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Posts Tagged ‘politics

[LINK] “Death in Venice: Eighteenth Century Critiques of Republicanism”

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Barry Stocket at New APPS Blog has an interesting piece noting how the decadence of the republics known to late 18th century Europeans discouraged them from considering the republic as a suitable form of political organization for those interested in implementing Enlightenment thought.

The idea of democracy was even more anachronistic looking before [the late 18th century revolutions, which in any case did not lead to full implementation of democracy and certainly not its normalisation, but did take steps in that direction. Earlier in the eighteenth century, even Rousseau did not think of democracy as the ideal. Even allowing that his advocacy of elective aristocracy is in accord with representative democracy, it does not look as if he expected republicanism to sweep through Europe. His text on a constitution for Poland was for an aristocratic state on the verge of extinction as Prussia, Russia, and Austria arranged its complete partition between 1772 and 1795. It was not a model for European republics, nor was it any more democratic than the existing aristocratic commonwealth with a limited monarchy. Montesquieu, Smith and Hume looked upon republicanism as a form of government appropriate to liberty, but not as necessarily superior to monarchy, and maybe less desirable than monarchy in the circumstances of most modern states.

What was wrong with the republican model for eighteenth century thinkers about liberty, if they themselves have sometimes been taken up as republican, or at least partly republican, thinkers? The answer can be summarised with reference to a city state where Rousseau himself spent time as a secretary to the French ambassador, Venice. Those looking for an example of a modern republic in the eighteenth century were likely to look at Venice. Another possible example was the Dutch Republic, but at least for Montesquieu (who I will take it was not deviating far from any prevailing judgement) it was a more a confederation of city republics which struggled to achieve unity in times of danger. By the eighteenth century the glory of the Golden Age, of Rembrandt and Spinoza, of recent independence after a long war from Spain, of a model of financial and commercial progress, was in the past, and no one thought of the Dutch Republic as a major European power.

Furthermore its relative youth, going back no further than the 1560s, mattered to eighteenth century thinkers who though that successful model states are states that maintain themselves over centuries, preferably with a largely unchanged constitution. That Athens had only a couple of centuries maybe as an independent and democratic republic was important compared with the much longer life of Sparta’s oligarchic republic. That Roman republicanism gave way to a thinly disguised version of monarchy in the Emperor system after five centuries mattered, as did the apparent weakening of republicanism and democratic life after the defeat of Carthage.

Two centuries of republican life in the United Provinces was small compared with about one thousand years of the Venetian Republic, which like the Dutch Republic was past its greatest period of influence, but could be taken as more of a model with an apparently little changed constitution over a long life by the standard of any European state. By the tine of Enlightenment political writing Venice was a museum of a glorious past as a dominant commercial and naval power, with an eastern Mediterranean empire. Montesquieu comments unfavourably on a constitution which he thought allowed the aristocracy to act as government executive, legislator, and judiciary, with the special powers of secret committees to defend the state undermining liberty.

His criticism is more than justified by the greatest Italian witness of the time, Giambattista Vico (whose thought anticipates much in Rousseau and Montesquieu). Vico thought of Venice as the model of aristocratic republic in which the aristocracy regards itself as more than human and the common people as less than human. It precedes the situation in which democracy encourages the spread of an idea of a common humanity, an idea that Vico thought could only maintain itself through democracy giving way to a human monarchy, legislating and judging with regard to the welfare of all.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 12, 2015 at 3:59 am

[NON BLOG] On the election of Wade MacLauchlan and being gay on PEI

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One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot in the aftermath of the recent general election on Prince Edward Island is the election of Wade MacLauchlan as premier. As noted by, among others, the National Post, MacLauchlan is gay: quite out, partnered, all of it. This did not hinder his election.

This little island is often cast as a bastion of social conservatism in Canada. It is predominantly rural with 140,000 people, where you can throw a cat from anywhere and hit saltwater, as one bar patron put it this week.

All this makes frontrunner Wade MacLauchlan somewhat of an unlikely candidate.

MacLauchlan, an academic with little political experience, stands to be the first openly gay man to be elected premier in the province. But it hasn’t been a factor during the election campaign, he says.

“Absolutely zero,” the Liberal Party leader told the National Post this week. “I’ve been open about the fact that I’m gay. And my partner has been front and centre as appropriate, we try to keep some home life and privacy as anyone with any sense would do.

“That has not come up at any doorstep or any of the discussions that I’ve had across the island,” he said, noting that P.E.I. was the first to elect both a female premier and a premier of non-European descent.

“In some ways this might be a hat trick.”

MacLauchlan has a long career on Prince Edward Island. Among other things, he was president of the University of Prince Edward Island from 1999 through 2011. The first three years of his presidency were the last three in which I was studying at the same university and living and worrying and feeling afraid for reasons I could not articulate to myself.

