February 7, 2006

MADE IN THE SHADIA (via Daniel Merriman):

The Second Time as Farce (Joseph Knippenberg, The American Enterprise)

I woke up last Tuesday and had to pinch myself. Those diabolical Straussians—students, and students of students, of the late Leo Strauss (1899-1973), a German Jewish émigré and political philosopher whose measured praise (and criticism) of liberal democratic toleration has been deemed insufficiently fulsome by his critics—had added another government to their collection. The shadowy anti-democratic elitists behind George W. Bush could look northward to Ottawa and find kindred spirits behind newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

At least that’s what some hysterical Canadian pundits told me.

The villains of their piece are the “Calgary School,” a group of academics, mostly political scientists, who teach at the University of Calgary, and with whom Harper has been associated since the late 1980s.

Here’s what the pundits have to say.

* Members of the Calgary School are un-Canadian: Deriving its inspiration from the works of Friedrich von Hayek, Eric Voegelin, and Leo Strauss, the Calgary School “does not take its lead from the indigenous Canadian tradition. The sooner that Canadians realize that the Calgary School and tribe are American Republican conservatives, compradors and apologists for the empire, the sooner we can say that such a clan is not deeply Canadian in any significant sense.”

* The Calgarians would Americanize the Canadian political system: “Most of the group’s policy prescriptions—from an elected senate to parliamentary approval of judges—would have one effect: they would wipe out the quirky bilateral differences that are stumbling blocks to seamless integration with the United States.”

* The Calgary School has a secret agenda: “Strauss recommended harnessing the simplistic platitudes of populism to galvanize mass support for measures that would, in fact, restrict rights. Does the Calgary school resort to such deceitful tactics?” Of course: “Harper has a scary, secret agenda.” In a speech given to Civitas, a “secretive organization, which has no Web site and leaves little paper or electronic trail,” “Harper urged a return to social conservatism and social values, to change gears from neocon to theocon.”

* Wrapping it all up is long-time Strauss critic Shadia Drury, a professor at the University of Regina, quoted in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s (actually Toronto’s) national newspaper: “The Calgary School ‘is a Canadian appropriation of American neo-conservatism’…. Their thinking represents…’a huge contempt for democracy,’ and this election campaign [of 2004] ‘the greatest stealth campaign we have ever seen,’ run by radical populists hiding behind the cloak of rhetorical moderation.”

* Finally, if you like your analysis even less nuanced, there’s this Canadian blogger’s take: “The hidden agenda is no myth. All of the neo-cons mentioned, but particularly the members of The Calgary School, are adherents of the teachings of Leo Strauss. One of the most notorious of Strauss’ students was Paul Wolfowitz, the architect of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Strauss’ philosophy was less a philosophical pursuit and more of a manifesto. He believed that in order to protect people from themselves government should be made up of an elite group of philosophers who hide the truth and present a palatable falsehood in order to pursue their agenda—the so-called “noble lie.” He argued that those governing must conceal their views for two reasons—to spare the peoples’ feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals.

“There is no reason to believe that the members of The Calgary School have suddenly changed their devotion to the Strauss philosophy. In fact, there is every reason to believe that during an election campaign it is strengthened.

“Should Harper actually win the election on the 23rd, you can be assured that writers of policy, the advisors in the Prime Minister’s Office and the framers of legislation will be a group of racist, homophobic, anti-feminist bigots; those we now know as The Calgary School.”

Of course, if you take a close look at the evidence, matters get more complicated.

The funny thing is that the neocons too view themselves this way, but then wake up to discover they're mere servants of the theocons. In effect, the hysterics of a Shadia Drury are themselves Straussian, worrying about subtext, when she should be worried about The Text.

