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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Conversation With Irving Kristol on Welfare and Wages

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

The late Irving Kristol (d. 2009) was a self-proclaimed Straussian and by his own labelling, the "Godfather of Neoconversation". He wrote a series of essays and books that became the basis for the movement.

In one he discusses "welfare" or "relief" and why he finds the concept absurd. I would like to challenge Mr. Kristol, because I find his arguments absurd.

Leo Strauss often had "conversations" with Plato, or at least at times his challenges and insights read like conversations, so I would like to converse with and challenge Irving Kristol.

I realize that he was an intellectual and certainly out of my league, but I'm going to invoke Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition. "What I propose, therefore, is very simple: it is nothing more than to think what we are doing."

There is too much compliance to what we are told is good for us, and not enough thinking. Because when you break it down, it's pretty simple.

We are continually transferring huge amounts of money to a government who is supposed to be using that money for the betterment of all citizens, and instead are using the money for the betterment of a chosen few.

And that is something, I "think" about often.

Essay on Pauperism
"In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don't feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance. " - Stephen Harper (1)
Irving Kristol begins his musings on welfare by invoking Alexis de Tocqueville's, 1835 Essay on Pauperism. Tocqueville asks why, in the most "opulent" nation in the world [England], was there such an extraordinary problem of "pauperism".

Concluding that too much public assistance can create idleness, he and Kristol also see a problem with the definition of poverty or pauperism. To the peasant, the ultimate goal was to have enough to eat. There was no desire to accumulate wealth. The only concern was survival.

However, in a modern city, the standards were different.

... in an "opulent" society, the idea of poverty itself undergoes a continual redefinition. The poor experience not only the need for a guaranteed minimum; they also suffer from what a modern sociologist would call "relative deprivation." Tocqueville puts the matter this way: "Among civilized peoples, the lack of a multitude of things causes poverty... In a country where the majority is ill-clothed, ill-housed, ill-fed, who thinks of giving clean clothes, healthy food, comfortable quarters to the poor? The majority of the English, having all these things, regard their absence as a frightful misfortune; society believes itself bound to come to the aid of those who lack them.... In England, the average standard of living a man can hope for in the course of his life is higher than in any other country of the world. This greatly facilitates the extension of pauperism in that kingdom." (2)

So the definition of poverty in the city, is different than that in the country.

The reasons for that, at least when this was written almost two centuries ago, was first off that those living in poverty in the city, had no land to work for food. But also their impoverishment was visible to those who took so much for granted.

How can you live conscience free, in a society with so much disparity?

The Welfare Explosion

The next body of work that Kristol critiqued was Regulating the Poor: The Function of Public Welfare by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward. He calls their book "simpleminded", and "so crude in a quasi-Marxist way, that one is embarrassed to summarize it."

He scoffs at the notion from Piven and Cloward, that "Relief arrangements [under capitalism] are not shaped by the impulse to charity ... [they are] created and sustained to help deal with the malfunctions inherent in market economies."

Poverty in a modern society is often created by unemployment, and unemployment is often created when the "market economy" is in turmoil. The first to be cut by the corporate sector, during hard times, is the labour force, which creates a downward spiral.

The misguided notion that by giving more money to the corporate sector, jobs will be saved or created, has been proven over and over to be a myth. When companies were bailed out at the beginning of the latest "downturn", much of the money was used to give bonuses to executives and to buy up other companies that had gone bust.

Unemployment is still high, yet headlines in financial sections of newspapers, repeatedly include the words "record profits".

Piven and Cloward also wrote:
Relief arrangements are usually initiated or expanded in response to the political disorders that sometimes follow from the sharp economic downturns or dislocations that periodically beset market systems. The purpose of relief-giving at such times is not to ease hunger and want but to deal with civil disorder among the unemployed. (2)
Revolutions are often ignited by the lack of bread, real and metaphorical. And since Canada's crime rate is now at the lowest in our history, could this be why Stephen Harper is so intent on building more prisons?
"Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" - Ebenezer Scrooge
So My Dear Mr. Kristol. This is What I "Think"
“These proposals included cries for billions of new money for social assistance in the name of “child poverty” and for more business subsidies in the name of “cultural identity”. In both cases I was sought out as a rare public figure to oppose such projects.” - Stephen Harper, (The Bulldog, National Citizens Coalition, February 1997)
Tocqueville also wrote that "There are two incentives to work: the need to live and the desire to improve the conditions of life." The basis of Neoconservatism or Libertarianism, is that everyone should look after themselves. But how can you find work when you have no clothing to wear, no food to eat, or no roof over your head?

