Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Von Heyking’s fifteen seconds

Peter and I have both noted Al Gore’s characteristically intemperate comments about the Canadian election. So has the WSJ’s James Taranto, as you’ll see if you scroll to the last item. And if you look at his acknowledgements below that, you’ll find JvH’s name. This puts JvH in the quite rarefied company of David Foster, whose post on Mark Twain and the Middle East attracted similar attention from the master of the snark.

All hail von Heyking and Foster!

Update: In the comments, we’ve moved from congratulating JvH and DF to debating the role of intellectuals in Canadian politics. Inquiring minds want to know: is Michael Ignatieff a potential philosopher-king?

Discussions - 5 Comments

Well, I’m back after having fought tooth and nail, but unsuccessfully, to save my Party and my candidate in the Canadian elections. In Toronto-Danforth we (the Liberals) lost to the social democrats, the NDP by about 5000 votes, maybe a bit more. There was much anger about the Liberals, partly due to a scandal involving a small but high up group of party people in Quebec. Also, the Liberal campaign at the national level, lacked focus and didn’t get a clear enough message ought despite many really excellent and imaginative policy proposals on a whole range of issues. One reaction of the angry was to vote Conservative; another was to vote for the NDP. As my candidate, Deborah Coyne, said in her concession speech, "we have a different government, but not a different country." The anger at the Liberals has now been released, and with a new leader and a cleaned up party, we will be set to retake the country next time.
Canada has little history of stable coalition government. Apart from the seperatist Bloc Quebecois (where but in Canada a federal political party dedicated to seperation?) there is no obvious coalition partner for the Conservatives. They will not be able to do much, and as soon as the other parties are able to refresh their coffers, etc. the Conservative government is likely to fall, and then we will be in election mode again.
This was the first time in my life that I was involved in all the aspects of an electoral campaign, from getting much of the funding to finance it, to doing policy and strategy, to canvassing door-to-door with the candidate. It was fun, even if I had to commute back and forth from Ann Arbor. Michael Ignatieff, who was elected for the Liberals, was still teaching at the Kennedy School during the early part of the campaign, so I guess this transboundary politicking is a trend . . .
Despite all the talk in the right-wing press in Canada about the destruction of the Liberal party, the fact is that the Tories don’t have people of the calibre and public profile of Ignatieff who will run for them. And the Tories were unable to keep Belinda Stronach, the former CEO of one of Canada’s leading multinational companies, who defected months ago to the Liberals and won her seat in the recent election. We may see more real talent in the Liberal leadership race alone than in the entire Conservative Party of Canada!

Rob

Rob,

Just curious. What do you know about folks in Alberta, like Ted Morton and Rainer Knopff (both Toronto Ph.D.’s from just a tad before your time, if I’m not mistaken, and prominent Canadian political scientists). I get the impression that they’ve been demonized in the press. I know that they don’t have Ignatieff’s cachet and Harvard connection (though I find his work more glib than profound). And they may not be the dominant figures in the upper echelons of Harper’s party (JvH knows this--and them--better than I do). But as a Canadian politics brain trust, they’re pretty doggone good. Wouldn’t they compare relatively favorably to their counterparts in the Liberal Party?

It goes without saying that old Mr. von Heyking, though not as prominent as Ted and Rainer, is no slouch himself. He may, however, not be a partisan Conservative. I’ve never actually asked.

Joseph,

I know little about Rainer Knopff but you are correct concerning Morton--he is a very prominent Alberta politician. He sits as a provincial member of parliament, and his name has often been mentioned as a possible leadership candidate for the Tories in Alberta. My remarks about the Conservatives are really about the federal party. In fact, in a number of provinces they have some really excellent people, Morton being one of them, a real star. Have you seen his website?

Rob

John von Heyking sends this along in an email.

This is a curious post. As a Kojeve scholar, I imagine Prof. Howse has an
interesting perspective on the alleged widom to be found within the
Liberals and the Conservatives. However, he would also know that
comparing the 2 parties would take the form of determining which one has
the better managers for effecting the universal homogeneous state.
Whether or not this is a philosophically interesting activity is a
question. I guess it depends on whether you think Strauss was right or
whether Kojeve was right.


As for the individuals involved, I would refer you to remarks of Barry
Cooper (another prominent Kojeve scholar) on Ignatieff and the role of
intellectuals in politics (from the Calgary Herald in December):


"For their part, intellectuals see themselves as trafficking in ideas
as counters, tokens, or chips in what is for them the serious business
of life: power, or to use a more polite term preferred by the
list-makers, influence. As the uncle of Michael Grant Ignatieff,
George Parkin Grant, once put it, our vanity makes us wish to be
influential. But George Grant was by intention a scholar and a
teacher, not deliberately a public intellectual. Thus did he see
ambition as vanity. Ignatieff, unlike his uncle, is ambitious without,
in his own mind, being vain. Rather than judge the options, let us
accept Michael Ignatieff as an intellectual and ask the only important
question: what are the implications of his ideas?


"First, he said of his political allegiance: “I’ve been a Liberal all
my life.” He quoted Wordsworth’s description of the French Revolution
as expressing his sentiments at the election of Pierre Trudeau as his
leader. Like Trudeau, Ignatieff favours intervention by Ottawa in
areas of provincial responsibility: “Let’s not, my dear friends, let’s
not get tangled up in federal/provincial battles over jurisdiction.
Let’s just do it.” Canadians have heard such things before. Albertans
at least know where they stand with such ideas.


"Second, in an essay in the New York Times on “The Broken Contract”
that, Ignatieff said, took place when the levees protecting New
Orleans broke, he made the startling claim that “there are some harms
that the government must protect its people from, however unlikely
they may turn out to be, whatever they cost.” These are not ideas that
reflect a becoming modesty regarding the limits of government or of
public resources.


"The world lost a scholar when Ignatieff became an intellectual. This
misfortune will be compounded if he follows the logic of intellectual
influence and seeks power as well. "


Cooper, who I suppose would side with Strauss against Kojeve, regards
Ignatieff’s ambition as philosophically dangerous. He’s too much like
Trudeau, not only in that regard, but also in regard to his understanding
of Canadian federalism (which would diminish the powers of the provinces
as much as possible).


As for Stronach, one needs to remember that though CEO of her dad’s
company, her dad always made sure to have his friends there to make the
real decisions. Cf. Machiavelli’s discussion of the prince who rules with
the arms of others.

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