Summer 2006 - Volume 9 Number 3
|Reviews||Rescuing Canada’s Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution
Toronto: John Wiley and Sons, 2005
Among the many thankless and seemingly futile tasks of political scientists and others concerned with competing political philosophies and ideologies is that of pinning the right name-tag on various coherent and competitive systems of thought. Terms such as conservative, liberal and socialist have never been uncontested, but they are now applied to the viewpoints of such disparate individuals and groups that conscientious public and professional observers may be forgiven for abandoning political labels altogether.
In post-Soviet Russia, for example, die-hard communists are called “conservatives.” Simultaneously, unreconstructed capitalists from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to Stephen Harper and George W. Bush are also called “conservatives,” although their enthusiastic endorsement of individualism, innovation and market economics identify them as devotees of a robust sort of 18th-century liberalism. Meanwhile, social democrats like Tony Blair have veered far away from anything resembling socialism, and Canada’s own Bob Rae, not content with disgorging any socialist content worthy of the name from the Ontario New Democratic Party, has followed other provincial New Democrats into the embrace of the federal Liberal Party. In so doing, he contemptuously disdains ideological politics and openly endorses what sometimes seems like unprincipled pragmatism. Though he would surely deny that he seeks power for its own sake, he boasts that his circumscribed approach to political decision making is precisely what is needed to make the best of the possible world.
In the process, moral clarity has absented itself from political discourse. Terms like “values” seem within the exclusive proprietary preserve of the “religious right” while excluding people with a conscientious interest in ecology, economic equity, social harmony and human rights. This is a shame.
There was a time, not long ago, when the word “conservative” meant something in Canada and what it meant was sometimes distinctively Canadian. Writerschiefly historianssuch as Donald Creighton and W. L. Morton espoused a theory of conservative values and programs that expressed a deep and enduring tradition of public policy and statecraft. Like authentic conservatives elsewhere, they were sceptical of unalloyed human reason, inclined to privilege community over unfettered individualism, and willing to encourage public enterprise in crucial infrastructural sectors such as transportation and communications. Such individuals, or as many as can still be found, are now castigated by critics who seem to take their lead from hateful American commentators including Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and the entire on-air staff at Fox News.
From the late Dalton Camp to the fading Joe Clark and David Crombie, they are called “red tories,” and are derisively dismissed as closet socialists with an unduly soft spot in their hearts for environmentalists, gay activists, urban renewal and Indians. They should be proud. Their antagonists are, after all, merely the detritus of bogus versions of Adam Smith and foolish falsifications of the doctrines of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. Canadian conservatism is now in hands of right-wing liberals and Republican-lite wannabes. Sir John A. Macdonald’s soul cannot be resting easy.
A recent contribution to Canadian political debate provides just such a litany of demonization, as well as a splendid example of confusing political categories. Authored by two thirty-something, attractive and eminently multicultural political “activists” with ties to the National Post and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, it presents a “blueprint for a conservative revolution.” If people thought the “Progressive Conservative” party was oxymoronic, this book’s subtitle goes it one better. Only in today’s lexicologically challenged ideological environmentSpain in the late 1930s notwithstandingcould authentic conservatives toy with the notion of being revolutionaries.
Khieriddin and Daifallah start by offering readers a mini-course in the failure of recent conservatism. Written shortly before Stephen Harper’s minority victory, it sets out a case against all the failures of leadership, imagination and courage that, in their combined opinion, resulted in pusillanimous compromises with politically correct feminists, abortionists, CBC aficionados, tax gatherers and wealth redistributors and, of course, the leftist cultural relativists who sustain feminist and postcolonial studies in the blighted and benighted groves of academe. The list of their usual suspects includes anarcho-socialist educators, the liberal media and welfare recipients (both individual and corporate). Their solution to almost everything? Cut taxes.
Kheiriddin and Daifallah’s book is valuable on two grounds. It is remarkably frank about the goals of the new “conservatism”, and it is almost disconcertingly honest about its tactics.
First, although it does not descend to the kind of hate-mongering currently available in similar screeds from the US neoliberal-religious right alliance, it does set out in stark terms what the so-called conservative movement in Canada is all about. Even a quick perusal shows plainly that Stephen Harper’s “hidden agenda” is not and was never hidden at all. Its main policy preferences combine the wish-list of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives with the fears of fundamentalist Christians who are eager to save us from the collapse of civilization betokened by gay marriage, clean injection sites and the decline of corporal punishment in the classroom. The authors are to be credited for their candor.
Second, it displays a remarkable transparency on the subject of how to win and keep power. It acknowledges, for example, that the élitist, liberal media is not entirely to blame for electing the likes of Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. Though allegedly conservative, their historical memory is a bit short; so, they supply a brief inventory of Conservative Prime Ministers, but say little of consequence about what they did or why they did it. Instead, they quickly dismiss the distant past and concentrate on the lost opportunities of the past few decades. They are quite ruthless. They admit that members of the Canadian right have a habit of saying remarkably stupid and offensive things. Thus, it may be inferred, Steven Harper is wise to keep his Cabinet Ministers and back-benchers on a short leash and muzzled.
Rather than indulge in unending whining about being misunderstood and falsely criticized for antediluvian thinking, Kheiriddin and Daifallah go directly on the attack. I proffer no “conspiracy theory” here. The architects of the “conspiracy” are candid about their objectives, and they have a cunning plan. It is based on creating a solid conservative infrastructure. They want to “fuel the fire” through “an organized effort to build a critical mass of conservative counterculture.”
