Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

29 June 2004

Number 10 it is

It is indeed a minority government -- for the Liberals. Here is the breakdown of seats in the Commons thus far: Liberals: 135; Conservatives: 99; Bloc québécois: 54; New Democrats: 19; other: 1. A governing party would need 155 seats for an absolute majority. If the past is any indication, we could be back at the polls in another year or two.

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28 June 2004

Minority government?

Canada has had 9 minority governments at the federal level since 1921. Could today see a tenth? It is possible. Incidentally, only two prime ministers never enjoyed a majority government: Nobel-prize-winner Lester Pearson and the ill-starred Joe Clark.

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27 June 2004

Dooyeweerd en español

I have recently received word that my "Introductory Essay to Herman Dooyeweerd's Political Thought" has been translated into Spanish and will be published by the Asociación para el Avance de la Educación Reformada en México.

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Wedding day

Congratulations to Brian and Nicole Dijkema, who were married yesterday in Dixon's Corners, Ontario. May God bless them as they begin their life together.

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25 June 2004

Ronald Reagan's enduring legacy

Timothy Sherratt asks: "Reagan-Bush 2004?"

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Top five elections: number 1

There is actually a tie for first place: the elections of 1896 and 1988. Obviously the free trade issue prompted a number of participants in the survey to choose the 1911 and 1988 elections. I do not contest their significance. However, elections which have seen major shifts in partisan support or in the parties themselves I would judge to be of greater importance.

American political scientists have long theorized about the periodic realignments which have seen such shifts occurring every generation or so in the US. The years 1860, 1896 and 1932 mark such watershed elections. One might add 1994, when Republicans took control of Congress for the first time in a generation. Although the concept of realignment is not unknown here in Canada, political scientists have not made as much of it as their counterparts in the US. This may be due to our not having had as many elections that could qualify as genuinely realigning. Certainly 1896 and 1993 would fill the bill. Yet given that a single political party, namely the Liberals, has dominated the government benches since that earlier year, few other elections have seen a similar shift in partisan loyalties. If Québec is the bellwether, then 1984 may be of significance, insofar as it saw the beginning of the end of unquestioned (federal) Liberal hegemony in that province. Yet ten years later the Liberals were more entrenched in power than ever before. We'll see whether monday will change that.

I am still surprised that so few, if any, mentioned the 1980 election, which is more significant than many of my colleagues appear to think. That election gave Pierre Trudeau his second wind and allowed him one last chance to make his mark. Indeed the patriation package that he bullied the provinces into accepting did not just change our constitution; it changed the very nature of our constitution in a way that empowered the courts over Parliament, which had always been the centre of our political life prior to that time. This has encouraged governments not to take responsibility for divisive issues and to defer to the courts. That this conflicts with our hallowed convention of responsible government would seem evident.

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24 June 2004

Diabolique

Nancy and I rarely watch movies in the theatre. Even when we rent them on video or DVD, we end up watching them in snatches over the course of two or three evenings. This is what we did with Henri-Georges Clouzot's classic Diabolique (1955). Based on a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, it is a suspense thriller worthy of Hitchcock.

The plot revolves around three principal characters, played by Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot and Paul Meurisse. Clouzot and Meurisse are wife and husband. She teaches and owns a boys' boarding school. He is the principal, who treats everyone badly, from his young charges and school staff to his own wife. Signoret is also a teacher and Meurisse's mistress. As the film opens Clouzot and Signoret have teamed up to murder the abusive Meurisse. We watch the murder take place -- by drowning in a bathtub -- but then strange things begin to occur. The body disappears and one of the boys claims to have seen the deceased alive. I will not, of course, give away the surprise ending.



Although Diabolique was made in the mid-1950s, it has the feel of one of the early "talkies" of the 1930s. The copy we saw had something of a grainy quality to it, but this may simply be due to age. I understand there is a restored version of the film, but this seems not to be what we viewed. The original was, of course, shot in French, but we saw the English-language dubbed version.

I mentioned Hitchcock. It seems that Hitchcock was, in fact, interested in purchasing the film rights to Boileau and Narcejac's novel, but was narrowly beaten to the punch by Clouzot. Hitchcock would eventually buy the rights to the pair's later novel, d'Entre les Morts, which would become the haunting Vertigo. As I was watching the film, I tried to imagine how Hitch would have shot the film. What sorts of camera angles would he have brought to it? How would he have directed the actors? Would the incomparable Bernard Herrmann have composed a score? Might he have accompanied the murder scene with a musical motif as memorable as the screeching violins in Psycho? (There is no score in Clouzot's film.)

By the way, I wouldn't bother with Jeremiah S. Chechik's ludicrous 1996 remake, starring Sharon Stone, Isabel Adjani and Chazz Palminteri. The plot is basically the same, but it simply does not work here.

I'll end with film critic Roger Ebert's telling of a humorous anecdote:
A man wrote to Alfred Hitchcock: "Sir, After seeing Diabolique, my daughter was afraid to take a bath. Now she has seen your Psycho and is afraid to take a shower. What should I do with her?" Hitchcock replied: "Send her to the dry cleaners."

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23 June 2004

Writing award

Last April I learned that Political Visions and Illusions had been shortlisted for an award by The Word Guild. This evening I am happy to learn that it in fact won the award in the category of culture, where it had been placed with three other contenders. The awards were announced at the organization's annual conference in Guelph, Ontario, last friday. I am, of course, grateful for this honour.

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Top five elections: number 2

Mapleleafweb's countdown continues. At the second-place spot is the crucial election of 1993. Finally, I've got one right.

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22 June 2004

Vietnam and the Montagnards

Few people outside Vietnam are likely aware of the persecution of the largely christian Montagnards (or hill tribes) by the ethnic Kinh majority, which is in turn sanctioned by the Vietnamese government. Who are they? According to this Zenit report:

The Montagnards represent a population of more than 30 different tribes, with thousands of combatants. The two principal tribes are the Banar, with close to 400,000 people, and the Jarrai, with 300,000. In large measure they are Christians.

An incident which occurred just prior to Easter this year was not widely, if at all, reported in the western press:

On the eve of the 2004 Easter celebrations, the Montagnards organized a demonstration starting from their widespread villages, across municipalities and reaching provincial capitals in the central highlands of Vietnam, to come together and pray publicly before the buildings of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

The motto was "Moak Hrue Yesus Kgu Hdip" -- Joyful Day, Christ Has Risen. According to local sources, there were 130,000. Government forces used arms causing about 400 deaths.

It is difficult to confirm what really happened because the Vietnamese government impeded foreigners from going to the region.

Christians in the west need to be made aware of the plight of the Montagnards in Vietnam.

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20 June 2004

EU constitution

The European Council has approved a new draft constitution for the European Union. Will the political leaders who have been part of this process now come to rank historically with the American founding fathers and Canada's fathers of Confederation? It's too soon to tell. Unlike those earlier exercises in nation-building, the EU constitution will be submitted to popular referendum in several member states, including Britain, Ireland, Denmark and Luxembourg, and possibly Poland, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and France as well. This could ultimately doom the effort. Why? "Analysts agree that a 'no' vote in any one EU state could plunge the EU into a serious crisis. In theory the constitution must be ratified by all EU member states to come into force."

