Yael Tamir, Why Nationalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019. 205 pages.

It is unlikely that Yael (Yuli) Tamir – former Israeli cabinet minister and founding member of Peace Now, former student of Sir Isaiah Berlin, Oxford academic – read Gareth Morley’s major essay in the last issue of Inroads, in which he argued for the separation of nation and state.1 Nevertheless, Tamir’s book Why Nationalism can be read as an answer to Morley, for she argues precisely the opposite: that the state needs the nation, and the two should be brought closer together.

In large part, Tamir’s book is a critique of globalism, to which she sees nationalism as an antidote. In this respect, her thinking parallels that of John Judis in his recent book The Nationalist Revival.2 Where people place themselves on the “global-national continuum,” she writes, is largely determined by their interests:

It is easier to be a globalist if you are likely to enjoy the benefits of the open market, or to support free immigration if you feel secure in your social status and do not fear that newcomers are going to take your job, or reduce the value of your property by renting the next-door apartment, forcing your neighborhood schools to face new challenges.

Globalism, she writes, “failed to replace nationalism because it couldn’t offer a political agenda that meets the most basic needs of modern individuals.” These include “the need to belong, the desire to be part of a creative community, to feel special, find a place in the chain of being, and to enjoy a sense (or the illusion) of stability and cross-generational continuity.” Citing Freud, she suggests that globalism entails living beyond our psychological means.

In other words, membership in a nation confers benefits in and of itself. But its benefits acquire an additional dimension when it is brought into alliance with the state: “With the help of nationalism, states turn into homelands – places one is affiliated with due to love and fate rather than due to instrumental considerations.” This “pre-political partnership,” this “political we,” is essential if states are to “turn into democratic and decent entities.”

A shared sense of national belonging, Tamir suggests, underlay the “cross-class coalition” that supported the development of the modern welfare state:

Society’s disinherited members were thus given permission to claim social benefits as well as protection from tangible risks. This was one of nationalism’s greatest gifts, allowing the less privileged to profit and to enjoy a set of social goods and social services grounded in rights rather than in generosity or benevolence.

So what went wrong? Her diagnosis, again, largely parallels Judis’s. Globalization along with an ideological opposition to regulation eroded the resources of the state. Western elites pursued a global destiny rather than a national one. Public education, once the “jewel in the national crown” (Tamir should know – she was minister of education in Ehud Olmert’s pre-Netanyahu Israeli government), lost its ability to promote integration and social mobility. The cross-class coalition buckled under these strains.

Tamir reproduces former World Bank economist Branko Milanović’s “elephant curve,” a graph of real income growth between 1988 and 2008 as a function of percentile of global income distribution. The graph begins at the bottom of both scales – the world’s poorest have been excluded from income growth – before rising rapidly, peaking at about the 55th percentile. This reflects rising incomes in China and other emerging economies. The graph then takes a sharp dip, bottoming out around the 80th percentile. Stagnating incomes of the poor and middle class in high-income countries are found here. Then comes another rapid rise – the trunk of the “elephant” – representing the enrichment of the world’s elites. “Growing social gaps,” writes Tamir, “lead to the formation of separate, hostile identities.”

Eroded and diminished though it has been, the nation-state is still, for Tamir, “the only viable option.” Hence, she welcomes the revival of nationalism and seeks to channel it toward constructive ends, to rebuild social solidarity through “committed nationalism.” She emphasizes that the elites need to be enlisted in this task: “Asking the haves to look beyond their immediate interests must be justified not only in universal utilitarian terms but also as the national (American, Israeli, French) thing to do.”

The foregoing is, in brief summary, Tamir’s program. However, there are complicating factors, many of which she fully acknowledges. First of all, she recognizes that the nation is an artificial construct; rather than being a “pre-political partnership” underlying the state, it is an entity that needs to be deliberately encouraged by the state. She quotes the mid-nineteenth-century Piedmontese leader Massimo d’Azeglio, who helped bring about a unified Italy: “We have made Italy. Now we have to make Italians.” The Italian state makes Italians. The American state makes Americans. The Israeli state makes Israelis (another portfolio Tamir held was Immigrant Absorption).

A second complicating factor takes the form of what Tamir calls “a cultural version of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle”: “One cannot create communities that are both meaningful and entirely open: the more meaningful a community is to its members the more exclusive it would be to all others.” This suggests limits on the “diversity” and “inclusion” that are currently in vogue.

She is sceptical of statements like the one by Chancellor Angela Merkel that “we are all Germany,” including Muslims, or this one by President Emmanuel Macron: “I see Armenians, Italians, Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians. I see so many people from Mali, from Senegal, from the Ivory Coast. I see so many others I haven’t mentioned. But what do I see? I see the people of Marseille! What do I see? I see the people of France!” Can the historical and cultural specificity that we associate with “Germany” or “France” be so easily set aside? If it is, what is the basis for the national solidarity that Tamir regards as the essential underpinning of a humane state? If it is not, should cultural uniformity be imposed on the new Germans and French people that Merkel and Macron are eager to embrace? Or is something other than historic “Germanness” or “Frenchness” to be the basis of national soldiarity?

As a disciple of Isaiah Berlin, Tamir is wary of carrying any idea to its extreme. Hence, she places limits on how any nationalist program should be carried out. One of these is that “the demand to put one’s country first should not be grounded in a sense of superiority but in a belief that others have the same right (and duty) to pursue their goals.” Nationalism, on this view, does not mean “exceptionalism.” Citizens should be committed to their nation not because it is uniquely virtuous, but simply because it is theirs.

A second limit is that “as no country is culturally, ethnically, or religiously homogeneous, the place of minorities must be secured. The fact that they do not share the ruling national ethos, culture, or language should not be used against them.”3 So in the end, Tamir cannot escape the circumstance that led Gareth Morley to develop his proposal for the separation of nation and state: “Modern states are as bound to be ethnically pluralistic as they are to be religiously pluralistic.”4

And while they espouse different solutions, perhaps they are not so far apart after all. For Morley, the best approach is to recognize the complex or “intersectional” nature of everyone’s identity while appealing to the resources of the liberal tradition to foster communication and common governance across the multiple identity divisions. For Tamir, it’s to promote national solidarity, but tempered as noted above: “to stop the ideological pendulum half way, offering a social contract that balances human rights and freedoms with social solidarity and group identity.” This sounds to me less like a diametric opposition than a creative tension.

Continue reading “Why the State Needs the Nation”

In October 2019, in Washington, DC, several U.S. diplomats, defying Trump Administration instructions, testified before the committees of the House of Representatives that were conducting an inquiry into whether or not impeachment proceedings should be launched against President Trump. Their testimony corroborated previous allegations that Trump had made U.S. military aid to Ukraine conditional on the Ukrainian government digging up dirt on his political rivals. In October the case for impeachment was strengthened materially, perhaps decisively.

In London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson concluded a Brexit deal with the European Union and the deal was approved by Parliament. However, Parliament also insisted on subjecting the deal to detailed examination, a task that could not be completed before the October 31 Brexit deadline then in effect. Johnson had no choice but to request yet another extension of the deadline, an action he had previously placed lower on his scale of preferences than being “dead in a ditch.” At the end of the month, the opposition Labour Party agreed to Johnson’s request for a December 12 election.

October events in northern Syria included the withdrawal of American troops, a Turkish invasion and the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the most prominent leader of the Islamic State.

In Hong Kong, massive street protests against the Beijing-backed local administration continued. Street protests to advance various economic and political demands also took place in Santiago de Chile, Quito, Barcelona, Beirut, Addis Ababa and other places. Demonstrations by mostly young people against the lack of adequate measures by the major industrial powers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continued into October, following the global climate strike of late September.

In California, which has a larger population than Canada, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency as wildfires raged from Sonoma County north of San Francisco to the suburbs of Los Angeles. Thousands of people were evacuated and millions were without electricity as power companies shut down their equipment to reduce the risk of additional fires. The conditions contributing to the unusual severity of the fires, including extreme winds, were widely attributed to climate change.

All of this is to say that when the political events of October 2019 are remembered, the Canadian general election that took place on the 21st of the month is unlikely to play a prominent role. Canadian news junkies may fixate on American or, less often, British politics, but a federal election campaign will generally direct their attention back to the home front. This time the redirection was only partial.

And yet, the election was not without consequence. Perhaps most significantly, it brought us back, after successive Conservative and Liberal majorities, to the situation of minority government that had prevailed before 2011. Given the political configuration, this is likely to be a relatively stable minority government, but in any minority situation questions of who is entitled to hold power are never far from the surface. Calling on historical analogies, Gareth Morley analyzes those questions here.

Click to read Who’s On First by Gareth Morley.

While political parties generally strive for a majority, there is a strong case to be made that, for the electorate, minority government is a preferable outcome. Writing in Le Devoir on October 26, Guillaume Bourgault-Côté noted the achievements of previous minority governments, especially Liberal minority governments supported by the NDP, such as Lester Pearson’s two mandates (1963–68) and Pierre Trudeau’s precarious minority between 1972 and 1974.1 These governments gave us public health insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, an agency to review foreign investment, improvements to social insurance and other significant legislation.

Bourgault-Côté quotes University of Ottawa political scientist Geneviève Tellier as saying that the Liberals and the NDP are “two parties that have worked together in the past – and should be able to do it again.” However, in a post to the Inroads listserv, Simon Rosenblum questions whether the analogy holds. In the current situation, the Liberals only need the support of any one of three parties – the NDP, the Bloc Québécois or the Conservatives – to pass legislation. This means the Liberals can play the other parties off against one another, reducing their leverage. In the end, the government will be able to do essentially what it wants.

Good or bad, minority government can in some ways be seen as the country’s normal state, as even in the majority elections of 2011 and 2015 no party represented as much as 40 per cent of the electorate. In the recent election the party that received the most votes, the Conservatives, captured only 34.4 per cent. Nearly a third of the electorate voted for smaller parties – primarily the NDP, the Bloc and the Greens, who collectively received 29 per cent of the vote – despite the incentive created by our first-past-the-post electoral system for supporters of such parties to vote strategically for the least bad alternative that has a chance of winning their district.2

The 2019 result also highlighted Canada’s regional divisions, as is evident from the regional reports in this section. Regional differences manifested themselves not only in the increased support for the Bloc in Quebec but, even more dramatically, in the total rejection of the winning Liberals and the overwhelming support for the Conservatives in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Even the previously unsinkable Ralph Goodale, the only Liberal elected in Saskatchewan in the previous three elections, went down to defeat.

The Conservatives won 69 per cent of the vote in Alberta and 64 per cent in Saskatchewan. By contrast, their share in neighbouring Manitoba was only 46 per cent, and in no other province did they win as much as 35 per cent of the vote. Here too the impact of our electoral system, long apparent to political observers, is worth noting. While Canada’s regional differences are real, the electoral system dangerously exacerbates them. One third of voters in Alberta and Saskatchewan voted for parties other than the Conservatives, and they are represented only by a lone New Democratic MP from Edmonton. In a proportional system the Liberals, with 14 per cent of the votes in Alberta and 12 per cent in Saskatchewan, would have MPs from those provinces from among whom they could choose cabinet representatives.

The 2019 election was conducted under first-past-the-post despite Justin Trudeau’s promise four years ago that it would not be. So the Liberals have only themselves to blame for finding themselves in the awkward position of having to impose a climate-change plan on two reluctant petroleum-producing provinces without a single Liberal MP from those provinces. Will the glaring deficiencies of the electoral system brought to light by the 2019 election rekindle the flame of electoral reform? It does not seem likely.

Regional cleavages and overwhelming Conservative dominance of Alberta are not in themselves new (Conservative dominance of Saskatchewan is a more recent phenomenon). The Progressive Conservatives, as they were then, won more than 60 per cent of the vote in Alberta in four successive elections between 1974 and 1984. Two of those elections resulted in Liberal majority governments based almost entirely in the east – in 1980, the Liberals won a majority despite winning only two seats in Manitoba and none farther west. After the 1980 election, the Liberals introduced the National Energy Program that brought tensions between Alberta and the federal government to a peak.

