31 May 2005

'Well, nobody's perfect.'

If the federal government has its way with Bill C-38, might the humour in this dialogue between Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Billy Wilder's classic Some Like It Hot be lost on a future generation of Canadians?
An odd provision

The drama over Patriarch Irineos' inconclusive ouster from the patriarchal see of Jerusalem continues, as the church's Holy Synod names an interim replacement. The AP report states something that would strike most westerners as bizarre:

Legally, though, church leaders cannot dismiss [Irineos]: Only the governments in areas where his congregation lives -- Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority -- have the power to do that, by withdrawing recognition of him.

Is this really provided for in the Orthodox Church's canon law? Does political authority really trump ecclesiastical authority on such a matter? If so, one wonders whether this is a holdover from Ottoman and Byzantine practice.

30 May 2005

Categorical imperiousness

The following conversation may or may not have been overheard in an ethics class in East Prussia near the end of the 18th century:

Exasperated professor: "You have a duty to be morally autonomous."
Inquisitive student: "Why?"
"Because it’s a mark of mature adulthood."
"Because it just is."
"Because I say so."
Hey, where'd it go?

Perhaps this is the equivalent of our waking up one morning and finding Lake Ontario gone: "Lake disappears, baffling villagers."
Constitutional change and mass democracy

In the wake of yesterday's definitive repudiation of the new European constitution by French voters, the fate of the document is now in doubt. According to this report, "French voters stunned President Jacques Chirac and the continent's political elite." Really? Stunned? In fact, this was a fairly predictable result, as I have been saying for some time.

29 May 2005

Dead in the water?

Is the new European Constitution finished? Might the European Union itself be put in crisis by France's rejection of the document? We shall see.
An anniversary

I wonder whether I am the only Reformed Christian to remember this tragic anniversary every year. Certainly the Orthodox can never forget it.

28 May 2005

A graduation reflection

Today we witnessed the graduation of the class of 2005 at Redeemer. This was the 20th graduation and the 18th graduation of which I have been part. I am sure I am not the only one of my colleagues to find such occasions rather poignant, as they are times of saying farewell to young people in whom we have invested so much of our energies over four or five years. I myself tend to become (perhaps excessively) fond of my own students, and I still do not find it emotionally easy to let them go, even if the time is right for them to move on. Over the years God has seen fit to grant me the privilege of shaping some extraordinary young people. At the end of the day I cannot say whether they or I have benefitted more from these relationships. Perhaps both.

One of these remarkable young persons, Rob Joustra, has written yet another testimony as to how his experience at Redeemer shaped him over the course of four years. Rather than content myself merely to link to his thoughts, I here reproduce them in their entirety:

Redeemer University's annual commencement ceremony is set for this Saturday, May 28. Commencement has always had a peculiar flavour, in its mixture and tension of emotion. It is, absolutely, a time of celebration. But for those of us for whom our time at Redeemer has been a seminal, life-altering experience, it is also a justifiable time of lamentation. This time will not come again, and it's right at the close of it all to spend some time in meditation on what it has meant.

One of the things that Redeemer and its community has taught me is a radical redefinition of education and truth. Entering Redeemer I was no academic, or even budding intellectual, but all the same I possessed all the pride of one who could have been. I craved long CV's, complex arguments, and impressive displays of academic prowess. Intellect was power: the ability to manipulate in conversation, in definition and imposition. Education was elite. It drew me apart from the person on the street, and made me feel better than my other when I was reduced to conversing with my fellow man. Education was my ticket away from mediocrity. The truth of Christ already embettered me, gave me enlightenment over my secular compatriot, and Christian education could only further that gap. Education even gave me an edge over my brothers and sisters in other traditions. While it was true I would admit to their influence, and incredible gifts, only I could be in a position to truly suture and discern their tradition. I expected to graduate Redeemer with a shiny new gavel firmly in hand.

I was deep in prayer with a wonderful Pentecostal friend of mine this past week when we were struck with a new radical vision. To our collective surprise, we prayed that Christ would grant us towels in our Commencement, not gavels. Suddenly the journey of understanding of education burst open. We had this picture of being handed our diplomas, and of our diplomas being towels that we must wrap around our waists and use to wash feet. How many pieces of paper like that are just gavels, pieces of judgement, of elitism and pride? Contra the world, we graduate to service, not comfort. We graduate to compassion, love, and mercy, not judgement, condemnation and elitism. Jean Vanier writes of this truth we have pressed for in his Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John:

Even though truth makes us free, we never possess it.
We are called humbly to contemplate the truth that is given to us,
to search unceasingly in order to be drawn into truth,
to let ourselves be led, in the company of others,
into the unfolding mystery of truth,
to be possessed by truth and to serve truth.

To live truth is to live a relationship of love
with the Word of God made flesh,
who is truth, compassion and forgiveness.
To be true is to let oneself be challenged by others
and to accept all the brokeness in us.
The truth, then, is not something to make us feel superior.
On the contrary, it calls us into humility, to littleness
and to the light of love.

All the light in us comes from light of the Word of God.
The light of truth, then, is a gentle marriage
of what we see and experience,
with what we have received from above and the Word of God,
each one enlightening the other, each one calling us to live in God
and to see things through the loving eyes and loving heart of God.

May the towels we have prepared to receive this Saturday be worthy for such a task...

Incidentally, Mr. Joustra managed to win the coveted Faculty Award, thus making him the second of my protégés to do so in as many years. Congratulations! It seems our department is on a roll. Just wait until next year.