As I've written before, wholesale constitutional change is difficult to sell under the best of circumstances. Look at Canada's Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, as well as the recent Annan Plan in Cyprus. Add to this the fact that Europeans appear to be in a generally "Eurosceptic" mood, as demonstrated in the results of last week's elections to the European Parliament, and it would appear that a successful European constitution is by no means a foregone conclusion.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if the US Constitution, now so revered by Americans but new and untried in 1787, had had to go before the voting publics of the 13 prospective member states. I rather imagine it would have been voted down in at least some states. That might have ended the undertaking then and there. Or the US might simply have consisted of, say, 8 or 10 members, with the remainder maintaining their independence in some form. This would seem to indicate that the formation of constitutional federal systems, with each member state possessing the same powers vis-à-vis the federal centre, may be a thing of the past. Constitution-building is intrinsically an enterprise for élites. The incorporation of direct democratic mechanisms into the process, coupled with a unanimity provision, would appear to be a recipe for failure, although no one seems willing to admit this outright.

The wave of the future may thus be asymmetrical treaty federations, like the old Holy Roman Empire, or the EU today, in which the various member states negotiate their own unique relationships with the federal -- or, perhaps more accurately, confederal -- centre.

Later: By the way, the EU constitution fails to mention Europe's christian roots.

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19 June 2004

How to change a culture

Yesterday morning Redeemer University College was privileged to host, along with the Work Research Foundation, Prof. James Davison Hunter, a sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture (IASC) and The Center on Religion and Democracy at the university. Hunter is best known for his book, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, which brought a 19th-century German phenomenon, Kulturkampf, into the English language. Thursday evening he had spoken in the legislative dining room at Queen's Park on how "To Change the World," which he had delivered some years earlier at a Trinity Forum gathering. Yesterday's gathering was an informal discussion of the speech and the ideas therein.

Hunter's thesis is as follows: There is a widespread notion that cultures consist of values held by individuals and the choices they make based on those values. Therefore, if one wishes to change a culture, one must do so by changing individuals one by one, working from the bottom up. However, this conception ignores history. Those who have succeeded in changing a culture have done so from positions of prominence and power. They have done so by means of strategically positioned organizations and networking among those possessing culturally-formative power. Hunter argues for five propositions: (1) "Culture is a resource and as such, a form of power"; (2) culture is deliberately produced; (3) "cultural production is stratified in a rigid structure of 'center' and 'periphery'"; (4) cultural change comes from the top down and hardly ever from the bottom up; and (5) "world-changing is most intense when the networks of elites and the institutions they lead overlap."

This speech made a deep impression on Michael Van Pelt and Gideon Strauss, both of the Work Research Foundation, and they have been attempting to use the insights contained therein in their own efforts. Yet there would appear to be a central difficulty in Hunter's argument, at least if one takes it as a timeless and rigid position, representing the author's final say on the matter. Granted that Harvard and Yale would seem to be possess more cultural formative power than Redeemer University College. Granted that a degree from the first two institutions would give the graduate more access to the centres of influence in North America than a degree from the latter. Does that mean that my colleagues and I are just spinning our wheels off at the margins while the real thing is happening south of the border in Cambridge and New Haven?

I asked Hunter this very question, because he seemed to have changed his tune to a large extent in his remarks to us, and evidently to the gathered audience the previous evening. It soon emerged that Hunter's speech had been explicitly tailored to the Trinity Forum audience, which included a number of influential people -- those with the means to effect the sort of top-down change he was envisioning. It was by no means intended to deprecate the work of others in their capacities as mothers and fathers, sunday school teachers, labour union representatives, &c. Hunter's answer to my question was, no, the rest of us are not spinning our wheels. Everyone in the Body of Christ has a role to play in bringing healing to the larger culture. In fact, it may that those who minister to the poor and despised of this world are more evidently doing the work of God's kingdom than those caught up in a Nietzchean will to power. In this context Hunter spoke of servant-leadership, something I stress to my own students, particularly in the introductory political science courses.

A couple of personal notes. First, I learned that Hunter is a graduate of Gordon College, of which two of my sisters, a brother-in-law and a niece are graduates. In fact, he recognized my brother-in-law's name when I mentioned it. Second, after the discussion was over, I was invited to lunch by three young gentlemen, who had taken time from their summer activities to attend this event. As I had been suffering sorely from a lack of youthful company since the end of the academic year, I was happy to accept their invitation to spend some time with them. (Read Mr. Joustra's reflections on Hunter and his ideas.)

Hunter's presence at the University of Virginia is rather ironic, as it was founded as a militantly secular institution by Thomas Jefferson, whose Monticello plantation overlooks the campus from the heights above. Yet the IASC has moved from the margins to the centre of the university's life and has gathered together a number of traditionally religious scholars -- Christians, Jews and Muslims alike -- who are interested in the interplay between religion and culture. Hunter is obviously having some success in living out his own advice. In the meantime, the rest of us are attempting, with God's help, to do our respective parts in changing the culture.

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18 June 2004

Giving up on the church is giving up on ourselves

The following is a slight modification of a column I wrote for Christian Courier in March 2000:

When I was a young man some three decades ago, I was quite certain that the christian community in which I had been raised was hugely deficient in any number of ways. I had only recently become aware of the biblical commands to do justice. Since childhood I had heard John 3:16 and Romans 3:23 and knew that salvation is in Jesus Christ. But I hadn’t read Isaiah or Amos. I hadn’t known – or at least it hadn’t yet sunk in – that God calls us to do justice to our fellow human beings and that scripture has much to say about the ways rulers treat their subjects.

This was the era of Watergate and the final years of US involvement in Vietnam. Moreover, the struggle for racial justice in America was still very recent, and it was less than a decade since Alabama Governor George Wallace had stood for the presidency on an openly segregationist platform. I was embarrassed by the fact that many believers had voted for Richard Nixon, had supported the bloodletting in Indochina, and had even been slow to embrace civil rights for American blacks. In short, Christians were on the wrong side of these watershed issues, which was nothing less than scandalous.

I never stopped attending church altogether. I loved worship too much for that. But for a while I did have difficulty praying, particularly in public settings. I could no longer listen to the preaching of the word with an open heart, because I was certain of being surrounded by so much hypocrisy. Surely all this preaching about salvation and sanctification concealed the cynical self-interest of people who on election day would vote their pocketbooks rather than vote for justice, particularly for the poor and disadvantaged.

I am now ashamed to say that at the time I was more than a little arrogant. If others might be guilty of the sin of hypocrisy, then I had fallen prey to pride, which is arguably the root of all other sins. Obviously this is not something I look back on with satisfaction, though perhaps I can plead that my youthful inexperience blinded me, not only to the full complexities of life, but to the sin in my own self. Unable to see the church as the body of Christ – the community of the redeemed – I saw it instead filled with bishops supporting corrupt Latin American oligarchies, television preachers extolling the “American way of life” – warts and all – and comfortable middle-class pew sitters piously condoning their governments’ oppressive activities abroad while quoting Romans 13.

