In Canada Only the Mediocre Survive

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In
assessing the measure of Mr. Preston Manning, founder of the once
right wing Canadian Alliance Party, most seem agreed that his greatest
gift to Canadian politics is in persuading the West to stay in Confederation.
I would hesitate to tarnish Mr. Manning, whose political attrition
culminated when he announced his intention to quit his House of
Commons seat by the year's end, with sundering nascent Western separatism.
If indeed Mr. Manning marginalized even further the peaceful right
to a political divorce – then this is no achievement.

With
his cri de coeur "The West Wants In", Mr. Manning is said
to have bolstered the cause of national unity. Like that other dubious
abstraction, u2018the public good', national unity has become a totalitarian
term, inimical to freedom. The human condition is simply too genuinely
diverse to be able to unite nationally. For some, national unity
is destined to be a coerced state of being: As soon as the pathology
of an overreaching federal government starts to fuel that regional
fever of freedom, governments let this ideological cobra out of
its sack so that it can mesmerize citizens into submission. As Murray
N. Rothbard pointed out, genuine nationality is not to be equated
with state-decreed unity or with the modern nation-state.

The
unity we have in Canada is the provenance of the proto-centrist
Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his minions. With mounting Western,
and to a lesser degree Quebecker, discontent, Canada can hardly
be termed a true federation, since she is no longer made up of voluntary
partners that retain sovereignty over their own affairs. The question,
of course, is whether an Administration, rooted in the PM's hegemony
is what unity is all about. And if so, what kind of unity is achieved
through the threat of "tough love" and the indenturing
of some provinces to others?

More
charitably, I would venture that in the unlikely event that Preston
Manning had led a secessionist movement, it may have succeeded.
For the most, the point-persons for Western secession speak a utilitarian
language. From where they are perched, it all seems to boil down
to the costs versus the benefits of being in Canada. With the West
paying many times over for the privilege of Confederation, proponents
of autonomy correctly pronounce the balance sheet to be badly skewed.

Still,
secession has not really been defended as the mainstay of the liberties
of a sub-national region. No doubt, economics undergirds secessionist
sentiments; the fruits of Western foresight and initiative (read
Alberta) are siphoned off by the center and funneled to PM Jean
Chretien's patronage playgrounds. The unending pelf perpetrated
by the Canadian Liberal government is indeed reason enough for the
West to leave. But unless secession redux can be achieved, to wit,
a renewed historical and philosophical understanding of the importance
of the right to secede, secession is doomed to be no more than an
eddying view to Jean Chretien's omnipotent centrism. Secession must
emerge as a higher-not subordinate-principle. It isn't, because
its proponents neglect the soul of secession.

Mises
Institute scholar, David Gordon, in Secession,
State & Liberty
properly captures this essence. "Secession,"
writes Gordon, "arises from individual rights". The right
to withdraw is defendable on the basis of individual – not
group – rights. As I see it, secession is the political complement
of the right of free association.

The
American Founding Fathers understood this. Thomas Jefferson viewed
extreme decentralization as the bulwark of the liberty and rights
of man. Consequently, the U.S. was created as a pact between sovereign
states with which the ultimate power lay. Sadly, the U.S. has progressed
from a decentralized republic into a highly consolidated one. In
the US, to speak of the Rights of the States, much less of secession
gets you consigned to the lunatic fringe.

Canada,
on the other hand, was born of a highly centralized regime, and
has always cleaved to an expansionist national policy. Yet, paradoxically,
it is Canada in recent years that has outstripped the U.S. in spurring
powerful regional movements and in reviving secession as an arduous
but valid political route.

Preston
Manning is an idealist. He staked out unprecedented positions in
the Canadian polity on the wrongs of deficit spending and on the
need to return the product of their labor to Canadians in the form
of tax cuts. He courageously denounced the zero-sum-game of extant
identity politics, where benefits to some groups accrue at the expense
to others.

Would
that Mr. Manning had been less slavish about Canadian federalism,
he might have led a mighty secessionist movement. More than any
other Canadian politician, Manning has the cerebral agility to have
articulated the philosophy of secession and liberty. Instead, what
did his pro-federalist plea get him and us? Through no fault of
his own, Mr. Manning failed to quell the boorish vilification of
Westerners by Eastern buffoons. In fact, for some reason, he incited
the Liberal lickspittle media to new heights of Western libel. For
wanting to be free men and women, we are repeatedly depicted as
unruly, treasonous, and racist mouth-breathers.

Would
Mr. Manning have ever achieved the real goal of decentralizing the
Canadian nation-state? Could he have inched the Canadian mind-set
any closer to holding a purely functional view of government, where
it secures individual rights and no more? I doubt it very much.

Outlining
the broadest of distinctions, economist, Prof. Walter Block, wrote
in the Journal of Markets & Morality: "libertarians
favor freedom in both economic and social spheres, while conservatives
agree with only the former position and liberals with only the latter".
In short: "right wingers advocate liberty in commercial but
not personal affairs, while left wingers invert this stance, defending
freedom in the bedroom but not in the boardroom."

Preston
Manning, of course, was a conservative through and through.

This
much can be said, however, about the Canadian national psyche:

Canadians
are in the habit of routinely expunging the best and brightest from
their midst. To sustain its system of forced egalitarianism, this
nation is doubly vested in banality (the fatuous, yet prized prattle
of a Naomi Klein, a John Ralston Saul or a Mark Kingwell come to
mind; these Canadian nationalists have also been embraced by American
leftist proponents of the Culture of the Commons). The mediocre
give Canadians consolation. And the mediocre serve national unity
like no other: they reduce cognitive dissonance and bring about
that much coveted Canadian deadpan homogeneity. Indeed, mediocrity
in Canada is essential to survival. Mr. Manning was a populist,
a man of intellect and integrity.

Mr.
Manning was certainly not mediocre which is why Canadians disliked
him so.

Mr.
Manning might have further distinguished himself had he rejected
the coercive concept of national unity and realized that free people
live in the kind of communities where the Beltway or Ottawa cannot
make a difference in their lives.

March
29, 2001

Ilana
Mercer
is a freelance editorial page writer.

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