Maybe if we take care of the first incentive, the second one will have a better chance of prevailing. We can always find money to give to Big Business or war, so there is no excuse not to channel a bit to our nation's disadvantaged, who might actually want to get out of the cycle of poverty.

Apparently the NDP and Conservatives are negotiating terms for the acceptance of the January budget. NDP finance critic, Thomas Mulcair, wants "future corporate cuts to be more targeted to ensure companies are investing in jobs and productivity."

"Future corporate tax cuts"? What happened to the NDP? Those terms should have been compulsory 50 billion dollars ago. From the day that Stephen Harper invited his corporate backers to slurp from the public trough. That is our money and we don't want "corporate tax cuts" that promise so much and give so little.

That money could have gone, and should be going, to actual job creation. If the NDP buy into this, they are going to lose most of their base.

Maybe they need to read Linda McQuaig's column: The growth of extreme inequality in Canada
The massive upward flow of income has largely been invisible to the public, even though it may well amount to the most significant change in Canadian society in decades. The impact on Canada's social fabric is huge and likely to grow. Recent research -- particularly the work of British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett -- shows that less equal societies almost always have more violence, more disease, more mental health problems, higher infant mortality rates, reduced life expectancies, as well as less social cohesion. The effects are most pronounced at the bottom, but are evident throughout the society.
Or John Grace's review of the new book, Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, that he wrote for the UK Guardian.
They say, it's not just the deprived underclass that loses out in an unequal society: everyone does, even the better off. Because it's not absolute levels of poverty that create the social problems, but the differentials in income between rich and poor.
That is the only issue that the NDP should be raising. Not what to do with "future corporate tax cuts".

Irving Kristol speaks of the fact that welfare payments were based on the poverty level, which means that they are at the same as the lowest wage earner's income. But the problem is not the amount of "relief" but the fact that wages are so low. There's no reason for it.

And if he felt that this meant that people wouldn't work, as a result, he might want to think about a national childcare plan, because often those on assistance are single parents, who can't work for poverty level wages, and pay someone else to look after their children while they work.

He also felt that welfare took away a man's masculinity: "... welfare robs the head of the household of his economic function, and tends to make of him a "superfluous man." And he suggests that if single mothers are paid to raise their children, they will stay single or get rid of their male partner.

Notwithstanding the inequality of that notion, the problem again relates not only to unemployment, but the ability of people to work. Food, clothing, shelter and childcare. Those needs must first be met.

And jobs paying higher than the poverty level, provide revenue from income tax, that can go to helping others to abandon their pauperism.

Yes, there will always be cheats, just as there will always be Big Business demanding more and more of our tax dollars, in some perverse sense of entitlement.

So my dear Mr. Kristol. Neoconservatism is failing society, but thanks for playing. And to my dear Mr. Mulcair. Give your head a shake.
"Courage, my friends; 'tis not too late to build a better world." - Tommy Douglas

1. Full text of Stephen Harper's 1997 speech, Canadian Press, December 14, 2005

2. Neo-Conservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, By Irving Kristol, The Free Press, 1995, ISBN: 0-02-874021-1, Pg. 43-49

Friday, December 17, 2010

One-Eyed Shieks and Holy Wars. How we Got it so Wrong

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

U.S. President Obama has come out this week suggesting that gains are being made in Afghanistan, though the progress is fragile.

In other words, they have no idea what they're doing.

U.S. intelligence supports my assessment.

The Americans drew the Soviet Union into invading the country in 1979, giving them their Vietnam, and are now caught in an unwinnable war that has gone on longer than the Soviet occupation, and threatens to continue for several more years.

15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed against about 1,000,000 Afghans, between 1979 and 1988.

And when you look at the rate of casualties in the American led invasion of Afghanistan, as represented by the chart below, we sure aren't fairing much better. And these are just the coalition forces. Thousand more civilians have fallen.

