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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In Praise of Canada

Those who know me know that I often describe myself as a cultural libertarian, economic socialist, and political conservative. I think it is important to distinguish those three dimensions of the social order to avoid confusion and delusion. I also think it is important to order them with economics taking precedence over culture and politics over economics but each exercising limits on the others. I think that this division and order is not arbitrary but based in the human nature to which our species has evolved.

Cultural libertarianism strongly supports diversity, non-discrimination, and a laissez faire approach to ethnicity, sexuality, sexual orientation, religion, artistic taste and expression and all other cultural values.   Cultural libertarianism requires strong government to protect diversity in taste and expression and stop any discrimination or injury to persons because of their differences. The limit to cultural libertarianism is the sustainability of life systems including the human right to the means to survive economically.

Economic socialism strongly supports the dignity of every human person and fairness in how people are provided the ways to achieve their life goals. This is founded on the conviction that every human being is born with the right to nourishment, shelter, health, education, and all things necessary to sustain life. Economic socialism also supports the primary condition of human life, i.e. the earth, the biosphere, the air, land, water, climate on which all humans depend. Economic socialism requires not only strong but efficient government to ensure that all persons have the means of livelihood and that the biosystem is protected from activities of economic self-interests. The limit to economic socialism is public space and its requirements.

Political conservatism strongly supports the development and maintenance of public space where people acting together can effectively shape their community, their nation, and their world. While cultural libertarianism demands strong government and economic socialism requires efficient government, political conservatism requires accountable government through a vigorous civil sector made up of interacting self-organizing associations or publics. Political conservatism makes room and protects local self-determination as long as it does not violate or fail to protect cultural liberty and economic justice.

The nation that I know which best, though imperfectly, embodies these principles is Canada in which we lived for over a year and which we have visited often. I think this is largely due to strong central government (beginning with constitutional monarchy), anti-slavery, dual language, and broad immigration mentality and the coalition of progressive labor and church groups that founded the New Democratic Party that led to a measure of economic socialism in a parliamentary form of government. The union and social gospel movement in Canada still seems quite vigorous while it has fallen on hard times in the US. Canada was not effected as much as the US by the housing bubble because it kept its banks from exploiting homebuyers and speculating in financial lotteries.

The US political party that best embodies these principles, though very imperfectly, is the Democratic Party now since the New Deal and the Civil Rights movement. But before that, it was the progressive Republican party. But because political parties are so tied to elections to office in government, I do not think they can hold government accountable in the long term and ensure vigorous civil society that will critique and hold cultural, economic, and government institutions accountable. Hopefully my friend Arnie will prove me wrong here as he works with the Labour Party in Great Britain. The Obama Administration generally and its grass roots vehicle Organizing For America is terrific in campaigning for office and even on some economic issues, but not in building local political capacity.

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