Still, there is a dimension to the current division that was lacking in these earlier ones. If climate scientists are to be believed, we are entering a crucial decade for the effort to mitigate the effects of climate change. Emissions cutbacks on a much larger scale than anything previously achieved will be needed, and soon. This will be the most challenging item on the Liberal minority government’s agenda. The political configuration will not make its task easier. On one hand, the government is dependent for its survival largely on parties to its left. On the other hand, it is shut out of Canada’s major petroleum-producing region, which expressed its strong support for the major party with the closest ties to the fossil fuel industry and the weakest approach to climate change – although, as John Richards points out in this section, the differences in the actual impact of the parties’ climate change plans if they were implemented would be much less than their rhetoric would lead us to believe. On climate change, the government is in a tight spot, and there is no easy way out.

Click to read Canada Fiddles While California Burns by John Richards

The New Yorker’s resident Canadian, Adam Gopnik (though born in Philadelphia, he was raised in Montreal), characterized the election as a “worthwhile Canadian initiative,” citing the winning entry in a competition for the world’s most boring headline. And yet, from his vantage point in the United States in its current political situation, a worthwhile Canadian initiative looked pretty good: “This was what an election ought to be – a spectrum of parties, running from the socialist left to the free-market right, fighting for specific ideas and regional interests and arriving at a result that, more or less aptly, and however imperfectly, reflects the mood and interests of the country.”3

One can appreciate Gopnik’s prespective. If the election, because of our first-past-the-post system, failed the democratic test, at least it passed the Hippocratic test: unlike some elections elsewhere in the last few years, it did no harm. But did it do any good? To answer that question we will have to wait and see if the government can find a way out of the climate change conundrum.

Continue reading “The Worthwhile Canadian Election”

For a while during Justin Trudeau’s first term as Prime Minister, reelection of his Liberal government appeared all but assured. The Liberals were riding high in the polls, they were facing opposition parties with untested and largely unknown new leaders, and Trudeau himself seemed the very model of the young, aware, progressive head of government the world needed.

Since the eruption in February of the SNC-Lavalin affair, those assumptions have collapsed. Less than six months from the October 21 election, the Liberals are trailing Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives in the polls and face an uphill battle to remain in office. The Liberal decline cannot be attributed solely to the SNC-Lavalin affair, but it played a large role. This affair – whether or not to call it a “scandal” has been controversial – preoccupied the Inroads listserv in March and April. While the political implications of SNC-Lavalin were not far from their minds, contributors to the listserv (including some with extensive experience in government) primarily debated the legal response to SNC-Lavalin’s undeniable sins: was Jody Wilson-Raybould right or wrong. Highlights of the discussion lead off this section.

Click to read Getting to the Heart of the SNC-Lavalin Affair.

Two years ago in Inroads, distinguished political scientist Gad Horowitz made the case that Canada’s political parties differed from one another in their “deep culture” – differences that were not always reflected in their specific policy proposals. Drawing on this argument, he now criticizes the common practice of lumping the Liberals and New Democrats together as “progressive” parties, and recommends that the NDP emphasize its “positive social democratic difference” in the coming campaign.

Click to read Are the Liberals and the NDP Both Progressive? by Gad Horowitz.

With a Conservative government a possible, if not probable, outcome of the election, it’s time to think about what policies such a government might pursue. Tom Flanagan, who served as a Conservative campaign manager and adviser to the Harper government, has some suggestions for how a new Conservative government might proceed in one important policy area, Indigenous affairs.

Click to read Thinking the Thinkable: A Conservative Government by Tom Flanagan.

Finally, we asked political analysts in each of Canada’s regions to set the scene in advance of the fall campaign. Richard Johnston in Vancouver, Royce Koop in Winnipeg, Paul Barber in Toronto, Eric Montigny in Quebec City and Patrick Webber in Fredericton provide not only a who’s-up-who’s-down assessment of party prospects but also insight into the underlying dynamics that are likely to play out in their respective regions.

Click to read Up For Grabs: A Region-by-Region Guide to What to Look for in This Fall’s Federal Election.

Subsidizing employers to hire young people for summer jobs should not be among the more controversial of federal government activities. The Canada Summer Jobs program is part of Ottawa’s Youth Employment Strategy (YES), a well-established initiative whose origins date back to the Chrétien government in the 1990s. During the 2015 election campaign, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised to increase funding for YES and, once in office, they did.

Canada Summer Jobs provides grants to nonprofit and public-sector organizations and small businesses to allow them to hire youth aged 15 to 30 (until 2018 the program was limited to students) for six to 16 weeks of summer employment. Grants are allocated by parliamentary constituency and local members of Parliament have input into who gets them. The list of recipients reads like a cross-section of Canada:

  • Kiwanis Club of Kelligrews, Newfoundland, $8,957 for three jobs
  • Bouffe Pontiac, Campbell’s Bay, Quebec, $2,781 for one job
  • City of Mississauga, Ontario, $6,720 for four jobs
  • Sinnett Pork Farm, Leroy, Saskatchewan, $1,048 for one job
  • and on and on and on, for a total of $204,992,914 for 70,033 jobs in 2018.

A small proportion of the nonprofits that receive grants are religious organizations. And that’s where the trouble began.

On April 10, 2017, after applications for that summer’s program had been submitted but before the grants were announced, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada issued a press release headed “Grants from Canada Summer Jobs Program Support Political Attacks on Human Rights.”1 The press release went on to say, “Federal government grants from the Canada Summer Jobs program for youth have provided ongoing support to political organizations that advocate against human rights, including the right to abortion, doctor-assisted dying, and LGBT rights.” It provided figures going back to 2010 for grants to four anti-abortion organizations: the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, Campaign Life Coalition, Life Site News and the Wilberforce Project (formerly Alberta Pro-life).

In response, Matt Pascuzzo, Employment Minister Patty Hajdu’s press secretary, told a reporter for the iPolitics website that “any funding provided to an organization that works to limit women’s reproductive rights last summer was an oversight. That’s why this year we fixed the issue and no such organizations will receive funding from any constituencies represented by Liberal MPs.”2

Because of MPs’ involvement in deciding who gets grants, Pascuzzo could not speak for constituencies represented by the opposition. His statement indicated that the government had undertaken a rescue operation, but hardly “fixed the issue” as he claimed. So the government set out to implement a more comprehensive solution for 2018.

This solution took the form of an “attestation” that every applicant had to agree to in order to be eligible for a Canada Summer Jobs grant. The attestation read,

Both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

The expansive nature of this attestation is noteworthy. First of all, it applied not only to the job itself but also to the “core mandate” of the organization. In addition, the organization had to go beyond saying that it upheld the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; it had to respect the “values underlying” the charter, “as well as other rights,” including reproductive rights. The attestation would seem to exclude any organization affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, evangelical Christian denominations, Orthodox Judaism or many branches of Islam.

Not so fast, said the government. The phrase core mandate referred to an organization’s “primary activities undertaken” and “not the values of the organization.” The Roman Catholic Church may be against abortion, but that’s not its “core mandate.” Hajdu told Maclean’s that “there are very few organizations in this country that would have a hard time attesting that their core mandate respected the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”3

Nevertheless, the religious groups were not happy. They (unsuccessfully) sought an injunction against use of the attestation, launched court challenges and made representations to Hajdu. They maintained that the attestation itself was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, on grounds that it violated religious freedom. As the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada saw it, groups that opposed abortion were being “denied equal access to a government benefit solely because of their religious beliefs.”4

In June 2018, another – separate, but related – controversy arose. The Islamic Humanitarian Service (IHS), based in the constituency of Waterloo, Ontario, had been a recipient of Canada Summer Jobs grants for several years, including a $20,715 grant for six jobs in 2017. The leader of IHS, Sheikh Shafiq Hudda, delivered a fiery speech at the Al-Quds Day rally in Toronto on June 9, in which he dared Israeli soldiers to come fight Palestinians hand to hand and predicted they would go home in body bags. He also called for “eradication of the unjust powers, such as the American empire, such as the Israelis and Zionists.” The matter quickly came up in the House of Commons, as Conservative MPs demanded to know why an organization whose leader made such speeches was receiving government grants, especially in light of the government’s values test for the summer jobs program. The Islamic Humanitarian Service received its grant as usual in 2018, according to the organization; however, it does not appear on the online list of organizations receiving Canada Summer Jobs grants in 2018.

For 2019, the attestation that had aroused so much controversy is gone. Instead, applicants are required to attest that “any funding under the Canada Summer Jobs program will not be used to undermine or restrict the exercise of rights legally protected in Canada.” In addition, the list of ineligible programs and job activities includes:

Projects or job activities that:

  • restrict access to programs, services, or employment, or otherwise discriminate, contrary to applicable laws, on the basis of prohibited grounds, including sex, genetic characteristics, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression;
  • advocate intolerance, discrimination and/or prejudice; or
  • actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services.5

The new criteria applied only to the jobs being funded by the program, and not to the broader activities or values of the organizations that sponsored them. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, one of the leading critics of the 2018 attestation, expressed its approval of the changes. “We believe these changes will allow Canadian churches and faith-based organizations to apply and be eligible for funding under this program,” said the fellowship’s director of public policy, Julia Beazley. “The new wording should also mean that pro-life organizations are not excluded simply because they are pro-life.”6

So after oscillating between funding anti-abortion groups and excluding a wide range of groups on the basis of their values, has the Canada Summer Jobs program finally found the sweet spot?

Perhaps. But there are reasons why the government has had to travel a winding road to get to this point. The interface between religious groups and government programs is never going to be smooth. Many religious groups routinely discriminate on the basis of sex, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and actively work to undermine or restrict women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services. We accept all this (much of which we would not accept were it to occur in private corporations or other organizations) in the name of religious freedom.

What the most recent Canada Summer Jobs guidelines are saying to religious groups amounts to this: you can still engage in discrimination, and we will still give you government money, as long as you don’t use the government money directly to engage in the discrimination. But any government assistance is subject to what a U.S. AID official, in a congressional hearing during the Vietnam War, described as the “principle of fungibility”: aid is aid, whether military or economic.7 Similarly, a Canada Summer Jobs grant to an organization benefits the entire organization, not just the little piece that is involved in the summer jobs.

More fundamental questions arise. Does the 2018 attestation, or the 2019 list of ineligible activities, implicitly represent a statement of “Canadian values”? If so, why limit it to the Canada Summer Jobs program? What about other government grant programs? Or even charitable status, which effectively amounts to a government top-up grant for individual contributions? Is this the core of what Gareth Morley, elsewhere in this issue, refers to as an “ideological identity” for Canada (see page 28), with the attendant problems that he identifies?

So many questions. And all from an innocent program to provide young people with summer jobs.

Continue reading “Defining Canadian Values, One Summer Job at a Time”

Three hitherto minor subplots have merged over the last two years into a “populist” revolt, which is now the major plot in the political theatre of Europe and North America. The first subplot is rising income inequality in high-income OECD countries. (Ironically, on a world level, incomes since 1980 have become more equal, as a result primarily of the escape from dire poverty of 500 million Chinese and Indian peasants). While average per capita incomes have risen substantially since 1980 in most OECD countries, the bottom three quintiles have realized virtually no increase. Reversing this trend is at the core of left populist politics, exemplified by Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

Second, deregulation of the banks in many OECD countries in the 1990s led to multiple real estate speculative bubbles in the 2000s. When the bubbles burst in 2008, many of the world’s banks became bankrupt. Governments bailed them out, which preserved the stability of international financial markets and prevented a repeat of 1929. However, middle-class mortgage owners were not so fortunate, and became angry. In the United States, this anger helped bring about Tea Party success in the 2010 election. The third subplot has been tension surrounding mass immigration – in particular Muslim immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. That a substantial minority of them are sympathetic to Salafist interpretations of Islam has exacerbated this tension.