I have never lost the passion for justice sparked in me during my late adolescence, though I am less willing now to accept that all justice issues are a simple matter of defending the oppressed against apparent oppressors. Where I have changed most, however, is in my attitude towards the church. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that God hates visionary dreaming. Those engaging in such dreaming are fired with a vision of what the church should be but cannot bring themselves to love her for what she is. After all, the church is composed of ordinary, fallible human beings for whom Christ died. God loves us, not because we are virtuous, but precisely because we are sinners standing in need of grace. Yes, the church contains hypocrites, as well as dishonest entrepreneurs, people who vote their own self-interest, and even arrogant youth. But we dare not give up on the church, unless we are willing to give up on ourselves and on the God who has redeemed us with his love.

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17 June 2004

A Swedish victory at Poltava?

Conservative pundit David Frum wonders, while visiting Stockholm, how history would have been different if Sweden's Charles XII had won the Battle of Poltava against Russia's Peter the Great. What if's are always fascinating though ultimately pointless. Yet I suspect that my 6th great-grandfather, one Gotthard Witzell, would have returned to his home in Livonia (in present-day Latvia) rather than going to Finland, where he begat generations of Finnish descendants, some of whom would eventually make it to North America. Not to put too fine a point on it, I would not be here.

Later: As I consider the matter further, it is entirely possible that none of us as individuals would be here if Sweden had won at Poltava. It's not to say there would be no people at all; only that each of us with our unique identities might never have come into existence while other unique persons who were never born would have been. There are probably people -- presumably with independent means -- who devote their time to calculating the number of possible alternative universes predicated on the slightest variances in a single historical event, such as Poltava, Waterloo, Gettysburg, &c. I will not venture to judge those who are experts in this field, except to say that I myself am not one of them.

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Marriage, family and public policy

Jennifer Marshall writes on "Marriage: What Social Science Says and Doesn’t Say":

Social science data indicate that the intact family—defined as a man and a woman who marry, conceive, and raise their children together—best ensures the current and future welfare of children and society when compared with other common forms of households. As alternative family forms have become more prevalent since the 1960s, social science research and government surveys have indicated an accompanying rise in a number of serious social problems.

Government’s interest in marriage has been based primarily on its interest in the welfare of the next generation. Among the many types of social relationships, marriage has always had a special place in all legal traditions, our own included, because it is the essential foundation of the intact family, and no other family form has been able to provide a commensurate level of social security.

In all other common family and household forms, the risk of negative individual outcomes and family disintegration is much greater, increasing the risk of dependence on state services. A free society requires a critical mass of individuals in stable households who are not dependent on the state. The most stable and secure household, the available research shows, is the intact family. Therefore, the state has an interest in protecting the intact family and we should be cautious about facilitating other forms of household, the effects of which are either deleterious or unknown.

Unfortunately this eminently sensible approach to family policy runs counter to what I have called the "choice-enhancement state," that is, the fifth and latest stage in the liberal project, which demands that government take a position of benign neutrality towards a wide range of individual lifestyle choices for fear of making it an oppressive legislator of the good life. Over the long term such neutrality will prove unsustainable -- even utopian. People's choices inevitably have practical consequences, both for themselves and for others. Some of these will be harmful, while others will be beneficial. Because the harmful ones will require remedial action by the state, the latter would be ill advised simply to acquiesce in the indiscriminate subsidizing of all choices. Far from being just, such a policy is close to being outright foolish.

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16 June 2004

War (without end) against terrorism

How many people are aware that the United States' struggle against terrorists from the Arab world began almost immediately after its independence was recognized in 1783? Read the story of The United States and the Barbary Pirates.

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Top five elections: number 3

It's the 1917 election, in which conscription was the dominant issue. Thus far I'm batting a thousand.

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No obvious winner in second debate

The CBC carries coverage of last evening's leaders' debate in English: "Leaders back on campaign trail after two nights of debates."

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Lack of content in conservative vision

National Review Online has been carrying selections from John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, The Right Nation. I was struck by these revealing remarks by the authors in "A Different Conservatism":

[T]he fact that the Right is such a broad church — that it includes a hefty dose of liberal heresy along with the traditionalism — yields both weaknesses and strengths. On the positive side, it helps to explain why it is such a big and vibrant movement. American conservatism cannot help but contain contradictions because it contains so many vital elements. There are thousands of conservative activists, hundreds of conservative think tanks, a small army of conservative intellectuals. One useful book of conservative experts, published by the Heritage Foundation, the movement's biggest think tank, is as thick as a telephone directory. Yet the broad church also means that people are often worshipping different gods.

Look at Colorado Springs and you'll find at least three competing forms of conservatism — the laissez-faire individualism of the tax cutters and the gun owners, the Christian moralism of Focus on the Family and the militaristic nationalism, represented by the neighboring Air Force Academy and the bumper stickers laughing at Saddam Hussein. But how can you trumpet a strong military and a vigorous foreign policy and then insist on small government? How can you celebrate individualism but then try to subject those individuals to the rule of God? Wherever you go in the Right Nation, you discover similar contradictions.

Note the references to "broad church" and "worshipping different gods." These overtly confessional metaphors seem particularly appropriate and would appear to vindicate my own thesis that ideologies are fundamentally religious. As for these "different gods" themselves, could this very diversity within conservatism be indicative of its lack of coherence as a political vision? Liberalism at least is based on a commitment to individual autonomy and the voluntary character of all communities. Liberal principles are much more easily identifiable than those of, say, conservatism or nationalism. Hobbes' and Locke's political philosophies have a certain intellectual rigour lacking in much of conservatism.

This is not to say, of course, that conservatives are "the stupid party," as John Stuart Mill famously put it. There are many intelligent and eloquent conservatives who stand on definite political principles. Some of these, such as Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Canada's own George Grant, I appreciate a great deal. At the same time, their vaunted principles do not necessarily have a causal connection to their conservatism. One looks in vain, for example, for a distinctively conservative view of the state or any other human institution. Some conservatives, such as Friedrich A. von Hayek and Ayn Rand, have to look to liberal principles to flesh out their conservatism. Conservatism is simply a collection of attitudes towards change and existing institutions. Providing they do not become ideologized and thus distorted, such attitudes are undoubtedly a necessary corrective to those whose zeal for reform might upset the ship of state. Yet attempting to derive a full-fledged political theory from them is an unpromising effort unlikely over the long term to yield fruit.

This means that conservatism will always be handicapped in the larger political debate. Lacking a substantive vision of their own concerning the place of politics within life as a whole, conservatives will be able effectively to challenge their opponents only insofar as they embrace principles drawn from elsewhere, e.g., Catholic social teachings, neo-Calvinism or another of the traditional religious faiths.

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15 June 2004

Totalitarian Canada?

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza argues that Canada is afflicted by a "Thinly Disguised Totalitarianism."

A full-fledged totalitarian state recognizes no limits to state power. There are no spheres where the state is not competent to act. But before totalitarianism triumphant, there is the totalitarian impulse, which may be understood as the ambition of the state to extend its authority to realms where it has no authority. The totalitarian impulse is a threat to democracy because it seeks to overturn the democratic value of limited government. The totalitarian impulse necessarily seeks to limit religious liberty. . . .

There are no restrictions on freedom of worship in Canada today. Canadians can practice their faith unmolested by the state. But increasingly, full participation in civil, commercial, and professional life is requiring that religiously grounded beliefs be left at the door. The threat is coming not only from courts and legislatures, but from tribunals, regulatory bodies, and professional associations.