If the Americans wanted to give the Soviets their Vietnam, to weaken their military build up, they are getting it back. And while Stephen Harper has Canada trapped in the Afghan underworld, his answer is that he will now be directing the war himself, from the safety of his office. Rick Hillier calls it "crap!" I agree.

So How Did we Get it so Wrong?

The end of the Second World War brought on the Cold War, and the world's super powers spent enormous amounts of money building up an arsenal of advanced weaponry, in what Hannah Arendt described as an "apocalyptic chess game".
The technical development of the implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal could conceivably correspond to their destructive potential or justify their actual use in armed conflict. Hence, warfare—from time immemorial the final merciless arbiter in international disputes—has lost much of its effectiveness and nearly all its glamour. (1)
It was a spy war as they all kept a close watch on each other, no one really wanting to use their weapons in what would have been a "universal suicide".

But this created another problem, because as the super powers became both omnipotent and impotent, smaller nations were left virtually unrestricted in the game of one-upmanship.
... in conventional warfare the poor countries are much less vulnerable than the great powers precisely because they are "underdeveloped," and because technical superiority can "be much more of a liability than an asset" in guerrilla wars. What all these uncomfortable novelties add up to is a complete reversal in the relationship between power and violence, foreshadowing another reversal in the future relationship between small and great powers. (1)
So the threats did not necessarily come from countries with nuclear capabilities, but from small groups "able to upset the strategic balance", by launching attacks that cost them very little.
And this bears an ominous similarity to one of political science's oldest insights, namely that power cannot be measured in terms of wealth, that an abundance of wealth may erode power, that riches are particularly dangerous to the power and well-being of republics. (1)
And since many of these new "armies" were stateless, who could the super powers wage war against? The CIA kept track of known terrorist cells, and did their best to keep them contained, but it was still presenting a huge problem for the military-industrial complex.

They had enormous weaponry but few targets, that allowed their use on any large scale.

Enter the Neoconservatives and Their "War on Terror"

In his 'Battlefields of the 1980s', General Andre Beaufre points out, that only "in those parts of the world not covered by nuclear deterrence" is war still possible, so the challenge for the Neoconservatives was to wage war in areas unrestrained by "nuclear deterrence".

But how to get Americans on board. They had already interfered in the affairs of the oil rich Middle East, but needed something bigger.

An enemy. A face. And fear.

Then 9/11 provided the perfect trifecta, though it was only the catalyst. The planning for this had been taking place for several years beforehand, when Bernard Lewis adapted Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington's Clash of Civilizations, into a blueprint for war.

And through clever messaging, the American Neocons were able to sell the notion of an enormous Jihad. One launched by "savages" who had to be destroyed or their entire country would be demolished.

They "didn't start it", but they were sure going to finish it. Eyes lit up, keyboards clicked away and the landscape was awash in yellow ribbons. Meanwhile, the Bush administration used homey rhetoric to reach the masses, knowing that few intellects would find their theory of a massive Jihad against America logical.

Not that terrorism isn't real, but there are other ways of keeping it contained, without the senseless slaughter of so many.

The Blind Leading the Blind

Though Osama Bin Ladin went to his grave in 2001, denying any involvement in 9/11, he became the face of the war. Every now and then an actor would come out and make another tape, to keep fear at just the right level. It didn't make Bin Laden any less dead, but who was going to question?

However, even before Bin Laden became a household name, the Jihad against America had a leader. Omar Abdel Rahman, also called the "One-Eyed Sheik". He was apparently behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre, which at the time, was not considered the work of a mastermind.

However, it did prove to be an embarrassment for the CIA and others, especially when the person who allegedly planted the bomb, returned to the rental agency requesting a refund because the van he rented blew up. (2) I know there's a lot more to that story, but suffice it to say they were not that organized.

But that didn't stop the Bush Administration from linking this incident to their notion of a massive Jihad.

In neoconservative Andrew C. McCarthy's book, Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, we see just how they created a powerful enemy from several smaller "underdeveloped" ones, by using myths and creative language. And yes I do on occasion read books by neocons. It's the only way I can get inside Stephen Harper's head. (have you seen the movie Jacob's Ladder? It kinda' looks like that in there. I scream a lot)

He starts out complaining that the government's main focus after the 1993 incident, was handling the fall out. Aghast, he questions why, after "the most brazen attack against the American homeland since Pearl Harbour had taken place". (3) Really? Since Pearl Harbour?