David Goodhart can make a good case to be the best candidate for the role of Cassandra in this drama. Former editor of Prospect, a U.K. centre-left magazine, he has written for more than a decade about the potential for polarization foreshadowed by these subplots. His 2017 book The Road to Somewhere introduced “somewheres vs. anywheres” as the sound-bite summary of the present state of affairs.

In this issue Gareth Morley reviews three recent books on the populist revolt and what’s to be done about it. Yascha Mounk (The People Against Democracy) laments the rise of illiberal democracy, in particular in eastern Europe. Jonah Goldberg (Suicide of the West), himself a conservative, attempts to understand where the Reagan Republican tradition went wrong. Francis Fukuyama (Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment) is the most ambitious of the three. He attempts to synthesize the history of political analysis from the post-1989 optimism with the fall of the Berlin Wall to present-day pessimism over the retreat of liberal democracy.

Click to read Big Thinking and the Democratic Recession by Gareth Morley.

In this issue we also review two prominent French books dealing with the immigration subplot: Gilles Kepel’s La fracture and Hakim El Karoui’s La fabrique de l’islamisme). Another element in the drama has been the often covert influence of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Seva Gunitsky examines a notable effort to explain this singular society, Masha Gessen’s The Future Is History.

Click to read A Realistic Approach to Islamism in France by John Richards and A Country Illegible Even to Itself by Seva Gunitsky.

Without seeking to challenge Goodhart’s claim to the role of Cassandra, over the last ten issues Inroads has published numerous reviews dealing with the three subplots, all available on our website. One of us reviewed Amy Chua’s recent book Political Tribes. She emphasizes the polarizing impact of “market dominant ethnic minorities.” Josh Gordon reviewed Joan Williams’s critique of academic treatment of the American white working class (White Working Class). It has, she argues, prevented liberals from understanding Trump voters. Dominic Cardy reviewed Fukuyama’s two-volume opus on the rise and fall of Western liberalism (The Origins of Political Order and Political Order and Political Decay). Dominic also reviewed another notable book on Russia, Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. Mark Pancer reviewed Robert Putnam’s analysis of family dysfunction, especially among America’s “somewheres” (Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis). Gareth Morley reviewed Joseph Carens’s case for more-or-less open borders (The Ethics of Immigration), and one of us reviewed Paul Collier’s case against more-or-less open borders (Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World).

There are many other books we could have reviewed, given space and the right reviewers. Jan-Werner Müller’s What Is Populism? directly addresses what has become the major plot. J.D. Vance’a Hillbilly Elegy is a study of American “somewheres,” the population that has become the main constituency for populism. In Dangerous Minds, Inroads contributor Ronald Beiner traces the influence of the ideas of two philosophers, Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger, on today’s far right. Other books on Russia include Bill Browder’s Red Notice, an account of his own encounter with the dark side of the Russian system; his story helped bring about the Magnitsky Act in the United States.

This is only a small sampling of books that have already come out, and there will undoubtedly be more. Watch this space in future issues of Inroads.

Selected and edited from the Inroads listserv by Bob Chodos

The Inroads listserv began in 1997 as a means to link Inroads readers and others interested in policy discussion. With nearly 130 subscribers, it offers one of the few chances for people of diverse views to grapple with social and political issues in depth.

To subscribe, send an email note to listserv@lists.queensu.ca with the following in the subject and body of the message: subscribe inroads-l

A column in the Guardian by prominent British commentator Simon Jenkins the day after the U.K. election1 sparked an exchange between John Richards and Philip Resnick. Others were not slow in weighing in.
From: John Richards | June 9

Philip Resnick:

You may have seen the Guardian column by Simon Jenkins on the implications of the U.K. election. It hints at a Norwegian-type arrangement between the U.K. and the European Union, not unlike what I had suggested re Brexit before the election. Needless to say, I’m delighted by the drubbing Theresa May and her party received, in England and Wales at least, and by the sterling performance of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, a leader that everyone in the commentariat and within the Blairite wing of his party had been deriding ever since his election. Everything else aside, I can’t help but see a vindication for an unpretentious but principled socialist, who can actually speak the language of the common man or woman, and much like Bernie Sanders mobilize the young. Too bad he won’t get the chance to be PM on this round.

Now in the 2017 election campaign, Corbyn to his credit took on May and her party over Brexit by stating clearly that an imperfect negotiated deal with the EU was better than no deal at all. This suggested an openness to a Norwegian-type arrangement – not ideal, but better than raising the moat at Dover. Moreover, given the significantly greater demographic and geopolitical importance of the U.K., both within Europe and internationally, the U.K. would be in a stronger position than Norway (and would have allies within the EU) to influence future EU policy in a number of areas.

John Richards:

Yes, I read Simon Jenkins’s “day after” column in the Guardian. Like Nigel Farage, Jenkins predicts that the “Remainers” will raise their heads and may succeed in sabotaging the whole Brexit initiative. I hope they are right! The majority of the Labour caucus, all the (weakened) Scottish Nationalist caucus, all the (much humbled) Lib Dem caucus, and a sizable minority of the Tory caucus think that leaving the EU is a monumental error. Combined, they form a comfortable majority in Parliament. Unfortunately, they are spread among several parties and lack an obvious leader able to counter both May’s and Corbyn’s pro-Brexit position.

I admit that I underestimated Corbyn’s campaigning strength. Both Sanders and Corbyn illustrated the potential advantages of a much more generous welfare state. Injecting optimism drew in many disengaged young voters. Corbyn’s optimism proved for many more attractive than Theresa May’s brittle recitation of “Brexit means Brexit.” Her drubbing is a result worth cheering. Her majority in Parliament now depends on the small contingent of Protestant MPs in Northern Ireland, descendants of a leader, Ian Paisley, as unsuitable to the problems at hand in his time as is May to today’s problems.

The weakness of both Corbyn and Sanders is a refusal to lead on the “tough” aspects of governing. In Corbyn’s case, you should acknowledge that he is partially responsible for the U.K. being in its present post–Brexit referendum chaos. There are many reasons to explain why Britain conducted its Brexit referendum last year and why a (slim) majority voted to get out of the EU. Corbyn is not the main “sorcier apprenti.” But nor is he innocent. Had he campaigned in 2016 half as vigorously for the U.K. to stay in the EU as he did against Blairites among his colleagues, he probably would have persuaded enough marginal Labour Brexiters to vote Remain. After all, the EU poses no obstacle to the U.K. running a more generous welfare state than the Tories or Blairites advocate. Corbyn shares with May a quasi-isolationist view of the world and a dislike of Britain’s active engagement in European affairs. Her ideal harks back to past British glories; his is a nostalgic hope that the past four decades of public reaction against the downside of “old Labour” can be erased and that Britain can return to the optimism of Labour’s first post–World War II government.

I acknowledge also that a “Norwegian” solution is better than a hard Brexit or no deal at all. But a “Norwegian” solution is far from ideal. It implies that one of the major European countries will be passive in the evolution of European policy, whether related to trade or to the use of military force. (Britain and France are the only two European countries with a sizable military presence.) Over the last generation, Britain has played a positive role in the EU: it championed expansion to include the former East European colonies in the Soviet empire; it provided a much-needed pro-market counterweight to the dirigiste excesses of Brussels bureaucrats and the French; it (unsuccessfully) advised against the euro, which has turned out to be one of the most severe self-inflicted wounds of the EU.

Philip Resnick:

In response to John’s comments, I would add the following. It is a pity that Corbyn did not campaign more forcefully for the Remain position in 2016 – here he was following in the footsteps of Tony Benn, who had always seen the EU as a major obstacle to the New Jerusalem that Labour would some day inaugurate. Having said that, as you acknowledge, Corbyn was hardly the principal sorcerer’s apprentice in the Brexit fiasco – David Cameron, Nigel Farage, the Murdoch press et al. deserve the lion’s share of the blame.

From: Reg Whitaker | June 10

In its own way the U.K. election is as much a shocker as the Brexit referendum or the Trump vote. To be sure, May is still PM (for the moment) and Labour is still in opposition (for longer). But May’s cynical gambit has failed disastrously, adding a spectacular own goal to her former boss Cameron’s referendum. Labour, led by a man who at the outset of the campaign was nearly universally seen as an unelectable disaster, has just increased its share of the vote over its last election by a margin larger than any Labour Party campaign since the Attlee sweep to power in 1945.

It is still too early to come to a clear consensus about what happened based on detailed analysis of the vote, but a number of points seem to have already emerged.

Brexit was in a sense responsible for everything, yet was nowhere clearly present. Brexit was like Banquo’s ghost: it haunted the proceedings but was visible only to some.

The Brexit problem is the old problem of Europe in British politics. Europe has always divided the Brits, but these divisions crosscut, rather than follow, partisan-ideological lines. Europe is not a left-right issue but British politics have always been left-right. So Brexit split the Tories and split Labour.

Only the Lib Dems tried to make Remain an issue again, but they were tainted by their time in coalition with Cameron and fell between the renewed tribal rivalry of Tory and Labour. May did try to make her faux Churchillian stance at negotiations with the EU (“a bad deal is worse than no deal”) the last desperate shot at her majority, but this fell as flat as her tough-on-terrorism stand after Manchester and London Bridge. Corbyn countered with the obvious point that a “soft” Brexit was better than no deal. But in neither case was there much content to what Brexit would actually mean in practice, and neither May nor Corbyn seemed willing to confront the magnitude of the Brexit challenge to the British economy and to the stability of the Union.

But when you look at the areas where Labour did best and made gains, it appears that these tended to coincide with areas where Remain did best in the referendum. The identification of Labour support with Brexit scepticism is strengthened by Corbyn’s capacity to mobilize the millennial and first-time voters – precisely those who are most pro-Europe. The Labour vote, we might say, is the accidental beneficiary of Brexit anxiety, and vice versa.

I agree with Simon Jenkins (always a very wise head) that this result does reopen the Remain case, even if it will take some convolutions to arrive at that point. Somewhere down the line the U.K. should have to confront the necessity of a second referendum to pass on the actual Brexit negotiated by actual negotiators. There is a Canadian precedent: in 1980 the PQ referendum on sovereignty-association would have been followed by a second referendum to ratify or reject the actual deal negotiated. That respected the Quebec people in a way that the second referendum in 1995 did not. Given 50% + 1, Jacques Parizeau would have gone for a unilateral declaration of independence. Quebecers, he enthused, would be like “lobsters in the pot.” Britons, it seems, are lobsters in the pot with 52%. That is just not acceptable.

Commentators have made much of the losses suffered by the Scottish National Party and the emergence of the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland as May’s strategic partner as evidence that fears of the Scots leaving the U.K. and perhaps Northern Ireland reuniting with the Republic to remain in the EU have been overblown. Perhaps, but I am not convinced. First, because the election was a U.K. election, not a referendum on post-Brexit Britain. Scots voted on issues of concern to all Britons. The DUP would push for a soft border. Second, since Brexit has no actual shape, there was less reason to pose a Scottish or Irish response at this point. Following an actual deal that could change again dramatically.

The other main point I would like to make is about the remarkable campaign of Jeremy Corbyn. Negatively branded well in advance – as much by his own party as by the Tories and the rabid right-wing media (think Stéphane Dion kitted up in terrorist revolutionary clothes!) – he turned it around in the campaign in an unprecedented way. His own modest and eminently reasonable demeanour, once exposed directly without the demonizing filters of the media, charmed and won over many who had previously dismissed him. But this conversion cannot be detached from the fact that Corbyn was speaking on the basis of a Labour Manifesto that was (a) resolutely left-wing and (b) surprisingly popular, especially with the young but with many older voters as well. Corbyn addressed the concerns of ordinary people, in words that were clear and accessible. And he offered hope over fear, which was the sole Tory offering. I take this as entirely encouraging in the time of Trump and Brexit The dead hand of “there is no alternative to neoliberalism” is loosening its grip and the political space is opening up.

There is a Britain, particularly among the young but not limited to them, that does not want to retreat into Little England and rejects the deceitful constraints of neoliberal orthodoxy. Jeremy Corbyn (like Bernie Sanders) is just the old, white-haired prophet of progressive change that could come from below. “Could,” not “will,” of course, but at least the possibility has been presented.