27 May 2005

Coming to a riding association near you

The Globe and Mail is sitting up and taking notice: "Christian activists capturing Tory races." One hopes that The Globe's motive for publishing this report and Gloria Galloway's reason for writing it is not to advocate the imposition of a religious test on candidates for public office.
Doctorate conferred

In February one of my esteemed protégés, Paul A. Brink, successfully defended his dissertation, "The Idea of a Pluralist Politics: Pluralism and Consensus in John Rawls's Political Liberalism," at the University of Notre Dame, thereby earning the degree of doctor of philosophy. This past weekend Dr. Brink received the diploma recognizing this achievement at Notre Dame's annual commencement exercises.

Dr. Brink, with son Jesse

Paul graduated from Redeemer in 1993 with a degree in political science. From there he attended Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he received a master's degree in the subject. And then on to Notre Dame, where he focussed on the subfield of political theory. (Funny, but his academic garb looks vaguely familiar.) Congratulations, Paul! We're all very proud of you, and certainly no one is more so than I myself.

26 May 2005

The decline and persistence of faith

Sociologist Steve Bruce of the University of Aberdeen asks of his own Scotland, "Is Christianity facing a slow, inevitable death?" Here he charts the decline of adherence to the national Church of Scotland, and even to the Catholic Church and the smaller free churches, over the course of 150 years. Concludes Bruce:

People do not accidentally become religious. Being a Christian is not "natural"; it is an acquired characteristic. Like a language, it must be learned and, if it is not used in the home, in everyday conversation and in public life, it dies out. As the population that speaks a minority tongue shrinks, decline does not slow; it becomes faster. There is no natural obstacle to the death of a language. I do not see why the fate of a religion should be different.

The analogy to language can be taken further than Bruce himself recognizes. Individual languages may indeed die out, as he correctly notes. Think of the fate of Cornish or old Prussian. But the human capacity for language itself does not. Even if, say, Occitan dies out, the descendants of its speakers simply take on French as their primary means of communication. Similarly the decline of Christianity does not mean the decline of faith; rather it means the taking on of another faith -- perhaps a secular one based on a closed view of the cosmos and bereft of a personal deity. But it is a faith all the same.

25 May 2005

Site redesigned

Belinda Stronach's website has finally been refurbished. No Tory blue in the background. Just a waving flag with the parliament buildings behind. Stronach's photograph looks the same — taken, of course, before her defection.
Meanwhile in Newfoundland. . .

. . . the Liberals have held on to Labrador, thereby increasing their slender hold on the reins of power in Ottawa. No more confidence votes in the Commons for now, it seems.
The US President: kingly and prime-ministerial duties

Several years ago I received a phone call from the office of a member of parliament representing the old Reform Party. His assistant let me know that he would be at Redeemer on such and such a date, and would I like him to speak to my class. I immediately declined the offer, indicating that we were behind in the material to be covered and couldn't spare the hour. What I did not tell her was that I was reluctant to see my class turned into a partisan political platform by someone who would shortly be seeking re-election. One of my colleagues did indeed take up the offer, so I sat in on his class to see what happened. Sure enough, as I had feared, the MP had little of substance to say and he did indeed manage to turn his "lecture" into a campaign speech. My colleague later told me he had regretted turning valuable class time over to him.

I had this episode in the back of my mind when I heard the news that President Bush was to speak at Calvin College's commencement ceremony. I was not surprised to hear that many faculty and students objected to his presence, given that a partisan political leader inevitably carries with him the lingering scent of the controversies he and his policies may have stirred up in the course of his time in office. By hosting such a leader, the institution could be perceived to be approving such policies as well as the person behind them. I will not here comment on the substance of Bush's agenda or on the concerns of the faculty who took out the newspaper advertisement in advance of the President's visit. However, I think it worth noting that the American constitution prescribes a presidency which must inevitably unite in a single office what might be called kingly and prime-ministerial duties.

Here in Canada last week we saw a good deal of excitement in the House of Commons as a sitting government was very nearly defeated on a motion of nonconfidence. Two days earlier we saw a dramatic defection to the government front benches, and the animosities that this stirred up on the opposition side of the chamber. Meanwhile, the Queen touched down out west for her tour of Saskatchewan and Alberta, to celebrate one-hundred years since these provinces entered confederation. As head of state, the Queen stays above partisan politics, as (ostensibly) do her representatives, the governor general and the ten lieutenant governors. Thus she could remain blithely undisturbed by the events going on thousands of miles away in Ottawa, continuing to carry out her responsibilities as the chief symbol of the unity of the nation. Any university would be honoured to have the Queen at its commencement. Paul Martin, on the other hand, would be a different matter.

South of the border, however, head of state and head of government are combined in the single office of president. This means that, whenever a president undertakes a duty appropriate for a supra-partisan head of state, he inevitably runs the risk of being perceived as a mere prime minister, caught up in all the divisiveness of the day-to-day partisan political process. This is undoubtedly how many of the Calvin faculty perceived Bush's participation in last saturday's graduation exercises. Now I feel comfortable in the judgement that Bush gave a quite good speech -- a "kingly" speech really -- appealing to the students' youthful ideals and urging them on to service of God and their fellow human beings. Nothing was said about stem cell research, judicial nominations or Iraq. Moreover, his mention of Abraham Kuyper was a good example of knowing an audience and appealing to something to which they can easily relate. Bush, in my estimation, successfully left his prime-ministerial role behind and spoke in his kingly role.

Yet because a president must be both king and prime minister, sorting out the responsibilities of each and trying to maintain an effective separation between the two are not easy things to do. Presidents rarely make good kings and good prime ministers at the same time. They usually excel at one or the other, and they frequently excel at neither. They hardly ever do well at both. Did the Calvin faculty fail to honour duly constituted authority, as Chuck Colson charges in today's Breakpoint commentary? Given that I am currently writing a monograph on authority, this question is of particular interest to me. In response, I will only say that I would not go that far, as the protest against the actions of someone holding a particular authoritative office need hardly be understood as a denial of the authority of the office itself. However, it seems to me that the events last weekend in Grand Rapids, Michigan, illustrate at the very least the inevitable conflict of roles that comes with an office combining the functions of head of state and head of government in the same person.