There is much to be said for Fr. de Souza's analysis. But might it be that democracy itself, if understood as an ideological belief in popular sovereignty, contributes something to this totalitarian tendency?

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No one to vote for

Here is another cri de coeur from a voter unhappy with the choices facing Canadians on 28 June: "Election promises." Perhaps Mr. Ware and Mr. Dykstra should get together to commiserate -- or, better yet, to form another political party.

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OIC and TRNC

Have the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference normalized relations with the breakaway Turkish Republic of North Cyprus? It appears so.

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Leaders' debate

The Globe and Mail's Rhéal Séguin believes that Paul Martin fails to create momentum in last evening's French-language leaders' debate. We'll see how the four party leaders do this evening in English.

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14 June 2004

The US Pledge, the EU constitution and King Baudouin

The US Supreme Court has ruled on a technicality that Americans can recite the pledge of allegiance, including the phrase "under God." But because the court did not address the merits of the case itself, new challenges are likely to arise. Thus far no one has addressed the merits of having a pledge at all. Canada does quite well without one.

Meanwhile the latest draft of the Constitutional Treaty of the European Union still makes no mention of God or Christianity, much to the irritation of Poland, Italy and five other member states. However, Belgium and France approve.

These days Belgium takes its seculiarizing cues from its much larger neighbour to the south. However, the late King Baudouin of Belgium was himself a devout man. In 1990, when the two chambers of the Belgian parliament had voted in favour of a law to liberalize abortion, the King's conscience would not allow him to approve the legislation. Rather than touch off a constitutional crisis, Baudouin (or Boudewijn in Dutch) abdicated for a day, returning to power only after the Council of Ministers had approved the law in his absence. Europe needs more of his kind.

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Calvinism and natural law

I have just received a copy of L. S. Koetsier, Natural Law and Calvinist Political Theory, a small volume published by Trafford, which specializes in "on-demand" publishing. I look forward to reading it. Nevertheless, a perusal of the index indicates the absence of two names I would have expected to see treated in such a study: Johannes Althusius (1557-1638) and Girolamo Zanchi (1516-1590).

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Top five elections: number 4

According to Mapleleafweb's top five elections survey, the 1911 election was judged to be the 4th most important election in Canada's history. This was the famous reciprocity election, in which Laurier's favourable Liberals lost to Sir Robert Borden's Conservatives on the issue of reciprocity, or free trade, with the United States. I myself would likely have put this at number 6, with 7 being the 1988 election. In that year voters reversed the 1911 results, approving Brian Mulroney's free trade agreement with the US.

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Europeans vote

Over the weekend European citizens voted for the European Parliament (EP), the second largest exercise in democracy after India. However, local issues dominated in most countries, and turnout was lowest ever -- below even American levels at 44 percent. The conservative bloc of national parties did better than the social democratic bloc, as voters generally repudiated their governing parties. What is the significance of this? Not much, given that no government is formed from this parliamentary body, whose powers are limited. The European Commission is comparable to a domestic cabinet, with similar powers, but its members are appointed by the member states, now numbering 25. The EP, based in Strasbourg, now has 732 seats.

One surprise: the UK Independence Party, which advocates pulling Britain out of the EU altogether, did well, raising its total number of seats from 3 in 1999 to 12 in 2004. Eurosceptics gained elsewhere as well.

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13 June 2004

Official multilingualism

As anyone visiting this country will quickly ascertain, Canada is a bilingual country, with English and French enjoying official status in all federal institutions. Lest we think having to know two languages is too great an inconvenience, the European Union now has 20 official languages: Czech, Danish, German, Estonian, Greek, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Maltese (yes, Maltese!), Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Slovenian, Finnish and Swedish. If the Annan Plan had been accepted and Cyprus had entered the EU as a united country, Turkish would have become an official language as well, making for a grand total of 21. Not surprisingly, a huge portion of the EU's budget goes into translation. Have they ever considered scrapping all these languages and giving Esperanto sole official status?

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Election 2004 and the abortion issue

Janet Epp Buckingham writes on the flap over Rob Merrifield's comments in The Globe and Mail in "Is Abortion a Sacred Cow?" Stating that only 29 percent of Canadians believe that "the law should not protect the unborn but only protect babies from the point of birth", she argues that life issues should always be on the table, particularly in an election campaign. If so, then why are virtually all the politicians in the major parties, including the Conservatives, reluctant to see them brought up?

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12 June 2004

Pop music, one more time

I rather like James Brink's description of the central thesis of my article, "Commercialization and the Death of Singing":

Koyzis seems to be suggesting that lasting music that reflects the full expression of the human condition is a public good. If music is taken over by the market, it becomes subject to the law of supply and demand, and caters to the common denominator of human experience (in an attempt to corner the market). But in popular music's attempt to become the cultural expression for everyone, it subverts and reduces the full range of human experience. In the end, it short-circuits our capacity for experience.

I would almost guess Mr. Brink had read my book. Could it be that the distortions of popular music are rooted in an ideology that narrows the scope of and thus falsifies human experience?

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Faulty Afghanistan policy

The Center for Public Justice's president, the estimable James W. Skillen, believes that the US government is backing the wrong people in Afghanistan: "Why Afghanistan Should Concern Us." Writes Skillen:

Late in September, Afghanistan's interim president, Hamid Karzai, is likely to be elected to that office by what will appear to be a nationwide vote. If that happens, Americans will cheer the progress of freedom and democracy and turn away in relief, congratulating ourselves for having liberated Afghanistan.

The time for cheering is not just around the corner, however. The news coming out of Afghanistan is cause for deep concern. An article by Kathy Gannon in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs summarizes the darker picture.

In "Afghanistan Unbound," Gannon begins with the warlords. These are the few men who rule different ethnic groups and territories covering most of the country. They control their own private armies and decide who lives and dies. President Karzai's government in Kabul has not come anywhere near disarming and subordinating them to itself. Even worse, Karzai knows that despite America's talk about democracy, American officials are themselves still working with the warlords to help fight Taliban and Al Qaeda forces. Karzai has no alternative, then, but to negotiate with the same non-democratic and brutal thugs for his own survival and permission to hold a presidential election.

If, during a short period of time, the warlords were really helping the U.S. and Karzai to eliminate the Taliban and Al Qaeda, after which the warlords were committed to becoming supporters of a national democratic government, that might be promising. But this is where we must look back before 2001 to 1994 and even earlier. For it was the warlords who were fighting one another for control of Kabul back in 1994, killing upwards of 50,000 Afghans, mostly civilians. The people do not look to the warlords as their saviors or as accountable to the people.

Moreover, the warlords are also the ones who, before 1996, had built up a tremendous opium trade, protecting the poppy fields in their regions. In 1996, the Taliban managed to sweep Kabul clean of the warlords and to outlaw poppy production. Now, by contrast, says Gannon, the U.S. and its allies have allowed opium production to return and are "betting that the same men who caused Afghanistan so much misery in the past will somehow lead it to democracy and stability in the future. The evidence, however, suggests that the opposite is happening."

