A Change Must Come II: Why Is There Government If Not For Us?, Advocate, 08/05/2015

Continued from last post . . . Here is the radical opposition to governments dominated by Stephen Harper or his network of Conservative Party cronies. There will be some kind of social safety net, we’ll try as hard as we can gesture at preserving our country’s ecosystems, ask major industries to give a few percentage points more of their multi-billion dollar revenues to the public infrastructure of your host society, stay out of meddling in horrifying foreign wars, and not give police the power to arrest you on suspicion alone. 

To hear that these inoffensive policies would cause the world’s major petroleum companies to abandon the second-largest oil supplies in the world repeated as serious concern is insane and ridiculous. But this is the world that Fraser Institute policies helped build. The political movement of the new liberal think tank, the legacy of Friedrich Hayek more than anyone else. Philosophy’s greatest victory in the last generation. Ideas changed the world. 

Now that we know their power, it makes sense for new liberalism’s opposition to use the same method. The left has not won thanks to the dominance of Marxists in some culturally marginalized humanities departments in universities. The university is no longer the site where the intellectual has the greatest influence. 

I said yesterday that Chrétien was a
footnote to the rise of Harper. Hell,
maybe the ultimate legacy of Harper
will be so enormous that he'll be as
epochal as John A. MacDonald: a
whole new country rises from what
he did. But it needn't be his own
vision that emerges from his era.
University-based intellectuals are, if anything, completely marginalized by administrations that run public education institutions on the principles of private businesses. When they do work against the new liberal consensus that cutthroat markets are the only proper model for society to operate, they conveniently lose their funding and their jobs. The true intellectual engine of change is the think tank, and that is what progressives need.

Canada has some of these think tanks already, and I think the world needs more of them. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is the oldest and most well-known of the progressive think tanks, and Canada 2020 is another.* But the one I’ve made personal contact with before is the Broadbent Institute, having spoken to its representatives at the NDP federal leadership convention in 2012.

* Although, like the anti-poverty association Campaign 2000, they face the PR problem of having a clear future date in their name. I’m still disappointed that we still aren’t travelling to Jupiter or colonizing other worlds in our star system, and that hover-vehicles aren’t ubiquitous.

I don’t think I was ever going to be absolutely happy with the Broadbent Institute. It’s too closely linked to a political party to take its politics to a place that can truly overcome the new liberal model of politics. Being concerned with maintaining a single party’s victory in state elections will restrict an institution’s focus to shaping a single party. 

The victory of a single party all the time (or at least often enough to be considered a country’s “natural governing party”) eventually erodes democracy through the corruption of constant control of the state. The Broadbent Institute will always limit itself as long as it is so clearly the philosophical wing of the New Democratic Party.

It will limit its powers to bring about true change. The victory of the Canadian descendants of Hayek wasn’t only in electing Stephen Harper and his followers to government, though they were certainly happy about it. The think tanks and associated thinkers led by the Fraser Institute had their true victory in shifting the entire political conversation of the country to terms more favourable to their philosophy. 

A think tank (or network of them, affiliated through co-members, conference connections, and professional friendships among people allied in the business of political philosophy) will only achieve its greatest goal when all political parties think along their lines. Philosophical victory in politics is when all parties are variations on your principles, variations in the intensity and focus of the same political program.

The Fraser Institute was at the spearhead of this movement in Canada. They laid the groundwork for the new liberal political movement in my country by galvanizing the libertarian-leaning socially conservative population of rural Alberta as a partisan base. But the position papers they released and the connections they made throughout the government and business sector helped spread their ideas all over the mainstream.

This is why, even though the NDP has itself drifted away from its founding vision of true social democracy through good government, its breakthrough in Alberta is significant. In the heartland of Canada’s new liberal political movement, the party whose heart still opposes those politics conquered the old guard.

The 21st century's political revolution in
the West will be Nietzschean: all of us
talking with each other to create new
values. Ecce Homo.
A 21st century left can’t return to the old left politics of a strong state that holds public corporations and services in trust and manages them on behalf of the people. That kind of big-state socialism can’t exist anymore precisely because Friedrich Hayek and the think tanks that followed him were so successful. Socialism is dead, and we should all accept that it’ll never come back. 

Instead, a new left has to emerge from the confrontation with new liberalism. It’s already bubbling out of the protest movements that first flowered in Seattle and have reached their more mature form in Occupy, Internet-mobilized feminism, and #BlackLivesMatter. As I said in my photo caption replies to Steve Fuller this week, the politics of the new left are leaderless movements for liberations that were born through networks of protestors. 

This is how the new left overcomes libertarianism, its fear expressed in Hayek’s conception of left-wing statism as totalitarian in its will to micromanage the economy through institutionalized coercion. People empower themselves to confront corruption and provoke epochal change in social values simply through expressing, as many times as possible, the truth of their experiences of the injustices of oligarchy, gender, and racialization. 

It’s a utopia organized through a global conversation through which we create new values to live by.

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