The main elements in the plan include a serious commitment by Canadian corporations to fund a flourishing “think-tank movement.” The corporate contributions of the Bradley Foundation, Richard Mellon Scaife, the Coors’ beer interests, the Olin group and a small number of core contributors in the United States helped George W. Bush and his associates to capture both the American policy agenda and the very language of politics in the United States. Properly funded, such propaganda mills, the authors hope, could overturn Canadian patterns of “liberal” decadence.
Next is the reorganizing of the media. Still apoplectic about the CRTC’s unseemly delay in allowing Fox News to be broadcast in Canada, they suggest deregulating Canadian broadcasting to end the privileges of “multicultural and multiracial” Canadians and to allow “public taste” to dictate what is seen and heard (with, of course, the proviso that laws “prohibiting obscenity and the incitement of hatred” be obeyed).
They also take account of constitutional matters. Like most right-wingers, they are displeased with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It has imposed, they say, a “new tyranny of interest groups … it’s been the judicial equivalent of the Siege of Leningrad, as court case after court case battered right-wing views on nearly every social and fiscal issue.” Conservatives, they disingenuously plead, are an “oppressed minority,” but unlike “the feminist movement … they just couldn’t find the right lawyer.” Instead of remaining content to rail against “judge-made law,” they urge creative action. Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Québec’s prohibition on private health insurance, they again look to the United States where legal foundations that “promote freedom” have been litigating on behalf of corporate interests for years. Unable to destroy the Charter, they urge a wholesale attack on public policy in the interest of “protecting property rights.”
Other theatres of culture war include appeals to Québec (which needs an alternative to the Liberal Party other than the Bloc) and to immigrants (who are mired in multiculturalism and yearn to assimilate). And, finally, there is education. Much emphasis is placed on the leftist attitudes of scholars and students, the feminist assault on “all but the hard sciences,” the promotion of Karl Marx and the penalizing of teachers and students “who do not toe the orthodox Arabist line.” Apart from advocating the growth of private colleges and universities, Kheiriddin and Daifallah call for creating conservative clubs on campus, funding speaking tours by Americans such as “comedian Ben Stein, pundit Ann Coulter, former Congressman Jack Kemp [and] rocker Ted Nugent.” They also approve of students “outing” leftist professors. A movement similar to David Horowitz’s absurdly entitled “Students for Academic Freedom” that would have the effect of creating lists of liberal teachers (only one step above an inventory of sexual predators) is clearly in the offing.
Through all of this, however, the one thing is strikingly clear. There is no serious philosophical content to the new right’s plan. The goal is to craft a coalition of constituencies that will put down what is perceived as an effete culture of immorality and entitlement and replace it with a society built on free enterprise, family values and a stern attitude to those who violate its rules. The blueprint invokes the language of violence to buck up the sagging spirits of those who flee from “Sex and the City” re-runs, not knowing that the same interests that fund the new right are those that own the broadcasting media and supply the commercials for the pleasure of their audiences.
We have come to a strange place where corporate power can rely on populist paranoia to elevate its interests in elections and education. It is not entirely unknown, of course. Lenin coined the phrase “useful idiots” to describe anti-Tsarist liberals who would unwittingly assist the Bolsheviks in their drive for absolute power; likewise, conservative pundit Tucker Carlson recently described the US religious right in similar terms as they fall into place for President Bush. Our new conservative revolutionaries have a parallel plan in mind for Canada.
The only thing missing from Kheiriddin and Daifallah’s screed is a call to arms in the global war on terror. The military receives surprisingly little attention, except when the authors attribute Jean Chrétien’s decision not to participate in the invasion and occupation of Iraq to his wish to placate Québec where, they say, “anti-Americanism is rampant”an allegation they curiously link to the appointment of Michaëlle Jean as Governor-General. Too bad they couldn’t have waited a few months to publish. After all, Stephen Harper actually prevailed (more or less) in the election of 2006, our courageous troops are now dying in Afghanistan and clandestine meetings (lately in Banff and reportedly involving Stockwell Day, General Rick Hillier, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Mexican Secretary of Public Safety Eduardo Medina Mora and former Mexican finance minister Pedro Aspe all under the gavel of ex-US Secretary of State George Schultz) are underway to go beyond current continentalist agreements such as the North America Free Trade Agreement (1994) and the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (2005).
Militarization and continentalization have now emerged as large elements of the Conservative Party’s vision of what is left of the country. Kheiriddin and Daifallah were just a little late in picking up this ball. The current hope of Mr. Harper, Mr. Bush and putative Mexican president Calderon seems to be to have the North American Union established by 2010. Maybe Kheiriddin and Daifallah can get a second edition out in time to take heed of the radical reorganization of Canadian foreign policy and military affairs. Or, maybe, Mr. Harper’s government will be turned out before such things come to pass. Meanwhile, for anyone interested in conspiracy theories, I have two words: “Trilateral Commission.” And, for anyone interested in advancing the conservative revolution, I also have two words: “Relax, you won (sort of).” Now, get ready for “Thermidor.”
Howard A. Doughty teaches in the Faculty of Applied Arts and Health Sciences at
The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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