Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Calgary School, Chicago School and the Committee on Social Thought

Canada's neoconservative movement has been slow to reach awareness in Canada, though throughout the 1990's, neoconservatism was a term used by many journalists and political pundits, to separate the conservatism of people like Mike Harris in Ontario, Ralph Klein in Alberta, Grant Devine in Saskatchewan and the Reform Party on the national scene; from the more traditional conservatism.

However, since Stephen Harper's "new" Conservative Party came to power, the mainstream media prefer to use the misnomer "Tory". A term that Stephen Harper himself, claimed to detest. "It's not my favourite term, but we're probably stuck with it." (Stephen Harper, Hamilton Spectator, January 24, 2004)

We are more familiar with American neoconservatism (on which our own movement is based), as represented by George W. Bush and his war mongers, and the free marketeers, who push deregulation, low or no corporate taxes, and the end of the welfare state.

However, the political philosophy is not simply about imperial wars or free market theories. It is a complete doctrine designed to change the way that we view the role of government.

Not a government that Abraham Lincoln famously claimed as being "of the people, by the people and for the people", but a government that is only there to serve the interests of profit.

The National Citizens Coalition, of which Harper has been a member for more than three decades, and once served as president, espouses the Milton Friedman theory of eliminating government altogether, except for "policing and the military" (1).

Policing to ensure that the poor don't touch the rich people's stuff, and the military, so we can lay our hands on the stuff belonging to the poor of other nations.

And this theory was galvanized at the University of Chicago, almost 60 years ago.

The Chicago School

In 1963, Time magazine ran a piece about the University of Chicago: The Return of a Giant, where they spoke of the difference a decade had made to the school.
In 1953 the University of Chicago was so close to academic anarchy that its graduate schools refused to honor degrees from its college, and only 141 freshmen entered the place. The limestone Gothic campus was marooned in a sea of slums and muggers; the trustees morosely considered moving the university out of Chicago. To sum up his problems, Chancellor Lawrence A. Kimpton told a story: "A Harvard professor about to come here went to his young son's room the night before they left Cambridge. The boy was praying: 'And now, goodbye, God. We're going to Chicago.'" (2)
What saved the school was a change in direction.

They couldn't compete for the academic liberalism of places like Harvard, so instead chose to create an academic conservatism, "where "classical" Economist Friedrich von Hayek ... [and] conservative Milton Friedman" became "Chicago's answer to Harvard's liberal John K. Galbraith."

However the economics of Friedman and Hayek, were not palpable to most Americans, and since they couldn't be pushed through the barrel of a gun, as happened in places like Chile and Argentina, it became necessary to change the way that people think.

And as sci-fi as that sounds, they set out to accomplish this with scholars, including Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt, who were encouraged to think outside the norm.

The Committee on Social Thought

The graduate studies in unorthodox thinking, had its own outpost:
The oddest graduate school in the U.S. is a far-out arm of the University of Chicago called the Committee on Social Thought. Physically, it is a dingy office under the eaves of the social science building. Its faculty, which includes Novelist Saul Bellow and Political Scientist Hannah Arendt, numbers only eleven. But its goal is as big as the world ... The committee is a generalist's elysium, a haven for "eccentrics" commanded to "think in new areas." If they do, the school gives them the degree of Doctor of Social Thought. (3)
Not all graduates churned out conservative essays, but the ones who did, very much changed the way the U.S. government did business.

In fact, one graduate who studied under Leo Strauss, the late Irving Kristol, called himself the "Godfather of Neoconversation".

He and scholars like him, flooded the market with books and essays, promoting free markets, and the freedom of the individual, including the freedom to be poor and sick, so long as you didn't expect the government to do anything about it.

The Calgary School

The first to use the term The Calgary School, as the Canadian equivalent of The Chicago School, was David J. Rovinsky, who wrote a paper for the Washington based Center for Strategic and International Studies, entitled: THE ASCENDANCY OF WESTERN CANADA IN CANADIAN POLICY MAKING.

In the paper he confirms that neoconservatism is more than just an economic theory, but a political argument, and that the Calgary School is part of an "international neoconservative movement".

So while Stephen Harper and his government have adopted the economic principles of Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, they represent something more profound.

An increasingly successful attempt at social engineering.

They want to completely change the way we view ourselves culturally and historically.
The rise of the west as a potent force in Canadian political life has had several consequences. It has turned federal and provincial governments toward fiscal conservatism, deficit reduction, and state retrenchment; led a reexamination of policies related to immigration and multiculturalism; and exposed the scope of judicial activism in the wake of the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to new political debate. Most important, it has induced the rest of English-speaking Canada to take a new hard line on the question of recognizing Quebec’s distinctiveness in the Canadian constitution, to the point of encouraging the French-speaking province to leave the federation. Western Canada’s embrace of classical liberalism, together with its increasing demographic weight within the country, has the potential to make Canadian political debate in the early 21st century much different, and probably less distinctively Canadian, than it was for the bulk of the 20th. (4)
And The Calgary School is helping to accomplish that.