From: John Richards | June 10

Among the thoughtful postelection articles in the U.K. press, I quote a passage from Deborah Orr in the Guardian:

I feel that Britain has voted Irony. I hate the way people keep talking about “the kids”, when they mean young adults. I’m supposed to be thrilled that Corbyn got the kids out. Maybe he should have got the kids out a year ago during that terrible, dishonest EU referendum, that Cameron promised in order to be prime minister for what turned out to be an extra 13 inglorious months. The kids have voted for the man who made it plain that he didn’t really care about the EU, one way or the other, even though the kids who did vote last time voted overwhelmingly to stay in Europe.2

May evokes past British glories; Corbyn wants a more generous welfare state and renationalization of the railways. Between the two, I prefer Corbyn. But Orr rightly insists on rubbing her readers’ collective noses in the key political problem currently facing the British: Brexit. Given that Guardian readers are overwhelmingly Labour supporters, hers is a necessary voice. Neither May nor Corbyn said anything of substance in the campaign about Britain’s future relationship with Europe. If Britain withdraws from the EU, it will almost certainly suffer economically. But the remaining EU members will also lose. That the second largest European economy is succumbing to nostalgia of the right or left is not good news for Europe’s future.

From: Arthur Milner | June 10

The white underclass has seen / sees globalization – free trade, lots of immigration – as its enemy. The consequence has been the increasing success of the far right. Corbyn – not least because of his equivocation on Brexit (Sanders, too, opposed free trade) – is seen as an opponent of globalization and a friend of the working class.

American political scientist Thomas Frank, who generally denounces free trade, said this: “The orthodox economics on the subject says trade agreements are going to be good for some people and bad for other people, and you have to compensate the losers. What do Democrats do after they get these trade deals done? They scold the losers. They say, ‘Well, you didn’t go to college’” (CBC Sunday Edition, November 13, 2016).

He was talking about Bill Clinton, but of course it also applies to Tony Blair.

I generally support globalization. But if you get free trade without protection for those who lose out in the short term, you get Trump and Brexit.

So when Deborah Orr rants against Corbyn’s not caring about the EU, she’s exactly wrong. Had he cared more, he would have been seen as another Labour elitist.

I blame Blair for Brexit, not Corbyn.

From: Garth Stevenson | June 10

I don’t think I belong to the underclass, white or otherwise, but if I had lived in England in the 1970s I think I would have voted against joining “Europe.” England is part of Europe only in the trivial sense that Saint-Pierre and Miquelon are part of North America. It has a different history, a different legal system, and the English even drive on the other side of the road! Its cultural, historical and sentimental ties are with the United States and the Commonwealth, not with Europe. Historically since Tudor times it resisted every attempt to unify the continent, whether by Habsburgs, Bourbons, Bonapartists or fascists. Its heart was never really in the postwar European project, whose most enthusiastic advocates always envisaged a common currency and federal institutions at the end of the road, not merely free trade. General de Gaulle, the greatest European statesman of the 20th century, knew that the English were not really Europeans, which is why he tried to keep them out. Ireland, which is mainly Catholic, and Scotland, which has civil law rather than common law, have more in common with Europe than England does, and historically both countries used European neighbours, especially France, as counterweights to England. Presumably that is why they want to stay in.

Having said that, I also think that it is probably too late for England to get out, except at the cost of massive inconvenience, uncertainty, economic loss, possible separation from Scotland and lasting bitterness between England and its neighbours. So if had been an Englishman last year, I would have voted against Brexit. The least bad alternative at this point in time, a deal similar to that which Norway has, will be very difficult, and perhaps impossible, to negotiate. At the very least, Reg is absolutely right that there should be a second referendum to ratify the final deal (if there is a final deal) just as the Quebec government proposed in 1980.

The other option for the U.K. government might be to say, “Our people are deeply divided, they probably didn’t realize last year how difficult and inconvenient Brexit would really be, so let’s just forget the whole idea and not even try to negotiate a Brexit.” I’m not predicting that they will say that, but it is what I would probably do in their situation. Strictly speaking the Brexit vote was only a plebiscite, not a legally binding referendum, because there is no provision in British law for a binding referendum, so there would be no legal obstacle to this course of action.

The SNP would certainly support the minority government on this issue, and Labour would probably do so also, since Corbyn was never much of a “European” enthusiast and his very effective campaign has reinforced his authority over the party. Of course the DUP, on whose ten seats the government is currently relying for its temporary majority, would be unhappy, but the alliance with the DUP is already becoming controversial in England because of the DUP’s opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Apparently an online petition opposing the alliance with the DUP for that reason has attracted half a million signatures.

May, however, doesn’t seem like a strong enough leader to take such a bold step as abandoning the Brexit initiative. Run-of-the-mill politicians like May don’t take bold steps that abandon their previous policies the way de Gaulle accepted the independence of Algeria, so we will have to wait and see what happens. Que sera, sera.

From: Reg Whitaker | June 11

England part of Europe only in a trivial sense?

If we go back far enough to the origins of human settlement on what we now call the British Isles we discover that it was not an island but attached by land to the continent – and the movement of people and culture was continental in scope.

Two thousand years ago there was the little matter of Britain being part of the pan-European (and Near Eastern) Roman Empire, signs of which can be found whenever any one digs (as with the CrossRail project).

Then there were the Angles and Saxons, and then the Vikings (go to York and take a look at the evidence), all coming from Europe.

Of course let’s not forget 1066 and the Norman Conquest and the ruling class speaking French first for centuries after.

Trivial? Really!

From: John Richards | June 11

Arthur, There is an important distinction between the role of historian and politician. If we consider Brexit as historians, there are many factors in play. Clinton and Blair bear some responsibility inasmuch as they too easily accepted “neoliberal” notions about deregulation in the financial sector. Given the importance of London and New York in financial matters, this meant both the U.S. and the U.K. suffered more seriously in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008 than most countries – and exacerbated working-class misgivings about free trade arrangements. Much as Angela Merkel admitted a large number of refugees in 2015, Blair invited large East European immigration a decade earlier. Both experienced political backlash, which in the U.K. case contributed to working-class mistrust of the EU. We can invoke other factors. The U.K. had a “good war” from 1939 to 1945 inasmuch as the U.K. played a crucial role in destroying the Nazi threat. The Germans and French had very “bad wars” inasmuch as the French role in World War II was ambiguous and inconsequential, and too many Germans supported the Nazis. Post-1945 the French and German elites had a viscerally powerful desire to put an end to a century of warfare between their two countries by constructing an “ever closer union,” a goal that British elites never shared. If we consider Brexit in terms of expectations of politicians engaged in the debate, David Cameron obviously deserves to be damned for placing peace in his party above the potential damage that a lost Brexit referendum might inflict. But Corbyn should not escape criticism for his role as another “sorcier apprenti.” As Philip noted in his post, Corbyn has consistently over his career perceived the EU as an unwelcome constraint on U.K. social policy. He has rarely been frank in arguing this case. In the present context the reason for his dissembling is obvious. The great majority of his new supporters – many of them young, well-educated voters anxious to remain within the EU – do not share his quasi-isolationism. His solution has been to mumble about Britain’s role in the EU and the consequences of Brexit. Which brings to mind Edmund Burke’s letter to the Bristol constituent who had written to damn Burke’s position on an issue of the day. Burke replied that Bristol voters had elected him to exercise his judgement, not respect every sentiment of Bristol voters.

From: Garth Stevenson | June 11

Dear John, You criticize Corbyn for perceiving the EU as a constraint on U.K. social policy. Isn’t that what the Liberal Party of Canada, the NDP, the Ontario government and just about everyone who reads (or has heard of) Inroads thought about the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1988, and NAFTA a few years later? And NAFTA in fact is little more than a free trade area with no central institutions and seems to have had no effect on Canadian social policy that I am aware of. The EU on the other hand has elaborate central institutions, significantly reduces the autonomy and sovereignty of its member states and has aspirations to do so even more. It even has a flag and a “national” anthem (borrowed from poor old Beethoven, no less). So why are Brits who are sceptical or apprehensive about the EU targeted as isolationists, reactionaries, members of “the white underclass” and so forth, while Canadians who had similar misgivings about NAFTA (i.e. ourselves) are spared this kind of criticism? There seems to be a double standard at work here.

From: Joe Murray | June 11

When reading election result tea leaves, it’s important not to lose sight of the impact of ephemera and good electioneering craft and lack thereof.

There’s been a bit too much of a focus on policy as the salient factor in determining votes. Voters’ choices are based on a multitude of factors: identification with a party, identity formed in opposition to a party, perceptions of parties’ recent history, campaign platforms, specific policies in the platforms, positioning of the campaigns with respect to each other generally on key issues, key messages of the campaigns, narratives that explain the motivations and character of the leaders and what they will do, deliberate and inadvertent messaging sent by the type of events and backdrops the campaigns employ and don’t employ, the sophistication of messaging through various communications channels (TV ads, earned coverage, social media, etc.) and weaving them together into a convincing whole.

Some specific observations on this campaign:
  1. There were high expectations of May and low expectations of Corbyn going into it. As the campaign developed, May’s underperformance and Corbyn’s exceeding expectations became self-reinforcing stories.
  2. May chose a safe style of campaigning typical of campaigns with huge leads. Like “time for a change” against governments long in the tooth, “arrogance” is a familiar attack against this approach to campaigning. The Tories didn’t manage to inoculate themselves against that attack or respond effectively. May failed to pivot when the wheels started falling off her bus.
  3. Given the problems Corbyn had in public image and within his party, focusing on a person-to-person comparison made sense. “Strong and stable” are antonyms to how Corbyn was perceived at the campaign launch, not just what European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wanted in his negotiating partner.
  4. In an attempt to present a contrast with the “easy answers” of a spendthrift Labour manifesto, the Tories aimed to be straight and sober minders of the purse. Their manifesto proposed changing from a universal winter heating subsidy program to a means-tested one and, much more importantly, arranging for more of the value of more seniors’ homes to be used in calculating what they could pay for their senior care, all while lifting a lifetime cap of £72,000. In ensuring protection for those worst off while addressing looming demographic challenges to the budget, this is consistent with May’s reviving the British “One Nation” strand of conservatism so close to Canada’s Red Toryism, while retaining the support of fiscal conservatives. But this was looking only at their own move, not how their opponents could respond – a rookie mistake that wasn’t caught because the circle of consulted advisers to her co–chief of staff was too small.
  5. In some excellent jiu-jitsu, Labour used these key messages to remind voters of previous Tory cuts and general hard-heartedness. When Tory grandees who hadn’t been consulted dissented, May flip-flopped on key parts of her platform. This totally undercut the central messages of “strong and stable.”
  6. Corbyn, having gained a reputation as a crazy inflexible old leftie who hadn’t changed his doctrinaire views since the 1970s, when actually seen by voters seemed like a guy who cared about real people – the opposite of an out-of-touch, stuck-up politician. His campaign put him in the midst of people. By contrast, May’s trouble delivering her message convincingly in the spotlight provided an awful picture of an inauthentic, wooden person repeating a self-serving message ad nauseam. Good craft versus bad craft.
  7. In terms of positioning, the Lib Dems put having a second referendum at the centre of their manifesto as an appeal to Remainers. Their leader’s commitment to abortion rights and same-sex equality was called into question by weak responses to questions about his religious faith. They lost votes, winding up with their worst percentage since 1956. I think it shows there was no Macron-like latent support for a pro-EU, anti-Brexit relitigation of last year’s referendum. May was explicitly hard-Brexit and didn’t benefit much, but I don’t think that was crucial to the campaign. Corbyn tried with reasonable success to change the channel from his soft Brexit to talk about Tory cutbacks and austerity and the need to rebuild the welfare state.

In sum, campaign f***-ups and personal failings made a difference. Perceptions of personality as well as character made a difference. Campaign strategies made a difference. And to a certain extent, the polity’s views on the high policy questions of the day also played a bit of a role.

