Sunday, September 10, 2006

The grassroots on the other side of the fence…

Faced by burgeoning public debt throughout the 1980s and after losing two elections, the Liberals in the 1990s were obliged by their famous scruples of political pragmatism to weigh the costs of their own socialist policies implemented in the similarly scrupled Pearson and Trudeau eras against the need to stimulate the economy to pay for them. Importuning still more socialism could no longer compete politically in a country where personal and corporate tax rates butted against the ceilings of electoral tolerance and economic competitiveness. The stylings of Marxist-inspired rhetoric disappeared from mainstream partisan government and electioneering — which was not too difficult since the Liberals never really meant them in the first place. But with that, electoral socialism as a motive ideology itself retired to the cheapest seats in Canadian opposition benches… and to municipal politics where a small bevy of self-important activists can always afford the relatively small cost in funds and friends to mount a local campaign. Even locally, however, socialism as an ideology has become nothing much more than a front for the expropriatory demands of special interests and bureaucracies who want to make it sound like they're being less acquisitive for themselves.

As a force in the corridors of power, socialism as an muscular ideology is spent and only latently informs crude electoral schemes, but its vestigial claims on the attentions of the media and academia still muddy the political conversation of this country and diffuse attention to solving economic and policy problems. Publius from Gods of the Copybook Headings, consistently the best blogger in Canada, provides as usual much-needed perspective on the attention the Left actually deserves:

My contention that the Left is a religion is only somewhat hyper-bold. It lacks the trappings of religion and of course is either agnostic or atheistical. This probably includes that great, but now fading, auxiliary of the Canadian Left; the United Church of Canada. The Left is a rationalistic religion. It takes an arbitrary point, say peace or poverty, and regards these as first principles. It is never asked why poverty or peace or racism are good or bad, it is merely stated that they are good or bad. Taking poverty as an essential, and declaring it a bad, the Leftists then goes off to campaign against poverty. Where does poverty come from? What is it? Why are some people stricken poor and others escape this mysterious force? Explanations are needed, if only for polemical purposes, and are vague and unconnected. It's capitalism. It's racism. It's the education system. It's government cutbacks. It's the rich hording all the wealth. None of these arguments stands by itself or is related to any other, except as rather imaginative conspiracy theories, found on certain websites and in many university lecture halls.

Try it yourself. Ask a Leftist how capitalism causes poverty and watch the blather fly. There is no causal connection, just a crude syllogism. Capitalism is bad, poverty is bad, therefore the first bad created the second. In this sense it is very much like a religion. It is unlike a religion as most religions come with a sophisticated cultural baggage that informs their arbitrary assertions. The current Pope, when denouncing some aspect of modern culture - not always the right aspects and not always the right way, alas - can draw upon two millennia of theological argument and tradition, of which he has an impressive grasp. Aside from a few half remembered bromides, from his days as a York Poly Sci prof, Jack Layton is pretty much running on Marxist gas fumes. This is also, incidentally, why it's much more fun, and important, to read and criticize what comes out of the Vatican than what comes out of NDP headquarters. Socialism is a flash in pan and Jack's watered down version even more so.