24 May 2005

Europe's constitution: back to square one?

If Ipsos is correct that French Voters Would Reject European Constitution, then a lot of effort will have been wasted on a document that will join Canada's Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords in the dustbin of constitutional histories.
Goals in tension?

"Catholic church launches recruitment drive for priesthood." Given priestly celibacy, one wonders whether this campaign might not conflict with the church's efforts to stem Europe's demographic decline and to bring the birthrate back up above replacement level. Or is that too protestant a question?

23 May 2005

Unfair discrimination?

This is from an article in The Scotsman: "Atheist teacher at Catholic school was 'second-class citizen'." One wonders why Mr. MacNab finds it so outrageous that a Catholic school should prefer a Catholic to an atheist for the position of principal teacher of pastoral care. Would he think it amiss that an atheists' society would pass over a professing Catholic in filling one of its own leadership posts?
Two years of freer travel

The final sentence in Carol Pucci's "Postcard from Europe: Nicosia, Cyprus" is misleading. Travel between the two sides of the divided island was eased just over two years ago, in April 2003 — slightly more than a year before entry into the European Union, and a day or two after I began this blog.
On this date in history . . .

. . . two-hundred years ago the Emperor Napoleon established the world's first lost and found office.
Just a question


Have Canadians lost sight of the true meaning of Victoria Day?

22 May 2005

Europe's future: Ukrainians to the rescue?

Could the beginnings of Pope Benedict's spiritual renewal of Europe be seen in Viktor Yushchenko's Ukraine? Here is some intriguing evidence of this possibility: "Ukraine President Transforming Country into a Nation of God."
Trinity Sunday

Holy Trinity Orthodox Church

21 May 2005

The Russian Orthodox on abortion, RACU

Russian Orthodox Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov has spoken out against abortion, which is contributing to the demographic collapse of his country. As the major form of "birth control", abortion ends the lives of some 4 to 6 million unborn children annually in Russia.

In the meantime not all Russians are happy with the presence in Moscow of the Russian-American Christian University (RACU). Although it was the Russian Minister of Education who suggested the building of a christian liberal arts university back in 1990, and although its faculty includes Christians of several traditions, including Russian Orthodox, some Orthodox fear "an encroachment of foreign faiths and branches of Christianity into the area." Last tuesday saw protests against the construction of the new RACU campus. The president of RACU, John Bernbaum, was formerly the head of the CCCU's American Studies Program and spoke at Redeemer's graduation exercises back in 1991. If Bernbaum and company can manage to allay the fears of local Orthodox Christians, RACU could become a significant force for the revitalization of Christianity within Russia. It might even help to stem the country's demographic collapse. Definitely something to pray for.
The budget vote: two days later

Paul Martin's government may have survived a crucial confidence vote in the Commons, but his composite Liberal-NDP budget is not yet home free and clear. Thursday's vote simply gave it second reading, after which it now goes to committee. Given that we have a minority government, the committee could alter the budget in any number of ways before reporting back to the Commons for third reading. If the Conservatives manage to win a by-election in Labrador this week, this could embolden them to pursue another motion of no confidence. On the other hand, many Conservatives are expressing relief that there will be no election in the near future, because the public opinion polls have put them behind the Liberals in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

20 May 2005

A 'fanatical moderate'? Maybe not

Several years ago I began calling myself — somewhat tongue-in-cheek, to be sure — a fanatical moderate. Not knowing whether my use of this term was unique, I did a quick Google search and found something written last year by Andrew Coyne (we're hearing a lot from him these days) about the Right Honorable Charles Joseph Clark, Canada's most eminent unsuccessful statesman (and founding leader of the stillborn Bloc clarkois), and Senator Lowell Murray, both stalwarts of the old Progressive Conservative Party and sometimes known as Red Tories. Writes Coyne:

Messrs Clark and Murray are examples of that uniquely Canadian type, the fanatical moderate (Robert Fulford's term, I believe), for whom the answer to every question is to take the middle path, regardless of whether a) there is a middle path, b) there is anything to recommend the middle path as policy, or c) today's middle path is likely to remain in the middle for long. In their vanity and illusions, their bitterness and vivid self-importance, they are the direct descendants of the Bourbons, who famously had "learned nothing and forgotten nothing."

The Liberals at least make no bones about the opportunism that underlies their lack of principle. But only the Red Tories could make lack of principle into a principle.

Hmmm. Given that this is a less than wholly flattering portrait, perhaps I should consider finding another, more appropriate political label to wear. Maybe I'll just have to go with christian democrat or neocalvinist.
The aftermath

The day after last evening's historic cliff-hanger budget vote, the Prime Minister is urging "co-operation over conflict." It looks like we're in for our first winter election in 26 years.
New Cyprus talks?

In some ways this is old news: "UN aide to assess prospects for new Cyprus talks." Or at least we've read the same headline time and again in the past. Is it perhaps time for the European Union, and not the United Nations, to be spearheading such talks? Previous UN efforts have gone nowhere, primarily, I am inclined to think, because the world body has no real power to extend incentives for both sides to co-operate. The EU, which is a more exclusive body placing conditions on membership, does have this. It might thus be in a better position to push for a lasting settlement and reunification of the island state.

19 May 2005

Calvin contra Bush

It seems that not everyone at Calvin College is happy with President Bush as commencement speaker. According to Julia Duin's report in The Washington Times:

In a 2001 poll, 25 percent of Calvin's faculty described themselves as politically liberal, according to the college. Forty-five percent considered themselves centrist, and 28 percent said they were political conservatives.

What? No fanatical moderates?
A near death experience . . .