From: Reg Whitaker | June 13

As the stunning results of the U.K. election have begun to sink in, there has been much speculation about the immediate political future. But the most recent development – still ongoing this week – of a pact between the shrunken and shaken May government and the ten-member Democratic Unionist Party caucus to keep the PM propped for an indefinite period in to the new Parliament is a most sinister matter. It is not exactly a deal with the devil (that would be to adopt the biblical rhetoric of the DUP) but it is a very dangerous deal, dangerous for the U.K. and particularly dangerous for Northern Ireland. If Theresa May were not in a state of desperation, this pact would never have been acceptable.

To understand why, we should first recognize that the entire Brexit debate was an English controversy, which utterly ignored the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement was based on the joint membership of Britain and the Irish Republic in the EU and the disappearance for all practical purposes of the once-policed “hard” Irish-British border. Free movement of people, goods and services also permitted joint administration of all-Ireland matters – in effect a fudging of the once unbridgeable gap between Republican demands for Irish reunification and Loyalist insistence on the Union. Brexit throws all that into question, especially if it is the hard Brexit demanded by the Tory Eurosceptics or the “no deal rather than a bad deal” that May has egregiously proposed.

Enter the DUP, and the figure of Arlene Foster now “negotiating” with May (“your money or the life of your government” would seem to be Foster’s opening gambit). Now, consider that the power-sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland has broken down and that there is at present no Northern Ireland government. Why? Because Foster as First Minister was personally associated with a massive corruption scandal but refused Sinn Fein’s demand that she step down. Instead, new elections saw Sinn Fein make major gains but fall one seat short of the DUP. All talks to reconstitute power sharing on the new basis have failed because Foster will not cooperate. This is the same woman who walked out of the Good Friday talks one hour before the agreement came into force because she would not countenance amnesty for the IRA – even though her DUP has always been associated with Loyalist militias that were as ruthless as the IRA in killing and maiming.

The British government is supposed to offer its good offices in finding a resolution to the power-sharing stalemate to avoid reversion to direct British rule. But now the British government will be dependent for its life on the very party that has prevented a resolution!

Much has also been made about the reactionary views of the DUP on social issues like gay rights and abortion. Already Ruth Davidson, the openly lesbian leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who have made the only real gains recorded by the Tories in this election, has signalled her severe displeasure at the prospect of the DUP holding a knife to May’s throat, and has raised the possibility of a Scottish Tory party separate from the English party. But while this is a problem for May, the bigger issue is the consequences of the DUP deal for Northern Ireland.

The destabilization of Northern Ireland is an dreadful prospect. It is doubtful that any return to the horrific days of the Troubles is likely: no one really wants that. But the delicate balance between the two communities, and between the Union and the Republic, is in jeopardy. Intransigent Loyalism can halt the slow and painful process of reconciliation and cooperation. No one will gain from this. But Arlene Foster can exert leverage out of all proportion to her real support, and May has no other recourse but to surrender.

The DUP will certainly demand even more money from Westminster even though Northern Ireland is still the most heavily subsidized part of the U.K. The Good Friday Agreement was always seen (although never openly acknowledged as such) as a way for England to relieve itself of its heavy security and economic obligations to the declining industrial rust belt of Northern Ireland. Brexit could further constrain the fiscal capacity, not to speak of the will, of the U.K. government to continue pouring good money after bad into Ulster. But now they may have no choice.

This is a serious mess. Another election and a Corbyn Labour majority government may be the only way out.

Continue reading “Theresa May’s losing gamble”

When the dark wood fell before me
And all the paths were overgrown
When the priests of pride say there is no other way
I tilled the sorrows of stone
— Loreena McKennitt, “Dante’s Prayer”

The most dramatic moment in President Donald Trump’s speech to Congress on February 28 came when he addressed Carryn Owens, the widow of a Navy SEAL who was killed in a raid on an Al Qaeda target in Yemen in late January. Senior Chief William (Ryan) Owens “died as he lived,” Trump said:

a warrior, and a hero – battling against terrorism and securing our Nation. I just spoke to Mattis, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, “Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.” Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom – we will never forget him.

Initial media comment was effusive. “What the President did w Owen’s widow was capital P Presidential,” noted Katy Tur of NBC. Citing this and other moments in Trump’s speech, Chris Wallace of Fox News said, “I feel like tonight Donald Trump became the President of the United States.”

Questions about whether the Yemen raid lived up to Trump’s characterization of it were left to outlets such as the New Yorker, where Amy Davidson wrote that “Owens was killed in an operation in Yemen that Trump had authorized, and which appears to have gone very badly, with probable civilian deaths, the alienation of the Yemeni public, and exaggerations about the intelligence gained,” and John Cassidy pointed out that Bill Owens, father of the slain Navy SEAL, was demanding an investigation into the mission that led to his son’s death. An earlier New York Times article on the raid summed it up by saying that “almost everything that could go wrong did.”1

But none of that mattered. When a military operation – almost any military operation – is invoked for political or patriotic purposes, the details are unimportant.

As with the Yemen raid of 2017, so with the Battle of Vimy Ridge of 1917.

Of course there are differences. It is unquestionable that the four Canadian divisions that launched the attack on April 9, 1917, did, in fact, dislodge the Germans and capture the ridge. The problem is with the wider context, and especially with the claim, frequently repeated in this year’s observance of the centenary of the battle, that Vimy represented the birth of the Canadian nation – what Ian McKay and Jamie Swift, in their new book The Vimy Trap, call “Vimyism.”

The Vimy Trap is a historiography of Vimy, and of Canada’s participation in the First World War more generally – supplemented by an extensive and useful bibliographic essay. It is not so much about the war itself as about its representation in the years since in books, newspaper photos and their captions, painting and sculpture, films, radio documentaries, exhibits in the Canadian War Museum, even video games. It is about the impact of Vimy on our sense of ourselves.

Though full-blown Vimyism is a relatively recent phenomenon, different conceptions of the war have been in competition in the entire century since 1914. During the war itself, the official attitude toward the war was expressed in what historian Paul Fussell, cited by McKay and Swift, called “High Diction”: the language of honour, valour and sacrifice. Even then, High Diction ran up against the “Low Reality” of the war, a notable expression of which was Fred Varley’s grim 1918 painting For What?

A current of disillusionment ran through the postwar period, and among the most disillusioned were the returned soldiers themselves. Erich Maria Remarque, whose 1929 novel All Quiet on the Western Front typified the “Literature of Disillusionment” of that period, was a veteran of the Western Front; so was the Canadian Charles Yale Harrison, author of Generals Die in Bed (1928).

This mood was reflected in the creation of the imposing monument to Canada’s war dead that was dedicated at Vimy Ridge in 1936. In the Canadian National Vimy Memorial’s dominant figure, sculptor Walter Allward portrayed Canada as a grieving woman, “Canada Bereft” as he called her or Mother Canada as she is popularly known. At the top of the monument’s twin pylons are the symbolic figures of Justice and Peace, with other symbolic figures below. The Vimy Memorial, a familiar image that graces the reverse side of the 20-dollar bill and says “Vimy” to many Canadians, is far from being Vimyist.

And while there were echoes of Vimyism in some of the speeches at the dedication ceremony, others, like that of United Church minister George Oliver Fallis, took on a very different tone. Evoking John McCrae’s plea in “In Flanders Fields” to take up the dying soldiers’ quarrel with the foe and hold high the torch they threw, Fallis urged his listeners to “finish their task and make real their vision of a world swayed by peace and brotherhood.” McKay and Swift comment, “The ‘foe’ with whom one should quarrel, in this 1936 vision, was war itself.”

But after King Edward VIII dedicated the Vimy Memorial, attitudes began to harden. “From the mid-1930s,” McKay and Swift write, “martial nationalism would start to make claims for Vimy that were scarcely credible and would have been generally unrecognizable in 1917 … There was a sense that, after the opening of the monument in 1936, Vimy and the Great War attained a certain untouchability in Canada.”

Still, it took another few decades before Vimyism really began to take hold. Its central creedal statement is the work of Brig.-Gen. Alex Ross, who fought at Vimy and later became a leading figure in the Canadian Legion: “It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then, and I think today, that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.” While Ross may have expressed similar sentiments earlier, this formulation comes from his introduction to a 1967 book by Eberts Macintyre, Canada at Vimy. And Vimyism would have to wait another two decades for its core scriptural text, Pierre Berton’s 1986 book Vimy. As McKay and Swift write, “The ‘Battle of Vimy Ridge’ that has captivated many a Canadian mind – from Don Cherry to former prime minister Stephen Harper to historian Tim Cook – is, to a large extent, the Vimy of Berton’s heroic story.”

In Berton’s telling, the story was one of hardy Canadian frontiersmen whose fortitude, resourcefulness and independence of mind allowed them to accomplish things that the regimented soldiers of Europe could not. But McKay and Swift raise some pointed questions about Berton’s story, and about the Vimyist account of the battle in general. They note that most of the soldiers at Vimy came not from the frontier but from the urban working class. Far from being “innocents abroad,” as Berton portrays them, they engaged in such “brutal tactics” as prisoner-killing and trench-raiding (that Berton himself reports such activities leads McKay and Swift to call his book a “subtly self-subverting text”). The units that won this “Canadian” victory were fully integrated into the British Expeditionary Force. And far from promoting Canadian national unity, Vimy had a “quite unexpected consequence”:

After Prime Minister Borden went to France to visit the wounded of Vimy Ridge, he returned home to Canada in May convinced that the country should move ahead on compulsory military service. Shortly after that, on 24 May, Montreal became the scene of anti-conscription riots. Rather than leading the country almost magically to attain new levels of unity and togetherness, Vimy Ridge was the prelude to an unprecedented conflict in Canada so serious that it raised the prospect of the country’s violent dissolution.

With this background, it is not surprising that Vimyism has never caught on in French Quebec. Indeed, even though Vimy is supposed to represent a key moment in Canada’s achieving independence from Britain, it has been largely a British Canadian phenomenon, and it took hold precisely when the idea of Canada as an essentially British country was beginning to fade. “Vimy as the national origin story can be welcomed without inner reservations mainly by those Anglo-Canadians who retain a fond regard for the British Empire,” write McKay and Swift. “Since the 1960s the members of this group have become a minority – yet one retaining vast political resources and cultural power. In a country of minorities … Vimyism – promoted by a powerful, determined, and affluent minority – fills a cultural void.”

McKay and Swift favour a very different style of war remembrance, typified by a pair of statues by German artist Käthe Kollwitz, which stand in a German military cemetery in Belgium where her 18-year-old son, killed in 1914, is buried. They note that Kollwitz’s work, The Grieving Parents, “has no trace of patriotic bombast.” Rather, it expresses grief for her son, for all the victims of the war, and for her generation’s failure to prevent the catastrophe. A more recent example of appropriate commemoration in the Ring of Remembrance in Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, France, not far from Vimy Ridge, dedicated on November 11, 2014. Consisting of 500 metal panels, it contains the names of nearly 600,000 soldiers on both sides killed in northern France, listed alphabetically without regard to nationality or rank.

Another elaborate ceremony took place at Vimy Ridge on April 9, 2017, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle. While there were notes of Vimyism in the ceremony, especially in Prime Minister Trudeau’s speech, the dominant mood was more subdued. Trudeau evoked the familiar tropes of the battle bringing Canadians together and allowing Canada to stand as an independent actor on the international stage. But under the brooding figure of Mother Canada, in a battlefield still pockmarked and dotted with unexploded shells, Loreena McKennitt’s “Dante’s Prayer” better suited the occasion. François Hollande of France, in the waning days of his presidency, had the grace to remember the German soldiers who died as well as those of France, Britain and Canada. Even Trudeau, after his Vimyist excursion, concluded his speech with a passionate call for peace and the words “Never again.” In the CBC’s coverage of the event, Peter Mansbridge and others noted that the capture of Vimy Ridge did not change the course of the war.

Perhaps the high tide of Vimyism has passed and Canada can move on to a more sober assessment of its military past. Perhaps Canada has matured to the point where it no longer needs a battle to define its identity. Perhaps the world is slowly finding better ways to resolve disputes than the use of force. Perhaps.

