The Long and Winding Road
Canada votes Monday, and it looks to be the end of Stephen Harper’s ignominious tenure as Canada’s most pernicious Prime Minister. The only question now is whether it will be a Liberal majority or a Liberal minority government, the social democrats having faded and wilted during the long campaign — a long campaign strategically planned by the ruling party to exhaust their opponent’s resources, but which now appears to have backfired on the Conservatives.
Whither the democracy and why? I’ve put that question before and now is as good a time as any to put the question again, since democracies everywhere are undergoing stress and fracture as part of the post-modern condition, Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism”, and Gebser’s general “disintegrative” dynamic at our “end of history”, as Mr. Fukuyama called it.
During the campaign I learned a few things about the state of Canada’s democracy. I learned that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a neo-conservative, is an avid student of Joseph Stalin, for example. While I did suspect Stephen Harper and his party of right-wing Stalinism, I had no idea it was literally the case. But it explains much of his authoritarian style of politics that was euphemistically excused as “executive democracy” by the conservative press. According to an unnamed Conservative senator (probably Hugh Segal) Harper has “read and mastered” practically every biography of Stalin he could find — an all-too eager student of the management secrets of Joseph Stalin, or how to win power, hold it, and exercise it.
The irony of that, however, seems to be lost on his apologists and supporters, or bounces off them like water off a duck’s back.
It also appears that the Australian “ratfucker” and fixer, Lynton Crosby, who was recruited by the Conservative Party to salvage their campaign, badly misjudged Canadians and how they would generally respond to his politics of paranoia and xenophobia that had been his “magic” formula for winning in other jurisdictions of the so-called “Anglosphere”.
And as for the fiction of Canada having a “liberal” or “left-wing press” (a favourite bugbear of the Conservatives), a list of the mass media’s endorsements this election should probably put that to rest as being a grand delusion. Its seems, however, that the public is, by and large, going to defy the influence of the corporate media (which might be another first). It turns out that the assumption that Canadians really held “conservative values” was only the echo chamber or the bubble of perception generated by the propaganda system itself. Some people assumed, apparently, that the biases and opinions of the corporate media were identical with public opinion. But the authority of the mass media, and the institution of the mass media itself in that respect, is (much like other authoritative institutions of the Modern Era) also falling victim to the postmodern “incredulity towards all metanarratives” and the “deconstruction”.
If you want to know why Mr. Harper and his Conservative Party are now loathed by most of the electorate, The Guardian has a pretty good assessment by Nick Davies of the reasons for that. If anything, it leaves far too much out.
I also learned from observing this campaign that the state of reason is pretty deplorable — norms of logic, rules of evidence and respect for truthfulness have never been in such short supply, it seems. Deceit or duplicity? Duplicity or deceit? Which would you choose between? But such is “the new normal”. The state of political literacy in this country is awful, and you can’t be a responsible citizen of a democracy unless you are, or take measures to become, politically literate.
What is democracy? The whole issue has become obscured by a mental and rhetorical fog, and probably deliberately so. It has become very unhealthy. Essentially democracy is about sharing power, and that’s what distinguishes it from other organisations of power — monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, autocracy. Sharing power is called “participatory democracy” and Stephen Harper’s “executive democracy” is the antithesis of that. “Democratic deficit” really means the unjust and inequitable distribution of power. And if democracy is about sharing power, it also becomes evident why the problem of socioeconomic inequality and the unjust distribution of wealth is also a threat to democracy. Mr. Harper, having been originally elected to “reform” that system of unjust distribution of power, instead reneged on his principles. Having acquired a taste for power himself, he liked it. He liked it far too much, in fact, and he wasn’t about to share it with anyone, not even his own caucus.
Mr. Harper’s root failure as a politician was his unwillingness to share power. Hence his turn to the “management secrets of Joseph Stalin”, which seems very pathological doesn’t it?
Really, it seems to me every citizen should have to pass a test to demonstrate that he or she are fit and responsible enough to share power in that sense. The current mood of contempt for democracy (amply demonstrated by Mr. Harper and his supporters) is cynicism about their own fitness and that of the more general public to share power in that respect. Authoritarian leaders need authoritarian followers.