He then fancifies Rahman, who was indeed a horrible man, and currently in prison with no chance of ever being released. But to equate him those who planned the attack on Pearl Harbour, is a bit of a stretch.

But then McCarthy reminds his readers of the seriousness of the situation. Intelligence and containment wasn't enough. This was "war".
In terms of actual national commitment, such wars translate into a somewhat higher priority than the dogged pursuit of tax cheats and corporate fraudsters. To be sure, jihad differs from Wars on Drugs, Poverty, Disease. Incivility, Intolerance, Greenhouse Gases, or whatever the next Flavor of the Month may be. Jihad, after all, actually does involve warfare: real bombs, real victims, and real death. But the distinction is lost when the side that declares only rhetorical war is exclusively on the receiving end of the blows ... (3)
America was the "victim". They had been taking all the blows, and never fought back. So forget all the other nonsense. Pardon the corporate fraudsters (as George Bush did). Forget about poverty, disease and Global Warming (as George Bush did). Heck you could even forget being civil to each other.

Every waking moment and every red cent had to be put into fighting this Jihad. (as George Bush did)

And where did it get them? Iraq is in a mess and Afghanistan has been taken over by the criminal element. They are still chasing ghosts, while all but ignoring domestic problems, that are spiralling out of control.

And to top it off, the Jihadists are more powerful than ever, because the invasion has only increased the recruitment.

Again, Neoconservatism is the god that failed and we need to rethink this war.


1. On Violence, by Hannah Arendt, Harvest Books, 1970, ISBN: 978-0-15-669500-8, Pg. 3

2. He wanted his money back: Insistence on a Refund for a Van Led to the Arrest of Blast Suspect, by Ralph Blumenthal, New York Times, March 5, 1993.

3. Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, By Andrew C. McCarthy, Encounter Books, 2008, ISBN: 13-978-1-59403-213-4, Pg. 5

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hannah Arendt and the Canadian Conservative Movement

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

My favourite political philosopher is Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), who wrote extensively on the nature of power, politics, authority, and totalitarianism. Unlike Leo Strauss, who invokes the ancients and uses "hidden dialogue", intended to speak primarily to the intellectual elite; Arendt writes in a clearer language.

And no matter how many times I read an essay or passage that she has written, I continue to have light bulb moments.

In one chapter of The Origins of Totalitarianism (my copy, 1968), she discusses Ideology as the basis of a political movement. That is a word heard often when describing Stephen Harper and indeed the neoconservative movement as a whole, and I was able to draw many parallels between her book and our current government.

We could argue that we are not really living in a true totalitarian state, but we are moving toward a form of totalitarianism, in it's broadest definition. I'll call it "Totalitarianism Lite".
Wherever it rose to power, it developed entirely new political institutions and destroyed all social, legal and political traditions of the country. No matter what the specifically national tradition or the particular spiritual source of its ideology, totalitarian government always transformed classes into masses, supplanted the party system ... started to operate according to a system of values so radically different from all others, that none of our traditional legal, moral, or common sense utilitarian categories could any longer help us to come to terms with, or judge, or predict their course of action. (p. 158)
Arendt says that this is not the same as a one-party dictatorship, but is rather a mass movement. Harper MP Rob Anders refers to their brand of politics as "movement conservatism", which has taken over the Tory Party in Canada and the Republican Party in the United States.

And while the best opportunity for the success of such a movement is the 'failure of the traditional political forces—liberal or conservative, national or socialist, republican or monarchist, authoritarian or democratic' (p. 158), these failures can also be contrived.

In post-war Germany, the time was right for Nazism, because of the failure of the Weimar Republic to create order after the devastation of the Great War. Unemployment and underemployment was high and crime was escalating. But in Canada and the U.S., when neoconservatism first entered the political arena, there was no real crisis, so one had to be created. In it's early stages it was the threat of communism. Then it became "Deficits", "Taxes" and "Government" that had to be annihilated.

And they have spent several years building an infrastructure of think tanks and foundations, while taking over the bulk of the media, especially in Canada, to sell their message.