. . . but the government survives, with House Speaker Peter Milliken following parliamentary convention and casting a rare tie-breaking vote. The drama is over — for now, at least.
Drumroll please . . .

. . . as we await this evening's budget vote.
Did you know . . .

. . . that 41 percent of the world's monarchies recognize Queen Elizabeth II as head of state? Let's hope she enjoys her visit to the Prairie Provinces during a time of heightened political instability in her chief North American realm.

18 May 2005

Coyne's conundrum

So how many of these 1,014 comments on his blog does Andrew Coyne actually read?
BC referendum

Will electoral reform be coming to British Columbia? Yesterday, in addition to returning Premier Gordon Campbell's government to power, BC residents voted in a referendum on adopting the single-transferable-vote, a form of proportional representation recommended by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. At last count, the voters favoured this reform by slightly more than 57 percent. However, the rules adopted in advance indicate that the measure must pass by at least 60 percent of voters and by a simple majority in at least 60 percent of the ridings to be considered to have won the day. STV exceeded the latter stipulation but fell short of the former. However, Fair Vote Canada and Fair Voting BC are arguing that, because 60 percent is an unrealistic hurdle, the BC government should consider adopting electoral reform anyway. Premier Campbell has expressed openness to this.
The reverberations continue

Stronach's website now has a new link to her statement made at yesterday's press conference. Are some of her critics guilty of sexism? So says the Liberal Women's Caucus. Nonsense, says Christie Blatchford. Of course, we all know what poor Peter MacKay thinks. Thanks to Eric Hogeterp for locating a cached copy of Stronach's critique of Martin's budget not too many months ago. We are clearly dealing with a woman of unbending principle.

And here's a view from across the pond: "Exciting Canada." The Telegraph is predicting a Conservative win, if not this year, then next. Now who was it that said that Canada is a boring country?
The fallout

Belinda Stronach's website still shows a Tory blue background, but there are no links of substance. One assumes this will be changing shortly. In the meantime, the Conservatives have altered their strategy: they will vote for Martin's budget, but against the NDP's amendments.

As for this story, I have no comment: "Queen Defects to Liberals."

17 May 2005

A high profile defection

Well, this is a bizarre development: "Conservative Stronach joins Liberals." And so soon before the Queen's arrival in Saskatchewan. Perhaps we won't be going to the polls after all.


The happy couple

What on earth is this all about?

16 May 2005

Orthodoxy, the Palestinians and Rome

Does the recent deposition of Patriarch Irineos represent the 'Palestinianization' of the Orthodox Church in Israel and the Occupied Territories? So argues Moshe Elad of Haaretz. In the meantime envoys of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are planning to renew efforts to heal the nearly 1,000-year-old schism between the two communions. What would a reunited Catholic-Orthodox Church look like? What would happen to papal primacy, the filioque, purgatory, the immaculate conception, and other divisive issues?
Irresponsible journalism

BBC reports: "Koran abuse report 'may be wrong'." What, I wonder, is the proper penalty for a popular magazine whose careless reporting leads to the deaths of at least 15 people and the injury of more than 100? A mere apology hardly seems enough.

14 May 2005

Deal-making in Parliament

David Warren writes for the Ottawa Citizen on the current antics in the House of Commons and the shamelessness of a government clinging to power in the face of more than one obvious defeat in the Commons. Warren points out the danger of the Governor General "appearing a Liberal Party stooge if she does not herself order a dissolution of Parliament." He thus appears to agree with my assessment two days ago of the drawbacks of having a homegrown representative of the Queen insufficiently removed from domestic partisanship.

However, I cannot follow Warren's analysis in its entirety. I agree with Warren that Paul Martin is defying the constitution by delaying a confidence vote until one of the opposition members is in surgery and thus away from the Hill. But when I come to the following statement, I stop short:

The opposition NDP has already been bought off, publicly; and shamefully, but again, they do not know shame.

The expression bought off is tendentious in the extreme. If this country, following the recommendation of the Law Commission of Canada, were to adopt some form of proportional representation, all parties would likely become minority parties, with multiparty coalition governments becoming necessary. The sorts of political trade-offs called for by such governments might appear to some observers to entail the parties "buying each other off." Yet they would simply be engaging in the ordinary give-and-take of political life which currently occurs within the parties. The only difference is that such trade-offs would now be taking place among the party leaders within the context of a multiparty government. Call it what you like, but I do not see this as such a bad thing. In fact, I believe it might actually be a step in the right direction, as the parties themselves under such an arrangement would be more likely to stand on principle than to be pragmatic bodies attempting to be all things to all people.
An anniversary

As of today, the love of my life and I have been married for nine years. According to convention, the 9th anniversary is the china anniversary. Are we the only couple to look back at our wedding photographs and notice how ridiculously young we looked? Undoubtedly not. But nine years is not a long time.

By the way, remind me sometime and I'll tell you about our two wedding ceremonies. And how US Immigration nearly didn't let me into the country for the second. It's a long story. . . .

13 May 2005

The Governor General's reserve powers

Andrew Coyne points his readers to a discussion of the Governor General's reserve powers at ThePolitic.com. The powers most relevant to the current crisis are as follows:

“power to dismiss a prime minister who attempts to govern without the confidence of the House of Commons.” This power prevents a PM from clinging to office when under the rules of responsible government he must resign or ask for elections.


power to dissolve parliament and call elections. “This is another case where Governors General normally follow whatever advice is given them by their prime minister. Yet there have been occasions when the GG has refused such advice. In 1926, PM Mackenzie King, realizing that his minority government was about ot be defeated on a motion censuring the government for corruption [does anything change? -ed.], asked the Governor General, Lord Byng, to dissolve parliament and call new elections. Byng refused, and instead called upon Arthur Meighen, the Conservative leader, to form a new ministry” [Patrick Malcomson and Richard Myers, The Canadian Regime, pp. 113-114].