But, I will tell you, dear readers, that the responsible and creative handling of power (energy) is the very reason you are here in this world. It’s called “self-government”, and if democracy doesn’t teach you to be a responsible and creative handler of power, what will? Never, ever forget this! You are in this world to learn how to handle power in a responsible and creative way. The irresponsible and destructive handling of power/energy is exactly what we call “the demonic”.
Nietzsche’s “will to power” as the fundamental operative principle in the cosmos is correct. Only, you have to understand it in its proper context. You yourselves, in your ego natures, are a conscious agent of this “will to power”, and that’s what “service” or the parable of the “servant” really means. We are so far from understanding this and what “democracy” really means that I can’t help but expect a catastrophe as the result.
That is to say, by the process of enantiodromia and the karmic law of action and reaction, the “rational pursuit of self-interest”, pushed to its extremity (called “hybris”) will inevitably revert by the process of ironic reversal into the irrational pursuit of self-destruction (called “Nemesis”). This reversal, which is the demonic aspect of our times, is already well underway, and its the very meaning, in some ways, of the more unconscious side of “the deconstruction” and “the postmodern condition”. It’s what I’ve been describing as “suicide of the Modern Era” or “Dark Age”.
And it will take particularly enlightened and creative human beings to harness, utilise, and transform this unconscious disintegrative or nihilistic tendency into a positive asset, a “controlled demolition” as it were in order to refound human civilisation and consciousness on a sounder, saner, healthier basis.
So, what’s the best we can expect from this current election here in Canada? I’ve made no secret of my antipathy to Mr. Harper’s style of politics (and neo-conservatism more generally). I’ve given my reasons why I lean towards more participatory democracy, and it is the very antithesis of the kind of “executive democracy” (authoritarianism) practiced by the Conservatives. My political instincts are to be counter-reactionary, and I think I have been clear why.
A Liberal minority with the social democrats holding the balance of power may be the very best option we have at this time. I’m opposed to an outright majority by any party. Both the Liberals and the NDP have proposed democratic reforms to end the primitive and obsolete “First Past the Post” structure, and that could be the very best outcome from this election — some form of proportional representation that would be a more effective power sharing arrangement. That would just reflect the current reality of a multicultural, multiparty democracy. The existing power structure invites deceit and duplicity itself. It was designed for a duopoly — a two-party system — and not a four-party system as we have currently — Liberals, Conservatives, Social Democrats, and Greens.
Some people want to restore the two party system (or even a one party rule). That’s a purely reactionary solution. People aren’t supposed to be adjusted and adapted to their institutions. The institutions should adapt and evolve to reflect the will of the people. Proportional representation would go a long way in reflecting the actual political and social reality of Canada today. Canada’s existing political habitat is no longer hospitable or fit for its real cultural diversity or for instructing its citizens in how to be responsive, responsible, expressive, and creative members of a democracy.
Both the Liberals and the social democrats have promised to reform the electoral system. The Conservatives under Mr. Harper have reneged on even their own weak promises to do so. The problem is the same. Once a party gets a taste of power, it likes to forget its promises about sharing that power more democratically. A Liberal minority government, dependent upon the support of the social democrats, won’t be allowed to forget it, as its fate will hang on fulfilling its promises. The Trudeau Liberals have promised that this election will be the last “first past the post” election. They have to be held accountable for that promise. A minority government may appear “weak”, but that’s just superficially the case. It’s actually stronger in terms of democracy because it has to share power and pay more attention to meeting its obligations. It has to be more consensual, and a proportional representation system also has to be more consensual. In that sense, it will go a long way in healing the great divisions that have opened up in the country during this campaign and Mr. Harper’s tenure as Prime Minister. Our present system has become self-defeating, and it’s reflected in the dysfunctionality of our politics.
We have to drag our social and political institutions into the future (including the media), regardless of whether they kick and scream along the way. If it does not happen, I foresee a day when Canada will cease to be a coherent political entity. It will split and fracture.