Poppy growing and opium production are booming at record levels just two years after the overthrow of the Taliban. The warlords have plenty of money to buy arms and rule their territories (the opium trade was "valued at close to $2.3 billion last year"). Soon they may feel strong enough to stop dealing with the U.S. and its allies. An election for president might be held in September, if the warlords permit it, but "barely ten percent of Afghan voters have been registered to date," says Gannon, in part because the government does not have enough money to register voters.

President Karzai barely rules Kabul, much less Afghanistan. The people are losing trust in the West and its hollow promises. We can talk democracy; they have to live reality.

But at least the warlords are helping the U.S. eliminate the Taliban and Al Qaeda, aren't they? No, says Gannon, "much of the intelligence that the warlords have supplied to Washington on the Taliban has proved faulty," and there is evidence that eight of eleven districts in Zabul Province are now run largely by the Taliban, which is recovering its strength.

Why should this concern us? Because ten years from now, only a force like the Taliban or Al Qaeda may be able to "save" the Afghan people from the warlords and the drug economy. And around we will go again. Moreover, if that is what the liberation of Afghanistan means, what will the liberation of Iraq look like five or ten years from now?

--James Skillen, President

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The MP versus the journalist

Pity poor Rob Merrifield, Conservative MP for Yellowhead in Alberta. A few unguarded comments in an interview with a Globe and Mail reporter at the beginning of the month sparked a controversy that could cost him his position as health critic and a possible cabinet post in a new Conservative government. Merrifield is a Christian and pro-life. What was his offence? Merely suggesting that he favoured counselling for women seeking abortions in an interview he thought was primarily about reproductive technology.

Incidentally, one of Merrifield's legislative assistants is a man named Eric Hogeterp, a 1993 graduate in political science from Redeemer University College and thus -- you guessed it -- another of my beloved protégés.

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Snowbirds take note

The true south strong and free: "Turks and Caicos move to join Canada."

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11 June 2004

Conservative government in Ottawa?

Who would have thought it possible only a short while ago: "Canada's Conservatives now election front-runners"? Current projections are for a Conservative minority government, although the party's current momentum could give it an absolute majority of Commons seats. In the event of a minority government, it is not clear how the Conservatives would be able to rule. Back in 1979 Joe Clark's Progressive Conservative government, at least in theory, had the Créditistes with which to co-operate -- even if they ended up bolting in the end. In 2004 there are no parties in the Commons that are obvious kindred spirits -- not even the Bloc Clarkois!

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The rest and the west

I have just received from InterVarsity Press a copy of a new book by Meic Pearse, Why the Rest Hates the West: Understanding the Roots of Global Rage. I've only glanced through it thus far, but it seems to be a welcome antidote to the popular, if reductionist, economic deprivation school of analysis, focussing instead on broader religious and cultural factors. I may comment further when I've read it.

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The English Bible and constitutional government

I've recently been reading Benson Bobrick's The Making of the English Bible (reissued, it seems, under another title), which I picked up in the discount section at Chapters. It tells a fascinating tale of the history of Bible translation into English, beginning with Wycliffe and up to the publication of the King James Version in 1611. It wends its way through the turbulent 16th century, as Rome and the Reformation contest for supremacy over the British Isles in the persons of the Tudor monarchs of the period.

In the final chapter Bobrick draws out the political implications of making the scriptures available in the language of the common people. Usually it is thought that this development paved the way for democracy by contributing to greater tolerance for the public expression of individual interpretive opinions less dependent on ecclesiastical machinery. Bobrick puts a different spin on this:

The great unwritten Constitution of England, and the arguably greater written Constitution of the United States, with its Bill of Rights, took the theological place in Civil Society of the Received Wisdom laid down by Church councils and preserved in Creeds. Although Protestants and Catholics remained divided over the respective weight of Scripture and Tradition, in politics this dichotomy was, in a sense, resolved. For Law, especially common law, was an example of Tradition, in all its secular and saving grace. And like the ongoing decisions of Church councils, that law became a kind of evolving Scripture for the evolution of a free society where everyone could also think, speak, and worship as he pleased. One could almost say that the modern democratic state owed its origins in part to a defiance of Catholic dogma, but ended by adopting one of its fundamental tenets in the secular sphere (p. 306).

Bobrick discusses the various predecessors to the King James Version, including the Bishops' Bible, published in 1568. One of the translators of this version (which largely failed to catch on) was Archbishop Edwin Sandys, who may or may not have been my 13th great grandfather, depending on the veracity of a marital link between two possible ancestors.



Of Sandys, Bobrick writes:

Assigned the four books of Kings and Chronicles, Sandys closely adhered to the Great Bible readings but put alternative renderings from the Geneva Bible in the notes. Some of his notes were rather anxiously chaste. At I Kings 1:2, where old King David is nursed by a lovely maid, he explained: 'David took this virgin, not for lust but for the health of his body, by the advice of his Council; which seemeth to be done by a special dispensation of God, and therefore not to be followed as an example.' At I Kings 11:1, he felt obliged to justify Solomon's polygamy: 'God tolerated in his people the Israelites plurality of wives, as well for the increase of his people, as also for their mystery [mystical meaning], for Abraham's wives and Jacob's wives were figures of the Synagogue and the true Church. But Christ hath called us to the first institution, "There shall be two in one flesh."' Ironically enough, after Sandys became Archbishop of York, one of his tenants tried to blackmail him by hiding a woman in his bed. He came home, drew open the curtains, and there she was! And just at that moment her husband rushed in! With blushing embarrassment, Sandys immediately reported the incident to the queen.

The King James Version is still to be seen in the bookstores. It was the standard translation used by all English-speaking Christians well into my own childhood. Along with Shakespeare and the Book of Common Prayer, its cadences have made their way into the language. People must still be reading it. But it has now been largely replaced by more recent versions which make the Word of God more comprehensible to contemporary readers but which will likely prove to be much less enduring over the long term.

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Americans in Iraq, continued

In stark contrast to Colson, Mark Danner has another, far less rosy view of the American venture in Iraq and elsewhere: "Torture and Truth." Writes Danner:

For the insurgents, the path to such victory lies in provoking the American occupiers to do their political work for them; the insurgents ambush American convoys with "improvised explosive devices" placed in city neighborhoods so the Americans will respond by wounding and killing civilians, or by imprisoning them in places like Abu Ghraib. The insurgents want to place the outnumbered, overworked American troops under constant fear and stress so they will mistreat Iraqis on a broad scale and succeed in making themselves hated.

Danner portrays the US response as part of a larger, diabolical strategy pursued throughtout the world, from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

On the other hand, the editors of The New Criterion believe that much of the press's coverage of Abu Ghraib is an example of "Pursuing Moral Equivalence." Far worse has been perpetrated by the insurgents themselves:

Yes, what happened at Abu Ghraib was deplorable. U.S. officials, beginning with the President, have publicly apologized. Even as we write, the perpetrators are being court-martialed. The army has instituted new safeguards to make sure that there is no repetition of the abuse. And what about the chaps who incinerated those four contractors in Fallujah? Or the people responsible for hacking off Nick Berg’s head on videotape? Or the men who murdered Fabrizio Quattrocchi in April? Film of that episode was “too graphic” even for al-Jazeera to air. But who has time for those details when the effort to impugn America is going strong?