Clearly the Governor General could act, if she deemed it constitutionally necessary to do so. But my admittedly fallible prediction is that she will not.

12 May 2005

Why Clarkson will not intervene

Russ Kuykendall outlines the delaying measures Paul Martin's government has taken to avoid a formal confidence vote. On two occasions in the past the Governor General, as the Monarch's representative, intervened — or simply declined to follow instructions — to guarantee the constitutional principle of responsible government. These were in 1896 and 1926. Much more recently, in 1975, the Australian Governor General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Prime Minister Edward Gough Whitlam's Labour government over a budget deadlock.

My guess is that we will not be seeing Canada's Governor General, Mme Adrienne Clarkson, intervene in the current crisis. Why? At one time our governors general were appointed by London and were usually British nobles or even members of the royal family. They were, in short, neutral outsiders who could convincingly claim to be above the partisan politics of the country to which they were assigned.

Since 1952, however, our governors general have been Canadian born or, in Clarkson's case, longtime residents. They are effectively appointed by a sitting Canadian prime minister, even if the appointment is officially extended by the Queen. This means they usually have ties to the governing party. Clarkson was appointed by Martin's predecessor, Jean Chrétien. One could argue that the governor general's office has evolved over the years into a less-than-effective constitutional check on the government of the day. Thus we are unlikely to see Her Excellency take action in the present crisis.

Madame Adrienne Clarkson

Later: Alexander Panetta reports that Mme Clarkson is indeed paying close attention to the current political chaos in Ottawa. From Panetta's report:

A senior government official said the prime minister won't be taking any direction from Clarkson. "The Governor General receives advice from her first minister. She doesn't tender it," the official said.

Not so, says Andrew Coyne:

Both [Panetta's] story and the "senior government official" are wrong. The Governor General most certainly has the right to advise her first minister. As [Walter] Bagehot famously put it, under the British constitution (of which we are the inheritors) the sovereign has three rights: "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn." Ordinarily, it is true, the prime minister is not bound to follow her advice, but that is a different statement.

And while it is also ordinarily true that she is bound to take his, that is not true of one matter in particular: who should be her first minister. If the Governor General is of the opinion that the current prime minister does not command the confidence of the House of Commons, she has the absolute right to dismiss him and to call upon someone else, or to dissolve Parliament and call new elections. It is not the prime minister, acting on the Governor General's advice, who dissolves Parliament: it is the Governor General, usually on the prime minister's advice but not always. Byng's refusal of King's request for dissolution was entirely correct in law, even if it later provided King with a campaign issue.

The Governor General will naturally be inclined to give the prime minister every benefit of the doubt. So long as she is assured he will do the constitutional thing and seek the confidence of the House at the first opportunity — as he is obliged to do, if not to resign outright, after a defeat such as the government suffered on Tuesday — she need not immediately dismiss him. But he is already in dereliction of that duty, as the Opposition have been reminding us, and every day he delays only makes matters worse. At present we have no government, at least not one whose right to govern is broadly recognized, and yet the prime minister proposes we should remain in this state of constitutional limbo for another week, with no guarantees that the situtation will be resolved even then. That must be of concern to Her Excellency, and if the prime minister does not relent — Harper has lately proposed Monday as a compromise date — will demand her intervention.

11 May 2005

The Encyclopedia of Chicago

Having lived in Canada for two decades, I can testify that Americans rather easily assimilate into this country, due to the considerable cultural similarities between the two countries, including (for the most part) a common language. If there were such a thing as an ex-pat American club in Toronto, I would not join, as I do not see myself having much in common with people from, say, New York, California or Texas.

However, if there were a Chicago club in our vicinity, I would seriously think of joining. After all, I was born just outside the "Windy City" in Oak Park, Illinois, home of such luminaries as Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway, and grew up in Wheaton, 25 miles west of the Loop, as the downtown core is popularly known. Like General Robert E. Lee of Virginia or Québécois nationalists (with whom I otherwise disagree politically), I can identify more easily with the local homeland of my birth than with the United States as a whole, which to me feels somewhat abstract.

For those of us with roots in Chicagoland, the University of Chicago Press has published a massive one-volume Encyclopedia of Chicago, which I just received as a gift from my exceedingly thoughtful sister-in-law and her husband, residents of one of the western suburbs of the great metropolis. It is the product of a co-operative effort between the Chicago Historical Society and the Newberry Library, and is edited by James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating and Janice L. Reiff.

It contains more than a thousand pages of entries covering everything from the city's individual neighbourhoods to virtually every one of the hundreds of suburbs in the ten-county region comprising the Chicago metropolitan area. There is an index of prominent persons in Chicago's history, as well as one listing the major economic enterprises operating in the vicinity, from the long gone Elgin National Watch Company to Marshall Field and Company, until recently the region's major department store chain. Favourite television programmes, such as Garfield Goose and Friends and Bozo's Circus, have entries. The area's colleges and universities also have their own entries, including Wheaton College and, of course, the University of Chicago. Then there are the maps, which are a treat for the cartophile. And of course no book about Chicago would be complete without material devoted to its colourful political and criminal history as well as to its rail transportation.

I have located only a few errors of fact thus far, e.g., Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum was published in 1891, not 1893. (This is in the entry on Roman Catholics.) My principal criticism is that some items are classified under titles that wouldn't immediately come to mind. For example, in looking for an article on Chicago neighbourhoods, I found them classified under community areas. All the same, the book is a pleasure to peruse — at least for those of us with origins there.

As of today the Encyclopedia of Chicago has gone on-line. Its website is a little clunky and appears still to be under construction. The search function in particular seems not to have been enabled. Once it is fully operational, however, it will likely prove to be an invaluable resource for those interested in the past and present of America's second city. We owe a debt of gratitude to the many people who devoted such loving attention to this volume and its associated website.