I had no idea what was going on, on Prince Edward Island in regards to people being gay and living as gay openly or otherwise. I still have no idea what was going on, not really. I just felt afraid all the time, for reasons I was not able to articulate to myself. Fear of being different, fear of being visible, fear of being somehow found out: all of it was there. There was so much fear that I don’t think I can actually say, with any degree of certainty, what was going on, what would have happened if I’d come out earlier than 22 (21, 20, 19, 18, younger). I know only of specific things that happened to me: laughter over the table as friends of my parents laughed at the idea of a Pride parade in Charlottetown, a quite possibly over-friendly high school teacher who killed himself the next term after doing something with a student and the relief I felt, the mockeries of high school and the deepening depression I felt.

I don’t know. I’m not sure you can understand how terribly this frustrates me. When I was much younger, I loved too enthusiastically Descartes and his argument that the human mind could understand its entire environment so long as it was sufficiently rigourous. This seemed to work for me as long as my world was cramped, narrow. Now that it has been exploded, even years later, I don’t know what was actually going on. I wonder if I ever will, if I ever could.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 8, 2015 at 4:00 am

[ISL] On the import of yesterday’s general election in Prince Edward Island

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My Facebook feed was full last night of Islanders, resident and otherwise, tracking the general election on Prince Edward Island. With 85.9% turnout, the outcome can be taken to be a reasonable reflection of the human environment of Prince Edward Island. That environment, as noted by the Canadian Press, is changing. It may one day very soon be true that politics on the island will not be genealogical, a matter of inherited and periodically reinforced ties of family and fealty, but rather ideological, involving actual competition.

This is exciting!

A strong election showing Monday by third parties that once struggled for slivers of Prince Edward Island’s vote is a warning to Tories and Liberals that generations-old political loyalties are fading, say political commentators.

History professor Ian Dowbiggin of the University of Prince Edward Island says the gains made by the NDP and the Green party, which each won about 11 per cent of the popular vote, represents a historic shift that won’t be easily erased.

“When you get over 20 per cent of the total number of votes, it’s got to reflect a changing of political allegiance, especially among young people,” he says.

“The people who were voting yesterday for the Greens and the NDP weren’t simply old hippies with pony tails voting their heart.”

The Liberals won their third straight majority under rookie premier Wade MacLauchlan, dropping from 20 seats to 18, while the Tories took eight seats and the Green party claimed its first seat in the legislature.

Dowbiggin says the Liberal win shows the electorate is comfortable with the former university president, the province’s first openly gay premier.

He also says the Greens and NDP still face huge obstacles in fundraising, candidate recruitment and a first-past-the-post system that works against parties that don’t have a strong chance of forming government.

But the old days of predictable swings of the majority of the 27 ridings on the Island from one major party to the other after two to three terms in power are being challenged.

The NDP’s share of the vote shot from 3.2 per cent in 2011, when they seldom attracted more than 200 voters in most ridings, to almost winning a Charlottetown seat and quadrupling their overall support.

Green leader Peter Bevan-Brown swept to victory in the riding of Kellys Cross-Cumberland, with his own total of 2,077 votes equalling two thirds of what the entire party was able to muster in the last election.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 5, 2015 at 10:28 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Gardiner Debate Sheds Troubling Light on Infrastructure Investment Priorities”

Torontoist’s David Hains writes on how the ongoing debate about what to do about the Gardiner Expressway overshadows other, arguably more important, issues with public infrastructure.

What to do with the Gardiner will come down to council’s priorities. As the City pushes up against its debt ceiling while facing a growing number of projects that demand attention, City Hall will have to make some tough choices. If council’s recent track record is any indication, Torontonians have cause for concern.

Those looking for troubling indicators of council’s current leanings don’t have to look further than the TTC budget. The City is all too willing to find $910 million for the Scarborough subway extension while maintaining a massive state of good repair backlog, all while falling short of the $240 million to make the transit agency accessible by the legislated date.

In the most recent budget, council was willing to speed up repairs on the Gardiner to the tune of $443 million while other needs, like Lower Don flood protection and the ongoing crisis in social housing, continue to receive more lip service than action.

What doesn’t get represented in the City budget is the squandered opportunity cost, year after year, as difficult but good decisions get deferred in favour of easy sells that may not be the best use of funds.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 15, 2015 at 10:36 pm

[LINK] “More bad news for Alberta Tories in latest election poll”

The Edmonton Sun reports on the collapse in Progressive Conservative support in Alberta polls as the province prepares for election. I’m sure I’m not alone in being surprised by the strength of the Wildrose Party, so soon after it had seemingly been gutted by the defection of its leader Danielle Smith.

The Alberta Tories continue to slide, while the NDP surges and the Wildrose maintains the lead, according to the latest election poll released Tuesday morning.

