing. Nor did anyone else in the crowded lecture room.

Frank Cunningham’s book on Macpherson’s political thought is expected soon. It is one to watch for.

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