10 May 2005

Now what?

"House passes motion calling on Liberals to resign." So is this or is this not a motion of nonconfidence? Is the government's intention to stay on constitutionally defensible? Or are we now in a full-fledged constitutional crisis? Might Governor General Adrienne Clarkson step in, take the initiative and dismiss the government? Stay tuned.
Le Pape Benoit et l'Église réformée

Pope Benedict sent a conciliatory message to the Reformed Church of France meeting in synod at Aix-en-Provence at the weekend. He thus continues his predecessor's efforts to reach out to those Christians not in communion with Rome. The publication five years ago of Dominus Iesus, which Cardinal Ratzinger authored, disappointed many protestants for its assertion that their churches were deficient and "not Churches in the proper sense." Yet Benedict saw fit to address the Reformed Church as a church and not merely as an ecclesial community.

Although this may mark a change in tone from his former position as doctrinal watchdog to the papal office, I myself doubt that Dominus Iesus was ever intended to cut off ecumenical dialogue. It was simply stating what Ratzinger believed in good faith to be the Catholic position. Ecumenical conversations between those softening their respective churches' confessional positions in the interest of institutional compromise will likely bear no lasting fruit if not rooted in a common search for truth. I suspect Benedict understands this and may thus be in a better position than his critics to pursue a genuine ecumenism.

Later: For a Reformed assessment of Benedict, based on his writings, see Michael S. Horton, "What Can Protestants Expect From The New Pope?"

09 May 2005

Weigel on the trouble with Europe

Although I've not yet seen it, this looks like an intriguing book: The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God, by George Weigel, best known for his official biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope. His thesis in this new book is summarized in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times: "The Spiritual Malaise That Haunts Europe." Writes Weigel:

Europe is depopulating itself in numbers greater than at any time since the Black Death of the 14th century. When an entire continent, healthier, wealthier and more secure than ever before, fails to create the human future in the most elemental sense — by creating the next generation — something serious is afoot.

Some analysts have tried to explain this extraordinary phenomenon economically (the cost of children), others sociologically (changing social attitudes), still others ideologically (the rise of feminism). Each explanation contains an important grain of truth. But I am convinced that Europe's demographic meltdown is best analyzed in the realm of the human spirit, and that it is directly related to European high culture's abandonment of biblical religion.

To be sure, Weigel's thesis is not without flaws. Most basically, his apparent identification of the cultural and the spiritual — admittedly read out of the context of the larger book — raises the dark spectre of historicism, something Weigel would almost certainly not intend. One assumes he must mean that human culture is rooted in basic spiritual commitments and not vice versa. Moreover, if Europe's demographic decline is causally related to its abandonment of biblical religion, what of those parts of the world, such as India, which have never known biblical religion in large numbers and yet are still increasing in population?

On the other hand, could there be something especially deadly at work in a society which once knew the truth and has wilfully repudiated it? Given my own work on ideologies, which I am persuaded are modern manifestations of idolatry, I am inclined to think Weigel is on to something here. I will reserve further judgement until I see the book itself.

Basic Books

Before leaving this topic, however, it is worth noting that the new Pope is committed to the spiritual renewal of Europe, which is why he took the name of St. Benedict, the Patron of Europe. Believing Christians, whether Catholic or not, can only wish him well in this endeavour and offer prayers on his behalf.
St. Malachy's 'prophecies'

Did the 12th-century Irish abbot, St. Malachy, predict that Benedict XVI would be the last-but-one pope? Some think so.

08 May 2005

Another ecclesiastical vacancy

Yet another patriarchal see has fallen vacant, as the Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem has dismissed Patriarch Irineos over a series of controversial land sales in the old city of Jerusalem. Will the world be paying the same attention to the filling of this position as it did last month to the election of the new Pope? Not likely.

07 May 2005

Meeting the PM

One of our graduating students, the extracurricular Mr. Dan Postma, had the opportunity to shake hands with Paul Martin yesterday. I myself was privileged to meet and shake hands with Prime Minister Joe Clark in the parliamentary dining room in Ottawa back in December 1979. He was all of 38 years old at the time, and I was 24. Exactly eight days later Clark's government fell on a vote of nonconfidence in the Commons. I claim no credit.
Warfare as metaphor

In North America we have become increasingly accustomed to the use of war metaphors in a variety of contexts where they can hardly be taken literally. Four decades ago US President Lyndon Johnson launched a war on poverty. A decade and a half ago the notion of culture wars came into the language, primarily through the writings of James Davison Hunter. In the latest Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice, James W. Skillen argues that such language is singularly unhelpful, especially as it applies to the current conflict in the Senate over President Bush's judicial nominees. Writes Skillen:

The spectacle of Republicans and Democrats ratcheting up the conflict in the Senate is a sorry sight. But those who object to current judicial, congressional, or presidential judgments should not respond as if this is the end of the world and that war is now justified. Regardless of who wins the current Senate fight over judicial appointments if a compromise is not reached, it will not be the end of the world and it need not be the end of the Senate and the courts.

What is needed today is for citizens and public officials alike to realize that justice cannot be done without functioning government institutions. Those who don't like current decisions should gear up for long-term public service to change policies and decision makers, while showing respect for public offices. Dishonoring government may bring about something far worse than a few bad appointments.