Arendt refers to ideologies as "isms", and following are a few points made in the book, and their modern manifestations.

Not before Hitler and Stalin were the great political potentialities of the ideologies discovered ... Ideologies are known for their scientific character: they combine the scientific approach with results of philosophical relevance and pretend to be scientific philosophy. (p. 166)
It is now accepted by most, that neoconservatism is in part, an anti-intellectual movement. Things like "facts" only get in the way of the "idea". Their ruling elite has defined the premise that they will spoon feed to the masses, so "University types" are vilified and shunned.

In order to impose an ideology, transforming an idea into a premise, you must allow no contradictions or interruptions. It is a "coercion of logic" that will assume that the "idea" is "sufficient to explain everything".


Anytime I discuss politics, whether in a group or with a friend, one of the common complaints I hear is that people are so self involved now, making mass movements difficult. Gone is the sense of community.

This is not an accident.

Though not really libertarianism, neoconservatism promotes the libertarian notion of the freedom of the individual. Everyone must take care of themselves. If the government engages in group policies, it creates collectivism which leads to socialism/communism

Individualism creates '...a situation in which I cannot act, because there is nobody who will act with me.' (P. 172)


Though "terrorism" has come to define a radical Islamic movement, the definition of terrorism is simply:

- the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
- the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
- terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

In totalitarian movements, terrorism is used to keep people in line. It can be state sanctioned witch hunts, brutality and mass arrests, or something as simple as the fear of losing your job or career.

In Canada it has been called the "politics of fear".
Dictatorial terror [is] distinguished from totalitarian terror insofar as it threatens only authentic opponents, but not harmless citizens. (p.20)

Another important element to the success of totalitarianism/neoconservatism is a sense of isolation. Canada is gradually becoming isolated from the rest of the world. This became evident when we lost our bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

Stephen Harper's neocon Reformers, always detested the United Nations, feeling that they had become too intrusive. So while he postured over the the loss of the seat, it was actually a blessing.
Isolation is, as it were, pretotalitarian; its hallmark is impotence insofar its power always comes from men acting together, [it] presses masses of isolated men together and supports them in a world which has become a wilderness for them. (P. 172)
Under George Bush the American people became extremely isolated, in a "you're with us or against us" climate. They soon learned that most of the world was against them, but 9/11 gave the neocons the necessary "crisis" that allowed the majority of Americans to be OK with this, at least for a while.

And it allowed them to accept unheard of measures to suspend civil liberties, creating a "fertile ground" for totalitarian measures.
It bases itself on loneliness, on the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences.
And that loneliness was filled with unbridled patriotism and an unnatural sense of superiority.
Totalitarian government does not just curtail liberties or abolish essential freedoms; nor does it, at least to our limited knowledge, succeed in eradicating the love for freedom from the hearts of man. (P. 164)
Though personal freedoms were all but abolished after 9/11, many Americans believed that it was actually their enemies: Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Islamic fundamentalists, who were trying to destroy their freedoms.

And this mindset created what columnist Dan Gardner recently called a bigger threat to liberty than terrorism.
On Sept. 12, 2001, George W. Bush said something he had avoided saying the day before. “The deliberate and deadly attacks which were carried out yesterday against our country were more than acts of terror,” he told reporters. “They were acts of war.” The decision to frame the response to 9/11 as a “war” was a fateful one.

Before that moment, Western democracies would never have sent their soldiers to fight endless battles in distant and obscure deserts. Imprisonment without charge or trial would never have been advocated by leading politicians. Torture would never have been supported by much of the population. And calls for the assassination of a man who leaked documents would never have been heard from leading journalists.
This beating of the war drum became the means of isolating the American people, not only from the rest of the world, but from the truth.
The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction and the distinction between true and false no longer exist. (P. 172)
Arendt reminds us that the threat of totalitarianism as a movement, did not end with the deaths of Hitler or Stalin. It's potential is too phenomenal to ignore.

That's why it's important to recognize that this is not a traditional political party, but is a radical movement, that stands to drastically alter the traditional legal and moral foundation of our just society.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We Need a Lot More Attlee and a Little Less Churchill

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

At the end of World War II, Britain should have been riding high. They had defeated the Axis, led to victory by Winston Churchill.