The NDP is dominating Edmonton at 51%, according to the survey, and is in a three-way race in Calgary.

The telephone poll of 3,121 Albertans conducted Monday showed that compared to a week earlier:

•Wildrose is flat with 24% support
•NDP increased to 23% support, up 3%
•The PCs dropped to 18%, down 3%
•Liberal support is down a point, to 8%
•The Alberta Party is up a point to 3%

The survey was conducted by Mainstreet Technologies.

“One thing is becoming clear at this stage of the campaign, the effect of the budget and residual anger to the governing PCs will have a lasting impact on the outcome of this election,” said Mainstreet’s Quito Maggi.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 15, 2015 at 10:33 pm

[LINK] “Statues Defaced as S. Africans Protest Colonial-Era Symbols”

Bloomberg’s Renee Bonorchis and Palesa Vuyolwethu Tshandu report on the wave in protests in South Africa against statues of prominent colonial-era figures, people whose work led to apartheid. On the one hand, they are only symbols; on the other, well, they are symbols.

The statue of Paul Kruger, a president of the Afrikaner-led Transvaal Republic before the Anglo-Boer war, and four figures of townspeople around him, were splashed with green paint in Pretoria’s Church Square on April 5. Statues of Britain’s King George V in Durban and Queen Victoria and the Horse Memorial in the coastal town of Port Elizabeth were also vandalized over the Easter holiday weekend. In March, the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town was smeared with human excrement.

The “statues should be taken down,” Moafrika Mabongwana, EFF deputy chairman for Tshwane, the municipal area that covers the capital Pretoria, said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We don’t agree that these statues should be put in public places. We aren’t saying that history should be erased. All the statues should be identified and taken down.”

In the 17th century Dutch and French settlers arrived in what is now South Africa’s Western Cape province. Later the British arrived and Rhodes helped to expand the U.K.’s influence as head of the provincial government and by funding an expedition that led to the colonization of what is now Zimbabwe. The government that created apartheid laws came into power in 1948 and the country’s first all-race elections were held in 1994.

While some towns and street names commemorating apartheid and colonial-era leaders have since been changed, many historical symbols have remained.

“If you want to change these statues, defacing them is exactly the wrong way to go about it because it builds resistance,” JP Landman, a Johannesburg-based independent political and economic analyst, said in a phone interview.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 14, 2015 at 10:22 pm

[ISL] “Our Duffy, ourselves”

Aaron Wherry of MacLean’s examines the significance of this photo, given to Mike Duffy by Stephen Harper before the latter’s denunciation.

Exhibit D, as it was officially registered with the Ottawa court by Mike Duffy’s lawyer last week, shows the senator and Prime Minister Stephen Harper together, on stage, at an event in June 2009. Duffy had been appointed six months earlier, one of 18 senators suddenly nominated before Christmas 2008—at a moment when Harper, as a result of the Governor General’s decision to grant a prorogation, was only barely clinging to power (having incited a Liberal-NDP coalition when he used a moment of economic crisis to propose reducing the financial resources of political parties, a move that would have wounded his rivals far more than his own party).

Duffy and his fellow appointees had apparently all pledged to support the government’s Senate reforms, pledges that now seem adorably quaint, like coming upon a picture of the games children used to play in the Victorian period.

What the Prime Minister came back with in January 2009 was what he and Duffy were advertising that day in June: Canada’s Economic Action Plan™. This was the snappy moniker given to what was actually just an earlier-than-usual budget with measures designed to stimulate a faltering economy and get the country through a global recession with minimal discomfort. And this was the title of what would become a massive marketing campaign, with billboards and television ads; a monument of self-promotion and aggrandizement, all of it paid for with public funds. In time, each federal budget would come to be styled as an Economic Action Plan—the public mind apparently too distracted or leaden to be impressed by something like a mere accounting of government spending.

The Prime Minister and his senator are on stage for the second report on the progress of Canada’s Economic Action Plan. These progress reports had been forced on the government by Michael Ignatieff in his pledge to put the Conservatives on “probation”—the price of winning the support of a Liberal leader who didn’t want to try his luck with a coalition government anyway. But what the Liberals wanted to portray as a demand for accountability, and perhaps imagined as future opportunities to topple the Conservatives, the government turned into quarterly celebrations of their good deeds. Ignatieff never got closer to being prime minister than he had been in January 2009 and the Conservatives won a majority in 2011.

Funny thing: while the government carefully tracked the total number and locations of its Economic Action Plan signs, in some cases with GPS co-ordinates, the government didn’t track how many jobs were actually created by its stimulus spending, so beyond signage we can only guess at what the Economic Action Plan actually amounted to. Behold the state of public policy.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 13, 2015 at 7:34 pm


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