Is it possible that even the war on terrorism represents an abuse of the war metaphor? Skillen believes this is so and makes a case for this in his recent book, With or Against the World?:

My hypothesis is that the international effort since 9/11 to mount a cooperative international police and intelligence campaign to stop terrorism is not war and that the Bush administration and the media should never have called it war. The campaign to track down and stop international criminals of the Al Qaeda type may require some revision of laws governing domestic security and intelligence gathering, including a revision of laws governing immigration and travel. But the Bush administration has not made the case that the fight to stop international terrorism must be a war effort rather than a cooperative international police and intelligence campaign conducted in accord with domestic and international laws of criminal behavior and punishment. This is not to say that American military intervention in another country can never be justified on just war grounds. American military responses to the collusion of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and to Iraq'a invasion of Kuwait in 1990 could be so justified. For every goernment and alliance of states has a right to defend itself against attack. But terrorist networks like the ones that launched the 9/11 attackes will be stopped, punished, and eliminated only if many legitimate governments adequately police their own territories and cooperate with one another both within and beyond their territories to capture and punish such conspirators. This is different from governments fighting wars against other governments by military means (p. 6).

This is good reason for governments not to jump too quickly to the use of war metaphors when others are evidently more appropriate to the circumstances.

04 May 2005

The Pope on the Psalms

Pope Benedict XVI, following the example of his predecessor, is undertaking to deliver brief homilies on the Psalms on a regular basis. Today he spoke on Psalm 121, numbered 120 in the Septuagint and Vulgate.

03 May 2005

Canada and the liberation of the Netherlands

Every year around this time, but especially on decennial anniversaries, we hear about how, in the final weeks of the Second World War, Canadian troops liberated the Netherlands following five horrible years of nazi German occupation. Today marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation, and a suitable ceremony was conducted to mark the occasion at the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery. What none of the speakers was willing to say is that, given the dangerous attenuation of our military capacity over the past half century, we could almost certainly never do it again, if we were called upon to do so.
Schlafly on the EU

Phyllis Schlafly has been around for a very long time, venting her spleen over the decades on a variety of political issues. Now she takes on the European Union. I would be the first to admit that the EU institutions are insufficiently accountable to the citizens of Europe. Even Europeans themselves decry what they call a democratic deficit. But few would argue for scrapping the EU altogether, which is what Schlafly appears to be doing. Would it not make more sense to argue for further empowering the popularly-elected European Parliament and limiting the powers of the Court of Justice (which has never been called the "world court," as Schlafly erroneously labels it)? Would it not be better to argue for strengthening the concept of subsidiarity as already embodied in the EU treaties?

Schlafly expresses puzzlement that Americans could support the concept of a supranational European Union in which member states give up some of their sovereignty to a central government. She appears to have forgotten that Americans charted the path already back in 1787 by establishing a federal United States of America. While Schlafly undoubtedly raises issues worthy of concern, there is no reason in principle why these should be taken as arguments against federalism per se.
Confidence motion coming

Given that the Liberals are coming back in the public opinion polls, Stephen Harper and his fellow MPs are taking a risk: "Conservative caucus agrees on bid to oust Martin." The move could backfire. Remember what happened to the Créditistes who voted against Joe Clark's budget back in 1979. If you don't, that's because they were finished off for good in the ensuing election of 1980.
Environmental 'genocide' in Ecuador?

For those who persist in believing that the unfettered market will solve environmental pollution, the following report may shake their faith: "Amazon Pollution: Victims of 'Toxico'."

02 May 2005

Faith and doubt in Andrew Sullivan

If Lew Daly is cautiously sympathetic with the European christian democratic influence on the Bush administration's faith-based initiative, Andrew Sullivan has a rather different assessment of this policy in his New Republic article, "Crisis of Faith: How Fundamentalism is Splitting the GOP." Sullivan argues that two different versions of conservatism are vying for control of the Republican Party: a conservatism of faith and a conservatism of doubt.

Currently in the ascendancy, conservatives of faith see government as a vehicle for implementing an ambitious agenda of social reform, not all of which would necessarily claim the conservative label. This includes the pursuit of policies intended to uphold virtue and the good life in a variety of areas. It is seized by a crusading spirit which would oppose abortion, same-sex marriage and "indecent television," which are typical conservative causes, while also undertaking to eradicate slavery in Sudan, sexual trafficking and AIDS in Africa, which might be viewed as progressive causes. Conservatives of faith, who dominate the Bush administration, see "nothing wrong with channeling $2 billion of public money to religious charities," as Sullivan tendentiously describes the faith-based initiative. Far from the classical liberal night watchman state of John Locke and Adam Smith, conservatives of faith follow Otto von Bismarck and Benjamin Disraeli in championing a particular version of the welfare state:

What matters to conservatives of faith is therefore less the size of government than its meaning and structure. If it is harnessed to uphold their definition of the good life — protecting a stable family structure, upholding Biblical morality, protecting the vulnerable — then its size is irrelevant, as long as it doesn't overwhelm civil society. . . . This is what remains of conservatism's old belief in individual freedom. The new conservatism of faith has substituted real choice in a free market for regulated choice within an ever-expanding welfare state.

Here one is reminded of Wilfred McClay's analysis in his recent lecture, "American Culture and the Presidency," on which I commented two months ago in "Bush's conservative reformism." There are also parallels in the administration's foreign and defence policies, which are animated by what James W. Skillen calls "freedom-idealism."

Then there is the conservatism of doubt, with which Sullivan is clearly more sympathetic. Conservatives of doubt are deeply suspicious of crusades and reform efforts of any kind. They are the heirs of Thomas Hobbes, Locke and even Edmund Burke, and they are sceptical of the use of moralistic arguments in the policy process. They prefer not to exacerbate social and especially religious cleavages and to maintain government's neutrality on those issues which are especially divisive within the body politic as a whole. They favour divided government, judicial checks on democratic majorities, and protecting the prerogatives of state and local governments against unwarranted federal encroachment.