And yet when an election was held in 1945, they did not choose Churchill to continue to lead the way. Instead a social worker named Clement Attlee was elected prime minister.

The people had grown weary of war and tired of bluster. They were looking for compassion and a return to some form of normalcy.

My mom was a nurse in England during the Blitz and I asked her once how she felt when the war was over. She described a brief feeling of elation, not because they had won, but just that they could finally put it all behind them.

She had seen so much and that she rarely talked about.

Attlee offered something different.
Britain was no longer to be led by this extraordinary figure [Churchill], once called "the greatest adventurer of modern political history" descendant of the duke of Marlborough, cavalry officer and Boer War hero, swashbuckler and master prose stylist, liberal reformer-turned-defender of Empire. Instead, he was replaced by Clement Attlee, moved by the poverty and despair ... and inspired by what he called "Christian ethics". (1)
Yes, believe it or not there was a day when "Christian ethics" and "Christian values" meant caring about poverty and despair. Now the only Christians we hear from, as represented by the Religious Right, are those motivated by greed and hatred, while judging the rest of us who don't think as they do.

Like Tommy Douglas, Attlee was a socialist. Not animated like Douglas, but quiet and reserved. And he was just what Britain needed at the time, creating an intellectual movement that focused on ideas.
[and] established free medical care under a newly constituted National Health Service, created new systems of pensions, promoted better education and housing, and sought to deliver on the explicit commitment to "full employment." (1)
In the 1930s unemployment was at 12%. By the late 1940s it had been reduced to 1.3%.

And while the state of Britain's finances, due to the enormous cost of the war, prevented him from doing everything he would have liked, he accomplished something miraculous. He put people first, and in 2004, was voted the greatest British prime minister of the 20th century, in a poll of 139 professors.

He had presided over the start of the Welfare State, that focused on the well being of the nation's citizens.

We need a return to that kind of thinking.

Our occupation of Afghanistan has now outlasted that of the Soviet Union. Canadians are weary of war and tired of bluster.

In the U.S., Obama supporters are angry over his extending the ridiculous Bush Tax Cuts. They should be. Not that he really had a choice. Today's conventional thinking is so twisted, that somehow giving the rich more money is supposed to make sense.

I mean they've done so much for us, haven't they? Led us into a recession and while crying "Free Markets", came running to us with their hands out when things went bust.

And like idiots we gave them more money.

One of the accomplishments of Attlee that I found inspiring was the replacing of the gold standard, with a "full employment standard."
The economy was to be judged not by how many troy ounces there were to the British pound but by the number of jobs it could deliver to a population willing to work. (1)
Imagine that.


1. The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy, By Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, Touchstone, 2002, ISBN: 0-684-82975-4

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Common Sense and Hookers. How Mike Harris Stole my Vote

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

I came across something the other day, that I hadn't realized I had kept. (I really having to start throwing stuff away)

It was a videotape with a white cardboard cover, and the dire warning to 'View Before June 8' [1995]; the [former Ontario premier] Mike Harris's campaign video when he was flogging his so-called Common Sense Revolution.

So I popped it in the VCR last night, in an attempt to understand what drove me to vote for this party through their local candidate Bill Vancoughnet. And I realized that it was as much about the language used to sell it, as the product.

The art of ambiguity helped to mask their true intent.

Mind you at the time, few Canadians understood the concept of neoconservatism, so we trusted the basic good of the Canadian identity, not realizing that much of this campaign was imported from the United States.

The two key elements that were hammered out by Vancoughnet and Harris on the tape, were taxes and the reduction of government waste. They promised four billion dollars in "tax rebates", a much better choice of words than "tax reduction", since they imply a cheque in the mail.

They also promised to "eliminate the barriers to job creation" - the removal of environmental restrictions.

"Cut the size of government by involving the private sector" - costly and service reducing privatization

"Arms length involvement by eliminating red tape" - the removal of health and safety concerns.

Welfare Reform

In 1975, Andrew Armitage wrote one of the first comprehensive books on Canada's social welfare system, and he stated that the way that Canadians view welfare or social assistance, is not with an eye to eliminating it, only to making it fairer.

He said that it had to be about not simply a transfer of funds, but an "exchange". That is why we liked Harris's notion of Workfare. The able bodied expected to pull their weight.