It remains to be seen whether the American (and British and Australian) presence in Iraq will ultimately be vindicated or whether it will be judged a failure. This very much depends on how ambitious the aim of the occupation is understood to be. If the US continues to assert its desire to make of Iraq a functioning constitutional democracy along western lines -- in the face of a largely unsupportive political culture -- then the risk of failure is rather high. If, however, the goal becomes merely to bring a modicum of stability to an otherwise unstable region of the world, then there is a better chance of this. But if especially American troops are not soon replaced with an international force, probably under UN auspices, even this may not come about.

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10 June 2004

Good news from Iraq

Chuck Colson believes there are positive developments in the middle east -- due largely to the American presence in Iraq: "Good News from a War Zone: The Facts the Networks Miss."

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Party of one

The Bloc Clarkois is in full campaign throttle.

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09 June 2004

Fire at Wheaton College

Last evening, two weeks after we were at the Wheaton conference, the roof of the Barrows Auditorium in the Billy Graham Center caught fire and burned. Most of the conference took place in this auditorium.

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Singing revisited

I am happy that my "Commercialization and the Death of Singing" has sparked some discussion from readers. Although I am an academic political scientist, I have a longstanding interest in music dating from childhood. My mother was constantly singing around the house, as did her mother before her. My father sang less than my mother, but he whistled incesssantly, a habit I too picked up, much to the occasional irritation of my wife. There is scarcely a moment in the day when a song is not running through my head -- or even something more elaborate, such as Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. I doubt that I have perfect pitch, but I have sometimes held a pitch overnight, singing on key in the morning something I took to bed the previous night. Whether or not this is an unsual ability I cannot say. But most of my siblings have carried on this interest in music in some way, while only two have gone into it professionally. Our daughter, Theresa, has picked up the singing habit. Again, like her father, she sings incessantly. She even knows some of my Genevan Psalm renditions and can sing them by heart.

When I was working on the article, I showed it to my sister, Yvonne Koyzis Hook, who saw fit to respond. She has graciously allowed me to use her slightly edited comments, which I reproduce below:

Actually, considerable research has been done on the fact that since the dawn of recording technology and sound amplification -- about a century ago -- there has been a steady decline in peoples' physical ability to sing. Children only learn to sing if they hear their parents sing, and the fewer parents who sing, the fewer kids who learn to sing. Singing is in fact, a developmental skill like reading, and children who come from an illiterate home are more likely to be illiterate themselves, to use a parallel. . . . Young children will sing all the time, but whether they learn to do it in pitch depends entirely on their environment. And it's interesting to be a part of the bluegrass community and see firsthand, from some of my friends who grew up in rural and mining communities, how folk traditions spread even now. In general, it seems to me that the singing produced by these cultures is more functional in terms of voice production than singing that is informed only by popular culture. In fact, we've reached such a nadir in singing in pop culture that I would venture to say that very few of the most famous singers in the world have anything like basic singing skills -- production technology has rendered singing talent beside the point. The one exception, of all the pop superstars out there, is Céline Dion, who is a truly great singing talent, but of course her style and repertoire look back to the golden age of pop music -- Gershwin, Porter, et al.

I can no longer recall the source, but I once read that the high water mark of musical literacy, at least in the United States, came at the turn of the last century. Pianos, along with ability to play them, had become ubiquitous in middle-class parlours. Singing around the piano -- often in groups -- was the common entertainment of the day, as seen, for example, in the 1944 hit musical film, Meet Me in St. Louis, set in the run-up to the famous 1904 world's fair in that city.

It was immediately after this that sound recording began to have its impact. Pianos were replaced by gramophones, which required no musical knowledge whatever, only the ability to shut up and listen. Then came the radio, the modern phonograph, cassette players, CD players, &c. Late in the century fiscal austerity prompted local school districts to axe musical programmes from primary and secondary curricula, all to the detriment of musical literacy.

Of course, lack of ability to read music -- generally understood to be part of musical literacy -- need hardly prevent people singing. My Cypriot grandmother was likely unable to read a note, yet she sang to her heart's content. I myself was not very good at reading music until I was in my late 20s. But this never stood in the way of my singing, which I loved all the same.

What if I were to announce in class one morning that we all would be meeting in a local pub that evening -- to sing together? I wonder how many takers I'd get?

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Who's intolerant, extremist?

As I've written before, I'm not a terribly partisan person for the most part. But these remarks by NDP leader Jack Layton caught my attention:

"The Conservatives actually want to turn back the clock. They have intolerant, extreme views on things like abortion, on the right of lesbians and gay men to marry."

One wonders who gets to define what's extreme and what's not. Those acknowledging the existence of a reality not of our making, governed by laws to which we are subject would appear to be intolerant. Those recognizing that basic human institutions have stable definitions anchored in the givenness of God's world are now called extremist. This would appear also to cover those admitting that abortion ends a human life. To be sure, there will always be people expressing bitter disappointment upon learning that the cosmos cannot be infinitely moulded to suit their desires, but where is the justice in their labelling as extremist those breaking the unpleasant news?

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08 June 2004

A Catholic international relations theory?

Writing in the May issue of First Things, George Weigel discusses "World Order: What Catholics Forgot." Since Pope John XXIII published Pacem in Terris in 1963, Weigel argues, Catholics have largely forgotten the contours of a Catholic international relations theory, as rooted in a 1,500-year-old tradition of moral reflection beginning with Augustine. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Weigel sees as one of the touchstones of a Catholic international relations theory the Vatican itself, which he believes is uniquely capable of playing a distinctive role on the international stage. As an example, he cites the role played by John Paul II in the collapse of European communism at the end of the 1980s. However, the Pope's position on the world stage makes for a certain unresolvable tension:

John Paul II has been a moral witness speaking truth to power in world politics; his diplomatic representatives, by definition, must be “players” according to the established rules of the game. Sometimes those roles can get confused. Some would argue that this happened during the debate prior to the recent Iraq War, when the prudential judgments of Vatican diplomats and agency heads were often reported (and perceived) as if they were decisive moral judgments by the man the world has come to recognize as its foremost moral authority—Pope John Paul II. Then there is the question of how the Holy See, which is not a state, is to function in international fora in which every other actor of consequence is a state. How is it possible for the Holy See to function like a state without being a state and without damaging the Catholic Church’s moral witness? To take one pressing issue here: Can the Holy See, without damaging the moral witness of the Catholic Church, form practical alliances for purposes of defending the family and the inalienable right to life with Muslim states whose policy and practice deny what the Catholic Church claims is the moral core of the universal common good—religious freedom?

Apart from the issue of whether or not the Vatican City is a state (many would disagree with Weigel here), these tensions are applicable not only to the Church of Rome; they are in fact relevant to virtually any situation in which an ecclesiastical organization undertakes to involve itself directly in the political process. Protestant church bodies run into a similar tension constantly, as their synodical assemblies and denominational leaders devote much of their energies to issuing pronouncements on political and social issues -- activities which arguably exceed the proper bounds of their offices.

What would a christian theory of international relations look like if we were to take politics on its own terms, qua politics -- that is, as a legitimate pursuit rooted in the divine mandate to do public justice in a diverse society? Can we conceive of a christian approach to politics without artificially bringing in the institutional church? What role, if at all, ought the church as institution to play in the international arena? These are questions needing further consideration.