Conservatives of doubt do not feel the need to ground the defence of freedom in overt religious principles; they are quite content with the Enlightenment principles embodied in the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They are aware that politics is the art of the possible, a pragmatic effort to secure peace and stability amidst potential social conflict. For this reason, conservatives of doubt, insofar as they seek principles for their activities, look for those most likely to command the widest possible support among the citizenry, eschewing those which are obviously sectarian. They will have none of this business about a transcendent source of positive law.

To be sure, Sullivan is not the first observer to notice that the current conservative movement in North America consists of different strains at considerable variance with each other. In many respects, this diversity within the conservative fold is what kept the former Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance Parties divided for a decade and a half here in Canada. In my own Political Visions and Illusions, I spend the third chapter emphasizing the fact that the conservative vision — if it can be called such — encompasses such variable content as to render it nearly incapable of addressing so central a question as: What is the nature and task of the state?

What is striking about Sullivan's simple taxonomy, however, is the way he draws his boundary. Some have seen contemporary conservatism as an uneasy amalgam of Burkean conservatism and classical liberalism, of social conservatism and economic libertarianism, or perhaps of traditional conservatism and market capitalism. Sullivan, however, divides his parties along a line separating crusading zeal from cautious, conciliatory governance. Depending on which taxonomy one accepts, President Bush is likely to be categorized in different ways. According to the first scheme, Bush would have to be judged a classical liberal, while according to the second he might be viewed as a social conservative. Under the third conception, Bush might fall into either category, while Sullivan would definitely see him as a crusader and his father as a more cautious type. Furthermore, and somewhat ironically, Sullivan would appear to disagree with Daly's assessment that Bush has not increased social spending. To the contrary, Sullivan argues, Bush has increased spending at all levels, while lowering taxes and generally putting his country's finances deeply into the red. This removes him even further from the conservatism of doubt.

If Sullivan were to analyse neocalvinism, where would he place it? There are, after all, some commonalities between Bush's faith-based initiative and the Center for Public Justice's christian democratic approach, as Daly has pointed out. Because neocalvinism is definitely a confessionally explicit movement eschewing the pseudo-neutrality of Enlightenment secularism, I am reasonably confident Sullivan would identify it with the conservatism of faith. He is, of course, welcome to categorize the world as he pleases. Yet to be charitable, he might wish at least to hear out those of us unable to accept his categories.

Most basically, many of us simply find Sullivan's vaunted contrast between truth and doubt, between coercion and persuasion, to be unconvincing. I myself will not defend much of the Bush agenda, which I would agree with Sullivan to be an exercise in dangerous overreach — both domestically and internationally — with precious little awareness of the practical and fiscal limitations under which any government must operate. Furthermore, Sullivan's positive portrait of the conservatism of doubt has a definite affinity with Bernard Crick's classic defence of politics and Jean Bethke Elshtain's celebration of democracy as a rather untidy, non-utopian means of enabling citizens to live together despite their differences. Over the years I have come to appreciate both Crick and Elshtain, whose constrained vision of politics constitutes a valuable corrective to those attaching near redemptive expectations to government.

Yet does it not seem odd that many of those most vocally advocating what Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson call deliberative democracy, i.e., the on-going process of talking out our differences within the public square, do not shrink from telling the rest of us what the final results of such deliberation should be on the most divisive of issues, if only we would exercise cool reason and leave our ultimate commitments behind? As just one example, Sullivan's description of what is at stake in the marriage issue invites readers to take his part — if, that is, they expect to be treated as rational partners in the deliberative process. That there might be another side to the issue — that some might deem it dangerously intrusive for a government to assume the right to redefine an institution anterior to itself — does not occur to Sullivan. If he can portray such a position as the product of special pleading and of sectarian crusading, then he is free to dismiss it. Something similar can be said of his treatment of abortion and the other end-of-life issues.

It must finally be said that Sullivan's article is a worthwhile reminder to us that those who manage successfully to set the terms of a debate can often influence its outcome as well. This is good reason for us to enter it early enough to ensure that the right questions are posed and the terms properly defined.

01 May 2005

Not a coalition

Some young man up in Sault Ste. Marie is confused. Paul Martin's Liberals and Jack Layton's New Democrats have not formed a coalition government. A coalition government is formed only when cabinet posts are allocated amongst members of two or more political parties, usually in proportion to the number of seats held by each. Martin's government is still a single-party Liberal minority government, whose budget Layton has simply agreed to support in exchange for specified concessions. No more, no less.
Schindler on the Pope

Zenit carries an interview with my favourite Catholic theologian, David L. Schindler, on Benedict XVI's ecclesiology.
More on the two Easters

Given my composite western-Byzantine roots, when I was growing up, we always celebrated Easter twice, the second time with my paternal relatives. Even today there is a big family gathering at my aunt and uncle's house near Chicago. I wish we could be with them for the occasion.

Here is Sean Gonsalves, writing for the Cape Cod Times, explaining in not too great detail why the Orthodox celebrate Easter so much later than westerners this year. He cites some statistics of which I was not aware:

The Antiochian Orthodox Church in America, for example, has seen its numbers grow from 65 parishes throughout the United States 30 years ago to 300 parishes today. A major part of that growth has been Protestant Christians converting to orthodoxy.

"St. Michael's was just a mission two years ago. Now we are a full parish representing 70 families of many ethnic groups - Lebanese, Syrian, Russian, Ukrainian, Greek, and many converts." In fact, [the Rev. Nicholas] Manikas said, half of the clergy in American Orthodox churches are converts from other Christian denominations.

If an autocephalous North American Orthodox Church ever comes into existence, it will probably be led by the Antiochian Orthodox, who are least blighted by the various ethnic nationalisms to which the Orthodox on this side of the pond are so prone.

To our Orthodox brethren we wish the blessing of the risen Christ on the celebration of the paschal feast.

St. George Orthodox
Christian Cathedral


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