But the way this was presented to Ontarians was fundamentally flawed, and yet Harris was able to sell it not only to the working class, but to those receiving assistance.

He sold it to the first group as getting "those lazy bums off the couch", and to the latter, as finding them jobs. But what we got instead was one of the most vile attacks on struggling citizens in modern history.

They cut the welfare rolls in half and drastically reduced benefits. The McGuinty government has attempted to raise the rates since then, but they are still far below pre-1995 levels. Thousands of people were thrown into the streets as a result, many freezing to death in their cars or in allies. The use of food banks rose and for many it was a return to depression era conditions.

And the promised jobs never materialized. Those on assistance were told they had to work, but also had to find their own employment in an already overstretched job market.

But a handful of people got filthy rich. A neoconservative success story.

Transfers and Exchange

The Harrisites were able to find willing accomplices to their inhumane policies because of stories. We all knew some.

Like the cab drivers who told of welfare recipients using their taxi chits to have them deliver cigarettes. Or the single moms with eight kids receiving thousands of dollars a month. Or welfare cheques going for booze or drugs.

The stories were true but not as common as we were led to believe.

I recently spoke with a woman who has worked in the system for three decades. She remembers the Harris era well and said that she can't remember a day during that time, when she didn't feel sad. Many of her clients were axed and she worried about what became of them, fearing the worst.

And as to the lazy "welfare bums", she told me that most of her clients wanted to work and hated having to accept what they thought of as "charity".

But we allowed a few "cheats" to define the entire system, and few raised a hand to stop "Chainsaw Mike" (those who did felt that wrath of the "Riot Police", a common view in Harrisland).

So maybe it's time to tap into the notion of "transfer and exchange". What are we getting from our government in exchange for the enormous amounts of our money we entrust them with?

In Ontario back in the day, we entrusted John Baird with millions to fix the welfare problem. In exchange we got a boondoggle computer system that never worked, and a contract with Anderson Consulting of Enron fame, who charged us 4 to 1, what the job would have cost using a civil servant.

In exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure projects, transferred to the Harris government, we got signs, glossy pamphlets and self-promotion advertising. In other words, taxpayers funded his re-election campaign.

And yet we transferred the same hundreds of millions of dollars to the Harper government, for the same signs, pamphlets and self-promotion advertising.

We have also transferred billions to the war in Afghanistan and have no idea what we got in exchange. Or maybe we do. A request for more billions.

Ontarians were lured into complicity, because the Harris government focused on the cheats. Yet any system involving money is always open to exploitation.

And that also includes John Baird billing us $61,000 for his vacation to Bali (since he did nothing to address climate change), or Tony Clement $11,000 to deliver a cheque that he could have mailed. Or Christian Paradis presenting a claim of $5,000 for an $800 coat.

Cheats are cheats.

We will now be transferring more funds for an extension of stimulus money, and what will we get in exchange? Nobody knows because nobody asks. Tom Walkom believes it is to help pay for Stephen Harper's election campaign, and has nothing to do with the jobs he's promising.

In fact, job figures are looking better, simply because many out of work Canadians are simply giving up. In exchange for this transfer of funds we should demand that the money go to areas hardest hit by unemployment, but we know it won't. It's going to the 905 in an attempt to buy 10 seats.

In the United States the Republicans have blocked plans to cancel further tax cuts for the richest Americans, while the U.S. unemployment rate remains high and thousands are set to lose their benefits. What will the American people get in exchange for this enormous transfer of funds from the working class to the ultra-rich?

What will Canadians get for the enormous transfer of our tax dollars to the ultra-rich (60 billion in total come January)? An abstract promise of job creation.

But a handful of people will get filthy rich. Another neoconservative success story.


Another man appearing on the tape was Mark Mullins, referred to simply as an economist. He said that he had reviewed the Harris plan and confirmed that it would create 725,000 jobs.

Mullins went on to become an advisor for the Alliance Party and CEO of the Fraser Institute.

Bill Vancoughnet would be forced out of politics for soliciting an undercover cop in Toronto. The charges were dropped on the promise of his attending 'John' school.

Mike Harris's lap dog, Tim Hudak, husband of the infamous Debbie Hutton (Harris's gate keeper), is now heading the PC Party in Ontario, hoping to be our next premier.