On April 6 (coincidentally the 100th anniversary of American entry into the First World War), President Trump ordered a missile attack on a Syrian air base in response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. Once again commentators declared his move presidential (there had been some backsliding since his February speech). Once again, “Donald Trump became President of the United States” – this time according to Fareed Zakaria on CNN.

Whether or not the West should intervene militarily in Syria is a complex issue. Those who favour such intervention have some cogent arguments on their side.2 But evidence of any long-term, thought-out strategy behind Trump’s action is lacking. This is not supposed to concern us. “The motto seems to be: ‘when in doubt, go to war,’” noted Arthur Milner on the Inroads listserv. “Any leader will do. Trump sends a few dozen missiles and suddenly the liberal warmongers decide he’s presidential after all.”

A battle makes a nation. A missile strike makes a presidency. How we remember war affects how we think about it now. McKay and Swift’s account of how we remember Vimy is of more than historical interest.

Continue reading “Vimy and Vimyism”

One morning in the third week of April, as this issue of Inroads was taking shape, I woke up, as I often do, to a CBC radio newscast. The top three items were allegations of irregularities in the Turkish constitutional referendum that had just taken place; Ontario’s nonresident speculation tax, about to be introduced; and a scene-setter for the first round of the French presidential election, scheduled for that Sunday. Despite our leisurely twice-a-year publication schedule, Inroads strives to be timely. As I listened to that newscast, I realized that with this issue we had succeeded to an uncommon degree.

Being timely is always a virtue in journalism, but there are reasons for placing special emphasis on this virtue at this point in history. The rise of populist parties and movements, their challenge to established Western institutions and to classic left-right political divisions, and apparent Russian involvement in helping them along have thrown into question assumptions that have prevailed for a generation or more. We see Inroads as a place where readers can turn for insightful analysis of world-changing developments of this kind. While we have been examining the populist challenge for the last year or so, we offer our most sustained and systematic coverage in this issue, with a particular focus on the role of Russia.

While the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States and the tumultuous early months of his administration have occupied a disproportionate amount of media space, perhaps the most significant developments in the populist-versus-mainstream struggle have been taking place in Europe, and our theme section devotes most of its attention to that continent. Henry Milner and John Erik Fossum provide an overview. Milner takes a wide-ranging look at the erosion of democracy, while Fossum analyzes the nature of populism and its ambivalent relationship with the European Union.

Five articles look at the varying ways in which these dynamics are playing out in different parts of Europe. Philipp Harfst acknowledges Germany’s apparent stability, but notes that the populist Alternative for Germany has gained representation in a series of regional elections. John Richards is only mildly comforted by Emmanuel Macron’s presidential victory in France, and looks ahead to Britain’s June election. He describes political institutions in both countries as being in “disarray.” Filip Kostelka and Eva Krejčová report on the methods Russia is using to reestablish its influence in its former empire, Central and Eastern Europe. Giorgio Malet provides background to Italy’s two “electoral earthquakes” of 1994 and 2013. Paul Lucardie explains why if the Dutch election of March 15 wasn’t a victory for Geert Wilders’s populist Freedom Party, it wasn’t exactly a defeat either.

Although Europe is our main focus, we don’t ignore the United States. Ronald Beiner searches for the core of “Bannonism,” which may well survive as a movement regardless of whether chief strategist Steve Bannon remains in favour in the White House. Gareth Morley examines the significance of Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Trump and his context are also the subject of two political columns. Reg Whitaker is concerned about the loss of democratic trust and the possibility of authoritarian rule. Garth Stevenson finds in Trump echoes of earlier populists like William Jennings Bryan and Huey Long, and even such mainstream figures as John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
Turkey is another country where democracy has been subject to increasing authoritarian pressures, and we are fortunate to have the distinguished Turkish political scientist Ilter Turan provide background to the April 16 referendum in which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan narrowly won his bid for increased powers.

Canada has been essentially a bystander in these developments. But two Canadian issues examined here show that Canada is not isolated from what is happening in the rest of the world. In a follow-up to his analysis of Vancouver’s housing bubble a year ago, Josh Gordon looks at both Vancouver and Toronto and notes the “toxic” social effects of unaffordable housing, which has its roots in capital flight from China. He proposes a remedy, one that found its way into the recent bc election campaign.

Also in this issue:

*   While finding that, overall, Canadian schools are doing well at integrating immigrants, John Richards also identifies trends that raise doubts about whether this success can continue.

*   Mathieu Wade finds that while New Brunswick is a bilingual province, New Brunswickers have not succeeded in becoming a bilingual people.

*   In an interview with Gareth Morley, Craig Jones of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws expresses qualified approval of Ottawa’s proposed legislation legalizing cannabis.

*   Arthur Milner looks at two ways of crossing North America’s “great divide.”

*   As we mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, I review a book that is highly critical of the notion that Vimy marked the birth of the Canadian nation.

As a writer who gained fame primarily by capturing a cultural moment that has long since passed, Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) could easily have faded from consciousness. He was, and remains, best known for his novel On the Road, published in 1957, whose popularity was one of the early signs of widespread cultural rebellion among American youth. But Kerouac and that rebellion soon parted ways; unlike his friend Allen Ginsberg, he never made the transition to the very different cultural atmosphere of the 1960s, and his alcohol-shortened life was over by that decade’s end.

Since then, however, there has been a steady stream of biographies, academic studies, symposia, critical editions of his work, and references to Kerouac in likely and unlikely places. Two such references I chanced upon recently indicate the range: In a 2016 article on “spiritual hitchhiking,” Peter and Sharon Lauricella cite the Kerouac of On the Road as the prototype of the spiritual hitchhiker.1 In Quebec writer (and television presenter) Claudine Bourbonnais’s 2014 novel Métis Beach, Kerouac is a character who is always in the background and sometimes in the foreground. Bourbonnais’s protagonist is a Quebecer who undertakes his own journey across the United States, with a passage from Kerouac to send him on his way.2 Nearly half a century after his death, there can be little doubt that Kerouac is an enduring figure.

Since the opening of the Kerouac archives at the New York Public Library in 2006, much previously unknown Kerouac material has come to light. Two noteworthy new collections of unpublished Kerouac writings give some clues to the reasons for his endurance.

“When I cry I always cry in French”

Jack was born Jean-Louis Lebris (Ti-Jean) de Kérouac in Lowell, Massachusetts. His parents were among the hundreds of thousands of migrants who left the struggling farms of rural Quebec in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to work in the mill towns of New England. Ti-Jean’s native language was French, and he spoke no English until he was six years old. As an adult writer, he would often write in French before translating his material into English, and even when he wrote in English there was a French cast to his thought. “In a sense,” writes Jean-Christophe Cloutier, who edited the collection of Kerouac’s French writings, La vie est d’hommage, and prepared English translations of some of the same works for The Unknown Kerouac, “we’ve always been reading Kerouac in translation.”

At the same time, his fondest wish was to escape his Quebec roots, to become a “real American man,” a wish that played out in his wild cross-country adventures with Neal Cassady that became the subject matter of On the Road. He also wanted to be a great American writer like his early role model, Thomas Wolfe, and he pursued that ambition with his first novel, The Town and the City (1950). But he was deeply affected by a review of that book that appeared in Le Travailleur, a newspaper based in Worcester, Massachusetts, whose mission was to uphold the traditional French-Canadian value of survivance, survival of the French language and Catholic religion in the Anglo-American Protestant sea. The reviewer, the noted Franco-American journalist Yvonne Le Maître, while favourable to the book, criticized Kerouac for hiding his French-Canadian ethnicity and his origins in a French-speaking family. In a letter to Le Maître, Kerouac told her of his desire to write novels in French and said that he refashioned English to fit French images.

This duality – perhaps the eternal duality of the French Canadian from the earliest days of New France, habitant and voyageur – was a constant in Kerouac’s life. Even as he became famous as one of the leading writers of the Beat Generation, he continued to live with his mother, Mémère. He shared the Beats’ affinity for Eastern religions, but he described himself as a “strange solitary crazy Catholic mystic.” When a New York Post reporter interviewed Jack and Mémère in their home in 1959, Mémère took him up to Jack’s bedroom and pointed to a crucifix over his bed: “If he was so bad, would he have that?” And pointing to a rosary, “And that?”3

“American writers who write and speak only one language are lucky”

At the heart of both these new collections are two novellas that Kerouac wrote in French in the early 1950s, one entitled La nuit est ma femme (The Night is my Woman) and the other entitled Sur le chemin in French and Old Bull in the Bowery in English. Kerouac himself translated bits of the two novellas into English, and Jean-Christophe Cloutier has completed the translations. Cloutier, a native of Quebec who now teaches English at the University of Pennsylvania, also translated a few passages of Old Bull that were originally written in English into French. Cloutier’s work in bringing these novellas to publishable form went beyond editing and translation to something resembling archeology, like deciphering the inscription on an Assyrian stele or piecing together fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This was especially true of Old Bull, much of which was found in pieces in various notebooks in the archives, handwritten and sometimes heavily revised.

The French in which Kerouac wrote was not the French of Paris or even Montreal but the French he heard in his childhood in the homes and streets of Lowell. Its grammar is informal, its spelling is inconsistent and it is laced with English words, but like other popular varieties such as Yiddish and African American Vernacular English, it is powerfully expressive. Kerouac wrote in this language because for him “the language called Canadian French” was “the strongest in the world.” In this he differed from the joual writers of Quebec whose writing in working-class vernacular served a Quebec nationalist agenda. Kerouac’s agenda was simply to find the best vehicle for his memories and experiences.

The pungency of Kerouac’s writing in French does not fully come through in the English translations. On the other hand, the lyrical quality of his English writing is not fully present in his French works. “The reason I handle English words so easily,” he wrote to Yvonne Le Maître, “is because it is not my own language.”

Among other things to be found in the two collections are letters and short reflections, fragments in French of novels that eventually appeared in English, and an extraordinary journal that Kerouac began when he was being treated for thrombophlebitis in the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in the Bronx in August 1951 and kept up until November. It is in this journal that Kerouac made what appears to Cloutier to be his definitive statement about the relationship between the two languages:

Il faut vivre en Anglais, c’est impossible vivre en Francais.
This is the secret thought of the Canuck in America.
C’est important aux Anglais – it’s important to the English … so the Canuck does it.

“ In Montreal I was so homesick to come back home to Lowell … that I was almost sick ”

And yet, despite Kerouac’s self-idenfication as a “Canuck,” his relationship with the actually existing Canada – French Canada – a few hundred kilometres from his native Lowell was always a rocky one. The quote above was inspired by a childhood trip to Montreal in 1934. A visit to Montreal at the height of his creative period in 1953 again left him disillusioned. And when he came to Montreal in 1967 he found himself completely out of step with the new Quebec of the Quiet Revolution. When he was interviewed on a Radio-Canada television show people laughed at the way he spoke French.

It was only after Kerouac’s death that Quebec began to reclaim him as one of its own. Victor-Lévy Beaulieu’s seminal Jack Kérouac: essai-poulet was published in 1972: “Jack’s work is exemplary because it seems to me to be dense with a reality that for a long time was the French-Canadian reality – Look at Mémère in Lowell, watch her live and may my left hand be cut off if that woman is not typical of us.”4

Kerouac books and studies followed. In 1987 a “Rencontre internationale Jack Kérouac” brought American, Canadian and European scholars, along with surviving Beat writers Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, to Quebec City. In 2007 Le Devoir reviewer Michel Lapierre considered it “deplorable” that historian Yves Roby, in his book on the Franco-Americans, failed to mention Kerouac, “the writer who brought a breath of Quebec, attenuated though it may be, to the English language and American culture.”5 Claudine Bourbonnais’s evocation of Kerouac in her 2014 novel was another indication of the extent to which Kerouac has become a figure in the Quebec imagination. All that was left was for a major Quebec publisher to bring out a collection of Kerouac’s French writings – something that has now been accomplished thanks to Jean-Christophe Cloutier’s painstaking work.