The Man Behind Stephen Harper: The new Conservative Party has tasted success and wants majority rule. If Tom Flanagan and his Calgary School have their way, they'll get it without compromising their principles. (Marci McDonald, Walrus)

Consternation rumbled across the country like an approaching thunderhead. For aboriginal leaders, one of their worst nightmares appeared about to come true. Two weeks before last June's federal election, pollsters were suddenly predicting that Conservative leader Stephen Harper might pull off an upset and form the next government. What worried many in First Nations' circles was not Harper himself, but the man poised to become the real power behind his prime ministerial throne: his national campaign director Tom Flanagan, a U.S.-born professor of political science at the University of Calgary.

Most voters had never heard of Flanagan, who has managed to elude the media while helping choreograph Harper's shrewd, three-year consolidation of power. But among aboriginal activists, his name set off alarms. For the past three decades, Flanagan has churned out scholarly studies debunking the heroism of Metis icon Louis Riel, arguing against native land claims, and calling for an end to aboriginal rights. Those stands had already made him a controversial figure, but four years ago, his book, First Nations? Second Thoughts, sent tempers off the charts.

In it, Flanagan dismissed the continent's First Nations as merely its "first immigrants" who trekked across the Bering Strait from Siberia, preceding the French, British et al. by a few thousand years – a rewrite which neatly eliminates any indigenous entitlement. Then, invoking the spectre of a country decimated by land claims, he argued the only sensible native policy was outright assimilation.

Aboriginal leaders were apoplectic at the thought Flanagan might have a say in their fate. Led by Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, they released an urgent open letter demanding to know if Harper shared Flanagan's views. Two months later, Harper still had not replied. For Clément Chartier, president of the Métis National Council, his silence speaks cautionary volumes. Martin's minority government could fall any minute, giving Harper a second chance at the governmental brass ring. "If Flanagan continues to be part of the Conservative machinery and has the ear of a prime minister," he worries, "it's our existence as a people that's at stake."

That protest provided a wake-up call about Harper's agenda for others too – not least among them disenchanted Tories who found themselves shut out of the election campaign. At a time when Harper remains vague about his agenda and the Conservatives' first policy convention has been postponed, some have been stunned to discover that the party's course may have already been set by Flanagan and a handful of like-minded ideologues from the University of Calgary's political-science department.

Who are these men – for they are, without exception, men – in Harper's backroom brain trust, collectively dubbed the "Calgary School"? Flanagan won his conservative spurs targeting the prevailing wisdom on the country's native people – what he calls the "aboriginal orthodoxy." Others like Rainer Knopff and Ted Morton – Alberta's long-stymied senator-elect – have built careers, and a brisk consulting business, taking shots at the Charter of Rights, above all its implications for the pet peeves of social conservatives: feminism, abortion, and same-sex marriage.

But what binds the group is not only friendship, it's a chippy outsiders' sense of mission. In a torrent of academic treatises and no-holds-barred commentaries in the media, they have given intellectual heft to a rambunctious, Rocky Mountain brand of libertarianism that has become synonymous with Western alienation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 7, 2006 11:49 PM

I would like to assure any liberal Canadian readers here that they really have nothing to fear along the lines of what is written here. If they would just....... um........ what was that?

That was't a..... no, never mind.

But if they would just consider that the policies that they seem to fear so much......


Oh, wait, just a shadow. Sorry, never mind.

But the policies that they seem to fear so much, when actually implented, tend to.....


Whew, almost got you. Man, I didn't realize the Straussians were out there like that!

Look, try not to dwell on them, they just..... IS THAT ONE?!?!?! No, no, guess not, just another Chicago Schooler.

So why are you guys so paranoid anyw....

What was that??

Posted by: Andrew X at February 6, 2006 8:28 PM

Hayek was an "American Republican conservative"???? No wonder I like The Road to Serfdom so much!!

Posted by: Kirk Parker at February 7, 2006 12:17 AM

In effect, the hysterics of a Shadia Drury are themselves Straussian, worrying about subtext, when she should be worried about The Text.

Not sure I agree totally with the assessment, but the wordcraft there is too good for me to quibble! :)

Posted by: kevin whited at February 7, 2006 9:43 AM