Another neoconservative success story.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Political Theology, Neoconservatism and the Religious Right

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

To achieve a better understanding of how the neoconservative movement has been so successful, you have to go back to the start of it all, to make any sense of it all.

It is such a foreign concept, especially in Canada, that the media and pundits are often scrambling for an angle.

Stephen Harper is authoritative. Stephen Harper is secretive. Stephen Harper is a bully. Stephen Harper is dishonest.

But the essence of Stephen Harper can be summed up in a single word: Neoconservative. That political entity requires all of those things.

And the essence of neoconservatism can be summed up in two words: Political Theology. That was the theory of Carl Schmitt who had an intellectual relationship with Leo Strauss, the man deemed to be the father of the neoconservative movement.

Strauss had written to Schmitt, critiquing his Concept of the Political, and his suggestions were included in future publications of the book.
Just as the Concept of the Political has an exceptional position among the works of Carl Schmitt, so are the "Notes" of Leo Strauss exceptional among the texts about Schmitt ... The Concept of the Political is the only text that Schmitt issued in three different editions.' It is the only text in which the changes are not limited to polishing style, introducing minor shifts in emphasis, and making opportunistic corrections, but reveal conceptual interventions and important clarifications of content.' And it is the only text in which, by means of significant deletions, elaborations, and reformulations, Schmitt reacts to a critique.

Only in the case of the Concept of the Political does Schmitt engage in a dialogue, both open and hidden, with an interpreter, a dialogue that follows the path of a careful revision of Schmitt's own text. The partner in the dialogue is the author of the "Notes," Leo Strauss. He is the only one among Schmitt's critics whose interpretation Schmitt would include, decades later, in a publication under Schmitt's name,' and Strauss is the only one Schmitt would publicly call an "important philosopher."' (1)
This is quite compelling seeing as how Carl Schmitt was a Nazi and Leo Strauss a Jew. In fact Schmitt was responsible for removing Jewish content from university holdings, and yet he included "Jewish content" in the revisions to his book. He remarked to a friend after reading Strauss's notes: "He saw through me and X-rayed me as nobody else can."

And the notion of Political Theology is probably the best explanation of the resulting movement. It is more than mere ideology. It is a dogma. The infallible belief in what they are doing. They let nothing in, that contradicts their acceptance of corporatism.

In that way it was a natural marriage with the Religious Right. They were betrothed at birth.

Becasue who better to bring in to the fold, than a group already enormously successful at turning myths into truths. That's not an attack on any one's religion, but let's face it. The Religious Right does not represent mainstream beliefs. They have distorted religion for financial gain.

Most evangelicals do not share in the hatred and greed that has come to define them. They have embraced corporatism as the route to salvation, and as a result, are able to bestow greatness on a political leader. Another confliction with true evangelism.

A good example of this is the case of Bob Sirico, once a gay rights activist, and now a Catholic Priest. According to the Heartland Institute:
One often hears priests, preachers, and rabbis endorse an activist government able to solve social, economic, and perhaps even moral problems. Fr. Sirico offers a powerful challenge to this conventional wisdom. Religious principles, he says, require that men and women be free to practice virtue or vice, and freedom in turn requires a limited government and vibrant free-market economy. (2)
Have you ever heard anything so twisted? I attended Catholic school and not once do I remember the nuns catechizing a free-market economy.

So if we accept that neoconservatism is not so much a poltiical philosophy as a political theology, everything else falls into line. We are dealing with a religion that has a fundamental set of beliefs and practices.

Their followers are referred to as Straussians.

But perhaps the biggest victim of neoconservatism, is Leo Strauss himself. He would never have promoted Imperialism and would no doubt have scoffed at the fanaticism now represented in the Republican Party, the Tea Party and the Reform-Alliance (Conservative Party of Canada).

As journalist Michael Lind once wrote in the Washington Weekly: "Whatever one thinks of Strauss as a philosopher, he cannot be blamed for the opportunism of his followers."


1. Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue, Translated by J. Harvey Lomax, University of Chicago Press, 1995, ISBN: 978-0-226-51888-6, Pg. 6-8

2. "Religion and Freedom", by Joseph Bast, Heartland Institute. January 1, 2007