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07 June 2004

Running for election

I have just received word that one of my former students, Ken DeVries, is running for parliament in the Elgin-Middlesex-London riding under the banner of the Christian Heritage Party. His website is now up and running. Given that his party's chances of winning as much as a single seat are nil, one has to admire his perseverance at the very least.

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Mozambique? Really?

Few people are likely aware that Mozambique, a country which was never a British colony and never had any connection with Britain, is nevertheless a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. One wonders what Portugal, the former colonial power, thinks of this.

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Top 5 Canadian federal elections

Mapleleafweb polled 37 political scientists and historians to try to ascertain which were the 5 most important federal elections in Canada's history. Number 5 was the 1921 federal election, which saw the rise of the first regional party and the first minority government. The countdown continues over the next weeks until election day.

I don't know what the next four will be, but I would judge the elections of 1896, 1926, 1993 and 1980 to be contenders for these spots:

1896 - This election saw the end of the generation-long Conservative dominance that began with Confederation in 1867. It saw Québec move into the Liberal camp for the first time, as well as the first French Canadian prime minister, Sir Wilfred Laurier. It also began the long period of Liberal Party dominance which has yet to run its course.

1926 - This was the election that followed the King-Byng constitutional crisis. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King requested the Governor General, Lord Byng, to dissolve parliament, but Byng refused because a motion of censure against King's government was under debate in the Commons. King thereupon resigned. Byng appointed Conservative leader Arthur Meighen as prime minister, but without enough votes to sustain his minority government, it was soon defeated. King was returned to power in the ensuing election, thus vindicating his government against the Governor General, who at the time represented not only His Majesty the King, but the British government itself.

The Imperial Conference that convened the same year changed the status of the Governor General. Five years later the conference's decisions were ratified in the Statute of Westminster, which saw the transition from Empire to Commonwealth, and effective independence for Canada and the other British dominions.

1993 - This watershed election saw the near decimation of the Progressive Conservative Party under the ill-fated Prime Minister Kim Campbell, who had been Brian Mulroney's successor. In 1984 the Progressive Conservatives had won the largest majority government in Canadian history, but nine years later it was reduced to 2 members in the House of Commons. The separatist Bloc québécois, under its popular leader, Lucien Bouchard, became the Official Opposition, a bizarre position for a party dedicated to the dismemberment of Canada. The Reform Party, the latest western protest party, made its mark for the first time. In the meantime, the Liberal Party, dominant since 1896, looked set to become the only party capable of winning a federal election, thereby eroding the competitiveness of Canada's democracy.

1980 - This was the famous winter election, called after the early defeat of Joe Clark's Progressive Conservative minority government. Liberal leader, Pierre Trudeau, who had announced his retirement the year before, came back with a majority government based almost entirely in central Canada. Trudeau implemented his National Energy Programme, with detrimental effects on the west. This contributed to the rise of the Reform Party. After the first Québec referendum in that year, Trudeau redoubled his efforts to patriate Canada's constitution. He succeeded in 1982, but without the approval of Québec's separatist government. Among the features of the new constitutional package was an entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which empowered the courts at the expense of Parliament. We are living with the consequences of this now.

These are my choices. We'll see what mapleleafweb has in the coming weeks.

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06 June 2004

Putting the space in the wrong place

Stan Keyes is running for the Liberals in the Hamilton Centre riding. As I see his campaign signs all over, I keep wanting to read his website address as "stank-eyes-dot-com."

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Fortieth US President

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) belongs to the ages.

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05 June 2004

The Pope on rights

I suppose I would be presumptuous to think that the man born Karol Józef Wojtyla might have read chapter 2 of my book. Then again, because I myself have studied and come to appreciate Catholic social teachings, it's hardly surprising we should sound some of the same themes. Here is John Paul II on the distorted understanding of human rights in the west. Note the connection he draws in the fifth paragraph between a secularistic faith in individual autonomy and idolatry:

"Over the last 40 or so years," the Holy Father said, "while political attention to human subjectivity has focused on individual rights, in the public domain there has been a growing reluctance to acknowledge that all men and women receive their essential and common dignity from God and with it the capacity to move towards truth and goodness."

"Detached from this vision of the fundamental unity and purpose of the whole human family, rights are at times reduced to self-centered demands," he said.

As an example, the Pontiff mentioned "the growth of prostitution and pornography in the name of adult choice, the acceptance of abortion in the name of women's rights, the approval of same sex unions in the name of homosexual rights."

"In the face of such erroneous yet pervasive thinking," the Holy Father reminded the laity of "their special responsibility for evangelizing culture and promoting Christian values in society and public life."

"False secularistic forms of humanism, which exalt the individual in such a manner that they become a veritable idolatry, can be countered only by the rediscovery of the genuine inviolable dignity of every person," he said.

"This sublime dignity is manifested in all its radiance when the person's origin and destiny are considered -- created by God and redeemed by Christ, we are all called to be 'children in the Son,'" the Pope observed.

He added: "So, again I say to the people of the United Sates, it is the Paschal Mystery of Christ that is the only sure point of reference for all of humanity on its pilgrimage in search of authentic unity and true peace!"

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04 June 2004

Bad choices and the dilemmas of voting

There must be countless Canadians who sympathize with Steve Dykstra's complaint:

I've got this dilemna -- i'm finally old enough to vote, and I'm fairly decided on a lot of issues; however, my convictions don't come close to falling in any particular party. I really support the preservation of the definition of marriage, tougher criminal code, pro-life; seemingly all good old-fashioned conservative virtues. But I'm also pretty left-wing about the protection of the environment, extra funding for the poor, no more privatization of Hydro or LCBO or other government resources. So I'm totally caught between extreme left and extreme right, and i hate the Liberals in the middle. Any suggestions/opinions about the election?

The author of this cri de coeur took my Introduction to Political Ideologies this past semester, and it seems I was unsuccessful in making his choice any easier. And why not? I, and virtually every other voter, am confronted with the same dilemma. Given our current electoral system and the pragmatic nature of our parties, it is very difficult to vote based on shared principles. All of our major parties adhere to some variety of liberalism, with bits of nationalism, socialism, democratism and conservatism thrown in for good measure. Yet that's not what distinguishes them as parties.

Preoccupied with winning political power, they are forced to try to be all things to all people -- or at least as many things to as many people as possible. They will thus attempt to appeal to specific interest groups, focussing on certain key issues while avoiding others that might be too divisive. Once in power, they freely ignore their promises to voters (as have the provincial Liberals here in Ontario), and if they are left in the opposition benches, they will simply oppose whatever the government proposes, irrespective of its merits or lack thereof.

So how do I vote? Like so many other citizens, I vote strategically, and not on the basis of whom I would actually prefer to see in power. In my heart of hearts I might favour the programme of a minor, more principled party, but I know that if I vote for this party, my vote will be wasted. In recent federal elections I have tended to vote for whichever party seemed most likely to defeat the governing party, mostly because I feared for the well-being of a democracy dominated by a single party lacking credible opposition. Voting out of fear is not a good way to vote. I would prefer not to have to do so, but one is all but compelled to by the electoral system.