Like The Chicago School, they challenge civil rights and what they term "judicial activism". In Chicago, law professors "lambasted the U.S. Supreme Court for being "a policymaker without proper judicial restraint. (2)"

And Stephen Harper in 1997, told leading American Conservatives, "And we have a Supreme Court, like yours, which, since we put a charter of rights in our constitution in 1982, is becoming increasingly arbitrary and important ... "

I often quote a line that appeared in the Vancouver Sun several years ago, describing Harper's Reform Party:
"Reform is somewhat un-Canadian. It's about tidy numbers, self-righteous sanctimoniousness and western grievances. It cannot talk about the sea or about our reluctant fondness for Quebec, about our sorrow at the way our aboriginal people live, about the geographically diverse, bilingual, multicultural mess of a great country we are."
The Reformers, or more specifically, the neoconservatives, do not want us to "talk about the sea, our reluctant fondness for Quebec or our sorrow at the way our aboriginal people live".

So instead they create alternative Canadian stories, not the least of which is Calgary School's Tom Flanagan's book First Nations, Second Thoughts. In it he diminishes the importance of our First Nations, reducing them to just another band of immigrants.

But he is not the only Calgary scholar to try to change our history or the way we view ourselves. According to Rovinsky,
A look at classical liberalism among western intellectuals almost necessarily begins with David Bercuson and Barry Cooper. Bercuson, a University of Calgary historian, and Cooper, a political scientist at the same institution, each have a track record of publishing that features interest in neoconservatism and the Canadian west as a region. Bercuson has written a number of pieces on regionalism, and edited Canada and the Burden of Unity. Cooper has co-edited a book of comparative essays on neoconservatism in English-speaking countries and has written a stinging critique of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (Bercuson 1977, 1981; Cooper 1988, 1994). Yet they truly established their notoriety with their 1991 book Deconfederation: Canada Without Quebec. They state openly that the most important issue for constitutional reform is the preservation of Canada as a liberal democracy rooted in individual rights. The most significant threat to liberalism in Canada is Queberes call for special status and recognition of collective rights rooted in culture ...
And again to Harper:
"The establishment came down with a constitutional package which they put to a national referendum. The package included distinct society status for Quebec and some other changes, including some that would just horrify you, putting universal Medicare in our constitution, and feminist rights, and a whole bunch of other things." (5)
This shows that the Calgary School is alive and well in the Harper government. And before suggesting that Harper has abandoned his views on Quebec, we have to remember another Flanagan goal "how to convince Canadians that we are moving to the left, when we are not".

However, there is a more important book written by the Bercuson/Cooper team: Derailed: The Betrayal of the National Dream. In it they lay out the agenda, in a 'head in the clouds' idealism.
Bercuson and Cooper divide Canadian history into periods of good government and bad government, the latter broadly covering the Pearson, Trudeau, and Mulroney governments. Good government essentially refers to a government that worries about economic growth and that assumes that other good things, like national unity and social harmony flow from abundant material wealth. (4)
I guess they didn't hear the old adage that "money is the root of all evil".

Because the problem with this philosophy, is that "abundant material wealth" is concentrated at the top, and the "trickle down" theory, a myth.

It's important to view neoconservatism in the big picture of excessive greed and human suffering.

Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, does an excellent job of exposing this. It was written in 2007, before the Wall Street induced "economic crisis", engineered to put the final nail in the coffin of the welfare state.

The Opposition has got to change their strategy, by changing the channel. When was the last time that healthcare was debated? I mean really debated?

When asked, Flaherty will stick to his one liner "we are not going to alter the transfer to the provinces." Not a word on protecting the Canada Health Act, that guarantees the right to universal healthcare for all citizens.

We have to understand that the neocon way is not the Canadian way. It is the American Republican way. The Calgary School way.
"Westerners, but especially Albertans, founded the Reform/Alliance to get "in" to Canada. The rest of the country has responded by telling us in no uncertain terms that we do not share their 'Canadian values.' Fine. Let us build a society on Alberta values." Stephen Harper
Getting rid of Stephen Harper anytime soon, is unlikely, but remember this. The Calgary School is already grooming Pierre Poilievre as his replacement. Oye!


1. The Myth of the Good Corporate Citizen: Canada and Democracy in the Age of Globalization, By Murray Dobbin, James Lorimer & Company, 2003, ISBN: 1-55028-785-0, Pg. 200-203

2. Universities: Return of a Giant, Time magazine, May 31, 1963

3. Universities: Generalist's Elysium, Time Magazine, January 03, 1964

4. THE ASCENDANCY OF WESTERN CANADA IN CANADIAN POLICY MAKING, By David J. Rovinsky, Policy Papers on the Americas, February 16, 1998, Volume IX Study 2

5. Full text of Stephen Harper's 1997 speech, Canadian Press, December 14, 2005

1 comment:

  1. Pierre Poilievre as Stephen Harper's replacement? Yikes, it is hard to imagine a person nastier than Stephen Harper, but Pierre fits the bill.

    Nice piece, Emily - thanks.