“I m lost, but my work is found”

Although “sur le chemin” is French for “on the road,” the French novella with that title is not at all the same work as the novel published in 1957. In his 1951 journal, Kerouac refers repeatedly to a manuscript he is working on called On the Road, but that is not the 1957 On the Road either; it was published after his death as Visions of Cody. Clearly, “on the road” was more than a book title for Kerouac – it was an existential reality. He was eternally on the road: a spiritual hitchhiker, yes, but also an internally displaced person, uprooted from his old home and never able to find a new one.

Victor-Lévy Beaulieu described Kerouac as “the cherry on the Franco-American sundae”6: the pinnacle, and at the same time the end. The Franco-American community could not have produced a Kerouac at any other time, for the institutional foundations of the rich French life in which Ti-Jean grew up were crumbling, and by the end of his life they were gone.

In the years since, this sense of crumbling cultural foundations has become increasingly widespread. In 2016 many of us are internally displaced persons, even – no, especially – the “real American man,” whose cultural alienation has reached the point that he has allowed himself to be seduced by so unlikely a saviour as Donald Trump. The area around the VA Hospital in the Bronx where Kerouac began his 1951 journal is now predominantly Spanish-speaking, with overtones of Mexico and the Dominican Republic. I suspect that Kerouac – at least the early Kerouac, before he became hardened and cynical – would have enjoyed “sketching” (in words) this neighbourhood, but many others see in such places the loss of the America they once knew.

“We must yield to the evidence,” writes Jean Christophe Cloutier. “Kerouac remains, above all, an American.” But what was perhaps most American about him was his duality, and it was only after he fully embraced this duality that he fulfilled his dream of becoming a great American writer.

Continue reading “The enduring Jack Kerouac”

The Inroads listserv began in 1997 as a means to link Inroads readers and others interested in policy discussion. With nearly 130 subscribers, it offers one of the few chances for people of diverse views to grapple with social and political issues in depth.


Inroads editors are split between “hawks” and “doves” on the question of military intervention in Syria. John Richards and Dominic Cardy have been critical of the Obama administration for drawing what they see as the wrong conclusions from the Iraq civil war post-2003.1 Henry Milner came to the defence of Obama and suggested the editors read a recent article by Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Richards decided to air Inroads’ “dirty linen” and posted the Power article to the listserv, acknowledging the obvious: Inroads editors disagree. The debate took off from there.

From: John Richards | October 9

Henry Milner has recommended that the editors read a recent New York Review of Books (NYRB) article by Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the UN.2 Power is a very smart policy wonk who has preferred to argue from the inside rather than the outside of the Obama administration. Having made her existential choice, she cannot advocate military actions that run counter to the U.S. administration. Historically, however, she has been a “liberal hawk.” She equivocated on the Iraq invasion in 2003, saying that it would probably improve the lives of Iraqis because Saddam was a monster but would open the United States to massive criticism in the Middle East as a neocolonialist.

I agree with much of the NYRB article. For example, she emphasizes that, in many deeply troubled countries, the core of the problems are internal political/religious dynamics. For U.S. diplomats to have an influence, they must get out of their embassies and try to understand who is lining up with whom, who is killing whom and why. While she uses Henry Kissinger’s realpolitik as a foil, she winds up agreeing with much of his analysis. She departs from Kissinger inasmuch as she almost certainly favours some form of military intervention in Syria. Her concluding paragraph illustrates her continuing ambivalence about use of unilateral U.S. force:

Yet there are of course some foreign policy dilemmas for which deepening our diplomatic engagement and marshaling global coalitions will not offer a ready solution. Such as when the aspirations of the people in a given country cut against our long-standing relationship with its government. Or when we know that a government’s actions are setting back our shared interests, while it also appears absolutely impervious to our diplomatic and economic pressure to change course. Or when we suspect that exerting pressure on a government to move toward a more open system that respects human rights may actually undermine the limited influence we have over it. These are not hypothetical balancing acts; they are challenges we are confronting right now in our relationships with countries across the world.

From: Garth Stevenson | October 9

The issues raised by John and Henry are complex and important, but let me put my cards on the table at the outset by saying that I agree with Kissinger. The primary purpose of foreign policy, and certainly of defence policy, is to protect the security of your own country and other countries whose security is considered essential to your own. Sending your young men and women overseas to fight and die is the most serious decision a government can make. Kissinger in my opinion is a better exemplar of how to make such decisions than Don Quixote. Trying to impose our version of human rights by military means on countries with totally different cultures and at a different stage of development is a fool’s errand whose consequences cannot be predicted in advance. The only thing for certain is that the longer the intervention drags on the less willing the people of your own country, including those who have to put their boots on the ground, will be to support it.

Building a modern liberal democratic state is a long and difficult process, the work of centuries. Along the way there is bound to be lots of disorder and suffering. In France it took a very bloody revolution and in the United States it took a civil war that killed 2 per cent of the population and left the southern states in ruins. England’s King Henry VIII was just as bad as any of the modern dictators in the Middle East. For better or worse, he was a stage along the road to modernity. I doubt if foreign military intervention in any of the countries I have just mentioned could have made things better, any more than intervention in Syria and Iraq is doing today. More likely it would have made people’s lives even worse, as war usually does. Certainly in Syria today there is no evidence that Western policymakers know whom they are supporting or should be supporting. Although I am not an admirer of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, he was right to stay out of the Nigerian civil war (remember Biafra?) despite the murmurings offstage of certain Canadians who wouldn’t have known one end of a rifle from the other.

Admittedly a foreign and defence policy based on realpolitik may mean supporting some regimes whose domestic policies fall far short of our moral standards. FDR coined the expression “He may be a son of a bitch but he’s our son of a bitch.” He could have meant Stalin, who was “our son of a bitch” from 1941 to 1945, but actually he was referring to Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua.

Some people may respond that World War II was fought for human rights, but that is not so, although some human rights eventually benefited from the Anglo-American victory. We fought against Germany and Japan not because of their records on human rights (which as of 1939 were better than Stalin’s) but because their geopolitical ambitions threatened our security. Of course, the surrender of Germany and Japan enabled the victors to impose liberal democracy on most of Germany and all of Japan, but that was a fortunate byproduct of fighting the war, not the reason for it.

From: Reg Whitaker | October 9

It’s been a long time since I agreed with anything Garth has written, so I am pleased to note that I agree with almost everything he says here. Campaigns to spread Western “democracy” (by which is normally meant no more than a voting fetish and the further spread of Western capital) at the point of a gun have been disastrous. Worse, debacles like Vietnam and Iraq have not only failed in the field but impacted most grievously on the domestic politics of the intervening powers (particularly the United States over Vietnam and the U.K. over Iraq), building the long-term distrust of government that is the wind in the sails of right-wing populism. LBJ’s Great Society has turned into Donald Trump’s Angry America; Blair’s New Labour led to Brexit. Being systematically lied to by your government about their bloody interventions abroad leads to easy conspiracy theories of how the elites can no longer be believed.

Western interventions for regime change in other parts of the world are indeed doomed not only to fail but likely to make matters worse (e.g., from Saddam Hussein to the Islamic State). Syria is a case in point. There are no “good guys” to back. Nor are there any conceivable good outcomes. Some outcomes might be worse than others, but all are bad.

The trouble with applying external ethics to complex conflicts is not only the culture shock involved in superimposing a set of standards having little overlap with local cultures but also the problem pointed to long ago in Max Weber’s great essay “Politics as a Vocation.” The absolute ethic (to act in strict accordance with one’s notion of right regardless of context) is applicable to saints and hermits answerable only to their God. Politicians have to weigh the consequences of doing the “right thing” when that may cost more lives and suffering than not doing the right thing. They must employ the ethics of consequences.

Garth is quite right that the ethics of consequences may sometimes lead to alliances with the likes of a Stalin. As Churchill said, a deal with the devil to defeat Hitler was necessary. Once Hitler was defeated, the deal was off. Perhaps a deal with the devils Putin and Assad to defeat the Islamic State et al. in Syria might have been a better idea than a half-assed intervention on behalf of one soi-disant “democratic” jihadist gang of thugs or other, in a quixotic quest to unseat Assad.

The one case where I would qualify nonintervention advice is with regard to non–regime change situations where military intervention can at least stop genocide or large-scale massacres of civilians: Rwanda or Bosnia. In Bosnia, bombing Serb positions around Sarajevo quickly put a stop to the years-long nightmare of the assault on that city. It did not impose a solution on the warring parties, but it did set them on the road to settling. This was, I think, the ethics of consequences in action.

From: Arthur Milner | October 10

Haaretz today had this headline on last night’s debate: “On Syria, Trump was much closer to Obama than Clinton was.” That puts Garth, Reg, Donald, Barack and me on one side; John and Hillary on the other.

The combination of realpolitik and liberal interventionism terrifies me. It allows politicians to lie to themselves and to us.

John trusts the West’s motives, though not its competence. I trust neither. To me, Responsibility to Protect is mostly used as cover for a wide variety of sins.

From: Joe Murray | October 10

To throw a few more arguments into the mix:

  1. There is good empirical evidence that resolving violent conflicts one way or the other in resounding fashion results in fewer deaths and casualties than prolonging them. If one criterion for evaluating how well protection of civilians is handled in a situation is deaths and casualties, then it might be best to let the “bad” guys win convincingly as soon as possible, or to be bloody-minded in suppressing the bad guys. Of course, judging when either of those courses is possible/probable is hard.
  2. I have been unclear on what Putin’s motives are. Obviously he wants to reassert a Russian zone of influence, at least near Russia’s borders, and to be seen to do that. Yes, he’s got to test out and prove the worth of his missile and air force rebuilding efforts. And yes, it is to his advantage to keep the fight against fundamentalist Islam outside Russia’s borders and to take away the Islamic State’s “homeland” for training fighters to be sent to Russia. But the refugee flow from the ongoing conflict has helped split Europe, which benefits Russia. So I’m not clear whether he wants to finish the war through a thorough win over the Islamic State or see the continuation of the refugee flows.
  3. A humanitarian right to forcible intervention in the affairs of another state provides a pretext that will be abused to start wars, so the 19th-century opposition to such a right is still valid. We’re better off keeping a bright line against wars and in favour of the Westphalian doctrine of nonintervention in the internal affairs of other states.
From: John Richards | October 10

Whether the West, the United States in particular, should intervene more aggressively in the Middle East, and if so how, are “big questions” about which very smart people obviously disagree. Maybe your team is right, Arthur, and mine wrong. Here, however, are a few questions for your team to contemplate:

  1. If the West does not intervene in an attempt to end the Syrian civil war, will the proxy states supporting the war escalate their hostilities into a regional conflagration pitting Shi’a against Sunni powers?
  2. (bonus question) What will be the fate of the Kurds?
  3. Will the EU elect many conservative populist governments that eliminate Schengen, put an end to the euro, close borders, curtail immigration?
  4. As of now, approximately 500,000 have died in the Syrian civil war, about three times more than died in the post-2003 Iraq civil war triggered by the U.S. invasion. What is your estimate of the total casualties if it carries on for another five years?
From: John Richards | October 11

In this issue of Inroads, my friend Paul Delany reviews three books on the post-2003 war in Iraq. As a supplement to his review I add another perspective, that of Chris Hill, the “realist” ambassador to Iraq sent to reach a pragmatic solution that would enable the United States to leave Iraq ASAP and the author of a recent memoir.3

The Inroads editorial team is probably bored with my obsessive interest in events in Baghdad in 2010 when, in my opinion, Obama’s team made a fatefully wrong decision. So be it. These are events that deserve rethinking.

Obama and Hillary Clinton, then his secretary of state, enabled Nouri al-Maliki, a sectarian Shi’i, to enjoy a second term as prime minister despite having narrowly lost the 2010 general election. Maliki was willing to implement the wishes of Tehran, which in turn transformed much of the disempowered Sunni Arab elite into supporters of the Islamic State.