Fortunately the Law Commission of Canada recently published a report titled, Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada. The Commission is asking the right questions and exploring the right options. If we were to adopt some form of proportional representation, principled parties would at last make it to parliament and give voice to the millions of Canadians, including the Steve Dykstras of this world, who are effectively disenfranchised.

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03 June 2004

Colson on cultural mandate

Although Chuck Colson is rather too partisan in his support for the Bush administration, he nevertheless has got a fairly good grasp of the basics, including the nature of the cultural mandate given humanity in Genesis 1:28 ff. Here's Colson on "Reclaiming Occupied Territory." The tricky part comes, of course, as we attempt (fallibly) to apply this mandate to our lives as individuals and to the communities of which we are part.

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The end of the line for Cyprus?

Some weeks ago I promised reflections on the failure of reunification in Cyprus. Accordingly, here is my column on the subject for the 7 June issue of Christian Courier:

Cyprus is now a member of the European Union, as of the beginning of last month. Unfortunately it is still very much a divided island, with Turkish Cypriots concentrated in the north and Greek Cypriots in the south. When it was declared late last year that 10 new members would be admitted to the EU, officials made clear their preference to admit a united Cyprus. Early in 2003 UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had launched an effort to reunite the island. Unfortunately this came to naught, as the Turkish-Cypriot President Rauf Denktash would not budge from his support for the status quo.

However, with the EU announcement last December efforts were redoubled to negotiate reunion. The Annan Plan was revived, and a new pro-unification government was given a slender majority in north Cyprus, seemingly paving the way for renewed negotiations. However, once representatives of the two ethnic communities were brought together, they proved unable to agree on much beyond the date of the popular referendums on a plan that looked unlikely to come about. After representatives of Athens and Ankara entered the picture, it was hoped that some progress could be made, given that the Turkish prime minister was known to favour a resolution of the issue. Once again, however, there was no real breakthrough.

Thus, by the time of the referendums on 24 April, the largely unaltered Annan Plan was all the two sides had to vote on. This plan called for a loose Swiss-style federal union of the two sides, with a presidential council, a bicameral parliament and a supreme court, all of which were to contain fixed numbers of Greek and Turkish Cypriots. However, just prior to the vote, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos unexpectedly repudiated the plan. Greek Cypriots thus voted against it by a wide margin, while Turkish Cypriots voted in its favour.

Greek Cypriots objected that the plan would allow Ankara a continued military presence on the island while imposing restrictions on Greek Cypriots wishing to return to their properties in the north. Many objected that, if the plan had been approved, they would be able to move to and buy property anywhere in the EU – but not in north Cyprus.

As I followed the news reports surrounding the Annan Plan and its rejection, I couldn’t help thinking back to Canada’s own failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords more than a decade ago. Wholesale constitutional reform is difficult to sell to voters in the best of circumstances, at least partly because they believe they are being asked to render a verdict on the merits and flaws of a document. In fact, they are usually being asked simply to ratify the fact that their leaders have reached agreement, period.

In the case of Cyprus, it might have been better if Greek Cypriots had voted to remove the barbed wire and adopt a not altogether equitable political arrangement, while working for intercommunal reconciliation and an eventual softening of its harsh edges. Too often in the past Greek Cypriots have made nonnegotiable demands and have wound up with worse. Their leaders have been less than adept at understanding politics as the art of compromise.

An agreement to end the island’s division could still come about. But both UN and EU officials are disinclined to put further effort into something with so little payoff. In the meantime, Cypriots themselves must seize every opportunity to cultivate better relations between the two communities on the ground, while hoping for a better day.

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Living in a smaller country

In recent months I have been back to the States more often than I normally would be in the same amount of time. Each time I am there I am freshly impressed with how much larger the US is than Canada. Although I was born and grew up in the US, I've become accustomed to living in a country with a much smaller population. Much of the US east of the Mississippi River is covered with huge stretches of populated territory each of which is often known to demographers as a megalopolis. Although originally coined to describe the region from Boston to Washington, DC, it has also been used to cover the Chicago to Pittsburgh region, as well as the west coast stretch from San Francisco to San Diego. In these three megalopoleis settlement is more or less continuous.

By contrast, the entire province of Ontario has a population comparable to the Chicago metropolitan area. Southern Ontario has by far the largest concentration of people in the whole of Canada. Yet even here open spaces abound. From our home in Hamilton we can drive some five or ten minutes and we are downtown in a bustling urban environment. In another direction the same amount of time will bring us to farm land. In yet another direction we can quickly arrive at forested parkland and waterfalls. In half an hour we are at the beach. I have come to value this sheer diversity of landscapes all the more for not having grown up with it.


Hamilton Naturalists' Club

Webster's Falls, Hamilton, Ontario

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02 June 2004



Another issue of Comment has hit the stands. Here are the contents of the June issue: "Lawless Prophet: James Howard Kunstler and the New Urbanist Critique of American Sprawl," by Eric Jacobsen; "A New Ethos of Craft and Beauty?" by Dave Bruce Hegeman; "Christians and Political Responsibility," by Mark Cameron; "Commercialization and the Death of Singing," by David T. Koyzis; "Life's Big Questions: Who Am I?" by Shiao Chong; "The Value of Values-Talk," by Ray Pennings; "When A Deal Isn't a Deal: An Historical Bargain Broken," by Ed Bosveld.

Don't stay up too late reading.

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"Life is religion"

The late H. Evan Runner, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, is supposed to have coined the above-quoted aphorism, but the insight is not limited to this side of the Reformation. Here is Guzmán Carriquiry, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, who would appear to agree:

"The encounter with the Lord changes life, changes all the dimensions of life, despite our resistances and sins," he said.

"The encounter with Christ changes our relations with our spouse, with our children, the way of approaching our professional work, our leisure, the use of money, friendships. This encounter changes our lives, makes them more human," the undersecretary said.

"To reduce this experience to the private sphere is to put impossible limits on the grace of God, which changes life and the way of looking at reality, which commits us to live in all directions, which gives us a particular view of society, politics, culture and profession," he observed.

"Nothing of what is human can be foreign to that encounter with the Lord; consequently, those who wish to reduce it to churches and sacristies or to convert it into a social residue, are mistaken," Carriquiry contended. . . .

"We need to form a new generation that lives holiness in all the dimensions of life. . . ."

Here is a man who seems bent on displacing David L. Schindler as my favourite Catholic theologian.

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01 June 2004

Long overdue reform

At long last Ontario is instituting fixed election dates, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced today. It's about time. We next go to the polls on 4 October 2007. Now if only we could get the federal government to adopt this reform as well.

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Controversial television programme

This evening Prom Queen: The Marc Hall Story airs on CTV. In our lopsided rights-oriented culture, ancient religious communities attempting to uphold standards of personal behaviour are almost always portrayed as oppressive, and anyone challenging them, whatever the motive, becomes heroic. That the ensuing legal case wound up with an Ontario court dangerously presuming to pronounce on what is and is not Catholic doctrine does not enter the picture. Good guy against bad system. Simple story. However, not everyone is enthusiastic about the show.

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Kuyper at Wheaton

A google image search for "Abraham Kuyper" brings up as the tenth image a photograph of Vincent Bacote. Google appears to think that Bacote is Abraham Kuyper.

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