Last year I reviewed Emma Sky’s memoir The Unraveling in Inroads.4 Her book is essentially the version of events as perceived by Ray Odierno, the general in charge of the 2007–10 surge that ended the Iraq civil war, and David Petraeus, the general who designed the surge. The success of the surge enabled a reasonably fair election to tale place in 2010, which gave a narrow plurality to a secular Shi’i leader, Ayad Allawi, willing to compromise with the Sunni Arab minority and the Kurds.

Clinton chose Hill as U.S. ambassador to Baghdad in 2009. He was to be the civilian outsider, a realist free from any sympathy with the army view that, at great cost in life and treasure, the surge had salvaged American honour. As with the various narrators in Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa’s cinematic portrayal of alternative narratives), Hill’s version of events in Baghdad bears little resemblance to that of Emma Sky.

Roger Harrison, former U.S. ambassador to Jordan who currently teaches political philosophy at the U.S. Air Force Academy, has written an insightful review of both Sky’s and Hill’s memoirs.5 “The best we could hope for now,” writes Harrison in summary of Hill’s version of events, “was the emergence of a somewhat milder and more inclusive version of the sectarian- and tribal-based autocracy we had come to Iraq to overthrow. That meant a new strong man, and there was, Hill thought, no real alternative to Maliki.” In Harrison’s telling, Hill could not understand that “pragmatism is not always a virtue”:

No wonder Hill and Odierno pulled in opposite directions. Odierno, by more reflective, had become the keeper of the narrative flame , with Sky as his torchbearer. Perhaps a wiser or more adaptable diplomat than Hill would have understood that those who had fought the battle required one final effort to salvage more than mere stability from all the sacrifice and blood that had gone before. Pragmatism argued otherwise, but pragmatism is not always a virtue. He might have understood that any remaining hope depended on a concerted effort of U.S. civilian and military leadership, and that he was fated to be the junior member in this partnership, the “wingman,” as Petraeus had patronizingly dubbed Hill’s predecessor, Ryan Crocker. Crocker had been quietly effective in that role. But Iraq seems to have confounded Hill, just as it confounded the country he represented. What had begun for the U.S. government in confusion and tragedy was now destined to end the same way.

From: Patrick Balena | October 12

John, going back to your post of October 10, I think that your first question reveals a lack of understanding of the nature of war. What do you mean by “intervene in an attempt to end the Syrian War”?

All of the parties involved in the Syrian War are attempting to end the war. The problem is that each party wants the war to end differently, and is willing to kill to make the difference. When you participate in the war, you become another of those warring parties.

What you do in a war is kill people and destroy things, and threaten to kill even more people and destroy even more things, until your enemies, hopefully, yield to your political demands. You kill and destroy to make the difference you want.

So the real questions for you, John, would be these: Whom do you want to kill in Syria? What do you want to destroy? What are your political demands? What is your desired end state, and how much destruction are you willing to inflict – and perhaps endure – to achieve it?

Unless we know that you understand at least the first thing about war, it is hard for us to have a reasonable discussion about the matter.

Nevertheless, I’ll venture into the second half of that question of yours. The only significant Sunni power in the region is Saudi Arabia, and the only significant Shi’a power is Iran. If those two don’t go to open war, then none of the lesser countries are likely to go to open war. The comforting thing is that neither has the capability to wage open war against a peer opponent. Therefore, the sort of proxy conflict taking place between them today is likely to be the worst that we’ll see in the near future.

By far the bigger danger posed to the world by the Syrian War is the possibility of an escalation that would involve direct fighting between powers from outside the region: NATO and Russia. It feels strange even to be writing such a thing, but the risk has become, as the saying goes, “nontrivial.”

Your fourth question provided some estimates of casualties in Iraq and Syria. Do you know that the figure of 470,000 deaths in the Syrian War, given by the Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR), is derived from a sampling method similar to, and indeed looser than, the methodology employed by the Lancet, which estimated surplus mortality from the Iraq War?

If you cite a half-million people slain in Syria, you should also accept the death toll in Iraq, approaching one million, which was calculated by the second Lancet survey. If not, you need to explain why a looser sampling method used by SCPR for Syria would be more reliable than the sampling method used by the Lancet for Iraq.

Since you say “three times more,” it would seem to me that you’re comparing the SCPR totals to the Iraq noncombatant deaths estimate given by the Maliki government, which was 130,000. That figure was from, I believe, 2008 or 2009. Since the Maliki government was collaborating with the invading powers in Iraq, the figure would naturally have to be considered lowball. Obviously, more people in Iraq have died in fighting that has taken place since then, although the intensity of fighting has been less than the 2006–07 peak.

Myself, I am suspicious of peacetime sampling methods when employed in war zones. Are the figures derived really all that useful? In any case, these are wars taking place on a substantial scale, and the loss of life, whether combatant or noncombatant, has been fairly heavy.

From: John Richards | October 14

Patrick, you take me to task over the relative deaths attributable to the U.S.-U.K. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the post-2011 civil war in Syria. I admit I took the 500,000 Syrian death toll from recent news stories, and have done no digging into the legitimacy of that estimate. In the case of Iraq, I tend to believe the Iraq Body Count (IBC) methodology over the extrapolation of dubious sampling undertaken by the Lancet. The IBC arrived at a total of civilian deaths between 2003 and 2010 of 116,000. The IBC adds another 50,000 deaths for the 2011–16 period.

Surely, the blame for resumption of hostilities post-2010 is attributable primarily to the corrupt sectarian government led by Maliki who, more or less, did Tehran’s bidding. Finally, in 2014, in the wake of Islamic State military successes, a combination of domestic Kurdish and Sunni Arab groups, abetted by the Americans, forced his resignation. Maybe, Patrick, you are right to suggest more died in Iraq than in Syria. Your overall conclusion is an understatement that both of us can agree on: the loss of life in both wars “has been fairly heavy.”

While the initial invasion of Iraq was incompetently managed and Bush and Blair bear responsibility for that, the American military learned from the errors of their political masters and had, by 2010, brought about a peace, a new status quo better in almost all respects than the dictatorship run by Saddam pre-2003. As Harrison acknowledges in his review of Sky’s and Hill’s memoirs, Obama’s team was so keen to get out of Iraq that they allowed a sectarian Shi’a thug, not much better than Saddam, to retain power despite having lost a reasonably fair election.

Patrick, I assume your pointed questions to me constitute the case against Western intervention in Syria. Answering these questions to my satisfaction, let alone yours, is beyond the space that the editors are willing to afford us. But I will make a stab.

For your questions to make sense, you presumably conclude that any NATO or U.S.-led intervention will kill more people and inflict more destruction than extrapolation of the status quo ante. The same implicit conclusion underlies critics of U.S.-U.K. intervention in Iraq and NATO intervention in Libya. Critics of Western intervention in the Middle East may, in each case, be right. But maybe not. Increasingly, military and political leaders in Paris, London and Washington are abandoning their post-Iraq conclusions that the international community should live with whatever religious-inspired civil wars arise in the Middle East – and whatever tactical moves Putin undertakes. I admit there is NATO self-interest at play. The wave of Middle Eastern refugees has disrupted politics-as-usual in the EU more dramatically than at any point since World War II.

There is no certainty here, but I submit that some combination of safe havens for refugees within Syria, destruction of Assad’s air force, more arms to the Kurds and more NATO special forces would reduce cumulative casualties relative to extrapolating the status quo. Furthermore, these options might well improve the odds of a diplomatic compromise among the major actors outside Syria: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia and NATO.

I have no illusions of transforming Iraq and Syria into Nordic social democracies. But it is worth recalling cases where unilateral, unsanctioned military intervention has improved matters. When East Pakistan seceded in March 1971, the Pakistani army quickly assumed control. By the summer, up to 10 million refugees had fled to India. In December 1971 the Indians launched a unilateral invasion, and quickly routed the Pakistani army. A low estimate of casualties over the nine-month civil war is 300,000. Whatever the inadequacies of the government installed by the Indians,6 few Bangladeshi regret the invasion.

From: Patrick Balena | October 14

John, it took a lot of verbiage just to get you moving away from the empty formula “attempting to stop the war in Syria” and to a grudging admission that you want NATO to wage war against the Syrian government (“Assad’s air force”). Now at least we know whom you want to kill.

You still shy away from most of the implications of making war. For example, you seem to think that you can pick and choose which service branches of another country’s armed forces you want to fight. I think that is absurd. Has the Syrian government agreed to limit a war according to the terms you specify? Do you believe that the allies of the Syrian government will stand by and watch you wage war à la carte?

Serbia had no allies; Iraq had no allies; Libya had no allies. Those were all countries where the United States or NATO could pick and choose the kind of war they wanted, against a completely isolated opponent that was too weak to alter the terms of the confrontation. But Syria does have allies. While I know that Syria’s allies are much inferior to NATO, nevertheless they might have sufficient power to alter the terms of the confrontation if they so choose.

The military matchups, and ultimate casualty tolls, are endlessly arguable or unknowable until determined empirically. However, you must recognize that there is an elementary power-political difference between the Syrian case and those three above-mentioned triumphs of liberal interventionism.

This brings me to the second thing there is to know about war: no one party to the conflict gets to say in what way it is fought, or how long it continues. The war does not end until there are no more parties willing to fight. No single party can ever end a war, but any single party can insist that the war go on, and any single party can escalate or widen a war. That’s one of the reasons why it is always easier to get into a war than to get out of one.

While it is essential to think about what you want when you wage war, it is not good enough to think only about what you want. You must think mostly about the enemy. You may persuade yourself that it would make no sense for the enemy to continue to resist. But are you certain the enemy reasons in the same way? Do you know why they fight? Do you know what they think is at stake?

It is ludicrous to participate in a war for the sake of reducing casualties. You don’t control how long the war lasts, or how hard others choose to fight. Even when we speak of a “decisive victory” in a war, it is not the victor who makes that decision, but the vanquished.

Your remark about the “incompetently managed” invasion of Iraq in 2003 brings into sharp relief your failure to understand this second thing about war. It was never a question of how the invading powers “managed” their war against Iraq. The point is, other parties decided to fight, and that’s what made the Iraq War what it became.

The invaders assumed that because they were incomparably superior, and because the Iraqi government was weak and unpopular, therefore nobody else in Iraq would mount or sustain a meaningful armed resistance. The invaders’ assumption about their own strength was correct, but the conclusions they drew, no matter how rational in their own minds, proved quite false in the event. Advocates of the Iraq War did not seem to comprehend that a war doesn’t end until everybody else says so.

Do you remember all the stupid talk about “dead enders” in the first few months of that war? Over a decade later, it turned out that some former Iraqi Ba’athist officers were providing military advice to the Islamic State. For a dead end, that road has led awfully far – and the world is still on for the ride.

From: Patrick Balena | October 16

While John might be happier to let the Syrian question drop, nevertheless I think it is necessary for me to drive home the point of how ludicrous, indeed monstrous, it would be for NATO to wage war on the Syrian government for any ostensibly humanitarian purpose.

This listserv’s discussion of the Syrian refugee problem has so far been focused on the EU. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that the largest host of people who fled their homes during the Syrian War – by a wide margin – is the Syrian government. In fact, according to International Committee of the Red Cross and Syrian Red Crescent estimates, the Syrian government is looking after about five million refugees.

That is roughly as many refugees as all of the countries outside Syria put together. The most important direction of refugee flow, throughout the conflict, has been from rebel-controlled or disputed regions toward government-controlled regions of Syria. No matter how one may try to explain away or spin it, the fact remains: Assad’s Syria is doing more to look after refugees than any other country.

Now does it make any sense, from a humanitarian point of view, for NATO to wage war on the state that has been coping with a bigger humanitarian crisis than anybody else? Why would a self-described humanitarian want to further weaken or further disrupt that state? Have you considered what it be like if Damascus, crowded with refugees from all over Syria, got bombarded even a fraction as badly as Aleppo?

John, would the excuse be, to use your words, “NATO self-interest at play” Continue reading “Can military intervention reduce casualties – or is it a fool’s errand?”